54 I Am Not a Gender, I Play a Gender

Jared Gendron

In her argument Performative Acts and Gender Constitution, Judith Butler asserts that gender is performative and dictated through the repetition of acts across a population. Using her own words, gender is compelled by “taboo” and “social sanction” (901). What gender isn’t is a fact, or in other words, it isn’t predetermined by our sex. Rather, gender is social and historical. Butler argues that the body has the potential for possibility that is not dictated by our biology, and gender follows that principle. It is something which one becomes rather than what one is from the advent. “To be a female is, according to that distinction, a facticity which has no meaning, but to be a woman is to have become a woman…” (902). The significance of Butler’s argument is that gender serves the sanctity of society. What that means is that defying the norms of gender will lead to reprimands and disdain from the conforming power because gender is a concept meant to drive forward life. Without the distinction of gender, supposedly there would be no attraction to the “opposite”. If there was no attraction in this case, then living beings could not survive through reproduction. Gender serves this function, but in human society gender has surpassed it, and any semblance of defying gender is “uncanny”, as we have observed. Gender “might be well understood as the spiritual or psychological correlate of biological sex” (908). Gender can only exist as far as humans act out its narrative. Butler argues to feminist theorists that gender must be described as a performance. She highlights the imitative nature of gender and that people are actors playing our roles. She also is against the simple binary system of heterosexuality, citing that gender is not restricted to that convention alone.


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

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