One well-known gender theory is Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Butler theorized that gender is completely socially constructed. She wrote that gender “is a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame.” These “repeated acts” refer to the way in which people go about their daily lives behaving in accordance with man-made gender expectations. These expectations are a “rigid regulatory frame” because they regulate, or control, human behavior. Basically, this theory boils down to the idea that people “perform” gender like actors. Through this constant performance, Butler believes that people continue to reinforce and reproduce the concept of gender.
Many older gender theories argue the opposite of Butler, like the theory of biological determinism. This theory disregards sociocultural influences on human behavior and instead posits that all human behavior is innate. For example, Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thompson argued that behavior differences between males and females are caused by metabolic state. They argued that men are inherently “ketabolic,” which makes them “eager, energetic, and passionate,” and that women are “anabolic,” which makes them “passive, conservative, and sluggish.”
They used this theory as evidence to oppose giving women political rights.
What was decided among the prehistoric Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament,
they said. While there is competing evidence about biological differences in individuals and their impacts on behavior, today it has been widely accepted that sociocultural factors do have a degree of influence on behavior. Geddes and Thompson’s theory is regarded as more politically motivated than scientifically credible.
There are also theories of gender that lay in between Butler and Geddes's ideas. For example, the theory of gender realism assumes that women share characteristics that define them all as separate from men. For example, Catherine MacKinnon argued that “being sexually objectified is constitutive of being a woman.” This theory takes into account the influence of sociocultural factors on the experience of gender, but it does not take into account the way that differences in race, class, and culture impact people’s identities. For instance, under MacKinnon’s argument, a female who is not sexually objectified does not count as a woman. This idea oversimplifies the human experience and turns gender into an identity that is only available to some.