Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

What is Judith Butler’s concept of performativity? Why is gender a performative concept according to her?

Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity states that gender is entirely socially constructed. Butler argues that people act out their gender labels based on social expectations for men and women. In repeatedly doing so, people reinforce and reproduce the concept of gender.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gender theorist Judith Butler argues that the concept of gender is a performative act in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. She explains that gender is a set of expected behaviors placed on people at birth. Essentially, she believes that gender does not exist at birth and is entirely socially constructed.

Butler argues that the behaviors that society tends to associate exclusively with women and exclusively with men are not natural, but rather based on society associating those behaviors with a particular label. People adhere to expectations based on their gender label and then act out or “perform” them. Gender is thus a performative concept because as people live in accordance with their gender label, they reinforce socially constructed definitions of what men and women are.

Consider how Butler writes that gender is “a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame.” Here the phrase “repeated acts” shows the concept of gender as a performance. People repeat actions that are expected of them based on the labels “male” or “female.” In doing so, they are performing masculinity and femininity as the terms have come to be defined by society. People are also reproducing definitions of gender through the repetition of these actions and ensuring that they continue to exist.

For more information, check out the attached video of Butler explaining the theory herself.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team