Performativity by Judith Butler
The performativity concept championed by Judith Butler highlights the hegemonic conception relating to identity as fiction. The author brings out potential resistance to hegemonic norms. According to her, the hegemonic norms come from the persistent disjunction between psyche and society. Although material structures remain on agents due to ritualized repetition, the agents are not just cultural dupes; they can also deviate from the regulatory norms. Therefore, performativity highlights power subversion as its aim. The expression happens in a dialectical relation between limit and agency. With performativity, the theorist shows that it is virtuous for persons to use the subversive potential.
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She points out that an individual’s behavior brings out the individual’s gender. According to her defense of performativity, gender is a particular process that is taking place repeatedly in a highly unbending regulatory frame. She points out how the development of language also creates gender, implying that there is no gender prior to the development of language. In the same manner, there are no gender distinctions when considering society in its formative stages (Jagger, 2008).
Just like clothes, people end up recreating gender despite the fact that they believe they are acting uniquely, independent, and accurate representation of gender as Butler puts it will require the deliberate expression of actions that are no just repetitions of restrictive norms. The theory of performativity of the gender brings out alternative acceptance concepts for girls who have boy-like behavior commonly referred to as tomboys, or boys who mimic girls in behavior. Rather than stick to the preconceived behavioral expectation of males and females, they can go ahead to develop alternative genders through their repeated actions, use of language, and development of new social norms.
The theory is active in a way, as it challenges present gender norms and calls for the active suppression of norms to stop the harm afflicted on people who appear gender different. In this regard, it attacks the policing function of social norms to alleviate gender-different people from the violence they experience on their identity that is still forming. The theory provides a background that gender-different people around the world can turn to when confronting or when faced with social norms that they do not subscribe (Butler, 2011).
West and Zimmerman- Doing Gender
West and Zimmerman (1987) bring about the concept of gender, not being a trait, social role, or representation in society. According to their theory, gender is an accomplishment. The authors define gender in terms of codes and standards. Incidentally, there are also codes and conventions that power everyday human interactions. According to West and Zimmerman (1987), an agent becomes a gender after taking part in activities in a society that deals with perception, interaction, and micro politics. These activities define masculinity or femininity.
Being an accomplishment, gender can only be defined or explained in the context of social interactions and is, therefore, subject to institutionalized social functions. While a person does gender according to the person’s capabilities and intentions, the expression of gender only appears in the real and imagined presence of other persons. Therefore, sex is different from gender. Sex is merely the biological distinction between male and female due to biological functions (Fenstermaker & West, 2002).
On the other hand, the sex category is a socially required identification display that brings out a person’s femininity or masculinity, yet they do not have to be subject to the sex of the individual. With the breakdown, West and Zimmerman (1987) can show that gender is a reaction of an individual to the conventional and normative expectations of the sex category. However, the sociologists do not go on to describe situations where a person may not conform to the normative expectation. They do not say what happens to individuals who go about accomplishing something else other than the prescribed social gender. In this regard, the work of West and Zimmerman (1987) is a background for additional theories.
This can also be due to the timing of the theory, which was when the expressions of gender beyond the traditional masculine and feminine concepts were not as pronounced as it is today throughout the world. Some researchers have responded to the idea of doing gender with alternative theories, and a notable one is Connell (2010). “Redoing gender,” explains what would happen in a scenario where people do not conform to laud out gender norms but create new genders by participating in activities that break apart from the defined social sex categories (Connell, 2010).
Being Curious About our Lack of Feminist Curiosity
People are not curious because they are lazy, and that is a strong claim that Enloe (2004) chooses to begin within the quest to explain gender relations in the modern world. Acceptance of behaviors as natural and expectations of society as tradition is an easy way out for people to participate in societal activities. Asking alternative questions is hard, and that is why the debate on gender is not as vibrant as it should be according to what Enloe (2004) envisions. In fact, based on her theory, the concepts of normal, traditional, and natural are responsible for the power structures that have manifested in society for ages.
This explains how patriarchy has, for years, marginalized women without adequate resistance that would change the norm. The work by Enloe (2004) is mainly about bringing out the misconception of gender power structures and advocating for actions and attitudes against conceptions of normal and tradition to bring true gender representation that would not jeopardize one gender in favor of another. The author spent time reflecting on the need to be curious.
The contribution of the book to the overall debate on gender is that it comes with a feminist point of view. It, therefore, provides an outlook that is different from the traditional patriarchal society that the author questions (Enloe, 2004). Language comes out as a major influence of laziness, which prevents people from being curious about the concept of gender and oppression. Using language appropriately can be a way to have people ask questions and, therefore, improve their curiosity about the relationship between traditional ideas of femininity and masculinity. That would go on to increase the avenues for discovering new gender roles and accepting them as the new norms in society.
According to Enloe (2004), society has to listen carefully, dive deep, and develop a longer attention span, and these are requirements and are increasingly becoming difficult to achieve in the current society. Although people are ready to be surprised, they are not paying enough close attention to recognize that something or someone is worth thinking about in a way that can bring out new revelations.
Pascoe 2005 – Dude you’re a Fag
Masculinity is traditionally associated with power, and any masculine person without power in the traditional sense appears as incomplete. In a society that subscribes to the idea of power masculinity, the other occurrence is a symptom of dysfunction. The work by Pascoe (2005) aimed to bring readers to an understanding of the relationship between gender and sexuality. The central question that the author is asking throughout the work is: What is the structure of gender and sexuality in social institutions? Boys in high school, which the author considers a social institution, go on to use the word “fag,” implying that they have identified the lack of power or masculinity in other boys, and this ability to identify places them as heterosexuals and masculine.
