Monday, July 25, 2011
Agency and Butler's Gender Trouble
Here’ s q quick post summarizing what I’ve read concerning gender norms and it is a text I’ve read a few times before. So you may have guessed which book I’m referring to, it’s Judith Butler’s groundbreaking book Gender Trouble. Following Simone de Beauvoir’s famous observation “one is not born a women,” Butler shows that gender roles are performed according to scripts that precede the emergence of the body. These are scripts that delineate our behaviour and normative constraints. It is only through repetition that these gender norms appear natural. She wonders whether there is room for subversion and whether such gender norms enforced on our bodies can be subverted. In response posits her famous example of gender subversion through performance: drag. She asserts that the parodying of gender norms does not, contrary to what some have argued, reinforce patriarchal norms, but, in fact, exposes the constructedness of that gender, whether through femme-butch or male drag, that is supposedly traced back to the body. Her work has been influential not only for queer studies but also for minority studies, but it did come under criticisms that were rallied with the following two objections: Butler assumes a fluid identity that one can slip into and out of as one wills; she evades the materiality of the body. In Bodies that Matter, however, she addresses both criticisms making a strong argument against the first criticism, and what I find a less persuasive response to the latter criticism. Perhaps more on that in a post to follow.