Judith Butler (1956- )
by Mandy Blakeman
Judith Butler is a political activist and foundational scholar of queer theory. Born in 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio, Butler showed an early interest in Jewish philosophy and ethics while attending school. They went on to study philosophy at Yale University, eventually earning their doctorate in the subject. They began lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley in 1993, where, at the time of this publication, they continue to serve as the Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory. Inspired by the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Sigmund Freud, and Michael Foucalt, they are credited with the concept of gender performativity, or the idea that one acts out their gender in the same way a performer acts out a role on the stage, hence the term gender roles. With this, they contend that gender is learned by observation and repetition, making the performance seem “natural” in everyday life. Throughout Butler’s works, they mention society as a driving force of gender performativity as a whole, as well as the gender binary, or the idea that only male and female genders exist. Butler believes gender or sex to be an action taught through repitition and not the cornerstone of identity that society leads one to believe as “natural”. For instance, consider the performative nature of crying “it’s a girl” at birth, as if that label is required to live within the norm (Bodies That Matter 232). As a result, Butler is a critic of the gender binary and chooses to exist outside of it, identifying as non-binary and using they/them pronouns (Ferber).
Notably, Butler critiques the feminist definition of “woman” using the queer critical lens. Butler fights back against the human need to label, define, and categorize, arguing that identity should be free, which is a pillar of queer theoretical thought. With their work, Butler inspires political movements and queer activism within the general public that continue to this day.
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: on the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” Routledge, 1993.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 1990.
Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself. 1st ed., Fordham University Press, 2005.
“Judith Butler.” Research UC Berkeley, 10 Oct. 2012, vcresearch.berkeley.edu/faculty/judith-butler. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.
Ahmed, Sara. “Interview with Judith Butler.” Sexualities, vol. 19, no. 4, 2016, pp. 482–92, doi:10.1177/1363460716629607.
Butler, Judith, and Gayle Salamon. “Learning How to See: An Interview with Judith Butler.” Philosophy Today (Celina), vol. 61, no. 2,2017, pp. 319–37, doi:10.5840/philtoday201768161.
Ferber, Alona. “Judith Butler on the Culture Wars, JK Rowling and Living in ‘Anti-Intellectual Times.’” Judith Butler on the Culture Wars, JK Rowling and Living in "Anti-Intellectual Times", 22 Sept. 2020, www.newstatesman.com/international/2020/09/judith-butler-culture-wars-jk-rowling-and-living-anti-intellectual-times. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021
Mitchell, Kaye, and KAYE MITCHELL. "Butler, Judith." The Encyclopedia of Literary and
Cultural Theory, edited by Michael Ryan, Wiley, 1st edition, 2011. Credo Reference, http://libproxy.union.edu/login?auth=shibboleth&url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/wileylitcul/butler_judith/0?institutionId=5120. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.
Tohidi, Nayereh. “An Interview on Feminist Ethics and Theory with Judith Butler.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, vol. 13, no. 3, 2017, pp. 461–68, doi:10.1215/15525864-4179122.