Gender Trouble (Chapter 1) – Butler

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2001. Print.

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler analyzes and critiques the problematic qualities of sex/gender theories that predate her own. Butler begins with a discussion of what constitutes “woman.” Butler argues that the idea of woman is limited or subjugated by the same power structures through which it seeks liberation. In other words, “Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of “women,” the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought” (32). Furthermore, gendered bodies are constructed by and defined by the limited political and power structures in which they are confined. Butler states, “’the body’ is itself a construction, as are the myriad ‘bodies’ that constitute the domain of gendered subjects. Bodies cannot be said to have a signifiable existence prior to the mark of their gender” (38). This means that both what a subject is, and what gender the subject is said to have, are both relative to the “relations in which it is determined” (40). Yet, for a coherent understanding (or controlling) conception of gender to perpetuate, it must have an inverse that challenges it. While this “other” aids in the perpetuating the norm, the “persistence and proliferation” of other gender identities “provide critical opportunities to expose the limits of regulatory aims of that domain of intelligibility and, hence, to open up within the very terms of that matrix of intelligibility, rival and subversive matrices of gender disorder” (47). In other words, the performativity of gender can be exposed as that: performance. Because it is both performative and constituted through performance with hegemonic systems, it can (and should) be subverted, as well.

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