Gender Performativity and Andrej Pejic

This week our class muddled through the work of the ever dense Judith Butler and gender performativity. For some reason, I’ve always had a tough time wrapping my mind around this concept; I understand it but I have to remember to take a step back before it all makes sense. Anywho, while browsing through the internet with gender performativity on my mind, I rediscovered the Australian male model Andrej Pejic.

If you’re unfamiliar with him, here’s a photo

and here’s another

He’s become well known for his androgynous appearance and has modeled for both men and women’s fashion (more here). In May 2011 his androgynous looks caused some controversy after appearing on the cover of Dossier Journal. The cover features a black and white Pejic removing his shirt with curled hair, which I’ll show before I elaborate on the controversy.

This edition of Dossier was sold in opaque poly bags in Barnes & Noble and Borders because they deemed it “too risqué,” says Wikipedia. Other magazines in these stores have shown countless men without shirts (chest and nipples of many shapes and sizes, I might add), but none have been censored for it.

This situation reminded me of a quote in Butler’s essay, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” where she says

…I do not mean to suggest that drag as a “role” that can be taken on or taken off at will. There is no volitional subject behind the mime who decides, as it were, which gender it will be today. On the contrary, the very possibility of becoming a viable subject requires that a certain gender mime be already underway… gender is not a performance that a paior subject elects to do, but gender is performative in the sense that it constitutes as an effect the very subject it appears to express. (314)

In other words, there it no “I” that can proceed you in the performativity of gender. What you claim as “I” is actually the presented possible choices of an already created gender that in effect creates the subject “I”… I’m pretty sure (I forewarned you that performativity still kind of confuses me).

In Pejic’s case, though he claims to be a male-bodied man, his facial features were read by retailers as somehow “not quite man” and censored the magazine in response. It all seems like a prime example of what Butler is getting at.

If you want to read a short article about the incident, click click here

-Lucas Zigler

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