Truth- Power Relationship

Truth- Power Relationship

What our society constitutes of is the truth- power relationship as Michel Foucault says. There is always someone in the power above all who creates norms and are internalized as such that they become the reality, they become the truth. In order to fit in a society a person therefore performs what has been prescribed. This prescription then is inscribed within us in such a manner that we tend to feel everything is “natural.”

Traditionally, a society is composed of two different sexes (biological determinants), male and female. They are in turn supposed to follow certain kinds of behavior. If you are a male it comes with an already fixed package of do’s and don’ts and the same is the case with a female. It is said that men are strong, active, and rational whereas women are submissive, passive, emotional, and weak by nature. Thus all one does consciously or unconsciously (more unconsciously though) is practice the do’s and don’ts without giving thought and by accepting them as common sense. This is how a gendered identity is constructed.

For instance, in a family constituting of father, mother, and their five children (one son, four daughters), looking through the traditional gendered lens, the father is the breadwinner and the mother a housewife. Father goes out for work which is considered a work. Whereas the mother stays home and takes care of her five children, which is not the ‘work’. The father is the one who makes every decision and the mother and the children confirm to it. This is made sure by both the parents because the mother do not yet realize that she also has voice. Even if she does realize, she keeps quiet, because she might feel it as deceiving her gender role- submit to your partner.

The next phase comes when the children starts growing and enters a symbolic stage (Lacan’s symbolic stage), the children can see how a society works. What happens is all the four daughters start identifying themselves with their mother and the son to the father. Now the gendered behavior is inscribed in them in such that the son starts controlling the daughters even if he is the youngest of all. He creates his own gendered world where the sisters start accepting his role as a man. This may not have been what the parents have directly intended to happen. But when it happens, there might be no objection at all. Everything in society is constructed to make it seem as natural and common sense.

So what is evident in this family is the continuity of traditional gendered role. There are males and females and they perform so- called masculine and feminine attributes. As Judith Butler believes “gendered identities are socially constructed by repetitions of ordinary daily activities” (2485). These family members are doing the same. But within this shaping of identities, it can never be said with certitude that how a person is going to be, what behavior the person is going to present, and what activities are going to be performed. It is however sure that to prevent any defiance, culture and socialization is there. In spite of this, one can never confine other’s identity.

Therefore, Judith Butler believes that conscious, purposive action is not possible even if she posits an all- encompassing discursive power that shapes us at such a deep, unconscious level. For her “such power is never fully effective as it fails to create every individual in its preferred image; in part because any social field is traversed by various discourses, none of which ever achieves full domination. In any case, compulsory heterosexuality cannot erase all non- heterosexual desires or acts” (2486). That is what the current scenario of the world represents. Those who were and who are still at some places called the deviants- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender- are inevitable. It is only the matter of time that such identities are to an extent freely being expressed.

LGBT people were there in every society who realized that they are different from what the society wants them to be. But because of fear of aloofness they hid their true self, sacrificing the ‘I’. Trying to shape others and shape oneself as it is preferred by the outside is not possible. Probably the result of which is our current scenario. Deviants they are no more. They are as human as we are. They are different but again every “normal” person differs from the other “normal” person. So that makes us all different from one another. So, every kind of sexual orientation is equally the part of society.

However, it is still true that LGBT people are still not given all the rights as others. It is because of nothing but the role of power. As in the above example of the family what we find is that the one who is in power is not a female member but a male, either the father or the son or both. What is in play are the masculine viewpoints and masculine ideas. If we go through Michel Foucault’s “The Incitement of Discourse” we can see church in power and that it is the Father again who is powerful. This is known as masculine hegemony or phallagocentrism which still exists today consciously or unconsciously. If not so there would not have been highlighting or even breaking news like “104 Women in Congress,” and “Transgender woman elected mayor in India.”

There is one more ingredient that completes the traditional gendered appetite; that is the notion of “compulsory heterosexuality” (coined by Adrienne Rich). There are two sexes, male and female and the sexual desire runs from one to the other. Within the family as talked above, the father and the mother exemplify this. The daughters and the son are definitely being taught to follow that. If the traditional norms never leave them they will continue following it. But this may not be the case always as we can see that how the society is getting out of such identities. LGBT people are being recognized in many parts of the world, though not everywhere; like one of the news on LGBT people: “First Gay Weddings take place in Scotland after stroke of Midnight.”

Speaking in the context of Nepal, there have been cases where LGBT people are still facing hard time. They know that their families in the first place don’t accept who they are. Result of which they get into serious conflict not only with family but also with the partner. They have to either accept what the society asks them to be or have to leave family. All these might cause break up either way which is not unusual. No matter how the society is changing, families hardly digest who their children is if he/she falls under LGBT. Despite that LGBT people today stand proudly and openly without hiding and destroying their identity.

Why weren’t there gay marriages in the past? Why weren’t there women in powerful positions in the past? Why weren’t women not allowed the space out of house? There are many such questions which to a great extend have changed today but still echo here and there. To answer these, there is only one answer that all these power holders, the men have been dominant throughout. Societies have always been under the hegemonic rule of masculinity. Literary works like Cathy Song’s “The Youngest Daughter,” Jamaica Kincaid’s “The Girl,” and Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” represent such societies.

