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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Gender Performance and Subversion in the Movie Gigli  

2014-06-13 21:42:13|  分类: +西方文化与电影 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Also see http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/articlelist_2077202261_0_1.html (博文目录)

Gender Performance and Subversion:

An Analysis of the Movie Gigli from a Gender Performative Perspective

Zhao Yang (赵洋)

Department of English

Beijing Foreign Studies University

I. Introduction

A. Plot Summary of the Movie

The movie Gigli (2003) is directed by Martin Brest. In the movie, Larry Gigli, an idle rogue, is sent by the gang boss Louis to kidnap a prosecutor’s mentally challenged younger brother Brian. Knowing exactly about Gigli’s incapability, Louis sends a beautiful young lady, Ricki, to secretly monitor him.

Having told Gigli the whole story, Ricki moves into his house, and they keep watch on Brian together. Meanwhile Gigli finds himself deeply attracted by this beautiful and independent young lady. The first night they sleep together, however, Gigli is told that she is a lesbian and has no feelings for him.

Gigli never gives up trying to win her heart with the efforts of showing masculinity as a man, yet without avail. He fails to silence Ricki when they quarrel, and it is Ricki rather than Gigli that manages to threaten gangsters away. As time goes by, their relationship imperceptibly has changed: Gigli gradually ceases to act as a dominant man but is more likely to perform the role of femininity, whereas Ricki performs her gender in a masculine way, who takes the lead in both decision making and actions. Furthermore, what has been transformed is not only their gender roles but sexuality: Ricki, as a lesbian, seems to fall in love with Gigli. In the mission of cutting Brian’s thumb, neither Ricki nor Gigli has the heart to hurt Brian; therefore they decide to deceive Louis with the thumb of a dead man. At last, Ricki talks the big boss over who is irritated by the whole abduction procedure. In the end, she and Gigli together send Brian back and finally run away.

B. Reception of the Movie

Despite a movie with great significance especially in terms of feminist studies, Gigli, the recipient of Razzie Award in 2004 and 2005, has received surprisingly much harsh criticism. The Chicago Tribune criticizes it “as a movie that is less incompetent than bewildering” with “enough pointless, random details” (Caro), and New York Daily News even directly comments that “Gigli is a disaster” (Bernard).

Apart from the tedious plot and the illogical arrangement which arouse most criticism, its theme has neither won much appreciation from the critics. Jamie Russelll from the BBC comments that J-Lo who “plays a lesbian” and Affleck who “seduces her by mooing like a cow” “deliver nothing at all.” With regards to the dialogue between Gigli and Ricki about the penis and the vagina, James Berardinelli remarks in Reelviews that it is “astonishingly awful” and that “sex and relationships are constantly likened to animal interaction.” Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun-Times, on the contrary, appraises the dialogue: “it is so rare to find dialogue of such originality and wit, so well written,” which has to some extent affirmed the value of that scene in the movie.

Although some comments have accurately pointed out the problems in Gigli, the majority of the criticism, as far as this thesis is concerned, could not be regarded as impartial nor serious enough especially in light of their understanding of its feminist theme. As this thesis asserts, the movie is profound in meanings in terms of gender performance and subversion, which, unfortunately, has escaped critics’ notice. In this sense, it is necessary to make a reevaluation of the movie from a gender performative perspective.

C. Purpose of the Study

Making an analysis from a gender performative perspective, the thesis attempts to study how the subject performs his/her gender and in what way gender subversion is made possible. Since the conception of gender discussed in the thesis is no longer limited to traditional gender roles as a social construct but also covers the scope of sex and sexuality, the analysis focuses on two different aspects in order to get a comprehensive interpretation: the subject’s performance of gender roles, which is the performance of masculinity and femininity as social properties, and that of sexuality, namely how the subject transfers between homosexuality and heterosexuality. That is, gender subversion in the movie lies in the fact that while Gigli subverts traditional gender roles, Ricki violates both gender roles and heterosexual hegemony in her gender performance.

The present thesis looks for evidence and details in the movie in the following aspects of the two characters: interpersonal relations, thoughts and psychological state, remarks and behaviors. Then, it makes detailed analysis of the evidence from a gender performative perspective so as to support the main argument.

