Queer Theory and Gender Performativity of Judith Butler

Cultural Norm and Performative Claims

According to Judith Butler, the idea that queer and gender performativity theory claims that the power of performative comes from its iterability. In addition to being inspired by Derrida’s claims and Austin’s description of the term performative, Butler sees that sex is the same as gender, namely a cultural construction. Sex is culturally constructed, as is gender. They call sex a cultural norm because sex is no longer treated as something the body dictates. In conservative cultures, the cultural norm is that everyone must be male or female. In essence, there are only two genders.

It is why babies who are born with ambiguous genitals ultimately have to undergo surgery to normalize the baby’s genitals. It makes the baby’s body into a woman or a man. For instance, it is like transgender who wants doctors to operate on the baby’s genitals to make the baby a gender according to their feelings. Since cultural norms change people’s gender, Butler sees that social constructs sex. From the case, they try to deconstruct the concept of sex and gender because, in their view, sex and gender are the norms of a powerful individual. What they are right most people in society think is right. One example is the idea that heterosexuality is normal.

The Individual Concept of Gender

One of the main theories that serve as an innovation for the LGBT and feminist movements is the theory that explains gender as something that takes the form of actions and words. Everyone’s sexual behavior is the one that defines their gender, which does not necessarily mean male or female. Judith Butler widely theorized about the nature of gender performativity and queer theory. According to their theory, sexual behavior is not based on the natural essence that gender determines. However, it is the opposite. Human behavior creates the illusion that specific genres exist. Gender is based on a set of things that people mistakenly perceive as the result of belonging to one gender or another—the basis of the act of assessing the sex of an individual.

Gender exists from the actions of each individual, not in the way that individuals determine. Of the various possibilities, there are deviations in what constitutes gender. Butler himself thought it was inevitable. From the gender variation, it is the concept of society to be interpreted. They are so close to the gender concept with feminism because of the exact nature that the two terms share. In addition, Butler theorizes that individuals cannot decide which sex to belong to. Everyone has an individual identity, which is part of their being and which the individual cannot change. Actions shape and reflect each individual in the social environment. Such a concept also applies to feminism.


On the other hand, homosexuality deviates from the norm or the idea that there are only women and men. The idea of which trait is associated with each sex is socially constructed. Norms and ideas about certain goods are always gender-specific but change over time. At a certain period, one gender perceives it as a particular characteristic; at different times changes, and the other gender perceives it as distinctive. For instance, pink was the color identified by men in the past. In recent years, the color pink has been synonymous with women. Cultures in other societies also see differences in gender norms.

In Western Europe, two men walking in public holding hands is not a common practice. On the other hand, in Iran, it is a common thing. Ultimately, Judith Butler argues that it is difficult to look at the queer theory and gender performativity without looking at the cultural intersections that produce gender. If gender is a construction, society does not always construct it. Instead, it is a society that is the result of construction. If more boys start wearing dresses and continue to do so, people’s views of what is normal for boys to wear will change. It is one example of the aspect of performativity that Butler meant: Actions that people repeatedly perform and produce a series of effects.

Judith Butler

Judith Butler is a gender theorist, philosopher, and academic born on February 24, 1956, in Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Their works have influenced various fields such as third-wave feminism, literary theory, queer, ethics, gender philosophy, and political philosophy as people who have struggled in academia. In their lifetime, Butler has produced 22 books that most people know, including Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, which was translated into 27 languages. People know their works contain how they oppose conventional gender ideas.

They developed their theory of gender performativity, a theory that had a significant influence on the development of queer and feminist theory. Many consider Butler one of the most influential voices in contemporary political theory. Many people also consider them the most widely read and influential gender theorists globally. In 1993, Butler began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley. They have served, starting in 1998, as the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory Program. They are also the Hannah Arendt Chair of the European Graduate School. Butler has supported the gay and lesbian rights movement and has spoken on many contemporary political issues, including criticism of Israeli politics.

The Society Performativity

Women have their own identities. However, each identity is unique. There is no unity, even within the same gender, as Butler’s theory in their book entitled Gender Trouble. Their gender theory goes beyond simply referring to the gender constitution of women or men. For philosophers, the concept of the same sex is part of a series of actions that individuals in society perform. According to Butler’s theory, the act of establishing sex because it represents an identity that differs arbitrarily from one person to another. For them, some phrases and words arbitrarily build people’s perceptions of gender. For instance, a mother gives birth to a daughter, and the doctor exclaims that the child is a girl.

