The word “gender” has become quite familiar to Indonesian people, though perhaps only in big cities, and I have proven it that many of my teenaged students don’t know yet what the word “gender” means. When I talked about stereotyping of male and female was not a fair thing to do, I could see they didn’t have any idea why I opined that; why I said, “If you say a woman will not make a good mother because she often leaves her children due to her profession, I can also say that a man will not be a good father when he also often leaves his children due to his job outside.” They still think that public sphere belongs to men and domestic sphere belongs to women; that women are created to be a housewife, so when a woman wants to have a job outside, it is just FAIR to give her double burden, to work outside but still has to be responsible for all household chores. (FYI, The New Order regime under Soeharto successfully planted this “ideology”—about double burden for women who want to work professionally outside their domestic sphere—into Indonesian people’s minds.)
Many Non Governmental Organizations dealing with women’s betterment in lives have done a lot to socialize the unfair stereotyping; that it is all only socially constructed, and not naturally created. (But, still I must say that those feminists have to struggle hard to realize the more equal chances for women in all facets in this life, e.g. chances to choose any profession to their heart’s content according to their skill, talent, and capability, chances to get equal pay for the same job as men, chances to make a name for themselves, and not just as “Mrs. X”, chances to use family name as they want, etc.)
That stereotyping in gender is socially constructed has been known in Indonesia. However, that sexual orientation is also socially constructed is not publicly known yet. Even, there are some steps people do to restrict this; that the only NORMAL sexuality is HETEROSEXUALITY and the other kinds of sexuality (read è homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, and transgender) are ABNORMAL. And as in other parts of the world, RELIGION plays a very important role in constructing that “if you are female, your sexual orientation is male, and vice versa, if you want to be considered NORMAL, NOT SINFUL, NOT DISEASED.” Society negates the existence of people who were born as gay/lesbian/ transgender. Society easily judges such people as opposing “destiny”.
Gayle Rubin, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler opined that sexuality is in fact also socially constructed, and not biological chromosomal fact. They claimed the theoretical orthodoxy on sexuality whose all principles were based on sexual essentialism; that is principle that consider sexuality is biological phenomenon, natural fact that exceeds social fact. For those three thinkers, sexuality is not something that is consistent, asocial, and trans-historical. Sexuality is strongly involved with history and social changes. It is not based on hormone, psyche, moreover God’s law.
Rubin: Logocentrist and Heteronormativism
Gayle Rubin, a feminist anthropologist, agreed with Derrida that “there is nothing out of the text.” It refers to there is no destiny or biological construction that comes before language signs. For example, male and female categories with all their attributes and stereotypes are not natural created but constitute products of history and representation. Women become the second sex is not based on biological identity, but it is caused by negative image given to them based on science and religion discourses. One meaning never comes alone without any other meaning. For example, the word “male” exists coz of its counterpart—female. Meaning doesn’t come from biology, a writer’s intention, or God’s divine revelation, but as the impact of a complex relation in language signs. Meaning comes as the impact of differance.
That is how body and sexuality come from. There is no pre-discursive body. No identity, gender or sexuality comes before a discourse. Gender and sexuality are not rooted in biology; not the extension of biological sex, but comes from language signs relation. There is no original sexuality; no sexuality precedes meaning process. Everything is constructed under logocentrist procedures. In this procedure, heterosexuality is not based on quality but based on negative label applied to other sexual practice that is non-procreative; such as homosexuality, and masturbation.
In logocentrist, heterosexuality is labeled the good, the right, higher than the other kind of sexuality.
Homosexuality and masturbation are labeled negative, the bad, the wrong, the abnormal and the criminal.
In Thinking About Sex (1984), Rubin stated:
… sexuality that is good, normal, and natural should ideally be heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive, and non-commercial. It should be coupled, relational, within the same generation and occur at home. It should not involve pornography, fetish objects, sex toys of any sort, or roles other than male and female. Any sex that validates this rules is bad, abnormal, or unnatural. Bad sex may be homosexual, unmarried, promiscuous, non-procreative, or commercial. It may be masturbatory or take place at orgies, may be casual, may cross generational lines, and may take place in public, or at least in the bushes or the baths. It may involve the use of pornography, fetish objects or unusual roles.