II. Theoretical Framework

A. Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

The quest for sex and gender is a focal point in feminist studies. Traditional gender roles, casting men as strong, rational and decisive, while women as weak, irrational and submissive, have been very successfully used to justify various forms of inequalities between men and women and to promote the belief that women are innately inferior to men (Tyson 83). Such a belief, as feminists observe, is applied to maintain the male monopoly of positions of economic, political and social power; in this sense, the inferior position of women in patriarchal society “has been culturally, not biologically, produced” (84). Feminism therefore distinguishes between the word “sex” and “gender.” Sex, according to the definition, refers to “the biological constitution as female or male,” while gender means “our cultural programming as feminine or masculine” (84).

In The Second Sex, Simon de Beauvoir raises the famous insight that “one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one” (qted in Tyson 93). By making the crucial distinction between “being female” and being constructed as “a woman,” Beauvoir “posits the destruction of patriarchy if women will only break out of their objectification” (Selden et. al. 127). In this way, gender, which is believed to be socially constructed rather than an invariable identity, begins to own the feature of openness and uncertainty. Julia Kristeva also claims that “strictly speaking, ‘women’ cannot be said to exist” (Butler, Gender 3), arguing gender identities are neither natural features nor biologically fixed, but constantly influenced and constructed by historical, social and cultural factors. In order to achieve gender transformation, it is required to see gender as a dynamic situation and resist the various ways in which patriarchy dictates.

Nevertheless, the persistence in sex/gender distinction as most feminists maintain somehow tacitly approves of a prerequisite biological identity. As Butler argues, “gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which ‘sexed nature’ or ‘a natural sex’ is produced and established as ‘prediscursive,’ prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts…” (Gender 11). “Sex” here refers to the biological body (male or female) and/or sexual desire (heterosexual or homosexual) that is supposed to be a biological feature of that body. Sex, as in sexual desire or as in what Butler calls “sexed nature” which is established as pre-discursive and prior to culture, remains a hindrance to gender transformation and female liberation. In efforts to break away from such a confinement of the sex/gender opposition, Butler argues that sex (as in sexual desire) is also a social construct—gender subsumes sex. As Butler maintains, the category of sex is “naturalized but not natural” (Gender 143); essentially, there exists no distinction between sex and gender in that both should merely be understood within the scope of social and cultural construction. By rejecting a biological sex preceding a gendered self, Butler denounces the imposed causal relationship between sex, gender and sexuality as essence.

Furthermore, since “sex itself is a gendered category” (Gender 11), subjects (male or female) can perform their sexual roles (heterosexual and/or homosexual) the way they perform their (traditional) gender roles (masculinity and/or femininity). As a result, compulsory heterosexuality is challenged. Butler asserts that heterosexuality is merely the result of the “illusion of continuity” of sex and desire created by patriarchal society, which “serves the purposes of reproductive sexuality” (Gender 143). Neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality is based on a seamless identity, but is constituted through the subject’s constantly changing performance. Since the so-called biological foundation of sex or sexual desire is removed, the conception of gender must be regarded as a “constituted social temporality” (Gender 179), which is a “doing” other than a “being.” In short, masculinity and femininity, homosexuality and heterosexuality, are temporary and performative, thereby rendering the proliferation of the subject’s identity possibilities.

B. Performative Gender: Gender in Flux

Developing Beauvoir’s point of gender as a social construction, Butler composes the idea of “gender performativity.”[1] She claims that gender (or gendered sex) is not only a social construct but also a kind of performance: gender is constituted through performativity, which is a reiterated citation of gender norms (Bodies 74). That is, gender performativity is not a single act or event but a historical process of repetition. In consequence, it is required to see the conception of gender as a “constituted social temporary” and a process of tenuous constitution because “the ground of the gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time and not the seemingly seamless identity” (Gender 179).

As Butler asserts, gender is a regulative fiction and the effect of discourse. She claims that “there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results” (Gender 25). In other words, gender, in its element of sexual identity, is not the reason for discourse and social practice but is their result. Under heterosexual hegemony, social and gender norms are set up to maintain its status and stability. The notion that there might be a truth of sex, as Butler states, is “produced precisely through the regulatory practices”, and it is also the requirement of the hetero-sexualization of desire to produce asymmetrical oppositions between “feminine” and “masculine,” which are understood as expressive attributes of “male” and “female” (Gender 23). Simply stated, the continuity of sex, gender and sexuality is nothing but an assumption imposed by heterosexual society, which forces the subject to cite the gender norms and perform “properly”: A male must be masculine and must have desire for a female, and vice versa. If the subject fails to cite and perform the right gender norms, he/she will be punished and defined as “other” or “queer,” being marginalized and powerless (Gender 156). Therefore, performing a gender or “assuming” a sex is a matter of “identification” within the exclusionary heterosexual binary gender matrix (Gender 25), with all members struggling to repetitively perform their “proper” gender. What is worthy of attention, however, is that the individual is both an “effect of the power” and the “element of its articulation,” which implies that heterosexual masculinity is by no means lying still, but should be continuously “asserted, regulated and performed” (Nayak 464).

