[[ eBook ]] Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of IdentityAuthor Judith Butler – Mariahilff.de

Gender Trouble is an extremely thought provoking, dense, and erudite book In it, Butler expounds the idea of gender as something performed, rather than an innate and unchangeable quality She also emphasises that the often assumed differentiation of gender as social construction and sex as biological is both deeply problematic and vastly oversimplified The exploration and critique of compulsory heterosexuality is likewise excellent.That said, Gender Trouble is a challenging book to read T Gender Trouble is an extremely thought provoking, dense, and erudite book In it, Butler expounds the idea of gender as something performed, rather than an innate and unchangeable quality She also emphasises that the often assumed differentiation of gender as social construction and sex as biological is both deeply problematic and vastly oversimplified The exploration and critique of compulsory heterosexuality is likewise excellent.That said, Gender Trouble is a challenging book to read The central eighty or so pages took me a disproportionate amount of time to get through, as they deal with complicated and seemingly esoteric psychoanalytic theory If I hadn t read Introducing Lacan, I wouldn t have understood any of it as a lot of Lacanian terms are used, such as the Phallus, signifiers, paternal law, and jouissance As it is, please don t ask me for a precise point by point summary From what I understand, Freud, Lacan, and other theorists presuppose a gender binary, based on taboos against homosexuality and incest Quite apart from the seeming absurdity of such theory ever being universally applicable, this approach invites much criticism on feminist grounds For example, characterising lesbianism as psychosis and maternity as a product of repressed homosexual desire just seems absurd, not to mention offensive Personally, theI read of psychoanalytic theory thestrongly it seems to take on the quality of fiction Moreover, I refuse to believe that sexual desire is the catalyst for so much of the personality The commentary on intersectional feminism toward the end of the book was, I think, the most practical part This I definitely found helpful as context for debates I ve come across It is impressive, actually, how Butler segues smoothly from the most arcane of theoretical analyses to pragmatic political commentary Even if psychoanalytic theory leaves you cold, this book is still well worth reading for its dissection of how we think about gender, sex, and sexuality It is dense with ideas, which Butler articulates effectively You re unlikely to find athorough deconstruction of the gender binary anywhere As with any book that discusses sexuality, I wish that it mentioned asexuality, but never mind This was a woefully dense text, meant primarily for those who have read enough feminism to have at least a basic idea of the major concepts of feminist theory as well a basic idea of the theorists from whom Butler draws her arguments I was aware of what Foucault, Beauvoir, Lacan, Freud and Levi Strauss stood for, could never get into Kristeva, and had read little or nothing of Wittig, Reviere, Cixous and Mary Douglas On that account, this seemed to be a quite difficult text, but I suppose some This was a woefully dense text, meant primarily for those who have read enough feminism to have at least a basic idea of the major concepts of feminist theory as well a basic idea of the theorists from whom Butler draws her arguments I was aware of what Foucault, Beauvoir, Lacan, Freud and Levi Strauss stood for, could never get into Kristeva, and had read little or nothing of Wittig, Reviere, Cixous and Mary Douglas On that account, this seemed to be a quite difficult text, but I suppose someone familiar with their basic ideas will find it quite lucid.Mostly, this is a postmodernist approach that refutes simplistic assumptions of feminine identity and isinclusive than earlier feminist stances Drawing upon various theorists, Butler charts the way ahead where binaries of not only men and women, but that of sex and gender too could be transgressed in a way it would expose the artificiality of the hegemonic patriarchal discourse and the fallacies of earlier feminist discourse which addressed narrower,specific concerns that were representative of their own particular historical, social, economic and geographic positions.Overall, given the exhaustive study of various standpoint theories, I am extremely surprised Butler leaves out Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak altogether, despite her being a postmodern Marxist feminist when she had briefly discussed Eagleton and Marx as well, and very early on drew attention to the pluralistic complexity of feminist theory today with concerns of age, time, place, ethnicity, class, sexuality and religion.Perhaps, I temporarily conclude, this is as much a West centric text as others, but in that specific framework, I deduce it works fine.Through this text, Butler proceeds to consolidate her theory of Gender Performativity by extrapolating on various discourses of power and sexuality by cultural theorists feminists psychoanalysts such as Beauvoir, Foucault, Irigaray, Cixous, Wittig, Reviere, Freud, Lacan, Kristeva and Levi Strauss Forming a base from the acceptance and or