PERFORMATIVE ACTS AND GENDER CONSTITUTION: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory
by Judith Butler, 1990
APPEARANCE OF BODY VS. REALITY OF GENDER Let’s take a look. Our questions might be: - Is it a breast?? Or maybe not..? - Is he/she born as a female or as a male (his/her biological sex)? - Has he/she a vagina or a penis? - How can he/she has an intercourse? - Is it “a he” or “a she”? What are we seeing? What is real? What is apparent? What is sex? What is gender?
1. WHAT IS GENDER? Constitution of gender through performative acts . GENDER = constitution of identity culturally and socially instituted through REPETITION OF STYLIZED ACTS through TIME . ↓ WHAT IS AN ACT ? ACT = Bodily gestures, styles, movements (language as well) = stylized acts that must constantly be REPEATED. The repetition itself produces a set of behaviors and reified forms which APPEARS as THE NATURAL CONFIGURATION OF BODIES (ontological “core”/original matrix of gender).
When we act and speak in a gendered way we are actively constituting it , replicating it , reinforcing it . ↓ - Acts constitute the individual identity of the actor , in order to be ACCOMPLISHMENT of the MODE OF BELIEF. - Performing them, the gendered way becomes PUBLIC and available. -> Our acts feed and maintain the ILLUSION of a core of a GENDERED SELF: we co-create the SOCIAL FICTION that this nature of gender exists. ACTS ARE CONSTITUTING ACTS (PERFORMATIVE)
Because of the performativity of the acts, GENDER come out and appears as the SUBSTANTIAL NATURAL SELF. there is NO ESSENCE , NO PREXISTING IDENTITY, NO NATURALNESS that gender expresses or externalizes. BUT
↓ Our ideas of what women and men are reflect nothing that exist in NATURE: our ideas derive from customs that embed social relations of POWER ( shaped by forces that are social, rather then biological or natural) Gender norms build social cultural SUBJECTS as men and women.
The reality of being woman (or man) is not an empirical fact , but rather a performative effect of the language and the constituting acts that define her (or him). Sex is just made ontologically primary as a justification , the basis for the construction of the gendered identity.
2. BODY, GENDER, GENDERED BODY Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvior BODY (nature) Process of signification ≠ The facticity of the natural dimensions of the body are conceived as DISTINCT from the process by which the body comes to bear cultural meanings . (NATURAL BODY ≠ PROCESS OF SIGNIFICATION) ↓ The artificiality of gender as radically INDIPENDENT from a NATURAL REALITY. (GENDER)
The embodied possibilities as the gender are circumscribed by the HISTORICAL SITUATION. ↓ There is NOTHING PRE-DETERMINATED. The PROCESS OF SIGNIFICATION of the body is conditioned only by the historical convenctions (conforming the body in obedience to the historically delimitated possibilities and existing social directives). Merleau-Ponty BODY (mode of enacting possibilities) (through embodying/materializing) EMBODIED POSSIBILITIES Simone De Beauvior FEMALE (SEX as the biological facticity) (socialization/culture/imposition of the cultural model of reference) WOMAN (GENDER as the cultural signification of the facticity of the body)
3. WHO PLAY THE ACT?
But, the performance of gender is not an individual voluntary choice .
GENDER AS A SCRIPT
It SURVIVES the particular actors who play it, but it REQUIRES individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as REALITY .
Everyone The constitution of gender is always IN COMPLIANCE with the internalized regulations of gender identity. How? Why? There is a sort of TACIT AGREEMENT... We enact the reality of gender with our bodies. Acting we make the gender real.
Social sanctions and punitive consequences that regulated and coerced the subject performing stylized actions and roles, making us performe, produce and continue it. : SOCIAL REGULATIONS AND GENDER NORMS: GENDER AS STRATEGY OF SURVIVAL - When an individual FAIL TO PERFORM the right illusion of gender essentialism ↓ dissonance; he/she is (socially) punished and marginalized. - When an individual ADHERE to the attributed normative models of gender and associated behaviors ↓ he/she is rewarded with self-determination, “ comfort” and security of acting; ..why and how EVERYONE?
GENDER BODY SEXED BODY (articulated to reproductive heterosexuality) modelling as through the REPETITION OF PERFORMATIVE ACTS intervenes on IDENTITY, GENDERED SUBJECT Acts produce their own agents. Gendered acts produce gendered subjects that can generate them. What we know about sex? Can we know sex as distinct from gender? If the body is only known through its gendered appearance (the cultural constructed significance that body assumes), what we know about the body?
