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Rory Fleming SCHC 352J – 501 11/11/10 Cohen Gender Performativity and the Complexities of Androgyny in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando Simone de Beauvoir famously stated on the issues of sex and gender that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” The counterargument to Beauvoir’s claim is found in the doctrine of essentialism, which assumes that gender differences correspond directly to physical sex of individuals and are hence inflexible. Constructivism, the idea that Beauvoir and her contemporaries helped generate, states that these observable differences are a result of the cultural reiteration of norms. Female fiction writers active at the turn of the century played with
ženskost nije the idea that “womanness” is not itself inherent, and one of the most recognizable examples of urođena

this can be found in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. In this novel, Woolf’s theoretical fluidity of gender fits neither the stark essentialist ideology nor complete constructivism. Her answer is more akin to the more contemporary theory of gender performativity, codified by poststructuralist philosopher Judith Butler. While it seems that there is an undisturbed kernel in Orlando’s sense of self, she instinctually adapts to social roles imposed upon her while critiquing both her firsthand experience and that which she observes. Orlando is a nuanced exploration into how a unique identity is formed while enduring the current of social pressures and the safety of conformity. Orlando is told from the perspective of a nameless biographer, who claims to not be a writer of fiction but of facts. The narrator constantly reminds the reader of his presence and his distaste for sentimentality and non-historical narrative developments. Indeed, we can assume that this biographer, generally interpreted as male, chose to write on the topic of Orlando’s life under the impression that it would be a high-profile, aristocratic and masculine topic filled with beheadings and political maneuvers: the “meaningful” acts of important men, constructed as

Orlando is an artist and poet. screamed.” he has to make do with the information he is provided as that is his role and profession. without looking to right or left. Orlando transforms into a woman without warning halfway through the novel. All her actions […] might have indeed been thought to show tokens of premeditation” (Woolf 139). Orlando the woman reacts very little initially. Ambiguity also makes him profoundly uncomfortable. But Orlando showed no such signs of perturbation." #" separate and superior to the deeds of women. Rather. which the biographer has no choice but to divulge because there is no other information on that time of Orlando’s life. His job as a biographer. What actually follows is a mythical account of the tribulations of an aspiring artist. the biographer-narrator is flabbergasted by the fact that the character’s mannerisms do not change notably as a result. who the biographer is writing about. She decides almost nema promjene na O. preferring exceedingly clear dividing lines between phenomena. The biographer states in his bafflement that “We should not have blamed her had she rung the bell. the nebulous quality of life in practice is represented in the titular character. Even though the next part of the story is “dark. When Orlando switches biological sex in Chapter Three. the trade of the poet is the expression of the ambiguity that complicates his work. something that the biographer wishes to fulfill his duty when outlining it and nothing more. first of all. mysterious. supposedly a recorder of “true” histories. in the indelible footprints of truth” (Woolf 65). and fainted. He states that the first duty of the biographer is “to plod. He encounters this conflict of interests after providing the impressionistic description of Sasha’s betrayal and Orlando’s subsequent removal from courtly affairs. These qualities are hard to accept for the biographer. Making matters even worse for the biographer. In Orlando. is always at risk of becoming hopelessly complex until he draws a linear path through the life of the individual. Orlando enters a trance for seven days. and undocumented. nakon preobražaja .

the distinctions have the appearance of being arbitrary: the difference is constructed. Why is the biographer made so obviously uncomfortable by the transformation that occurred. wear frilly dresses. Language fails him in his quest to write a rigidly determinant narrative on even the pronoun level (“he. molded and built upon since his or her first interactions . once a person is developed it is virtually impossible to determine whether development in a certain direction occurred during biological stimuli or conditioning." $" immediately afterward to leave her post at Constantinople as an ambassador to spend some time at a Gypsy camp before deciding on her next move. it forces him to revaluate divisions that he previously took for granted.” “their”).” categories such as male or female are defined based on what they are not (Caughie 43). and what opposition does it set in place? Besides the fact that it undermines his initial project to recount the life of a “more noteworthy” male figure. then other interactions will occur as a result: the identity becomes sedimentary. jezik!!! Pamela Caughie’s essay locates Orlando as a text that defines itself in accordance with this very indeterminacy. and stay in the house to help bake while the boys play outside. However. The biographer gradually includes Orlando’s personal statements. Cultural discourses based on varying levels of accuracy widely disseminate the myth that personality traits and emotional dispositions belong primarily within one gender or another. Changing the person down to their dominant system of perception. and her commentary frequently deals with gender relations in her current historical moment. and are generally pseudo-scientifically justified via “biological” inference. Orlando lives a life marked by the experience of both genders. If a girl’s parents tell her to play with dolls. In other words. This is what Judith Butler describes to be the performativity of gender. Since “there is nothing out ‘out there’ to measure [gender.” “she. Thereafter. perhaps so to illuminate the narrative’s actual fact: the very ambiguity he used to fear. language] against.