In “The Youngest Daughter” Cathy Song explores mother- daughter relationship, power relationship. The society’s power can be seen living not only in the form of mother but also in the responsibilities that weigh the daughter down. On the other hand there is also the depiction of women’s condition in absence of a man and the role required to be played by women. The mother’s past parched life is the daughter’s present. Likewise description of the mother’s body- great breasts like two walruses, blue bruises- touch the gender issue. As Michel Foucault writes in Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, a body is described through the language of surface and force, and weakened through a “single drama” of domination, inscription, and creation (150). Her body was probably in good shape before. But after her body was used up by six children and an old man, it is not beautiful any more. It is huge and disfigured.

In “Cinderella” Anne Sexton narrates many stories but if we scrutinize them we can find one singular ending to all. In every story a woman’s life is shown to be blessed with the presence of man. Her life is changed from toilets to riches, from diapers to Diors, from homogenized to martinis, and from a mere servant to princess. It is therefore evident that the patriarchal masculine hegemony persists in all of them. As the patriarchal norms put forth, a woman is complete and better only when she is married. That is an unmarried woman (eine ledige Frau) is categorized as a bad woman. As Judith Butler says Gender is performance, women in these stories are performing the conventional gender norms consciously or unconsciously.

In terms of man- led family unit there are some exceptions. The New World Black families in the islands of West Indies, parts of Central America such as Guyana and the USA do not include adult males. These families are woman- headed family referred to as matrifocal families. These families consist of a woman with her dependent children and sometimes with her mother. Yet it is said on the other hand that such families are considered as family gone wrong. So far absence of these powers in societies have been rare to find or perhaps can be said not to be found.

In all this what underlies is the formation of subjectivity which basically is a matter of the self’s relation to power. Power governs the subject formation creating truth and reality of its own. But it cannot function alone. To sustain the hegemonic rule, intersubjective relationships do play an important role. For example in Jamaica Kincaid’s “The Girl”, the mother is preparing her daughter under the gendered ideology. The mother says, ‘try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming.’ The ‘this is how’ goes on and on and all these are as that mother makes her know is to love a man, and adds that if this doesn’t work there are other ways as well. So ultimately it directs towards how a woman is supposed to behave so as to impress a man.

All these traditional social norms can be found to be defied in the movie Tootsie. Cross- dressing plays the major role in this defiance. The time when this movie was directed transvestite was defying social norms- a man performing a woman in this movie. So perhaps for each and every mind involved in such movies means challenging the then ongoing society. But since such acts are acted out today with acceptance implies how cross- dressing has made its way through history and travelled down to the present with dignity.

In Tootsie, Michael Darcy (the lead actor) performs cross- dressing and acts as a woman- Dorothy Michaels (new hospital administrator). For an actor who is direct, straight even with the directors regarding the scripts, Michael is forced to choose the path and go under a change. A man becomes a woman and with his new face he brings forth not only the true essence within him but also reveals the underlying tensions within gender lines.

Dorothy (Emily) projects a very confident and strong woman who denies the typical gender roles. She is huge. She does not act out whatever is in the script. She changes scripts impromptu giving women their voice and dignified place. For an instance, she does not allow Doctor Brewster to kiss her during her first scene. Instead, she hits him on the head. Emily remarks that Doctor Brewster has underestimated her and that he has to deal with her mind but not her lips. In the next scene she corrects the doctor’s word by saying he should start thinking of her as a person and not as a woman.

That is objectification of women is very much evident. During the rehearsal, the director orders food for him. But when Julie is asked by one of the crew members if she needs anything, the director replies saying, “No, she is fine”. But it is clear on the face of Julie that she did not like that, yet failed to act out. Likewise the director calls Julie by honey, baby, and uses her. He calls Dorothy sweetheart, does not let her speak regarding the play and once he calls her tootsie. That moment she defends herself and clarifies that if every man in that set is called by their names, why not she? It is Dorothy and nothing else. It is as Butler says “the radical dependency of the masculine subject on the female “Other” suddenly exposes his autonomy as illusory” (2489). Dorothy’s reply puzzles him and shakes him off his dominant ground.

One after another Dorothy helps highlight how women are treated and eventually things change. She becomes an encouragement to all. Julie’s role changes and is now not a surrendered woman. Julie says to the doctor, “I understand who you really are. And I no longer submit to your petty insults and humiliations. That’s not necessary that Miss Kimberly is here. Now that someone who sees that the truth is, you are equal. Listen doctor I have filed charges against you with the AMA. You will be notified tomorrow” (Pollack, Tootsie).

It is remarked to her that she is the first woman character who is her own person. Who can assert her own personality without robbing someone off their. She is a breakthrough lady to others.  This clearly projects how gender is performative. It seems to support Butlers view on gender that “if the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can neither be true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity” (2497).

Ergo, the meaning and essence associated with sex, gender, and sexuality therefore seems to be rooted in society since long. Until people started questioning it, it was present among people as part not apart from them. Any subject formation was the part of socialization. As Judith Butler believes ideology is inscribed on the body. Inscribed as such that it has been internalized and thus seems ‘natural normal process’. Slowly did people find how power had been playing its role in subject formation with us unaware of its invasion. Voices started coming out and now sex, gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation are under reformation. It is, therefore, as Butler says that gender is the style of the flesh. No body of anyone is predetermined with outward forces but is what the body creates of itself.


(Under to supervision of Dr. Anita Dhungel. Literature and Gender, 30 January 2015)


Works Cited

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2001. Print.

Tootsie. Dir. Sydney Pollack. Perfs. Justin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, and Dabney Coleman. Columbia Tristar Home Video, 2001. DVD. 


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