Judith Butler's Perception of the Female in the Modern Era: Gender Identity and the Act of Becoming in Cindy Sherman's History Portraits

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Perception of the Female in the Modern Era: Gender Identity and the Act of "Becoming" in Cindy Sherman's History Portraits Introduction There is some disparity between the way critics and philosophers like Judith Butler view Cindy Sherman's work and the way that Cindy Sherman speaks of her photographs. It may be the disparity that exists between many modern artists, who often operate on an intuitive level, and the philosopher critics who comment upon them from a theoretical perspective or a pre-established framework. On one level, Cindy Sherman may only be playing "dress-up" (as she herself admits) in her famous History Portraits (1989-90) (Berne, 2003). On another level, however, her "dressing-up" may be indicative of a deeper problem in modern gender identity theory which is the problem of "becoming" woman (Butler, 1994) or, as Judith Butler sees it, the problem of performativity. In the History Portraits, Sherman may certainly be said to be "performing" and perhaps even attempting to "become" the male and female characters she represents in her work. Indeed, it is upon such a premise that philosopher critics and gender theorists find her work so engaging. This paper will examine Cindy Sherman and her History Portraits in relation to Judith Butler's gender theory, the portrayal of the self, and how gender identity has changed throughout the course of modern history. It will examine representations of womanhood from Romantic Idealism to Post-Modernism and will also

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