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What is Judith Butler afraid of? The academic's new book conjures enemies at every turn

(Paco Freire/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Paco Freire/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


March 14, 2024   6 mins

Worried about doctors giving fertility-destroying drugs to physically healthy teens? Perturbed by the placing of rapist males alongside female prisoners, or the allowing of any male into a woman’s changing room on his say-so? Annoyed by the sight of hulking men smashing records in women’s sport? Come on — why don’t you admit what you’re really afraid of? The world’s most famous gender-studies guru Judith Butler wants to get inside your head, and she’s even prepared to abandon her famously opaque prose style to do it. The result of her efforts, Who’s Afraid of Gender?, is out this week.

Though she has published prolifically on adjacent topics, it’s been a while since Butler spent a whole book dedicated to her own thoughts on gender. A few things have changed in the interim, including her pronouns (she is now a “they”, though generously prepared to tolerate the former designation) and her sentence lengths, which — at least for the time being — no longer stretch epically to cover whole pages at a time. Still, despite the apparently mass-market ambitions of the new publication, some familiar habits remain.

Not for her the pedestrian business of going through critics’ arguments, providing non-partisan evidence, and patiently exposing internal contradictions and gaps in an understated but cumulatively devastating manner. In the book’s lengthy introduction, she tells us that “of course” she could “provide good arguments as to why looking at gender this way is wrong, which would be useful for educators and policymakers”; indeed, “as an educator” herself, it is “tempting to try and expose and puncture this inflammatory caricature of gender through an intellectual exercise”. Tempted as she might be, however, it turns out that she’s not going to bother with that stuff much. Instead, she wants to give the people what nobody was really asking for: a deconstruction of the “syntactical elements” of the “anti-gender movement”, understood as a “phantasmic scene” according to the “theoretical formulation of Jean Laplanche”.

Translated into ordinary English, Butler is going to put the anti-gender people on the shrink’s couch. She seems unruffled by the fact that, in prosecuting her case, she can’t define “gender” clearly — her most definite pronouncement is that it is “a felt sense of the body, in its surfaces and depths, a lived sense of being a body in the world in this way”. But never mind the pesky details: if you are anti-gender (whatever that amounts to, exactly), then you are very probably a patriarchal racist Christian nationalist nutjob, and also secretly gay. She is probing your unconscious, remember, and understands you better than you do yourself.

Or perhaps — and this is about as charitable as it gets — you are simply a naïve and credulous fool, for whom getting in a moral panic about gay marriage and LGBTQ+ library books acts as a psychic substitute for reasonable fears about climate change and neoliberalism. As such, you are being played by the reactionary rhetoric of various deplorables, including Orbán, Trump, Bolsonaro, various Popes, and er… J.K. Rowling, Holly Lawford-Smith, and Kathleen Stock. (A whole chapter incomprehensibly passes on the heading “More Sex Please, We’re British”, and goes instead for TERFs and British matters of sex”.)

Though at times the author feigns charitable curiosity about some of her argumentative targets, the attitude never lasts. A sentence about gender-critical feminists that starts with “To be fair” ends up, a mere clause or two later, talking about their supposed affinities with “fascist politics”. There isn’t a single objection lodged against opponents that does not come freighted with the implication of moral taint and/or stupidity. Of course, painting one’s intellectual enemies as cartoon characters is a known tactic of modern transactivism; still, it is shocking to see it done so crudely by someone who retains a high reputation in many quarters.

It is also striking how hackneyed some of the thought is. Butler’s writing in her heyday at least displayed a bit of panache and originality, assuming you could parse it successfully. In contrast, here she comes over as in thrall to established activist tropes, and with all the depth of a TikTok video in places. She even cites Pink News as a source of data. Indeed, if you have spent much time hanging around the so-called “queer community” in the last decade, you will have read many of the talking points in this book already.

Whereas she used to insist, admirably, on fluidity and impermanence in the expression of gender identity, now she exhorts “affirmation” and recognition of “the reality of trans lives”. The chapter on British so-called TERFs is a compendium of smears culled from online teenagers about their gender-critical mums: they are not real feminists; they are effectively racists focusing on a white ideal of womanhood, on the side of “colonialism and empire”; they spread “baseless fears” about vulnerable transwomen; and so on.

Her evidence is carefully cherry-picked and often from partisan sources. There is no real attempt to take seriously the mounting evidence from hospitals and whistle-blowers of medical malpractice against children and teens in the name of “affirmation”; the rising numbers of assaults against women and girls as a result of self-ID; the demoralisation of displaced women athletes; or the physical and psychological pain of detransitioners. (On the latter, she claims that “the regret rates for people of all ages is very small”, based on a single 2021 study that has been heavily criticised since.) Also familiar from arguments with anime avatars on Twitter, we find fatuous whatabouttery: you say you are interested in stopping violence against female prisoners, but why don’t you care about male prison guards raping them? (Er… we do?) As usual, the message seems to be that these things aren’t really happening; and even if they were, they wouldn’t really matter.

“Her evidence is carefully cherry-picked and often from partisan sources.”

Equally though, Butler declares that I personally am bringing “toxicity” and “cruelty to the table” in insisting that a male who declares he is a woman is still not a woman. “Imagine if you were Jewish and someone tells you that you are not. Imagine if you are lesbian and someone laughs in your face and says you are confused since you are really heterosexual”. As a Jewish friend laughingly observed when I first told her about this, there are Jews who spend their whole lives insisting that certain other pretenders are not really Jewish. And, as I ruefully know from personal experience, something similar goes for lesbians too. But in Butler’s histrionic calculations, failing to affirm someone else’s identity claims is apparently more traumatic than anything a surgeon could do to a confused, unhappy trans-identified teenager, or a trans-identified rapist to an already traumatised female prisoner.

She also objects that critics have misconstrued the nature of social construction in previous writing about her work; and that she can and does, in fact, hold that biological sex is “real” (at least, sort of), even if it is also “mutable”. I’ve done my time in the academic salt mines trying to make sense of the contradictions in Butler’s writing so I’ll leave it to others to adjudicate who is right. Instead, I prefer to turn to a more interesting question, made perfectly legitimate by the precedent she herself sets. In producing such a terrible book, what is going on for Butler psychoanalytically? What is she really scared of?

