Paris Is Burning Reading Response – Zach Nutman

In The Subversive Edge: Paris Is Burning, Social Critique, And The Limits Of Subjective Agency, Phillip Brian Harper, discusses the common mischaracterisation of performativity in interpretations of Judith Butler’s writing on Gender. Both Butler and Harper seek to distinguish between the notions of “theatrical performativity” and “discursive performativity” in Gender Trouble to better illuminate the ways in which conventional performances of gender are not necessarily about choice as much as they are about conditioning. This notion of discursive performativity recalls the ideas of “productive power” put forward by Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality – Volume One wherein he describes a system whereby codes of normativity are established and maintained through a power created in all kinds of daily relationships. Foucault, Butler and Herber understand that notions of what is “normal” and how we are conditioned to perform our gender are not solely the product of governance and law but are in fact created and enforced through discourse. This practice is both demonstrated and critiqued in the satirical film But I’m a Cheerleader wherein queer men and women are “taught” to be straight through the performance of hyper-stereotyped, gendered activities – chopping wood whilst dressed in blue for the men, cleaning in pink frilly dresses for the girls.

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