Butler asserts that gender is neither a “noun” nor “a set of free-floating attributes,” but should always be performative, which is tenuously constituted in time through “stylized repetition of acts” (Gender 33). Such repetition, however, is not necessarily a consistent citation of already existing “conceptualizations” or discursive norms; the uncertainty of the reiterated citation of gender norms makes fractures occur in the process, rendering gender subversion possible. According to Butler, “there are norms into which we are born - gendered, racial, national - that decide what kind of subjects we can be, but in being those subjects, in occupying and inhabiting those decided norms, in incorporating and performing them, we make use of local options to rearticulate them in order to revise their power” (Reddy 117). That is to say, even though social terms inscribe our identities, they do not do so once and for all. The body is not a passive receiver on which cultural meanings are imposed, but “embodies and enacts certain kinds of social meanings” (Reddy 118). Gender performativity means an interplay between individuals and society, in which the former is capable of rearticulating social norms and discursive rules through repetitive performances. As Irene Meijer states, “the reason why repetition and re-signification are so important to my work has everything to do with how I see opposition working from within the very terms by which power is re-elaborated” (279).

The openness and fluidity of gender in itself and the discontinuity of repetitive performances lead to failure in forming a stable and coherent gender and gender identity. The citation of gender norms is not always successful; sometimes false or failed citation occurs, making fractures in gender constitution. Men, no longer invariably performing masculinity as patriarchal society compels them, may perform femininity from time to time. In the same way, it is possible for women to give androgynous gender performances. Apart from subversive performances of traditional gender roles, sexuality is performative and flexible as well. Neither homosexuality nor bisexuality should be regarded as abnormality but only the product of rearticulating gender norms since there are no “so-called ‘facts’ of the biological body” (Reddy 118). It is noteworthy that these fractures are not the end of gender performativity in that the citation, with no origin nor prerequisite ground, is changing all the time, making gender performativity an endless process and rendering gender identity unstable and fluid.

To conclude, Butler troubles the definition of gender by blurring the difference between sex and gender. Besides, by highlighting the artificial, flexible and performative nature of gender, her theory helps the subject to explore greater possibilities and fight for the rights of marginalized identities, including both masculine/feminine and gay/lesbian identities.

III. Gender Roles as Performance: Masculine and Feminine Performances

From the gender performative perspective, gender, which is the effect of discourse, is constructed though performativity, the reiterated citation of gender norms. “Proper” gender roles, which are not natural but naturalized, have been constantly repeated and strengthened by the mainstream culture. Subjects are obliged to cite and repeat their gender roles, to imitate and perform them so as to become a qualified member in patriarchal society. Yet nonconformity to gender norms subverts the traditional gender roles.

A. Gigli: From Masculine to Feminine Performances

According to Brannon, masculinity has mainly four traits: the elimination of feminine behaviors, situating in the dominant position, showing confidence and autonomy, and being brave and adventurous (18). In the movie, Gigli struggles to perform his masculine gender role, trying his best to suit the gender norms and be a qualified member in patriarchal society.

To begin with, Gigli carefully avoids any acts and behaviors that are related to femininity. Having a sturdy, muscular physique, he makes his appearance as a ferocious gangster who is blackmailing a flabby man to withdraw the money owed to his boss Louis. The black jacket in which he always dresses himself and tattoos on his arms together serve to strengthen his masculine image; the frightening envisions about his hostage’s death and the dirty language applied to scare off the passers-by reveal his intentional imitation of a “ferocious figure,” who is supposed to behave in a fearful and potent way. His strenuous performance of masculinity is also obviously indicated in his persistent correction of the mispronunciation of his name. Here is his conversation with Louis:

Louis: [To a man] I’m gonna have to send “Gigli” ['d?igli] over. He is gonna have to settle up with you.

...

Gigli: It’s “Gigli” by the way.

Louis: What?

Gigli: My name is pronounced “Gigli” ['d?ili]. It rhymes with “really.”

