It’d be kind of difficult to write about queer women without
mentioning once Judith Butler, the American philosopher and theorist whose work
has profoundly influenced modern thought, especially in the fields of feminist
and queer theory.
Her academic achievements are impressive; and so is her list
of publications, among which we can find some of the groundbreaking texts on
gender, identity, sexuality, bodies, ethics, queerness, and Jewishness of the
20th-century: Gender Trouble
is usually the most well-known of her books, as it helped develop the idea of gender
performativity in feminist and queer theories, and has had impacts in film
studies and literary theory as well.
Judith Butler at a lecture at the University of Hamburg, April 2007, photo from Wiki Commons taken by
Butler was born in Cleveland, OH; her family is of Jewish
descent, hailing from Hungary and Russia. Out of her early education probably arose
her deep interest in ethics and political philosophy, as she attended Hebrew
school and special tutorial classes on Jewish ethics when she was a teenager.
She was a philosophy student in college and grad school, and she obtained her
PhD from Yale in 1984. She’s taught at numerous prestigious universities since
then, and she’s now the Maxine Elliot
Professor in the CompLit department of Berkeley, where she’s taught since
1993, and where she founded the Critical Theory Program. She also currently
works at the European Graduate School, where she’s the Hannah Arendt Chair. She
lives in California with her partner, Wendy Brown, who’s also a professor at
Berkeley, working in political science and critical theory (birds of a feather
really do flock together), and their son.
Obviously, you can’t have that kind of public visibility
without some form of criticism. She’s been under fire for anything from her
views on gender to her prose style, which her detractors often consider to be pointlessly
obtuse. As always, there’s definitely valid criticism in all this, but one can’t
help but notice how often Butler’s been vilified by mainstream media and
conservative thinkers whenever she challenges deeply ingrained concepts (she
was basically demonized as the antichrist when marriage equality became a hotly
debated issue in France a few years ago).
has a pretty exhaustive bibliography for her. For more reading, there’s this
piece on the NYT where she breaks down why “All Lives Matter” is wrong, and
search brings up plenty of her lectures, which may be in a more
comprehensible format than her more academic texts. Finally, in this interview with The TransAdvocate, she explains her views on transgender identities and TERFs (spoiler alert: she fully supports any trans person’s right to self-definition, and completely opposes the latter).
And if you’re into that kind of thing, here’s a panel discussion
between Butler, Cixous, and Ronnell from back in 2012.