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In what ways can ‘gender’ be considered a performative act in everyday life?

In what ways can ‘gender’ be considered a performative act in everyday life?

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This essay looks at how gender is performed constantly in our everyday lives from a sociological point of view examining how mediums such as television and fashion influence our behaviour and how we view ourselves from a very young age. theatre's exploration of gender is examplified by David Henry Wang's play 'M Butterfly'.
This essay looks at how gender is performed constantly in our everyday lives from a sociological point of view examining how mediums such as television and fashion influence our behaviour and how we view ourselves from a very young age. theatre's exploration of gender is examplified by David Henry Wang's play 'M Butterfly'.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Sarah DuffyDrama & EnglishMelissa SihraHT 21-01-2008
In what ways can „gender‟ be considered a performative act in everyday life? Cite examples
from everyday behaviour as well as making reference to a play that you have studiedThe moment a baby
leaves its mother‟s womb and the excited cry of “it‟s a boy” or “it‟s agirl” throngs in the hospital delivery room, a gender is assigned to that miniature being for the rest of his or her life. It is generally a doctor‟s privilege to assign this initial b
iologicalgender but as the baby grows up it falls upon society to enforce a psychological gender on thechild. As soon as the baby is clothed or wrapped in colour coded blankets of blue for boysand pink for girls the cultural influence of society comes into play. The stereotypical idea thatfemales and males should be drawn to certain characteristics because of their gender is onethat is held highly in society today. In 1968, a doctor, Robert Stoller, found people had beenwrongly appointed a specific gender when research went into cases of genital malformation,where a gender was decided upon for patients. It appeared that it was easier to surgicallydelegate a gender than psychologically implant it. Gender, as opposed to sex, is performative.Everyday b
ehaviour illustrates how gender is performed. One learns „gender‟ rather than
acquiring it naturally. David
Henry Hwang‟s
 M Butterfly
illustrates how certaintiesconsidered by patriarchal society, concerning gender, can be manipulated. Gender is fluid andunstable. It is not a fixed state, and as a result masculinity or femininity or a combination of both can be obtained by anyone, regardless of their biological sex.
“Children and their parents are constantly bombarded with cultural messages thatestablish the cultural boundaries of socially desirable behaviour.”
1
Media comes in numerousforms but television, being one of the most popular and accessible seems to resonate strongly
1
 
Masculinities and violence,
p15
 
with children. Television commercials can have a substantial cumulative effect despite being
delivered in small doses. Sarah Sobieraj feels that “the gender imagery in television
commercials is relentlessly stereotyped. Boys are strong, independent, athletic, in control of their environments, adventurous, and aggressive. Girls are giggling, gentle, affectionate,
fixated on their physical appearance, and extremely well behaved.”
2
Sobieraj argues thatviolence and domination are standard components of masculinity depicted in toycommercials aimed at boys. Ones she mentions include verbal cues towards dominance such
as “universal domination,” “take control,” “powerful,” “use their power,” and “you‟re incommand.”
3
 
Boys are being encouraged to perform in a „masculine‟ way by showing
aggression and dominance while they are supposed to be playing. This should be a medium
for escapism but instead further instils society‟s ideas
of acceptable gender behaviour. The
 point is laboured that “masculine culture does not spontaneously erupt in adulthood.
Toughness, emotional repression, and
dominance enhancing behaviour are learned traits.”
4
 A recent television advertisement for a
girl‟s
magazine exemplifies the social
conditioning of young girls to be „feminine.‟
Strawberry Shortcake is the character themagazine is centred round. The character is dressed in the hyper-feminine attire of a pink andred frilly dress. The weekly magazine comes with a collectable piece of plastic cutlery,including pink cups and saucers, or a baking utensil so that after buying all of the magazinesthe
child should end up with a complete „picnic set‟ and can bake cakes to eat with it. The
add shows three girls politely playing in the indoor environment of the kitchen, smiling andcalmly cutting shapes in dough. Here we see the typical depiction of the inactive female,inside and learning the skills needed for feeding a family from a young age. If the patriarchal
tone of the add, suggesting that a woman‟s place is to be submissive in the home, is not clear 
2
Ibid
3
 
Masculinities and violence,
p24
4
 
Masculinities and violence,
p18
 
enough, the tag line at the end hammers home the p
oint sufficiently. “Learn to cook just likeMummy!” Girls are being taught to „perform‟ as their mothers do from a very early age.
There is no male presence in this advertisement, from the voice-over to the pink colourscheme. Children deduct from this what society intends, that passive activities such ascooking are gender specific to females.
This idea that a woman‟s place is in the home can even be found in the Irishconstitution. Eamon DeValera‟s government clearly knew how they wanted the
Irish publicto perform their individual gender roles. Article 41.2 of the constitution, which was enactedin 1937 states that
 
In particular, the State recognizes that by her life within the home,woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
5
Asecond section proclaims that
The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothersshall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties inthe home.
6
 Probably the largest signifier of gender is clothing. Men and women adopt a sort of coded costume when they dress for everyday life.
“Simone de Beauvoir claims, “one is not
born, but, rather,
becomes
 
a woman.””
7
It can be argued that clothes certainly help her dothis. Dresses, skirts and high heels are all gendered clothing items which society deemsinaccessible to men. This costume helps a woman assume an ultra feminine guise. She musteven walk differently in a tight skirt and high heels and adopts a supposedly feminineswagger. Male clothing is more accessible to women
. Judith Halberstam explains that “we
tend to believe that female gender deviance is much more tolerated than male gender
deviance.”
8
It still h
as „masculine‟ traits of angular tailoring and a lack of bows and frills and
5
http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/E900003-004/
6
Ibid
7
 
‘Performative Acts and Gender Construction,’
Literary Theory: An Anthology,
p900
8
 
‘Female Masculinity,’
Literary Theory: An Anthology,
p938

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