Post-Structural Feminist Analysis: The Illusion of Opposites

I’ll be working out the format for these posts over time, but for the time being, I will only address one issue at a time, and time stamp the relevant window to watch before reading the analysis.

please watch 00:00–10:22

Contrapoints is arriving at a closer approximation of reality than Blaire, who is talking about a semantic reality at best. That is, we semantically refer to sex traits as an oppositional binary. However, this is not what is really happening.

It is necessary here to explain the illusion of opposites. At the end of this excerpt, Blaire says that a person wants to “go from Male to Female (or Female to Male)”. However, that is not what is in fact occurring. What is happening is that the person, and let’s say they want to transition to Male, is increasing male characteristics (primary and secondary) while, ideally, decreasing female characteristics.

The illusion of opposites simplifies reality (in a dramatically unhelpful way, once we’ve reach a certain level of sophistication or abstraction of ideas). Instead of understanding that things are best measured as existing on a scale of 0–100% (non-existence — nothing but the thing), by relying on the construct of opposition, we end up believing things exist on a scale of one thing — entirely different thing. The belief in opposition basically says if an apple becomes less like an apple enough, it will eventually become an orange. This is because we can’t cope with the idea of the apple qualities vanishing into the void of nonexistence without explanation.

For this and practical purposes, we utilize the concept of opposites (Plato and his Ideal Form is arguably responsible for our tendency to fall repeatedly into this trap).

An opposite is a rationalization of non-existence, whereby we imagine a set of circumstances under which it would be impossible or improbable for the thing to exist.

However, the existence of any given thing is not necessarily — or necessarily inversely — related to the existence of the thing we rationalized as the “opposite” (i.e. a thing or state that’s existence makes the existence of some other thing or state impossible or improbable).

The error Blaire makes with male/female is assuming that opposites are not illusions, and therefore that when someone transitions, someone moves from male to the female. That is incorrect. What one does is attempt to INCREASE one set of sex characteristics and DECREASE the other set of sex characteristics.

They are not on a continuum. You are not moving on a continuum.

Male characteristics and female characteristics are separate switches on the Switchboard of Things Which Exist (I also like to think of a lightswitch with a dimmer). While these two sets of switches may USUALLY behave inversely to one another (one set goes up, the other set goes down), it’s very possible for that to NOT be the case. You could absolutely work to decrease BOTH male and female characteristics or increase both male and female characteristics. We can see from this example that they are not on a continuum of opposites. Moving from one to another is an inaccurate portrayal of reality.

Understanding this would do everyone a world of good generally, but particularly in sociological discussions where we are talking about identifiers. Identities are frequently positioned in the context of this illusion of opposites, to the detriment of society and progress.

We can discuss how that plays out in sociology more in future entries, but for now this seems like a good place to wrap up, and give everyone who is unfamiliar with this idea some time to evaluate and test out the switchboard model versus the illusion of opposites. I hope your experiments with this model will be rewarding.

-PST Feminist