In the chapter “Gender is Burning” of Judith Butler’s book Bodies That Matter, she discusses the idea that all gender and sexuality is performance. Gender performance is not limited to drag queens or trans folks; all people, including straight cis people, are performing gender norms that have been fabricated through time and reinforced by powerful cultural institutions (like the Church or government laws).
Someone who illustrates Butler’s idea very well is Ruby Rose, an Australian pop-culture personality who DJs, models, makes music, and acts. She has become more well known in the United States since playing a role in the television series “Orange is the New Black”. Ruby identifies as being genderfluid, though she chooses to use female pronouns. This means she identifies as both male and female.
Ruby wrote, produced, and starred in a short video entitled “Break Free” that went viral on youtube. It demonstrates her ability to perform as and embody both male and female genders. In the beginning of the video, she is dressed in traditionally feminine garb: a dress, full make-up, a long wig, and heels. Throughout the video she slowly breaks down and removes these symbols of femininity, by chopping off the long hair, removing the body make-up covering her tattoos, washing off her face makeup, wrapping her breasts, and even putting on a prosthetic penis. By the end of the video she looks very masculine and takes on traditionally masculine mannerisms and body language.
Ruby Rose made this video as a way to breakdown the pressures of cultural gender norms and show the world what it means to have an unconventional gender identity. I think this video also acts as a reminder that everyone is performing their gender, even if they don’t realize it. It forces us to think about what it means to be male or female. Is it just about which set of genitals we are born with, or is gender more than that? From this video it is easy to see that gender is far more than biological sex. Ruby has no penis yet she fully embodies what it means, by our cultural standards, to be a man. She can play both genders, which shows that either gender is something that can be “played” and is “played” by everyone; makeup is not an innately female trait, nor is male bravado something that all men are born with. These are learned behaviors that act as symbols. The question that I am left with at the end of this video is this: Why do some people, like Ruby Rose or drag queens or trans people, defy these cultural gender norms when the majority of us subconsciously conform to them? If they are learned behaviors, why do some people not learn them, or learn them but choose not to perform them? These are questions I hope to explore more in my research project.
Butler, Judith. “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion.” Bodies That Matter. New York: Roudedge, 1993. Print.
Rose, Ruby. “Break Free”. Online video. Youtube. Youtube, 14 July 2014. Web. 15 July 2016.
(Note: MLA has no official guideline for citing Youtube videos.)