Indeed, the widely cited point that Gender Trouble made was the following: that categories like butch and femme were not copies of a more originary heterosexuality, but they showed how the so-called originals, men and women within the heterosexual frame, are similarly constructed, performatively established
(Butler 2004: 209)
Serano places this understanding of the categories ‘men’ and ‘women’ as being constructed in a wider societal context by relating it to that form of sexism that has emerged because dominating discourses are maintaining the illusion that men and women are irreconcilable different:
Once we start thinking about gender as being socially exaggerated (rather than socially constructed), we can finally tackle the issue of sexism in our society without having to dismiss or undermine biological sex in the process. While biological gender differences are very real, most of the connotations, values, and assumptions we associate with female and male biology are not
(Serano 2016: 76)
This means, that the ‘understandable’ binary gender categories, woman and man, cannot be neglected completely. Serano explains how she (and other trans* persons including MTF (male-to-female) and FTM (female-to-male)) experienced changes in people’s behavior, when she started taking estrogen in order to be aligned with her subconscious gender (REFERER TIL Queer). This, however, does not change to fact that socialization processes affect girls and boys to exaggerate their biological characteristics (Serano 2016: 101).
In line with Butler, American sociologist and gender researcher specializing in men and masculinity, Dr. Michael Kimmel, thinks that (social/cultural) gender is something you do and not something you are (Kimmel 2017: 147). According to Kimmel, we become our gender-divided self in a gender-divided society through social institutions such as workplaces, families, media, schools, and politics.
The media participate in the sustaining and reproducing of the inequality that exists between the genders, which means that the understanding of men and women as binary oppositions becomes natural (ibid.: 348). Kimmel thinks, that gender differences are a result of inequality between the genders — not the other way around (ibid.: 59). A comprehensive debate of gender requires that we acknowledge, that the terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are constructed. To do your gender is something you learn through coded messages directed at either girls or boys, which means that being a gender is based on a cognitive decision. This acquisition starts when are born (differences in toys, colors and so on) and are reinforced when you start school. Here, boys are shaped into being active, competent, aggressive, and capable of expressing rage. Girls, on the other hand, are shaped into being passive, loving, responsible and stubborn. Kimmel criticises earlier research in the difference between men and women, since it was normal, historically speaking, to find scientific proof of differences in correlation with brain seize, academic abilities, child raising, genes, and hormones both within the fields of social science, behavioral science, natural science, and biology. This, only because they were determined to find such results.
Butler, Judith (2004) Undoing Gender. Routledge. ISBN: 978-0415969239
Kimmel, Michael (2017): The Gendered Society. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN: 9780190260323
Serano, Julia (2016): Whipping Girl – a Transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkeley CA, Seal Press. ISBN-13: 978-1-58005-622-9