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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Social Sciences | Political Theory | News | June 14th: Lecture by Willow Verkerk on Gendered Mimesis and the Episteme of Sex

June 14th: Lecture by Willow Verkerk on Gendered Mimesis and the Episteme of Sex

Lecture on June 14th, 2022, 12-2pm in Room 201 in Universitätsstr. 3b by Willow Verkerk (University of British Columbia/KU Leuven)

Organized by:The research and teaching area Theory of Politics 

More information: Liesbeth Schoonheim

The lecture will be streamed via Zoom. Access:


This lecture is concerned with how ‘sex’ as a biological category is mimetically formed by historically and culturally constructed notions of gender, including what Sara Ahmed calls “gender fatalism.” In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler criticizes the expressive model of sex, gender, and desire which assumes a linear relationship in which gender and desire express sex. They propose that the binary category of sex can be better understood as constructed and not innate. The concept of ‘sex’ too has a genealogy and like ‘gender’ it has been formed through discursive and cultural networks of power that bind it to heteronormativity and repronormativity. In Living a Feminist Life, Ahmed outlines how not only gender but also sex becomes “a homework”: when it is “assigned” at birth it points to an expectant future. As Ahmed indicates the statements, “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls,” are exemplary of the kinds of gender discourses that reify binary concepts of sex difference in which being a coherent sex is dependent upon representing a ‘correct’ gender.

The notion that sex is primary and gender follows as a representation of sex is questioned by Butler and Ahmed. Instead, it is suggested by them that this imitative relationship also moves in the opposite direction, so that sex imitates gender too. I agree with Butler and Ahmed that it is important to reject the one-sided expressive view. However, I also claim that to sufficiently understand the relation between sex and gender, we require a notion of gendered mimesis as an immanent and affective force which can act to dispossess the episteme of sex of truth claims that resist the gender binary. Thus, the philosophical concepts of sex and gender are not only structured by a relationship of imitation, they are also regulated and modified by a mimetic pathos which has historically acted to divest ‘sex’ from attributes that do not cohere with repro- and hetero- normative values.



Willow Verkerk is a Lecturer in Continental and Social Philosophy at the University of British Columbia and a Postdoctoral Researcher with the Gendered Mimesis Project at KU Leuven. She was previously a Lecturer in Modern European Philosophy at CRMEP, Kingston University. Willow is the author of Nietzsche and Friendship (Bloomsbury, 2019) and other academic texts in feminist and continental philosophy. Current research interests include the philosophy of sex and gender, alternative feminist genealogies of the subject, and Nietzsche’s concept of sovereignty.