Gender as a performance act.

Gender is all an act.  Biology does not define what one’s gender is or isn’t.  This is what Judith Butler believes.  Gender is all a matter of performance acts, and how one acts is what defines a gender.  Then, how does this effect the standpoint of one, if they are acting out their gender to begin with?

Butler’s theory somewhat embodies the standpoint theory as explained by Harding and Wood.  They argue that society has a definite effect on what we know and experience, and also how we communicate with the world around us.  Butler believes in the same idea.  Gender is a result of what we know as “natural” in society.  One of her famous examples is a drag queen.  

What Gender is a drag queen? Well, from the outside, it appears to be a female.  But why is this? Butler believes that we think this because of the society that we live in.  The person is dressed like a female and acts like a female, so it must be a female.  This is the idea of Butler’s theory.  It is a performance act, and the person is acting like a female.  Butler believes that biology has no effect on gender, and that true gender is derived from the world around us and how we view it.

This is where the standpoint theory comes into play.  The idea of a standpoint is a place that we may view the world around us.  Well, according to Butler, a person has viewed the world around them, and then acted upon the gender that they believe to be.  Thus, this is how gender is formed.  Biology does not come into play, but rather it is the societal influences that create how a person perceives gender.

Butler’s idea of gender as a performance act can effect how we view the theory of a standpoint.  By performing the gender that we feel that we are, we are displaying our culture’s views.  We may wear make up, dresses, and high heels, because we are a female and that is what females do.  On the other hand, we may wear jeans, a baseball cap, and a t-shirt, because we feel that’s what boys do.  These are all based on our standpoint on society.  According to Butler, we act what we think gender should be.  And how we act displays what our gender is.  And we derive this act from our standpoint on society.


Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Butler: On Gender and Sex.” Introductory Guide to CriticalTheory. <

Griffin, E. (2009). A first look at communication theory. (Seventh ed., Vol. 7). New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.


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One Response to Gender as a performance act.

  1. Monica Newell says:

    You present a strong argument about gender, one which doesn’t seem to portray it as something one is given at birth. Gender is created by society, while the sex of the person (male or female) is determined by biology.

    Standpoint, as defined by Griffin, is “A place from which to critically view the world around us”. How do drag queens view the world? Is it viewed as a place for them to be themselves or is it viewed as a place where only the dominant can reap the benefits of the world and everyone else are shoved into the shadows?

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