Notes on Gender Trouble by Judith Butler

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Notes: Judith Butler – Gender Trouble

PREFACE (1999)
Gender Trouble has been received as a “provocative ‘intervention’ in feminist theory” and as a “founding text of queer theory.”

“In 1989 I was most concerned to criticize a pervasive heterosexual assumption in feminist literary theory. I sought to counter those views that made presumptions about the limits and propriety of gender and restricted the meaning of gender to received notions of masculinity and femininity. It was and remains my view that any feminist theory that restricts the meaning of gender in the presuppositions of its own practice sets up exclusionary gender norms within feminism, often with homophobic consequences. It seemed to me, and continues to seem, that feminism ought to be careful not to idealize certain expressions of gender that, in turn, produce new forms of hierarchy and exclusion” (viii).

“…the aim of the text was to open up the field of possibility for gender without dictating which kinds of possibilities ought to be realized.” (viii) “Gender Trouble sought to uncover the ways in which the very thinking of what is possible in gendered life is foreclosed by certain habitual and violent presumptions….What worried me most were the ways that the panic in face of such [minority gendered and sexual practices] rendered them unthinkable” (ibid)

- influence of French Feminism, poststructural theory, but Butler discusses how the two come together in her work to produce something different, something in the vein of cultural studies or critical theory.

Lesbianism – “…how do non-normative sexual practices call into question the stability of gender as a category of analysis? How do certain sexual practices compel the question: what is a woman, what is a man?” (xi).

“the first formulation of ‘gender trouble’” = “normative sexuality fortifies normative gender…one is a woman…to the extent that one functions as one within the dominant heterosexual frame and to call the frame into question is perhaps to lose something of one’s sense of place in gender” (xi). Thus “gender trouble” is the fear of losing one’s place in gender, and this is a “crisis in ontology experienced at the level of both sexuality and language” (xi-xii).

- she draws a distinction between gender hierarchy and gender normativity and between gender and sexuality, the latter with the condition that there exists a sexual regulation of gender that forms an active dimension of homophobia (xiii).

Performativity – two key aspects. 1st she’s mapping a concept from Jacques Derrida onto gender studies; that “the anticipation conjures its object,” in other words, that “…the anticipation of a gendered essence produces that which it posits as outside itself” (xv). 2nd is that “performativity is not a singular act, but a repetition and a ritual, which achieves its effects through its naturalization in the context of a body understood, in part, as a culturally sustained temporal duration” (ibid). In other words, “what we take to be an internal essence of gender is manufactured through a sustained set of acts, posited through the gendered stylization of the body…what we take to be an ‘internal’ feature fo ourselves is one that we anticipate and produce through certain bodily acts, at an extreme, an hallucinatory effect of naturalized gestures” (xv-xvi).

- she addresses the critique about the complexity of her language in elaborating these ideas but claims that the style and complexity are born of the subject. Drawing upon Monique Wittig, she claims that “the alteration of gender at the most fundamental epistemic level will be conducted, in part, through contesting the grammar in which gender is given” (xx). Butler asks, “What is foreclosed by the insistence on parochial standards of transparency as requisite for all communication? What does ‘transparency’ keep obscure?” (xx). - She makes a distinction between a descriptive and a normative account of...
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