Naming, or “interpellation,” as Butler maintains, is crucial in the subject’s constitution of a gender identity (Nayak 463). Having a similar sound with “giggling,” “Gigli” pronounced with a “g” is reminiscent of a sissy and girlish image that exclusively belongs to women in patriarchal society, one that Gigli struggles to eliminate. His persistence in being addressed as “Gigli ['d?ili],” which “rhymes with really,” suggests his efforts to perform like a “real man” and to repress any feminine implications inferred from his name. The reason for his strenuous masculine performance, however, is not that it is masculine by nature, but that it gives him a sense of identification and normality in patriarchal society, where every qualified man is “supposed to be a ferocious figure” as Louis says so.

Furthermore, Gigli’s performance of masculinity is revealed in his exertion to hold a dominant position and show autonomy when confronting with Ricki. His famous analogy of “bull” and “cow” situates him on the opposite side of Ricki, implying he represents the conqueror as the “bull” and Ricki the conquered as the “cow.” In the scene where he quarrels with Ricki, he tries every effort to silence her and to maintain the superiority of his discursive rights: “I am the fucking Sultan of Slick, Sadie. I am the rule of fucking cool ... I’m the fucking original, straight first foremost, pimp-mack fucking hustler, original gangster’s of gangster.”

In this episode, he uses the phrase “I’m...” for as many as three times, indicating his high attention to “who he really is,” which is his compulsory gender role and social identity. By stressing that “I am the rule,” “I’m the fucking gangster’s gangster” and so forth, Gigli endeavors to take dominion in the conversation and to deprive Ricki of her discursive rights, which in effect suggests the expropriation of women’s rights to take action. In other words, the silenced women give tacit consent to whatever men say and do, where phallic language gains the power to create “the socially real” where men hold dominion.

As mentioned earlier, gender is not constituted once and for all; through repetitive performances, the subject may fail to live up to social expectations and deviate from “proper” gender roles. It is possible for a man to perform like a woman, and vice versa. In the movie, Gigli begins to perform femininity as time goes by, and that performance becomes more and more frequent and seems “natural,” showing that the imposed causal relationship between sex and gender is gradually broken. 

One clue is implied in the scene where Gigli reads bedtime stories for Brian, which is Gigli’s initial voluntary abandonment of masculine performance:

Brian: Larry, read to me.

Ricki: Read to him, Larry.

Gigli: I don’t wanna read to him. What do I got to read to him for?

Brian: Read to me, Larry.

Gigli: What for?

Brian: It soothes me down.

Gigli: It soothes you down?

...

Brian: Read to me, Larry.

Gigli: All right, fine.

Inconsistent with the previous scene in which Gigli acts, at least intends to, as an authority and a masculine figure, Gigli tacitly consents to perform the role of a mother by reading Brian bedtime stories, though with much reluctance. Facing Brian’s repeated appeal of “read to me,” he instinctively resists the request by reminding himself “what for?” “I don’t wanna read to him,” which suggests the naturalized gender norms of masculinity on Gigli. Nevertheless, he compromises to perform a feminine, soothing gender role in the end due to Brian’s repeated request, a gender performance in which he fails to cite the gender norms. It reveals the fracture between the social regulation and practical performances, leaving room for gender subversion. In the latter part of the movie, it is even more frequent to see Gigli performing femininity, which seems to be “natural” and effortless: he reads for Brian for even more times, and performs as a caring “mum” by preparing breakfast for Brian before leaving home and comforting him by saying “I’ll be back soon.” It suggests that his masculine gender role is not natural; through repeated gender performance, the naturalized causal relationship between “male” and “masculinity” begins to collapse.

Furthermore, Gigli’s failed masculine performance is revealed in his way of checking fingernails. As Ricki comments, “those who are balanced more towards the masculine in either sex check their fingernail this way [making a half-closed fist and checking fingernails close to the eyes]; and those more towards the feminine, check them that way [extending the arm with the hand open].” Gigli’s unconscious performance of the feminine, violating the compulsory citation of masculine gender norms, suggests the illusory nature of gender roles, which is not fixed biologically but operable and constructive.

B. Ricki: Androgynous Gender Performance

Different from the early masculine Gigli, deeply influenced by gender norms and experiences a process from the citation and reiteration of gender norms, Ricki performs her gender role in a subversive way from the very beginning.

In traditional gender roles, men are cast as rational, strong, protective and decisive, whereas women emotional, weak, nurturing and submissive (Tyson 85). Ricki, on the other hand, frequently performs her gender role of masculinity rather than femininity.

