Discuss the concept of “performativity” by Judith Butler

American philosopher Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) coined the term “performativity” adapting J.L.Austin’s concept of the ‘performative’ to redefine gender as an action humans are compelled to perform by society rather than a state of being or bodily condition. Her case example, which as she acknowledges in subsequent books was much misunderstood, is drag or cross-dressing: drag imitates gender, she argues, and in doing so reveals the imitative structure of gender itself. Gender can be imitated because it is always already a performance to begin with. As such, gender does not have an essence, or an intrinsic nature or identity. What was misunderstood by many was the fact that this does not mean gender is something we can therefore opt out of. As Butler clarifies in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (1993), while it is true that we can decide which aspects of available gender identities we wish to perform, we cannot choose not to have any gender identity at all because society constantly imposes gender upon us.

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