Today in our series of portraits on the women of CASA Judith Butler, the one who names our faded blue color.
Judith Butler was born on February 24, 1956 in Cleveland, Ohio to an observant Jewish family. During her youth she received a religious education and was considered a difficult student.
When she is not yet 15, her mother is summoned to the headmistress and the latter warns her that her daughter is on the path to delinquency. Judith Butler is kicked out of the Jewish school system and begins taking private lessons with the rabbi of her community. Luckily, if she ran away from her classes before, it was to go listen to this rabbi at the synagogue.
It was also around this age that Butler experienced his first romantic passion. She discovers herself as a lesbian, a word that sounds pejorative in her ears, she prefers to think of herself as homosexual, even if she suddenly feels like a medical case. She recounts this: “I became a lesbian at the age of fourteen. And I knew absolutely nothing about politics. I became a lesbian because I wanted someone very badly. And then I got political about it, but as a result. »
Indeed, the question of sexuality linked to that of gender has become very present in her research, while she develops the bases or at least the essential works of gender studies. A doctoral student in philosophy at Yale University, she first worked in the tradition of French theory, on the question of power and vulnerability. She studies power in its ambivalence as oppressor but also creator of the subject, of the individual, based in particular on the work of Michel Foucault.
If only this influence, which would follow her in her future research, put her at odds with many feminists of the time, French and American, who were still in the Marxist line. Butler thinks in terms of the individual and not of class, of inevitable power and not of oppression that can and must be destroyed.
Although Butler was a feminist quite early on and had read the classics of the time, she herself launched into academic feminism somewhat by chance when a colleague invited her to take part in a colloquium. She then dives back into The Second Sex and uses Beauvoir's famous phrase: We are not born a woman, we become one. She then begins to really think about the idea of gender.
Gender (feminine, masculine, other..) is an unnatural social construction, sexual identities shaped by social norms, in other words, again, you are not born female or male, you become one. Butler studies gender as constant becoming, indeed according to her one does not become a woman once and for all, one becomes one continuously.
Moreover, no one manages to fully personify the ideal of a gender, no man corresponds in every respect to masculinity. Nor is gender something stable, constant; the genre evolves. His reflections interest him above all to think about the failures of personification, the moments when an individual fails to – or refuses to – correspond to gender norms. She questions gender as a norm used in a coercive way, like molds in which one must enter at the risk of being rejected.
To explain the concrete, political character of her work, Judith Butler often returns to the story of an effeminate young boy who was beaten up and killed just for that, because he did not correspond to the norm, and questions thus the fear of difference. Its goal by deconstructing, by denaturalizing the male and female genders is in fact to multiply the number of liveable lives, the number of genders that one can become. Judith Butler does not dream of abolishing gender, this social construction which can be coercive, but of making it multiple, flexible.
It is this theory of gender as something that we perform, that we play with more or less success and that can evolve that Butler develops in his major work: Trouble in the genre. Butler also explains that this book could also have been called: fabricating its genre, a title that would have highlighted how genre is a continual performance, an endless and limitless becoming.
Through this book, Butler also questions the dogma of heterosexuality and insists on the difference between sexuality and gender, there can be a heterosexual trans man (i.e. a person born female who identifies as a man and likes women). She also works a lot on the figure of the transvestite, as a subversive figure who questions our fixed perceptions of gender.
Judith Butler became a leading figure in the queer and feminist movement, but did not limit herself to gender issues, she also wrote extensively on terrorism and the situation in Israel taking an anti-Zionist stance as a Jew. , which is not trivial. She also continues to reflect on more classic philosophical questions, questioning Spinoza or even Hegel.
Now a professor of philosophy at the University of Berkeley, Judith Butler has gone from turbulent child to essential activist intellectual of our time.
“Masculine and feminine roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed.”
“We can’t read sexuality off of gender.” –Judith Butler