Given their known volatility, one plausible answer is transactivists; a fear also indicated by the author’s submissive observation that her own previously published views on gender have proved “questionable in several ways, especially in light of trans and materialist criticisms”. After all, if what passes for acceptable methodology in your own academic discipline includes shaming others in print for unquantifiable harms to a much-mythologised community, sooner or later a grandee like Butler is bound to fall victim to the practice herself. The more venerable you get, the more likely it is that young pretenders will come for your throne, and they have some scary tools at their disposal. If I were her, I would be frightened too.

But there is also, I suspect, a deeper fear at work here, and an unconscious desire to sublimate guilt. (See how annoying this is, Professor Butler?) The level of projection in this book — by which I mean, attribution of unrecognised features of one’s own behaviour to others, in the Freudian and Jungian sense — is off the scale. Butler sees authoritarian cancellers and enemies of critical thought everywhere, though apparently not so much among those closest to home.

She tells us that in the anti-gender movement, there is a hatred of rational discussion. To say gender is an ideology is, in itself, “an ideological move par excellence”. Whereas gender studies — gender studies, for gods’ sake — is a “diverse field, marked by internal debate”, by contrast its enemies refuse to “read the texts they oppose — or to learn how best to read them” and they “do not hold themselves to standards of consistency or coherence”. It is impossible to convince members of the anti-gender movement “with good arguments because of the fear that the reading will introduce confusion into the reader’s mind or bring her into direct contact with the devil”. To anyone who has ever been no-platformed as a result of transactivist complaints, been put through a disciplinary or worse because of gender-critical views, or even just laboured through one of Butler’s previous sentences, this aspect of the book should come with a health warning.

Still, there is something correct in Butler’s observation that critics of transactivism are getting increasingly intolerant and illiberal. The dominant emotion she attributes to them is fear, but a more accurate description would be fury. It is obvious that many across the world have become angered by the grandiose, narcissistic overreach of academics like her: thinkers indifferent to the real-world havoc wrought by their barmy ideas and impenetrable speech codes, and who pillory all objectors as badly intentioned or deeply confused, no matter what the background reasoning. Butler is right to fear increasing threats towards LGBT people and women across the globe but fails to notice her own significant responsibility in the aetiology of the problem. Speaking personally, I’m not remotely afraid of gender, understood blandly as sexual and bodily expression; but I am very afraid of what Judith Butler has done with it.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
2 months ago

I started reading this article without checking who wrote it (the title was interesting) but by the 3rd paragraph had a good idea. A quick trip to the top of the page and my suspicion was happily confirmed. KS has given me back the faith in smart people which I lost many years ago, when, reading Lacan as part of my studies, I had to realize and I am not that one who is that stupid.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

Smart people write clearly and in a manner that thise not expert in their field understand what’s going on. KS does this with great skill.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

But rather a lot of words to waste on a Pseud’s Corner grifter like Butler, don’t you think? People like this should be dismissed in a single paragraph and then ignored.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It’s one of those articles that I’m only pleased to read it so I don’t have to read the book. And I even understood some of it! Thank you for the precis, it’s worth the subscription, and for defending sanity.

Andy Aitch
Andy Aitch
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

As they say in Paris, “Does the Eiffel Tower care if a dog pisses on it?”

Jae
Jae
2 months ago
Reply to  Andy Aitch

What a bigoted post.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Not if Butler’s principle claim is that those who disagree with her only do so out of ignorance. We don’t all have to listen to transactivist bullshit, but at least one intelligent person has to tear it apart for the claptrap that it is.

Luckily, Kathleen Stock has done so.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

A bit late for that , she is the most influential theorist behind the trans movement . What good would ignoring her do ?

magnus koch
magnus koch
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Obviously wrong there, Hugh. I reckon.

Gaynor Walsh
Gaynor Walsh
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

You’ve not heard of “Operation Let Them Speak”? The TRA’s are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in dismantling their own nonsense.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I’d agree if they didn’t have an out of proportion influence.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Trans people are .003% of the population. Baffles me why they get so much ink.

S Gyngel
S Gyngel
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I live in a regional area. Within the last 6 months I’ve seen men in dresses at a play, in a local hardware store, in a stationery supplies store, in IKEA and every time I’ve visited) in a big shopping centre in a city nearby. .003% ? No

Fabio Paolo Barbieri
Fabio Paolo Barbieri
1 month ago
Reply to  S Gyngel

I think he means real ones.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Congratulations on the number of downtickers you have collected.

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Not for me. I enjoyed every paragraph with its succinct piercing logic and humorous put-downs.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Agreed. For someone who writes so incessantly about sex, you can’t help but wonder if she’s ever actually had any.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

That’s a pretty naive comment. Butler is – or was – extremely influential. You can’t – or many of us can’t – simply “ignore” the disastrous ideology that is being imposed based on hers and others’ barmy theories, whether in school, college or the workplace.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

God yes. I got a brain hernia back in 1990 trying to read Paul de Man. Never been the same since.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

If people can’t write clearly they either can’t or are trying to pull over something on the public..

David George
David George
2 months ago

Here’s a laugh for you Kathleen.
Judith Butler makes an appearance in The Postmodernist Drinking Song.
https://youtu.be/iQTDEnfW4ng

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
2 months ago
Reply to  David George

Thanks, didn’t know about that, it’s great. Nice to see a light hearted Jordan Peterson.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
2 months ago

A sentence about gender-critical feminists that starts with “To be fair” ends up, a mere clause or two later, talking about their supposed affinities with “fascist politics”.
There’s no inherent conflict between being a fascist and being a transactivist. For example, it’s well-known that Hitler was halfway to transitioning to a woman. And Goebbels was most of the way there. At least, if the musical tradition of the British Army hasn’t led me astray.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

‘Himmler was very similar’.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago

I feel a major ideological recasting of history coming on…

David Jory
David Jory
2 months ago

Need to check your sources in the vaults of the Albert Hall.

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence
2 months ago

X

Arthur King
Arthur King
2 months ago

Why are we discussing these loonies people?

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Because these loonies are influential, and their ideas have corrupted the Western elites. It is necessary to discuss them if we want to know what is going on and how we arrived here.

Paul T
Paul T
2 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Partly its because they keep telling us we are not allowed to.

David Mayes
David Mayes
2 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Try persuading chat gpt 4 that a transwomen is not the same as a women. Judith Butler and her army of acolytes have flooded the world with their ideology.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago
Reply to  David Mayes

This is true of Academia and the ever increasing cohort of students.

But the recent big push has been from a fairly small coterie of very influential, wealthy and well-connected men who have spent millions of dollars getting this into organisations and companies and setting the agenda.

