Gender as Simulacrum

Patrick Nagle '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

Cyberspace & Critical Theory

In his essay "Simulacra and Simulations," Jean Baudrillard argues that simulation inverts the traditional practice of formulating models based on observed events:

Simulation is characterized by a precession of the model, of all models around the merest fact — the models come first, and their orbital (like the bomb) circulation constitutes the genuine magnetic field of events. Facts no longer have any trajectory of their own, they arise at the intersection of the models.

Queer theorist Judith Butler argues that gender is a simulacrum because it is an elaborate construct that is not embodied in any person in its totality. The concepts of masculine and feminine instead serve as ideal models of behavior, appearance, and desire. These norms do not exist in the real world of imperfect bodies and unruly minds; rather, they flourish in hyperreality, blissfully detached of all referents, free to exert their intimate, nuclear control.


1. How is gender a simulacra? To which of Baudrillard's four phases of the image does gender belong?

2. Butler says that people who try to defy gender are not culturally intelligible. Does this idea contradict Baudrillard's assertions?

3. Baudrillard states that "facts no longer have any trajectory of their own." Have we ever been able to understand facts without models? In the same vein, is it possible to understand gender except in idealized terms?

4. Are all identities necessarily simulacra?


Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations" in Selected Writings Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 166-184. [Available at European Graduate School site.]

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Last modified 17 October 2006