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Judith Butler

Judith Butler

Judith Butler Introduction

Let's just say that if you ever used the phrase "Boys will be boys" in front of Judith Butler, you'd get your block knocked off. Why's that? Well according to this post-structuralist philosopher and queer theorist, gender ain't nothin' but a construct that society has made to control our behavior. So there.

To be fair, Judy wasn't the first feminist to make these claims After all, Simone de Beauvoir said "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" in 1949 (source). But Butler did write a tour-de-force book called Gender Trouble in which she presented the idea of gender performativity—and things were never the same.

Gender Trouble shredded the idea that gender is inherent. That means that boys don't pick up a Nerf Blaster based on instinct, and girls don't come out of the womb wanting to wear pink polyester Cinderella frocks. In fact, according to Butler, the whole male and female distinction is a complete social construction.

That's right. If you believe in Butler, you believe that you take ballet or dodge ball because society (parents, educators, pretty much everyone) dictates that you are supposed to do these things because you are a girl or a boy. To get by and not be seen as different (too scary), we just merrily go along performing our genders like pseudo-actors in a reality series. We play the role according to a predetermined script so we can get by in life and avoid freaking anyone out.

Butler has written loads since that shell-shocker of a book came out. She's a bit of a renaissance lady, tackling modern philosophy, feminist issues, gender and sexuality studies, and even European literature. Her latest work explores Jewish philosophy, and she's ruffling more than a few feathers on that front, too.

See, Butler isn't one to take the road most traveled by. Though she is proud to be Jewish—and even serves on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace—she is anti-Zionist and has called for a boycott of Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territory. And she also got real on critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement, calling for the "end of corporate greed." She is, in short, a bit of a lefty.

Which means it'll surprise you not at all to learn that Butler has her fans and foes, like every good polarizing literary critic. For every person who dubs her an academic superstar who has irrevocably altered feminist awareness of gender identity, there's another one who accuses her of forgetting all about bodies in her fancy academic talk about identity and language. Then there are those who write off her writing as jargon-ridden gobbledygook.

But those are the naysayers. If you ask Shmoop, Butler's got some worthwhile ideas cooking in those books of hers. She's just gonna make you work for 'em. But we promise; it'll be well worth the effort.

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