This paper argues for an understanding of Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality as decolonial methodologies, alternative epistemologies, and forms of political praxis within gender studies, specifically focusing on the field’s institutionalisation within Western universities, given both their historic complicity in naturalising imperialist ideas and my own lived experience studying within them. I argue that gender performativity and intersectionality act as decolonial methodologies by revealing the respective erasures of constructedness and situatedness within certain dysconscious, imperialist conceptions of ‘gender’ grounded in Whiteness, as well as how these erasures remain otherwise hidden and/or naturalised (to some). By putting forth alternative ways of ‘doing’ and ‘knowing’ ‘gender’ — centered on liberatory conceptions of identity and identity politics — gender performativity and intersectionality also function as alternative epistemologies and forms of political praxis, I argue. In doing so, they facilitate centering the field’s praxical potentials (and indeed, obligations) to train thinkers to confront material inequities — ‘gender’-based and otherwise — in Western institutionalised understandings of what ‘gender studies’ should strive to be and do, I conclude.

Note for Readers

Following an awareness of the particular histories and the high stakes — the repatriation of stolen Indigenous lands and lives — inherent in discussions of what constitutes processes of ‘decolonisation’ (Tuck and Yang, 2012), I stylise the term in quotation marks in this paper when I use it as a verb or noun, in order to distinguish my symbolic use of it from its literal and historical one. I use the terms ‘decoloniality ’and ‘decolonial,’ without quotes, to refer to the characteristics that constitute ‘decolonisation,’ as outlined in decolonial theory, the body of work written, in part, by some of the decolonial theorists whose work I invoke throughout this paper.

Note on the Author

Julianne McShane wrote a version of this paper as an MPhil student in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies, completed at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, in 2020. She is currently a freelance journalist writing and reporting on gender, race, and class, for publications including the New York Times, the Guardian, the Lily at the Washington Post, and NBC News. She can be reached at: juliannemcshane@gmail.com