To begin with, Ricki is no longer emotional or ignorant as women in traditional thinking, but is rational and knowledgeable, thereby breaking the binary opposition between men and women in terms of “mind” and “body.”[2] She is always seen reading the book, whether in the sitting room chatting with Gigli or in bed before sleep, making a sharp contrast to Gigli, who does not even own a book. In confrontation with a group of hooligans who make much noise in a diner, it is Ricki that wisely avoids the conflict by using her wits:

Ricki: [To Gigli] I don’t think this is the best time to be drawing attention to ourselves....You know what, creating a scene right now would be a bad thing.

...

Ricki: [Speaking to the hooligans, with a tone of a school teacher] In traditional Tai Moi Chai, there are five levels of digital orb extrusion. That’s the gouging out of your opponent’s eyeball with one finger....Now once the thumb liquefies the eye, it is deftly and immediately replaced by the forefinger. Deep thrust, hooking around and securing the ocular nerve...

In this scene, while Gigli, without properly assessing the situation, is anxious to teach the hooligans a lesson, Ricki remains rational and sensible, reminding him that it is unwise to draw anyone’s attention by fighting while having Brian kidnapped. She peacefully solves the problem with her feminine people skills and masculine wisdom—a made-up strategy “Tai Moi Chai,” whose veiled savage torture successfully scares off the gangsters. Knowing that “the best victory is that which requires no battle” whereas losing temper indicates weakness, Ricki applies to reason and knowledge, together with her charm of femininity, to solve the problem, subverting the female images of ignorance and brainlessness labeled by patriarchal culture.

Moreover, no longer a passive listener or executing whatever order made by men, Ricki is more likely to take a dominant position by frequently using female’s discursive power and take the lead in making decisions and taking actions.

Surpassed by Ricki in their earlier contest, Gigli takes out his anger on Brian and slapped him; it is Ricki that stands out to actively intervene in the conflict:

Gigli [to Brian]: Not fucking crazy! Normal! How about if I smack you in the fucking head, huh?

Ricki: Hey! Leave him alone. We are supposed to watch him, not slap him around.

Gigli: Don’t tell me what we are supposed to do.

Ricki: How about this? You leave him alone or I’ll kill you.

Gigli: You’ll kill me? Fuck you! Go ahead.

Ricki: I’ll kill you.

In this confrontation, the female’s discourse acts more powerful and potent than the male’s. The diction including “you are not supposed to slap him around” and “I’ll kill you” is not only a statement but performs the function of prohibition that stops Gigli’s abuse on Brian[3]. Ricki’s voluntary breaking into the conflict between Gigli and Brian indicates that a woman has an equal say in a conversation, which implies the subversion of the male-dominant discourse.

As the movie develops, it is more frequent to see Ricki taking the lead in making decisions and taking actions. When Gigli hesitates about whether to cut Brian’s finger, Ricki initially suggests replacing it with a dead person’s thumb. She asks Gigli, “Are you with me,” performing as an initiator and leader other than a listener and follower. In confrontation with the man from New York, who is irritated by the irrational abduction of Brian, it is also Ricki that regains her composure, using wisdom and courage to get out of danger by cutting a deal with him. Performing a masculine role, which is determined, active and courageous, Ricki successfully subverts the traditional image of women and re-establishes an independent identity.

Nevertheless, Ricki’s performance of gender roles is not stable or univocal; instead, it may convert with any given situation, which is performing either femininity or masculinity or both. The flexible performativity of gender roles indicates that a stable “gender core” is nothing but an illusion and that gender is performative by nature.

While getting alone with Brian, for instance, Ricki is more inclined to display her feminine qualities such as tenderness, caring and loving. The first day they meet she tells Brian with a smile that he is a “very handsome young man”; while they have supper together, she acts as a caring and nurturing protector for Brian, saying “it is not his fault” and urging Gigli to calm down. Furthermore, when facing up with her ex-girlfriend, Ricki’s performances also change: forceful and dominant as she is in their quarrel, Ricki is willing to kneel down to and take care of her after she gets hurt. Even in her relationship with Gigli, Ricki’s feminine quality is revealed from time to time, such as her understanding and sympathy for his loneliness as Gigli opens his heart.

