Judith Butler: How To Disappear Patriarchy In Three Easy Steps


TRIGGER WARNING: Fucking Pissed Off

So, as many of you are aware, the high-priestess of genderology decided to momentarily descend from her exalted academic plinth and relay her ‘thoughts’ on the ongoing internecine shitshow that she, probably more than anyone else, has helped to create. Except of course that, with her usual intellectual integrity, the thoughts she decided to relay about said shitshow totally ignored what is really going on, in favour of pretending that this is a conflict between the wibbly-wobbly-gender-and-sex-is-fluid-rah-rah-liberation crowd, and, basically, um, the Pope. Despite being entirely predictable, this level of disingenuous erasure, is, nonetheless, pretty staggering. As Judy is actually more than well aware, this is a conflict which turns, fundamentally, on the fault-line in feminism that she, in fact, inaugurated – a fault-line between those of us who think patriarchy is a system of sex-based male dominance enacted through cultural mechanisms which we could call – if we can still stomach the word – ‘gender,’ and those who think that patriarchy is…like, seriously, what the fuck do they even think it is….some kind of free-floating cultural system that has nothing to do with actual bodies or their appropriation and domination, a randomly generated set of signs and signifying practices that shape our subjectivity, a thought which leads, in practice, to staking feminism’s whole liberation project on the epic transcendent power of some spectacularly superficial idea of gender-fucking.

promo colour

Look, I’m a feminist, and a Prince-fan. I like superficial gender-fucking as much as the next woman. (I actually think Prince’s gender-fucking wasn’t merely superficial, but that’s another story). BUT, and this in some sense points towards the heart of the problem here, superficial gender-fucking has fuck all effect on the fundamental patterns of male dominance. As someone said to me yesterday on Twitter, the wires are currently full of male people running around stanning for the absolute progressive power of gender fluidity, who seem to think they are the living breathing instantiation of ‘smash the patriarchy’ because they dare to pair some nail-varnish with their beards, all while acting like exactly the same entitled, narcissistic, dependency-denying, mind-over-matter, female-erasing assholes that they always were. If gender isn’t just a penchant for gold lamé pocketbooks and lace and is actually something to do with the psychic, material, ontological and economic structures which underpin male dominance, then, lo, it turns out you still need an analysis of male dominance if you’re going to actually do a bloody thing about it. And I’m sorry Judy, I know you were traumatized by Dworkin and MacKinnon trying to ban porn, but having an analysis of male dominance doesn’t actually make me, y’know, the fucking Pope.

Yesterday I spent the day studiously ignoring the misogynists over on Benjamin’s YouTube channel screaming all the things misogynists scream when women point – even calmly, while smiling – at male violence and say they really want it to stop. (If anyone wants to do a statistical analysis I’d be interested in the relative proportions of a) NAMALT b) You’re incapable of reason c) Stop emasculating us d) Unfuckable e) She was asking for it f) ‘We hunted the mammoth’). Meanwhile, Emily the Nazi Hunter was posing with semi-automatic machine guns and wheeling off a point-by-point plan for ‘God’s Own Avenging Angel’s TERF Apocalypse’ to a soundtrack of intersectionalibfems excitedly chanting ‘Big Dick Energy.’ (For ripping the thorough piss out of it, I salute you all). And, with the sound of men being emasculated by a razor ad still ringing in my ears, everywhere else I looked, that posturing smug Donkey Kong meme spilled like dick-waving poison out of that damn Twitch thread in which a bunch of glitter-spattered Gamergaters sat around screaming ‘FUCK YOU EAT SHIT’ at Graham in support of the great progressive cause of Suzie Green medicalising GNC kids with absolutely no oversight.

This week there’s a conference going on at Brighton University, in which a load of ‘critical thinkers’ will sit around and think very critically. Judith Butler is doing the star turn. I was supposed to go with a friend, and put on my polite academic face, and listen while she is lauded by room full of people, many of them male, who cannot get over how fucking psyched they are that ‘feminism’ no longer asks them to even acknowledge, let alone challenge, male dominance. I cannot and will not do it. At this moment the thought makes me rage. And so what I want to do, instead, is to sit here, and try and channel my rage into a (partial) excavation of how, and why, Judith Butler performed the magical and much-rewarded feat of making patriarchy – and the critique of patriarchy – vanish from feminism.

Step One: The Erasure of Sex

If Butler had a shred of honesty in her, she’d at least have the intellectual decency, while proclaiming that the current resistance to trans ideology must cease (we all know how much you abhor normative coercion Judy), to acknowledge that the root of this conflict is the effort by trans activism to ideologically mandate the political, social and legal erasure of sex. Trans ideology has thrown all manner of arguments at the task of making male and female people disappear, some of which stem directly from Butler, and most of which she alludes to in places.

