Signs Taken for Wonders (was Re: Lesbian 'Phallus'...)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Feb 3 13:18:28 PST 1999

Liza says:
>I mean, no theorist who talks
>about the phallus thinks its a real penis, it's by definition an ideation.
>the phrase "Lesbian Phallus" as I understand it isn't meant to imply that
>lesbians are fake men -- if we are, then men are also fake men -- but that
>lesbians can also be implicated in this approximation that so obsesses men.
>And for many societal reasons are made to feel its failure quite
>differently, though its a failure for men too. I almost think she picks the
>phrase for its sexy whimsy and metaphoric elegance, not to convey anything
>particularly unique to lesbians -- the gist of the arguement could describe
>almost any of the clashes between psychic identity, social role and body
>that most of us encounter every day.

Well, yes and no. I think she does owe her intellectual development to our contemporary revaluations of earlier lesbian subcultures. I think that at the height of the second-wave feminism, butch/femme things may have been looked down upon, judging by what, for instance, Susie Bright writes about them. It was politically incorrect to do those gender plays, because back then the thing to do was either to be a 'woman-identified woman' (think Rita Mae Brown or Adrienne Rich + her lesbian continuum) or to look forward to a gender-free future (e.g. Shulamith Firestone). Or at least so says Bright and many others of her age. In other words, 2nd-wave feminism itself also created rigid identities for 'right-on' feminist women within which what's taken as signs of patriarchy--butch/femme--and also of blue-collar lack of sophistication were not welcome, or so the story goes (I can't provide any personal testimony--I was too young to be part of anything). So I think that Butler's invoking the 'Lesbian Phallus' is her nod--debt and ambivalence--to the history of feminism and lesbians' places in it, not just its sexiness.

By the way, several guys have asked on the list what Butler said that was truly 'new and original.' As you can see from Liza's post, a part of What Butler Saw may be summarized thus: lesbians are not 'fake men -- if we are, then men are also fake men'; moreover, the notion of Original which Copy is said to imitate is a phantasm _retroactively_ created by casting some as Bad Imitations.


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