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Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
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GROUP READS > August NONFICTION selection GENDER TROUBLE: FEMINISM AND THE SUBVERSION OF IDENTITY

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message 1: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
This month is our nonfiction selection, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler (1990). In this book she posits that gender is, for lack of a better phrase, a complex performance. It is considered a founding text of queer theory.

Has anyone read this? I've had this on my shelf for a while and am looking forward to finally getting around to reading it.


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 01, 2018 11:36AM) (new)

Well poo... I thought I had a digital copy of this but can't find it so going to scramble around and try to find one... :-)

Never mind... I found it!


message 3: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) I am literally cursed when it comes to joining reads for this group. Would you believe that my library has no Judith Butler books at all? In other news, I'm down to 7 on the waiting list for Circe! :'(


message 4: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Ugh, that's really sad, Nick! I thought Butler was still assigned readings in some circles.

That being said, I am now having difficulty finding the paperback copy I know I own. It's in the house, somewhere, but totally being shifty; it appears to be hiding from me.

Coral, have you started reading it? I can live vicariously through you until I find my copy!


message 5: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) El wrote: "I thought Butler was still assigned readings in some circles."

I'm sure you're right - I suspect that the universities have their own libraries and Butler just isn't as appealling to the people who use the public library.


message 6: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 33 comments If you do a search for Gender Trouble on Worldcat which is at https://www.worldcat.org/ which includes a great many libraries throughout the world, most of the libraries that have copies are indeed academic libraries. There are a few public libraries with copies.


message 7: by Honore (new)

Honore | 78 comments At work we are trying to fulfill all open wholesale orders for the fall season ( I help make fancy handbags) and I just can't lend the brain power to theory text right now.
Looking forward to popping in every now and again to read folks comments about it.


message 8: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) Jessica wrote: "My university library gave me this link:"

Thanks for trying, but it's prompting me to login.


message 9: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Nick wrote: "Jessica wrote: "My university library gave me this link:"

Thanks for trying, but it's prompting me to login."


Darn :(


message 10: by Anita (new)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 384 comments Mod
Hey Nick (and anyone else!), try asking your librarian because they can access loans from universities and other libraries for academic books. On some sites they allow you to look for them yourself but sometimes it's hard to find the links. I could link to Prospector and World Cat through my library's website with my library card, but it could be easiest to ask your librarian. Good luck on the hunt though.


message 11: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda (dewluca) Read this one years ago. May try a reread once I finish Circe (which I finally got from the library). My memory is that Butler is hard to read but thought provoking if you can slog through, but could just be that as I age I have less patience for theory.


message 12: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) Thanks Anita, I'll try it, but I'm not optimistic. When it came to Angela Saini's Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story they couldn't even find their own copy!


message 13: by Anita (new)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 384 comments Mod
Oh man, this is rough going for me. I'm feeling way below par at deciphering her taking points. Is it me or is it very convoluted writing?

So far I think I'm understanding that the foundation of this book is/are the argument(s) surrounding Sex vs. Gender? I realize this is dated '99 and that's even a decade after initial publication.

Also some bits about the political danger of the term "woman" I'm guessing in an effort to establish that the language in our (American) Constitution should just be applied to everyone when the writing says "men"? I'm not sure, there seems to be a specific drive behind her dissection of "woman" and "women" in language but I'm having a hard time seeing the point.

Hinting back around to sexual orientation but she refers to lesbian as a gender... That's where I stopped for a breather.

And my library copy is in poor shape! The first few pages are actually taped together! at least they had one in circulation I guess, haha

Anyone else have thoughts?


message 14: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) Anita, I couldn't get hold of a copy, so I can't comment for myself - but I do know that you're in good company!

