Judith Butler is largely responsible for interpreting notions of performativity through the lens of gender identity. In Gender Trouble, Butler writes that gender is performative, “that is, constituting the identity it is purported to be. In this sense, gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed.[…]There is no gender identity behind the expression of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results” (34). Her main point is that people generally perceive of notions of gender as innate; instead, she insists that gender is a sustained set of acts that are both a repetition and a ritual, “which achieves its effects through its naturalization in the context of a body” (xv).

In Bodies that Matter, she reads this gender performativity in terms of Austin’s example of the speech act, “I do,” in the heterosexual marriage ceremony. In this book, Butler questions “from where and when does such a performative draw its force and what happens to the performative when its purpose is precisely to undo the presumptive force of the heterosexual ceremonial” (225)? One of her conclusions is that power acts as discourse, inextricably linking power structures with the performance of identity, suggesting that gender performance implicates interpellated ideologies. One of her major points in identifying gender as performative is to illustrate that gender is not a stable, universal identity, nor is it separate from the regimes of power and discourse.


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