See YT video with Jennifer Bilek ‘Who is behind the trans agenda ?’.

fel rembrandt
fel rembrandt
2 months ago

Thank you for allowing some of your own emotion to show through in this piece Kathleen. It’s of course wonderful to see the wealth of fine critical reasoning that women opposed to gender ideology bring to bear on its tripe, but most of it ought not to be necessary. Gender ideology is garbage that stinks, and fury is the most reasonable response.

McExpat M
McExpat M
2 months ago

Bravo Kathleen. Yes the word is fury and yes ‘scholars’ like Butler are setting the scene for a very illiberal turn in the world.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
2 months ago

It’s not so much ‘what’ does Judith Butler fear, as ‘who’.

Thanks to Butler’s own insistence, the answer (to life and the universe) is:

Kathleen Stock

maddy palmer
maddy palmer
2 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Actually it’s staff. But KS is a marvel.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
2 months ago
Reply to  maddy palmer

The article is clearly written by KS, not sure what you’re referring to nor why anyone would upvote your error.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago

“But never mind the pesky details: if you are anti-gender (whatever that amounts to, exactly), then you are very probably a patriarchal racist Christian nationalist nutjob, and also secretly gay.”

This doesn’t just occur in the gender debate, this is standard across all the left. Say one thing, even something clearly factual, and a whole load of other beliefs are apparently revealed. And then they hate you, and consider you and everyone connected to you to be evil. But for some reason this is not considered prejudice.

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

It is not prejudiced because, in their own minds, they have identified the truth. This is why they are not harmless nutters, but thoroughly dangerous.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

It is not really the “left”. KS herself is proud to be on the left. It is a Neo Marxist postmodernist ideology / methodology that has mostly quite naturally taken root amongst a significant element on the left, but there are those who consider themselves to be on the right who have also been infected.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Can you provide some examples of such people? Genuine question as I would like to see where your argument comes from. I imagine, as you suggest, that they may consider themselves to be on the right, but they’re somewhat deluded and are probably TWANCs/RINOs.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I would also add Crispin Blunt.

Rob J
Rob J
2 months ago

Basically, anyone who says “across all the left”, or who otherwise makes massive generalisations about one whole side of the political spectrum, is doing exactly the same thing that Dennis Roberts criticises. They’re inferring an entire world-view — and usually an extreme version of that world-view — from one or two opinions. Anyone who actually looks at public opinion in the real world (as opposed to cherry-picking their examples from the other side’s lunatic online fringe) sees i) that most people have a mixture of left- and right-wing opinions, ii) that predicting where people stand on, say, the environment from where they stand on, say, immigration is far from an error-free business, and iii) that blanket dismissals — whether of ‘the right’ as a homogeneous bloc of racists/fascists or of ‘the left’ as a homogeneous bloc of neo-Marxist post-colonial self-hating whatevers — are just comfort blankets.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob J

It’s a fair point – I shouldn’t have said all across the left as it implies I was meaning everyone on the left, which I didn’t intend.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob J

Malcom Muggeridge said the Left was an urban religion far people with a grudge against their fellow man and civilisation. As a son of a Labour MP, the husband to a niece of the Webbs and sent by the Guardian to the USSR in the 1930s where he witnessed the Ukrainian Famine, he had first hand knowledge. Muggeridge’s comments applied the Left Wing Middle Class. The working class Non – Conformist were practical tough and patriotic and just wanted to improve the quality of lives of those who worked hard, not indulge in class war.
Malcolm Muggeridge – Wikipedia
Muggeridge was one of the few left wing intellectuals who volunteered for the Armed Forces in WW2, a rarity noted by Orwell.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago

Try posting a slightly conservative viewpoint on Ars Technica or Reddit.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Don’t go near either, but what’s the connection to right wingers with wokeness infections?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

What the heck is a TWANC? There are plenty of (American) Liberals who think this stuff is just a fad and are just sort of lying low. Others have been brainwashed. I have a retired sister (therefore nothing to lose, really) who goes about deprogramming the poor saps she comes into contact with who have bought into the gender nonsense. She’s even managed to influence a parent who was being pressured to “socially transition” her young son who thought he was a girl (he liked helping in the kitchen and wanted to learn how to knit.)

magnus koch
magnus koch
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

It’s not an infection, is it? And it’s not left or right. Read the tin again before applying. It’s a caution.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  magnus koch

It’s not an infection, is it? No it’s more of a cult.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ol0HmwGH4VM

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

It’s a dysphoria, not unlike anorexia

Skink
Skink
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

It’s a “one truth” church. “Only we have it — and you don’t, heretic!”
Medieval days are back again…

Pat Thynne
Pat Thynne
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

Please don’t bung all of us “leftists” into one box. I am a proud lesbian feminist from the 2nd wave. I believe sex is immutable, that gender is a social construct and trans-activists are dangerous and trying to intimidate women like me and trans the gay out of kids. And I love Kath Stock – because she thinks so clearly and writes so beautifully and makes me laugh out loud. And there are mind-numbing/numbed thugs on both sides of politics.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago
Reply to  Pat Thynne

Sorry, I try to avoid terms like lefty and, especially, progressive – I find them cartoonish and potentially dismissive. But perhaps it would have been better to say that rather than include all left wingers. I do realise not everyone on the left thinks like that, and that there are people on the right who do what I was complaing about too. Those on the left just seem much more visible to me currently.

Right and left wing as descriptors are incredibly simplistic – the world is far too complex to be so easily reduced. I wouldn’t describe myself as either, rather as a mix of both depending on the topic.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

I have come to the conclusion that being loved or even liked by the left is a far worse fate. It means that a group whose ideology I despise, and whose adherents I generally dislike for being ill-mannered, loutish, narrow-minded, and foolish find something in me that they admire, like, or appreciate. I do not want to be liked by such people, and would be insulted if they did. Their hatred for me is a badge of honour.
They are dangerous like all fanatics, and being hated by them keeps me in my toes.

S Gyngel
S Gyngel
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

….and those of us who have always been on the left and now wonder where it went (and what to do next ) agree with you. The minute we step out of line – ask a single question- we are right wing racist everythingphobic bigots

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
2 months ago

Maybe I’m wrong, but if I were to sum up this article, in a word, it is simply saying, without actually saying it, is that Judith Butler is becoming a bit (more) ‘paranoid’ ?
The Damoclesian sword hangs every more heavily, held aloft by fewer and fewer ever fraying threads, over Ms (they’s ?) Butlers head (Hopefully Kathleen has some ‘metaphorical’ scissors to hand to rid us of this “troublesome priest”)

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

She is already yesterday’s news and has seen what happened to the likes of Germaine Greer at the hands of her and the gender wonks.

