Gender trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
Book: Gender trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
Written by: Judith Butler
Published by: Routledge, 1999
Judith Butler, in her book ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity’, uncovers the ways in which the notion of what is possible in gendered life is foreclosed by certain habitual and violent presumptions. The book deliberates on the ways in which binary gender identities are presumed to flow from given biological sex and to require compulsory heterosexuality. The author challenges the feminist distinction between sex (the biological female) and gender (the cultural women’s construction). Expanding on Austin’s theory of “speech act” Butler applies this notion of performativity not just to words but also to actions and behaviors. The book is divided into three chapters. The first chapter discusses the questions posed by Beauvoir, Irigary, and Wittig about how gender, sex, and identity are constructed. By decentering the defining institutions of phallogocentrism and heterosexuality she destabilizes the gender construction and identities and studies the troubled previous feminist inquiry in hopes of proliferating more gendered possibilities. The second chapter investigates aspects of the psychoanalytic structuralist account of sexual difference and the construction of sexuality with respect to its power. Butler carefully, and systematically summarizes structuralist and psychoanalytical discussions from Levi-Strauss to Lacan and Foucault, as well as critiques by Gayle Rubin and others. Drawing from the work of Kristeva, Foucault, and Wittig, the third chapter considers the very notion of “the body” not as a ready surface awaiting Signification, but as a set of boundaries, individual and social, politically signified and maintained (p.44).
“If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all (p.10).”Gender trouble - Feminism and the Subversion of Identity