This guest post was written by Meena Lakshana. FF welcomes guest posts on feminism, human rights, and democracy in Malaysia. Submit your posts through Tumblr or over email. Or consider becoming a regular blogger for FF.
I first discovered Judith Butler, the famed theorist of power, gender, sexuality and identity, when I was 21 years old.
I was studying a subject called Representation and Gender in Murdoch University, Perth and had to read a chapter of her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
It had a lasting impact on me, to the point that it changed everything I thought I knew about gender and sexuality.
In a nutshell, Butler questions the way in which we identify ourselves as male or female, about how “natural” masculinity and femininity really is.
She argues our concept of male and female is a social construction that is perpetrated by, among others, norms and conventions.
An example of this is associating pink clothes with baby girls or blue apparel with baby boys.
Butler says the socially constructed notions of gender are internalised and then “performed”. Through this performance, we garner meaning or our identities.
Therefore, she argues, gender is by no means tied to material bodily facts but is solely and completely a social construction, one that is open to change and can be contested.
What is the point in performing the dichotomy of gender? Butler argues that it is required for the maintenance of the dominant position of sexuality in society, namely heterosexuality.
This was very new for me, for I always had androgynous tendencies since an adolescent.
I loved rock music, not the type of music girls my age would listen to.
I wore long pants a lot, again not something girls my age “performed”.
If there was a phrase that could encapsulate my adolescent years, it would be internal struggle, for I was always at odds with how the girls around me at school behaved and how I was as an individual.
After reading Butler, I realised what constitutes a woman is not a piece of clothing or her ‘feminine’ virtues, because gender is not a fixed notion.
I could listen to heavy metal music and wear a dress.
I could be heterosexual and have short hair.
I could be warm and gracious, and still question the validity of my aunt’s comment that I need to learn to cook because I am “a girl.”
Most importantly, I understood it is not the fault of the girls or me for being the way that we were.
It was the system that we were born into, a dichotomous system that was always trying to impose a world of opposites that we should all fit into.
After four years of coming to terms with my identity, I think there are just some things that are not as clear as black or white, and it would always remain grey.
It is because human beings are such complex individuals, that to place us in a box with neat, clear labels is a suffocation of who we really.