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“The Art of Not Being Sexed Quite So Much: A Feminist Reading of Roland Barthes”

New article from Lila Braunschweig titles “The Art of Not Being Sexed Quite So Much: A Feminist Reading of Roland Barthes“, published in Political Theory.


This article offers an underexplored resistance strategy to gender norms, based on a feminist and queer reading of the work of French thinker Roland Barthes. Building on Barthes’s peculiar conception of what he calls “the Neutral” and revisiting his work in light of feminist and queer scholarship on sexual (in)difference, my main goal is to reshape our understanding of what it means to be gender neutral. In opposition to classical conceptions of neutrality associated with passivity, indifference, and blandness, I show that Barthes’s Neutral can be conceived as an active gesture, which alters common systems of meanings and power, including the gender binary. But this conception of the Neutral, I argue, neither refers to a call for an androgynous, queer, or nonbinary gender experience. It does not target gender embodiments but gender regulations—that is, the social enforcement of gender categories (by way, for instance, of administrative forms, single-sex bathrooms, or normalizing attitudes toward others). A gender-neutral arrangement, therefore, refers to an ethical, administrative, social, or spatial relation in which subjects are not assigned based on gender categories. This practice of gender suspension, I show, has two main transformative effects. First, it opens a space of freedom and livability for gender-nonconforming subjects. Second, it contributes to lessening the significance of sexual difference in social life and therefore alleviating its symbolic and normative weight for everyone.