In Judith Butler’s essay, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, Gender is described as an “’act’, broadly construed, which constructs the social fiction of its own psychological identity” (528); By using the performative elements of an actor in a theatre as a model of interpreting gender, Butler illustrates genderas what is ‘put on’ in the spectacle of one’s life, both, physically and psychologically. The body, consequently, becomes an actor playing the role, with a script “conditioned and circumscribed by historical convention” (521); depending on one’s sex, society asserts specific modes of ‘acting’, which have been passed down historically from generation to generation.
Butler states that “the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender […] a construction that regularly conceals its genesis” (522); In this cycle of creation, genderexpresses notions of repetition and rehearsal, which seems to closely relate to Louis Althusser’s conception of ‘interpellation’. We are ‘interpellated’ into gender, “embodying certain cultural and historical possibilities” (521) that appear ubiquitous in our surrounding world; we mimic what we see, and somehow, we validate our gender roles through it. Retrospectively, our bodies experience “a complicated process of appropriation” (521), an assimilation of ‘acts’ bestowed upon us, subconsciously, by the societies and cultures that we have been raised into. Sex and gender happen to be very dissimilar, “gender is the cultural significance that the sexed body assumes” (524); in this distinction, sex is closely related to the physiological and biological materiality of the body, whereas, gender can be understood through a psychological lens, an embodiment of social construct, an ‘interpellation’. “The gender reality is created through sustained social performances means that the very notions of an essential sex, a true or abiding masculinity or femininity, are also constituted as part of the strategy by which the performative aspect of gender is concealed” (528), writes Butler; sex and gender become closely related in an attempt to amalgamate the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to their respective bodies, a “social policy of gender regulation and control” (528).
“The association of natural sex with a discrete gender […] is an unnatural conjunction of cultural constructs in the service of reproductive interests” (524); it seems evident that gender has become most ‘necessary’ within the realm of kinship and consumerism. Gender is, therefore, a mode of production, a façade, a reproduction of exterior ideology, an unnatural garment of survival within society.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, “A Critical and Cultural Reader. Eds. Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988. 50-57.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”, in Theatre Journal, Volume 40 Issue 4, Dec. 1988. 519-53.