53 *Recall to your memory the scene in Titanic where Rose wants Jack to teach her how to act like a man*

Shannon Haley

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According to Butler, gender is an “…an identity tenuously constituted in time- an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts” (Butler 900). She then goes on to explain that gender is an action and performance and states that sex is biological and gender is a signifier. Butler uses Beauvior’s statement that we are not “born, but, rather, become” to state that gender is not “a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed” (900). Butler’s argument works against this statement  by saying that we do not become a man or a woman naturally or by chance, but our gender is decided and displayed through individual actions and behaviors which work with or against the “mundane social audience”.

A quote that stood out to me on page 904 dealt with feminism and oppression. Butler writes:

“Indeed, one ought to consider the futility of a political program which seeks radically to transform the social situation of women without first determining whether the category of woman is socially constructed in such a way that to be a woman is, by definition, to be in an oppressed situation”.

This quote was interesting to me because Butler is saying that within society, women are meant to be oppressed, and, later on in the same paragraph, that women seek solidarity so desperately that they often believe in the fake promise of political equality. It reminds me of the previous essay we read in class about feminism by Audre Lorde. At one point, Lorde writes that white women are more easily lured into false equality by the patriarchy because of the “fantasy” of sharing power, because even if they believe in that fantasy, they are still being oppressed in one way or another.

The problem/danger with not recognizing Butler’s theory is the fact that we are stuck (and could possibly stay stuck) in the idea that there are two set genders, male and female, which we become through different social rites of passage and traditions. By staying in this mindset, the idea that gender is decided and expressed through actions and performances will be overlooked and the cycle of oppression and strict labels will continue to repeat itself.

Butler critiques feminism by arguing against gender roles that are often displayed in feminist movements. She argues that a large portion of the feminist movement is overly concerned with the segregated roles of men and women rather than working with gender and the idea that it is an “act” in order to achieve the ultimate goal of equality. If people believe that there is no set gender categories, then gender becomes nonexistent and, ideally, everyone goes home happy (this being put in a very simplistic manner, of course).


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

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