Sociology Index

Judith Pamela Butler

Judith Pamela Butler is a philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminism, queer theory, and literary theory. Butler uses Sigmund Freud's notion of how a person's identity is modeled in terms of the normal. Butler revises Freud's notion of this concept's applicability to lesbianism, where Freud says that lesbians are modeling their behavior on men, the perceived normal or ideal. Butler instead says that all gender works in this way of performativity and a representation of an internalized notion of gender norms.

Darin Barney of McGill University wrote that: Butler's work on gender, sex, sexuality, queerness, feminism, bodies, political speech and ethics has changed the way scholars all over the world think, talk and write about identity, subjectivity, power and politics. It has also changed the lives of countless people whose bodies, genders, sexualities and desires have made them subject to violence, exclusion and oppression. - Barney, Darin. "In Defense of Judith Butler". Huffington Post.

Judith Pamela Butler is best known for Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), in which they challenge conventional notions of gender and develop their theory of gender performativity. This theory has had a major influence on feminist and queer scholarship. Judith Pamela Butler's work is often studied and debated in film studies courses emphasizing gender studies and performativity in discourse. Butler has supported lesbian and gay rights movements and they have spoken out on many contemporary political issues, including criticism of Israeli politics.

According to Butler's theory, gender is essentially a performative repetition of acts associated with male or female. Currently, the actions appropriate for men and women have been transmitted to reproduce a social atmosphere that both maintains and legitimizes a seemingly natural gender binary. The "script" of gender performance is effortlessly transmitted generation to generation in the form of socially established "meanings. Judith Butler proposes that gender is performative. Butler distinguishes "between sex, as biological facticity, and gender, as the cultural interpretation or signification of that facticity." - Butler, Judith (1988).

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity was first published in 1990, selling over 100,000 copies internationally, in multiple languages. Gender Trouble discusses the works of Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Jacques Derrida, and Paul Michel Foucault.

In Butler's account, it is on the basis of the construction of natural binary sex that binary gender and heterosexuality are likewise constructed as natural. Butler claims that without a critique of sex as produced by discourse, the sex/gender distinction as a feminist strategy for contesting constructions of binary asymmetric gender and compulsory heterosexuality will be ineffective.

Butler offers a critique of the terms gender and sex as they have been used by feminists. Butler argues that feminism made a mistake in trying to make "women" a discrete, ahistorical group with common characteristics. Butler writes that this approach reinforces the binary view of gender relations. Butler believes that feminists should not try to define "women" and they also believe that feminists should "focus on providing an account of how power functions and shapes our understandings of womanhood not only in the society at large but also within the feminist movement." - Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2017.

Judith Butler explores the production of identities such as homosexual and heterosexual and the limiting nature of identity categories. An identity category for them is a result of certain exclusions and concealments, and thus a site of regulation. Butler acknowledges, however, that categorized identities are important for political action at the present time. Butler believes that identity forms through repetition or imitation and is not original. Butler also states that imitation fosters the illusion of continuity, and that heterosexual identity is set up as an ideal and requires constant, compulsive repetition if it is to be safeguarded. - Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." Cultural theory and popular culture: A reader (2006).

Butler emphasizes the role of repetition in performativity, making use of Derrida's theory of iterability, which is a form of citationality: Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that 'performance' is not a singular 'act' or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance. - Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex". New York: Routledge.

Deploying Foucault's argument from the first volume of The History of Sexuality, Butler claims that any attempt at censorship, legal or otherwise, necessarily propagates the very language it seeks to forbid. - Butler, Judith (1997). Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge.

In Giving an Account of Oneself, Butler develops an ethics based on the opacity of the subject to itself; in other words, the limits of self-knowledge. Primarily borrowing from Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Laplanche, Adriana Cavarero and Emmanuel Levinas, Butler develops a theory of the formation of the subject.