The differences between males and females are dramatic in some ways and less challenging in others. It is likely that most people possess some degree of confusion regarding gender and the capacity of individuals to conduct their lives according to a predetermined plan. Gender is very closely aligned with identity, but at the same time, identity is also characterized by more than genetic makeup and gender assignments. Individual identity is instrumental in shaping a person, but at the same time, there are considerable obstacles that all human beings face on a regular basis that impact their lives in different ways and lead to specific challenges in determining how to live life to the fullest without fear and apprehension. From a feminist perspective, there is a unique approach to consider that plays an important role in exploring the freedom of liberation while also exploring one’s identity in a specific manner. The following discussion will address Judith Butler’s novel “Gender Trouble” and specifically, the section entitled “Identity, Sex, and the Metaphysics of Substance” in order to identify specific areas of the feminist argument that are likely to be effective in supporting the female perspective and the revelations associated with identity in different ways as related to sex and other variables that are likely to influence outcomes for these people. The primary objective to consider is that gender identity is not always clear, concise, and uniform for all persons; therefore, it must be explored more deeply to encourage individuals to be true to themselves and to embrace their identities and differences.
Judith Butler’s perspective regarding this chapter is best summarized as follows: “Identity is self-understanding as an aspect of one’s own existing in the world. Each individual understands not only the world in its multifarious aspects but also themself as someone in the world. According to Butler, such identities are supposed by traditional understanding to be “self-identical, persisting through time as the same, unified and internally coherent” (Eldred). In this context, it is necessary to consider how human beings respond to specific situations and circumstances that encourage self-identity, while also evaluating ideas which allow an individual to question herself in other ways. Gender identity is complex for many males and females because many are in denial regarding their sexuality and orientation. The book begins with a discussion of the elements that are critical to modern society: “Even as I think that gaining recognition for one’s status as a sexual minority is a difficult task within reigning discourses of law, politics, and language, I continue to consider it is a necessity for survival” (Butler xxvi). From this perspective, Butler believes that distinguishing differences between genders is critical because it promotes the ability of human beings to survive under difficult circumstances and to perhaps thrive in the role of gender minority (Butler xxvi).
The “Identity of Sex” as noted by Butler is representative of a unique approach to determine what sex conveys as part of a person’s identity and how it supports the development of her perspective of sexual liberation and freedom. The consideration of sex and the experiences that it brings to life are critical in supporting the direction of one’s life and the life span. Gender brings many issues to the table that might otherwise go unexplored or that remain deep in one’s core of being. Therefore, it is important to recognize these limitations and to explore them to the degree that they are expanded upon in the open. Many gender-based studies are relevant in that they provide further evidence of the exploration of new ideas and approaches to gender and sexuality in ways that have not yet been identified. According to Butler, “Gender can be rendered ambiguous without disturbing or reorienting normative sexuality at all. Sometimes gender ambiguity can operate precisely to contain or deflect non-normative sexual practice and thereby work to keep normative sexuality intact” (Butler xiv). In addition, a discussion of the impersonation of women, as men and women may find themselves impersonating other women in their lives: “Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatize the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established?” (Butler xxviii). Under these circumstances, it is evident that there are significant challenges related to the falsification or impersonation of gender by both males and females who are not necessarily comfortable in their own skin, and instead seek to become something that they are not currently, but hope to be at some point in their lives.
The power of sexuality is also critical to the understanding of specific values and beliefs that shape an individual’s core being. At the same time, many women find themselves at odds with the expectations of their gender because there is a difficult challenge in place to understand what drives these expectations to begin with. One source of confusion is behaviors as specified by gender, perhaps due to the challenges associated with how people should behave based upon gender roles and specificity. The author assumes a unique approach to this discussion and demonstrates the impact of sexual identity on the life span and its influence on daily living and the associations between and amongst genders. Males and females who are perplexed regarding gender is not a new concept; however, many are beginning to evaluate their status and to make it public in the face of expanded acceptance and freedom.
Sexual identity for some people is merely a matter of what they should do, not what they should feel. From this perspective, many males and females find it difficult to let go of their fears and truly identify what they are to the world, what they signify to the masses. This is an important issue in current times, due in large part to the extreme focus on sexual identity and how it is often clouded by existing judgments and other factors that impact behaviors and the choices that are made regarding sexual identity. Many people might argue that they have one identity to the general public, but may demonstrate a different identity in secret. This is a juxtaposition of two identities and this type of behavior can only go so far before it catches up with an individual and lead to turmoil, whether internally and emotionally or externally and in the form of conflicts with other people. These types of discussions must be established with the people who matter the most because the sexual identity and being of a person is not defines their being in many ways that should not be hidden out of shame or fear. For example, the recent story regarding NBA player Jason Collins has taken the media by storm due to prior stigma against openly gay athletes in professional sports. This concept should not be feared by the general public and by other players; rather it should reflect the ability to share one’s true identity in a public manner.
To be specific, one observer notes that “Inasmuch as ‘identity’ is assured through the stabilizing concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality, the very notion of “the person” is called into question by the cultural emergence of those ‘incoherent’ or ‘discontinuous’ gendered beings who appear to be persons but who fail to conform to the gendered norms of cultural intelligibility by which persons are defined” (Mary). In this context, women may find themselves perceived by other people as “incoherent” or “discontinuous” if they do not fall into the category of the so-called norm, that being heterosexual (Mary). This is an important perspective to consider because it reflects upon the challenges that are evident in shaping how women’s attitudes and perceptions of their own identities are shaped by their own realties, which may make them retreat to a dark place out of fear and apprehension rather than allowing them to take charge of their lives and to make sense of what they feel and experience.
