Gender Performativity on the Example of 'The Matrix'

The body, identity, and gender, to a certain extent constitutes each other. In the 1999 film, The Matrix, Lana and Lily Wachowski demonstrate the reality, the true physical world, and the life outside the Matrix. Trinity plays an important role in the film since she seems to portray both male and female associated characteristics. Although, the film is limited to the female character it portrays an astonishing representation of women. It widely portrays the importance of the women and how they are equal to men since in the film it makes Neo, the male protagonist, very dependent on Trinity. Neo is considered thought the film to be “the chosen one,” although he would not be alive if it were not for Trinity who is constantly guiding him to the Matrix which therefore shows further importance of women. In the Matrix, women such as the lady in the red dress are stereotypically the feminine portrayal of women since she has luscious hair, red lips, seductive attributes. But, in the real world women such like Trinity are strong individuals who aren't always viewed as attractive, but rather get their work done without minding how they look. The idea of women is greatly represented in the film since it shows how women are portrayed in the media as simple illusions which makes them seem not real to the eye, but also how they really are in real life. Although, real women in the total context make not always be portrayed as glamorous they are still role models that society looks up to. In the real world, there seems to be more restrictive codes when dressing, but in the Matrix men and women all dress the same.

The Matrix manipulates the idea of gender and its boundaries. For instance, the opening scene in which Trinity has the intense action packed encounter with the agents and policemen portrays a more masculine role. In the scene the police state, “I think we can handle one little girl”. The idea that the policemen feel great empowerment and strength against this women not knowing what she is capable of despite her appearance. Trinity demonstrates that she is capable to fight back which portrays a male action figure. Unlike, many action films in which women tend to be portrayed as vulnerable, she gives the appearance of being quite feminine in the leathered pants yet she takes the policemen down which gives her masculinity. Her actions represent very masculine traits which makes her not be a typical damsel in distress that most women are placed in films as needed to be rescued by men in tough situations. Neo encounters Trinity in which when he first had interaction with her he mentioned how he thought she was a guy. The idea that Trinity is a female character whom seems to play the role that most males for the most play, so she sets the standard high for the gender stereotypes. Trinity is not the common girl that acts glamorous in order to attract the eye of men. She is allowed to get away with behaving in a stereotypically masculine fashion because of her physical appearance and also because of the situation she is put through which is the Matrix.

Throughout the film, Neo slowly becomes the girl while Trinity plays the role of the strong and capable hero. The role between Trinity and Neo seems to switch which is most evident in the scene where Morpheus states, “I imagine that right now you’re feeling a bit like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole”. The idea that Neo is portrayed as a young girl from children’s stories. In the final scenes, Trinity takes the role of the male position when she is awakening Neo. The film is playing a gender role confusion between the characters. When the characters are put within the cyber world they begin to form their gender and identity. In the film, Neo is considered to be the heroic male, yet seems to portray the more feminine traits in the real world. He is quite soft-spoken and seems unsure of taking decisions when circumstances begin to occur in the Matrix. Throughout the film, other characters seem to solemnly rely on him for total protection since he is considered to be the “chosen one,” yet he lacks the assurance of his own abilities. He portrays to be strong mentally, but not physically which makes him be viewed as less masculine and quite vulnerable when placed in unknown settings and situations.

On the contrary in the film, Trinity unlike the character who appears towards the end in the red dress is the representation of a typical role of women portraying temptation. The idea that women lack dialogue which creates mystery and seduction, which Trinity seems to lack extremely. The physical appearance that she demonstrates also portrays male characteristics. The tight black leather wardrobe, the black dark glasses, the muscular like body, and the physical ability she demonstrates when fighting the policemen which is a way of her to say the Matrix demonstrates that even though she is female she is seen as more masculine due to these traits. Even though, the outfit is giving the perspective of a less feminine appearance it also creates the idea that she is a strong independent women which fits with her attitude. The trait that adds to masculinity is that she seems to be quite hard on herself which makes contrary to the way women express emotion since they seem more sensitive. Although, the lady in the red dress was just a simulation from the agent training program which has the capability to appear harmless, yet seems to catch the attention. In this sense, the ability to be able to change the way one is viewed is used in order to blind the eye and make society believe the contrary. The appearance also plays a major role in the way one is identified according to gender. In “Performative Acts and Gender Construction,” Butler states, “Considering that the body is invariably transformed into his body or her body, the body is only known through its gendered appearance”. On the other hand, Trinity is the polar opposite with many traits that one would view against the women stereotype in films. Neo makes it clear that she portrays another image when he states, “The Trinity that hacked the IRS database? I thought you were a guy”. The only reason being is that she was described as being a hacker and being able to tackle the enemies which correlates to the conceptualized idea that it would be a male. According to Butler, gender is not something that is forcefully put upon us, but rather something that is shown through the act that one does and performs which creates a sense of the distinguished gender.

