In this article, the author Judith Butler first presents the ideas of gender construction that have been formulated by Simone de Beauvoir. She then presents her own interpretation of Monique Wittig’s gender and sex analyses that are responses to de Beauvoir’s ideas of gender construction.
De Beauvoir’s perception of gender states that it is something that is acquired because of the social conditioning brought about by society. She argues that for an individual who does not fall into the category of either boy or girl, they are automatically dehumanized because they do not fit the standard binary of gender. A “ sexed” individual is someone who is born with analytical attributes of the human body, this sex however is not something that causes the gender since the gender is a mentality constructed by society. Monique Wittig responds to de Beauvoir’s analysis by reusing one of Beauvoir’s ideas and by presenting her own additional claim. The first claim states that sex is neither invariant nor natural, but it is a political category that is used to keep social norms under the control of heterosexuality which also lets the institution of heterosexuality unfairly determine what is natural. Wittig also argues that there is no difference between sex and gender in the sense that sex is also gendered. Her second claim which is her own is that a lesbian is not a woman. When first reading this, I admit that I was a bit thrown off but waited to read further before I jumped to any conclusions. Wittig argues that woman is simply a label that has been created to oppose the binary label of a man. Therefore, because the lesbian is refusing heterosexuality, she also has no sex because she is essentially trying to fight off the binary norms of gender and sex. The same way that gender is something that both Wittig and de Beauvoir believe is constructed by society, Wittig argues that sex is also fabricated by society in order to make the female sex subordinate. The only time that something is “sexed” is when it is in reference to the individual female persona. When referring to the female sex, there is no other sex such as the male sex that exists. The male sex is something that is universalized. Beavoir calls this the circle of immanence.
Wittig discusses power of language and how it can oppress through repeated acts that eventually become political institutions. There is an imbalance in language where a general group of people are referred to by the masculine pronoun and the individual speaker by the feminine pronoun. Wittig argues that there is no need for gendered pronouns in any language; it is simply a way of giving leverage to one class of people over another to help destroy identities in favor of heterosexual institutions.