refutation of the theories proposed by them, Butler derives her conclusions as to how feminism and gender issues can be used to deconstruct hegemonic structures of patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality.However, a big drawback of this book is that it is, apart from being too dense and too technical, quite repetitive as well, and goes about in circles sometimes without a clear end And it is quite long for its content I d muchprefer a lucid, less repetitive, shorter book Butler has some brilliant ideas, but they get lost in the density and repetition but this, I guess, is a malady affecting all those I ve found exceedingly amazing Foucault, Beauvoir, Althusser, Gramsci, Haraway and Spivak They re probably so high up on the technical ladder, they can t see us down there In the first section, Butler refutes the idea of an essential woman feminine identity, especially in the view of racial and colonial discourses Negating the idea of femininity or womanhood as a stable signifier , she sees it as a site for contest that is all theproblematic owing to growing rifts within the feminist discourse that attempts to create a pre patriarchal identity they can revert back to.Not only does she find politics of identity counter productive to the liberation of women, Butler emphasizes it as a product of the very hegemonic structures feminism wishes to undo Instead, Butler advocates coalitional politics , what Donna J Haraway would later refer to as politics of affiliation , that would eschew a priori assumptions of feminine identity.Butler goes on to refute the distinction between sex and gender as biological and cultural constructs For her, they are historically and genealogically inseparable, and discourses of power have either constructed gender from sex or reduced and restricted gender by sex.Drawing on Foucault, who points out that juridical systems of power produce the subjects they subsequently come to represent , Butler concludes that the gender sex divide ceases to be the culture nature divide gender becomes the discursive cultural means by which a natural sex is produced and established as prediscursive , prior to culture, a politically neutral surface upon which culture acts Taking cues from Beauvoir for whom women are the Other and Irigaray for whom women are multiple identities, unrepresentable she explores the formation of and contexts of gender and its sociological implications in the complex webs of race, ethnicity and class, and further examines their conflicting views on the marking off of the female body by masculinist discourse.Drawing on Wittig s argument that doing away with normative heterosexuality will lead to dissolution of the gender binaried thinking, aligning with Foucault s view that gender is a production of not biological sex but sexuality, Butler argues that Wittig provides a normative humanistic framework as a structure, making space for non binaried categories of sexualities under feminism instead of the man v s woman argument.Butler proposes thatthe claim that gender is constructed does not assert its illusoriness or artificiality but acts as an inquiry to understand the discursive production of the plausibility of that binary relation and to suggest that certain cultural configurations of gender take the place of the real and consolidate and augment their hegemony through that felicious self naturalizationThe following chapter is devoted to the investigation of some aspects of the psychoanalytical structuralist account of sexual difference and the reconstruction of sexuality with respect to its power to contest regulatory regimes as well as its roles in uncritically reproducing those regimes Butler takes up patriarchy, one of the focal points of feminist thought, along with the idea of a pre patriarchal state that would serve as the basis for a new non patriarchal society She warns of the tendency to universalize patriarchy as a counter productive technique, emphasizing the need for new techniques in the wake of legitimate incursions of feminist theory into the examination of racial and ethnic oppression.Studying the taboo of incest through the lens of Levi Strauss anthropological structuralism , which posits a kinship structure governed by women, she views Levi Strauss assertion of gender as an imposition on sex as an equivalent of culture s imposition of meaning on nature which is before the law as yet another problematic binary between nature and culture, reinforcing culture as male and nature as female , and mind as male and the body as a female territory.Levi Strauss argument that the institution of marriage through which women are traded as good without their own identity, acts as an indicator of homoerotic discourse that is implied yet negated the function of marriage is to simultaneously an act of dividing men into different clans and uniting them by the bonds of marriage.Levi Strauss maintains that the centrality of the incest taboo establishes the significant nexus between structuralist anthropology and psychoanalysis This prohibitive nature of incest taboo that engenders desire is appropriated by Lacan who contends that the taboo is reproduced in kinship and linguistic structures, since it is not sanctioned culturally Language, then, for Lacan, acts as theresidue and alternative accomplishment of dissatisfied desire Butler moves on to Joan