Foucault: Power-Knowledge-Pleasure and Sexuality
Sexuality is one most-discussed theme in Foucault’s books, such as Herculine Barbine; Being The Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite (1979), and his very well-known trilogy of The History of Sexuality, The History of Sexuality I; The Will to Know (1983), The History of Sexuality II; The Use of Pleasure (1985), and The History of Sexuality III; The Care of the Self (1986). In these books, Foucault asserted that femininity, masculinity, and sexuality are the results of “disciplined practice” or the result of power and knowledge relation. Foucault disclosed the univocal heterosexuality regime that has been considered as the norm, the universal and the essence of human beings.
In The History of Sexuality I, Foucault explained that sexuality is not considered as something given naturally, a secret sphere that has to be disclosed and found. Sexuality was formed historically, and not naturally fact.
Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledge, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another.
In general, Foucault identified five strategic unities to reproduce and multiply sexuality discourses. First, the psychiatrisation of perverse pleasure is an opinion that human beings are to have one only sex (true mono-sexed human being). Via medical science, law and course, everybody is to have only one true sex. As an example, Foucault illustrated what happened bo Herculine Barbine, a hermaphrodite living in the nineteenth century France. When Barbine was born, Barbine was identified as female. However, as some time, some doctors and ministers claimed that Barbine had to change Barbine’s sex to be “male” due to masculine characters Barbine had. Feeling oppressed and depressed, Barbine eventually committed suicide. This case showed how medical field, court and law held a very important role to found mono-sexed human being during Modern Western history. When a human is anatomically male, he must be masculine. When a human is anatomically female, she must be feminine. There is no in-between identity.
Second, the socialization of procreative behavior. Contradictory from Ancient Greek and Roman sexuality discourses, modern western sexuality of nineteenth century was more oriented to procreative goals, not just for pleasure. Foucault called it scientia sexual-is, while Ancient Roman sexuality oriented on pleasure or aphrodisia as ars erotica. The goal of scientia sexual-is is to maximize the strength, efficiency in marriage and sexuality. Therefore, heterosexuality is baptized as the most legal sexuality. Lust or sexual pleasure is caged in heteronormativity. The married couple is also burdened with social and medical responsibility that is to protect family from sexual pathogenic diseases.
Third, the pleasure psychiatrisation. This strategy works by pathologizing all kinds of deviation from “normally procreative sexuality” principles. Therefore, sex for pleasures is cursed. Masturbation and homosexuality that often engender erotic pleasures are considered abnormal, deviant, and need to be medicated. Different from Ancient Greek sexuality, homosexuality and masturbation were not rejected, not labeled abnormal.
Fourth, female body historization. In this strategy, feminine body is analyzed, integrated into medical practice sphere coz the inherent diseases and then placed into “organic communication with social body”. Foucault wrote:
A three fold process whereby the feminine body was analyzed—qualified and disqualified—as being thoroughly saturated with sexuality, whereby it was integrated into the sphere of medical practices, by reason of a pathology intrinsic to it; whereby, finally, it was placed in organic communication with the social body (whose regulated fecundity it was supposed to ensure), the family space (of which it had to be substantial and functional element), and the life of children (which it produced and had to guarantee, by virtue of biologico-moral responsibility lasting through the entire period of children’s education): the Mother, with her negative image of nervous women, constituted the most visible form of this hysterization.
Here, female sexuality is constituted as their central identity, women are their biology, and sexuality is the core of their biology. Sexuality is not only having sex, but also involves masturbation experience, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. This hysterization claims women to be deregulated, made into the legal object psychological and medical intervention and control.
Fifth, child sexuality pedagogy. This strategy considers practice of child sexuality as potentially dangerous coz it will engender “physical and moral ruins, individually and collectively. Masturbation and other non-procreative sexual practices are labeled dangerous and opposing nature. The natural, safe and true sex pedagogy toward children become significant instrument in legalizing heterosexuality as the norm.
These five strategies have functions to regulate and deploy aphrodiasia (lust), and encratia (self control, and self fight). The impact of this transformation is, new oppression of chresis (the use of lust) to epimeleia (attention to oneself), and practices to know oneself.
Judith Butler: Heterosexual matrix versus Performativity
Butler developed the theory of performativity in the beginning of 1990s via her monumental works Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter. Butler claimed that gender or sexuality is the imitative structure, reiteration and ‘performativity’.
Imitation is at the heart of the heterosexual project and its gender bynarisms, that drag is not a secondary imitation that presupposes a prior and original gender, but that hegemonic heterosexuality is itself a constant and repeated effort to imitate its own idealization. That it must repeat this imitation, that it sets up pathologizing practices and normalizing sciences in order to produce and consecrate its own claim on originality and propriety, suggest that heterosexual performativity is beset by an anxiety that it can never fully overcome, that its effort to become its own idealization can never be fully achieved, and that it is consistently haunted by that domain of sexual possibility that must be excluded for heterosexualized gender to produce itself.
