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'To what extent is "sex" a constrained production, a forcible effect, one which sets the limits to what will qualify as a body?' (Butler, 1993: pg. 23) an embodied inquiry into feminine performance in 2016 with a focus on the female body as resistance

Reader, Kate (2017) 'To what extent is "sex" a constrained production, a forcible effect, one which sets the limits to what will qualify as a body?' (Butler, 1993: pg. 23) an embodied inquiry into feminine performance in 2016 with a focus on the female body as resistance. Master of Arts by Research (MARes) thesis, University of Kent,.


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Judith Butler argued that gender performance and gendered ways of being were strategies of survival, which became so normalised, through everyday habits and habitual performances, that men and women became 'entranced by their own fictions whereby the construction compels one's belief in its necessity and naturalness' (1988: pg. 522). Butler further supposed that, in order to discern the conditions of oppression that certain gendered performances receive, we must examine the daily reproduction of gendered identities that maintain the distinct and fixed categories of man and woman: masculine and feminine. This dissertation aims to investigate and challenge the embodied social and historical constructions of femininity, in an attempt to discover how far they contribute to women's continuing subordination in British society.

On the 21st of January 2017, thousands of women in Britain took to the streets of London to speak out against the appointment of Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America. Among their protests was the celebration of how far women had come, but louder still were the shouts of how far we have yet to go. Despite progressions towards equality in the last century, I argue that we have stalled and, in recent years, regressed. Abortion rights are still denied, women don't receive equal pay for equal work, and are still being harassed in public places and in the workplace. Stigma surrounding menstruation and female body hair, I argue, is more prevalent than ever, and eating disorders continue to claim the lives of young women in Britain. This dissertation contends that female bodies, and the ways in which they are required to perform on a daily basis, are regulated and controlled to such an extent, that they perpetuate and sustain the inequalities faced by women in Great Britain.

From January to June 2016 I identified and resisted five cultural behaviours that were regular features of women's embodied performances of femininity in Britain in 2016; dieting, shaving, wearing makeup and appropriately feminine clothes, and using sanitary products during menstruation. I discovered that women are not afforded the choice to act and perform as they please without fear of retribution. I found that certain women my age felt obliged to shave their bodies in order to feel more sexually attractive, and that dieting was a way of life for many. I ascertained that women's bodies are often judged and altered to fit a feminine stereotype that renders women in unequal opposition to their male counterparts and that, today, young women are required to be "beautiful" before anything else is asked of them.

Contrary to expectation however, my analysis of feminine performance uncovered the importance of certain daily habits to a number of women, and that to do away with these performances would not in fact result in the equality many women are fighting for.

Through an investigation into the development of feminist performance theory in the last century, an analysis of the increasing problem of gender inequality in Great Britain in 2016, and an evaluation of the practical methodology employed to realise my aim, this dissertation argues that it is to a great extent that '"sex" is a constrained production, a forcible effect, one which sets the limits to what will qualify as a body' (Butler, 1993: pg. 23). I conclude by proposing that, rather than a complete eradication and subversion of embodied performances of femininity, as Butler had previously suggested, we can be open to an expansion of the very category. By providing women and men with alternative ways in which to embody their femininity and masculinity on a daily basis, and allowing ourselves to be open to an array of gendered performances, I reason that we can go some way to altering the inequalities that many women in Britain continue to face.

Item Type: Thesis (Master of Arts by Research (MARes))
Thesis advisor: Shaughnessy, Nicola
Thesis advisor: Varakis-Martin, Angeliki
Uncontrolled keywords: Feminist performance theory, gender and sex, identity, gender in performance, Feminist Theory, Judith butler, femininity, women, masculinity, embodiment, embodied constructions of femininity, embodied performance, equality, body hair, menstruation, diet, eating, habitual performances, daily habits, makeup, feminine clothing, beauty, practice as research, performance art
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2018 10:10 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2019 10:43 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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