Based upon a complex network of affirmations. As a result. differ very little from gypsy men” (Woolf 153). The sea captain on the trip back to England flirts with Orlando but would have assumedly not done so if she did not handle herself as a woman or appear female. is vastly different than putting on a different gender’s clothes. Orlando does not “become” a woman in Beauvoir’s gradual sense. People act in accord to the precedent of the image present. except in one or two important particulars. Her subsequent life among the gypsies allowed her time to process her surroundings and poetic feelings because there was a less defined gender dichotomy in the society of the gypsies. Orlando defeats the requisite system of precedents. which is either personally learned or explained by others. having already experienced the gender-coded lifestyle of a courtly Elizabethan male. and far enough in history practical necessities.performativnost roda " %" with others. one must observe how Orlando situates his or her own gender at different times and if there is any unalterable element in her character. sexual desires either understood or not. it is reasonable to think of gender as a chain of performativity. She had to buy . The act. reward vs. situation and context inform the positioning of the self. Orlando’s relation with her “self” is crucial to understanding what Woolf is doing in this novel. In this sense. This performance of the courting ritual simultaneously affirms Orlando’s new identity. On the contrary. media images. punishment cycles. It is explained that “the gypsy women. Since everyone is performing their gender. To see how Orlando should be positioned in terms of essentialism and constructivism. “he” becomes a “she” at the age of thirty. In the universe of this novel. which is radically apparent in Orlando’s case due to her relationship with biological sex and gender. gender identification is not a choice. a gender identity is formed. performances of others. she does not have the experience of aggregate images slowly sinking in from birth based on a set biologically-determined gender.

which justifies her conflicted reactions to these new. she is no longer certain that she “won’t throw [herself] overboard. The answer she reaches is both integrally social and aesthetic. for the mere pleasure of being rescued by a blue-jacket after all” (Woolf 155). Woolf seeks in that work the secret to why great works of literature have not been yet accredited to or even (publically) written by women by her time. She is still the same character she was as a man. regardless of the fact that her loves have always been female in the past. Her feelings for women carry over. If gender is performed here as an aggregate of past experience. abandoning trousers for petticoats. This calls attention to her “new sex” in an external way. though she laments all the care a woman must take in her appearance. In the moment. but Orlando cannot deny certain romantic pangs when he cuts her meat at a meal. Her whiplash reaction when realizing the power that her legs can have over working men is to decide that it is possibly more flattering to be a subordinate but free female than a male individual always bound up in lust. specifically female circumstances. then we can prescribe to Orlando the androgynous soul or artist’s soul A Room of One’s Own describes." &" clothes fitting of English women when assimilating later into mainstream society. A balance of minds was decided to be intrinsic to one who writes the most enduring . This productive and wise androgyny is the requisite trait that androginost!!! Virginia Woolf outlines in A Room of One’s Own for the highest caliber writers. She also has a strong epiphany about the nature of love. but her internal self does not alter strictly because of the donning of a new wardrobe. S/he learns what it feels like to be a woman as a result of events that would not occur if she was not an attractive lady following social norms. The gentlemanly interest of the sea captain Nicholas Benedict Bartolus generates a flood of reservations. she just feels a greater kinship and understanding as an individual who has experienced the social perspectives of both sexes.

incandescent and undivided” (Woolf 98). but keeping in mind both the female and male segments of personality. When we consider Orlando’s liminality. that it transmits emotion without impediment. reaching a greater degree of sympathy for both halves." '" works: an artist not bound by their sex. and understanding both halves’ shortcomings for any given individual. then. as well as the benefits. What. She strikingly asks herself. Orlando has the ability to see with her own eyes the ways and customs of multiple regions (as an ambassador) and multiple eras (as an individual with a much longer lifespan). that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous. the answer is “no. “If I persisted in this notion that . an archetype to follow if wanting to escape the restraints of mind associated with gender? If we into consideration the dynamics of Orlando’s alleged androgyny. does Orlando conceptualize her own gender and place. Having the flexibility of a liminal character. However.” or at least not as simple as that. and can have experiential dealings with each. is a functional alternative? In the preface to her book Bodies That Matter. perhaps. then. Woolf comes to the conclusion that “He meant. just undivided. Her ideal androgynous mind is not hermaphroditic. The great mind has its female and male elements in open communication with each other. and how does her life and art reflect Virginia Woolf’s philosophical speculation? Is it as simple as stating that Orlando is an androgynous model. How. Judith Butler clarifies what is meant by her theory of gender performativity. When analyzing Coleridge’s comment that the great mind is androgynous. we can begin to understand the scope of her freedom of mind despite her physical sex and whichever era of time she inhabits. and not limited in mind by rigid social norms that limit experience and insight. Orlando can see the flaws of any one category or way of life. that it is naturally creative. this balanced aesthetic is barred from the vast majority of both men and women due to the pressures of the prejudicial male-dominated canon. It goes beyond just gender.

