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The Performativity of Gender: Judith ButlerIt has become commonsense that a person’s performance of society’s ideas of normal masculinity or normal femininity is ontologically connected with one’s biological sex. In other words, if someone is sexually female, they will naturally partake in feminine gender qualities, and if someone is sexually male, they will naturally partake in masculine gender qualities. A seemingly natural divide in biological sex enhances the distinct binaries of normative gender performances. Thus, a person’s male or female identities and behaviors are perceived to be internally created, and thus, self-driven identities. Judith Butler suggests, however, that the normative performance of gender has no relation to biological sex, but instead is a social creationcreated through performativity. She states, “Performativity is not a singular act, but a repetition and a ritual, which achieves its effects through its naturalization in the context of a body, in part, as a culturally sustained temporal duration” (Butler xv). In other words, what we take to be a natural and internal production of normal gender qualities, actually takes place outside the body. Gender norms are produced through reiterated acting, in which a gender behavior is performed, taken up, imitated, and then reproduced until it becomes part of a system of gender norms and expectations. The behaviors are naturalized and discursively produce reality and the social constructions of gender, the gender norms of a society. The behaviors become representations ofreality, as well as forreality because our repeated performance of society’s ideas of “doing femalenss” or “doing maleness” maintains those norms as the dominant hegemony. That is, until other performances and counter-hegemonic stories of gender compete for dominance, but this requires a lot of effort and power.The gender norms created and maintained by performativity causes fluidity between marked gendered performances to be difficult. Judith Butler proposes that the corruption of these1
socially constructed binaries is what leads to violence and punishment towards those who corruptthem. She says, “If there is a positive normative task in Gender Trouble, it is to insist upon the extension of this legitimacy to bodies that have been regarded as false, unreal, and unintelligible”(Butler xxiii) in regards to their deviation from the social norms of gender. Consequently, Butler is a “false body” by her own terms. After her coming out at age sixteen and her rejection of normative female heterosexuality, she had a consecutive loss of jobs, lovers, as well as homes. She advocates for the different possibilities of gender performances and sexual variance that break down the gender binaries and are seen as illegitimate—such as those who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender, or any other kind of “in-betweenness”. Her theory that gender is performative and socially constructed supports freedom and possibility of fluidity between