In Ricki, the boundary of gender roles is blurred. Her gender identity is dynamic in her dual performances of both femininity and masculinity. An interesting clue may be found in Ricki and Gigli’s different attitudes towards their names: Gigli is frequently correcting others’ mispronunciation of his name, persistently telling others that he is “Gigli” rather than the common (mis)pronunciation. In contrast, we don’t even know about Ricki’s real name almost all through the movie. As Butler asserts, gender constitution begins from “interpellation,” naming who is a boy and who is a girl (Nayak 463). Denouncing to be constrained by a “name,” it is possible for Ricki either to be “Ricki,” a name similar to “Ricky” which is a common male’s name and indicates masculine temperament, or to be “Rachel,” which implies tenderness and femininity. The flexible performances of gender roles both as masculinity and as femininity show that gender in itself is constructive and that gender identity can be dynamic, thereby enlarging the living space for subjects to develop and fulfill themselves, including both men and women.

VI. Sexuality as Performance: Gender in Flux

According to Butler, not only traditional gender, but also sex is not innate but the production of performativity. Under heterosexual hegemony where the categories of sex are set as “foundational and causal functions,” heterosexuality has been naturalized to regulate sexual experience and strengthen “the oppression upon women through the binary gender system” (Gender 31). Commenting on Foucault, Butler asserts that the category of sex, which is “an effect” other than a “cause” of sexual experience, behavior and desire, is “itself constructed through a historically specific mode of sexuality” (Gender 31). In other words, the biological foundation of heterosexuality is but the production of heterosexual hegemony. In this sense, sexuality is also constructive and flexible through repetitive performances, in which both homosexuality and heterosexuality (or bisexuality) should be seen as equally normal and acceptable. 

A. The Envisaged Body and Desire of Homosexuality

Institutional heterosexuality, according to Butler, “both requires and produces the univocity of each of the gendered terms that constitute the limit of gendered possibilities within an oppositional, binary gender system” (Gender 30). Heterosexuality has been naturalized and institutionalized in patriarchal society to serve the male rule, which strengthens the oppression upon women through the binary gender system. Ricki, nevertheless, courageously breaks the confinement of heterosexual hegemony by envisaging her body as a female and performing the desire of homosexuality to suit her own will.

Rejecting an already “gendered sex” imposed by heterosexual hegemony, Ricki openly expresses her desire and performs it in a natural and liberal way. At the first night she spends together with Gigli, she rejects Gigli’s display of love by declaring her homosexuality:

Gigli [to the mirror]: Bull. Cow. That’s how that works. There is your bull right here! There’s your bull. There is the horn. You fuck with the bull, you get the horn.... Get the bull by the horn. You know what I’m talking about? I’ll give you the horn. Want to see the horn?

   ...

Ricki: it means you are not my type.

Gigli: Is that right? What about me is not your type?

Ricki: Your penis.

Gigli: What does that mean?

Ricki: It means I’m gay. It means I’m a lesbian.

In Gigli’s monologue, a bull and a cow are situated in the opposite position, where he himself plays the bull with a “horn,” while Ricki is designated to be a cow that should be expecting the “horn.” “Horn,” in his analogy, refers to the penis. Females are supposed to perform submissively because they do not “have the phallus,” revealing the logic of “phallogocentrism” as the foundation of heterosexual hegemony. Nevertheless, from Ricki’s reaction, lesbian or gay is not the one that should be ashamed of but is equally worthy of respect and approval. Her clear expression of the detestation of the penis undermines the logic of phallocentrism, implying the desire of a woman is not necessarily connected with the male or the penis.

As Butler states, the body is never a “natural phenomenon” (Butler, Sex 46). Not seeing the female body as “the trouble,” Ricki initiatively uses her body to “make trouble”: to envisage and worship the female body. Rejecting to see it as a passive receiver, the female body can also be active and powerful, which makes desire among lesbians legitimized and respected. The yoga scene in which Ricki discusses vagina and penis with Gigli is thought-provoking in terms of reinterpreting body and sexuality:

Gigli: When it comes to pleasing a woman, your girlfriends, they are just at natural disadvantage... Nature has evolved men for that purpose. Satisfy. Lead the pack... The penis. That’s right. Its very design tells you everything you need to know. Forward motion. With advancements. Fucking the progress into the dark, deep, mysterious unknown. It’s like adventure-seeking, frontier-conquering, obstacle-eradicating...

Ricki: Let’s reconsider women for a minute... The penis is like some sort of bizarre sea slug, or like a really long toe... One’s first impulse is to kiss the lips...surrounding a warm, moist dizzyingly scented mouth.... The mouth is the twin sister of the vagina. To be squeezed and lovingly crushed by what is truly the all-powerful, the all-compassing...

