In Undoing Gender - In Undoing Gender Judith Butler...

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In Undoing Gender, Judith Butler develops upon her earlier work in gender and queer theory. Butler, a professor in Rhetoric, Comparative Literature, and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is best known for the groundbreaking Gender Trouble, in which she outlined her theory of gender performativity and the construction of sexuality. Since Undoing Gender appeared in 1990, feminist, queer, and literary work in the humanities has been heavily influenced by Butler’s nuanced exposure of gender’s construction. Moving beyond a binary frame in which gender is assumed to signify an essential self, Butler exposes the categories of sex, desire and gender as effects of specific power structures. Focusing more on linguistic action than on a theatrical sense of performativity, Butler defines the latter as a stylized repetition of acts that produces the effect of an internal, natural core on the surface of the body. Because gender is often assumed to be an extension of natural interiority, its sociality and public function is often overlooked. Butler’s emphasis on the simultaneity of improvisation/performance and constraint underscores the paradoxical nature of gendered identity construction. In Butler’s analysis, this is apparent in gender parodies such as drag, which, though parodic, is not necessarily subversive. Butler’s work has helped further expose the foundational categories of sex, desire and gender as effects of specific power structures, thus moving beyond a binary frame in which gender is assumed to signify an essential self. As in Bodies that Matter (1993), Undoing Gender takes from Gender Trouble much of its conceptual and theoretical frameworks, but situates a critique of the production of gender norms within a materially-based understanding of the complex relationship between survival and social transformation. Where Gender Trouble largely focused on gender as a doing, here Butler is concerned with undoing, or unperforming, hegemonic modes of gender and sexuality. Gender is defined in Undoing Gender as a “practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint,” one that is always within a social context, and never outside of ideology (1). In her introduction, Butler writes that Undoing Gender offers an understanding of how “restrictively normative conceptions of sexual and gendered life” might be undone (1). Butler stresses throughout the book that this process of undoing is not necessarily negative or positive, but is instead caught up in the paradoxical tension between societal- mediated survival and individual agency. Butler reminds us that one does not author one’s gender, for its terms are always negotiated within collective social contexts (1). In “Undiagnosing Gender,” for example, she addresses the tension within transsexual communities around the diagnosis of gender-identity disorder (GID). The tension arises because, though the diagnosis is an economic necessity in order for transsexuals to gain
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In Undoing Gender - In Undoing Gender Judith Butler...

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