Judith Butler Explained with Cats

Following hot on the heels of Foucault Explained with Hipsters, here’s JB’s Gender Trouble  explained in Socratic dialogue style. With cats.




All page references from Butler, J. (1990 [2008: 1999]). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York; London: Routledge.

Got any more ideas for philosophy/sociology/gender theory you’d like to see explained in comic form? Let me know in the comments below.

154 thoughts on “Judith Butler Explained with Cats

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  3. Thank you for this explanation! I am a german student of the English language and need Butler’s theory for my masters thesis. However, it helped me a lot, now I understand what is going on and it is not actually that complicated as I thought it would be. Thanks!!

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  9. Thank you for this! Makes me feel much less dumb. 🙂 After three failed attempts to finish Gender Trouble, I think I’ll just imagine myself as the cat next time. Hope it’ll work, claws crossed.

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  29. Oh I love this. I keep coming back here. I keep sharing this with people. I keep reading it and loving it. I mean I love Butler. I love cats. (actually I dont think I had evenread judith butler before I accidentally stumbled upon this but now I have!!!

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  44. Any chance you could explain Lacan’s theory of Sexuation this way? It’s killing me. Thanks for the JB explanation by the way, I’m using her in my dissertation, but reading it is HARD. It’s nice to check whether I’m actually getting it or not. With Cats.

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  50. “Butler”, like “gender”, DOESNT EXIST , Subjects are a cultural construct . So I dont see the point in talking about anything

  51. First, this is fantastic. I have been recently doing research on Butler’s theory of performativity, and this illustration nails it. Secondly, I agree that Deluze and/or Gramsci would be a wonderful follow-up.

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  56. Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

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  59. Derrida on Deconstruction! What an awesome project you have created! Well done…I’m so happy I ran into this.

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  64. Love how you zeroed in on the toughest concepts! Mostly it’s the wording that throws my students. Can you do West and Zimmerman’s essay “Doing Gender”?

  65. I find this really hard to understand. Can you add side notes explaining the jargon? I haven’t read Judith Butler, so I can assure you that this isn’t very readable to someone who doesn’t have a background in reading her theories.

    For example, what does it mean that gender is “styles of the flesh” that “congeal over time”? That means nothing to me.

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  67. Wonderful!!

    Maria here. I also try to collect, use and promote what’s relevant to educators, so I’ll take the opportunity to share the links…about pedagogy and curriculum, school leadership and management, education policy and practices, specialised programs for girls and boys, critical literacy and media, bullying and violence, self esteem and assertiveness, body image and eating disorders, sexuality and relationships, domestic and caring responsibilities, subject choice and career paths.

    There’s the Association of Women Educators website http://www.awe.asn.au and Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Association-of-Women-Educators/205030579508722?ref=hl
    I also put together the AWE’s exciting, accessible, and colourful journal, REDRESS, as a labour of love, and would appreciate any and all kinds of ideas and contributions. View info, join and subscribe here http://www.awe.asn.au/drupal/content/redress Some of your site visitors might be interested in joining our register of speakers and consultants http://www.awe.asn.au/drupal/content/speakers-and-consultants

    I’m a worker and activist in a few other arenas, and a PhD student researching feminist policy activism and agency with/in the Australian education bureaucracy. See http://www.teachjustice.com.au I’ve just recently created this site to host a private forum for my research group, as one of my formal research methods, so decided to open a community forum as well, and provide lists of resources too. Feel free to join the community forum and respond to some items and general questions I’ve posted there, or post your own burning issue or inspiration : )
    Looking forward to some great new connections. Please browse and share anything from our/my sites.

    Thanks again for providing this

    Cheers, Maria Delaney

    Visit the forum – Love and Justice http://teachjustice.com.au/forums/topic/love-and-justice-2/

    In the forum:

    ..reflecting on this lovely definition of feminism, by bell hooks, and listening to one of my new favourite songs. Please post your own favourite inspirations in response. Enjoy.

    “… we have allowed patriarchal mass media to represent the entire movement (feminism) based on hatred rather than in love. Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politic. The soul of our politics is the commitment to end domination. Love can never take root in a relationship based on domination and coercion. … When we accept that true love is rooted in recognition and acceptance, that love combines acknowledgment, care, responsibility, commitment and knowledge, we understand there can be no love without justice. With that awareness comes the understanding that love has the power to transform us, giving us the strength to oppose domination. To choose feminist politics, then, is to choose love”
    (Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, Passionate Politics, South End Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003).

