Study Guide

Judith Butler Quotes

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There is no subject who is "free" to stand outside these norms or to negotiate them at a distance; on the contrary, the subject is retroactively produced by these norms in their repetition, precisely as their effect. […] Freedom, possibility, agency do not have an abstract or presocial status, but are always negotiated within a matrix of power. [From "Critically Queer"]

Whoa. Deep cleansing breaths. Here's the deal: Society is like a massive trap of stipulations about who you are and who you get to be. In other words, society decides your identity. No one—and I mean no one—is free, and no one has the capability of cutting a deal with societal expectations.

Before we are born, the idea of what is normal is already there. All of those rules dictate who we are and have done so to every other person who has ever been born or ever will be born. Because you cannot free yourself from this web, you have to find some way to function within it. Godspeed on that front.

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. [From Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"]

When you decide that being nominated for Prom Queen is more important than your SAT scores—or any other standardized test, for that matter—you are "performing" femininity. You are re-dramatizing a script of femaleness and female behavior.

And let's be clear: "Iterability" is not related to "irritability," though at this point you may think it should be. It is related to "reiterate." What that means is that as you perform your identity, you are just going through the motions of what people have always done as males or as females. You're just reiterating everything that folks have done for ages and ages. And you're doing so "under and through constraint." In other words—you're not very original and you don't have a choice in the matter.

Now let's get to the (really) ugly part: if you don't get in line, prepare yourself for the worst. There are social consequences for straying from normal zone. You'll be punished, alienated, and maybe even killed. I know it sounds harsh, but go rent Boys Don't Cry if you don't believe me.

Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself. [From "Imitation and Gender Insubordination"]

I'm gonna keep hammering this idea home until you give me that knowing nod. The gist here is that in being a man or a woman, you do not make original choices. Girls = beauty and domesticity. Boys = action and aggression.

Who made all of these decisions about gender? The first woman to get her nails done? The first man who held a hammer and grunted? I'm smart but I have no idea. Honestly, I'm pretty sure there is no original. We have been doing it all for so long that we haven't really paused to think where the rules have come from. It's like a big nasty cycle: women have long hair because they think that it's the natural feminine thing to do; we think that women look feminine because they have long hair. You know the drill: something about a chicken or an egg.

I am much more open about categories of gender, and my feminism has been about women's safety from violence, increased literacy, decreased poverty and more equality. I was never against the category of men. [From an interview with Udi Aloni for]

I'm gonna bust one assumption about feminists wide open here. Most—and I mean most—feminists are not anti-men or man haters or whatever the stereotype is. When I say that I am a feminist, I mean I am in opposition to violence against women. I mean that I am opposed to the oppression of women. I mean that women deserve fair shakes in education (don't get me started on education for women in Pakistan). I mean that women must continue to fight for equality.

There was a brief moment after 9/11 when Colin Powell said, "We should not rush to satisfy the desire for revenge." It was a great moment, an extraordinary moment, because what he was actually asking people to do was to stay with a sense of grief, mournfulness, and vulnerability. [From an interview with Jill Stauffer for The Believer]

Just so you know, I'm not all about gender. In recent years, I've become interested in grief, too. While the long Iraq War was going on, our fine American government—which you can be sure I have a lot to say about—worked really hard at thwarting our concern about all that shock and awe over in the Middle East. The government was so diligent about citing statistics and creating abstract ideas that we didn't have a moment to consider the Iraqi people and their anguish. Or the coffins that were coming home.

After 9/11 the government played out this same routine with the American people. For "a brief moment," it looked like the government might not act like a bunch of bloodthirsty cowboys. It looked like maybe we could take a time out and reflect on the loss—to feel sorrow rather than vengeance. That lasted about five minutes.

When one set of Jews labels another set of Jews "anti-Semitic", they are trying to monopolize the right to speak in the name of the Jews. So the allegation of anti-Semitism is actually a cover for an intra-Jewish quarrel. [Source.]

I don't take accusations of anti-Semitism lightly—but it seems that others do. Yes, I am Jewish, but that does not mean that I am down with the Israeli violence against Palestinians. I oppose "the occupation, the practices of indefinite detention, the bombing of civilian populations in Gaza" (source).

These acts are being undertaken by the State of Israel, which I say does not represent all people of the Jewish faith. Just like straying from the appropriate behavior of your gender gets you in hot water, if you don't get behind Israel and its business, you are accused of being anti-Semitic. I'm not having that nonsense. You may have deduced by now that I don't really do what people tell me to.

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