  1. The instrumentalization of intersex conditions (that one turns up in Gender Trouble, and was trotted out again in the NS)
  2. The denial of the sex/gender distinction (also in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, and which I took apart here)…Which then leads to…
  3. The idea that because all concepts are human constructions (duh), then everything they name is likewise constructed. As we saw when I picked apart the NS piece, Butler is very fond of making some kind of claim that the determination of sex is historical or cultural, and then moving seamlessly to running sex and gender together as if they are exactly the same kind of cultural phenomenon, which they’re fucking not. ‘Mountains’ are not the same kind of thing as ‘justice,’ and not remotely the same kind of thing as ‘telling male people they mustn’t be a sissy.’ Sorry.
  4. ‘Colonialism invented the gender binary.’ Just fucking no. For all the reasons I rant about here and here.
  5. ‘Intersectionality means there’s not one experience of being a woman because different people’s experience of being a woman is differently affected by different axes of oppression, and feminism used to exclude Black women and that was bad and now it should include male people too because that’s just like including Black women.’ Where to fucking start?
  6. ‘Women can only exist if there is a magic essence of womanhood and women are all different so there is no magic essence of womanhood, and feminism has always been against essentialism so it’s feminist to think that women don’t exist even though you must also believe that trans women are women because they possess the magic essence of womanhood which is also what makes you a woman.’ FFS. Read some Heidegger. Existence precedes essence. Nothing exists because of essences, and the only thing that everyone wants to abolish because it doesn’t have an essence is fucking women.

I’ve written elsewhere, and will hopefully do so in more detail, about how a sexual difference reading of Western thought would posit, that, in fact, we live in a culture in which female people, as actually existing human beings, have, in representational terms, never existed. The whole cultural system is a hall of mirrors. An endless series of male projections onto women, in which women’s role is to reflect, to grant recognition, and to serve as an emotional, sexual and reproductive resource. I always used to read this claim of Irigaray’s as a metaphor of the structure of patriarchal male narcissism. Having now seen how easy it was to convince the whole world and his aunt that erasing female people is the path of true liberation, and the total inability of most people to even grasp what we’re screaming about – let alone consider whether we have a point – I think ‘metaphor’ is really underselling it. The point is this, gender, as a hierarchical system of male power, has always depended on refusing to recognise that there is class of human persons who have all the attributes of full human personhood and are female. To wit: “Feminism is the radical idea that women are people.” WE ARE STILL NOT REMOTELY CLOSE TO GETTING THIS.

Anyway, for all you friendly neighbourhood male-dominance-deniers out there, this is all remarkably helpful. If you don’t recognise that female people exist, and that male people exist, then you can’t, necessarily, recognise that there is a cultural power structure in which male people are the default humans, and female people are defined, appropriated, and erased by the cultural projections – and the acts of domination those projections impel and license – which flow from male people towards female people. If you can’t recognise that male and female people exist, then you can’t recognise that all these cultural tropes flying about that we call gender, have anything to do with a power relation between male and female people, with the prioritization of the needs of male people, and with the positing of women as a resource in a way that seriously fucks with their humanity. That is, if you don’t recognise that male and female people exist, there can be no male dominance, there can be no female oppression, there can, in short, be no fucking patriarchy. And there can’t be any female resistance to patriarchy either. Stunning work Judith. Let’s make you the boss of feminism. Back-slaps all round.

Step Two: Power Just Goes About Circulating

As if pretending male and female people don’t exist wasn’t enough to bang this patriarchy thing on the head, Butler has another trick up her sleeve. This comes in the form of the Foucauldian account of power, as I’ve discussed in more detail here. The basis of the feminist analysis of patriarchy is that power functions as a hierarchy, and that it functions, in my French feminist frame, through a simultaneous narcissistic gesture of refusing recognition and appropriation (because you can’t be accused of appropriating something if it isn’t even there can you???). However, for Foucault, and Butler following him, power is not a hierarchy, it doesn’t work in anyone’s particular interests, and it doesn’t have any underlying pattern or stable structure. Rather, power is something which is diffused throughout society, and which, as we will see soon, works to sculpt and structure subjectivity. Foucault himself famously wrote three volumes of the History of Sexuality without ever stopping to consider whether there might be something resembling a stable pattern about the way in which male desire (or entitlement) impacted men’s relations to other people’s bodies. Butler has never considered it (although she has denied it plenty).

Step Three: Describing is Prescribing

The first two steps remove both the material basis for there being any particular relation between the sexes and denies that there could be any stable power hierarchy. Poof goes the patriarchy. Having cleaned up that irksome mess, the third step, which also stems from Foucault – and is repeated ad infinitum by Foucauldian and queer feminists – strikes at the very core of second wave feminist analysis. It follows from the half reasonable claim that social norms function to produce subjects, and morphs pretty seamlessly into the claim that descriptions of social phenomena become normative, and hence actually work to produce the things they describe. When coupled with the belief that there is no basis for an account of ‘the kind of things that are harmful to humans’ (and certainly not one that says anything as gauche as ‘domination is harmful to humans’), you basically end up with an alleged system of critique that has no moral calculus other than ‘norms are BAD.’ (Oh hai there Queer Theory, towering over the academy, not being normative in the slightest.)