But now the new porno-adjacent young newbies (see Andrea Long Chew on this website) are sharpening their knives.

But they in their turn will be ousted by the MAPS (aka paedophiles) who want their hour in the sun (sewer).

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
2 months ago

I find it remarkable that, despite everything she has been put through, Kathleen Stock still seems to have preserved a sense of humour. A truly extraordinary person and a gifted writer.

N Forster
N Forster
2 months ago

Poor Judith. 

According to the Theravada Pali canon, the Buddha stated all questions should to be divided into four categories. All questions are to be viewed through the same lens – that does asking or answering this question lead to the ending of suffering? Or does it create more?

In that light, questions can be answered categorically, analytically, should be cross questioned ( to redefine into one of the other three categories) or put aside. Those are the four types of questions.

This last category is the most important – questions not worth asking or answering as they simply lead to more questions, they lead to more and more complex views which lead to more and more complex questions – “A writhing of views, a nest of views..”. Within this category are all questions of identity. “Who am I?” and “What is this?” 

Judith Butler has wasted her whole life pondering and answering at great length, fourth category questions. As a result she would now benefit greatly from seeking the help of a mental health professional. Hopefully one not infected by Judiths own work. But so tightly has she painted herself into a corner, its most likley she’ll never be able to get out of it. 

I wish that she didn’t suffer. But she does. And she is the author of it.
Poor lass.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

Interesting points on suffering. The Master of the Shaolin Temple in Europe promises student to the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts training with these words ” You will know more pain than in this training than in this lifetime “. He trains peoples mind and body to overcome pain. Hence less suffering, less hurt. Perhaps the problem with the West is we run way from pain and therefore suffer more from it when we encounter it. More fortitude, less suffering.
Shaolin Temple Europe · The Middle Way

Graeme Archer
Graeme Archer
2 months ago

Professor Stock is our most important public intellectual. I’m in awe of her writing abilities, but it’s the mind which crafts those words which we need so much. She must have been approached to sit in the Lords? A functioning government would have done whatever it takes to give her a voice in the legislature.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Excellent critique, I would so love to be a fly on the wall when she/they reads this piece!

John Frater
John Frater
2 months ago

I once tried in good faith out of real genuine curiosity to read one of Judith’s books. I wanted to know what this high priest of gender had to say. I was encouraged by friends who admire her. It was so disappointing and discombobulating in equal measure. I’m no philosopher but I’ve read a lot of philosophical books but this was just so utterly confusing. In my position as a non philosopher it was tempting to think I mustn’t be bright enough to get it. But I managed to resist that in part with the help of Martha Nussbaum’s New Republic article and Kathleen’s work too. I’m very grateful for these philosophers who can do the necessary work to expose the vacuity of Butler. It reminds me of Iris Murdoch going up against Satre and Mary Midgley going up against Dawkins. Both similarly dealing with significant and dangerous ideas. Philosophical heroes! That’s a gushing thank you!

Huw Parker
Huw Parker
2 months ago
Reply to  John Frater

There’s an old joke that the only reason GPs have terrible handwriting is that if it were any more legible, we’d all realise how bad their spelling is. Similarly, it is clear that the only reason Judith Butler writes such convoluted sentences is that if they were any shorter, we’d all realise how bad her reasoning is.
However, if Kathleen Stock is right …

‘… and her sentence lengths, which — at least for the time being — no longer stretch epically to cover whole pages at a time.’

… then Butler may just have scored a terrible own goal.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

I only heard of this pretentious cretin when reading last week’s FT*, so thank you KS for the added detail.
If ever there was sign of ‘western decadence’ it’s the fact that we actually take such people seriously, and give them a public platform, when by rights they should be consigned to the “pit of eternal stench”.
Congratulations to whoever picked the caption photograph, a stroke of sheer genius if I may say so.

(*Financial Times.)

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

She certainly has the face she deserves.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

The Ancient Greeks were great believers in Physiognomy.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

A well trained body was in proportion. I give you Aphrodite of Knidos
Aphrodite of Knidos – Wikipedia

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

So glad a woman said that.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
2 months ago

Like a bulldog chewin’ on a wasp.

N Satori
N Satori
2 months ago

…we actually take such people seriously, and give them a public platform…

Who is this ‘we‘? Enough with the collective responsibility already! I think you’ll find that it is a ‘they’ that take her seriously and give her a public platform.* The question is: who are they who believe her ideas need to be disseminated to the eager young apprentices of lofty thought – and why?
I’m referring to a group they not the ridiculous individual they that is now Butler’s preferred pronoun.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 months ago

I blame “care in the community”.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
2 months ago

At first, I didn’t think the photograph was of Judith Butler – of whom I’d never heard prior to this article – but of a man. And a rather sullen angry-looking man to boot. I wouldn’t want to bump into him on a dark night, self-proclaimed woman or not, unless I had a pepper spray handy. And no way am I calling him her or she.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

Agreed, I thought at first it might be “Stakeknife” of M15/PIRA.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

What about Rosa Klebb ?
Rosa Klebb – Wikipedia

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes! Brilliant I had missed that.

Graeme Crosby
Graeme Crosby
2 months ago

Butler is famous for arguing that not only gender can be whichever way you fancy but that biological sex itself is merely a social construct.

Saul D
Saul D
2 months ago

A woman-by-sex knows what being a woman is through physical experience. A man-by-sex who thinks they are a woman can only become what they imagine a woman to be. A man might reject or deny their male experience, but any alignment with femaleness is purely a system of belief and projection. In all belief systems, just because you believe something doesn’t make it true.
Interpreted through the lens of belief, with a calling, journey, sacrifice, purification and salvation, the current politicisation of transgenderism has many elements of an extreme cult. One true message. Symbols and language. Labelling and othering of outsiders. Closing down discussion. Demand for special treatment. Twisting logic and interpretation so the belief cannot be challenged.
At a personal level this can cause huge angst, things will be deeply traumatic and emotional because that is what a believer fully believes to be true. Non-believers might tolerate and accommodate the belief as part of the mix of life, but for believers they have a mission and any outside questioning becomes a threat with ‘attacks’ against the belief being interpreted as attacks against the individual or person. The lesson we keep needing to teach is that just because you believe something it doesn’t make it true.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
2 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

I read your first paragraph and realised it can also be said for many Oxbridge History graduates, with a first and sitting in Parliament, thinking they are Climate Experts, but without any Scientific Knowledge in their own heads. It’s another case of ‘a system of belief and projection’ that can only react by ‘doubling down’.