The recipient of the name fag was a male that was being feminized; therefore, in the world of Pascoe (2005), readers see how language is used to construct gender that goes contrary to social expectations of sexuality-based gender. In the same way, gender appears as behavior as boys exert masculinity by what they do with the social context. This implies that they have the potential to exert femininity in the same social context. Besides the contradictions, the author brings out the point that the high school environment used on the basis of the social explanations in the book promoted a heterosexual idea. It opposed homosexuality.
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With teachers and other staffs being part of the group that used homophobic language, Pascoe (2005) can show the way traditions handle the fixation of gender as male and female. At the same time, the author shows that the work needed to disapprove concepts of heterosexuality as the only possible norms in society is huge. The author fails short of bringing out the social perspective of girls in their interaction with masculinity. The work does not identify whether girls embraced or fought it. As much as the author intends to highlight shortcomings of a heterosexual based society, the work fails to capture natural interaction of the boy and girl’s relationship that does not seek only the boy’s perspectives on expression of gender.
Demargnilization of Race and Sex- Crenshaw
Crenshaw claims that the division of the world purely on gender lines ignores the diversity of experience biological constraints by different groups in different circumstances. Currently, women’s experiences are due to cultural contingent patterns of subordination, and there is no universal experience that would claim an authentic status. The cultural frameworks of gender bring out dichotomous stereotypes. Society associates males with abstract rationality while females are associated with emphatic nurturance. These associations restrict the opportunities for both sexes to explore the behavior outside their social definitions of character (Crenshaw, 1989).
Crenshaw (1989) is improving the dialog on gender with a racial background as the motivation. Therefore, in addition to issues of gender and masculine hegemony, the author is also creating a discourse on white hegemony. Therefore, scholars and other practitioners dealing with gender issues must be conscious of the other factors that are contributing to mixed views on gender especially on women of color. With intersectionality, Crenshaw (1989) highlights the multiple oppressions that black women face, with gender being one of them. Therefore, the work by Crenshaw (1989), bring out the treatment of masculinity on black women, contrary to what white women experience. With this approach, the author is challenging both feminist and anti-racist theories and practices. These theories fail to represent the interaction of race and gender in a balanced way.
There will be gaps in understanding identity and social representation of black women as long as current dialogue continues to neglect the concept of intersectional experience being greater than the sum of racism and sexism. Therefore, they have been properly represented in feminist or racist arguments. Given that women are fragile and passive according to traditional societal assumptions, it is interesting to bring the idea of black women being treated as males, with their strength to serve as cleaners and general workers, and less like women with feminine qualities (Maschke, 1997). The oppression facing black women, has been a catalyst for their behavior against norms of femininity, and as they try to counter racist theories that neglect their plight, they end up coming up with new ideologies than enhance their consciousness of race and gender (Smith, 2013).
Cross-cultural Connections, Border Crossing, and Death by Culture by Uma Narayan
The work by Narayan (1997) intervenes in the postcolonial feminism field and highlights innovative ideas on gender and culture, which play a major part in explaining current hegemony of masculinity and the context of rising femininity. The author brings out the tendency to construct a practice. This comes out with the phrase “death by culture”. Here practice is a feature of culture, rather than a deviant. The problem with death by culture is that it presents obscurities in cultural or religious variations. For example, it depicts India or Indians as monolithic. It also erroneously points to dowry murders being committed by Hindus when in reality Hindu does not all such incidents. The same work also recreates negative stereotypes. Nevertheless, it has become a dominant western thinking for women in developing countries. The problem with this is that when the concept of dowry murder crosses borders, it loses its contextual meaning because it is subject to misinterpretation (Narayan, 1997).
The work by Narayan (1997) points to other similar problems affecting women in the rest of the world. For example, it does not bring about the concept of domestic violence in the United States, which in many ways is also similar to dowry murder in India. The contribution of the work to the feminist discourse and conceptualization of gender is that feminist have to contextualize issues. It is not correct to export one’s cultural thinking to another and use it to explain the observation of masculinity and femininity interactions in society. An important fact is that feminist agendas fall within social constructions.
In this regard, they will be influenced by the varied cultures at regional and national contexts. For example, the changes in globalization that have created a link to commercial goods and status in society will continue to create diverse effects on feminist agendas, and it is important to realize these influencing factors in the development of new theories. In this regard, Narayan (1997) has done a good job to deconstruct the representations of Indian traditions in Western feminist discourses and similar works on other cultures would be important. Otherwise, the exportation of Western constructions of gender risks representing the wrong picture and continuing to address issues as norm when they are not traditions in all parts of the world (Hussain, 2014).
Butler, J. (2011). Your behavior creates your gender. (M. Miller, Interviewer, & J. Fowler, Editor) Big Think. Web.
Connell, C. (2010). Doing, undoing, or redoing gender? : Learning from the workplace experiences of transpeople. Gender & Society, 24(1), 31-55. Web.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. Web.
Enloe, C. (2004). Introduction: Being curious about our lack of feminist curiosity. In The Curious Feminist: Searching for women in a new age of empire (pp. 1-10). University of California Press. Web.
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Maschke, K. (1997). Gender and American law: Feminist legal theories. New York: Routledge. Web.
Narayan, U. (1997). Cross-cultural connections, border crossing, and death by culture. Web.
Pascoe, C. J. (2005). ‘Dude, you’re a fag’: Adolescent masculinity and the fag discourse. Sexualities, 8(3), 329-356. Web.
Sarah Fenstermaker, C. W. (Ed.). (2013). Doing gender doing difference: Inequality, power and institutional change. New York. Web.
Smith, S. (2013). Black feminism and intersectionality. Web.
West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society, 1(2), 125-151.