What this leads to then, as I documented with respect to Butlerian accounts of rape, is that critiques of domination come to be seen as the sites which actually produce rather than critique harms. And then a funny thing happens to feminism. Instead of spending its time critiquing male power and the damage it does to women, it then spends almost all its time critiquing feminism for harming women by describing the structures that harm them. (Super handy guys, and I’m sure nothing to do with the irresistible rise of porn-bro feminists like Noah frickin Berlatsky). The Butlerian accounts of rape are all about how rape prosecutions are terrible because they ‘reinforce the gender binary,’ and consciousness-raising about rape is terrible because it ‘creates’ victims and describing acts of mass rape is terrible because it ‘undermines women’s agency.’ And this is also how we get to one of the greatest male-violence erasing ruses of them all – the idea that there is no inherent danger posed to prostitutes by men, that prostitution is in no way positioned within an matrix of male sexual entitlement and economic power, and that the entire effort of sex-work activism should be aimed squarely at calling feminists names for creating the ‘whorephobia’ which, allegedly, represents the sum total of what makes prostitution harmful.

This, as with all third wave feminism, is just so much male-pandering bullshit. For reasons I’ve yet to get to the bottom of, I spent a good deal of time trying to work out how the modern-day intersectional catechism was in any way coherent, until I realised that the only thing that held it all together was that it all benefited men. Pole dancing. Porn. Prostitution. Carceral feminism. Trans activism. Individual empowerfulment over class analysis. Denying the existence of female people. And so, what I want to think through here, by way of wending towards the ending of my venting, is what the fuck is going on here? Why are women so eager to buy this self-annihilating male-appeasing bullshit in liberation-drag, and what has any of that got to do with Judith Butler?

As trans activism is fond of reminding us, this is, to some extent, a ‘generational’ issue – the young people ‘get it’ and the old crones like us will be left, where we belong, languishing on the wrong side of history. (Irigaray was right as usual…female genealogy is crucial). If you say something like that to an old feminist hack like me, my response will be, ‘you just haven’t fallen off the patriarchy cliff yet, and when you do, we’ll be here to catch you.’ This, we get. The fall is terrifying, and had other women not been there to catch us, maybe none of us would ever make it. But for some women, it seems, the fear of the abyss is too great to ever face. They never find out that after the fall, you learn, remarkably, to float.

lesbian phallus

Last night, Sally Hines turned up on my Butler thread to snarkily ask why I was calling Judith Butler ‘Judy,’ (*flat stare* it’s irony, remember that?). By way of reply, I dug this out…the 1993 Judy!-fanzine, full of sub-dom eroticization, and a lovely riff on the ‘Lesbian Phallus’ detailing Butler’s awesome ability to make grad students cry (“Judy is the number one dominator…the Phallus masquerading as the Phallus”). I followed a quote about how alienating Butler found lesbian feminism – all that celebrating women’s music, UGH GROSS – to a 1992 ArtForum interview. Here, we get the usual verbiage justifying the necessity of subjection (Freud! Lacan! The Law of the Father says it must be so!) and distancing herself from “naïve” “liberationist forms of thinking.” (Reckon that must be us then). It’s a painful if predictable irony that someone who so doggedly removed the material planks of the analysis of male dominance, must also insist, through psychoanalysis (and her philosophical roots in Hegel), on the psychic necessity of dominance. (There’s a lot of stuff in there about the importance of cross-gender identification, for which read ‘It’s all good ladies! Everyone can have (or not have) the phallus now!’)

read judy

What we would say, what I would always say, is that this kind of phallic-identification, this explaining away the possibility of the otherwise, this refusal to imagine there could be anything other than these mechanisms – now unsexed! – of power and subjection and dominance and submission, is, in essence, Stockholm Syndrome. The fall is terrifying. Anyone who has experienced abuse or has worked with people who have experienced abuse knows this. The mind recoils. It is easier to erase and efface and reify and excuse and normalise and explain away than to look squarely at it and see what it is. There are signs of this recoiling throughout Butler’s work. They show up particularly around male violence and above all around rape. (She never directly acknowledges it, none of her work deals with it, her intellectual mentor – Foucault – was an apologist, her most significant contribution was editing an essay that said women need to ‘change the rape script’ (because if you just stop thinking of yourself as rapeable then you totally won’t get raped)).


In the Artform interview, she flat out admits that “feminism” as “a position which asserts the systematic domination of women by men” is “very scary to me.” Let that just sink in. Then, having entirely recoiled from the recognition of patriarchy as male dominance, she goes on to outline that her opposition to ‘fixed gender positions’ is because that would mean “women’s psyches are nothing but scenes of violation.” (So, we’d better just cover that shit over then, hadn’t we?) I was also reminded here of another of her interviews, in which she says she’s “probably too frightened” to “engage” Irigaray’s texts “that closely” because they strike her as the product of “a certain heterosexual trauma.” (They strike me as the product of a woman who has an unfathomable grasp of the structure of narcissistic male dominance and is fucking done with women being erased, but hey ho). Which is all to say that, basically, the woman who has been elevated as the future of feminism – and welcomed with open arms by a bunch of men who never so much as opened as second-wave text – is a woman who is too scared to even think about rape, and has a deep visceral aversion to women who are not.

