If gender is performative, our acts, gestures and overall persona we represent to the world is constructed and stylized over time as suggested by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble, self-perception and self-awareness become key to this construction. We walk, talk and act in ways, which consolidate an impression of being male or female, masculine or feminine. All of these are triggered by the ways in which, we perceive ourselves as well as our desires to be viewed in particular ways by others. Drag queens want to be seen as female and glamorous, thus accentuating ‘normal’ feminine traits and gestures. This creates the impression of a female to perceivers and is coherent to their own self-perceptions of their own gender and what is feminine.
Whilst some may argue our behaviour and gestures are up coming from our genetic make-up and biological properties, I want to explore the idea of gender being a construction upcoming from self-perception. It could be the case that everything we do is learnt and stylized over time, as suggested by Judith Butler, by things that we see, culture and society, thus impacting the gender identity we represent to the world. For example, some traits of a person we may idolize and admire, such as the sultry voice and behaviour of Marilyn Monroe. As a result of this admiration, we the perceiver, may imitate Monroe’s actions and behaviours because we too want to be perceived in such ways as we perceive her by others. Thus, gender whether unconsciously or consciously could be seen as the result of how we want to be seen, our self-perception of ourselves, which we outwardly reflect to the world. Is our gender unconscious or is it the result of stylized repetitions of imitations and acts? But first, what is self-perception?
An awareness of the characteristics that constitute one’s self; self-knowledge.
Self-perception is an account of attitude formation developed by psychologist Daryl Bem, which asserts that people develop their attitudes rationally by observing their own behaviour and opinions much as an outside observer might and draw conclusion from it. The theory suggests that people are often unaware of attitude changes caused by their behaviour and how people believe their current views are one’s they’ve always had. In 1970, Bem and Keith McConnell demonstrated just this by measuring the change of attitudes in Carnegie-Mellon students toward having control over their university curriculum.
Initially, the students attitudes were positive and in favor in having utter control of the curriculum. To test this behaviour Bem and McConnell assigned the students to write an essay against having student control. By writing an essay proclaiming views different from their initial feelings the students attitudes changed and became less favorable. After completing their essays, Bem and McConnell then asked the students how they felt at the beginning of the study. The students insisted that they had always felt less favorable toward having student control and that the experiment did not change their opinions. However, it definitely did. As the students began to develop attitudes opposing student control, they observed this and concluded that they were against the idea.
Another example could be that you are a fan of Star Wars. According to self-perception theory you didn’t decide that you like Star Wars because you think it’s the best film or because watching it makes you feel good. You decided you like Star Wars because you watch it a lot. As a result, we learn and form judgments about ourselves just as we do outsiders, through observation.
Overall, I believe self-perception is key to a person’s gender as it influences the way act and behave, thus impacting the image we portray to the world and perceptions others have of us. Our exterior reflects our inner perceptions of what we think is feminine or masculine which are influenced by things we seen in others such as people, media, society and culture. Again it’s a vicious cycle of our own self-perceptions and what is being perceived through our eyes. Now I understand the theory, I will now go onto investigate why we want to be seen in certain ways and what influences these decisions. Is it vanity? Is it our desire for acceptance? What is a ‘normal’ gender identity?