JUDITH BUTLER AND MICHAEL FOUCAULT: GENDER AND VULNERABILITY
By Paccelli Zahler
In 1980, transsexualism was first listed in the “American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual”. This diagnosis, according to Judith Butler, “facilitates certain entitlements to insurance benefits, to medical treatment, and to legal status, and it works in the service of the transautonomy”.
On the other hand, the “diagnosis”, in the hands of those who are transphobic, is an instrument of pathologization.
Butler is very concerned with the idea of vulnerability of the GLBQTI community.
She claims :
“As a result, some activist psychiatrists and trans people have argued that the diagnosis should be eliminated altogether, that transsexuality is not a disorder, and ought not to be conceived of as one, and that trans people ought to be understood as engaged in a practice of self-determination, an exercise of autonomy.”
In her book “Gender Trouble” (1990), she argued that feminism had made a mistake by trying to assert that `women` were a group with common characteristics and interests, reinforcing a binary view of gender relations in which human beings are divided into two groups: women and men. Rather than opening up possibilities for a person to form and choose their own individual identity, therefore, feminism had closed the options down. She notes that feminists rejected the idea that biology is destiny, but then developed an account of patriarchal culture which assumed that masculine and feminine genders would inevitably be built, by culture, upon `male` and `female` bodies, making the same destiny just as inescapable.
In other book “Undoing Gender”(2004), she defines “gender” as a “practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint”. And she claims:
“To understand gender as a historical category, however, is to accept that gender, understood as one way culturally configuring a body, is open to a continual remaking to a continual remaking, and that “anatomy” and “sex” are not without cultural framing (as the intersex movement has clearly shown)”.
I recognize that this theme is very complex and that society is not prepared for it. For example, the Medicine practices only cares men or women. And Judith Butler, in “Undiagnosing Gender”, states that conservative groups seek to “correct” homosexuality. When a doctor examines “boys with ‘feminine’ attributes and girls with ‘masculine’ attributes, then the assumption remains that boy traits will lead to a desire for women, and girl traits will lead to a desire for men”.
The studies of Judith Butler can be compared with the Michael Foucault’s studies. In writing a history of madness, Foucault wants to penetrate beneath the surface of society to find the cultural, intellectual and economic structures that dictate how madness is constructed. For him, modern medicine and psychiatry fail to listen to the voice of the mad, or to unreason, and neither medicine nor psychoanalysis offers a chance of understanding unreason . For this reason, the society treats insane people very badly and try to return them to “normality”.
Foucault wrote about sexuality in his book “History of Sexuality”, where he claimed: “" The repressive hypothesis supposes that since the rise of the bourgeoisie, any expenditure of energy on purely pleasurable activities has been frowned upon. As a result, sex has been treated as a private, practical affair that only properly takes place between a husband and a wife. Sex outside these confines is not simply prohibited, but repressed” .
Both Judith Butler and Michael Foucault believe that “gender is a social construct” and the society is always trying to return the people that do not follow the social patterns to “normality”. It is an attempt of “standardization” to maintain the social control.