How this all relates to the current clusterfuck should be obvious. So much of what is going on in this debate – both at the level of specific concerns, and more importantly, in its core psychic structure – is about boundaries and violation. One of the reasons it is so damn hard for us to get men to listen to us – and one reason they’re all so eagerly jumping on the boundary-smashing bandwagon – is because, when we get down to it, this is about rape, and most men neither want to think about rape, or about the way their narcissism and refusal to recognise our humanity is implicated in its mechanisms. This is not a question of whether trans women are more or less likely than any other group of males to pose a threat to women. It is simply that they are male, that male people pose a threat to women, and that male people posing a threat to women is not a symptom of our hysteria. (Our hysteria was only ever produced by what we could not name, which now, under the banner of feminism, we are being told, once again, we must not name.) But more than all this, more even than the spaces, and who does or does not enter them, more than the fact that women’s boundaries are being piously derided as ‘gate-keeping,’ is the importance of the boundary set by our right to name ourselves, and our refusal to fulfil our historic role as the passive dumping ground of male projections.

I’ve been meaning to write, and will write soon, something on how the left’s current obsession with ‘inclusion’ and ‘openness’ and ‘smashing boundaries’ and ‘deterritorialization’ makes sense only as a critique of the psychic structure of dominance (like, go and tell it to Donald Trump and leave us the fuck alone). It is entirely, gratuitously, inappropriate, when turned against the boundaries of the violated, of those who are raised in a society which leads them to understand – when they are grabbed or catcalled or made to feel like meat – that that is where they are positioned. It is no wonder that a woman who cannot even bear to think about this fact, who prefers to deny the power that frames it, who prefers to think it could all be rewritten by playing games with superficial scripts, would, when addressing the mess that she has made, avert her eyes so resolutely from what this is actually about. Women’s psyches are far far more than ‘scenes of violation,’ but there can be no feminism which refuses its reality, which recoils from recognising that ‘smashing boundaries,’ when used against women as a class, is the absolute axiom of male power, and, at its core, everything happening here is as it ever was.


  1. So you think Butler is actually hiding from herself some horrific sexual assault, and that like a minority of victims of such abuse, she can’t allow herself to identify as a victim, or with victims, but instead identifies with the abuser, with the holder of all the power. I thought that as soon as I read the statement of hers that you posted. I also thought Stockholm Syndrome. I think she appeals to a lot of young women because they are determined to believe they can do anything they want, be anything they want and they don’t want to be told they are victims of anything, with invisible bindings tightened by invisible dominators. It’s hard to blame young women, don’t you think? Doesn’t youth have to believe in its own power, until it finds out how powerless it really is? I am reminded again and again and again how important and primary consciousness-raising was for second wave feminists. When the oppression holding you down has become swaddled in politeness and you can see no obvious brutality, and there are no signs saying “no women allowed”, you need to be awakened to the oppression . It’s hiding — in plain sight — but, hey, it’s not like the brutal subjugation of darker skinned women in more southern countries, right? So anyway, a whole generation or two is now being guided by a woman who refuses to confront her own wounds? Such women are dangerous in any context.

    1. I don’t necessarily think it’s an assault. I wouldn’t presume to make a claim about what it is. All I can say is that I *can* see that she can’t think about and can’t identify with women’s experiences of being subjected to violence – she talks a lot about violence, she absolutely does not talk about sex-based violence, or the specificities of sex-based violence. There could be any number of reasons for that, only one of which is a direct experience of that in itself. Yeah, I’m not blaming young women, as I say, what I recognise is that there is a very strong drive to deny the reality of it – whether from experiencing it specifically or seeing it in action, or, as you say, from a natural tendency for youth the believe in its own power, or, probably in many cases, from some kind of combination of all that. I find it very interesting that the third wave response to consciousness-raising was basically ‘ugh, sitting around being victims.’ They have never grasped that understanding the system properly is the opposite of being a victim, that what our analysis gives us *is* power, real power, not ‘power’ grounded on denial.

      1. This might be relevant: in the 1980’s whole bunches of women began remembering familial sexual abuse they had dissociated and locked away. Then they began writing memoirs about it. There were some very, very powerful books. However no publisher was willing to put out more than one, despite the fact that they were receiving thousands of manuscripts each month (I was told this by a woman’s press when I submitted my own manuscript). It took less than five years for the male media, led by male book reviewers, to begin deriding these powerful stories as “viclit” (victim literature). Under patriarchy nobody likes victims anyway (the weak deserve to die!), but that media attack on women strong enough to face the abuse they had suffered, and to heal from it, was I think a major blow.

