The Gnostic Roots of Gender Theory

Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler are two of the most influential characters in the formulation of the so called ‘Gender Theory’, which in the last 30 years has become the norm in society. Through their famous – or infamous – writings, they began a sexual revolution that has brought to society a false humanistic ideology with a new understanding of gender and sex, crucial in shaping our culture in this third millennium. However, even though it seems to be a new thing in the world of thought, it has its roots in the very old lie found in Gnosticism.

Gnosticism was one of the first great heresies that Christianity suffered. It was born from the question of existence of evil, which Gnosticism answered by positing a dualistic view of the world and the human person, that there is a Good God and a Bad God. The Good God is totally transcendental of the material world, unknowable, and he contemplates himself eternally living in Hyperuranius. From the contemplation of himself different emanations (Aeons), lesser spirits, come into existence. The lowest emanation from the Good God is called the Demiurge who created the material world as an act of rebelliousness towards the Good God. Gnostics identified this Bad God as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. This Bad God, Yahweh, is the one that has created the material world, and stole human souls, which are divine sparks, from the Hyperuranius imprisoning them in material bodies. Here we see a dualistic view of the human person that presents the human soul as a divine spark enslaved in the body and thus needing to be liberated from the material world.  How do we free ourselves from the material world which is a prison? By beginning a revolution against the God of the Old Testament and his commandments which enslave us.

This is the main point of Gnosticism: the ten commandments are evil together with the natural law, and you have to disobey and deny them in order to free yourself from the Bad God. This mentality has tremendous consequences in the moral life because, according to Gnosticism, the more immoral you are, the more perfect you become. This is why Gnosticism argues that the man that breaks the commandments is the pneumatic man who has freed himself from the Bad God.  This is where the Gnostics presents the serpent of Genesis (Satan) as a messenger sent by the Good God that comes to show us the way to freedom, which is by eating from the fruit, an image of breaking the commandments. Man being a Divine spark decides what is good or evil and thus he is called to do whatever he wants, to liberate himself from the slavery of the Evil God.  This is, albeit, a very simplified explanation of Gnosticism, but it is enough to see its characteristics present in Gender Theory especially in Simone de Beauvoir and in Judith Butler.


According to Beauvoir, women have become enslaved by a patriarchal society that has given women an inferior place.  She argues that we have arrived at this situation through a process of mystification. Man, through cultural power, has convinced women that to be submissive to man is her natural place where she will experience true happiness. Man has used the excuse of motherhood, based on her flesh and facticity, to convince women that this is the highest action that they can do: to be incubators of flesh. Beauvoir accepted the facticity of the human body and the necessity of basing gender roles on the facticity of the biological sex. However, it is important to note that, even though Beauvoir accepts this facticity, it is a facticity given without meaning. By the hands of the ‘mystifiers’, we have been given the meaning to how to act according to our biological sex by constructing a gendered culture based on the meaningless fact of sex. Society has created a number of expectations telling women what it means to be a woman. This social construction gives to women the place of the second sex where they are called to be happy by being submissive to man, allowing herself to be defined by him. Thus, according to Beauvoir, the main thing we must embark upon is to do a process of demystification, of both man and woman, through which each will begin to realize that they are committing an act of bad faith because they are not respecting the freedom of the other, so that they can begin a rebellion to liberate each other’s freedom.


Butler was influenced by the thought of Simone de Beauvoir but, at the same time, she criticized her point of view on woman.  The problem that Butler had with Beauvoir’s thought is the relationship that she makes between sex and gender in connection with the facticity of the body. For Butler, to accept the facticity of the body is contradictory to the belief that there is no meaning in things, because by recognizing the facticity of the bodies, Beauvoir is imposing meaning on the female body. This is what makes Butler go a step further.

According to Butler, there is nothing given to us, not even the facticity of the body. It is here where she inverts metaphysics by denying the existence of stable substances. Butler argues that the very concept of substance is a social construction of the heteronormative system that uses cultural powers to make you act as you act. This patriarchal system has created a set of concepts and laws, such as sex, gender, heterosexuality, and substance (nature), to force us to perform according to the heteronormative system, using the threat that if you do not follow this law, you will be cast into the world of non-being. In other words, you will be socially excluded and discriminated against if you do not perform according to the sexual roles dictated by culture, which are supposedly based on biological sex. This is why Butler wrote in Gender Trouble that “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being.”[1] This is what she calls performativity.

