Friday, November 18, 2011

Gender and Bad Faith

This week during our discussion of Simone de Beauvoir's work, we examined the difference between sex and gender. The former is a biological technicality, written clearly and explicitly on your birth certificate. The latter, on the other hand, is a social performance or project, something and individual must develop for him or herself. As Beauvoir herself says, "One is not born a woman, but becomes one." Such a claim is consistent with Sartre's claim that "existence precedes essence." A person is male or female before he or she becomes a man or a woman.

What I found most interesting was the notion that gender is not a constant; it is not a trait that a person creates for themselves but then never evaluates further. If we consider gender to be a spectrum or gradation rather than an either/or distinction, it becomes easier to imagine an individual being closer to one end on some days and closer to the opposite end on other days. Bad Faith was mentioned in class in relation to one's sexuality, but I began to think of its application to this gender spectrum. If it is the case that each individual is constantly fluctuating between masculinity and femininity, in some ways finding themselves male and in other ways female, then would calling oneself wholly male or wholly female be acting in Bad Faith? It certainly is reminiscent of Sartre saying that we act in Bad Faith when we consider ourselves to be wholly transcendent or wholly at the mercy of our facticity.

Consider a woman who calls herself a woman, yet also claims to identify much more with the male gender. She is not easily overcome by emotion, she is not delicate or feminine, and she does not dress in "pretty" clothes. She is fully aware of her departure from the woman gender, but she still considers herself a part of it. Is this Bad Faith?

Of course, this may be an unfair evaluation. It's very likely that this hypothetical woman would not be aware of the difference between sex and gender. It's even more likely that she would not believe gender to be a spectrum. But if she were told those things, would she still consider herself a woman or would she consent to being, at least in part, a male?

The example of drag queens is especially interesting when considering Bad Faith, because it would seem that they are the most sincere in their gender role. They recognize both their feminine and masculine characteristics and don't try and throw themselves into one gender.


  1. This is definitely an intriguing idea. I can't think of any reason that your example shouldn't be considered an instance of bad faith, too; it certainly seems like claiming oneself to be wholly factual. It still feels like a rather alien concept to me, though. Thinking of gender as a fluctuating value makes me imagine someone declaring himself as male one day, only to be distinctly female the next. Of course, this is surely just the automatic association of gender to biological sex.

    I don't think that all this is to say that one can't identify only as one gender, though; if that is the only gender he ever feels he is, so be it. This situation would probably just be extremely rare.

  2. This is an interesting idea. I think I agree with you about drag queens. They do not deny their facticity; the remain male, they simple preform some female gender roles. In dressing like women, they are transcending their facticity without denying it, so perhaps you're right, a drag queen would not be an instance of bad faith.

  3. I think the relation between bad faith and gender is a tricky one and difficult to establish. In this case of the biological woman who is masculine but identifies with the feminine, if she is in bad faith, we need to examine how she is in bad faith. The facticity here would obviously be her sex, but we can also include her outward appearance, the way she dresses and behaves, which is available to any observer around her. The transcendent component would be how she regards this facticity, and it looks like you would describe her as recognizing her masculine qualities while still identifying as female. If this is bad faith, I'm not sure how, and I'm starting to doubt the appropriateness of the concept onto a situation like this -- or maybe all we need to know is WHY she identifies with the female. If she does so because this choice is what is expected of her and how a biologically female person ought to identify herself, then I think the answer is yes, she is acting in bad faith because she regards her decision to be female as something constituted entirely by facticity. She would be fleeing her freedom.

    I'm not sure if the apparent contradiction of "being male" while "identifying female" itself is an instance of bad faith -- I'm not sure how this case can be a lie to oneself with regard to facticity and transcendence. I think in order to properly apply the concept of bad faith to a situation like this requires that we understand WHY she identifies as she does, rather than just THAT she identifies.


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