      2. Thank you for what you say about young women today, it rings true. I also like very much your suggestion that what allowed Women’s liberationists to break out from the same syndrome was consciousness raising. I would add that my CR did not just happen in my small group/s = I was hugely impacted by some of the large forums we had here in Sydney eg. the Women and Violence Conference

  2. It’s funny you should bring up the youtube comments argument and the typical, cookie cutter responses that men have when a woman says anything even remotely resembling criticism. I’m day 3 in a war against some butt hurt dude bros on twitter (I posted a link to an article detailing the abuse and rape of women in the sex industry and tweeted: “just when you think men can’t get any worse”) . EVERY single point you mentioned 1) NAMALT 2) you’re incapable of reason 3) you’re emasculating us 4) unfuckable (specifically a “smelly, obese cat lady”) 5) women dress provocatively and flirt with men so what do they expect when they get raped 6) “We hunted the mammoth’s cousin “we do all the dangerous jobs and without us society would crumble” 7) I was also treated to several remarks that I’m literally worse than Hitler and that I want to round up all men and put them in concentration camps.

    Anyway, long story short, excellent post as usual and wtaf is with men having absolutely NO original arguments. Are men the borg?

  3. Thank you for being in the front lines against this incoherent bafflegab.

    “Carceral feminism.” – I think you mean “Anti-‘carceral’ feminism”?

    1. some context about carceral feminism (from silvia federici):
      “One of the limits of the movement in the United States, however, was that it focused mainly on demanding more severe penalties for the abusers, and often collaborated with the police. This was a mistake. As black women’s organizations have made clear, more severe penalties end up criminalizing the men of already-victimized communities. Today the call—mostly promoted by black feminists—is for restorative justice and community accountability.”

      1. This is an important point. In response I should point out though, that the critique of carceral feminism was developed in the US context, which has a number of very specific historical factors – the massive incarceration rates, the specific racial injustice of those, amplified of course by the fact that white men are often very happy to lock up Black men and very much less happy to lock up white men for the same crime, and the fact that the funding of feminist anti-rape organisations became tied to their willingness to funnel women into reporting. I’m entirely happy to support Black women saying that they think there is a specific problem with respect to Black men in the US. What I am not happy to do is have that critique taken out of its historical context and universalised in order to undermine all efforts to increase the prosecution of rape globally, and by extension, actually, undermine the whole of the second wave feminist analysis of rape. What has happened, in fact, is that many strands of third wave thinking have taken pretty much any critique they can get their hands on and turned it to the effort of erasing and or supporting male dominance. The situation with respect to the incarceration and violence aimed at Black men in the US is an absolute outrage, and feminism must always attend to the fact that Black feminist women therefore have a conflicting pull in this instance – although I should also say, I have spoken to Black women who have been involved in third wave feminist organising in the US, and they are extremely aware of the way in which the male people who are now – because of trans ideology – heavily involved in their organising, instrumentalise this critique in order to deflect attention from their sexual behaviour. The fact is that globally rape is a crime that is committed with near impunity. That is also a MASSIVE outrage. And I’m not going to let that go unchallenged either.

      2. that’s an important point. thanks for clarifying. the problem with intersectionalism is that it is being used to cherry-pick specifities and generalize them. which is actually the opposite of the original aim of intersectionalism. i’m also translating your comment and adding it to the original text as a note.

  4. Amazing blog. I can see why Butler has been elevated now well above her actual intellectual ability and academic and social significance. I’ve wondered for years how this woman who can’t write for toffee and appears to think patriarchy is dead is so lauded. She’s a useful idiot for the patriarchy.

  5. You are one of our movements finest thinkers. I love following the way your brain works: thank you for sharing so openly with us.

    It’s a sad indictment of the academy that you are writing this blog, and the famous Friday night tweeter mentioned above is a professor.

    You are brilliant.

  6. There’s a chapter in Hegel’s smaller Logic that deals with what he calls the third attitude to objectivity and calls Jacobi and others “beautiful souls” . He takes apart their assertions ,that a thing is what they assert it to be,in a way that I keep thinking is highly relevant to where we currently stand.It fits with your argument.

  7. Thank you for another brilliant coalescence of rage and rationality! I tried to read “Gender Trouble” once but couldn’t get through it, because nothing Butler wrote meant anything–it was just a lot of opaque, pseudo-abstract claptrap trying to pass itself off as depth. She seems to have built a career producing ideas agreeable to men, giving them a way to feel pro-feminist without having to face the pain they’ve caused women or relinquish their own power, while more gifted women willing to tell the truth end up ignored. At this point I’m a little suspicious of any woman whose work is too popular with men.

    The idea that people aren’t hurt by abuse as long as long as it isn’t called abuse reminds me of arguments by some pedophiles who claim children aren’t harmed by their actions, only other people’s reactions. And I’m beyond fed up with all those trying to convince us that shackles can be bracelets of empowerment as long as we describe them that way.

  8. I wish you had been my professor. I took a linguistics class in my second semester ever of college that relied heavily and unquestioningly on Foucault (“Discipline and Punish”) and Butler (“Bodies That Matter,” “Excitable Speech.”) And I kept thinking, “This seems wrong, and not how things work in the real world, but… maybe I just don’t understand it well enough?”

