Performative Nature of Gender

February 19, 2017



While one’s sex can be determined by one’s biological make up, gender is seen as more of a societal construct. describes social constructionism as “the idea that social institutions and knowledge are created by actors within the system, rather than having any inherent truth on their own.” From this thought process, theories have gone on apply this to the performance of gender.


In particular, gender theorist Judith Butler states that there is a performance of “male” and “female” that has become essential to one’s binary. Butler theorized that people are always acting and embodying some degree of gender norms that perpetuate the need to maintain gender categories. Whether you identify as male or female, or stray away from identifying as one of those genders, the notion of two main socially accepted genders continues.


Butler also states that gender is internalized in individuals to consider the level of masculinity and femininity they want to display. We consider how much of each sensibility that others will perceive us as more so than how we may actually feel, which is why Butler theorizes that gender is only important in social contexts that desire to know in order for people to understand how to interaction with one another.


Masculinity is associated with Men and manhood.

Some general traits of masculinity include:

  • Courage, independence,assertiveness, strength and aggression

  • Acting with no thought on the consequences or responsibilities tied to those decisions

  • Restricted emotions, sex detached from intimacy

  • Heteronormative and patriarchal relationships to those who identify as feminine (but subjugating feminine people to the idea that masculinity dominates femininity).

  • Sexually assertive


Some acts of masculinity include:

  • Asserting power through where and how you sit (i.e. sitting at the front of the table or “man-spreading” in a vehicle and cutting into someone else’s sitting space.)

  • Practicing “manly” skills such as being a financial provider, being able to physically defend someone, to survive in emergencies and to fix anything mechanical that needs tending to

  • Dressing practically for ease of movement and functionality (i.e. jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, boots, etc..)


Femininity is associated with women and womanhood.

Some traits of femininity include:

  • Fragility and weakness

  • Shyness, fear and incompetence

  • Compassion, empathy, sensitivity and tolerance, modesty

  • Sexually passive and receptive


Some acts of femininity include:

  • Dressing for fashion rather than comfort (i.e. dresses and heels that limit your movement and give a put together look)

  • Wearing makeup to define and accentuate one’s beauty

  • Crossing legs and taking up as little space possible

  • Caring for others and raising children


Society perpetuates the notion of femininity and masculinity from a young age. Boys are expected to like the colors blue, green and red; and play with action figures, toy weapons and toy cars. Conversely, girls are expected to like the colors pink and purple; and play with dolls and clothes.


Although everyone has both femininity and masculinity in them, those who display an equal amount of both or traits and behaviors opposite of their perceived gender are written off as people in the fringe of society, placing them in the LGBTQ community. Finding safe spaces to express one’s non-traditional gender expression is why so many find comfort in gay clubs and balls where that non-conformity is embraced rather than cast down upon.


“I was too gay for straight people, but not gay enough for gay people-I didn’t know where I belonged”- Alexis Hex, local drag queen.




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