DPU Performative Acts & Gender Constitution Essay Article Response Discussion Please write a complete paragraph responding to the argument of Harry Lyles J

DPU Performative Acts & Gender Constitution Essay Article Response Discussion Please write a complete paragraph responding to the argument of Harry Lyles Jr. in relation to the material covered by the previous class lecture about “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” by Judith Butler. Students must display a familiarity with the source materials and complete all aspects of this assignment . The context is the end of an NBA game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the New York Knicks. Jae Crowder, a player on the Grizzlies, stole the ball and attempted a shot, even though the outcome of the game was already determined. His actions are entirely within the rules of basketball, but they can be considered disrespectful, or unsportsmanlike, to one’s opponent. Otherwise, students need not know any more about basketball in particular, or sports in general, to fulfill the expectations of this assignment.As a note, in addition to Marcus Morris’ comments being considered sexist, the comments can also be considered homophobic.https://www.sbnation.com/2020/1/30/21115093/marcus-morris-female-tendencies-comments Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist
Author(s): Judith Butler
Source: Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec., 1988), pp. 519-531
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3207893
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Theatre Journal.
Performative Acts and Gender
Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology
and Feminist Theory
Judith Butler
Philosophers rarely think about acting in the theatrical sense, but they do have a
discourse of ‘acts’ that maintains associative semantic meanings with theories of
performance and acting. For example, John Searle’s ‘speech acts,’ those verbal assurances and promises which seem not only to refer to a speaking relationship, but
to constitute a moral bond between speakers, illustrate one of the illocutionary gestures that constitutes the stage of the analytic philosophy of language. Further, ‘action
theory,’ a domain of moral philosophy, seeks to understand what it is ‘to do’ prior
to any claim of what one ought to do. Finally, the phenomenological theory of ‘acts,’
espoused by Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and George Herbert Mead,
among others, seeks to explain the mundane way in which social agents constitute
social reality through language, gesture, and all manner of symbolic social sign.
Though phenomenology sometimes appears to assume the existence of a choosing
and constituting agent prior to language (who poses as the sole source of its constituting acts), there is also a more radical use of the doctrine of constitution that
takes the social agent as an objectrather than the subject of constitutive acts.
When Simone de Beauvoir claims, “one is not born, but, rather, becomesa woman,”
she is appropriating and reinterpreting this doctrine of constituting acts from the
phenomenological tradition.1 In this sense, gender is in no way a stable identity or
locus of agency from which various acts proceede; rather, it is an identity tenuously
constituted in time-an identity instituted through a stylizedrepetitionof acts. Further,
gender is instituted through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments
of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. This formulation
at GeorgeWashington
Sheis the
JudithButleris an AssistantProfessorof Philosophy
authorof Subjectsof Desire: Hegelian Reflection in Twentieth-CenturyFrance. She has
and gendertheory.
publishedarticlesin post-structuralist
‘Fora furtherdiscussion of Beauvoir’sfeminist contributionto phenomenologicaltheory, see my
“Variationson Sex and Gender:Beauvoir’sTheSecondSex,”YaleFrenchStudies172 (1986).
moves the conception of gender off the ground of a substantial model of identity to
one that requires a conception of a constituted socialtemporality.Significantly, if gender
is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearanceof
substanceis precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment
which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe
and to perform in the mode of belief. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized
repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the
possibilities of gender transformationare to be found in the arbitraryrelation between
such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.
Through the conception of gender acts sketched above, I will try to show some
ways in which reified and naturalized conceptions of gender might be understood
as constituted and, hence, capable of being constituted differently. In opposition to
theatrical or phenomenological models which take the gendered self to be prior to
its acts, I will understand constituting acts not only as constituting the identity of
the actor, but as constituting that identity as a compelling illusion, an object of belief.
In the course of making my argument, I will draw from theatrical, anthropological,
and philosophical discourses, but mainly phenomenology, to show that what is called
gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and
taboo. In its very character as performative resides the possibility of contesting its
reified status.
I. Sex/Gender: Feminist and Phenomenological
Feminist theory has often been critical of naturalistic explanations of sex and sexuality that assume that the meaning of women’s social existence can be derived from
some fact of their physiology. In distinguishing sex from gender, feminist theorists
have disputed causal explanations that assume that sex dictates or necessitates certain
social meanings for women’s experience. Phenomenological theories of human embodiment have also been concerned to distinguish between the various physiological
and biological causalities that structure bodily existence and the meaningsthat embodied existence assumes in the context of lived experience. In Merleau-Ponty’s
reflections in The Phenomenologyof Perceptionon “the body in its sexual being,” he
takes issue with such accounts of bodily experience and claims that the body is “an
historical idea” rather than “a natural species.”2 Significantly, it is this claim that
Simone de Beauvoir cites in TheSecondSex when she sets the stage for her claim that
“woman,” and by extension, any gender, is an historical situation ratherthan a natural
In both contexts, the existence and facticity of the material or natural dimensions
of the body are not denied, but reconceived as distinct from the process by which
the body comes to bear cultural meanings. For both Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty,
2Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “The Body in its Sexual Being,” in The Phenomenologyof Perception,trans.
