I have a few questions about the presentation of gender and sex in Monsiuer Venus. Mostly, I’m going to try to work out whether the distinction between sex and gender is as great as it appears.
Monsiuer Venus creates a distinction between sex and gender, challenging the idea of biological determinism in gender. While Raoule is biologically female she perpetuates a masculine gender identity. Similarly, Jacques develops a more feminine identity as his relationship with Raoule develops. However, Rachilde suggests multiple times that Raoule’s male gender presentation is incomplete because Raoule lacks a penis. For instance, Rachilde says, “And yet, Jacques signed, you will always be lacking one thing!” (103) – referring to Raoule’s lack of a penis. It is iterated over and over that, “Roule, you just aren’t a man” You just can’t be a man!” (183). So, although there seems to be a distinction between biological sex and gender, Raoule cannot be a “complete” or “real” man. This seems to suggest a more determinist view of sex and gender.
I mentioned, in passing, that Jacques acquires a more feminine identity as his relationship with Raoule develops. Though he has a sort of androgynous look that Raoule describes at the beginning of the novel, he does not seem to have the same feminine gender presentation that he later has. It feels like Raoule, throughout the course of the work, is able to make Jacques more feminine. This makes me wonder if, to Rachilde, gender is something that is inherent in an individual, or if it is something that can be artificially constructed. She seems to be suggesting throughout this novel, that gender is something that can be constructed and is not necessarily determined one way or the other.
Although Rachilde’s characters defy gender norms, their gender identities perpetuate more traditional understandings of gender. For instance, Rachilde writes, “A strange life began for Raoule de Venerande, starting with the fatal moment when Jacques Silvert gave up his power as a man in love and become her thing, a sort of lifeless object who let himself be loved, because his own love was powerless. For Jacques loved Raoule with a real woman’s heart. He loved her out of gratitude, out of submission, out of a latent desire for unknown pleasures…” (92-93). Here, Rachilde associates ‘power’ with a masculine identity and ‘powerlessness’ with a feminine identity. This suggests that the power relationship between two individuals in a relationship is dependent on their gender – where the masculine individual has power over the feminine individual. Thus, even if Rachilde is distinguishing between sex and gender, she still allows for gendered terms to have certain traditionally societally accepted definitions of power in relationships.
Thus, while I initially thought that Rachilde was making a case against biological determinism, it seems as though her challenges to the determinist view of sex and gender do not run as deep as they at first seem. But I’m still left perplexed as to what, precisely, Rachile’s conception of gender is.