Flexner Book Club Blog

2011 Mary Flexner Lecturer: Judith Butler

Butler and The Prettiest Boy

Earlier this week, I received New York Magazine in the mail and was surprised to see what I perceived at first glance to be a bare-chested woman on the cover.  It turns out that the model on the cover is male-bodied and featured in the “The Prettiest Boy in the World” article, which is about Andrej Pejic’s career as a model for both men’s and women’s high fashion clothing.  I was quickly reminded that the “construction of coherence,” regarding gender, “conceals the gender discontinuities that run rampant…” and that even being a Gender and Sexuality Studies minor and reading all the Judith Butler work you can get your hands on does not make you immune to subconscious compliance with gender coherence (110). Conveniently, reading Butler’s “Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions” was helpful in looking back at how and why I assigned a gender to the model on the magazine cover and examining the magazine’s approach to covering the work of “the prettiest boy in the world.”

I would argue that gender is one of our most utilized “tools” in the navigation of society and culture.  Even those well aware of the way that the notion of gender operates as a constructed form of social discipline are prone to, probably due to a lifetime of socialization within the gender binary, evaluate those before them for a projected gender.  We use this “gender evaluation” to inform and organize our interactions with the world.  This is much of the reason that I subconsciously categorized the magazine cover model as “female,” based on the model’s body stylization and performance.  As Butler describes throughout Gender Trouble, gender is really a repetition of “…acts, gestures, and desire [that] produce the effect of an internal core or substance…” (110).  Thus, the interpretation of each others’ genders is a vehicle for gender performance to be equated with an “internal core or substance,” which refers to the “natural” connection that is often drawn between anatomical sex and gender.  Butler suggests that we are socialized to draw this connection between the act of gender and an inherent gender “core” because it effectively conceals the work of “political regulations and disciplinary practices” (111).

Pejic states, “I know people want me to sort of defend myself , to sit here and be like, ‘I’m a boy, but I wear makeup sometimes.’  But you know, to me, it doesn’t really matter.  I don’t really have that sort of strong gender identity—I identify as what I am…”  Throughout the remainder of the interview, Pejic remains gender-non-conforming, but the article’s author assigns male pronouns to Pejic.  The author, Alex Morris, seems to be writing about Pejic with an eye that is very much attached to the “illusion of an interior and organizing gender core” (110).  From Pejic’s anatomical sex, Morris manifests a gender identity.

Morris also wrote that Pejic and transsexual runway models are “sidestepping the gender issue altogether by not only passing as women but even managing to be a more ideal version of the impossibly hipless and curveless women the fashion industry fetishizes.”  This statement is most alarming to me for several reasons, but discussing that could be another few blog posts, so I will settle with looking back to my first post about gender deviance and if deviance can ever truly escape societally prescribed gender ideals.  In this article, we see Pejic, who does not conform to gender, being glorified for their ability to “pass” as a woman, with the added bonus of not having those awful hips and curves.  (I hope my sarcasm is obvious).  What do you think?

Comments are closed.