sex / gender

sex / gender
  ---- by Victoria Grace
  Sex as difference; this is the problem. Sex as identity is an artefact of this problem. The construct of sexual difference is one pivotal site through which Baudrillard exposes an economy of difference as one that is both rejecting of, yet haunted by, seduction. The construction of masculine and feminine as different within a dichotomous structure that marks individuals as one or the other is an example of the semiological reduction of what Baudrillard calls the symbolic. To be male or female is to be constituted within the order of identity; by contrast, Baudrillard is adamant, 'No being is assigned by nature to a sex' (CPS, 99). He is rather inclined to the view that each subject is traversed by the very ambivalence of activity and passivity that is of the order of the 'sexual', as 'sexual differentiation is registered as a difference in the body of each subject and not as an absolute term linked to a particular sexual organ' (CPS, 99). To insist on this linkage and its absolute quality is a form of violence that codifies and universalises a reference for the sexual. Furthermore, this semiologically instituted 'difference' or 'opposition', once established, serves a cultural logic whereby one sex has absolute privilege relative to the other.
  Difference is structurally predicated on comparability. Sexual difference, sex as difference, has to be confronted by the ambivalence of the sexual, by a logic that is radically other than that based on comparability. Female and male become two incomparable terms; as Baudrillard writes, 'if there is [. . .] no sexual difference, this is because the two sexes are not opposable' (PC, 122). To posit the sexes as other to each other is not the same thing as positing difference: 'One might even say that difference is what destroys otherness' (TE, 127).
  The two sexes constituted as different raises the question, as it indeed has in recent feminist theory, of why just two? Why not three or four or five or more? To introduce additional terms assumes a unit that can be added to or multiplied. Rather than representing a radical subversion of a binary logic, this proliferation of the number of sexes is simply more of the same, relying on a standard (what is 'sex') against which relations of equivalence and difference can be ascertained (this is another sex, and another, and so on). On the contrary, Baudrillard insists that sex does not have a calculable status; as well as the two sexes not being terms of a binary opposition, they equally cannot be added together, nor can they be part of a series (SED). The otherness of the sexes 'come into play' only in the dual relation: 'Only in duality are the sexes fatal to each other. In multiple relations they are merely mirrors of each other, and interlocking selfrefractions' (IEx, 64). In this sense it is possible to see how Baudrillard's notion of the ambivalence of sex traversing each subject is different from Freud's polymorphous sexuality of the 'bisexual' infant, as the latter is still reliant on a calculus of two in one.
  The American-derived term 'gender' is a relatively new invention and one that Baudrillard engages in its historical specificity. With the movement for 'sexual liberation' of the 1960s, the abstraction that is 'identity' becomes a 'choice', and as such sex becomes gender: 'once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are' (A, 46). The problematic of gender is 'now taking over from that of sex' and 'illustrates this progressive dilution of the sexual function' (PC, 117). This becomes the era of the transsexual.
  Today it is less a matter of sexual difference and more a matter of sexual indifference (P). Ambivalence is replaced by bivalence, ambiguity and unisex. As Baudrillard writes in The Perfect Crime (1996c [1995a]), when otherness is in short supply, it becomes produced as difference, as is evident in the body, sex, social relations today: the other as 'different' is invented. In America (1988b [1986]), Baudrillard makes the observation that the outward signs of masculinity and femininity are trending towards zero. As this trend is pushed to its logical conclusion this would no longer render male and female as different, meaning the end of sexual difference, and we would see 'a slide towards a different system of values' (A, 47-8). This different system, he hazards, would see a 'dissemination of individual sexes referring only to themselves, each one managed as an independent enterprise' (A, 47), a trend that is possibly even more evident twenty-three years on from Baudrillard's writing of America (1988b [1986]). Sex in this sense becomes a mere vestige of that which has disappeared.
   § ambivalence
   § body
   § duality
   § seduction

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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