And I’m sure there are other disciplines that are suffering from the same fate.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

Andrew Mitchell MP*, of “Plebgate” infamy being a perfect example.

(*History/Jesus College, Cambridge.)

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

“who thinks he is a woman”

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

Perfect description of a violent irrational religion.

Mary Belgrave
Mary Belgrave
2 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

“ A woman – by sex knows what being a woman is through physical experience. A man-by-sex who thinks they are a woman can only become what they imagine a woman to be”

Thank you for this expression “ woman-by-sex” which I have not heard before, it is something I will use from now on when defending this viewpoint. ( I deplore the term ‘ cis woman’.)

James McKay
James McKay
2 months ago
Reply to  Mary Belgrave

why not just “woman”? there is no other kind

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
2 months ago

Superb stuff from Kathleen Stock.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
2 months ago

J Butler has never spoken about gender treatment for young people in any clinical or psychotherapeutic fashion. In essence, all she wants to do now is be a warrior for her people on the Left, the academic prophet in retrospect.
To an extent, her work is a tool for militants and plastic surgeons alike although it’s unlikely either group will really understand much of what she’s written. In the academic sphere, I wish more Lacanians would take on her idealist excesses.
For my part, her deconstructionism does work within its own logical circle having accepted Derrida, Foucault and Althusser’s main concepts. She generally skirts the issue of embodied material reality, but she’s right that if gender is to exist (purely) theoretically then it will do so only through performance.
Her book on hate speech is pretty good but somewhat opposite conclusions might be drawn today. Namely, that the big question is one of free expression, battling governments and civil society alike to combat these excessive claims of (men’s) rights and malign surgical interventions on youngsters or anyone really.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
2 months ago

Judith Butler is the living embodiment of the famous observation often attributed to George Orwell:
“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago

If the only tool you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail. And if you realise that your work is flawed then, obviously, it is the nails’ fault and there’s more money to be made in analysing the different types of ‘nail’.
I welcome “the grandiose, narcissistic overreach of academics like her”. The overreach exposes the shallowness of thought behind some controversial ideology.
Could Judith Butler and other similar ideologists achieve more if they were more measured and reflective? I expect so.

Aidan Anabetting
Aidan Anabetting
2 months ago

Yes, it does seem to me that there is a somewhat glaring internal inconsistency between on the one hand seeing gender as fluid (which has some merit in my view) and then on the other asserting that an adopted, mutable identity needs to be reified and defended through legally establishing pronouns or by having irreversible surgery.

Daniel P
Daniel P
2 months ago

Damn….great article!

My impression is that Judith Butler is too lazy and too insecure to “do the work” so she sits back and just passes judgement willy nilly.

Best line in there though is about how the anti-gender crowd, myself included, are not experiencing “fear” but are experiencing “fury”.

Yes…..yes we are and we are about done having our tolerance abused.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

But activist groups don’t want your tolerance – they want your respect.
Perhaps a step too far?

J 0
J 0
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

No. It’s your complete and utter capitulation that they demand, ad infinitum, because they too, deep down, know it’s all BS pretence.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago

The “anti-gender movement”.

Progressives are really very clever at perverting language, aren’t they? Any sensible person who was not particularly au-fait with the politics here, would naturally assume that the anti-gender movement refers to those who refuse to accept that gender possesses an inalienable dependency upon sex, and that consequently both are simple, binary constructs.

But no! Of course not, it apparently refers to the vast majority of people who actually support that factually correct concept. And “movement” – as if this majority is somehow denying what was until now a permanent truth, when in fact the majority view is unchanged since the beginning of time, while transactivists are the noisy minority attempting to move truth over to ideology instead of being based upon observable facts.

I’ve noticed for some time that Progressives win arguments partly by setting the parameters of the debate in advance so that everyone else is forced into use the language of the activist agenda. Very often the battle is half-won before it even starts when that happens.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Yup. Anti-gender is right in line with the equally vacuous anti-racist, and an offshoot of the left’s usual rush to brand anyone not on board with the latest thing as a denier.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Progressives are really very clever at perverting language, aren’t they? 
Why the question?
“I’ve noticed for some time that Progressives win arguments partly by setting the parameters of the debate in advance so that everyone else is forced into use the language of the activist agenda. Very often the battle is half-won before it even starts when that happens.”
Why the surprise? It is an integral part of the post modernist toolkit – gain power by controlling the discourse, control the discourse by first controlling the language. It’s the way all Marxists regimes have succeeded in killing millions.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

It’s mock-surprise. The real surprise is that if Marxists have been doing it for ages (they have), why does the rest of society persistently fail to understand that it’s happening?

Huw Parker
Huw Parker
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

It’s not really a question, more a grammatical construct.
The use of “aren’t they” here is known as the negative interrogative. The entire sentence, consisting of a declaration followed by the addition of the interrogative, is known as a tag question.
Tag questions can serve any of a number of purposes. In this instance, I would suggest that it is a rhetorical device, not requiring a response, but intended to emphasise consensus between contributors.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Very good point on setting agenda.

Simon
Simon
2 months ago

A magnificent tour de force. Well said Kathleen Stark.

Roger Tilbury
Roger Tilbury
2 months ago

Another superb article from Kathleen Stock. It would be hilariopus if it wasn’t so serious.
I think what really scares Butler is that she knows her side is rapidly losing the argument.
BTW, I had never heard of John the Plank (Jean Laplanche), but now having looked him up I suspect this is another example of nominative determinism.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
2 months ago

That is one of the best criticisms I have ever read. Witty, incisive, accurate, pithy. Al dente.

And the conclusion that Judith Butler doth protest too much in order to escape an approaching inquisition and excommunication is spot on.