Riviera, along with Lacan, both of who consider women as masquerading as men, through what Butler would eventually call Gender Performance, accentuated with a Phallic lack in order to participate and perpetuate their own subjugation Irigaray too remarked, the masquerade is what women do In order to participate in men s desire, but at the cost of giving up their own Reviere s argument is that females take up homosexuality not as an expression of their sexual preference, but as a way to masquerade as men, desirous of women sexually, but wishing desperately to enter the realm of men as a man herself, equal to other men in status The core here, then, is not sexuality but rivalry and rage.Using Freud s theories of Oedipal Complex and sexuality and drawing on Foucault, Butler notes that emphasis on compulsory heterosexuality coupled with lack of sanction on homosexuality and incest in turn naturalize heterosexuality through the act of mourning and melancholia, which leads people to willingly or unwillingly choose a gender identity.Butler remarks thathomosexual melancholy is culturally instituted and maintained as the price of stable gender identities related through oppositional desires Problematic to me particularly is Butler s notion thatbisexuality is indeed the consequence of child rearing practices in which parents of both sexes are present and presently occupied with child care and in which the repudiation of femininity no longer serves as a precondition of gender identity for both men and womenI m not sure I wholly, or even partly agree to this, though I keep the doors of possibility open The final chapter considersthe very notion of the body, not as a ready surface awaiting signification, but as a set of boundaries, individual and social, politically signified and maintained No longer believable as an interior truth of dispositions and identity, sex will be shown to be a performatively enacted signification, one that, released from its naturalized interiority and surface, can occasion the parodic proliferation and subversive play of gendered meanings Butler begins with Kristeva s reclaiming of the maternal body within Language, as a move against Lacan who held that language and culture indicated repression of women Kristeva appropriated poetic language as expression of femininity, which Butler considers just as essentialist and binaried a position as Lacan s For Kristeva, the act of giving birth is a covert acknowledgement of female homosexuality, by which a female bonds with her own mother when she gives birth Female homosexuality, to her, is the emergence of psychosis in a culture, manifest in poetic language.Butler deals with Foucault s conflicting views on sex and gender through a reading of his introduction to the journals of a hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin in 19th century France who committed suicide after she was compelled to act like a man by society on account of her physical characteristics after she confessed to priests and doctors about her condition While Foucault seems to celebrate here a utopian sexuality before the law prohibits it, he directly contradicts his own views in The History of Sexuality where he contends that the notion of real sex is illusory, since sex is a product of socio cultural discourse, and not the cause Butler also reads it as a possibly parallel account of Foucault s own homosexuality, about which he was reluctant to talk.Butler backs her case up by an account of a culturally biased MIT project by a group of scientists headed by Dr Page who established sex on the basis of the presence lack of testes i.e., to determine if a person was female, the litmus test was whether the person had a testicles or not, rather than checking for ovaries and ovarian functions.Next, Butler examines Wittig s arguments that the category of sex as well as normative heterosexuality is repressive to women, lesbians and gays, and that lesbians are not women because to her, the category woman is assumed to be a heterosexual identity Drawing on Beauvoir s iconic statementOne is not born a woman one becomes one , Wittig explores that sex itself is a product of male ideology, the Other to males Because one s biological sex has little to do with one s sexuality e.g hermaphrodites To Wittig, man and woman are political categories, not natural facts.Aligning herself with Marx, Wittig further says that language is a form and expression of repression, not a neutral or abstract exchange.Butler, however, disagrees with Wittig s idea that heterosexuality is the only power that shapes and restricts homosexuality For Butler, there areother power discourse centers that construct and structure both gay and straight sexualityButler does not entirely reject Wittig s stand, but posits that Wittig s formulation of power structures in only one of the many structures of oppression Wittig s theory, says Butler, overrides those discourses within the gay and lesbian culture that employ sex as a category to proliferate the number of sexes with terms such as dyke, butch, fag, femme andqueer, through which these discourses situate themselves within heterosexual discourse.She cites the example of a lesbian femme, who liked her boys to be girls , with the girl resignifying masculinity in a butch identity Such categories both recall and displace conventional, normative heterosexuality, a