49 The Birth Certificate Contract

Willow Moulton


According to Judith Butler, gender is entirely an imitation. Just like when we are young and we learn facial expressions, their meanings and language. We imitate all of these things to learn them. Therefore, Butler’s argument is that gender is learned and then ‘acted.’ She writes in her essay, “..gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather it is an identity tenuously constituted in time—an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts” (900). She writes about how gender is determined in a historical sense. I looked at this with the phrase ‘stylized acts’ in the last quote to mean that it changes over time based on society and the norms based on time period. Butler argues with many points of what gender is but one thing she says is that it definitely is not is natural. She uses Simone de Beauvoir’s quote to show this, “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman” (900). In other words, your biology doesn’t determine your gender. It’s not a natural process: gender is an act. Over time a person becomes male or female by doing certain ‘acts.’

The problem with not recognizing Butler’s theory of gender is not understanding the ‘self’ within society and how it functions. Most of Butler’s argument revolves around preconceived notions and historical contsext. Butler dives deep into the mind of who we are and what become: “Merleau-Ponty maintains not only that the body is an historical idea but a set of possibilities to be continually realized” (902). This shows over time; we all recognize phases that we go through especially in middle and high school. If you didn’t go through the emo/Goth phase, then you have no idea what you’re missing. Slowly over time we become more and more of ourselves and this is where Butler is making her point that gender is something we determine over learned behavior and acts.

Butler’s point is to break the sex binary that there are two genders that everyone is placed into at birth: male and female. She talks about how women are all put into one group—women. They are never branched out from just being women so they never have a unique identity. Butler argues about how her theory of gender could support Feminist Theory in helping create more unique identities for women and for people in all. Butler says that “there is, in my view, nothing about femaleness that is waiting to be expressed; there is, on the other hand, a good deal about the diverse experiences of women that is being expressed and still needs to be expressed..” (910). Feminist theory has so many different avenues within it and that is where Butler’s gender theory connects in wanting to show that there is more uniqueness in an identity than just the black and white of male and female.

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