Performing one’s gender wrong initiates a set of punishments both obvious and indirect, and performing it well provides the reassurance that there is an essentialism of gender identity after all. That this reassurance is so easily displaced by anxiety, that culture so readily punishes or marginalizes those who fail to perform the illusion of gender essentialism should be sign enough that on some level there is social knowledge that the truth or falsity of gender is only socially compelled and in no sense ontologically necessitated.
Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” (528)
This is incredibly important. This interview taught me that my understanding of Butler’s works and concepts were warped by those who weaponized them against me and #girlslikeus. She sets the record straight and takes on the transphobia and immoral damage committed by TERFs, including Brennan, Bindel, Jeffreys and Raymond.
JB: I agree completely that nothing is more important for transgender people than to have access to excellent health care in trans-affirmative environments, to have the legal and institutional freedom to pursue their own lives as they wish, and to have their freedom and desire affirmed by the rest of the world. This will happen only when transphobia is overcome at the level of individual attitudes and prejudices and in larger institutions of education, law, health care, and kinship.
I could quote from this article all day. Read it!
[On Raymond and Jeffreys] If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly misunderstands its terms. In her view, a trans person is “constructed” by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct. But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions – or norms – that help to form us. We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones. For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full. That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.
One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real. And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality. I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.
One performance artist is fighting back against the degradation of women’s bodies – one piece of lingerie at a time.
Actress and artist Diana Oh created a collection of 10 performance art pieces calledMy Lingerie Play which include her (and other women) standing in lingerie on their “soap boxes” to reclaim women’s sexuality. “The problem isn’t sexualization, the problem is the degradation that comes along with women expressing it,” she says in the video.
Advertising’s ritualistic display of the female body to communicate powerlessness is also accomplished when women stand with what Goffman labels “the bashful knee-bend.” He calls these “canting” postures - meaning the body is tilted – positions that take the body away from being upright and perpendicular and places people off - center. In fact, as with the other submissive positions, “the bashful knee-bend” projects a sense of the woman as ungrounded, less than fully prepared to react quickly and firmly to her surroundings. As Goffman writes: “Once again, one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm.”
This posture is ubiquitous across our media landscape, so much so that it seems to define a core aspect of femininity. And once again, the posture has also been sexualized in the process, reinforcing yet again the notion that female sexuality is equated with submission and deference.
Variations of this canting posture include the crossed leg position, which has the same effect of putting women into a defenseless posture, again presupposing that there is no danger in the surroundings. Similarly, women are posed holding their feet, or the heel of a shoe, once more leaving them off-balance, teetering, ungrounded, and precarious – as they stand on one leg, vulnerable and defenseless. And then there is the head cant, the head repeatedly leaning to one side, as women – rather than holding their heads up high, upright, and firm – are posed again and again with their heads in tilted and awkward positions, bent and angled – once again, off-balance and de-centered.
An extension of this has the torso of the body itself being twisted and bent away from the vertical. Goffman argues that all of these head and body canting configurations leave women in a position where they seem utterly defenseless and, in this way, can be read as both an expression and acceptance of subordination, of ingratiation, submissiveness, and appeasement.
The coy over-the-shoulder look, where the head is twisted to the side or sometimes behind, is also an extension of this body and head canting posture. At the same time, the pose is sexually suggestive, positioning women as the willing recipients of the look coming from someone else.
While the most unnatural, and sometimes even grotesquely contorted, poses struck by female models may make us wonder what is going on in the minds of the creative directors and photographers who position them in these ways, it is perhaps more revealing that, for the most part, we go about our business and don’t even notice these images as being especially strange. It is only when we see them adopted by unusual people – men – that we notice how normal looking are the conventions that link being a woman with powerlessness and submission.
And in perhaps its most extreme expression, the head is lifted upwards, exposing the neck in a vulnerable manner, calling to mind the positions that animals, like dogs, take up when signaling their submission to other aggressive creatures. Outside of the animal kingdom, in the actual human world women inhabit, it clearly signifies that the woman has surrendered her agency within the social world – and accepted her helplessness.
And if there is any doubt that such images carry meaning, consider that the reverse is the very picture of masculine power – the face down and the eyes trained upward from below, suggesting an animal stalking its prey. Once again, the key here is that none of this is biologically determined or predestined. This is simply a story that the culture tells us about how femininity and, by extension, masculinity are to be performed.
- Professor Sut Jhally informing of symbolic interactionism’s relevance to the kinesic construction of gender ritualizing male dominance and female subordination through media advertising in the documentary The Codes of Gender (2009).,(via gynocraticgrrl)
When compared to the exquisitely expressive art of
Drag Queens, the wonderful world of Drag Kings appears to exist with far less
attention from popular culture. When I speak of Drag Queens amongst my friends,
most of them seem familiar with the craft, so much so, they can even name and
discuss examples. However, when I raise the term ‘Drag King’, I am often
confronted with a response similar to, ‘Wow, I never even knew they existed’. Nonetheless,
Drag King performers are storming stages all around the world, treating an
array of audiences to bold shows which captivate and challenge creative minds.
