“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.”
TRQ: Judith Butler, Born February 24, 1956
Philosopher and theorist Judith Butler, who has reshaped current feminist, cultural and queer theory through her work on performative gender and sex, was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
Unsurprisingly, Butler’s academic career is marked with distinction. She started at Bennington, because “it seemed to be a place where, as a young queer kid, I would be okay in 1974… I knew that there were other people there who were at least minimally bisexual.” Next she attended Yale University. She earned a B.A. (1978), M.A. (1982), and Ph.D. (1984).
Butler has taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University. In 1988, At the University of California, Berkeley, Butler was appointed Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature. At the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, she has served as Hannah Arendt Professor of Philosophy.
In her books Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (1993), Butler argues that society dominates women, homosexuals and transgender persons through perpetuating certain understandings of gender and sexuality. Gender Trouble serves as one of the foundational texts of queer theory.
In general, Butler argues that the performance of domination, and repeating these dominating acts, re-establishes social understandings of gender and sexuality. These social understandings shape the behaviours of society, including both people who dominate, and people who are dominated. Theoretically, people behave what it means to be queer, homosexual, feminine, and masculine. Butler even suggests that being biologically male or female is somewhat a performative social construct.
Butler has carried her theory into considering the definition of human, the value of human life and death. She has investigated post-9/11 War on Terror in terms of rhetoric, and critiqued police brutality. Currently she is collaborating with psychologist Ken Corbett on an illustrated version of Gender Trouble, aimed for children.
Butler and her partner Wendy Brown, a political-science professor at Berkeley, have a son, Isaac.