    No. I did understand it, the meat of it anyway, and it was pernicious obscurantist anti-materialist nonsense the whole time! I just didn’t have the self-confidence and theoretical grounding to articulate a real challenge to it as a first-year undergrad.

    Please, keep fighting the good fight in academia; there are many young women like I was who need your clarity and your rage.

  9. Thank you. I feel a great sense of relief knowing that I’m not alone out here. The erasing of female and transsexual people is in no way feminist. Whew! I so needed to say that out loud without being attacked.

  10. I am honestly kinda shocked that you can include a quote from Butler where she describes her worries in a feminism that claims all women are threatened by men, and then just do the same move, and not realize how it proves her points. Because power is relational, of course all “men” prove a threat to “women” (I’ll disregard for now the paradoxical elements of your definitions), but likewise because power is relational, the reverse is also true. As everyone has power they can enact against others, they all pose threats to each other. Unless you truly think there are no power avenues women can enact against men? If you do, an introductory reading to Black women’s feminism might be in order.

    Honestly, I don’t know why I’m writing a response. I doubt you’ll keep it on your blog, and I already know you are too dedicated to this philosophy to ever change. I will correct a point that is obviously false to anyone who knows the facts of the situation though: the donkey kong meme is not related to Gamergate at all. I will also say that for a feminist philosopher, you spend almost all your blog space dedicated to fighting against other “feminist” thinkers (quotes because to you no one can be a feminist if they don’t make your same suppositions). Maybe your time could be better spent organizing against patriarchal power structures instead of worrying about the “patriarchal infiltration” of pole dancing and trans-women.

    Donkey Kong said Trans Rights

    1. I am honestly kinda shocked that you can include a quote from Butler where she describes her worries in a feminism that claims all women are threatened by men, and then just do the same move, and not realize how it proves her points.

      > Wow. I’m honestly kind of shocked that you totally missed the point of this essay, which is that I’m *critiquing Butler* for exactly that comment (it’s the hinge of the entire essay, finding it was the reason I wrote it), and showing why it’s a load of anti-feminist male-appeasing bullcrap that shouldn’t be anywhere near feminism. I’m completely, utterly appalled that Butler thinks there is a problem with feminism recognising male dominance (riddle me this – what is feminism that doesn’t believe that women are systematically oppressed by men? Because that would be the definition of patriarchy, and feminism that doesn’t recognise patriarchy is, um, not feminism). You seem to think I have somehow *accidentally* demonstrated that Butler is right. What point of hers have I proved? That some feminists think that feminism is about recognising male dominance? Correct. We do. What you have not demonstrated is that Butler is right to be worried (she doesn’t say she’s worried note, she actually says she is scared, *that* is a very important difference, which you would have noted, if you’d understood my argument). Neither have you demonstrated that I am wrong to think that there is a SERIOUS problem with some women who claim to be feminists being too scared to confront male dominance and criticising feminists who aren’t. (You do realise that Butler is just a person and not an oracle right? And that she’s wrong, about a whole ton of stuff, especially this). Which all leads me to conclude that you are probably also a women who is too scared to recognise male dominance (and if you can’t, you’re not, as far as we’re concerned, a feminist, you’re a person who colludes with men in concealing male power and the abuse of women, which is the *whole* reason I wrote this article. (I dare say you don’t intend to collude with men, most women don’t, you just want to pretend you are free, and that you are not living inside a system that is structured by power, and which views you as less human than men, and women who point to the truth make you feel uncomfortable. I get it, I really do. But the fact is a) patriarchy is a system of male dominance and b) when you conceal it, and criticise women who don’t, you are colluding with male interests in covering over male power and throwing other women under the bus)). To wit: Look, honestly, at the abuse of women by men, and recognise it, and recognise that it is part of a systemic pattern. And if you can’t do that, stay the hell away from women’s liberation politics, because you’re doing a fuck sight more harm than good. Which brings us to…

      Because power is relational, of course all “men” prove a threat to “women” (I’ll disregard for now the paradoxical elements of your definitions),

      > What is the paradoxical element of my definitions?

      but likewise because power is relational, the reverse is also true. As everyone has power they can enact against others, they all pose threats to each other.

      > So women have as much power as men? Despite the fact that over 97% of the violence is committed by men? And that men hold most of the economic and political power? And that sexual violence and domestic violence is overwhelmingly from men to women?

      > So you want to tell me that women have as much power as men? And that therefore Butler is correct that patriarchy doesn’t exist? And you are disproving my thesis that this is anti-feminist how exactly?

      Unless you truly think there are no power avenues women can enact against men?

      > Women having no power is not the same thing as them having the same amount of power, and not the same as them living in a structure defined by male dominance is it now?

      If you do, an introductory reading to Black women’s feminism might be in order.

      > Maybe you can explain how Black second wave thought tells us that there is no system of male dominance?

      Honestly, I don’t know why I’m writing a response.

      > Neither do i because it doesn’t make any sense so far.

      I doubt you’ll keep it on your blog,

      > Well that would be you projecting your anti-democratic impulses onto me I suspect.

      and I already know you are too dedicated to this philosophy to ever change.

