Many of the central characters in Pedro Almodóvar’s La Mala Educación (Bad Education, 2004) are constantly dressing up, either for performing or as a way of defining their identity. The clip shown above explores the ways in which gender can be constructed, according to what Judith Butler argues in her book Gender Trouble: “The possibilities of gender transformation are to be found precisely in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a failure to repeat, a deformity, or a parodic repetition that exposes the phantasmatic effect of abiding identity as a politically tenuous construction”. The mechanisms through which gender is constructed can be seen if we focus on the features that are supposed to be a manifestation of it.
The first character shown in the clip, Zahara’s friend, has a masculine body in that she possesses the ‘traditionally’ considered male constitution. No breast implants nor props to give the illusion of their presence are visible. And, still, she is dressed in the kind of flamboyant manner that it is socially accepted in women, but disapproved of and rarely expected in men. The same goes for her make-up which, out of the context of performance, is the kind that has no place in men’s beauty aesthetic.
Zahara, on the other hand, completely conveys the image of ‘woman’, embodying the traditional conception of female through her dress, blonde wig, make-up, as well as her body. Her androgynous features also play a part in the construction of her gender. All these aspects combined illustrate Butler’s argument about the fabrication of gender, as the features are shown to be not the manifestations of said construct, but the things that define it. The film also proves the facility with which these can be changed, making evident their incoherence at times, and therefore, the instability of the concept of gender identity.