Walter Schimeck
Walter Schimeck
2 months ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

Yes, the stalinist purge trials are coming for her and others like her. The “movement” has to demonstrate to everyone inside and outside of it the lengths to which it is prepared to go, who it is willing to sacrifice. Academic standing will provide no protection, which I’m sure JB already knows.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
2 months ago

Another great and important piece from Kathleen Stock. I urge everyone lucky enough to read it to forward it to others.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago

“I’ve done my time in the academic salt mines trying to make sense of the contradictions in Butler’s writing”
This is what makes KS so dangerous to the ideologues – she has read it and does understand it and if necessary she can counter it in unambiguous plain English.
I take my hat of to all those who have gone down the woke Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole to see what is really down there and returned sane enough to tell us about it without us having to risk our sanity making the same journey.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Who is Judith Butler? Well I looked her up on wiki and found her a philosopher and gender studies professor.
That’s all I need to know.
Wiki keeps referring to her as they, which made reading the entry so clunky that I gave up half way through.
What currently passes for the intelligentsia leaves me cold nowadays. I think I’ll pass and an eternally grateful that my school and university days were over before this pseudo rubbish took hold.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I also had no clue about Judith Butler, never heard her name or what she does. After this article, I’ll hope she will again disappear out of my consciousness…

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago

“by someone who retains a high reputation in many quarters.”
Who are these credulous idiots?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

This article is a critical and dialectical masterpiece. Amazing work.

Addie Shog
Addie Shog
2 months ago

The real problem is that Butler and the rest of them like her who live in a moral vacuum have so taken hold of the academic establishment that it is hard to see the being toppled in the near future and are poisoning the minds of all their students.
Bravo to academics like Kathleen Stock and wish her luck and fortitude.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

Anti-gender. Oh, good; the equally meaningless anti-racist needed a companion to torture people linguistically. My lord; how do such allegedly deep thinkers come up with such shallow ideas. At some point, I foresee a book of once-serviceable words that have been rendered useless by either overuse or misapplication, and possibly both.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Remember, Kathleen Stock reads Judith Butler, so that we don’t have to. JB produces prose so labyrinthine and impenetrable that a normal person would thow the book out of the window at the end of the first page.
Bravo KS – you even made this piece funny!

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

her own previously published views on gender have proved “questionable in several ways, especially in light of trans and materialist criticisms”.

Does this refer to ideas (expressed on here by Talia for example) which run contrary to the Butler version of gender fluidity, and rather claim that trans people have different brains to cis people, or have the brain of the opposite sex. Is that what is meant by “materialist criticisms”?

Just curious, and thought someone might know. There does seem to be a split in trans thought on this, and that might be why Butler is afraid of being transitioned into Robespierre.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Yes I have been waiting for Talia to turn up and scream that Butler is a liar who has no proof to support her ill-informed ramblings.
Whilst at the same time dismissing KS as a right wing nut job who wants to make boys have periods and grow breasts and girls develop deep voices and facial hair.
Trans, like gender, means different things to different people. There are various different routes into wanting medical assistance to mutilate your body. The lame answer of affirm them all and just do it iaw WPATH “Standards of Care” will be seen as the biggest medical scandal of the early 21st century.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

TP has missed a number of related articles of late, it’s left me wondering if TP has been sectioned.

Edit Szegedi
Edit Szegedi
2 months ago

Judith is the female commissar 2.0.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

To be honest Butlers approach here isn’t anything new.

Assume your own position is the right one. Show what is wrong with your opponents such that they can’t see the truth. Use their active resistance as proof of your own position. It’s kind of Freudian, big in critical theory, and pretty much the MO of much feminism.

J Dunne
J Dunne
2 months ago

“To anyone who has ever been no-platformed as a result of transactivist complaints, been put through a disciplinary or worse because of gender-critical views, or even just laboured through one of Butler’s previous sentences…”

Brilliant stuff.

Robert
Robert
2 months ago

How did anyone, ever, think that Judith Butler was a true thinker that was adding knowledge to society? Did she ever write clearly and persuasively about the society she lived in? Any time I encounter her, whether in her writings or conversations with her, I find myself dumbfounded that nobody ever called her bluff (including, probably, a young Kathleen Stock). Better late than never, I guess.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Robert

Butler won a couple of bad writing awards back in the nighties. I had tried to read one of her essays, an almost impossible task, and felt vindicated.

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
2 months ago

Some ideas are so stupid only an academic could believe them.
Eric Blair

Martin Goodfellow
Martin Goodfellow
2 months ago
Reply to  Brian Thomas

If only it were true. Those who follow Judith Butler will no doubt continue to believe her nonesense. Her use of impenetrable language, far from putting them off, draws them in. Even worse , some of them are able to influence others, including politicians, who have, and will continue to pass laws affecting us all. Kathleen Stock’s brilliant challenge will probably be quoted, out of context, against her. Having said this, I hope I’m wrong, but this is the world we now live in.

Mike MacCormack
Mike MacCormack
2 months ago

How wonderful to have Kathleen Stock writing for this organ (as Lord Gnome would say). I’m glad she’s done her turn in the academic salt mines so we can all take advantage of her wisdom and her knowledge, and God bless google for getting her contributions to the top of the search results lists. Surprising how much talking about gender comprises talking bollocks in no man’s land!

Disputatio Ineptias
Disputatio Ineptias
2 months ago

I big eye-roll to Judith Butler. Wallow in the torment of your insignificance. Moving on…

Marsha D
Marsha D
2 months ago

Butler gave a very unconvincing and poor account of herself in Lunch with the FT on Saturday. (Really she should have been able to run rings around her interviewer, the poor terrified Henry Mance.) I rather think she doesn’t quite believe in the ideology she is credited with igniting. I strugged though a chapter or two of her trouble with gender book as an undergraduate – and am so relieved I obvs don’t have to read this one.
Hypothetical question: Could she ever have the courage to admit she was wrong?

