Saturday, February 16, 2013


One chooses one’s gender, but one does not choose it from a distance which signals an ontological juncture between the choosing agent and the chosen gender. The Cartesian space of the deliberate ‘chooser’ is fictional, but the question persists: if we are mired in gender from the start, what sense can we make of gender as a kind of choice? Simone de Beauvoir’s view of gender as an incessant project, a daily act of reconstitution and interpretation, draws upon Sartre’s doctrine of prereflective choice and gives that difficult epistemological structure a concrete cultural meaning. Prereflective choice is a tacit and spontaneous act which Sartre terms “quasi knowledge.” Not wholly conscious, but nevertheless accessible to consciousness, it is the kind of choice we make and only later realize we have made. Simone de Beauvoir seems to rely on this notion of choice in referring to the kind of volitional act through which gender is assumed. Taking on a gender is not possible at a moment’s notice, but is a subtle and strategic project which only rarely becomes manifest to a reflective understanding. Becoming a gender is an impulsive yet mindful process of interpreting a cultural reality laden with sanctions, taboos, and prescriptions. The choice to assume a certain kind of body, to live or wear one’s body a certain way, implies a world of already established corporeal styles. To choose a gender is to interpret received gender norms in a way that organizes them anew. Rather than a radical act of creation, gender is a tacit project to renew one’s cultural history in one’s own terms. This is not a prescriptive task we must endeavor to do, but one in which we have been endeavoring all along.
~Judith Butler. “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex.“ in: Yale French Studies. Simone de Beauvoir: Witness to a Century. No. 72, pp. 35-49, Winter 1986.