Gender & Economic Inequality

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Thinking of Judith Butler and other theorists, how do transgender individuals challenge consumerism/capitalism just by simply being transgender or transitioning?

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Transgender individuals challenge capitalism and consumerism because they are expressing themselves outside of societal norms. Being different from expectations creates a commercial vacuum that needs to be filled with products and services. Identity expression is perhaps more controversial than previous cultural splits, but it operates in the business world much the same way. For example, the “gothic” culture was once on the fringe of society; however the introduction of vampire, zombie and other occult movies has helped to satisfy the genre demand and stabilize the sub-culture. The same will be true for the transgender culture as consumer demand from the subgroup begins to force the market to address their needs.

Butler has a rather complicated take on gender identity when it comes to the commercial environment. Her view of gender being a retroactive assignment based on action lays the foundation for the argument that no transgender person can affect the market because the commercial market is responsible for part of the gender identity of the change. Simply put, a transitioning person is still coerced by other forces (family, friends, social and commercial norms) to transition toward an established gender identity (male or female). The key to affecting the market via Butler’s gender performativity is forcing the commercial market to create products which do not influence gender but which address specific needs in an autonomous manner, thus limiting the effect on gender identity.

One way the service industry can translate Butler’s gender performance in the commercial space is eliminating gender specific labels. Unisex bathrooms are an example of meeting a human need without forcing a definition onto a person. The shared space also has the effect of forcing people to grow comfortable sharing intimate space with others outside the social norms of the behavior and hopefully nullifying preconceived ideas on gender assignment. Similarly, consumer spaces can eliminate gender specific labels such as sir, ma’am, waiter, waitress, etc.

The commercial revolution is still in its infancy and fighting a difficult battle against “traditional” social norms which seek to define actions. Although damaging to transgender, the desire to label is a human attribute which often helps a person understand how they operate in the larger social context. The challenge is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to fill their emotional attachment to society with a comfortable, natural and real persona.

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