    Check this out – Love And Justice Women’s Anthem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HpCmdLRuF8

    Here’s more from bell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQUuHFKP-9s and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ-XVTzBMvQ

  68. Cats would never ask such stupid questions and this still fails to make Judith Butler intelligible to cats. In the first place cats would ask: why do humans expect us to perform this category called gender when most of us have been neutered? We have more important things to worry about, like food…

  69. Wonderful! How about ecofeminism explained by/to wolves or some other sexy megafauna. Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature is a great base text. You have till fall when I teach again 🙂 Seriously, it would be fantastic to have!

  70. This is just an essay with random pictures scattered around it. You could have used pictures of giraffes, or tea kettles, and it would have the same effect.

    This is actually harder to read than if you had just used paragraphs.

  71. I agree with the ginger cat in the last frame: Awesome! I would love to see Derrida’s concept of the reader as co-creator with the author explained with cats, too.

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  74. Actually the quote “sex is always already gender” is taken out of context as it is meant as a reply not to biological theorists but to absolutist or non-relational/non-positional theories of self and society which feminist anthropologists at the time claimed were sexist (See some of the authors she cites, e.g. Chodorow, Strathern or Haraway). In fact, Butler (1993) finds the notion of ‘constructivism’ a banal truism (p. 8) and not revolutionary enough to counter the nature:female and culture:male bias of socio-cultural anthropology, where the male as culture inscribes gender onto the muted female body as sex (See p. 5 for Butler’s critique of attempts to reduce sex to gender). Butler is pro-sex; she does not deny the materiality of sexed bodies nor the existence of a pre-discursive subject before the performative “I” (Note that she clearly distinguishes between sex and “sex” and I and “I”)… so I’m not sure if I’ll agree with the statement that ‘there is no do-er behind the deed’… even though Butler does seem to get carried away with this line of thought at times. Lastly, which I think this comic got right, Butler does not claim that gender cannot be a “choice” (albeit a rather limited one) or that ‘sex’ or ‘gender’ is always deterministic as she does leave some room for agency within its structural bounds.

    Great effort! I hope the visitors to this blog will be inspired to do a close reading of the actual texts though.

      • Hmm… I think Strathern considers herself a ‘feminist anthropologist’, doesn’t she…

      • i guess i am confused by how you are using the word ‘relation.’ Strathern has published numerous articles on relationality, including a small book called “the relation.” she is widely cited as a founder of ‘relational anthropology.’

        i’m looking at the strathern references in gender trouble and the haraway references in bodies that matter…and i’m really not finding anything disagreeable (or anything about relational/nonrelational) being said about either author. if there’s a different point of reference, i’d be interested in finding it.

      • Actually what I meant was that feminist anthropologists in the early 1990s were saying that socio-cultural anthropology at that time was absolutist or non-relational and that Butler was just responding to that criticism in her discussion of the nature/culture distinction, not that she was criticizing either Haraway or Strathern.

      • Oh shucks. The last message I typed vanished. Anyway I was saying that Strathern published a piece in 1987 about how feminism and anthropology stood in oppositional relation to one another and how feminism back was an oppositional stance rather than a substantive theory. I guess that has changed now. I think there was this huge backlash within American Anthropology at the time to the ‘Writing Culture’ anthology (Marcus and Clifford, 1986) and the project of ‘experimental ethnography’ in general. Apparently a group of anthropologists who called themselves ‘feminist ethnographers’ (e.g. Lila Abu-Lughod, Ruth Behar, Kirin Narayan, Kamala Visweswaran) were miffed that ‘Writing Culture’ lacked contributions by women and citations to ethnographies written by women. In the introduction to ‘Gendered Fields’ (Bell and Caplan, 1993), it was suggested that anthropology at the time, as reflective of a universal ‘male’ standpoint, had an absolutist, non-relational standpoint as opposed to the relational standpoint of women. I guess Butler disagreed with feminist theory at the time, which posited a natural inclination towards relationality for women but not men. So Butler might have intended a critique of these particular feminist theories in addition to the nature/culture=sex/gender bias attributed to male-authored socio-cultural anthropology by feminist theorists themselves.

  75. > Got any more ideas for philosophy/sociology/gender theory you’d like to see explained in comic form?

    Yes: the dependent origination of the self in buddhism. Closely related to the concepts explained in this page, as you may know (but 2500 years old).

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