For many males and females, but particularly women, there is a significant disconnect between that which is presented as the truth on the outside and that which is true on the inside. However, the nature of society and the scorn that many women might receive is far too distressing for some women to bear; therefore, they keep themselves hidden from the world and its negativity in many ways. On the other hand, this perspective demonstrates that women who hide their true identities from the world over a long period of time are doing themselves a great disservice and that there are other approaches to consider. These approaches should be honest and thoughtful in consideration of the challenges that women face in their daily lives that are a direct result of their individual identities. Women are typically destined to bear children and get married, and when this is not the case, there is a significant disconnect in many circles that is difficult to ignore. Women should not be treated as less than worthy if they possess different values and objectives and should instead be treated as equals in this regard.
Many examples of feminism and identity are evident throughout popular culture and literature and are important indicators of how far women have come and where they are headed in their own lives. Throughout the years, these perspectives have shifted with the decades and have demonstrated a dramatic growth in acceptance in many societal circles. For example, the classic depiction of Mary Tyler Moore as independent feminist Mary Richards is not only iconic, but it represents the ability of women in the 1970s to achieve greater respect and admiration for their contributions to society. However, with this example, the feminist ideal was not about sexual identity, but rather about opportunity and the freedom of women to stand on their own two feet to make a difference. In the 1980s, this perspective began to shift towards a wave of greater acceptance of individual sexual identity because these ideals became more acceptable within the confines of the general public, in spite of continued opposition to these matters.
In the 1990s, expanded freedoms for women were evident, not only in the workplace, but by enabling them to be more comfortable in their own skin to share their true identities and to make sense of their lives. This was an important step towards a larger wave of acceptance of sexual orientation and identity as one of the key driving forces in the lives of many women. In the 2000s, even greater strides were made which reflects the capacity to develop a new identity and perspective to ensure that there were significant opportunities for women to make a name for themselves while not conforming to a specific ideal and perception that the public wanted to see.
The transformation of women, feminism, and sexual identity throughout the years have served as significant indicators of strength and opportunity for many women and convey the important contributions of women in society. These efforts have been relevant in shaping the lives of women for many generations, with the difference now being that they are able to express themselves more freely and without reservation in a wider public spectrum. These efforts have not only been unique, but they have been instrumental in shaping the lives of millions of women in a society that has finally begun to embrace change and acceptance from all sides.
To address Butler’s point even further, it is important to recognize the value of identity in shaping the lives of women and men, based upon gender: “If identity is prescriptive, rather than descriptive, it has to cite, as points of reference, recognized “identities” — such as male or female. Since the recognized modes by which persons are identified trace gender to biological sex, and desire to biological sex, the possible combinations of gender “identities” are limited to those of the heterosexual matrix. Here is where the abject begins to find relevance” (Mary). From this perspective, it is strongly evident that women face critical challenges in their lives that are difficult to overcome and to recognize if there is stigma attached to them in different forms. This is a critical component of the challenges that many women face in their efforts to be non-conformists and instead, to be their true selves.
Finally, it is important to recognize the value and contributions of women to society and how these have shifted over many decades to where they stand today. These efforts have been instrumental in shaping the lives of millions of women and have been unique indicators of the ability of women to exercise their freedom as they choose. They are important and meaningful in shaping the lives of many women and in their ability to freely express themselves without hesitation in a public forum. These issues also demonstrate that there are significant opportunities for growth and change for women who strive to become greater contributors to society and to the masses. This is a critical step towards the development of new ideas and approaches in shaping the lives of many women who seek to identify themselves in different ways that are meaningful to them. In addition, this perspective supports the notion that women should represent themselves as they truly are in society, rather than to depend on false assumptions to get by. These efforts are important and should be considered in the public forum as a means of exploring new boundaries for women in the context of their strength and growth in professing their true selves in an open forum that supports change and progress.
In the context of human identity based upon gender, there is no right or wrong way to “be.” Rather, it is important to recognize all persons for what they are and their contributions to life, regardless of their circumstances, sexual orientation, beliefs, and other perspectives. Judith Butler makes an effort with her book to explore the dimensions of feminist ideals and how they might conflict with current objectives and premises throughout the life span. These efforts are important because they convey a greater sense of understanding and accomplishment as it is reflected in the lives of women who seek comfort in knowing that the revelation of their true identities will be honored and accepted by the masses. This is a critical step towards greater freedom and acceptance throughout society, and although many women continue to face struggles in this capacity, they should be satisfied in knowing that their identities have become increasingly accepted and supported by larger groups of people, including government leaders. Therefore, the feminist movement and its relationship to gender and sexual identity have come a long way since the beginning years. Butler’s perspectives ring true in modern society and represent a means of exploring the different dimensions of feminism and its expanded meaning in today’s society, whereby there are significant opportunities for women to express themselves in different forms that go above and beyond what has taken place in the past. As a result, women must continue to explore their own boundaries and identities in order to make a name for themselves and a dent in society as full-fledged contributors.
Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.” New York: Routledge, 1990.
Eldred, Michael. “Metaphysics of feminism: a critical note on Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.” 30 April 2013: http://arte-fact.org/mtphysfm.html
Mary. “Subjects of sex/gender/desire: (Abject: a direct engagement, no. 1).” Queering Theory, I30 April 2013: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/glbt4403/2009/10/subjects-of-sex-gender-desire.html