In the assigned article for this week, Jackie Stacey analyzes the ways in which the film Gattaca addresses not only the topic of eugenics in terms of DNA technology but also the role of gender in terms of identity formation in connection to science and discriminatory archetypes that exist in cinema and culture as a whole. She explains how the film shatters the notion of “masculine singularity,” through the two main male characters, Jerome and Vincent and also displaces standardized conceptions of fixed identity and the stereotypical expectations that prescribe the limits of male kinship along with the ubiquitous idea that one’s biological sex (scientific, DNA based) is inseparable from gender (a social construction). Though Jerome and Vincent’s relationship begins due to a desire to either go to space or to receive compensation, the two men are mutually dependent on one another and begin to help one another in ways that are not traditionally presented in main-stream cinema. This presentation of male kinship in the film inadvertently displaces the idea that gender and one’s accompanying identity is inextricably linked to genetics, sex, and heterosexuality and perhaps inadvertently challenges the expectation that male friendship and companionship is always shallow and based on shared interests rather than based on a deeper connection and mutual dependency. Her thesis that the film challenges heteronormative conceptions of identity and its connections to fixed views of gender reminded me of another book that I read by The History of Sexuality by philosopher Michel Foucault.
His basic thesis is that sexual discourse and essentialist views of sexuality and identity as a whole are rooted in power relations and have endured through generations with grave social consequences through the field of scentific and its discourse. For Foucault, scientific and medical language is used to reestablish such power relations which in turn, lead to the social reproduction and the maintenance of gender roles in society as well as social hierarchy (Foucault 73). This allows those who are deemed as knowledgeable (that is-scientists, psychiatrists, doctors, etc.) to maintain their roles as powerful and trustworthy because individuals without specialized scientific knowledge are overall unfamiliar with the specified discourse. The result of this is the ability for those in power to police individual bodies and to indirectly maintain the general discourse and understandings of identity and sexuality as fixed, gendered, and strictly biological (Foucault 97). Foucault further discusses the ways in which science, technology, and medicine are used in order to openly police and regulate the human body and indirectly police, regulate, and control the coinciding gender roles within society as a way of maintaining the current social structure and reinforcing homogeneity not only in terms of gender but also for the purposes of regulating race as well. This policing of bodies is an idea explored in Gattaca and it exemplifies the idea that through science and genetic makeup, those in power positions with knowledge, contribute to discriminatory discourses in society.
The essentialist approach to understanding one’s identity as fixed and pre-determined is prevalent and begins often times before we are even born. For instance, when a child is born they are automatically declared as either male or female due to the combination of chromosomes that they have. Not only are chromosomes inherited, but a specified cultural identity is also indirectly passed on to the newborn as well. This identity is formed without the consideration of one’s personality or character and shapes the individual’s future life as the child develops. The notion that sex (science) determines one’s gender (social) is profoundly influenced by scientific study and research. This belief reinforces the essentialist idea that sexuality and identity can be objectively analyzed and understood without any further considerations because it suggests that if one’s biology is set in stone then it can be measured empirically and thus is able to categorized. However, the spectrum of normality versus abnormality in terms of what behaviors, sexual preferences, and practices one embodies is not a binary mode of measurement. The field of clinical psychiatry is another science-based institution that reinforces issues of fixed identity and essentialism in terms of sexuality (Foucault 84). Foucault’s book explains the ways in which medicine, science, biology and psychiatry all seek to categorize people and place them within a limited frame of social understanding and categorize them as normal or deviant. For instance, psychiatry and therapy is often used by people to understand the root of some kind of problem that they are having. When an individual is diagnosed with their prescribed pathology it is often viewed as either the result of a chemical or neurological imbalance or as a result of a negative experience that occurred at some point . This new label is also a power exchange which once again, cements the validity of labels in terms of gender and sexuality and deviance versus normalcy. This scientific approach to understanding identity is not invalid nor is it ethically wrong however, some of the social implications that result from this from viewing science and research as binary and objective without embracing other social considerations can lead to social inequality and perpetuate discriminatory behavior and stereotypes when it comes to gender and sexuality. To me this interplay between science and cultural is reflective of the idea that art, science, and technology are always connected and reliant one another.
***If anyone is interested in reading The History of Sexuality, you can actually find a free pdf of the entire book online***