Gender in Woman Warrior

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Jeanette Winterson’s novel “Written on the Body” (1990) draws a realistic picture of twe ntieth century England, but in contrast to the majority of post-modern works that display chaos and displacement often accompanied by apocalyptic future visions, “Written on the Body” sets love and trust against individualism and control. The simple plot of the story as well as the overload of metaphors and imagery have misled some critics into judging the novel as trivial and romantic, but a closer look clearly does not hold that interpretation. The use of imagery and fantastic elements is much too pointed to be read as mere poetic illustration of romantic feelings. In fact what seems trivial and naive at the surface appears highly thought through at a deeper look. “Written on the Body” is a notable comment on society’s perception of gender and identity. The ostentatious playing with cultural conventions and assumptions related to sexual relationships and the female body, constitutes a sociocritical statement, which is artistically wrapped up in a melodramatic love affair. It challenges the conventional bina ry gender system, although, at the same time, it seems itself trapped in this system. In this paper I want to explore the representation of body, gender, and identity. Chapter 2 deals with the issue of gender roles and gender constructions, Chapter 3 investigates body image and sexuality. And in Chapter 4 I draw a conclusion. 2. Gender

2.1. The genderless I-narrator
The most striking issue the text deals with is gender constructions. With a clever trick Winterson manages to show that gender is indeed a construction: she employs an I -narrator who never reveals her/his sex. 2

There are many papers that try to figure out this ambiguity andprobably due to Winterson’s own biography - are convinced that “I” is a woman2. The fact is that there is no clue whatsoever to the narrator’s sex, and that is exactly the point. The gender-freed narrator offers a new approach towards identity. In a process of interaction with the text that is interwoven with gender clichés of both sexes the reader is forced to shift awa y from tying identity to biological sex: “The reader is caught in a net of hints, false assumptions and red herrings concerning the gender of the narrator, counter-acting the hole set of assumptions about the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’. [...] Stereotypes are presupposed and then counteracted”.3 The bisexual I -narrator combines male-connoted scientific language with female -connoted poetic language and stream of consciousness; a male-connoted fighting scene is juxtaposed with a female -connoted crying scene and so on. One finally has to let go of the idea that the narrator’s sex is the basic clue to her/his personality. The narrator’s mind and thoughts come into focus and build the ground on which the reader perceives her/his personality. That leads to the discovery that identity is not dependent on bodily functions or hormones. Furthermore the sexual activeness and eventual passion of the genderless narrator proves to us that libido and sexual preferences are not dependent on the physical sex either. In that respect the I -narrator is the transformation of modern queer theory into a fictitious character. It mirrors Judith Butler’s assumptions about gender and identity, which are summed up by David Gauntlett as follows: “Butler notes that feminism and sociology more generally had come to accept a model, which she calls the ‘heterosexual matrix’, in which ‘sex’ is seen as a binary biological given - you are born female or male - and then ‘gender’ is the cultural component which is socialised into the person on that basis : You have a fixed sex gender (male or female)...

...upon which culture builds a stable gender (masculinity or femininity)... ...which determines your desire (towards the ‘opposite’ sex). Butler’s overall argument is that we should not accept that these follow from each other - we should shatter the...
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