This essay will address a my own awareness, as a woman, of my external appearance as “Gender “ becomes an “ impersonation “ (1993, Butler) in relation to its biological definition. The constant obsession and infatuation that women partake in in regard to their appearance and their responsibilities, indicates that society controls and manipulates the ideal gender identity. Butler’s theory on gender and performativity, explores how women desire to fit into the requested stereotypes dictated by society, and are willing to overrule their own self belief and behaviour in favour of these ideals.
There is an unspoken ‘imitation’ in regard to what gender is. Butler (1993) states “… that gender is a choice, or that gender is a role, or that gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning, that there is a ‘one’ who is prior to this gender, a one who goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today. ” The statement indicates that gender is created through the influence of societies, culture, media, religion, community and peers. It speaks of women who strive to achieve ‘coherent identification’ which is ‘cultivated, policed, and enforced’ (Butler , 1993).
Butler also states that those who ‘violate’ ‘the gender norm have to be punished, usually through shame” (interview with Liz Kotz in Artforum, 2002) which explains that if the stereotype is not met, within society’s gender construction requirements, the women are instantly marginalised. This demand for equalisation forces woman to invest in gender norms,gaining society’s recognition and approval in order to allow her to reinforce her own self affirmation. There is a strong correlation between Butler’s theory on gender and performativity and my intervention.
In my intervention, when I adopted the identity of a woman with breast cancer, I opposed the “pre-discursive,” (Butler, 1990) rigid constructs found in the norms and ideals (according to society) that woman are meant to adopt. An awareness of my own self and behaviour became evident as society began to react to my change in being and I was forced to consider the true meaning of my identity. Society is given power in creating the identity traits to which each gender should adhere to. However in my intervention, where I took on the role of battling cancer, society was reminded that it cannot control or escape the unpredictability of death .
This created discomfort for society’s individuals because the feeling of being exposed to someone who at any moment was to succumb to death, was a harsh reminder of the fate that they, and every one around them would one day have to succumb to too. I therefore realised a person suffering from an illness in society would quite often be rejected in some way. Although any ill person may be disempowered physically, lacking the emotional capability to be a threat, the disease itself is threatening and is regarded as ‘contagious’ as the cause is incurable , which is why ultimately I as a person was regarded with wary disdain and avoided.
This is because having an illness threatens a society that wishes to be (seen as) indestructible. It reminds society of its overall inability to fully control all aspects of the living. Illness is therefore seen as a threat towards society’s desire to be strong. One unhealthy person could contaminate and destroy society’s focus from superficiality, to rather the basic desire to live. The issue to be regarded next is the female characteristics that cancer removes. Having a mastectomy I no longer had my ideal physical female defining characteristics.
Where according to theory on gender and performativity, ‘essentialism of certain aspects of the human body (is required) , one is drawn back into a discourse in which sex is a purely biological construct ‘(Butler 1993, 10), the loss of my breasts resulted in me being a less capable mother in the sense that I could no longer breastfeed my offspring. During chemotherapy I would also unable to safely produce. In society this would subconsciously be regarded as me being a less competent candidate for reproduction.
Due to the fact that I cannot partake in the requirements that I as a woman was intended to fulfil I would not be treated as such. My lack of maternal capabilities seemed to be less important than the weight that was placed on me losing my feminine characteristics. As a woman, I feel my physical appearance is associated with my identity. Butleers theory (1993, 1). states that “Sex, is just another regulatory ideal, like gender, that we are required to live up to by society’ which ‘constantly changes. ”. During my intervention the physical qualities that are associated with feminism in society were destroyed.
My hair, my tan and my curved body disappeared, attributes that society defines as giving a woman a sense of worth and identity. My health deteriorated. I became pale, drawn out and skinny. Society reacted towards me as though I had neglected my well being. I felt shamed as I was ignored and pitied for wanting to undergo a process intended to save my life. Having cancer , undergoing chemotherapy, meant I had to forgo beauty, rather choosing to live. Society however seemed to value the former and I was regarded as though I wasn’t beautiful.
This intervention forced me to really concentrate on my inner identity as a conformation and assurance as to who I was because my external appearance, I had so naively based my self worth on, was no longer proving to be a fair and accurate judgement of who I was. The intervention also challenged the feminine behaviour and ideal involving restriction. Women in society are made to feel as though they should regard indulgence as an act of gluttony and selfishness. It would be unnatural for a woman in society to oppose and demand more than other men and woman yet to undergo chemotherapy, for people living with cancer, it requires the atient to be defiant, and to desire a need for all that he or she can get in order to live and conquer the disease. By not restricting myself ,by asking for more, I was considered in a sense needy and a liability compared to those who only need the minimum. A woman wIth cancer defies the norm to be reliant on men as only she can ultimately decide how badly she wishes to live. She must have a strong emotional mindset, taking on the disease. Society discourages this because it opposes the idea that it has instilled where men are dominant decision makers and providers. Feminine ideals were also upheld during my intervention.
By being ill with cancer, I maintained ideals that the disease rendered me with such as powerlessness, fragility and physical inability to be in control. During my intervention I staged a faint, where people had to come to my assistance, lifting me up, giving me water to drink and opening the door so I could get fresh air. I was provided for. This positive response I received in the correlation between being ill had with being a disempowered woman showed how in society, a woman’s weakness and the negative constructs of gender that society creates are similar and should be scrutinised.
During my intervention I was made aware of my actions in regard to how they opposed societies ideals and learned to objectively engage with the negative reactions I received. I feel that society has lost a clear picture of identity, replacing the constructed solid definition of sex with the uncertain unstable perception surrounding gender. People behave with a conscious intent to maintain this ideal, in spite of their need for external necessities, a concerning observation as the ideal cannot healthily protect the individual and his or her own emotional and physical qualities