“Bodies that matter” is a philosophical proposal or attempt to (re)think the concept of “the
Judith Butler is questioning if the question of the materiality of the body can be related to
the performance of the gender? And how is the category of “gender” reacting in such a
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The thesis that the gender is performative, is crucial for the kind of opening of the concept
of recognition – or is an attempt to do something like that. For Butler, gender, like anything
else, is not static, it is a process, it happens in time, within social norms and it never fully
completes itself. Gender ‘appears’ through the practice of repeating or quoting norms and
depending on the degree of our ‘adaptability’ to social rules, we are recognized by that
same society, not only as men and women, but as humans.
The idea of performativity of the gender points to the existence of a continuous relationship
between a willing subject who defines himself through actions and various institutions that
limit this work, which is precisely the place Butler poses the possibility of “breaking the
gap”. It is possible, therefore, to reject certain norms – which doesn’t have to be (and most
often is not) a willing act, and often have serious social consequences – or repeat them in
different ways or rearticulate them. It is precisely the fact that there are norms that open up
the possibility of resisting them in different ways. In other words, what we might call the
subject is created between the will of the individual and the social norms whose power over
us is extremely strong.
The ideas described by Butler have led to the status of the body, or what is traditionally
called “gender” – the way a society understands it and to the discourse in which the body
forms, materializes and appears. Since we are all, actually “embodied” creatures, it is crucial
to understand how our bodies exist in society, time and history, and which discourses
determine our becoming a woman or a man.
For Butler, the body is (as biological, anatomical and not to say ‘natural’ category)
constructed through social norms, and therefore we cannot speak about biological
predispositions that ‘precede’ society and language, which are immutable and, therefore,
unquestionable. Apart from the fact that in this way, the statements of type “women are
naturally predisposed to give birth to children” or “women are naturally fragile and gentle”,
are effectively denounced, it does (again) overcome the ancient divisions of mind (or spirit)
and the body and it, again, is inseparable from the process of social construction.
Judith Butler’s work, I would say, is guided by seeking the answer to the question “who can
be recognized as a human being” and by the consideration of the way in which the
mechanisms that define the recognition and acceptance work. It is often said that it is Butler
that encouraged the development of queer studies, since the idea of performativity of
identity offers the possibility of ‘opening’, problematization and relativization of ‘male’ and
‘female’ categories and eventually, their overcoming.
Butler, in other words, allows us to think of the fact that there are – if I can banalize things –
men who love men and women who love women, as well as those who love both of them
(or they do not like either), and those marked at birth as men but who feel like women and
vice versa…And we shouldn’t just think about it we should accept this fact as normal. The
idea that identity is continuously performed and constructed enables us – gives us the tool –
to think beyond the traditional binary of male/female and all the terrible consequences that
such a limited opinion cares with itself.
-the way our culture talks about our bodies makes a difference to our bodies-