Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
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Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  4,541 ratings  ·  222 reviews
Since its publication in 1990, Gender Trouble has become one of the key works of contemporary feminist theory, and an essential work for anyone interested in the study of gender, queer theory, or the politics of sexuality in culture. This is the text where Judith Butler began to advance the ideas that would go on to take life as "performativity theory," as well as some of...more
Paperback, Routledge Classics, 236 pages
Published May 12th 2006 by Routledge (first published November 15th 1989)
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Colin
May 16, 2008 Colin marked it as to-read
I remember, really vividly, the exact moment I realized my bachelor's degree in the humanities was basically worthless. It was my last semester of college, about two weeks from the end, and I was in my Sociology of Birth and Death course. The professor was a Brandeis-educated woman, heavy into earth-mothery visions of life and death who had taken a sociology class with Morrie (of the Mitch Albom book Tuesdays With Morrie, which to date is the stupidest book I've ever read; that might say a lot a...more
Trevor
You know, the problem with troubling gender is that gender isn’t the only thing that is going to be troubled. When I was doing my first degree my lecturer in the editing subject said that you should pay attention to the things people generally skip over in books – the titles of chapters for one, but much more importantly, epigraphs. The example he gave was Watership Down, which he claimed that if you read all of at the start of each of the chapters and said rabbits a couple of times you could pl...more
Lit Bug
This was a woefully dense text, meant primarily for those who have read enough feminism to have at least a basic idea of the major concepts of feminist theory as well a basic idea of the theorists from whom Butler draws her arguments. I was aware of what Foucault, Beauvoir, Lacan, Freud and Levi-Strauss stood for, could never get into Kristeva, and had read little or nothing of Wittig, Reviere, Cixous and Mary Douglas. On that account, this seemed to be a quite difficult text, but I suppose some...more
David Michael
Aug 30, 2007 David Michael rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: All of us
Shelves: favorites
True, it is a bit dated today, and I would distance myself from her strong emphasis on psychoanalysis and performativity, but it was a radical turning point in my life, and is close to perfect as a theory text.
Its impact on contemporary feminism and critical practices can not be underestimated. This book will always be close to my heart.
Craig Werner
Badly written and destructive in its impact on academic discourse. Butler is a darling of the theory crowd, one of the required citations. I found nothing in it that went beyond the standard cliches concerning the inadequacy of essentialist definitions. That wouldn't earn it the one star; what does is Butler's centrality to the infinite regression school of literary/cultural theory. By the time Butler's acolytes--apparently oblivious to the fact that every third sentence is borderline ungrammati...more
k8inorbit
Nov 07, 2007 k8inorbit rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: gender studies, queer studies
It's incredibly difficult to get past Butler's writing style, which is notoriously dense. (We're talking Ghengis Khan levels of "notorious".) Ultimately this makes the reading experience so frustrating that it's hard to appreciate or understand the theory.

I also found Butler's writing to be extremely repetitive. She tends to restate the same concept in a variety of ways, without really doing anything further with it. Ultimately, I think she could benefit from an editor, but many academics seem...more
Ben
More than anything, I'm impressed with the scope of Gender Trouble. Having a basic keyword understanding of Butler's theory, but no primary exposure, I was fully expecting her to stay in the realm of abstract poststructuralist "il n'y a pas de hors-texte" performativity of gender, so when she dipped into the reification of biological sex by means of gender restrictions, I was thoroughly impressed. Part of that impression was the realization that rather than being a ridiculous over-stepping of bo...more
Andrew
OK, so gender is chiefly performative. This seems reasonable. And at the beginning of the book, I was on her side-- hell, "androgyny is a cultural imperative" was a mantra to me in my college days. But I think Butler goes a bit overboard with the idea, attributing a degree of fluidity to gender that seems more prescriptive than descriptive. I agree that mid-century French feminists were more essentialist than they cared to admit, and I'm impressed with the way that Butler cleaned house in regard...more
Librarian
One of the most widely known books on gender studies, Butler challenges French feminist essentialist thought. She also touches on sex determination in genetics and gender play. Butler also challenges basic gender distinctions both in traditional and feminist discourse and relates the distinctions made to their political and social power structures. In a nutshell, it's all about gender-as-culture.
Jen
A little academic for those of you not into that, but for all my feminist pals you should take a look at this book or anything by Judith Butler.
Vaughn
Apr 28, 2009 Vaughn rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: those who know their 20th C. French philosophy
Recommended to Vaughn by: a friend from college
Shelves: gender
First let me say that this is a thorough, well-argued treatment of the relationship between gender, sex, and sexual behavior, as they have been conceived in the past. By treating this relationship as it does, Gender Trouble reconfigures the nexus of these binaries and multiplies them to infinity: the "et cetera" (and others), an embarrassed catch-all, becomes something more like "et differentia," expanding along all dimensions.
If you're into French feminists (Kristeva, Irigaray, Wittig, are ci...more
Michelle
Reading Gender Trouble for the first time 20+ years after its original publication is, for people familiar with contemporary feminist and queer thought on gender, a bit of a "duh" moment. Of course, most people in the field talk with ease about the construction of gender, but when this book came out it was very influential. Butler is also here building on prior (mostly French psychoanalytic) work to discuss the construction of sex - questioning whether "women" as a group and the basis of the fem...more
Patti
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Scott
Butler's writing is dense and difficult work in places, but her thought is original and profound. I had read secondary treatments of her before, but never the original work, and I'm glad to have accomplished it. Though I began this book in January and read bits and pieces here and there over the ensuing months, I read the final third of it pretty quickly over the last 24 hours because those sections were so engaging.

