“Gender Trouble”–criticizing gender

Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble”, Routledge, 2007.

Critiquing Gender

Amos Lassen

When I first started studying gender issues, I discovered Judith Butler and she has been a hero of mine ever since. She challenges you with her theories of sex, gender and sexuality. Her book “Gender Trouble” has been deemed a classic by those who follow her theoretical approach.

“Gender Trouble” has been very important in shaping modern queer theory with its premise that it is time for us to rethink how we understand gender issues and sexual orientation and preference. Butler gives us a classist approach to understand gender but the problem here seems to be that her study concentrates on modern white upper class academia. Some of her ideas could quite naturally apply to all of us if we throw the class ideas out. To destabilize gender from its binary classification would indeed be a liberating experience but Butler has not challenged all of society or the entire social order. Because writing is engaging in political activity, Butler challenges the existing patriarchy found in many places of the world today. Because of this the book may read as more of an elitist manifesto than a handbook that we all can use. To me it was easy enough to take her ideas and formulate my own theory of how we should look at gender and sexuality and regardless of her elitism, there is a g great deal of valuable information to be found in her book.

Butler poses the idea of nature versus nurture as important to the idea of gender and this is challenging in itself. But even more interesting is our approach to labeling. When we look at the labels we use today—male/female, masculine/feminine, man/woman—we see a distinct binary. Looking further at the issue of sexuality, we get sexuality/sexual orientation. There seems to be nothing that falls in between.

Butler has truly allowed me to see how I regard the world and how so many others look at society. Gender is not an easy topic to discuss and Butter does so with great agility and knowledge on a very touchy issue. We ask ourselves what we think of when we use the words “heterosexual”, “homosexual” and just plain “sexual”. What is it about these words that give them permanency and meaning? Better yet, why do these words conceal thought rather reveal it? Gender is “performative” in the words of Michel Foucault, the French existentialist. Is it indeed a role worn on occasion or is it a cultural activity that often repeats itself?

Many complain that it is difficult to understand the language that Butter uses. I do not agree. To understand Butler, you must put yourself into the frame of mind that you want to understand what she has to say. She says a lot and to read her is to get a better understanding of what the gender issue is all about.

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