      > I’m not going to change an understanding of the world I developed over 20 years of long hard thinking and studying because someone turns up on my blog and says a bunch of stuff that bears no relation to my perception of reality, correct.

      I will correct a point that is obviously false to anyone who knows the facts of the situation though: the donkey kong meme is not related to Gamergate at all.

      > I never said it was. I was talking about the vibe. Which both Graham and I perceived immediately as Gamergate-like.

      I will also say that for a feminist philosopher, you spend almost all your blog space dedicated to fighting against other “feminist” thinkers (quotes because to you no one can be a feminist if they don’t make your same suppositions).

      > No, I spent almost all of time critiquing trans ideology, which is not the same as critiquing feminist thinkers.

      Maybe your time could be better spent organizing against patriarchal power structures instead of worrying about the “patriarchal infiltration” of pole dancing and trans-women.

      > I was doing that, and then trans activists turned up and burned the project I was working on to the ground because I committed wrong-think, and pretty soon after that, they turned my analysis into a thoughtcrime, and then took over almost all the political bandwidth, and then I realised that feminist in universities were getting too scared to speak, and men started bullying me with impunity in seminar rooms when I tried to talk about male power. Then I started studying the thought of the trans rights movement, and they way they operated, and I realised it was the greatest instantiation of patriarchal bullshit I had ever seen in my life. I *am* fighting patriarchal power structures, and I am defending women’s boundaries, and I am giving women out there clarity, and courage.

      You carry on telling me to do things that offer no real resistance to the power structure. And I will carry on doing what I’m doing for women.

      1. Hell yes.

        ^”what is feminism that doesn’t believe that women are systematically oppressed by men?”

        Also, thank you for calling out the inarticulateness of Butler’s writing. It’s not difficult to read/understand because it’s esoteric or genius, it’s difficult because it is inarticulate and sometimes incoherent.

        And, the idea that sex is a social construction is nonsense. Thank you for saying so clearly. I don’t construct the fact that I have PMS or that I bleed out. I don’t construct the fact that I don’t have a penis or a prostate or when I (try to–don’t ask why) pee standing up it is a disaster.

        Transwomen are not females; sex is not a choice; sex is not a social construction; and the biological materiality of sex matters as there are real biological differences that are not grounded in cognition and the social materiality of sex matters because the class of females are oppressed in part due to reproductive differences. (Here in the US some women in some places cannot control their own bodies.)

  11. I left France 14 years ago because I could no longer stand having most young women around me deny the very real and omnipresent violence of men against women even in the presence of the facts, even as they were being the victims of it, being wounded by it. More than male violence itself it was the betrayal of these women that depressed and bewildered me: the way they would modestly lower their gaze when a man would aggressively impose his presence, how they would smile and oblige when men demanded their attention, how they would go out of their way to give space, to sooth, to praise, to appease men who refused to treat them as human beings in return, and how much they would then deny the humiliation and the fear that accompanied these submissive behaviours. I was the one being aggressive, I was the one being violent for merely stating the facts and naming, recognizing reality. But despite trying very hard to change my internal narrative in order to meet these women in the violence-free world they seemed to inhabit, I could never shake the deep conviction that my perception of reality was right, and that no lies could ever make it tolerable. It took me a long time to understand that these women were simply afraid of being victims, powerless, at the mercy of men. That they were simply trying to find a formula, recite an incantation, carry a talisman that would make them safe, and hold on to it. But contrary to these women, I already knew there was no talisman, no spell, no rule that could keep me safe: even absolute capitulation and submission can not protect us from the narcissistic whims of (some/any) men as long as there is a system in place that let men get away with rape and murder. I thought I would be safe in the UK, among sisters. Then I met transgenderism….

  12. In an attempt to understand where Butler’s ideas came from, I read the first chapter of your dissertation. I realize now that I found “Gender Trouble” incomprehensible because I knew almost nothing of Foucault’s philosophy (apart from that pendulum business) and Butler’s writings are a kind of second or third generation abstraction of other people’s work.

    It’s interesting, however, that no one seems to apply the idea that harms are discursively constituted to any actions outside of the sexual abuse of women and children. Rape, pedophilia, pornography and prostitution are the only areas where I’ve heard people say harm is created solely by the words used to describe it. Most liberals would find it nonsensical and morally repugnant to make similar claims that the harms of chattel slavery or mass incarceration are discursively constituted, robbing slaves and prisoners of their agency. And why don’t references to “victims of burglary” also rob those who’ve had stuff taken of their agency?

    But it struck me repeatedly as I read the chapter that there’s a serious argument to be made that many of the harms described by genderists seem to be discursively constituted. Couldn’t the supposed harm of using the “wrong” pronouns be reduced if people stopped referring to misgendering as violence? Doesn’t talking about “victims of transphobia” deny trans people agency? These sorts of conclusions ought to follow from a coherent philosophy of discursive construction of harm. Or have I completely misunderstood somethng?

    Queer feminism looks just like another academic hall of mirrors.

