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By Johanna Kantola (auth.)

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The ‘unity’ of gender is the effect of regulatory practices that seek to render gender identity uniform through compulsory heterosexuality (Butler 1993: 2). The cultural matrix through which gender identity has become intelligible requires that certain kinds of identities cannot exist – that is, those in which gender does not follow from sex and those in which the practices of desire do not ‘follow’ from either sex or gender (Butler 1990: 17). In terms of the identity of women, there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender.

28 Feminists Theorize the State The case of Jennifer Saunders effectively illustrates the sex/gender distinction and the heterosexual matrix at work. When Saunders was sentenced for ‘indecent assault’, Judge Crabtree in Doncaster Crown Court claimed that her alleged assaults constituted an offence that was far more serious than heterosexual rape because Saunders had violated not only the sanctity of her alleged victims’ bodies but their heterosexual identities as well (Smith 1997: 182–3). The judge argued: ‘You have called into question their whole sexual identity and I suspect both those girls would rather have been actually raped by some young man than have happened to them what you did’ (quoted in Smith 1997: 182–3).

However, this does not mean that sexism, racism and capitalism do not exercise actual material effects (Smith 1998: 159). To say that sex and gender are discursively constructed is not to say that they have no material impact on our lives. Sex and gender maybe strategic fictions, but these fictions are key elements in the operation of many powerful institutions (Smith 1998: 156). Third, a focus on the distinction highlights the importance of the context. Discourses are in constant interaction with the context in which they are articulated.

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