point that Wittig misses.Drawing on Mary Douglas Purity and Danger, Butler posits that any discourse that establishes the boundaries of the body serves the purpose of instating and naturalizing certain taboos regarding the appropriate limits, postures and modes of exchange that define what it is that constitutes bodies Butler cites the example of AIDS being defamed as a gay disease to perpetuate its heterosexual hegemony Later, Butler derives that,If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can neither be true or false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of a primary and stable identityFurther, Butler suggests that the figure of the drag fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer psychic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity With the drag, gender becomes performative, rather than essence, as much as normative gender is, through repetition Butler, in her concluding chapter suggests the act of parody as a practice that can serve to reengage and reconsolidate the very distinction between a privileged and naturalized gender configuration and one that appears as derived, phantasmatic, and mimetic a failed copy By employing these failed attempts at performing the socially approved gender, Butler believes it is possible to critique hegemonic accounts of gender formation You know, the problem with troubling gender is that gender isn t the only thing that is going to be troubled When I was doing my first degree my lecturer in the editing subject said that you should pay attention to the things people generally skip over in books the titles of chapters for one, but muchimportantly, epigraphs The example he gave was Watership Down, which he claimed that if you read all of at the start of each of the chapters and said rabbits a couple of times you could pl You know, the problem with troubling gender is that gender isn t the only thing that is going to be troubled When I was doing my first degree my lecturer in the editing subject said that you should pay attention to the things people generally skip over in books the titles of chapters for one, but muchimportantly, epigraphs The example he gave was Watership Down, which he claimed that if you read all of at the start of each of the chapters and said rabbits a couple of times you could plausibly get away with reading nothing else in the book and still know what the book was about I ve never bothered even doing this but it would be an amusing exercise What I can tell you is that this book can be pretty well summarised by the five quotes used as epigraphs immediately after the title page One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one.Simone de BeauvoirStrictly speaking, women cannot be said to exist.Julia KristevaWoman does not have a sex.Luce IrigarayThe deployment of sexuality established this notion of sex.Michel FoucaultThe category of sex is the political category that founds society as heterosexual.Monique WittigThis book is a working through of the implications of these five quotations The takeaway message is that gender and sex too is a performance, not a pre existing state, but a series of practices although, I think we need something stronger, like habits, only stronger still that are made real by being constantly enforced and reinforced That s the key thing, these are practices that are made normative by their repetition and how society regulates their adherence My favourite part of this book was what she does with de Beauvoir s quote about becoming a woman The issue here is around the notion of a pre existing subject The problem is complicated as such a pre existing and non gendered subject simply does not exist This is a point that is made beautifully in Delusions of Gender How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference we like to think we bring up our children in ways that are gender neutral, but in a society that colour codes children at birth as either pink or blue, we are really kidding ourselves We literally only have a subjectivity once we have a sex try telling someone that you ve had a baby and not tell them the sex of the child and see how long the conversation lasts or how free flowing it is.Now, I m going to give my grossly simplified version of this book but look, this is a classic text for a very good reason it is basically a summary of lots of very important ideas about gender and is a seminal text in Queer Theory so, I m not going to do this one justice Just saying.I think it is good to ask, why is all this important Firstly, gender is so important in deciding the kinds of persons we will be, the kinds of lives we will live and be allowed to live that to accept the gender roles assigned to us at birth is to accept remarkable restrictions as purely natural The question is, just who decided what natural meant I remember an Australian politician saying of homosexuality, you don t see animals in the field doing that sort of thing It turns out that you do see animals engaging in homosexual behaviours or, at least, what we would classify as such All the same, this is a stupid argument by a stupid person You don t see animals in the field reading books, either are we to stop reading out of solidarity with sheep My point isn t just about homosexual behaviours a friend of mine once told me how angry she became after hearing a woman on the radio wonder