Here's an essay called The Professor of Parody (13 page pdf) by the feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum, where she has nothing good to say about Butler. Some excerpts:

It is difficult to come to grips with Butler's ideas, because it is difficult to figure out what they are
--
Why does Butler prefer to write in this teasing, exasperating way? [...] One is given the impression of a mind so profoundly cogitative that it will not pronounce on anything lightly: so one waits, in awe of its depth, for it finally to do so.
In this way obscurity creates an aura of importance. It also serves another related purpose. It bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding

--
here is where Butler's focus on the symbolic, her proud neglect of the material side of life, becomes a fatal blindness. For women who are hungry, illiterate, disenfranchised, beaten, raped, it is not sexy or liberating to reenact, however parodically, the conditions of hunger, illiteracy, disenfranchisement, beating, and rape. Such women prefer food, schools, votes, and the integrity of their bodies.
--
For Butler, the act of subversion is so riveting, so sexy, that it is a bad dream to think that the world will actually get better. What a bore equality is! No bondage, no delight. In this way, her pessimistic erotic anthropology offers support to an amoral anarchist politics.
--
Judith Butler's hip quietism is a comprehensible response to the difficulty of realizing justice in America. But it is a bad response. It collaborates with evil. Feminism demands more and women deserve better.

I think she's responding to Butler's entire ouevre, not just her first book, so I don't know if it's all relevant, but it's certainly interesting.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

El wrote: "Ugh, that's really sad, Nick! I thought Butler was still assigned readings in some circles.

That being said, I am now having difficulty finding the paperback copy I know I own. It's in the house, ..."


Sorry! Other things came up and I almost forgot about this. Plus sometimes I can read at work (don't feel sorry for me hehe) and I haven't been able to as much. >.>

That being said, Wow, she is hard to follow. It is a very round about way to say something but there is a punch line at the end.

The first punchline (I THINK) is that women should seek a coalition, not just with and among women just by the female sex and the body parts we have that define us as different. We should instead seek a coalition with anyone who holds the same values that we do as feminists.

Page 28 "Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time. An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative telos of definitional closure."

She's introduced me to some other feminists (besides Beauvoir and Wittig) like Irigaray.

Page 42 I found this passage really interesting - "If sexuality is culturally constructed within existing power relations, then the postulation of a normative sexuality that is "before," "outside," or "beyond" power is a cultural impossibility and a politically impracticable dream, one that postpones the concrete and contemporary task of rethinking subversive possibilities for sexuality and identity within the terms of power itself."

She's (I THINK) saying sexuality and power are so intertwined that even gay and lesbian relationships still mirror heterosexual ideas (butch and femme). That power relations construct sexuality (as well as the law ***at that time when the book was writtten***).

Too much to type here but Page 43 on my PDF (page 31 listed on the copy) bottom paragraph and into the next page ends with this interesting question: If there is no recourse to a "person," a "sex," or a "sexuality" that escapes the matrix of power and discursive relations that effectively produce and regulate the intelligibility of those concepts for us, what constitutes the possibility of effective inversion, subversion, or displacement within the terms of a constructed identity? What possibilities exist by virtue of the constructed character of sex and gender?

Then at the end of this chapter she says this book is an effort "to think through the possibility of subverting and displacing those naturalized and reified notions of gender that support masculine hegemony and heterosexist power..."

I have 120 pages left to go so I'm going to try and finish this over the weekend.

I put "I THINK" in capital letters and quoted the book because really it is that dense of a read and I'm trying to figure out what she's saying. lol


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Honore wrote: "At work we are trying to fulfill all open wholesale orders for the fall season ( I help make fancy handbags) and I just can't lend the brain power to theory text right now.
Looking forward to pop..."


Yep this is theory. Which I kinda try to avoid within feminism because it just doesn't sit well with me. To me it sounds like, lets make things unnecessarily dense, obtuse and obscure so we sound important...


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Lucinda wrote: "Read this one years ago. May try a reread once I finish Circe (which I finally got from the library). My memory is that Butler is hard to read but thought provoking if you can slog through, but cou..."

hehe Never had much patience with theory but when you can get to a legitimate questioning by her in the book it is pretty good. I usually try to avoid theory but this isn't that bad?


message 18: by Anita (new)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 384 comments Mod
Yes to all Coral except yes, this is that bad ;).

