Gender in America: The Trouble with ‘Jane’

From social science classes to supermarket magazines, “gender” serves as the foundation for countless forms of analysis. Yet this proscription has not gone uncontested. Many feminists challenge the assumptions that constitute the “essential” argument; that is, the assertion that an “essence” within each of us compels us to act the way we act, think the way we think and be the way we are.
“Gender Trouble,” by acclaimed philosopher and UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler, trenchantly shows how the “essential” argument is a cultural construction. Butler analyzes the problem of binary Western “gender” through a feminist perspective within psychoanalysis, while at the same time critiquing the methodologies of modern psychoanalysis itself. If “gender” (italicized within the book) is not an “essence” that compels each of us to act/think/be the way we are, then what, we should ask, is it?
“As in other ritual social dramas, the action of gender requires a performance that is repeated,” Butler says. “This repetition is at once a reenactment and re-experiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; and it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimization. Although there are individual bodies that enact these significations by becoming stylized into gendered modes, this ‘action’ is a public action. There are temporal and collective dimensions to these actions, and their public character is not inconsequential; indeed, the performance is affected with the strategic aim of maintaining gender within its binary frame