One begins to condition the individual’s perception of the child from the moment she is born. Many philosophers use the theory together with others in explaining why there are different perceptions of the sex of people. As Judith Butler explains, feminism is closely related to the concept in addition to queer theory and gender performativity. Every woman builds a different perception of herself in her life journey. Butler also criticized the approach that feminist politics had to the feminist movement. According to them, the goal that most movement members want to achieve is ironically exclusive to women. The concept of the female gender that the movement wants to maintain is the traditional concept that one has about the feminine in general.

Common Troubles

Butler states that gender is performative. Gender becomes real only when an individual takes action. They say that people guarantee identity by stabilizing the concepts of sexuality, gender, and sex, acting as a reference for gender performativity. Furthermore, what is meant by gender is performative? No person has a gender identity before committing an act associated with a particular gender. In such a sense, a gender is always an act. However, it is not an act by the subject that the individual can claim to have existed before such an act. Butler’s thinking is like recognizing gender as identity.

However, it is on the record that there should be no gender identity before carrying out a gendered act. The thing can give the impression that gender identity is a shell because it did not exist before. However, it is only at the time of gender action. In the end, their notion of gender performativity does not provide space for gender as a stable identity. Their book entitled Gender Trouble questions what is meant by identity. For instance, they stated that the term female, which refers to a common identity, is a problematic term. It was problematic because the group of all women contained so many different people. As a result, it is impossible to find a common denominator.


The concept that feminist groups have about their ideology revolves around a misconception. At least for philosophers thinking, the basis of feminist theory only makes sense if the individual starts from the view that a woman is heterosexual. According to Butler’s theory, such a concept is exclusive to most women worldwide. The traditional ideas of feminism make them doubt the movement’s true nature. It is difficult to understand how the feminist movement can defend women’s rights if the theoretical foundation is based on is not correct.

Based on their critique of feminism, Butler emphasizes that the subversive destabilization that occurs on women’s end must be overcome. Such destabilization is achieved through behavioral characteristics deemed acceptable for a woman. In addition, they also talk about gender parody and the erroneous principle of such concepts. It is based on theoretical failures in what constitutes the relationship between sexuality, sex, and gender. The concepts Butler uses to describe transgender women encompass a range of ideas about the coherence of heterosexuality in society. For them, shemale is a production unit that people see, in society, as a way to neutralize the gender of each individual.

A Loop of Identity and Gender

According to Butler, gender should also not be interpreted as a stable identity. Gender is an identity that forms weakly in the time dimension, institutionalized in the exterior space through the repetition of stylized actions. The statements indicate their claim that gender identity is unstable. In such a frame of mind, one needs to interpret Butler’s claim that it is impossible to be a gender or sexes. If gender is a performative act, it is only there when the individual is doing it. If the inner truth of gender is a mere fabrication, true gender cannot be wrong or great. True gender identity is just a fantasy that institutionalized surface bodies.

It is the product of the actual effect of stable and primary identity discourse. In addition, there are various possible misinterpretations of Butler’s views when it comes to gender. Gender should not be generalized by people claiming that gender equals behavior. In such a case, a man becomes a woman when the man wears a skirt at the time. It will make gender completely fluid, not a claim the man is making. Butler suggests that people treat gender as a choice and fail to realize that their existence is gender-determined. They questioned whether there were properties that preceded gender or not. By doing such things, they do not suggest a loop between identity and gender.

The Discourse of Norms

However, the case is not that people are of a specific gender, who behave in a certain way, and can influence the norms of what is appropriate for that sex. Butler suggests that people cannot have a specific gender beforehand. Their views are notoriously difficult for people to interpret because of their choice of words and an indirect way of writing. It is also one of the characteristics of third-wave feminist thinkers. Simply put, Butler says that gender identity cannot precede gender action. It seems that the act of identity and gender exist at the same time. The act of gender continuously makes gender identity. From various statements, gender identity indicates that gender identity is not stable.

Therefore, people need a process of negotiating the norms to produce non-violent gender performativity. The theory of gender performativity shows that gender occurs because of the process of construction and materialization. The location of gender studies is in contact with Butler’s thoughts which dismantle the gender paradigm, especially what feminists have done. In such a division, what people understand as sex is gender itself. The theory of gender performativity shows how the discourses and actions that people continue to do repeatedly produce an understanding of gender and sex. More than that, gender greatly determines human actions.


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