Released from Gender? Heterosexual Couples, Intimacy, and Normativity
Gender Studies Program, Sociology Dpt. Masaryk University Brno, Czech Republic
"Increasingly, the individuals who want to live together are, or more precisely are becoming, the legislators of their own way of life, the judges of their own transgressions, the priests who absolve their own sins and the therapists who loosen the bonds of their own past" wrote Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995:5). Have love, coupledom and gender been freed from patterns dictated by modernity? Do we fully negotiate the terms of our "being-togetherness"? How are the norms regulating gender and love constructed in the late modern social landscape? What has become of the normalizing power of the state?
I argue against the view that social actors are the sovereign agents of their lives, and that "norms and morality vary from individual to individual and from relationship to relationship" (ibid.). I criticize the silencing of the political nature of institutions which have supposedly instantiated increased equality, transparency and democracy (Giddens 1992). Through sociological analysis of legal texts, my paper focuses on changes within the symbolic universe of gender. I analyze the historical shifts in what constitutes a family and/or other legal/legible forms of kinship, and under what circumstances. I focus on family laws as they have scripted gender and sexuality in Czech lands since the late 19th century until contemporary Czech family law, together with other relevant legal texts.
This paper draws on my understanding of social domination as created and reproduced through language, i.e. performative speech acts. Elaborating on Austin (1962), Derrida (1988), Bourdieu (1991) and Butler (1997), I perceive the efficiency of performative speech as a function of it belonging to a series of the same acts which sustain a repeated social action. An illustrative example is a legal norm. Backed by the symbolic order, social domination takes the form of symbolic violence when subjects gauge themselves according to the dominant yardstick (Bourdieu 1991). Not only is the symbolic power of language typically not resisted, it is eagerly accepted for it bestows its subjects with social intelligibility. My paper explores how gender norms are reproduced alongside the re-articulations of the symbolic order of law.