by Judith Butler

influenced by Michel Foucault

gender is performative, meaning that it is maintained, created or perpetuated by iterative repetitions when speaking and interacting with each other

performative, not performance. that means we can’t really change it as freely

It’s not an identity from which a pattern of action originates. Rather, it just is the pattern of action. If you wear gender-coded clothing, style your hair in a gender-coded way, etc., you’re not expressing the manhood or womanhood that you hold deep down. You’re simply acting out the expectations of a male or female. - u/Sapjastic_Primble

It is neither wholly socially learnt, nor is it voluntary

interpellation - the labelling or assigning of an identity hailing - the way that a person is treated socially

It explores how sex and gender are constructed and regulated by power, knowledge, and discourse. Some key points are:

  • Butler challenges the concept of sex as a natural and fixed category. She argues that sex is a social construct that is shaped by power and norms, and that it has effects on how bodies are classified and regulated.
  • Butler examines how different forms of power operate in different historical periods and social contexts. Foucault identifies three main modes of power: sovereign power, disciplinary power, and biopower.
  • Butler analyzes how power creates different types of knowledge and discourse, which are ways of speaking and thinking about reality. She shows how knowledge and discourse are not neutral or objective, but are influenced by power relations and interests.
  • Butler explores how power affects the formation of subjectivity, which is the sense of self and identity. She argues that subjectivity is not fixed or innate, but is constructed and transformed by power, knowledge, and discourse.
  • Butler calls for a feminist transformation of society, which would challenge compulsory heterosexuality and create more possibilities for women’s lives. She urges women to question their sexual assumptions and choices, and to support each other in their struggles for liberation.

Butler makes two different claims in the passage cited: that sex is a social construction, and that sex is gender. To unpack their view, consider the two claims in turn. First, the idea that sex is a social construct, for Butler, boils down to the view that our sexed bodies are also performative and, so, they have “no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute [their] reality”

Butler insisted that gender resides in repeated words and actions, words and actions that both shape and are shaped by the bodies of real, flesh-and-blood human beings. And crucially, such repetitions are rarely performed freely.

Influenced by Austin, gender studies philosopher Judith Butler argued that gender is socially constructed through commonplace speech acts and nonverbal communication that are performative, in that they serve to define and maintain identities. This view of performativity reverses the idea that a person’s identity is the source of their secondary actions (speech, gestures). Instead, it views actions, behaviors, and gestures as both the result of an individual’s identity as well as a source that contributes to the formation of one’s identity which is continuously being redefined through speech acts and symbolic communication.