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago

Who would have thought narcissism would be so attractive.
I should have paid more attention in classical history I guess.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago

Some lines from Book 1 of The Wokeiad:-
**********
Now neither washing claws nor wiping arse,
Wokeness takes wing and flies South business class.
Where Berkeley’s Judith Butler plies her trade,
Her torch of idiocy casts its shade: 90
Gender performativity’s her thing,
A stinkpot full of greasy ink which stings.
Let Logos wither now, deprived of light,
And all of Oakland bathe in blackest night.
Watch Butler tie up Sense in tangled rope
Of subclause pendant from embedded scope,
See Preposition yawn over chiasma’s void,
Neologism coined, curdling, and cloyed,
See Sentence butterflied upon the wheel,
And Meaning, drained, in agony congeal, 100
Poor Common Sense, imprisoned and ignored,
Naive Intelligence, traduced and bored.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
2 months ago

“painting one’s intellectual enemies as cartoon characters is a known tactic of modern transactivism; still, it is shocking to see it done so crudely by someone who retains a high reputation in many quarters.”
Not really. She retains a high reputation only among those with a well-deserved reputation for intellectual vacuity, as indicated by their propensity to be impressed by the yoking together of barely parsable clauses full of prefabricated clichés intended to harangue the reader, with no actual argument in sight.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
2 months ago

Martha Nussbaum’s celebrated assessment of Butler from 1999: https://newrepublic.com/article/150687/professor-parody

Mark 0
Mark 0
2 months ago

This whole subject reminds me of Lysenkoism – at one point in the USSR, the state’s latest pet (pseudo) scientific obsession could never be refuted, for fear of losing your job, estranging colleagues, the secret police etc. But it was pseudoscientific nonsense, and only promoted because it tied into and supported the also pseudoscientific nonsense of Marxist ideology. Lysenkoism was debunked only when crop failures killed a lot of people. Sadly Marxism never seems to fully die but at least its popularity has waned to a less harmful amount.

Gender ‘theory’ supports and props up wider postmodernism. Tavistock etc is hopefully the Lysenkoist moment but we will see. Hopefully the wider postmodernist canon (post colonialism, CRT, fat studies etc) will go the way of Marxism and die down to a manageable background fringe element

tug ordie
tug ordie
2 months ago

PREACH

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
2 months ago

God I love Kathleen Stock’s intellectual clarity. She is a lodestar for sanity in an increasingly unanchored world, using language with care and precision.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
2 months ago

Brava KS.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 months ago

Thank you for reading this book so I don’t have to.

M Shewbridge
M Shewbridge
2 months ago

It drives me mad, this tendency to psychoanalyse detractors.

I’ve told people many times what bothers me about trans ideology: it’s bollocks. It’s just unfalsifiable claims and stereotypes.

And worse, it’s bollocks that you’re not supposed to challenge. That sort of thing has aggravated me since I was a child.

Pressure to conform to bollocks is infuriating. I don’t even care that much about the real-world impacts of this stuff because, well, that’s what happens when you let bollocks go unchallenged.

Or, as Voltaire more decorously put it: “He who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

It’s bad faith not to engage with this and, instead, try to divine what *really* bothers me.

Bryan Tookey
Bryan Tookey
2 months ago

Really enojoyed this rather playful yet insightful article.

Corrie Mooney
Corrie Mooney
2 months ago

Thanks for reading this so we don’t have to.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
2 months ago

Ah. Dr. Stock. Always a pleasure. Brilliant and I always get a good chuckle or two.

Susan Scheid
Susan Scheid
2 months ago

Another thoroughly satisfying read from Dr. Stock. Together with Sarah Ditum’s scathing review, it is clear that the side of truth, justice, and clarity is in the best of hands.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago

It is absolutely vital that we protect all our children from irreversible medical gender procedures, mutilations and treatments. It should be a criminal offence to do this to our children.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 months ago

I’m sure that Judith Butler will, in time, save the gender Jerusalem from the besieging TERFs.
But, experts agree, the question is how may TERFs fit on the head of a transgender.
Then there is the amateur American philosopher who said: “children want a mother and a father: their mother and their father.”
My own opinion is that if Douglas Adams were writing today he would provide the answer to the question of “life, the universe, everything.” The answer is “grandchildren.”

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
2 months ago

“The dominant emotion she attributes to them is fear, but a more accurate description would be fury.”

I am furious about the real physical and psychological damage these delusional ideologues have inflicted on troubled children with the blessing and support of many members of the medical community. However, I also fear this ideology (and the followers) for its intolerance, its aggression, its thinly veiled misogyny, and its goal of undermining of reality and the status quo of our society. I am certain that’s not what Butler, whom I have opposed since my own uni days, had in mind, but these people and their beliefs are dangerous, very dangerous, and recognising and fearing danger is a sign of intelligence.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

I would love to see Judith Butler put on trial for having had a big role in starting the gender ideology cult and causing irreversible damage to thousands of thousands of kids. This person needs to be held accountable for peddling ( and being allowed by the universities to do so ) dangerous and misconstrued ideas.

Adoptive Loiner
Adoptive Loiner
2 months ago

OK, fess up, which one of you reset all the likes/dislikes on all the articles?

Cantab Man
Cantab Man
2 months ago

Judith Butler seems to be raging against evolution and the resulting societal distribution curves that emanate from Mother Nature.
She’ll be as successful as a person who plants themselves in front of an incoming ocean tide and proclaims “stop!” while fully expecting the ocean to comply and not engulf them.
The majority of people who exist within one standard deviation of the mean on a given societal distribution curve (as dictated by evolutionary genetics) will always discriminate against those who exist a few standard deviations out from the mean of that specific distribution curve.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re looking at religious or non-religious beliefs, gender beliefs, methods-of-governance beliefs, historical beliefs, or anything else. We even see this distribution curve bias within cities that have sports teams. For example, if you profess to be a Boston Red Sox fan in New York Yankees territory, prepare to be mocked and derided (sometimes playfully, sometimes not). The underlying reality doesn’t matter: That baseball players generally have no allegiance other than to their paycheck and they will happily be traded to an ‘archenemy’ team if they receive a larger salary. Are the fans of sports teams being irrational? Yes. But tribalism is buried deep within our genetic code base and we will build and discriminate within societal distribution curves across many dimensions…whether we like it or not.
So what to do about this?
If one exists within a minority that is a few standard deviations out from the mean of any societal distribution curve, I personally believe it best to not be a militant enforcer of your viewpoints. Evolution has a long arc and you’re not going to change the mean (by yelling and ranting) overnight or even within a few decades or perhaps centuries. Be prepared to be mocked and laughed at – perhaps in a good-natured way or in a hurtful way. You might be a religious person existing within a non-religious society or vice versa, you might be a neurodivergent person who is being policed by the neurotypicals who exist within that specific societal distribution curve. You might be gay. You might be transgender. You might have a high IQ but exist within a small town that doesn’t appreciate the things you can potentially offer to broader society. You might be a Boston Red Sox fan in New York City. You might be Judith Butler.
If those who exist on the tips of a distribution curve give grace to those who exist closer to the mean (despite the many injustices), they will not remove the critics but perhaps they will find some allies and friends who give grace back to them. And perhaps they will achieve some measure of gains in societal laws so they have some protection.
But as a neurodivergent person (speaking from experience), I don’t expect the evolutionary genetics that favor tribalism to reorient itself in society in order to favor all neurodivergent people over, or equal to, neurotypical people. It’s merely a numbers game and I exist – and will always exist – within a minority. Sure, neurodivergents might receive some small level of protection via the law…but it’s our larger responsibility to find our path in a world that’s full of neurotypical people, including some merciless bullies.
In contrast, it seems that Butler’s preferred approach is to apply psychological ‘gaslighting’ warfare against those who exist near the mean of her given societal distribution curve.
I fear that the tribal rebound by society will not be kind to her or her side of the debate. It’s purely a numbers game. And, very sadly, the rebound could easily hurt some very honest, transparent and kind people who happen to be adjacent to Butler on the tip of her/their distribution curve – those who disagree with her militant approach but don’t have a large enough voice to moderate her stance in society.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  Cantab Man

