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Fordham Hosts ‘Gender Theorist’ for Prestigious Annual Lecture

Fordham University, according to its blog, hosted a philosopher and “gender theorist” earlier this week for the Fordham philosophy department’s annual Suarez Lecture.  The lecture titled “We the People,’ or Plural Action” was scheduled for April 1 to be delivered by Dr. Judith Butler, a rhetoric and literature professor from University of California Berkeley.

Fordham stated that Butler has had a “significant influence on the fields of feminist, queer, and literary theory, philosophy, political philosophy, and ethics.”

Butler, in a 2001 interview published online by The European Graduate School, criticized arguments opposed to same-sex marriage as “homophobic.”

“The pro-marriage agenda prescribes long-term monogamous pairs when many people in the lesbian, gay, bi- community have sought to establish other forms of sexual intimacy and alliance,” she said in the same interview. “I object to the notion that having marital status is important for health benefits, since what we are saying with this argument is that those who are outside the traditional couple form are not worthy of health benefits. This seems to me, once again, to demonize individuals who engage in multiple partners or live in non-traditional alliances.”

In the same interview, Butler referred to the surgery that transsexuals undergo as a “very brave transformation.” She said:

But some of the more recent writings on this topic suggest that transsexuality can be very complicated. It is not always about “becoming heterosexual,” and it is not always about becoming another gender. Kate Bornstein says it is about “becoming itself,” which coincides with my own views on what gender “is.” Moreover, it seems to me that many transsexuals live with a complicated sense of morphology, since surgery marks only a transition from one version of one’s body to another, but it does not found a new being altogether. One lives with the traces of the earlier version and with the marks and consequences of the surgery, if one chooses to undergo that. It is a difficult and often very brave transformation in which something profound about a person’s psychic and bodily sense of self is at stake. And it is also important to remember that the decision emerges both out of suffering and desire.

Butler, in another interview published by DailyXtra.com, spoke on the issue of prostitution.  She said:

I’m against coerced sexuality. I’m against coercion. I’m against rape — and it’s another thing to decide that prostitution is by definition coercive sexuality. That’s where we need to be careful because there are many women who enter into sex work who are actually making a living wage and who need greater protection and good medical care and some kind of retirement guarantees. And I think we would be making an error if we understood a movement for those employment conditions as somehow promoting coerced sexuality.

I’m not convinced that all prostitution is coerced. It’s a choice that people make under certain economic conditions. And I can think of a lot of forms of labour that women are in that they may not like very much, that they will wish that they had another set of options, but I’m not sure that prostitution is the worst of them.  And I guess I would call it sex work rather than prostitution.

On the subject of gender, Butler reportedly said according to BigThink.com, “We act as if that being of a man or that beingo f a women is actually an internal reality or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.  I know it’s controversial, but that's my claim.”

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