Conclusion: doing gender, gender being done to us, or gender doing us?
As a sociologist I am drawn to the idea that gender is something we do, although within social constraints. If people do gender they have to engage with ideas about how it ‘should’ be done, even if they find ways to do it differently. People also have to do gender within conditions not of their own making, so they have far from a free rein. One thing that is important about the symbolic interactionist approach is that it reminds us that we do gender in interaction with others. What this can mean is that sometimes people within structured social relations do our gender for us, in ways that we may not like. A boss might insist, for example, that a woman wears make-up when she goes to work; a school board might ban girls from wearing trousers; a woman with short hair might get called a dyke. And in this sense it seems that Butler has something to offer. We have to operate with the ideas about gender that currently exist, and we insist on understanding people in gendered terms. Gender does not just stop us doing things, it makes us do things — but in fluid and changing ways, in which others have had a hand. Like Butler, I do not think that gender is a thing we can put on and take off like clothes, and I appreciate her attempts to see how sex/gender binaries create us as subjects. Yet I want to maintain some idea of an actor (or subject), once brought into being by gender, as then engaging with it. I think Butler herself retains some such idea. From this we can make use of the most important insight arising from seeing gender as doing us and us doing gender. Both Butler and the symbolic interactionists allow us to see gender and its supposed relationship to sex as things that have been made to look ‘natural’, but are in fact ‘made up’. Although the supposed naturalness of femininity and masculinity are powerful illusions, it is exciting to think of them as illusions. If they are illusions of our own
making they can be remade, not easily or without trouble, but they can be remade.