By: Rachelly Crime
In “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity”, Judith Butler begins with what she may believe is a simple question. The crucial question seems to be: Can feminist identity politics survive without the feminist identity? Butler chooses to answer the question by focusing on factors that surround the building of feminine identity and at certain points made it difficult for me to follow what was her focal point; although there was a question to be answered. In trying to understand Butler’s ideas I did biographical research and one of the sources pointed out that her work was greatly influenced by the work of Michael Foucault who wrote History of Sexuality.
The entire section where she defines “the body” through Foucault’s understanding was extremely confusing and seemed to relate better with the concept of kinship based on my understanding because of the references to culture and order. She states, “. . . the body as the medium which must be destroyed and transmitted in order for “culture” to emerge.” (Butler, 434) This idea was very confusing and what she meant based on my interpretation was that the body serves as a representation of values that add up through cultural and personal experiences. So in order for “culture to emerge” the body must go through certain experiences that would create cultural order because the body provides a distinction between men and women.
A little light to my understanding of this “the body” concept was shed when I came across the “Gender Performatives” section. Here, the idea that gender is the medium through which the body could be understood is brought up. Gender is defined as: the set of processes and practices that shape our understanding of sexed bodies; the way a sexed body becomes socially comprehensible, a “man” or a “woman”. Performativity creates a notion that gender is not something you are, but it is something you do.
Butler states, “. . . the action of gender requires a performance that is repeated. This repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already established. . .” (441) The repetition is what constructs the concept that gender is something you are. So the conclusion is that we can understand the body by understanding that gender is performative and masculinity and femininity is constructed by the way we act; our daily repetitions create our gender.