We’re told from the earliest moments of our
lives that boys will be boys and girls will be girls. News stories about Gender are everywhere
today. Should people declared Men at birth be allowed into Women-only colleges? Can I
use whatever washroom I fancy? Can women become men? According to American Philosopher Judith
Butler, these conversations miss an important point – gender is a lot messier then we’d
like to think. Gender is a sort of script – that society expects us to act out. Women have long hair, they wear bikinis, they walk and talk, they even sit like women. And Men, are expected to be manly. They walk like Men, they talk like Men, they pump iron, and they certainly
don’t get caught up with anything girly. Even a hundred years ago, it was perfectly normal
for women to have body hair. And boys to wear pink dresses. Norms have changed with society.
Society assumes that girls act like girls because of hormones, or because their brains
are just different. But these gender roles are according to Butler, determined by society.
From the moment the doctor declares it’s a girl, we’re expected and compelled to act
like our gender. Girls are supposed to play with purple ponies and dolls, while boys get
spaceships and G.I. Joes. Gender is the narrative we ascribe to anatomy. And there’s plenty
of people who don’t fit into either category. Our ideal man, and woman, are fictions. And
they are constantly breaking down. We know of women who prefer swords and sports, and
men who prefer dresses and poetry. For Butler, Gender is performative. We act it out everyday
in our mannerisms, our speech, and our thoughts. And when we act it out, we’re not just putting
on a show, we’re consolidating and actively constructing these gender identities. Gender
is not just an identity, it’s a ritual. If Gender is performative, then perhaps our best
course of action is to refuse to perform. Perform differently, or even laugh at it.
When we refuse to perform our Gender script, the neat binary between Men and Women starts
to fall apart. We see people with male anatomy who want to identify as female. And, vice
versa. For some, that means seeking surgery to change their anatomy. This begs the question,
what is a real woman? To which Butler responds, there is none. Many others are quite content
existing in a grey area, between sexes and genders. It’s this in between area which exposes
that Gender is fluid. Identity serves to restrict our very being, and exclude those who don’t
conveniently fit into the binary of men and women, such as homosexuals and transgender
people. So the question is not can boys act like girls, but as Butler may ask, should
the category of boys and girls even exist?