September 24, 2020

Feminist philosopher Judith Butler is crystal clear in her condemnation of transphobic feminists


Judith Butler presents a strong defense of transgender and nonbinary people in a new interview with The New Statesman. 

I have developed a deep respect for Judith Butler, feminist philosopher and gender theory developer. 

I do not agree with her in everything. I do believe, for instance, that her strong focus on "gender as a peformance" makes it harder to discuss the biological side of  the complex interplay between genes, epigenetics, hormones, mind, culture and society that shapes a gender identity.  

But here observations about how language, narratives and power leads to the oppression of women (and people in general) are very helpful. She is a hard read, though, which is why the interviews we have are so useful.

I am not sure Alona Ferber of the New Statesman really knew what she was letting herself into when she approached Butler for an interview. The recent British debate on feminism, gender and transgender lives has been colored by the vicious attacks of "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs), and the way Ferber asks her questions it may look like she thinks J.K. Rowling and the TERFs represent mainstream feminism.

Butler, however, will hear nothing of it. She clearly and systematically describes a feminism that is inclusive of transgender women and where the TERFs are seen as allies of Trump and the transphobic extreme right.

This means a lot, because Butler is one of the most respected and influential gender philosophers in our time. When she says that the "gender critical" TERFs have misunderstood the basis of feminism, it is much harder to dismiss the arguments made against them.

Not that there is anything new in what she says. Trans activists have made the same arguments for years. But she presents them in a "I need to bookmark this" manner.

I have published a summary of the interview over at Trans Express that gives you the most important highlights of Judith Butler's understanding of feminism and the role of transgender women. 

Click here to read it

By the way: The quote in the image above is for an interview Judith Butler made with the Trans Advocate back in 2014. Her dislike of TERFs have been known for a while. I guess Ferber did not read it.

3 comments:

  1. Many thanks, Jack, for bringing Judith Butler to my attention. I looked them up on Wikipedia which also provides some perspective. I can really see her thriving on UCB's campus, my alma mater.

    I thought about buying their book, Gender Trouble, and looked it up on Amazon to read the comments. I always start with three stars. There, I found comments about Butler's use of dense and convoluted language which I'm sure would be a big issue for me; I'd soon lose interest. But that's their style and I'm fine with that.

    I noted in Wikipedia that Butler uses singular 'they' and 'she' pronouns which is interesting. I wonder if they identify as non-binary, and if so, why not choose more precise pronouns. Who knows.

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  2. Butler is an extremely hard read, which is why I do not recommend people to read the original texts. Unless they are really, really interested that is.

    I'll try to retrace another interview with Butler where she indicated that she had considered whether she should call herself transgender. She is definitely some shade of gender variant, which may explain why she has no problem seeing through the transphobic bigotry.

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  3. its interesting to note that its grain, human prejudice is fundamentally sourced in fear. Whether it is bigotry against race, creed or gender expression it is all the same. People should let each other be and if you are confident in your own identity (as Butler herself seems to be) there is no reason to fear anyone else.

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