Traditionally, the penis represents the active and the conqueror in sexuality, while the vagina symbolizes the passive and the conquered. Women, situated at the inferior position under such binary opposition, neither take the initiative nor have the courage to face their body. Ricki, on the contrary, highly appraising woman’s body and desire, builds up a sexuality and gender identity of her own. In her eyes, the penis is nothing but a “bizarre sea slug” or “a really long toe,” while the vagina is “all-powerful” and “all-compassing,” which contains and engulfs whatever is worth admirations and appreciations. In this sense, lesbians can equally, if not more, meet each other’s sexual needs. As one way to illustrate Irigaray’s “lips” theory,[4] the female body is more like the computer keyboard, where “different keys welcome constant touching in order to produce writing,” which suggests a “SHe” logic in which the “He” is enveloped and engulfed by the bisexual “She” (Zhang). Multiple possibilities for all subjects are thus created in such writing in that it is “both productive and reproductive, both homogeneous (when you are writing a blog for yourself and others) and heterogeneous (when different bloggers are responding to your writing instantaneously and/or in deferral), both homosexual and heterosexual, both spatial and temporal...” (Zhang). In that sense, heterosexuality is not the only proper choice or a sealed contract. A single sexuality can be replaced by a multiple sexuality, in which homosexuality, bisexuality as well as heterosexuality can all be legitimized.

B. Performance between Homosexuality and Heterosexuality

Unlike other films which explicitly depict either lesbians or gays to fight for their rights, the highlight of Gigli is that both gender and sexuality remain to be temporary and constructive, which is a “doing” other than “being.” Ricki does not perform homosexuality from beginning to end; instead, her sexuality is uncertain and changeable, performing both homosexuality and heterosexuality. In Gigli’s mother’s conversation with Ricki, it can be concluded that Ricki once was, and is still possibly coming back to be, heterosexual:

Mother: So tell me, are you Larry’s sweet heart?... Let me say up front that I hope so.

Gigli: Yeah. Guess what? She is a lesbian.

Mother: Never mind. She has been with fellows before, am I right, darling?

Ricki: Right.

Mother: But sometimes they have their limitations, am I right? ...You know, I wasn’t always Larry’s mother. I used to be quite experimental.

Inferring from Mother’s words, neither is Ricki always a lesbian in a strict sense of the term in that she “has been with fellows before,” nor is Gigli’s mother always “Gigli’s mother,” who admits that she “used to be quite experimental.” Whatever gender, sexuality, or identity, it is in flux and not set for sure since its “ground” will be “displaced and revealed as a stylized configuration” (Butler, Gender 179). As Gigli’s mother comments, “life is not just black and white” and we should just “keep an open mind” since there are numerous possibilities. The last scene in which Ricki drives away with Gigli is quit symbolic:

Ricki: Rochelle. That’s my real name.

Gigli: Rochelle. So Rochelle, does this mean that you decided to hop the fence?

Ricki: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But I think since I’ve got you into all this, the least I could do was to offer you a ride out of town.

Gigli: Fair enough.

At last, Ricki tells Gigli about her real name: Rochelle, a name implying possible feminine performances both in terms of her gender role and sexuality. As Gigli is asking about her sexuality, Ricki does not support his expectation that the reason she drove back was due to her decision to “hop the fence” [to change back to heterosexuality]. But in the scene before this one Ricki gave him a passionate kiss when Gigli barely finished his request for her “hopping the fence” or a possible romantic relationship with him in the future: “As far as the lesbian thing goes, … if you do think about hopping the fence, promise me you’ll give me a call first.” We could read her kiss here as a gesture to suggest that her door is till open to heterosexuality for him. Besides, in the very final moment of the movie before they drive away from town, Ricki (Rochelle now) says, “Like your mother said, life’s not always black-and-white. Sometimes you just never know.” Although this is a comment on the use of mascara on Gigli to make him more feminine for more gender flexibility, the remark reflects back on Ricki herself, on her attitude toward the flexibility of sexuality, since she is citing his mother’s words on different possibilities for one's sexuality.

We have learned from Butler that with no biological sex preceding the subject, the conception of gender, including sexuality, can be understood as a “constituted social temporality.” In effect, neither is Rochelle her “real” name nor her desire for men or women “real” for sure, which can only be understood through repetitive and uncertain performances. The sexuality of the subject, whether homosexual and/or heterosexual, is only an ongoing process. That is exactly where the significance of gender subversion lies: it does not aim at building some sort of homosexual dominance by overthrowing heterosexual hegemony, but dissolving phallogocentrism and the binary opposition in patriarchal/heterosexual culture so as to achieve harmony between the sexes.

