"The Problem with Passing" | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

"The Problem with Passing"

March 24, 2010 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Amy Romanowski (PhD student, French & Women's Studies)

Women's Studies

In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler claims that gender is a slippery gloss that occurs on the surface of the body.  The resulting messages of masculine/feminine and/or male/female are only made legible via a constant commitment to repeating socialized, normative gender regulations.  For Butler, this engagement is one of which we are never fully aware.  I assert, however, that such a commitment denotes both appeal and agency for Ahmed, protagonist of Tahar Ben Jelloun's L'enfant de sable.  She engages in her imposed masculinity with great verve and feels a notable loss when the imposition is regulated no more.  Ahmed becomes obsessed by the rigid masculine gender roles that are culturally reserved for bodies unlike her own.  Though finally exploring her female body in the society she once negotiated as a man may exhilarate her, she is eventually crushed by the departure of the masculinity she cherished.  Her inability to support a gender readable by the world around her leads to her death and/or disappearance (envisioned by Ben Jelloun in three separate scenarios).  I insist that this unveils what we may understand Butler's ultimate argument to be - that the body is a canvas, and gender the highly political art that adorns it.

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