Butler believed that there is no gender identity behind gender expression. Identity is shaped performatively, reiteratively until it reaches the original identity. For Butler, gender or sexuality is like drag, beauty contest followed by male-to-female transgender to show that they are “perfect women”. Those contestants that have anatomically male bodies have become “women”—slim bodies, smooth skin, spotless complexion, beautiful faces, etc. Realness on gender, identity, and sexuality is produced and reproduced under a series of actions, gestures, and ambition that are articulated and done so that it creates the illusion of an interior and organizing gender core.
Gestures, action and body movement are not only expressive but also constitutive. Therefore we can identify that what we have considered as the essence is in fact only the result of body movement and other discourses.
Butler identified several structural integrity used to eternalize heterosexuality naturally. One of them is “sex materialism”. To explain this concept, Butler deconstructed gender and sexuality definition proposed by feminism. In feminist discourses, it is stated that gender is socially constructed while sex is a biological phenomenon that cannot be changed. This way of thinking assumed sexual materialism, that is an idea that sex is a construct outside history and language. For Butler, sex is also a biology constructed ideally or materialized forcefully through time.
Sex is not simple fact or static condition of a body, but a process whereby regulatory norms materialize “sex” and achieve this materialization through a forcible reiteration of those norms. That this reiteration is necessary is a sign that materialization is never quite complete, that body never quite comply with the norms by which their materialization is impelled.
Via deconstruction toward “sex” and demonstrating the discourse limit, Butler proposed concept of the materialization of the body that exceeded Foucault’s concept on the construction of sexuality. Bodies are not just plate that then are shaped into a certain gender and sex, but that gender and sex are two elements materialized to be bodies themselves.
Butler then attacked a must coherence between gender and sexual identity. In the primary discourse, everybody is to have only clear mono-sexed, without friction that needs a must coherence between genitals (the inside) and gender (clothes, roles, and identity—the outside). This coherence has been used as basic to decide the normal and abnormal situation of someone; that penis has no other choice but masculinity, and on the contrary, vagina has no other choice but femininity.
Here, Butler insists that gender and sexuality overlap each other seriously. Gender and sexuality simultaneously interact to decide the content and limit of masculinity and femininity and shape gender relation.
I remember some time ago when proposing this idea (that sexuality is socially constructed; that homosexuality is also given naturally), I got a very strange look from a classmate, and she said, “Aha … you belong to post modern thinkers, eh?” When talking in a classroom some time ago that “It is just okay for boys to wear pink clothes, and that the wearer is not necessarily a gay”, my students complained to me simultaneously. I laughed a little.
Well, I know, it still needs a long time for Indonesian culture to understand this. The conviction that heterosexuality is the only normal sexuality has been planted in Indonesian people’s minds for ages, and they don’t welcome the new thing.
It reminds me of my favorite motto from Emerson, “The foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Well …I am just a human being who wants everybody to live peacefully in this world, not considered as the criminal, abnormal, the sinful, the diseased, the weird, while in fact they don’t really harm other people’s lives. Nobody has right to interfere other people’s lives by calling them as the wrong, and generously wants other people to follow their way of thinking that they consider the best one only coz it follows the majority.
Anybody has right to live to what they think right for their way of life, as long as they don’t harm or ruin other people’s lives.
Let us live peacefully.
Alimi, Yasir, M. “Tidak Hanya Gender, Seks Juga Konstruksi Sosial…” (“Not only Gender, Sex is also socially constructed”) Jurnal Perempuan (Women’s Journal) no. 41, 2005
Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble, London: Routledge, 1999
Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter, London: Routledge, 1993
Butler, Judith, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination in Fuss”, Diana (ed.) Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, London: Routledge, 1991
Butler, Judith and Joan W. Scott (eds), Feminists Theorize the Political, New York: Routledge, 1992
Foucault, Michel, Herculine Barbine: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite, Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1980
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Allen Lane, 1997
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality I, Middlesex: Penguin, 1988
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality II, Middlesex: Penguin, 1986
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality III, Middlesex: Penguin, 1986
McHoul, Alec and Wendy Grace, A Foucault Primer: Discourse, Power and the Subject, Melbourne: Melbourne University, 1993
Weedon, Chris, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, Monash: Monash University Press, 1998