“…there is also a more radical use of the doctrine of constitution that takes the social agent as object rather than the subject of constitutive act…When Simone de Beauvoir claims, ‘one is not born, but, rather becomes woman.’”
– Judith Butler. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay on Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” In: Theatre Journal. Vol 40, No. 4, pg. 519, December 1988.This quote functions on a multiplicity of levels. The primary function is to establish a baseline theoretical structure to understand the nature of agency in regards to identity formation. This understanding of object and its connotative characteristics (specifically that it can only move, act or perform when an outside force is involved) will then be overlaid with additional structures such as the performativity and the theatrical to map out an argument for the social context and lack of autonomous agency in construction of female identity. The notion of object as something that can only operate under the influence of something else is critical to the entire argument. The combination of this notion tied to the implication of female identity formation as artificial and a cultural construct brings her to her real argument of gender itself, not the male or female identity, but gender as an artificial cultural construct. She circles back finally to identify the implications for feminist theorists.
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A more subtle but critical function of choosing to set her beginning baseline as OBJECT is the overall content of her essay, female and gender identity and agency. These topics touch such a deeply rooted notion of self, even the most mature and liberated scholaress is likely to not be able to fully strip (ha) herself of the cultural baggage she has used to navigate social space either in compliance or rebellion. So to dehumanize the subject (hmm) matter of the essay creates, oddly, a safe place for the reader to find temporarily stable ground on which to set their bags. Further her choice of slipping straight from object to de Beauvoir’s quote functions as a nice ease of readable metaphorical transition into the muddy waters of gender – OBJECT [gender specificity] is to BECOME as SUBJECT [the biological] is to BORN. This is again is a nice safe ground built on logic. We stand here as she rips the binary and gender from beneath our feet.
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Sigh. In navigating social space it is much easier for me to choose (as though i actually had independent agency) A or B. If the eye doctor said is 1, 2, 3, or 4 better, i’d be done for, Frankly i only seem to be able to navigate between 2 choices and even that is a challenge. Judith, I’d like to hold the illusion of a little ground to stand on please. The quote also functions to please Roland Barthes from the grave as he mubbles dirt bound, “’Author as object. Oh yes! Yes! Yes! You nailed it perfectly Butler.’”