Margret Thatcher, Judith Butler and the Real Housewives

The media is ablaze with articles about the late Margret Thatcher. The “Iron Lady”. However one quote caught my eye. It was written one late Hugo Young in the Guardian in 2003. It read:

Thatcher is remembered for her achievements, but more for a presence, which was wrapped up with being a woman. Several strong women on the continent have risen to the top, but this British woman, in Britain of all places, became a phenomenon, first, through her gender. The woman, however, changed. The gender remained, its artefacts deployed with calculation. But it was overlaid by the supposedly masculine virtues, sometimes more manly than the men could ever assemble. She became harder than hard.”

In her article “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” Judith Butler argues that gender is noting but a performance. In mainstream society it is generally assumed that one’s sex (which is determined by ones biological parts) should define one’s gender. In fact sex and gender are often assumed to be the same thing. As in the case of Mrs. Thatcher, a lot of her characteristics were not thought to be in line with her sex. As this quote makes evident, a lot of people thought that Mrs. Thatcher behaved more like a man than a woman because of the way she ran the country. Hugo Young says that her gender remained, the fact that he thinks that her gender was overlain by masculine characteristics is an excellent example of just how deeply embedded gender roles are in our society.

To be very firm, strong and outspoken, to make harsh decisions, to control and be in a position of power are often characteristics associated with masculinity. To be caring, forgiving, careful and gentle are associated with femininity. Butler Argues that from the moment we are born we are trained to behave in a way that will ensure that our gender matches our sex. Thus it is all a performance that is engineered by mainstream society. The moment someone starts to behave in ways that are not in like with how their gender is supposed to behave, society begins to get uneasy. Thus, all the animosity against homosexuals, and people of the queer community.
My case study, the reality TV show “The Real Housewives” is a representation of how these traditional gender roles and classifications are affirmed over and over again within our society.

Until recently I was very confused as to how the show justified featuring women who were not even married on the show. However, I now realize that this show is transforming the role of a housewife into a more glamorous occupation with completely different priorities. Thus it is changing the definition of a previously rather rigidly defined term. One could argue that this new representation of a ‘hosuewife’ is empowering because it features strong independent successful women some of whom have made it to the top on their own. However one could also argue that this show portrays woman as subordinate because no matter how well they do personally, marriage and a wealthy husband is of utmost importance if they wanted to succeed in the show.

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