Thursday, October 29, 2009

Diva Invasion & Performa-who-a-what-ity?

Drag is a great way to point out that gender is “performative” as Judith Butler suggests. But Butler is not especially clear when she explicates this relationship between the two. I understand her to be saying that drag is not performative but a performance. This performance shows us how gender is performative, but drag in and of itself is not. So what the heck is the difference??

As some of us will see at Diva Invasion (I can’t even contain my excitement) drag is a performance because it has an audience that is in on the joke, so to speak. All of us watching the fabulousness know that these individuals are “doing” woman very convincingly (or at least, that is the idea). The very fact that they are convincing us despite the knowledge that they are not women (whatever that means) is what points to the idea that gender is performative.

However, performativity, while there is an audience in the broadest sense of the word, is closer to the notion of “passing” than a performance. So, when someone “passes” on campus, at work (to incorporate this weeks readings), or on the streets etc. is where gender is a doing, a performative. Drag simply shows us that this is so. Butler writes that “drag constitutes the mundane way in which genders are appropriated, theatricalized, worn, and done; it implies that all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation” (Imitation and Gender Insubordination, 361). It is in this implication that drag is useful, but drag itself is a performance, not performative.

6 comments:

Ariel Dansky said...

Absolutely. I also can't wait for diva invasion!

You seem to love Butler very much, lol. Props to you. She is much to verbose for me to actually read her writing without getting incredibly confused!

Ariel Dansky said...

*too

Sara N said...

bell hooks she is not lol. I have a love hate relationship with her, but I do appreciate her theories.

However, I think there is a way to make her work accessible. That is what I am trying to do with my thesis by using contemporary pop culture examples to elucidate some of this highly theoretical jargon.

I hope my explanation wasn't as opaque as hers...

art. said...

just because you used the phrase at work doesn't you incorporated the readings....

Zen Lien said...

Thanks for posting this Sara. I just finished a paper using Butler's theory of gender as a contruct using performatives and performance.I totally agree with the love/hate thing, she's wonderful but gives me a headache.

Drag definitely is appreciated by people who are "in" on the joke. It's such an awesomely entertaining exaggeration of what gender is (and as we saw in Venus Boyz it can be a satire of masculinity as well as femininity). However, I think we have to understand the concept that gender is performed which is actually quite simple despite Butler's writing. I sadly know quite a few people who are actually freaked out by drag queens or perhaps in a way, insulted. Apparently they think drag is (specifically female impersonators) are trying to be real women and failing. This where knowing the difference between gender performatives and gender performance come in. These people don't get that drag is a performance and that they are "impersonating" women not "becoming" them. So thank you for explaining the difference. Drag is like a big colorful highlighter that says "hey you all are doing this too and I'm gonna have a little fun exaggerating how".

P.S. I can't wait for Diva Invasion too!

Anita P. said...

Sarah, thank you! Unfortunately, before this class I had never been engaged in a conversation regarding gender performance. It's an important realization to have when discussing gender roles in society and particularly in Western culture. You've cleared it up quite well for me, the difference between performing female or male in the context of the box that we've placed these genders in and performing female or male in a "passing" manner. As I understand it, in drag performances the queens and kings are making a conscious effort to be noticed where as in "passing" there is no particular focus on being noticed (no more than an average person trying to get attention). They are just functioning in society as the gender that they most identify with or choose to identify with for that day or week or month. I will say this again, Venus Boyz blew my mind and opened my eyes to the complications yet LACK OF complications regarding gender. It only as complicated as we make it!
Anyways, I really appreciate this post and your short but very intuitive clarification of performa-who-a-what-ity! I'd love to get my hands on that thesis when it's done....