Colin Smith (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962).
3Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley (New York: Vintage, 1974), 38.
the body is understood to be an active process of embodying certain cultural and
historical possibilities, a complicated process of appropriation which any phenomenological theory of embodiment needs to describe. In order to describe the gendered
body, a phenomenological theory of constitution requires an expansion of the conventional view of acts to mean both that which constitutes meaning and that through
which meaning is performed or enacted. In other words, the acts by which gender
is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts. My
task, then, is to examine in what ways gender is constructed through specific corporeal
acts, and what possibilities exist for the cultural transformation of gender through
such acts.
Merleau-Ponty maintains not only that the body is an historical idea but a set of
possibilities to be continually realized. In claiming that the body is an historical idea,
Merleau-Ponty means that it gains its meaning through a concrete and historically
mediated expression in the world. That the body is a set of possibilities signifies (a)
that its appearance in the world, for perception, is not predetermined by some manner
of interior essence, and (b) that its concrete expression in the world must be understood as the taking up and rendering specific of a set of historical possibilities.
Hence, there is an agency which is understood as the process of rendering such
possibilities determinate. These possibilities are necessarily constrained by available
historical conventions. The body is not a self-identical or merely factic materiality; it
is a materiality that bears meaning, if nothing else, and the manner of this bearing
is fundamentally dramatic. By dramatic I mean only that the body is not merely
matter but a continual and incessant materializingof possibilities. One is not simply
a body, but, in some very key sense, one does one’s body and, indeed, one does
one’s body differently from one’s contemporaries and from one’s embodied predecessors and successors as well.
It is, however, clearly unfortunate grammar to claim that there is a ‘we’ or an ‘I’
that does its body, as if a disembodied agency preceded and directed an embodied
exterior. More appropriate, I suggest, would be a vocabulary that resists the substance
metaphysics of subject-verb formations and relies instead on an ontology of present
participles. The ‘I’ that is its body is, of necessity, a mode of embodying, and the
‘what’ that it embodies is possibilities. But here again the grammar of the formulation
misleads, for the possibilities that are embodied are not fundamentally exterior or
antecedent to the process of embodying itself. As an intentionally organized materiality, the body is always an embodying of possibilities both conditioned and circumscribed by historical convention. In other words, the body is a historical situation,
as Beauvoir has claimed, and is a manner of doing, dramatizing, and reproducinga
historical situation.
To do, to dramatize, to reproduce, these seem to be some of the elementary
structures of embodiment. This doing of gender is not merely a way in which embodied agents are exterior, surfaced, open to the perception of others. Embodiment
clearly manifests a set of strategies or what Sartre would perhaps have called a style
of being or Foucault, “a stylistics of existence.” This style is never fully self-styled,
for living styles have a history, and that history conditions and limits possibilities.
Consider gender, for instance, as a corporealstyle, an ‘act,’ as it were, which is both
intentional and performative, where ‘performative’ itself carries the double-meaning
of ‘dramatic’ and ‘non-referential.’
When Beauvoir claims that ‘woman’ is a historical idea and not a natural fact, she
clearly underscores the distinction between sex, as biological facticity, and gender,
as the culturalinterpretation or signification of that facticity.To be female is, according
to that distinction, a facticity which has no meaning, but to be a woman is to have
becomea woman, to compel the body to conform to an historical idea of ‘woman,’ to
induce the body to become a cultural sign, to materialize oneself in obedience to an
historically delimited possibility, and to do this as a sustained and repeated corporeal
project. The notion of a ‘project’, however, suggests the originating force of a radical
will, and because gender is a project which has cultural survival as its end, the term
‘strategy’better suggests the situation of duress under which gender performance
always and variously occurs. Hence, as a strategy of survival, gender is a performance
with clearly punitive consequences. Discrete genders are part of what ‘humanizes’
individuals within contemporary culture; indeed, those who fail to do their gender
right are regularly punished. Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender
is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those
acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly
conceals its genesis. The tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain
discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of its
own production. The authors of gender become entranced by their own fictions
whereby the construction compels one’s belief in its necessity and naturalness. The
historical possibilities materialized through various corporeal styles are nothing other
than those punitively regulated cultural fictions that are alternately embodied and
disguised under duress.
How useful is a phenomenological point of departure for a feminist description of
gender? On the surface it appears that phenomenology shares with feminist analysis
a commitment to grounding theory in lived experience, and in revealing the way in
which the world is produced through the constituting acts of subjective experience.
