Let me just start off by saying that Judith Butler’s Performative Acts and Gender Constitution was a freaking WHIRLWIND for me. As I was reading, I’m pretty sure I audibly said “WHAT???” multiple times, and I know that I put lots of question marks next to some sections. Perhaps that’s all part of the process. Bear with me, my friends, as I try and dig through this mass amount of information. Also for some reason, after reading this, I have an odd thought that Butler could do anything and make it look easy. Don’t ask why I think this because honestly, I’m not sure. I have a vibe. Anyway. Back to the stuff.
Butler believes that gender is a strictly performative act. Gender is something that’s been constructed through history and culture, and we perform gender because it’s something we’re taught to do by society. Butler states, “gender is a basically innovative affair, although it is quite clear that there are strict punishments for contesting the script by performing out of turn or through unwarranted improvisations” (910). So although gender is performative and innovative, there are “punishments” for not going by the script, which I’m assuming is the “Universal Script” that people are supposed to go by. The biological sex script. She also states that the performance of a gender is an act that is repeated. We put on this act daily, and we repeat it over and over again. According to Butler, gender is not something you were born with, and is not “passively scripted on the body” (910), but it’s also not “determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or the overwhelming history of patriarchy” (910). So… if gender isn’t scripted on the body, nor is it determined by nature, language, etc., then what exactly determines it? Our own minds and how we see ourselves?
The problem with not recognizing Butler’s theory is the fact that the act of gender will still be seen as “a natural or linguistic given”, and we won’t have the power to put on that act anymore. Butler is saying that if we don’t start looking at gender for what it is (an act), rather than what people think it is (natural), then the power we have of performing our gender is taken away.
This next part may be a total guess on my part, but I believe that Butler’s critique on the feminist theory lies within page 903. She writes,
“Indeed, the feminist impulse, and I am sure there is more than one, has often emerged in the recognition that my pain or my silence or my anger or my perception is finally not mine alone, and that it delimits me in a shared cultural situation which in turn empowers me in certain unanticipated ways” (903).
I believe that this is saying that sometimes feminists take an approach to womanly experiences in a less than effective way. Butler critiques this approach. Some feminists say that one woman’s pain is another woman’s pain because they’ve all “been through the same thing”, which probably isn’t exactly the case. She goes on to saying, “My situation does not cease to be mine just because it is the situation of someone else” (903), which shows how Butler feels about her “situation”, her pain, silence, anger, etc., not being hers just because those things are everyone else’s, too. A woman may feel a pain that another woman feels, but Butler argues that it should still be viewed as individual pain, not shared pain.