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Issues Of Gender And Gender Roles Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1737 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the previous chapter I have defined the Victorian feminine ideal and I argued that different gender roles were ascribed to women and men because of their gender differences. In the Victorian period things were clear in the sense that if one was born a female and thus woman she belonged to the domestic sphere and performed the gender roles associated with that sphere while if one was born a male and thus man he had to perform the activities associated with his gender and perform certain gender roles that required physical strength, intelligence, resolution etc. In the twentieth century conceptions regarding sex, sexuality, gender and gender roles have changed. In this chapter I shall present Judith Butler’s theory on gender performativity and gender identity. Afterwards in the second chapter of this thesis I shall use her theories to analyze the character of Marian Halcombe.

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She does not agree that “the term women denotes a common identity” (6) because “if one “is” a woman, that is surely not all one is.” (6) Her explication makes sense since gender is culturally constructed and it “intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities.” (Butler 6) Another point that she makes is that women are different and “the insistence upon the coherence and unity of the category of women has effectively refused the multiplicity of cultural, social, and political intersections in which the concrete array of “women” are constructed.” (19-20) In her opinion to say that all women can be united in the same group is wrong because this in a way entails exclusivity and the fact that there is surely diversity among women is precisely what makes this idea of ” the unity of the category of women” ( Butler 21) unfeasible. She sustains this idea at the end of Gender Trouble too by saying that

The feminist “we” is always and only a phantasmatic construction, one

that has its purposes,but which denies the internal complexity and

indeterminacy of the term and constitutes itself only through the

exclusion of some part ofthe constituency that it simultaneously seeks

to represent (Butler 181)

In Gender Trouble, Butler constructs upon Simone de Beauvoir’s claim that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (de Beauvoir 281) her famous theory of gender performativity. She criticizes Beauvoir and says that “There is nothing in her account that guarantees that the “one” who becomes a woman is necessarily female.” (12) According to Butler gender is “unnatural” (49) so there are no restrictions between one’s body and one’s gender and “man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one.” (Butler 10) If feminine men can exist and masculine women as well then the gender boundaries are blurred and this can mean only one thing as I will show further on, it means that gender identities are not fixed and that there are more than one identity. A person can perform both femininity and masculinity and still “maintain the integrity of the gender.” (Butler 32)

For Butler “gender proves to be performative-that is, constituting the identity it is purported to be. In this sense, gender is always a doing.” (33) So gender is an ongoing process, it is what we ‘do’, what acts we perform, rather than what we ‘are’. If gender is performative then it is not necessary to have a doer behind the deed and she continues by saying that “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.” (33) To reinforce the idea that gender is what one does, that it is “unnatural” and performative and a process without end, she argues that

Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a

highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the

appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being. A political genealogy

of gender ontologies, if it is successful, will deconstruct the substantive

appearance of gender into its constitutive acts and locate and account for

those acts within the compulsory frames set by the various forces that

police the social appearance of gender. (Butler 43)

The phrase “a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame” is very important because by saying that Butler admits the fact that when an individual chooses his gender he has a limited range of gender styles to choose from because of the cultural and social constraints. Gender is not essential but performed, brought into existence by verbal discourse, gestures and “Such acts, gestures, enactments, generally construed, are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means” (Butler 173) The repeated acts give the impression that gender is natural although according to Butler it is not. Since gender is culturally and socially constructed that means that it is a product of imitation and that the two hegemonic gender identities are easily imitable

If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a

fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems

that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as

the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity. (Butler 174)

On the other hand it is precisely the fact that gender is performative and it is subject to change that permits the reinvention of gender identities. One can perform gender in different ways because repetition permits the enactment of gender in subversive ways. Butler claims that one is free to reinvent his own gender identity

This perpetual displacement constitutes

a fluidity of identities that suggests an openness to resignification

and recontextualization; parodic proliferation deprives hegemonic culture

and its critics of the claim to naturalized or essentialist gender

identities. (Butler 176)

Gender, says Butler, is not something with which you are born but rather it is constructed according to some rules that change from a society to another and in a way people are obliged by social norms to assume a gender identity. Thus gender is always recreated by the very acts that give it a meaning not because it has an essence

Because there is neither an “essence” that gender expresses or externalizes

nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires, and because gender

is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and

without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a

construction that regularly conceals its genesis . ( Butler 178)

Gender is a matter of surface and of exterior acts “that can never be fully internalized” (Butler 179) and “gender norms are finally phantasmatic, impossible to embody” (Butler 179) A person has to go through a process of gendering even from the moment of his/ her birth but in this process that person not always manages to respect gender norms and a distance is created between what him/her performs and what was expected from him/her to perform. This is how, Butler explains, possibilities of subversion and even change occur

The possibilities of gender transformation are to be found

precisely in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in

the possibility of a failure to repeat, a de-formity,

or a parodic repetition that exposes the phantasmatic effect

of abiding identity as a politically tenuous construction. (179)

Judith Butler claims that gender and gender identity are culturally constructed so the social environment influences a person’s choice of gender identity. Gender is a perpetual self-performance that does not influence very much a person’s identity. According to Butler “that gender reality is created through sustained social performances means that the very notions of an essential sex and a true or abiding masculinity or femininity” that is to say a masculine man and a feminine woman “are also constituted as part of the strategy that conceals gender’s performative character and the performative possibilities for proliferating gender configurations outside the restricting frames of masculinist domination and compulsory heterosexuality.” (180)

Butler argues that because of the fact that people still have strict views in what concerns gender and gender identity and because they think that women and men should have fixed gender roles there is inequality between sexes

If identities were no longer fixed as the premises of a political

syllogism, and politics no longer understood as a set of

practices derived from the alleged interests that

belong to a set of ready-made subjects, a new configuration of

politics would surely emerge from the ruins of the old (Butler 189-190)

Thus, in her book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler proposes a reconsideration of the concepts of gender, gender identity and she comes with a new theory on gender that is the theory of gender performativity. She argues that gender is not natural but it is a repeated set of acts, it is a doing rather than a being. If gender is “unnatural” then there are no relations between a person’s body and its gender, so a man can be feminine and a woman can be masculine. Another thing she mentions is the fact that gender is culturally constructed, thus depending on social factors. It can be reinvented and people have the right to choose their own gender and identity. She also argues that women are different in many aspects and that they should not be put under the umbrella of the too general term “women”.


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