Gender Trouble by Judith Butler: Summary & Concept

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  • 0:00 What Is Gender?
  • 1:28 ~'Gender Trouble~'
  • 3:20 Impact of Butler's Work
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Harley

Robin has a PhD in health psychology. She has taught undergraduate and graduate psychology, health science, and health education.

In this lesson, we will discuss the book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by American gender theorist Judith Butler. This influential work focuses on issues in gender identity and feminism.

What is Gender?

What comes to mind when you hear the word 'gender'? Most likely, you think of the distinction between 'male' and 'female.' You might conjure images of blue vs. pink, toy trucks vs. dolls, and anatomical differences. The term is actually quite a bit more complex than most people think. In order to understand this complexity, we must first look at the difference between sex and gender.

Sex refers to the biological male, female, or intersex (a combination of both) category defined by our internal and external reproductive organs and chromosomes. Gender refers to socially created roles, feelings, and behaviors deemed appropriate for men and women by society. Behaviors that are consistent with society's expectations are considered gender-normative, whereas behaviors that are viewed as incompatible are referred to as gender non-conformity. Gender identity is a person's own sense and definition of their gender.

Judith Butler, a renowned gender theorist and professor, wrote a highly influential book titled Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity in 1990. This work has helped to challenge and alter our ideas about gender identity and feminism, a movement that focuses on social, economic, and political equality for women. Let's discuss the ideas presented in this book and the impacts they have had.

Gender Trouble

Butler has written several articles and books, but Gender Trouble is by far her most well-known work. It has been translated into several languages and is discussed and debated around the world. In this book, she wrote that the existing feminist movement was limited in how it defined gender. She expressed that this definition was outdated and still reflected the world's treatment of gender as a set of binary categories. This means that when we're born, we're typically placed into one of two distinct categories: male or female.

Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble
Judith Butler

These categories often define how we behave. For example, imagine a newborn baby girl in the hospital, swaddled in her pink blanket. As a toddler, she is taught that she should love the color pink and play with dolls. She should grow up to be gentle, emotionally expressive, and nurturing. On the other hand, imagine a baby boy coming home in his blue blanket to a sports-themed nursery. He is taught to hide his emotions and to be a problem-solver.

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