Clearly, not all feminist theory would privilege the point of view of the subject,
(Kristevaonce objected to feminist theory as ‘too existentialist’)4and yet the feminist
claim that the personal is political suggests, in part, that subjective experience is not
only structured by existing political arrangements, but effects and structures those
arrangements in turn. Feminist theory has sought to understand the way in which
systemic or pervasive political and cultural structures are enacted and reproduced
through individual acts and practices, and how the analysis of ostensibly personal
situations is clarified through situating the issues in a broader and shared cultural
context. Indeed, the feminist impulse, and I am sure there is more than one, has
often emerged in the recognition that my pain or my silence or my anger or my
perception is finally not mine alone, and that it delimits me in a shared cultural
situation which in turn enables and empowers me in certain unanticipated ways.
The personal is thus implicitly political inasmuch as it is conditioned by shared social
4JuliaKristeva, Histoire d’amour (Paris: Editions Denoel, 1983), 242.
structures, but the personal has also been immunized against political challenge to
the extent that public/private distinctions endure. For feminist theory, then, the
personal becomes an expansive category, one which accommodates, if only implicitly,
political structures usually viewed as public. Indeed, the very meaning of the political
expands as well. At its best, feminist theory involves a dialectical expansion of both
of these categories. My situation does not cease to be mine just because it is the
situation of someone else, and my acts, individual as they are, nevertheless reproduce
the situation of my gender, and do that in various ways. In other words, there is,
latent in the personal is political formulation of feminist theory, a supposition that
the life-world of gender relations is constituted, at least partially, through the concrete
and historically mediated actsof individuals. Considering that “the”body is invariably
transformed into his body or her body, the body is only known through its gendered
appearance. It would seem imperative to consider the way in which this gendering
of the body occurs. My suggestion is that the body becomes its gender through a
series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time. From a
feminist point of view, one might try to reconceive the gendered body as the legacy
of sedimented acts rather than a predetermined or foreclosed structure, essence or
fact, whether natural, cultural, or linguistic.
The feminist appropriation of the phenomenological theory of constitution might
employ the notion of an act in a richly ambiguous sense. If the personal is a category
which expands to include the wider political and social structures, then the acts of
the gendered subject would be similarly expansive. Clearly, there are political acts
which are deliberate and instrumental actions of political organizing, resistance collective intervention with the broad aim of instating a more just set of social and
political relations. There are thus acts which are done in the name of women, and
then there are acts in and of themselves, apart from any instrumental consequence,
that challenge the category of women itself. Indeed, one ought to consider the futility
of a political program which seeks radicallyto transform the social situation of women
without first determining whether the category of woman is socially constructed in
such a way that to be a woman is, by definition, to be in an oppressed situation. In
an understandable desire to forge bonds of solidarity, feminist discourse has often
relied upon the category of woman as a universal presupposition of cultural experience which, in its universal status, provides a false ontological promise of eventual
political solidarity. In a culture in which the false universal of ‘man’ has for the most
part been presupposed as coextensive with humanness itself, feminist theory has
sought with success to bring female specificity into visibility and to rewrite the history
of culture in terms which acknowledge the presence, the influence, and the oppression of women. Yet, in this effort to combat the invisibility of women as a category
feminists run the risk of rendering visible a category which may or may not be
representative of the concrete lives of women. As feminists, we have been less eager,
I think, to consider the status of the category itself and, indeed, to discern the
conditions of oppression which issue from an unexamined reproduction of gender
identities which sustain discrete and binary categories of man and woman.
When Beauvoir claims that woman is an “historicalsituation,” she emphasizes that
the body suffers a certain cultural construction, not only through conventions that
sanction and proscribe how one acts one’s body, the ‘act’ or performance that one’s
body is, but also in the tacit conventions that structure the way the body is culturally
perceived. Indeed, if gender is the cultural significance that the sexed body assumes,
and if that significance is codetermined through various acts and their cultural perception, then it would appear that from within the terms of culture it is not possible
to know sex as distinct from gender. The reproduction of the category of gender is
enacted on a large political scale, as when women first enter a profession or gain
certain rights, or are reconceived in legal or political discourse in significantly new
ways. But the more mundane reproduction of gendered identity takes place through
the various ways in which bodies are acted in relationship to the deeply entrenched
or sedimented expectations of gendered existence. Consider that there is a sedimentation of gender norms that produces the peculiar phenomenon of a natural sex,
or a real woman, or any number of prevalent and compelling social fictions, and that
this is a sedimentation that over time has produced a set of corporeal styles which,
in reified form, appear as the natural configuration of bodies into sexes which exist
in a binary relation to one another.
II. Binary Genders and the Heterosexual
To guarantee the reproduction of a given culture, various requirements, wellestablished in the anthropological literature of kinship, have instated sexual reproduction within the confines of a heterosexually-based system of marriage which
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