In this gendered matrix, heterosexuality is imposed and establishes man as superior to women, giving to woman the place of the second sex. Furthermore, Butler argues that this patriarchal system has been constructed based on the fear of homosexuality. This is so because, according to her, following Freud, the primary sexual attraction of every child is directed towards the parent of the same sex, not the opposite sex parent. This means that homosexual desires are the natural tendency and the real object of sexual desire in every human being, but the cultural powers have been repressing this homosexual desire presenting it as an atrocious and unnatural desire that must be destroyed. It is this unrecognition and fear of homosexuality that has led culture to develop social structures that sexualized the body, in a heteronormative dictatorship, as male or female, and only if you follow these sexualized structures, you can enter the realm of existence. This is why Butler believes that “gender is an unconscious and socially-compelled performance, a series of acts and behaviors that create the illusion of an essential identity of ‘man’ and ‘woman.’”[2] Gender is not an essential truth derived from the body’s materiality, as is Beauvoir’s notion of facticity, but rather a regulatory fiction that is imposed in us creating the reality of sex. It is through this illusion of an essential identity of man and woman that the cultural powers are constantly threatening us with the fear of casting us into the realm of non-being, to awake in us desires to perform according to the heteronormative system in order to be recognized as a real being, and not be marginalized and despised.

The solution, then, is to follow a process of cultural demystification through a revolution in which she invites us to act against the heterosexual matrix through “cultural practices of drag, cross-dressing, and the sexual stylization of butch/femme identities[3] to little by little disrupt heteronormativity because we cannot allow anyone to define us, forcing us to be what we are not. This performativity against the heterosexual matrix “will denaturalize sex and gender by means of a performance which avows their distinctness and dramatizes the cultural mechanism of their fabricated unity.”[4] In other words, we need to do a cultural revolution in which we begin acting against heterosexuality to destroy the heterosexual patriarchal dictatorship that presents heterosexuality as the normal thing, which has given birth to the concepts of sex and gender. It is in this point where now we will pass to analyze the gnostic structure that both Beauvoir and Butler follow.

As we saw before, in Gnosticism, the Bad God (Yahweh) is – if we may use Beauvoir and Butler’s concepts – the mystifier who has tried to convince humanity that to follow the commandments is the right thing to do, threatening them with the punishment of death if they do not follow his commandments. Then, it is the serpent (devil) who comes to demystify us by making us aware of this state of slavery and of the divine nature of our freedoms inviting us to rebel against this God and his laws in order to achieve perfect freedom. We can translate this into Beauvoir and Butler’s thought seeing that in them there is this dualistic vision of the world: there are the mystifiers and the mystified.

The mystifier, instead of Yahweh, is Man who has convinced women that to be happy they have to be submissive to man. Thus, women come to be the oppressed ones who cannot enjoy their absolute freedom; in Gnostic terms, they cannot enjoy their divine nature. The solution to this oppression is to go through a process of demystification through a revolution that wakes up men and women from this state of bad faith and to begin enjoying equally their absolute freedoms. Therefore, the book of The Second Sex and Butler’s philosophy come to be like the serpent in Gnosticism to awake in us the knowledge of this state of slavery and the recognition of the divine nature of our freedoms. This means to be a being that is not determined by another. Rebellion against natural and moral law is the only pure act through which you impose your freedom onto the freedom of others.


Another Gnostic aspect present both in Beauvoir and Butler is the view of the body as a prison to freedom. Beauvoir presents it focusing more on the rejection of the female body. The facticity of women, concretely the potentiality of motherhood, is a handicap to her freedom and man has used it to convince her that this is her natural role: to be a mother. The solution is to break the bonds of motherhood through abortion to destroy the fact that women are more prey to the species.

In Butler’s thought we can see the same Gnostic schema in a more radical way. According to her, the material world does not determine anything about our identity. The problem is that the patriarchal heteronormative power has created a gendered matrix full of laws that carry the threat, as it was said earlier, of being cast out into the world of non-being if one fails to comply. From a Gnostic perspective, the patriarchal powers come to be like the Bad God of the Old Testament that has created and imposed heterosexual laws upon us, threatening us with the fear of being cast out into the world of non-being. Butler’s philosophy acting like the serpent of the Genesis makes us aware of our divine nature that is enslaved by this patriarchal culture. This is why we need a revolution to break the heterosexual matrix by doing all kind of immoral actions as Gnosticism believes. We have to promote immoral actions such as transsexuality and homosexuality, to denaturalize sex and gender and to disrupt the heteronormative matrix that has created heterosexual bodies. In Gnostic words, it is not true that if you do not follow the commandments you will die. It is not true that if you do not follow the heterosexual order you will be cast out into the world of non-being. On the contrary, the more you break them the more you liberate your divine nature.

As we can see the thoughts of Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler are strongly influenced by Gnosticism. I believe in order to successfully fight against this destructive ideology we must know the roots of it which are found in Gnosticism which carries the first lie of the Devil to humanity of sinning to become like gods, but that instead of bringing us to have a better life, it kills us.


[1] Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1989.  Pg.45

[2] Favale, Abigail. “The Eclipse of Sex by the Rise of Gender.”

[3]  Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1989.  Pg.137

[4] Ibid, pg.138