The reason why traditionally heroes were praised was because they were not normal. Their role was to inspire people to be heroic. It is interesting, I have not come across any feminist writer who has used the acts of heroism of women in WW2 as role models for girls. Is this is because feminists prefer to aquire prestige and power through whining and whinging rather than risk life and limb through acts of courage.
How many girls know of Khan GC, Szabo GC, Hallows GC, Wake GM, Granville GM and Charity Bick GM. Bick was fifteen years of age when she undertook the actions which led her to being awarded the GM. GC George Cross, GM George Medal.
If we look at the political sphere hardly any monarch inherited a kindom in worse condition than Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was true scholar( could read and write Greek ) and appointed men of exceptional ability, Burleigh, Walsingham, Gresham, Hawkins, etc.
Compare Elizabeth I speech at Tilbury to the pretentious conceited resentful drivel of Butler.
My loving people.
We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.
I know I have the body but of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
Speech to the Troops at Tilbury – Wikipedia
Feminists are correct, the personal is the political. There is nothing more personal than a person’s character.

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence
2 months ago

“impenetrable speech codes” – good, I’m glad it’s not just me who finds this – and it’s quite common on this platform, I have to say, tho not KS!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

What is she scared of? A mirror. Compare the pretentious conceited drivel of Butler and the wisdom of Odette Hallows GC. At 4 mins O Hallows describes her torture. “One endures until one dies “. Both ladies are roughly the same age. Hallows displays a serene grace, Butler embittered resentment. Butler is an icon of today’s academics, Hallows is an icon of those who defended freedom with their lives. Feminists are correct, the personal is the political for it is character which shapes the World.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oN6xSnG4Y

Brooke Walford
Brooke Walford
2 months ago

I hope JB reads this and chokes on her cornflakes.

RM Parker
RM Parker
2 months ago

Professor Butler is the closest thing we have to a modern day Sophist, I think: uninterested in clarifying issues or enriching understanding, she merely wants to “win”.
She may well be scared that the movement which she set in motion is soon to be bent on consuming its creators, but I think she’s also feeling the need to keep stuffing straw men to knock down with dense and tendentious prose. If she runs out of enemies, she runs out of income, and well does she know it.
So sad that someone who’s evidently far from thick has used their capacities for an endeavour not merely useless, but actually destructive.

Peter Stephenson
Peter Stephenson
2 months ago

As I was reading this something big jumped out at me – that phrase of Butler’s, about it being so violent to refuse to acquiesce to another’s identity. Does this ring a bell? Well, I remember, way back there in the brainwashing clinic called teacher training, being taught about identity formation and that oppressed groups (women were usually used as an example) achieve gains in social equality by facing down oppressive typifications in direct social interaction. Facing down, ignoring an attempt at a negative ascription, and overriding the meaning of it with an assertiveness which did not back down. There happens to have been a whole lot of truth about this and about the need for it. How far would women, for example, have got if they had never drawn fully upon their resources and faced down the men who wanted to negate them. Would they have prevailed as they have and continue to do? There was a whole lot of truth in that description of how women stood up to negative typifications. Stood up to it. Sure, they shouldn’t have had to. But the world isn’t perfect, and that assertiveness was what was needed in practical terms, whatever other people, men usually in this case, should have done. This is the opposite of what Butler is recommending. What happened? How does stamping one’s foot in sheer pique come to be sacrosanct?

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 months ago

Judith Butler is an over-thinker. That is her problem, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s.

Jae
Jae
2 months ago

Thank goodness for the intellect of Kathleen Stock. Finally, an honest critique of Judith Butler.

Butler has held sway for far too long over young minds. She is neither capable nor worthy of doing so.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago

A nice shiv job, very deft. But doesn’t mental illness explain all this?

Michael Friedman
Michael Friedman
1 month ago

Does Professor Judith Butler worry about, or receive inspiration from, compound nouns that morph into verbs before dissipating into clouds?

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago

And she needs a whole book to justify herself?
Oh well, thanks for working your way through this pile of crap so we don’t have to.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago

Spot on… she’s running for the hills before the writs and court cases really start.
It was always obvious this weaponising extreme Trans ideology would end in tears and chaos.
The way people who used to be, and probably would still think they are rational, left of centre, progressive, and ‘nicer-than-thou’, whether anti Trumps, pro Trans, anti Brexit, anti-oil, BLM fanatics, Pro Palestine or whatever, have morphed into ranting ideologues in less than a couple of decades is remarkable.

Bruce Thorne
Bruce Thorne
1 month ago

The damage is done. She’s unleashed a Leviathan. Young people are changing their bodies irreversibly to queer binaries and give physical embodiment to Butler’s theories. It’s tragic.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Attacking others as morally bankrupt because they don’t believe as you do is a common trait and it is at least as old as the sixties a time I remember ….and probably my parent’s generation. However Butler is morally bankrupt…raping as a form of legitimate resistance. She is repugnant. There are people with gender dysphoria and I wish them well….her gobblygook of academic language reminds me of trying to read Said’s fatuous ORIENTALISM…now the bible of Mid East Studies. What is the purpose of gender studies? To teach pro Palestine advocacy and condemn Israel’s many crimes including Butler’s colleague’s baloney concept of “pink washing.” Telling me my identity is a tactic of the left…how “queer” I should be and how I’ll think as a cis gendered “white” Jewish queer….how I can get rid of my odious Jewishness. And chant from the river to the sea with the “as a Jews” and the WASPs with keffiyahs fashionably tied around their necks. A good essay. Thanks for your use of Hillary’s “deplorables” Good choice.