In this excerpt you get a good sense of one of her main points:

Because gender is...more
Jack
As with every theoretical text I find informative, fascinating, widely useful, etc., there are always a number of problems to discuss along side the issues that make this an influential theoretical work. For instance, Judith Butler stiiiill has not dealt with dis/ability in a decent way, despite the fact that so many damned dis/ability theorists use her work constantly (and coincidentally, problematize her work as much as they revere it).

Of course, Butler is not herself dis/abled, but this of co...more
Jamie
Butler has numerous loud detractors, and faces a variety of underhanded compliments, even on this very website, along the lines of comments such as: "oh, she's smart, but *only* when she's not talking about gender." OR "Butler would be great if she wasn't such an impenetrable writer."

Well, I'll say it outright. I love Butler. I love Gender Trouble. I love Bodies that Matter. I love Giving an Account of Oneself. I love basically everything I've read by her, and I'm always excited to have the opp...more
Abby Brown
Gender Trouble by Judith Butler asks "How do non-normative sexual practices call into question the stability of gender as a category of analysis?" (Butler 1990:xi). Butler focuses on disparity and connections between concepts of sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire. She describes the "trouble" in gender: normative sexuality fortifies normative gender but those that challenge such norms might fear a loss of gender place; gender norms perpetuate violence and de-naturalization of gender envisio...more
Avital
In this book, Butler exposes the problems resulting from the identification of gender based on the biological difference between men and women. This classification is constructed by discourse with the objective of recreating hegemonic paradigms and perpetuating current power relations. Defining Women and Men as universal categories disguises the interests it serves. Therefore, anything that is defined as natural or universal should be studied critically. She writes, “Signification is not a foun...more
Liza
Apr 19, 2008 Liza added it
Shelves: queer
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mandy
Perhaps somewhat out-dated (in that Butler's ideas have seeped deeply into the foundation of what is now, but wasn't yet then, queer studies), but seminal nonetheless. The big takeaway: gender constructs sex, and gender itself is constructed through repeated performances of "gender identity." The most compelling section, I think, is the one on drag, in which Butler identifies drag shows as performances in which the performed aspects of what is considered biological sex, gender identity, and gend...more
James Sheasley
It was a fabulous text and it really managed to solidify ideas that I had already tentatively held regarding the construction of gender identity. It's nice to have the academic vocabulary, however, to now support and defend them. I was especially interested in her argument that the rejection of homosexuality is implicit in the incest taboo, which wasn't something I had considered. She effectively gets to the very heart of the performative nature of identity, though I would have enjoyed seeing he...more
Ellie
Although this is rather dense at first, I think its definately a work of brilliance!

The main thrust of Butler's argument is that the coherence of the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality is culturally constructed through the repetition of stylized acts in time. Or in plain English, that we are socially conditioned from an early age to behave in ways that are according to our social ideas of our gender.

Thus girls will be seen as, and therefore start to behave in a "girly" way.

It is worth rea...more
Anthony
from the 1st paragraph of the preface:
"To make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one IN trouble. The rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: The prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble. Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable a...more
Amanda
An incredibly important work of feminist and gender theory, but at times so impenetrably written that it becomes near impossible to understand what Butler is getting at. Definitely thought provoking and worth the effort, though.

Also, could someone please tell social theorists that they aren't allowed to critique science until they have a background in it and a technical understanding of the things they take issue with? I am sick of seeing critiques of sound experimental data founded on some mis...more
Michael
Mar 23, 2014 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Gender Historians, Feminists, History PhDs
Recommended to Michael by: Karen Hagemann
This is one of those books I think I will have to re-visit one of these days. I read it in grad school, and judging from my notes, really only engaged with one of the essays very closely, although there's evidence I at least skimmed other sections of the book. I do recall being pleased to see someone informed by queer theory deconstructing gender, and particularly taking into account the ways in which biological sex is less binary and determined than is generally assumed. Another thing I recall...more
Pamela DiFrancesco
I thoroughly enjoyed much of Judith Butler's deep inquiry into the topic of gender. The book was made less by two factors however:
1) Judith Butler is consciously, intentionally the most confusing writer in the world. She acts as if everybody has read everything written on the topic of gender and refers to it really casually without unpacking any of it (common in philosophical texts, but here I really found myself lost trying to follow some of the references I hadn't read). She also once won an a...more
Sara
Butler's writing is some of the worst I've encountered in academia. A few of her ideas are novel, but they are so buried in unnecessarily convoluted reasoning and unexplained references to vaguely related work that they are hardly worth the effort. The book also abuses trans people's identities for political purposes.
Nicole
i later learned that two separate girls i took queer theory with were afraid to talk to me after a lengthy diatribe i delivered in class referencing this book. i love it so much that apparently talking about it made ME "intimidating." that's got to be a powerful book!
Krista
Okay, I KNOW. I'm the only person I know who actually LIKES Butler. She's not easy to read, her theories are dense, and she can be pedantic. But ... I really really really love this book and the foundation she lays for poststructuralist and queer theories.
Meghan
I've read this book a couple times—both times in the rush of late semester. It would be nice to read it again without the context of how I might use the ideas in a paper. I like Butler in the same way that I like many infuriating and brilliant people.
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Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist and feminist philosopher who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy and ethics. She is currently a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.
Butler received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1984, for a dissertation subsequently publi...more
More about Judith Butler...
Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" Undoing Gender Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left

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“If Lacan presumes that female homosexuality issues from a disappointed heterosexuality, as observation is said to show, could it not be equally clear to the observer that heterosexuality issues from a disappointed homosexuality?” 30 likes
“... that gender is a choice, or that gender is a role, or that gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning, that there is a 'one' who is prior to this gender, a one who goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today.” 24 likes
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