Can We Freely Choose Our Gender?

When talking about the difference between sex and gender, Judith Butler explains how, “When the constructed status of gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one” (Butler 10). In summary, Butler describes gender as being free of structure and bodies (unlike sex) and Delphy describes gender as being a social construct that precedes sex.

If being viewed as an “Other” is an integral part of being a woman, as Simone de Beauvoir suggests, then the flipside of that notion is that being viewed as a man means being viewed as normal, the default gender and comes with a wealth of privileges due to being male. If someone is perceived to be female, then that person will face sexism even in subtle everyday forms. So, based on the treatment of different genders: Does the way perceived gender and cisnormativity (cisgender normativity) play out in sexism affect how society will or will not accept or respect a person’s chosen gender if it differs from their perceived gender?

My main question in regards to all of these notions mentioned above would be: Can we as individuals freely choose our own gender and have our gender be based on our own self-perceptions, or is our gender more dependent on how others treat, recognize and perceive our gender?

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Delphy, Christine. Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. McCann and Kim, New York: Routledge, 2003.

Beauvoir, Simone de. Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives “The second sex.” McCann and Kim New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.


One thought on “Can We Freely Choose Our Gender?

  1. xenoparadox

    I think it has to be both. I’m just going to speak from personal experience here, as a trans* man who isn’t very manly and is also queer/gay-identified. Something I struggle with a bit is deciding whether to present more femininely and risk getting mis/de-gendered or to forgo the femininity but feel less authentic to myself. I love nail polish a lot but putting it on basically means relinquishing any hope of passing and being gendered correctly as a guy. I do wear it occasionally but not as often as I’d like – so in a way I do choose my own gender and presentation while letting it be influenced to some extent by others’ perceptions of me and my gender. This is just my personal experience but I think that everyone experiences a sort of push-and-pull between societal norms and expectations and their internal sense of identity and how they want to express it.


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