Judith Butler, Gender Trouble [Prefaces, Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire, Conclusion]

Gender Trouble is a theoretical inquiry into gender that seeks to open possibilities for the ways gender manifests, or in her terms, is performed, rather than to prescribe a definitive account of what constitutes “gender.” Her work is drawing on the tradition of French philosophy, largely of an anti-structuralist vein, and challenges all foundationalist approaches to questions of gender and persons by arguing that gender is both performed and performative – that gender is something individuals perform and that gender, in the performance, constitutes “the identity it is purported to be” (33). She also challenges the idea that, while gender may be a culturally constructed interpretation, sex is natural and naturally binary. Instead, she argues that sex is also constructed, and constructed through the “apparatus” of gender (11).

This text is very rich in content and very dense in presentation (which Butler brilliantly defends by noting that language itself is not a neutral medium for conveying meaning). Her conclusion for the challenging of gender binaries is both a recognition that no individual can escape the existing framework or power structures (there is no objective outside place from which one can argue), but that those power structures can be challenged and revealed as arbitrary through subversion, through performing gender in such a way that calls attention to the framework’s logic and challenges its status as “natural” and necessary.