“While earlier forms of feminism centered their politics on the transhistorical, transcultural subject of ‘woman,’ queer theory prods us to question our attachment to the stable categories of men and women.”
– Kathy Rudy, excerpt from “Queer Theory and Feminism” (2000)
Feminist theory isn’t just about finding badass women, it’s about looking for women in literature, and in all aspects of life, as characters, creators, and critics, seeing how they’re portrayed or how they portray things, and then considering what that says about women and society as a whole. And, like the feminist lens, queer theory is not just about making everyone gay. It’s about subverting and reinterpreting all of the things which we would consider “normal.”
Over time, these two lenses have become so intertwined that most scholars don’t even say queer theory or feminism, but rather sexuality and gender studies, lumping them together under one umbrella. And while some might consider this a disservice, abridging the two in a kitschy two-for-one deal, feminism and queer theory actually benefit greatly from each other’s influence.
Where feminism would look at a text and ask what it says about the role of women, queer theory would tell the feminist to stop and consider the very idea of a “role” for a “woman,” and encourage the feminist to slant or skew their viewpoint to consider not just their function within the societal construction, but the very society itself. Feminism misses a key component without queer theory, as it comes to rely on the very system it is attempting to subvert, becoming so caught up in fighting the patriarchy that they never even think to question the patriarchy itself.
Likewise, queer theory can become so insistent on advocating for the tearing down of the system that it can forget about the roles of house and home that women have, historically, fulfilled. Feminism holds up traditionally “feminine” aspects of existence and glorifies them, revels in and celebrates them, whereas queer theory is so academically minded, it can toss those thing by the wayside.
The two theories work best in tandem, feminism fighting to defend the roles of motherhood and the traditionally sweet, soft, and feminine while simultaneously defending women who look to defy those roles, and queer theory questioning while all of these things are considered “feminine” in the first place, instead of just aspects of personhood.
While feminism advocates for those who might be perceived as “strange” or “Other” by society, attempting to widen the molds available for women, queer theory looks to make society itself into the “Other,” and the idea of molds for womanhood “strange” in and of itself. Both look to improve society and make it more equal, but do so from opposite ends of the spectrum, in a partnership that might, on the surface, even itself be considered “strange.”