« Belli & Kozameh performance | Main

Gender Performance in "Persona" (Morejón)

I would like to consider here the idea of subject-formation and gender that Judith Butler describes in the context of the poem “Persona? by Nancy Morejón.

In the selection from Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler proposes gender not only as a construction, but more exactly, as the repetitive “citation? of behaviors that are culturally attributed to each gender. Thus, as the following quote explains, a “girl? is a person who performs, who “cites? the appropriate “girly? behaviors. As Butler explains, this citation isn’t a mere choice, but rather a requisite behavior which constitutes the subjectivity of that person; that is, a female who doesn’t perform as a “girl? risks having her subjectivity and personhood called into question. Furthermore, historically there have consistently existed forces which regulate and enforce the performance of these gender appropriate behaviors, thus having the effect of naturalizing them.

“To the extent that the naming of the ‘girl’ is transitive, that is, initiates the process by which a certain ‘girling’ is compelled, the term or, rather, its symbolic power, governs the formation of a corporeally enacted femininity that never fully approximates the norm. This is a ‘girl,’ however, who is compelled to ‘cite’ the norm in order to qualify and remain a viable subject. Femininity is this not the product of a choice, but the forcible citation of a norm, one whose complex historicity is indissociable from relations of discipline, regulation, punishment. Indeed, there is no ‘one’ who takes on a gender norm. On the contrary, this citation of the gender norm is necessary in order to qualify the ‘one,’ to become viable as a ‘one,’ where subject-formation is dependent on the prior operation of legitimating gender norms.? (Butler 232)

In the Morejón poem “Persona?, the “I? (the speaker in the poem) brings into question her own subjectivity: “Which of these women is me? […] Why am I me? Why are they them?? In this poem, as the “I? questions herself, as she considers different women, she contemplates these women in terms of the behaviors they perform: the black woman who runs, the “early morning wanderer…being hunted / and wasted / and resold?. Though she questions her identity, the possible options she considers are traditionally symbolically female—that is, they are citations of the “norm?, allowing them to be understood as female.

The poem also alludes to the repetitiveness of the performance of these behaviors: “Who is that woman / the one in us all fleeing from us all / fleeing her enigma and her long origin / with an incredulous prayer on her lips, / or singing a hymn / after a battle always being refought?? That “woman in us all? and the “battle always being refought? seem to suggest not only the norm created by the performance of gender (“us all?), but also the relationship of women to men (the “battle?) and the repetition of it (“always being refought?).

The poem also suggests the notion of enforcement and regulation of gender norms that Butler discusses, for instance, in the figure of the “young Andalusian don?. Here, the relationship between male and female is displayed; clearly the woman is dependent on the don—the intersection of social and economic factors here work together to create a forced dependency on the part of the woman, which in turn serves to enforce and regulate her performance of “appropriate? gender.