49 Constructing Gender

Ryan French

According to Butler, gender is an identity “tenuously constituted in time – an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts.” This means that Butler sees gender not only constructed, but continuously constructed. Gender is not, according to Butler, something that you are born into. It is not a predetermined appearance or a tangible part of the body; gender, rather, is an idea that is enforced by culture.

Following Butler’s theory puts much at stake for particular groups, such as those deemed “heteronormative”, or for those following certain forms of feminist theory.

Heteronormative discourse is our discourse. It’s the discourse that gives the mythical norm – straight, white, Christian, “well-off” men – their power, even if they do not necessarily seek that power or agree with it. This discourse places all those with “abnormalities” – women, people of color, boys who kiss boys- into a lower social class, a class that they can never break out of due to the inherent power patriarchy has within the discourse.

By never realizing that gender is a play, an act, something continuously done and not born into, then we will always be stuck in this same discourse, this same narrative where even if there are women’s rights or gay rights or civil rights, the rights are still needed or else we risk falling back into the same-old same-old.

This idea challenges feminist theory, which is built off of the word “women”. “Women deserve equality!” they chant. But by holding onto that word “women”, they will never truly be freed from the oppressive chains that seek to desperately to destroy. By using the word “women”, they are continuing the gender-binary – by identifying themselves as women, they are saying that women even exist at all. People with vaginas exist, and those individuals need some kind of identifier for themselves. But to use the word women is counterproductive – there is too much wrapped up in it, too much claim by discourses that are running wild in an attempt to keep a thumb over those outside of the mythical norm.

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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Ryan French is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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