REALITY is constituted by the appearance of gender and its system of power and social mutual acknowledge ;
HUMAN NATURE is a manifestation of cultural meanings, social relations and power politics -> not biology, but CULTURE, becomes identity . The idea of an ESSENTIAL SEX constitutes a part of the strategy by which the gender is concealed;
Society sets expected behaviors and roles that must be respected, performed and played “if we want to survive” (NORMATIVITY OF GENDER SYSTEM);
Restricted SPACE and TIME: boarders and limits of existing directives;
GENDER = mechanism by which notions of masculine and feminine are naturalized;
SUBJECTIVATION -> SUBJECTION - The price of existence as individual is the subordination;
DO YOU REMEMBER HE/SHE? Let’s take another look now. REMEMBER: the REALITY OF GENDER is constituted by the PERFORMANCE itself ->There is no model, no recourse to a authentic nature . ↓ There is NO TRUE OR FALSE, REAL OR DISTORTED ACTS OF GENDER. “ The truth or falsity of gender is only socially compelled and in no sense ontologically necessitated ”. THE TRANSVESTITE’S GENDER IS REAL AS ANYONE WHOSE PERFORMANCE COMPLIES WITH SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS. If every kind of gender can be real (through its performance), why are there only two ?
5. BINARY GENDERS, HETEROSEXUAL CONTRACT A human being enters the world not because of his/her ears or his/her nose, BUT as a MALE or a FEMALE, than by virtue of certain anatomical parts . SEX, GENDER, HETEROSEXUALITY: EVERYTHING NATURAL. ...EVERYTHING NATURAL? ↓ Then, cultivation of the body into discrete sexes (SUBJECTION,= become a subject into the sex- gender-system -> GENDER IDENTITY). ↓ NATURAL binary opposition, NATURAL heterosexual matrix.
WHY TWO, RATHER THAN 3 OR 5, OR INDEFINITELY MANY? Association of a NATURAL SEX with a GENDER and a NATURAL ATTRACTION to the opposing sex/gender ↓ CULTURAL CONSTRUCTS in the service of: - the REPRODUCTIVE INTERESTS (Foucault); - the reproduction of the SYSTEM OF KINSHIP. (G. Rubin, C. Levi-Strauss) The society NEEDS to define the anatomy in terms of binary because of the INTEREST OF REPRODUCTION of the KINSHIP system-> guaranteed only by SEXUAL REPRODUCTION based on heterosexuality.
SEX, GENDER, HETEROSEXUALITY = social constructs, historical products reified as natural by the gender-system. Heterosexuality is a construct produced and maintained through GENDER. Our continual repetition of such gender acts maintains the hegemony of the heteronormative standars. Gender Heterosexuality ↔
GENDER= SYMBOLIC VIOLENCE It forces bodies into oppressive categories (binary system) that constrain desires and individual practice (heterosexuality) into possibilities already given. If we don’t submit to the gender-system and the categories through which we recognize ourself and we are recognized (gender= dynamics of identification and social acknowledgment; categories are signs of subordination and existence as well), are we out from the possibilities? Which possibilities we have?
6. PHENOMENOLOGY AND FEMINISM FEMINIST THEORY -> Women ’s perspective, battles against invisibility of women . Feminism speaks for the special interests of women . “ How useful is a phenomenological point of departure for a feminist description of gender?” ↓ It considered the univocal category of women itself, in the name of emancipating a “ subjecting class” (Foucault), an specificity , a singular shackled nature .
↓ These must be the points. Feminism should extend the focus on a critical genealogy of the constructed categories -> new point of view over it, not only from the female perspective (appropriation of the phenomenological theory of constitution) - How does the social reproduction of gender identities work? -How the phenomenon of men’s or women’s point of view get constituted? -Which are the mundane manners in which bodies get crafted into genders? -Conditions of oppression of the gender-system and the binary opposites categories that it create? INVESTIGATING. CRITICIZING. OFFERING ALTERNATIVE DESCRIPTIONS AND PRESCRIPTIONS.
Gender needs to be costantly performated to be maintained. Because the gender identity is the repetition of acts through time, the possibilities of gender transformatio n are to be found IN THE RELATION BETWEEN SUCH ACTS, in the POSSIBILITY OF A DIFFERENT SORT OF REPEATING, in the BREAKING OR SUBVERSIVE REPETITION OF THAT STYLE. Concluding: what possibilities of changes? ↓ Gender itself is the SPACE OF ACTION to destabilize the normativity of gender itself. ↓ Transgressive subject, alternative acts that breaks the codes and the chain of the estabilished categories (symbolic risignification) Against a genealogy of gender as binary and heterosexual as natural, Butler demands instead for an understanding of gender as “..not passively scripted on the body , and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or the overwhelming history of patriarchy”. ..Do we need another Antigone?