Judith Butler (1956 – present) & Queer Theory

Butler is a US philosopher and is seen as the main proponent of 3rd wave feminism and as a pioneer of gender theory. She developed a complicated theory aimed at creating subversive confusion in order to shake the foundations of the human order. Butler argues that there is no such thing as men and women – one’s sex is a fantasy and we only believe in it because it has been repeated so often. Instead she argues that identity is free flowing and flexible and people can assume multiple gender identities based on sexual orientation. Precedence is given to the individual’s subjective feeling over scientific and biological fact.

Butler was also an important proponent and practitioner of Queer Theory (Queer meaning anything not heterosexual).

Queer theory finds liberation beyond the binary and beyond the normal and it is subverting the norm, or queering, that Queer theory is particularly passionate about. For this reason Butler endorses changes in legislation such as same-sex marriage and transgender rights. Binary conformist institutions such as male or female bathrooms are seen as instruments of oppression for those non-conforming to societal norms and therefore they must re-worked and changed.

Butler was influenced by Michael Foucault and his post-structuralist ideas that asserted that society socially constructs truth and reality. According to Butler, for a more queer and open society to emerge such constructs need to be exposed as false.

Queer Theory claims:

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  • Biological sex is irrelevant to identity as it represents a dictatorship of nature against one’s own self-definition – people must be liberated from this dictatorship
  • Identity is fluid, flexible and diverse and is determined by sexual orientation
  • The illusion of the binary male/female construct is created by linguistic designations (male-female; mother-father) and must be eliminated in favour of free self-invention
  • Heterosexuality as the societal norm and default position must be eliminated


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Butler’s theory was welcomed and implemented by elites such as de Beauvoir, Lacan, Derrida and Foucault. However her post-modernist thinking ultimately seeks the destruction of inherited cultural and religious value systems. Gender theory and Queer theory are becoming increasingly influential in society and are receiving backing from  governments and universities and are creating legislative change.

The majority of people do not even know what it is but its ideas has already gone mainstream and are being promoted in schools through the new compulsory sexuality education curriculums.

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Clear explanation of Butler’s theory on gender 

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Confusing explanation by Butler herself on her theory of gender

(click watch on you tube)