Judith Butler’s, ”Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” focuses on the idea that gender is socially constructed through speech acts and also nonverbal communication that are performative which overall defines one’s identity. Her theory is that even though one is born male or female that doesn't determine behavior, but rather the way people learn to behave in order to fit in society. The gender performativity is what makes a man or women based one the mannerisms or clothes which through the constant repetition creates the illusion of a stable gender identity. In society, gender is socially constructed the idea of performing repeatedly in order for the gender to be presented. In which case, if gender isn't repeated then the identity is not stable for society. The idea that society believes that since there is a linkage between sex and gender, there are two sexes which leads to society having two genders. Gender is ultimately constructed from human interaction, the social life they are placed upon, and the construct of society. Overall, gender similar to culture is something that is dependent on people constantly doing themselves in order to develop their true selves which can ultimately change.

The representation of the Matrix creates a space of fluidity and temporal status which explains the change in the portrayal of the bodies. While the film is playful with the gender conventions and the masculine and feminine switches it demonstrates the way it can portrayed in different worlds. Gender, sexuality, and identity begins to form when the characters are placed within a cyberspace and the real world. In the Matrix, Morpheus explains the Matrix to Neo as, “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now, in this room. You can see it when you look out the window, or when you turn on your television”.

If the word gender is substituted in the placement of the matrix in the description of Morpheus it connects to Judith Butler’s ideas of gender construction. In “Performative Acts and Gender Construction,” Judith Butler states, “Gender is what you put on, invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure”. Judith Butler proposes that gender is a performative act. The idea that gender is not something that is constituted, but rather an identity that is constructed throughout time due to society. Gender is not based on the internal identity that one has from within, but the performances that one creates. According to Butler, the authorship of gender includes both the gendered actor and the culture that is amongst the world which overall affects the construction of identity. In relation to the concept of the matrix, the matrix itself is a metaphor in which the belief is that gender is a construction, people are the victims of the culture’s gender regime. The identity and life that a person forms is shaped by the outside world which gives the individual no ability to control or contribute, which makes it a forced situation. The Matrix causes the gender effects to be strong towards the identity of an individual.

In conclusion Judith Butler’s essay, ”Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,' discusses the gender roles in terms of performance and feminist criticism. Women are always portrayed as being inferior or in other words weak in comparison to men. Trinity plays a major role in the film, The Matrix. She plays a strong woman role since she shows the contradictions that are placed. Trinity undermines the feminine stereotypes since she is seen as tough, active, aggressive, and a leader amongst the group of men. The characteristics that are portrayed are all associated with masculinity. Even though, Trinity is not the traditional women in films who portrays weakness, love, and helpless, towards the end of the film she leans toward her love to Neo. The portrayal of having both the masculine and feminine traits makes her a role model for going against the gender stereotypes. Gender is formed by the social construction which makes individuals be impacted by the people they are surround by and the encounters of everyday life. Gender is not based only on the body difference between men and women, but also the state of mind and the characteristics they portray towards society. However, gender constructions can be deconstructed by institutions such as agencies. Agencies would ultimately challenge and change the values that are attributed to femininity or masculinity in order to change the way an individual forms themselves. In which case, the Matrix was a computer simulation which was hooked into the brain using wires and computer codes which was capable of changing the way one perceived themselves and changing the way they were from the real world. Neo was known as “the chosen one,” yet Trinity demonstrated that even though femininity is viewed as a vulnerability she broke those barriers and helped Neo through the Matrix.

29 April 2022
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