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Performative Acts and Gender Constitution


Butler argues that gender is not a static identity but can be constituted and constructed through the acts and performances, hence, gender depiction is arbitrary and biased depending on cultural, political, and theatrical perceptions. She views sex and gender as quite different entities of self that have been constructed to relate with one another in a subversive way, as one is not born as a woman but through cultural, political, and social acts and performances, she attained the status of a woman. This leads to the argument that gender constitutes acts and performances that are norms and traditions of our society.

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Gender and Sex

The feminist theory is against the perception of deriving the gender identity from the physiological or biological aspects of the body because sex and gender are two different entities and an attempt to relate them is against their feminist theory. On the other hand, phenomenological theories view gender as having a historical component rather than a natural and static fact. This theory differentiates biological and physiological aspects of gender to explain the extent of their contrasts in the construction of gender identity. The two theories support the argument that the human body is not a sexual body but it depicts cultural and historical experiences that constitute acts and performances.

The acts and performances construct the perception of gender in terms of sexuality based on cultural beliefs, but now the body has been considered to have a historical aspect and a great deal of possibilities to explore during the process of gender identity. Plenty of possibilities are not determined prior to birth as one is not born as a woman but through the exploration of constitutive possibilities, one experiences historical acts and performances that shape the gender perceptions. This means that without the historical idea and biological perception of sex, then, the definition of the gender of a woman is impossible. Hence, gender is defined by the experiences of the acts one undergoes but not by a definite biological or cultural structure.

Cultural, social and political experiences have significantly contributed to the shaping of gender. Cultural and social experiences have depicted women’s gender sexually and this has caused feminists to seek political support in terms of affirmative action. Affirmative action in itself shows the cultural, political, and social status of the woman in the society and thus depicts the historical experiences that they want to change. The historical oppression of women constructs the perception of their gender as weaker while men are stronger.

Constructs of gender perceptions can occur at the family level based on cultural values. Since gender is an act, the routine actions within the family that are rewarded or punished are fundamental in shaping the perception of gender in the family and eventually in society. The performative acting at the theatrical also reflects our cultural perception and experiences of gender because an actor becomes styled to fit a certain gendered role in a given play.


Butler has changed the perception of gender and sex in that they are different entities of self. While gender depicts historical and cultural experiences of the women, sex depicts the biological identity of a woman. Furthermore, gender is not predetermined during birth but it entails the cumulative cultural, social, and political experiences that make up historical experience thus a woman is a historical idea. Hence, gender has been shaped by historical experiences through acts and performances.

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