V. Conclusion

The present thesis is designed to study how subjects perform their gender as well as in what way gender subversion is made possible. Specifically, it makes the analysis mainly from two aspects: the performance of gender roles and that of sexuality.  

From the gender performative perspective, gender is constituted through repetitive performances and there is no biological sex that preexists. Through repetition, the subject may fail to cite gender norms imposed by patriarchal society, thereby making gender subversion possible. In the movie, Gigli, who is not confined to masculinity, gradually begins to perform femininity. In comparison, Ricki refuses to cite compulsory femininity from the very beginning and performs an androgynous gender role. Furthermore, her sexuality is also open and constructive. With no biological sex predetermining desire and sexuality, it is shown that Ricki performs between homosexuality and heterosexuality, whose sexual orientation is unstable. In short, gender subversion in Gigli is revealed in the fact that while Gigli subverts traditional gender roles, Ricki violates both the gender roles and heterosexual hegemony in her gender performance.

The highlight of the movie, unlike in other literary works, is that it does not simply depict those characters, reversing their gender roles or sexualities, including masculine women or feminine men, lesbians or gays, to fight for their rights as individuals; instead, it keeps both gender roles and sexuality open: gender is constantly being performed and constructed, which is uncertain and is in flux.

By underlining the flexible and performative nature of gender, “normality” and “abnormality” defined by patriarchal society and heterosexual hegemony are severely challenged. Repetitive gender performance makes it impossible for every subject to own a stable identity, so the male hegemony loses it power of regulation. The possibility of performative gender makes it legitimate for subjects to explore their sexualities, and to expand the living space for themselves, including both men and women, heterosexual and/or homosexual.  

Works Cited

Berardinelli, James. “Gigli Movie Review.” Reelviews. 2003. Retrieved from

    http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_template.php?identifier=2059.

Bernard, Jami. “Gigli.” New York Daily News. 2003. Retrieved from http://www.metacritic.com/movie/gigli/critic-reviews.

Brannon, R. “The Male Sex Role: Our Culture’s Blueprint of Manhood and What it’s Done for us Lately,” in: D. S. David & R. Brannon eds., The Forty-nine Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role, MA: Addington-Wesley, 1976.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discussion Limits of Sex. London: Routledge, 1993.

 ---. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York and London: Routledge, 1990.

 ---. “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex.” Yale French Studies. (1986): 35-49.

Caro, Mark. “Review on Gigli.” Chicago Tribune, 2003. Retrieved from http://www.metacritic.com/movie/gigli/critic-reviews .

Ebert, Roger. “Movie Review.” Chicago Sun-Times, 2003. Retrieved from  http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/gigli-2003.

Meijer, Irene & Baukje Prins. “How Bodies Come to Matter: An Interview with Judith Butler.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 23.2 (1998): 275-286. 

Moi, Toril. Simone de Beauvoir: the Making of an Intellectual Woman. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.

Nayak, Anoop & Mary Kehily. “Gender Undone: Subversion, Regulation and Embodiment in the Work of Judith Butler.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 27.4 (2006): 459-472.  

Reddy, Vasu & Judith Butler. “Troubling Genders, Subverting Identities: Interview with Judith Butler.” Agenda. 62.2 (2004): 115-123.

Russell, Jamie. “Gigli.” 2003. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2003/09/23/gigli_2003_review.shtml.

Selden, Raman, Peter Wilddowson & Peter Brooker. A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. 2005.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York and London: Garland, 1999.

Zhang, Zaixin. “Notes on Luce Irigaray’s l’ecriture feminine.” Online posting. 2010. http://bfsutheory.blog.163.com/blog/static/3229368320103804040733/.


[1] Performativity has not been clearly defined by Butler. “Performativity” and “performance” are interchangeable in her theory (Gender 33, 170-180)

[2] For details about “mind” and “body,” see Rene Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy. London: Oxford UP, 2008.

[3] According to John Austin’s speech act theory, the act of saying something has the performative function in language and communication. For details, see Austin’s How to Do Things with Words. London: Oxford UP, 1962.

[4] According to Luce Irigraray, the concept of “penis envy” is based on the view of woman as man’s “Other,” lacking the penis which he possesses. Irigary promotes the radical “otherness” of women’s eroticism, and only the celebration of women’s difference--their fluidity and multiplicity--can rupture conventional Western representations of them. For details, see Selden, et. al., 144-145.

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