Skip to main content

Is Gender Just A Performance and Are We All Just Performers?

By September 6, 2015May 29th, 2019No Comments

What Is Gender Anyway?

Gender is a human code invented by the human mind and communicated culturally and personally to every one of us. It has been considered by many to be a performance or what is sometimes called an informative display. In recent years, the components have been studied by psychologists and sociologists and performed flawlessly by actors and performance artists. Every nuance conveys meaning to the similarly socialized viewer or audience. Many of the movements and behaviors involve the masculine subsuming and taking up more space than the feminine. Someone not identically schooled may be confused or may not perform appropriately.

I think of my second language, Spanish, learned as an adult in my adopted country, Costa Rica. I speak it fluently, but still do not understand many cultural nuances with the same fluency as a native speaker. For example, I am never quite sure whether to proffer a hand or a cheek when meeting someone and when to use the familiar and when the formal manner of address. These nuances also differ among different generations and different countries. That is, I speak the language minus some unconsciously stored early context and in that cultural understanding is also the code for gender. For example, a man kisses a woman’s cheek and never the reverse.

Once when I was trying to order a taxi to the airport, I was asked my address. I launched into the kind of description that I had grown accustomed to hearing in Costa Rica. I am on the old road to Escazu across from the electric plant. The response from the other end of the telephone was quick and annoyed. “Señora, eso no es una dirección” (Ma’am, that’s not an address). I had to hang up and call a native Costa Rican friend to learn that my address is instead 400 meters from the West Sabana (a park) Spoons (a soda or café). This address the taxi service understood and I was immediately able to order their service.

Although the gender code has become more flexible in many realms of behavior and areas of the world, the code is still alive and well and lives in all of us, whether we choose to observe or defy it. It is most interesting to study it.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.