Essentialism assumes that there is some more pure state that existed before cultural manufacturing of the social self. perhaps reconceptualized.teorija performativnosti roda " (" bodies were in some way constructed. The way “self” is used in Butler or Caughie does not lend to its creation separate from the whole of society. the notion that there is some self independent of the constraints of gender is both idealistic and functionally impossible. the self that has come to exist will cease to be or collapse. it is something to be reflected upon. perhaps I really thought that words alone had the power to craft bodies from their own linguistic substance?” (Butler x). that “self” included in the term cannot be separated by the gender which is ascribed to an individual at her time based on biological circumstance. Gender is performed in that it reiterates cultural messages and images. We can then see the idea of Orlando’s androgyny representing a rebellious form of “selfmastery” become irrelevant. But categories such as gender and sex inform our everyday experiences. without these indispensable markers. transcendent principle is a sign of repression and the fear to . and that behaviors associated with gender are implicitly or explicitly cultured into a person from birth. but is never negligible. and emotional and intellectual reactions to others’ reactions. To Butler. and. It then implies that something which is “constructed” is somehow dispensable or negligible. and the idea of complete mastery ignores the pervasiveness and inextricable quality of cultural immersion. If more androgynous as a result of development. Putting on an androgynous act is simply another performance of gender based on the expected performance of gender determined by the overarching bias of the time and place. Gender is not escapable then because it is constructed. Kaivola’s ideas on Woolf’s androgyny suggests that androgyny as some sort of separate. that development is still a result of external circumstance and experiences that extend out beyond the self: that “gender-neutral” sense of self is still developed over time based on expectations. first of all.

society). Androgyny as a marker in A Room of One’s Own seems to erase difference. there is no divine de-gendering of experience that sets one person aside in enlightenment. the reader can hopefully make note of an internal gender politik that is both too flexible to be punished and conducive to growth beyond a state of reductive categories. Orlando acts like “anyone else would” and people treat her like a “normal” woman until they get to know her on a deeper level like Shel does. In Orlando. it plays an illuminating game with the reader. It is no wonder then that they would have married and both would have achieved fluidity in their own role. This is the subversion that Woolf seems to suggest. but the place for critique that breaks the dualism of something like gender while still functioning within the confines of a mainstream existence. subverzivnost Virginia Woolf’s Orlando explores gender in a way that is not liberating in an explicitly rebellious fashion. Woolf seems to be qualifying her own writing on gender in a way both tongue-in-cheek and profound.” this is “woman”). and does not give in to social expectations as to what a woman or man “should” be. Not only has society developed over time rigid gender lines that are reinforced categorically by linguistic structures that rely on opposition (this is “man. challenging him or her to trace Orlando’s route to individualization through a series a balancing acts between conformity and subversion. Orlando’s particular conceit gives the titular character a liminality that is almost ideal važno!!! for exploring issues of not only the limitations of essentialism. In the narratives of daily life." )" actually engage with actual political and social questions (Kaivola 239). Through this. but there is very arguably no “self” externalized from the context which the self was created (that is. . Instead. that person still needs to cope with the repercussions of his or her own gender identity as perceived by other people who do not immediately understand the identity by visual observation.

Moi. Woolf. “Virginia Woolf’s Double Discourse. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. and Nation.3 (Fall 1994): 342-365. Ed. Bodies That Matter.2 (Autumn 1999): 235-261. Virginia.." *" Works Cited Burns.” Twentieth Century Literature. Butler. Kaivola. 40. . New York: Routledge. “Revisiting Woolf’s Representations of Androgyny: Gender. Virginia. Karen. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 1998. Sexuality. Race. Orlando: Harcourt. Toril.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Pamela L. Caughie. “Re-dressing feminist identities: Tensions between essential and constructed selves in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. 2000. Orlando: a biography. Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature. 18.” Discontented Discourses: Feminism/Textual Intervention/Psychoanalysis. Christy L. “From Sexual/Textual Politics. 1989. Boston: Bedford/St.” Ed. Judith. Woolf. 41-53. A Room of One’s Own. Inc. 1993. 1992. Marleen Barr and Richard Feldstein. David H. Richter. Second Edition. Martin’s.