The idea and practice of performers transforming
themselves through male personas is by no means a new concept. For instance, English
playwright, poet and actress Susanna
Centlivre is notable for her work as an actress in ‘breeches roles’. Dubbed as “the most successful female playwright of the
eighteenth century”, she performed regularly in traditional
male attire. In other words, she became accustomed to fitted knee-length trousers
and popular masculine garments; clothing worn mostly by men around the 1700s. Since this
time, Drag Kings have progressed and developed; increasing in popularity whilst
making use of sophisticated resources and techniques. Distinguished impersonators
and cross-dressers across the 19th and 20th Centuries
include theatrical performers such as Annie
Hindle, Ella Shields, Vesta Tilly, Bessie Bellwood and Hetty King. Not to mention other provocative entertainers
such as Blues singer Gladys Bentley and the more controversial LGBT civil
rights icon; Stormé DeLarverie. Referencing
the OED, during 1972, the term ‘Drag King’ was initially published in text to
represent the description ‘woman masquerading as a man’. Referring to the updated version, we can see the definition as ‘A woman who dresses up as a man; a male impersonator’. Bringing Drag Kings
into the 21st Century, the field of performing arts and creative
industries offer a wide range of practitioners specialising in drag king
performances, workshops and transformations. Some of my favourites include Phantom,
Spikey Van Dykey, Adam All and Landon Cider.
The International Drag King Community Extravaganza
is the largest event of its kind and is entirely run by volunteers. Hosted in a
different city each year, the IDKE is known for its extraordinary performances,
workshops and events which push the boundaries of gender. In order to achieve different
levels of gender illusion, drag kings combine methods of breast binding, application of facial/body hair, masculine haircuts, styles or wigs, performance props, staging,
illusive male genitalia, manly clothing, as well as altered posture and movement.
Despite being relatively unheard of to the masses, Drag King shows are becoming
more and more accessible, with both troupe and solo performers making a name
for themselves amongst artistic and LGBT communities. For example, ‘Boi Box’ is
a monthly Drag King show held at ‘She Soho’, a lesbian venue situated on Old
Compton Street in London. There are also many opportunities for Drag Kings to
compete and network, with The San Francisco Drag King Contest being significant
as supposedly the oldest and biggest Drag King competition in the world.
drag scene plays host to a magnificent mixture of gender bending cabaret,
comedy, burlesque, circus, theatre and performance art. The art of drag has
been saturated with fascinating historical events, and continues amaze through
the footprints of modern day practitioners. Drag Kings take their place in the
spotlight, giving us a glimpse into a remarkable and inspiring world which
deserves to be adored and celebrated.
In North American culture, space is a signifier of power, and individuals who have command over greater amounts of space and territory are often considered to have great power. Women and lower-status persons of both sexes are afforded and expected to take up less space than males and higher-status persons. In addition, people in subordinate positions cannot control others from entering the space available to them.
The boss can enter the worker’s space, lean on the employee’s desk, or tower over the subordinate. Only with the supervisor’s invitation can the subordinate enter into the supervisor’s space. In public and in private, in the workplace and in the streets, women constantly experience space encroachment.
Gender-differentiated proxemic patterns appear even in childhood when young boys are encouraged and permitted to play outdoors while play for young girls is more frequently centered within the home (Graebner, 1982; Harper and Sanders, 1985; Thorne, 1993; Valentine, 1997).
Learned behavior patterns inform beliefs about entitlement to space and affect how individuals interpret the use of space - especially when expected spatial norms are violated. In the animal kingdom and among human beings, subordinates yield space to dominants.
Frank Willis (1966) performed studies in which he measured the initial distance set by an approaching person. He established that both sexes approach women more closely than they do men. In a review of many such research studies on nonverbal sex differences in interpersonal distance, Judith Hall (1984) also found that females are approached more closely than are males. When women’s space is intruded upon, they are apt to acquiesce to the intrusion - just as they frequently acquiesce to interruptions.
Jeanette Silveira’s research (1972) indicated that when men and women walked toward each other on the sidewalk, the woman moved out of the man’s way in twelve out of nineteen cases.
Knapp and Hall (1997) speculate that acquiescing or ceding space to males may be linked, in part, to associating male behavior with the potential for threatening aggression. They further hypothesize that acquiescence to “invasions” of personal space may be attributed to societal norms for maintaining “appropriate” distance; “people expect men to keep larger distances, and when they do not, it may be disturbing” (p. 168). Yet, as we have seen, societal norms and expectations serve dominant interests.