I think I agree with your interpretations of her writing. It is definitely dense and it DOES seem unnecessarily obtuse and obscure. I tell myself that she submitted this as her thesis in the late 90's (lol, I think) and that's probably why the vernacular is what it is.

I do feel hopeful that the feminism I've encountered recently is much more inclusive in the ways she discusses with regard to the identities and allies, and I think knowing that she helped spearhead thinking towards some inclusiveness that modern society takes as the norm is what drives me to continue reading this book.

I don't often personally encounter divisive feminism (unless it's in an article about decisive feminism) but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I definitely am the type to take inclusiveness for granted, so I find myself thinking that some of her arguments are dated. But I Also just read Angela Davis and learned there are a lot of things that I don't know a thing about. Another drive to continue reading and learning.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Anita wrote: "Yes to all Coral except yes, this is that bad ;).

I think I agree with your interpretations of her writing. It is definitely dense and it DOES seem unnecessarily obtuse and obscure. I tell myself..."


lol I think this is the first, maybe only, theory book that I'll make it through...

I have Davis on my reading list too and looking forward to it and I'm half Mexican so have gotten into some of the Chicana/Hispanic feminist writings. There's so much that I only wish I had started on this path much earlier.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Page 70 on my PDF and I came across 'womanliness' as a 'masquerade'.

While I'm not going fully with the explanation in that it was I THINK describing women who do not want to be seen as masculine hiding behind a 'masquerade' of 'womanliness' in order to fit in? Also that a homosexual uses it to hide their orientation so they won't be found out.

I can identify with putting on a masquerade to do or not do certain things. That's about as far as I got... hehehe


message 21: by Nick (new)

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) Coral wrote: "While I'm not going fully with the explanation in that it was I THINK describing women who do not want to be seen as masculine hiding behind a 'masquerade' of 'womanliness' in order to fit in?"

This sounds like Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, which is very easy read and very funny. Her main thesis is that women are so busy performing a male ideal of femininity that they don't really know what they want for themselves - the masquerade cuts them off from their own desires.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Nick wrote: "Coral wrote: "While I'm not going fully with the explanation in that it was I THINK describing women who do not want to be seen as masculine hiding behind a 'masquerade' of 'womanliness' in order t..."

I've heard of that one and I know it's on my reading list. :-)


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Some recaps -

pg 77 "...desire within culture is, of necessity, a series of displacements."

pg 83 "The sexed surface of the body thus emerges as the necessary sign of a natural(ized) identity and desire."

pg 90 "...this narrative strategy, revolving upon the distinction between an irrecoverable origin and a perpetually displaced present, makes all effort at recovering that origin in the name of subversion inevitably belated."

Introduces Julia Kristeva. "Poetic language is the recovery of the maternal body within the terms of language, one that has the potential to disrupt, subvert, and displace the paternal law."

The last paragraph on page 105.

pg 131 "To universalize the point of view of women is simultaneously to destroy the category of women and to establish the possibility of a new humanism."

pg 136 "...power can be neither withdrawn nor refused, but only redeployed."

Mary Douglas pg 143.

Page 151-153 really breaks down gender, sex, masculinity, femininity.

pg 154 "The foundationalist reasoning of identity politics tends to assume that an identity must first be in place in order for political interests to be elaborated and, subsequently, political action to be taken. My argument is that there need not be a 'doer behind the deed,' but that the 'doer' is variably constructed in and through the deed."

pg 160-161 - conclusion

Okay, checking this one off. As far as I can understand this whole thesis is on how we should understand how power, power relationships, power dynamics, cultural dynamics, and everything in between are geared toward heterosexuality and the roles males and females play.

Her idea is "If identities were no longer fixed as the premises of a political syllogism, and politics no longer understood as a set of practices derived from the alleged interests that belong to a set of ready-made subjects, a new configuration of politics would surely emerge from the ruins of the old."

Bring on the fiction! I'm gobbling up Dietland right now, the book and the TV series. :-)


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

AWWW MAN!! Well I feel like I got the gist of it but look! Here's a breakdown with cats!!!

https://imgur.com/XNAnCGd
https://imgur.com/BSjMNmP


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