aloud about just what it is that lesbians actually do in bed Imagine how bad your sex life would need to be for that to be an open question Your sex life would need to be summed up by the phrase, whip it in whip it out and wipe it Also, gender isn t a simple dualism even if you ignore the proportion of the population that are homosexual or transsexual As Butler points out here, there is a sense in which maleness isn t really a gender at all, but rather the default in our society like white also is the default the taken for granted the sex that is not seen In this sense the only gender is female, the eternal other and this gender is defined like some terrible joke from primary school by a lack of the female.Isn t it remarkable that our whole life is constructed around the shape of our genitals and yet we spend all of those lives keeping them pretty well completely hidden In fact, if you are after a quick way to get arrested, exposing your genitals in public is probably as effective as anything else And this is particularly bizarre, as so many of our social behaviours are directed at making it clear which set of genitals we have Literal hiding followed by ritualised display Sort of I ve got a penis, I ve got a penis but you can t see it I should speak only for myself I ve started this sentence a number of times now with ever decreasing generality but I find that when I have to spend time with what might be called hyper masculine or hyper feminine people my most consistent emotion is boredom Oh Christ, they aren t really still talking about football, cars, makeup and weight loss are they How can they stand being themselves The problem many people might have with this book is that they will think the argument is a nurture over nature one which is actually not the case This is a book that is focused on the complex dialectic of human behaviour and one that says that the simple, pre decided categories of male and female provide constraints that we really ought to think through before accepting them blindly That is, that our habits and ways of being as regulated and enforced by society come with manyconstraints than just who we can and cannot have sex with If gender is a performance, then it is one that requires us to remain in character, that decides what we can and cannot do even before any conscious decision can be made Such restraint is the very opposite of freedom This is a point Butler makes at the end of this book where what is presented is the dialectic of agency and construction such that in realising how we are constructed by social norms we have at last a means of acting in ways that might undermine and trouble those norms, rather than our merely remaining repressed by them Badly written and destructive in its impact on academic discourse Butler is a darling of the theory crowd, one of the required citations I found nothing in it that went beyond the standard cliches concerning the inadequacy of essentialist definitions That wouldn t earn it the one star what does is Butler s centrality to the infinite regression school of literary cultural theory By the time Butler s acolytes apparently oblivious to the fact that every third sentence is borderline ungrammati Badly written and destructive in its impact on academic discourse Butler is a darling of the theory crowd, one of the required citations I found nothing in it that went beyond the standard cliches concerning the inadequacy of essentialist definitions That wouldn t earn it the one star what does is Butler s centrality to the infinite regression school of literary cultural theory By the time Butler s acolytes apparently oblivious to the fact that every third sentence is borderline ungrammatical are finished, what we re left with is an approach that elevates critique of critique of critique to near holy status The Butlerians believe themselves to be progressive in some oddly hermetic sense far as I can tell the discourse is profoundly nihilistic I mark this book read somewhat disingenuously, since it was so far over my head much of the time I was merely skimming it inattentively However, there were moments when even I experienced a feeling of awesome revelationThe mark of gender appears to qualify bodies as human bodies the moment at which an infant becomes humanised is when the question is it a boy or a girl is answeredStrategies of exclusion and hierarchy are shown to persist in the formulation of the sex gender distinction an I mark this book read somewhat disingenuously, since it was so far over my head much of the time I was merely skimming it inattentively However, there were moments when even I experienced a feeling of awesome revelationThe mark of gender appears to qualify bodies as human bodies the moment at which an infant becomes humanised is when the question is it a boy or a girl is answeredStrategies of exclusion and hierarchy are shown to persist in the formulation of the sex gender distinction and its recourse to sex as the prediscursive Gender Trouble Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith ButlerGender Trouble Feminism and the Subversion of Identity 1990 second edition 1999 is a book by the philosopher Judith Butler, in which the author argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance The work is influential in feminism, women s studies, and lesbian and gay studies, and has also enjoyed widespread