Dominant Culture?

We just finished reading Gender Trouble–Butler’s precedent to Bodies That Matter–in Queer Theory, as I’m sure several of you remember well! In the course of class discussion on this work, Professor Colin Johnson brought up a point that really interested me: It is not easy for society to continually construct the Heterosexual Matrix. And, of course, this idea is not entirely fixed, not ahistorical. Thats why ideas about what constitutes femininity and what constitutes masculinity–among lots of other gender-, sex-, or sexuality-related binaries–are constantly changing and must be evaluated contextually.

As Gender students we are constantly critiquing and problematizing that which is dominant. But, dominant social codes sometimes seem as if they have an impossible degree of power over people; Butler, herself, often mines patterns of Freud’s and Lacan’s work in the realm of psychoanalysis to look into how deeply internalized social codes can be in Bodies That Matter. I suppose that I had never really thought about how difficult it is to maintain so many dominant codes that are meant to govern materiality. Dominant culture can only be enacted through endless, tireless repetitive effort to enact certain ideals of appearance, behavior, etc. (And, of course, our criticism perpetuates dominant culture through reference and comparison.)

As Butler writes on page 76 of Bodies That Matter:

“The subject cannot reflect on the entire process of its formation. But certain forms of disavowal do reappear as external and externalized figures of abjection who receive the repudiation of the subject time and again. It is this repeated repudiation by which the subject installs its boundary and constructs the claim to its ‘integrity.'”

This idea can be magnified to describe cultures or societies, not just individuals. Dominant culture cannot simply define its entire self. Only by constructing and repudiating another [culture], can dominant culture define itself. But, that means that dominant culture, as fundamentally informed by the Heterosexual Matrix, is actually incredibly weak, isn’t it? It is in constant flux, in constant threat of dilution or even complete dissipation.

Fascinating stuff.

Also, since I don’t have any fun links to include in this week’s post, here’s the profile of a really frickin’ cute cat that loves vacuums. Make sure to check out the video. That’s right, there’s a video.


Lynn Beavin


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