All Made Up: Performance Theory and the New Anthropology of Sex and Gender

Morris, Rosalind C. 1995. “All Made Up: Performance Theory and the New Anthropology of Sex and Gender.” Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol.24, pp.567-592.

  • The journal entry discusses gender and explores the different theories surrounding gender. Some of the issues are drag, transvestism, cross-dressing, and other gender related issues. It also touches on the fact that even within the drag community there is still discrimination.  In one case two lesbians tried to enter a drag show and the gay men rejected their right to masquerade in the feminine.This Journal entry raises some great questions such as:
    • Are there limits to transgendering?
    • Is it strictly identifying as male or female?
    • Can race or ethnicity be crossed in the same manner as gender?


  • Performativity theory emerged from and extends the anti-structuralism critiques that were made under the related rubrics of practice anthropology, difference feminism, and resistance studies.
  • De Certeau Treatise:
    • Introduced a critique of strategic reason by arguing against conflation of representational ideals and actual, everyday practice.
    • Practices are creative gestures in commensurable with structural principles, but not completely outside.
  • Austin:
    • States that gender is not a fact or essence, but a set of acts that produce the effects of appearance of a coherent substance.
  • West & Zimmerman:
    • Gender is something people do rather than an entity or a quality they possess.
  • Butler:
    • Gender is a set of acts, it works and derives its compulsive force from the fact that people mistake the act for the essence and, in the process, come to believe that they are mandatory.
  • · There is no essential, natural sex to which gender can refer as it’s starting point.
  • · Sex identity is said to be materialized by the gender system in the imitation or reiteration of ideal corporeal styles.
  • · The body assumes its sex in the culturally mandated practices of everyday life, the theory of gender performativity offers possibility of restyling that same body in non-normative and occasionally subversive ways.
  • · In many cultural contexts erotic activity and genitality do not necessarily mean fixed sexual identities.
  • · There are two distinct tendencies that presume gender is arbitrary but determining, constructed but given by history:
    • First there is “anthropology of making difference.”
      • Focusing on ways in which cultural orders construct gender and create subjects.
      • Including:
        • Bodily Techniques
        • Ideological Representations
        • Symbolic Representations
        • · The Second “anthropology of decomposing difference.”
          • Focusing on the institutions of ambiguity. It encompasses everything from institutionalized transgendering in non-Western societies to specifically framed gestures of parody and transgression in North American Theater.

Decomposing Difference: Thirdness and the Critique of Binarity

Some theorists of gender Performativity believe that all gender is a form of drag. This is because the Western system of sexuality has set limitations. The ideal of binary difference is imitated. This prescribes social roles and is also suppose to determine sexual desires.

Performing Gender Twice Over: Drag and the Theory of Performativity:

  • The Performativity theory uses drag for its:
    • Metaphors
    • Exemplary Instances
    • Structural Models
  • This topics literature is divided into two distinct views:

1)   Transvestite and transgendered performances as subversive of the dominant sex/gender system.

2)   Transvestite and transgendered as an element buttressing and reconfirming binary opposition through an instructive but resolved blurring.

One theorist Newton states that transvestism wouldn’t exist if societal contradictions associated with homosexuality were not around. On the other hand theorist Garber defines tranvestism as the very ground of gendered systems.

There is also the issue of consciousness and ironic resistance in transgendering is focused in the phenomena of spirit possession. Which is cross-dressing in which new bodily postures emerge. This transforms a person from one gender into another. Possession rites allow a person to transform themselves with in system of class not only gender.

The topic of sex and gender is still not full understood. There are many theories out there about what exactly sex is and what gender is, and also how they relate to one another . Currently the topic of sex and gender is open to interpretation.


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2 Responses to All Made Up: Performance Theory and the New Anthropology of Sex and Gender

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