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According to Butler, sex, gender, and sexuality seem to be deeply interrelated; society imposes the formation of this connection by the repetition of special formalized actions (20). These are necessarily regular and permanent in shaping the actual gender of a person. Following the views of the author, who states that choice in the formation of gender and sexuality is not transparent, and a key role is still played by others in the form of expectations and social norms from the outside, it is evident that my social position is constructed by the community, family, experience of the previous generations, and other essential factors.
Social Position Should Not Be Predefined
Men and women are expected to behave in a certain way. This is related to the issue of normalization, meaning that there is a canon of gender-associated sexual relations, making people “bounded beings” (Butler 20). For example, consider the cases of a man and a woman, whose roles in the eyes of their society are strictly defined. The man should be brave, serious, etc., while the woman should present her own fixed properties such as femininity and traditional female virtues. Conventionally, society consists of the identified normalized people, and they cannot (i.e., are not allowed to) change their roles. Most importantly, none of them can independently choose an identity.
The author of the given passage describes a situation where all individuals, from the moment of birth, throughout childhood, and in the course of education are instructed to be either man or woman and follow the corresponding behavior patterns. Butler reveals a much more fundamental reason for combating discrimination and coercion, formulating the task of emancipation on a global scale because, as it turns out, power not only penetrates social institutions but also specifies how people perceive themselves. Thus, I believe that this is a political problem. A mere declaration of the equality of men and women has not been enough to solve the political problem. It may be noted that feminism, before the new approach created by Butler, pursued defending the very identity that was imposed by all of history and society. In other words, women wanted to be equal and free but still had to possess or at least exhibit standard female virtues.
The effects of the society, community, and family I inhabit are the causes of the identification of my social position. Butler claims that “we are, as a community, subjected to violence, even if some of us individually have not been” (18). For example, in addressing me as a young boy, my mother used to tell me: “Do not act like a girl.” This is a standard phrase, and it shows how a certain norm is set. The above phrase means: You are a man, and you cannot act like a girl, and—more than that—it is insulting to you.
This is what is called “a sense of possibility.” In another example, boys and girls in my classroom were asked to imagine that tomorrow they would wake up in another body and would have a different gender. The girls responded by saying that they would probably go further, make a career, and become successful persons. The boys answered that they would hang themselves. For them and me, this scenario would be completely unacceptable and offensive. In this light, the issue of grief can be understood as “grief displays how we are in the thrall of our relations with others” (Butler 19). A negative context can be drawn from a simple exchange of seemingly equal variables—yet the reality is quite different.
The environment surrounding me as a person controls all the spheres of my life. As the most fundamental factor, it imposes how I behave and define myself: “impressed upon by others, impressing them as well” (Butler 21). I consider my social position as a certain standard of straight man behavior given by society. Also, I understand that there may be various gender identities except for solely male and female behavior. Regardless of the biological basis, gender differences are primarily the result of the learning and adoption of cultural values.
Boys and girls are brought up as boys and girls, according to the normative cultural notions. My father used to tell me that “Boys do not cry!”. I promptly submitted to that social pressure. The key point is that my sister and I did not differ significantly from each other behaviorally until a certain age, but as we developed in the social environment, we adopted stereotypes of behavior and gender roles. Also, I acquired sexual behavior patterns, which I expected to follow as a straight man.
According to conventional logic, if I have some kind of identity and experience myself as a heterosexual man, then I cannot be anybody else. Society has offered me this destiny, this image, and this identity, and I can make the appropriate statements, do the appropriate actions, and worry about whether I correspond to this image or not, for example, by behaving sufficiently bravely. The author gives an example of the relationships in lesbian couples in which one of the partners takes on the “male” functions of behavior, and her partner remains more feminine. Butler states that
One of the central tasks of lesbian and gay international rights is to assert in clear and public terms the reality of homosexuality, not as an inner truth, not as a sexual practice, but as one of the defining features of the social world in its very intelligibility. (29)
In one sense, this illustrates the reproduction of so-called normalization. However, from the author’s point of view, it is no longer a heterogeneous situation because there has been a shift as a result of some conscious choice. She believes that this is an emancipated society of the future. I understand the above innovative ideas and admit that people may change their inflicted gender by replacing it with their genuine identity. However, it seems that the implementation of these ideas would be rather difficult due to the strong impact of society.
The important point is that the behavioral and performative utterance cannot be true and false; likewise, the name of a ship also cannot be true and false. As noted by the scholar, the same thing happens to my gender identity. It seems that there is a certain connection between my behavior and my body and that the peculiarities of the body provoke male or female behavior.
Nevertheless, this connection is caused quite accidentally by the set of performatives that were laid down by the previous generations and during the individual’s development within the given society. As one can appeal a sentence or rename a ship, people are able—from the author of the given passage—to make certain efforts to redefine their identity and, in particular, gender. If society can define identities, it does not mean that people are doomed. On the contrary, I consider that every person can resolve this situation in tracing the workings of the environment, public opinion, the mechanism of normalization, and the transformation of all into objects of normal behavior, trying to resist it. One may change, improve, and develop herself or himself, creating a new identity.
In summary, the key idea discussed in this paper is that gender role are created in the same way as court sentences or ship names. Society offered me a straight man identity, called me a boy, and suggested that I should react in a certain way as well as behave accordingly. In this recurrent signification, gender roles arise, and there is nothing else for them: there are no real physical differences that would provoke men and women to behave in the same way. In general, it cannot be stated that there is male behavior and female behavior, because behaviors are numerous.
Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. Routledge, 2004.