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Lecture 14

GSWS 096 Lecture 14: GSWS 096 - Lecture 14,Gender Trouble

Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies
Course Code
GSWS 096

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Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (1990)
Debt to Foucault: power is productive
Women as the subject of feminism
Defining gender performativity: “no ‘doer’ behind the deed”
Importance of the context of the Sex Wars
Repetition and the potential for agency
Parody and the deconstruction of the subject
-Butler is a philosopher
-there’s lots of unfamiliar names/ terms , but there are certain concepts that are really important (gender
performativity, critique of gender as a form of expression, understanding of political potential for working
inherent weaknesses/ norms around gender -> connect to Foucault)
-if you can master concepts that are talked about in lecture
-overview = this slide
-power is not just about negation, it’s productive/ important to Butler’s understanding of gender norms
and subverting gender norms
-in large part about how to think about theoretical/ practical questions for how to organise feminism, what
should a feminist movement look like
-genre that it’s in is feminist theory
-question of what is a woman, how do we understand what a woman is, how does this link to movements
for women
-what is the subject of feminism, what do they fight for, in whose name does feminism speak
-fighting on behalf of women is the goal, but is there a way in which the name/frame what feminism is
fighting about is forming its own exclusions/ injustices (there are more familiar ways to think about this –
universal movement, but false universalism (we are just fighting on behalf of women/ all women tgt ->
problem of race/ class/ sexuality drop out, ends up being a movement on some women - white/ middle
-how do we frame subject of feminism that doesn’t rep exclusion
-”there is a woman” is a form of exclusion
-woman as a fixed object/ foundation for feminism instead of a set of acts/ process/ open ended process of
construction under constraint that is at core of violence, related to exclusions of feminism
-gender performativity great contribution of trouble, not just as a performance but a form of
performativity (there’s a distinction between the 2)
-> performativity = language which affects global change, form of social action
-clear context for Butler’s thinking
-helps explain what she’s up to/ politics/ stakes
Building on Foucault: “Juridical notions of power appear to regulate political life in purely negative
terms—that is, through the limitation, prohibition, regulation, control, and even “protection” of
individuals related to that political structure… But the subjects regulated by such structures are, by
virtue of being subjected to them, formed, defined, and reproduced in accordance with those

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structures. If this analysis is right, then the juridical formation of language and politics that
represents women as “the subject” of feminism is itself a discursive formation and effect of a given
version of representational politics. And the feminist subject turns out to be discursively constituted
by the very political system that is supposed to facilitate its emancipation. (4)
-if we take women for granted, women are oppressed, subject to all types of physical/ sexual violence,
social power, take that as a given, then fighting the power of misogyny/ patriarchy can seem like a
straight forward move
-she’s pointing out that in the very constitution of women as a foundational object/ thing we think we are
talking about, there’s power behind how we define what a woman is (not just to control and punish
women, but to frame and define and constitute women in a certain way)
-women don’t just exist, but how women come to appear as a subject, as a political interest group,
collectivity deserving rights/ voice is itself an operation of power, not negative power but to produce
women in a particular way -> regulatory power (Foucault mentions this)
-way we think of women is bound in with the power structures that are fighting for feminism?
-performativity (link to Garfinkel?) it’s people trying to fit in the role of male or female, in Garfinkel’s
piece there is an individual who is intersex and they try to constantly fit themselves in a box of males or
The question of “the subject” is crucial for politics, and for feminist politics in particular, because
juridical subjects are invariably produced through certain exclusionary practices that do not “show”
once the juridical structure of politics has been established. (5)
-reason why Butler stuff seems weird -> feminism is about women, so what’s the problem? The problem
is the naturalisation of the group of people who are known as women
-exclusionary, women of colour/ trans women/ people who are not mothers
-normative ideal of what a woman is that excludes many people
-once that object has been prod, you don’t notice that it has been made -> seems natural/ naturalisation
-should denaturalise this category of women, how was it made? Who was excluded?
-Her politics is about showing the processes by which the category of women is made so we can
understand it as a process of power, women are produced, we need to show this in order to fight against
the hidden productive violence
-power in how definition of women has been made, this is based off “people not as mothers -> not
qualified’, only by having children = worthy
Questioning women as the subject of feminism
Is there a subject that pre-exists the law?
Is there a universal basis for feminism, and what kinds of differences are obscured by such a view?
What, if anything, do women have in common? How to establish the unity of this category and
what will be sacrificed?
Butler argues that it is not possible or desirable to refuse the category of women, but that we can
undertake a “critical genealogy” (8) or what she calls a feminist genealogy
of the category of
women” (9).
“What relations of domination and exclusion are inadvertently sustained when representation
becomes the sole focus of politics?” (9)
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