Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lesbian Body

I took a dean's seminar freshman year called "Sensing Bodily Boundaries" which dealt with a lot of what Judith Butler talks about in the selection we read tonight. I wanted to read a little more in depth, so I found the main textbook we used for the class, "The Body: A Reader," edited by Mariam Fraser and Monica Greco, and thumbed through it.

I found an interesting selection by Barbara Creed entitled "Lesbian Bodies: Tribades, Tomboys, and Tarts" that I thought you guys might be interested in in light of Butler's arguments. It is a little more focused, as it is about lesbianism specifically, but still recalls many of Butler's ideas, namely those about the role of gender performance and gender as an act that is continually repeated.

The selection claims three stereotypes of the lesbian body that Creed argues cannot also be applied to the non-lesbian body, thereby introducing an interesting duality into Butler's arguments about the female gender.
These stereotypes are:
  1. The lesbian body as active and masculinized
  2. The animalistic lesbian body
  3. The narcissistic lesbian body
The active, masculinized body is referred to as the "tribade" by Creed. Tribade is another word for lesbian, as "tribadism" is another word for lesbianism. This stereotype says that these women are actually men trapped in a woman's body, to put it simply. They are the dominant, powerful women...the "tomboys."
The second stereotype, that of the animalistic lesbian body, connects lesbianism with bestiality, and places the lesbian as part of the natural world yet different from those who are "civilized." Therefore, this image is the most closely connected to that of the "Other."
Finally, the third stereotype of the narcissistic lesbian body plays on the natural tendency of women to copy and imitate each other when they are close to each other, creating a "forcefield" of femininity that is impenetrable by men. This idea of the "lesbian double" is threatening to men precisely because it allows no room for them.

I just thought that this selection provided an interesting corollary to Butler's selection from Gender Trouble, as well as some fodder for further thought. Lesbian stereotyping is apparent in all areas of our culture, from television and movies to music and art. I am interested in hearing some examples that you guys can think of!


  1. And another corollary, courtesy of Judith Halberstam's Female Masculinity. I think I got the linkage right. If not, read page six of "An Introduction to Female Masculinity." This is a great book, BTW.

  2. So deviantART is a completely un-academic website -- it's for artists to upload their work so it can be shared and critiqued with other artists/spectators. But the community there is also huge and diverse, and so a lot of social and political issues often come up. I remember coming across this article about the different types of lesbians that people have labeled, and I thought it was relevant to this post:

  3. I think that selection from Halberstam's book goes really well with Barbara Creed's article...on a kind of more shallow note, this is interesting as well:

    I know it's dumb, but the media has really scrutinized Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's TODDLER for wanting to wear boys' clothes and act like a boy. I think their attitude towards the whole thing is very refreshing.

  4. Also, here's an article related to the Caster Semanya controversy that I thought was intriguing: