Is gender performative?
“One of the interpretations that has been made of Gender Trouble is that there is no sex, there is only gender, and gender is performative.” (Judith Butler interview 1993) When approaching and investigating the discourse of gender roles, gender performance and gender trouble one will find that there have been different approaches over the centuries and that the connection made between sex and gender is one of change and development. The questions that are going to be answered in the following essay will concern some of those approaches, it will examine how gender roles are established and how they differ depending on time and culture. According to Clarke and Lawson (1985) the relationship between sex and gender is certainly a difficult one as early research concentrated on biological differences and assumed that gender difference is natural meaning that biology equals destiny. Mangan (2003) examines the same problem saying that the distinction between sex and gender leads to the result of sex being a description based on biological sciences and gender one based on social sciences which means that sex puts one into a biological category linked to having certain reproductive organs, having or not having the ability to give birth whereas gender refers to one’s social roles and behaviour that is considered male or female. He differentiates between the essentialist and the non-essentialist approach. Hereby the essentialists assume that gender is largely linked to biological traits of the sexes such as differences in physical development, brain functions and hormones. Which leads to female and male characteristics attributed with roles adapted to their biological and physical capabilities. However, he continues that non-essentialists approaches base gender on the meaning given to them by different cultures, that it is the relationship between the categories of men and women and that this meaning differs from society to society. To give an example he describes the culture of ancient Roman culture where it was seen as rather ordinary for a man to have an adolescent boy as a lover which would not automatically question his own masculinity. Whereby today same-sex activity is almost incompatible with true masculinity or true femininity. According to Clarke and Lawson later research into the field takes the non-essentialist approach further and leads to social contructionism which describes gender as a socially constructed category. In that sense sex is a universal property while gender is not as it varies, develops and changes according to time and society.
Butler agrees that “gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts, and because gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities. As a result, it becomes impossible to separate out ‘gender’ from the political and cultural intersections in which it is invariably produced and maintained.” (Butler 2003:31) Shilling (1993) continues that social constructionism not only defines gender but also the body as shaped and constructed by society
All those approaches lead to the eternal question of nature versus nurture. According to Vivien Burr (1998) “Children gradually acquire the concept of gender, suggesting that gender identity is not something which they naturally have.” (Burr 1998:39) Cleaver (2002) agrees with that tracing gender roles and behaviour back to the socialization process that begins with birth. Socialisation describes the acquiring of culture from parents, peers, school and media. An infant is formed into an individual adapted to its culture and society including language, beliefs, attitudes and roles. Cognitive developmental theorist Kohlberg (1966) argued that children become aware of sex categories between the ages of 2-5 which is when they realise that they belong to one of the categories unchangeably. Burr illustrates this...
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