Women are encouraged to sit and move in ways that intensify the lesser amount of space available to them. For example, women when involved in a dyadic or small-group communication interaction may sit poised on the edge of a chair, eagerly leaning forward rather than “taking up” space. “Feminine” clothes also contribute to a nonverbal image of female weakness and reconfigure the bodies that wear them. Tight skirts and tight slacks restrict movement. High heels force women to take small steps.
In the late 1800s economist Thorstein Veblen (1899) asserted that “the high heel, the skirt, the impracticable bonnet, the corset, and the general disregard of the wearer’s comfort which is an obvious feature of all civilized women’s apparel, are so many items of evidence to the effect that in the modern civilized scheme of life the woman is still, in theory, the economic dependent of the man.” Veblen noted that middle-class women were not just restricted in their movements, they, and their relative powerlessness, were literally “on display” (p. 126 - 127).
In the United States, contemporary women are still socialized to take up less space than men. They are taught to sit with their legs together and elbows to their sides and to walk with smaller steps. Contemporary women’s fashion, such as tight clothing, short skirts, and high heels, discourages women who wear it from sitting and moving expansively, as do men. While seated, men spread their legs and put their arms on the armrests of chairs. They walk with longer strides. We know that these stereotypical ways of moving are not anatomically based, because men in Asia, for example, sit with their legs as closed together and cross their legs as do Western women.
Borisoff, Deborah (New York University) & Merrill, Lisa (Hofstra University). “The Power To Communicate: Gender Differences as Barriers - Third Edition.” Waveland Press, Inc; Prospect Heights, Illinois, 1998, (p. 52 - 54)
And sex/gender-differentiated promexic patterns that involve males/men being intrusive towards females/women is still a present-day problem. As well as the cultural pattern of socializing/conditioning females to conform to feminine gender performativity which makes women have non-spatially expansive kinesics and is further enabled/reinforced through restrictive, impractical, clothing designs. (via gynocraticgrrl)
It upsets me how often I hear women say that a male actor who plays a woman (e.g. Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto) or a male model who poses as a woman (e.g. Andrej Pejić) “looks better as a woman than actual women” or “makes a better woman than most women”. Usually this is followed by some kind of a self-deprecating comment. Of course they make “better women” because the idea of a good woman is a male fantasy that has nothing to do with female women.
Goffman starts his analysis of gender display with something seemingly simple and trivial – the way that hands are represented in advertising as male or female. He argues that female hands have a different relationship to reality than male ones. Female hands are shown not as assertive or controlling of their environment but as letting the environment control them. So, for example, when women are shown holding something, it often looks as though it is just resting there – not being held in a strong manner. Female hands are shown just tracing the outlines of an object, or cradling it – rather than carrying it and being in control of it – or they are presented as just using the ends of the fingers to hold objects, delicately and lightly, rather than using the whole hand. When this feminine touch is applied to other people – men – it is also light, soft, and caressing.
In contrast, the masculine touch is powerful and assertive, presenting a different relationship to the world. Instead of tentative, the male touch is utilitarian, controlling, and bold. Male hands are shown as manipulating their environment, molding it to their desires. And when applied to others, the touch is commanding and firm.
Sometimes you can see the difference in one image, where masculinity is about power and strength, and femininity is superficial and weak. Goffman further argues that the soft feminine touch can be extended into what he calls self-touching, which conveys a sense of the body as being a delicate and precious thing. In fact, women are constantly shown touching themselves – and there really is no part of the body that is off-limits. Whether it is the shoulder that is being utilized, or the face being touched in this soft and caressing manner, or the neck – symbolically connected with vulnerability and openness – there seems to be no end to how women will touch themselves in the world of commercial realism.
Women are also shown in a kind of breathless posture – though the world around them is too much for them to cope with – or holding themselves protectively, as if the body is a delicate thing that needs support. These are undoubtedly conventionalized positions of passivity and acquiescence to whatever else may exist in the immediate social situation.
- Professor Sut Jhally informing of symbolic interactionism’s relevance to the construction of gender through media advertising in the documentary The Codes of Gender (2009).
Lygia Clark, The I and the You: Clothing/Body/Clothing, (1967)
“A proposal made for a couple in which both the man and the woman wear plastic boiler suits. Each boiler suit contains a lining made up of different materials (plastic bag with water, vegetable spume, rubber, etc.) which gives the man a feminine feel and a masculine feel for the woman. A hood, made of the same plastic, covers the eyes of the participants A rubber tube, like an umbilical cord connects the two boiler suits. When they touch each other, the participants find small openings in the suits (six zips), which give access to the inner lining. Translating them into the sensations felt by their partner. In this manner, the man finds himself in the woman and the woman finds herself in the man.”