on April 8, 2006
While "Undoing Gender" is one of Judith Butler's most accessible texts (in that one does not need to have a philosophical companion and an OED on hand to read it), I did find many of the essays to not be as well developed as others she has written. Many of the essays seem to be half-completed, lacking some substance. While I do think that "Undoing Gender" is a good start for someone interested in post-structuralism, I would recommend that one really take the time and effort to read some of her more well thought out books like "Bodies That Matter" or "Gender Trouble" -- which might require additional reading of Derrida, Foucault, Freud and Lacan to really get the fullness of the texts.
on April 4, 2006
`Undoing Gender' is certainly a much easier read than 'Gender Trouble' and 'Bodies That Matter'. However, it still presents thoughtful reflections relevant to Butler's earlier work. It's so gloomy to read multiple texts by the same author (especially in the academic field) and find they all explore the same viewpoint- that's why it is really refreshing to read Butler's work in succession to witness the 'redoing' of ideas. Butler's up to date frameworks are especially relevant in the forever changing realm of gender.
However, in reading Butler's work I find it necessary to consult a whole heap of other titles, including work by Freud, Foucault, Lacan. Keep this in mind... it's not a light read! Consider it more a starting point.
on January 14, 2005
This is Butler's most accessible book. It continues where Gender Trouble left off, addressing the regulation of gender and how that affects people. It was great to hear someone finally talking about the people affected by discourse, rather than just creating new words without thinking about their effects. However, Butler didn't follow through with any practical steps besides some jargon about alliances and new strategies.
There's also a good section in which Butler takes on Rosi Braidotti and the entire school of sexual difference theory.
on March 10, 2006
In "Undoing Gender" Butler engages in a rather provocative discussion of the normative structure of gender and the "livability" of those lives that do not fit neatly into what she sees as a hegemonic, male/female "gender binary." In her discussion she draws heavily on the work of Foucault, though she does not strictly adhere to his discourse theory throughout all of the essays. Though she tends to be redundant, the book is worth reading, particularly if you are interested in what it would be like to "radically" rethink gender.
on September 20, 2006
First things first, Judith Butler is scary smart. Her linguist/philosopher credentials can make her a tough read sometimes, but the language she uses here is clear and pure. Undoing Gender provided the first insights into the gendered connections that we all share and how the world understands us through these labels. She connects Foucault to Simone de Beauvoir, Hegel, Freud and beyond. I very much appreciated the depths that Undoing Gender plumbed to connect my experience to everyone else's, and to our common history and struggle. I tend to hightlight and annotate books that I use as reference and this copy is dripping yellow, pink, blue and green.
on April 18, 2006
"Undoing Gender" is a dense and scholarly tome which demands careful consideration and perhaps repeated readings to fully appreciate. I would give it five stars but for Chapter Three where I found Professor Butler's focus on the David Reimer case a somewhat superficial rehash of what has already been written, lacking in the critical analysis Butler uses to excellent effect elsewhere throughout her work.
On the famous case of David Reimer, whose penis was burned completely off during a botched circumcision when he was eight months old, Professor Butler writes:
"David was born with XY chromosomes and at the age of eight months, his penis was accidentally burned and severed in the course of a surgical operation to rectify phimosis, a condition in which the foreskin thwarts urination. This is a relatively risk-free procedure but the doctor who performed it on David was using a new machine, apparently one that he hadn't used before, one that his colleagues declared was unnecessary for the job."
Judith Butler reports elements of David's tragic story, complete with the errors and embellishments so often repeated.
Phimosis is a condition of tightness of the foreskin preventing retraction over the glans, but it does not prevent or thwart urination. Phimosis is a natural condition of the developing infant penis, in many cases retraction of the foreskin is not possible until well into childhood or later. Jean-Marie Huot, the so-called doctor who destroyed David's penis, diagnosed both David and his twin brother Brian with phimosis, though after the accident with David, Brian was left genitally intact and his condition of phimosis cleared up naturally as it does with almost all intact males, showing the error of Hout's "diagnosis" and "treatment."
Butler's statement that circumcision "is a relatively risk-free procedure", spoken in the context of David's case is (to say the least) a serious and undoubtedly harmful understatement. The damages from circumcision are all too often unrecognized and underreported, no doubt in a conscious or subconscious effort to avoid challenging the status quo. Even with severe circumcision damage as happened to David many of the mainstream publications reporting his story refrained from mentioning circumcision as the cause of the damage; several only stated, "the baby lost his penis in an accident" shifting blame from the mutilator to the baby! David's story challenges society to take off its cultural blinkers and look at circumcision for what it is, even if some wish to believe such casualities are acceptable.
David's case is world famous and has been used by many to advance theories of gender. John Money used David's case to advance his theory that gender is imposed after birth. Once David found out about his past and proclaimed his maleness, others have followed with a different tact, using him to suggest that gender is innate. Here in Canada where David's life took place there is another not-so-famous case of another child born male, whose penis was also destroyed in a botched circumcision and raised female. She, now an adult, has been reported in the medical literature as being well adjusted to her female gender role, yet is rarely referred to in the mainstream discourse on gender. Perhaps if her story becomes public she will reveal other subtleties we have yet to understand.
Gender scholars should recognize that we cannot seriously and comprehensively discuss sexuality and gender if the dynamics around genital reducing surgery (circumcision) performed "routinely" on infants is not included in the scope of this discussion. A society which condones genital mutilation of infants and children and sweeps the casualties under the rug is asking for some serious scrutiny. Professor Butler refers in her footnotes to the chapter on David Reimer, to a videotape on the ethics of sex reassignment of children, yet doesn't mention the impact to society or the ethics of performing "routine" genital reducing surgery on infant males.
In a latter chapter Professor Butler delightfully acknowledges her sexuality as lesbian and her heritage as Jewish. With these credentials she could turn her brilliant analysis of gender more squarely on the issue of circumcision and perhaps reveal some as yet unknown aspects of the dynamics around this issue. Other scholars have paved the way, notably historian and physician Leonard Glick with his groundbreaking book, "Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America" and Jewish feminist Miriam Pollock in her heartfelt essay, "Redefining the Sacred" in the book "Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy." Also recommended is Ron Goldman's book, "Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective" and "Male & Female Circumcision: Among Jews, Christians and Muslims, Religious, Medical Social and Legal Debate", by Sami Awad Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh. These excellent books are available through Amazon.
"Undoing Gender" will not be the last book to focus on David Reimer's famous and tragic life. I sincerely hope the next person to write about David will put his case in context and look long, hard and honestly at what happened to him and place blame where it squarely belongs in an effort to keep this from ever happening again. All children have an inherent human right to have their genital integrity protected; their freedom of gender expression and sexual orientation as well.
on March 29, 2016
Difficult to read at first. Then, I read a lot of writings of transgender people and caught onto the world view and the vocabulary to go along with it, and it got easier to read. I personally found her analysis of gender to be shallow, but since she speaks for many people in the transgender movement, it is an important book to be aware of.