popularity outside of traditional academic circles 2007 Gender Trouble Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith ButlerGender Trouble Feminism and the Subversion of Identity 1990 second edition 1999 is a book by the philosopher Judith Butler, in which the author argues that gender is a kind of improvised performance The work is influential in feminism, women s studies, and lesbian and gay studies, and has also enjoyed widespread popularity outside of traditional academic circles 2007 1386 Butler s writing is some of the worst I ve encountered in academia A few of her ideas are novel, but they are so buried in unnecessarily convoluted reasoning and unexplained references to vaguely related work that they are hardly worth the effort The book also abuses trans people s identities for political purposes. Butler has numerous loud detractors, and faces a variety of underhanded compliments, even on this very website, along the lines of comments such as oh, she s smart, but only when she s not talking about gender OR Butler would be great if she wasn t such an impenetrable writer Well, I ll say it outright I love Butler I love Gender Trouble I love Bodies that Matter I love Giving an Account of Oneself I love basically everything I ve read by her, and I m always excited to have the opp Butler has numerous loud detractors, and faces a variety of underhanded compliments, even on this very website, along the lines of comments such as oh, she s smart, but only when she s not talking about gender OR Butler would be great if she wasn t such an impenetrable writer Well, I ll say it outright I love Butler I love Gender Trouble I love Bodies that Matter I love Giving an Account of Oneself I love basically everything I ve read by her, and I m always excited to have the opportunity of readingI think she s a brilliant thinker, a strangely poetic writer, and a sorely underappreciated figure in contemporary philosophy I suppose she inadvertently falls into a sad trap conventional philosophers fume at her for taking up the non philosophical subjects of gender and sexuality in a serious fashion feminists hate her because of her supposed theoretical elitism Undergraduates hate her because they find her impossible Or at any rate, this has been my experience of seeing Butler interjected into the classroom Gender Trouble is what I d like to call a genealogy of the de naturalization of gender in 20th century thought Why does it take nearly 200 pages for Butler to arrive at her conclusion, where it seems her claims are finally staked Because the past hundred years of theoretical consideration on the subjects of gender, sex, sexuality, and desire are such a fucking mess From Freud Levi Strauss to Lacan and Foucault, to Irigaray, Wittig, and Kristeva Butler s got a problem with all of em And so these huge paradigms have first to be apprehended and refigured or dismantled in order for Butler to situate herself in an ongoing and incredibly difficult dialogue This is a tough book, there s no doubt about it I think it s farmanageable when you ve read the works and thinkers she s discussing at length namely, de Beauvoir, Wittig, Foucault, Kristeva, and Irigaray, among a handful of others , but at the same time, I think Butler s a really fantastic teacher For all of her obtuse prose, Butler is also persistently methodical about leading her reader by the hand through the thoughts she s working through she s often repetitive, constantly figuring out different and or better ways to say the same thing And I don t think this means that she needs an editor I think it means that much of what she s working through doesn t quite fit the languages and tools we work with To conceptualize the notion of a subject without a core, an I that is incoherent, and an identity that is merely the effect of a number of situated and contingent discourses these are ideas that go against basically everything we know, and so this truly does feel as though you re learning a new language But once you ve got the basics down, it becomes a quite thrilling experience, if you ask me In any case, Butler and I suppose most likely Gender Trouble, since that s what skyrocketed her to academic fame and remains the most commonly taught text of hers is a must read for anyone interested in post structuralism, deconstruction, feminism, queer politics, subjectivity, co Love her or hate her, she remains one of our most famous living thinkers on these subjects To my mind, this is a deserved status Thrilling new vocabulary with which to alienate friends and offend family Since its publication in , Gender Trouble has become one of the key works of contemporary feminist theory, and an essential work for anyone interested in the study of gender, queer theory, or the politics of sexuality in culture This is the text where Judith Butler began to advance the ideas that would go on to take life as performativity theory, as well as some of the first articulations of the possibility for subversive gender practices, and she writes in her preface to the th anniversary edition released inthat one point of Gender Trouble was not to prescribe a new gendered way of life but to open up the field of possibility for gender Widely taught, and widely debated, Gender Trouble continues to offer a powerful critique of heteronormativity and of the function of gender in the modern world