    1. Your point about the hypocrisy of “discursive construction of harm” related to the use of pronouns and the like is SPOT ON. Thank you.

  13. Very much looking forward to your critique of “inclusion” and “smashing boundaries” etc. Where I work, we hear this language constantly, and while it’s often well intentioned, it is imprecise at best (“inclusion” is used to refer to opening opportunities for money and power to a small number of people from exploited and marginalised groups) and creepy at worst (denying women especially any right to assert boundaries). Also the distortion of “intersectionality” theory to the point where it makes me nauseous – a sad fate for a once-mighty feminist position.

  14. Brilliant! Simply brilliant. It’s a joy to be in the presence of a feminist mind that so confidently, and rightly, anchors itself in reality and takes its stand there.

  15. Jane!! I love you…this is excellent stuff, and just what I needed to read. There was I, thinking the situation was so dire…when, in fact…there is some light. I wish I could write like this! Like you! What a joy to read your work. I want more. I will find some more. Watch out!

  16. I’d love to know what planet this woman lives on & how she can allow herself the luxury of ignoring the very real threat of male violence and their blatant sense of entitlement. Meanwhile the rest of us live with it every day & have learned to adapt accordingly. Sometimes, I dare say often, without realising it. It’s another form of self censorship.

  17. “As Judy is actually more than well aware, this is a conflict which turns, fundamentally, on the fault-line in feminism that she, in fact, inaugurated – a fault-line between those of us who think patriarchy is a system of sex-based male dominance enacted through cultural mechanisms which we could call – if we can still stomach the word – ‘gender,’ and those who think that patriarchy is…like, seriously, what the fuck do they even think it is….some kind of free-floating cultural system that has nothing to do with actual bodies or their appropriation and domination, a randomly generated set of signs and signifying practices that shape our subjectivity, a thought which leads, in practice, to staking feminism’s whole liberation project on the epic transcendent power of some spectacularly superficial idea of gender-fucking.”

    This is you clearly not arguing in good faith.

  18. Disappearing Patriarchy is easy.

    There are some areas in society in which men have an advantage.

    There are other areas in society where women have an advantage.

    In order to disappear Patriarchy, one must only remove the blinders that prevent one from seeing the whole:

    Those that see only male advantage are misandrists.

    Those that see only female advantage are misogynists.

  19. I can’t even begin to describe the joy, the ecstasy, I experience when I read your thoughts on this issue. The tone, the temperament, the accuracy, the sarcasm, the comedy, the rhythm, the timing. This is art, god damnit! Brilliant, just brillant.

  20. Late to the party, but I’m in gender studies (more out than in, no secure position so anon) and I find your writings absolutely brilliant. It puts academia to shame that you’re not in it and all those lemmings are.
    To be fair, generations of feminists have made various critiques of Butler from the start – they just never seem to “take”. It’s like they have to keep reinventing the wheel. Maybe because they don’t criticise the basic discursive constructivism radically enough but just argue about trifles while playing the serious engagement game?
    Of course before peaking I was also a queer feminist and dutifully dismissive of “biological essentialism”. But I was also drawn to lesbian feminism (when not too stiflingly conformist and anti butch/femme) and something about the whole denial of material reality and common sense never sat right with me.
    What I meant to say with this comment – Butler, while being handsome and charismatic, gave me that vibe from the start of being so anxious, so nervous, so humourless, a real Daddy’s Girl. If she ever had an affinity with lesbians it was the Well of Loneliness type. I hadn’t really kept up with her work so assumed she had some intellectual integrity but after cringing and fuming through her appearance on the OJ show, reading your character assassin here was cathartic.
    Some comment she made there gave me the impression that possibly while growing up she suffered some horrible abuse from a woman which makes her personally incapable of seeing systemic patriarchal oppression? Not pretending to know anything about her private life of course but it would be a “nicer” explanation than Stockholm syndrome for why she’s so scared of feminists. Anyhow I lost the last shred of respect I had for her watching her fumble for the cheap “white feminism” slur and try to opt out of womanhood entirely… I thought she was just brainwashed by various intellectual idols whose men’s club she wants to belong to but it’s increasingly clear she’s a poser painting herself into a corner and neither intellectually nor politically honest. She has no interest in risking anything for women so how is she a feminist?

    1. Thank for this. I agree with every word. And I think a lot a the reason why the critiques didn’t take is because there is a massive edifice of power behind anti-feminism masquerading as feminism. There are far far too many men who have a boner for ‘feminism’ that says there is no such thing as male dominance, and the real evil is thinking that female people exist and are oppressed by men

  21. Your tweet: How the frick did we end up with a generation of self-identified leftists who are completely unable to grasp the basics of the materialist conception of history??????

    The phrase “self-identified” says it all; they have read nothing, studied nothing, and thought nothing. It is very depressing to see young people essentially behaving as fascists with little awareness of what is going on in the world, how we got to the point we are at, let alone any notion of how to oppose it. I can’t say what motivates it elsewhere, but in the U.S. it’s all about making oneself feel good, because that’s what the advertisements tell us life is all about, dontcha know?

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