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Wednesday, 7 April 2004

Binary Oppositions

Celeste Hutchins
Mystic Voices
Cixous, Sorties

Cixous starts with binary oppositions, such as "Sun/Moon" to "Father/Mother." She makes the point that binary oppositions are heirarchical and patriarchial. One side of an opposition is always ranked better than the other and that side is identified as male. The most tangible duality that humans see everyday is male/female, but for some this is not a binary opposition. Transgendered people may switch sides or may reject the idea of an opposition altogether. Their actions are met with hostility and sometimes violence. Transgendered people now are more likely to be victims of a hate crime than any other group.

When Joan of Arc was young, she started to have visions, which told her to dress as a man and take up arms. Freud wrote that, "One may observe that it is just those girls who in the years before puberty showed a boyish character and inclinations who tend to become hysterical at puberty." In class, Professor Zieman remarked that at puberty, Joan of Arc became a boy. In this reading, Joan crossed sides of the binary opposition from female to male, and from weakness to strength.

I would like to argue that she did not cross the opposition, but rather straddled it. While she did start to dress as a man and take on a male role, she made no effort to hide her identity as a woman. She did not change her name. In fact, she chose a title for herself that was explictly female and feminine. "Pucelle" is a word like "maiden." Furthermore, during her trial, she bragged that she excelled at all the womanly arts. One of the charges brought against her had to do with her telling a comrade that she would have three sons, one of whom would go on to become Pope. She did not transition fully to male, but held on to, and was proud of, her female-gendered activities and traits.

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