If you met Hanne Blank and her partner on the street, you might have a lot of trouble classifying them. While Blank looks like a feminine woman, her partner is extremely androgynous, with little to no facial hair and a fine smooth complexion. Hanne’s partner is neither fully male, nor fully female; he was born with an unconventional set of chromosomes, XXY, that provide him with both male genitalia and feminine characteristics. As a result, Blank’s partner has been mistaken for a gay woman, a straight man, a transman — and their relationship has been classified as gay, straight and everything in between.
Blank mentions her personal story at the beginning of her provocative new history of heterosexuality, “Straight,” as a way of illustrating just how artificial our notions of “straightness” really are. In her book, Blank, a writer and historian who has written extensively about sexuality and culture, looks at the ways in which social trends and the rise of psychiatry conspired to create this new category in the late 19th and early 20th century. Along the way, she examines the changing definition of marriage, which evolved from a businesslike agreement into a romantic union centered around love, and how social Darwinist ideas shaped the divisions between gay and straight. With her eye-opening book, Blank tactfully deconstructs a facet of modern sexuality that most of us take for granted.
Butler begins Gender Trouble with an attack on one of the central assumptions of feminist theory: the supposition that there exists an identity and a subject that requires representation in politics and language. For Butler, "women" and "woman" are fraught categories, complicated by class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other facets of identity. Moreover, the universality presumed by these terms parallels the assumed universality of the patriarchy, and erases the particularity of oppression in distinct times and places. Butler thus eschews identity politics in favor of a new, coalitional feminism that critiques the basis of identity and gender.
She begins her critique of identity and gender by challenging her readers' assumptions about the distinction often made between sex and gender. (In this distinction, sex is biological while gender is culturally constructed.) In the first place, Butler argues, this distinction introduces a split into the supposedly unified subject of feminism, and in the second place, the distinction proves false. Sexed bodies cannot signify without gender, and the apparent existence of sex prior to discourseand cultural imposition is merely an effect of the functioning of gender. That is, both sex and gender are constructed.
In Volume One, Foucault points to a watershed in human history marking attempts to control people's sexuality for the stability of the community. He highlights the Counter-Reformation, during which - he argues - the Catholic Church emphasised the need to attend confession more often. He notes a shift in 19th century France from regarding people as "subjects" or "citizens" to "a population", a scientific concept that could be manipulated according to the needs of the economy. This was a trend that occurred across Europe as the Industrial Revolution spread.