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A World Without Norms: The Influence of Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’

Posted on | January 16, 2019 | 2 Comments

Feminists protest in Los Angeles, January 2017.

“When did feminism go completely bonkers?”

That question is sometimes raised when I relate the latest outburst of madness from academia (e.g., “How has the form of your child been culturally interpreted?”) or from popular culture (e.g., Gillette’s advertising attack on “toxic masculinity”). Indeed, this spiraling descent into insanity has disturbed many feminists themselves. After Meghan Murphy got banned from Twitter for criticizing transgender ideology, it became evident to many that the feminist movement is now suffering an existential crisis (for which Donald Trump is not to blame). If the basic categories of “male” and “female” are no longer coherent — the persistent theme of Third Wave gender theory — then how is it possible to speak of “women’s rights”? But the crisis of feminism also comes from the opposite direction, namely the breakdown of the social order. After all, the object of feminism is to destroy “patriarchy,” the etymology of which denotes rule of the fathers, a term borrowed from the field of anthropology to describe the basic kinship structure of tribal societies.

Yet the collapse of the marriage-based family in the United States, where rates of divorce and illegitimacy have skyrocketed in the past half-century, makes it increasingly difficult for feminists to make “patriarchy” the scapegoat for every problem young women experience. As one Twitter user commented in response to a discussion of “toxic masculinity”:

43% of boys are raised by single mothers
78% of teachers are female
So almost 50% of boys have 100% feminine influence while at home & an 8/10ish chance of 100% influence at school.
Toxic masculinity isn’t the problem. Lack of masculinity is.

It could be argued that many of the problems now affecting young women are not caused by “patriarchy,” but are instead unintended consequences of the feminist movement’s success in destroying the institutional structure of patriarchal society, i.e., the marriage-based family.

When millions of boys are being raised without proper paternal influence, without married parents who provide them a model of effective male-female cooperation, it is not surprising that many of them will grow up to be men with bad attitudes and bad habits. It is misguided to blame “patriarchy” for the problems emerging from this social breakdown, since it is a post-patriarchal (or perhaps more accurately, anti-patriarchal) culture that has shaped their personalities. And what tool does feminism suggest to fix these problems? Gender theory.

‘Gender Trouble’ made Professor Judith Butler a major academic figure.

Professor Judith Butler’s 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity is more or less permanently ensconced in the Amazon Bestsellers in Women’s Studies, as I have remarked, “not because it is pleasant reading, but because it is required reading in so many college and university courses”:

Every year, many tens of thousands of young people enroll in Women’s Studies classes, and are introduced to Professor Butler’s version of feminist gender theory — the social construction of the gender binary within the heterosexual matrix. 

Anyone who has ever endeavored to read Professor Butler’s influential book knows that she expresses herself in a nearly opaque academic jargon, so that even a highly literate reader will often be forced to scan a paragraph two or three times to comprehend it. Even then, however, Professor Butler has a habit of asking questions that merely suggest or imply a meaning that she never bothers to state explicitly. Her purpose, as she says in the subtitle, is the subversion of identity — to force readers to question the standard categories of “male” and “female” — with the idea that this subversive project is the fundamental goal of feminism.

Much of the current conflict within feminism over the issue of transgenderism can be traced directly to Professor Butler’s book and its pervasive influence in the so-called Third Wave of feminism. Feminist critics of transgender ideology generally align themselves with the “Second Wave” (i.e., the radical Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s and ’70s), rejecting the claims of those who, following Professor Butler’s argument, assert that the category of “women” does not provide a definite subject for feminist theory because the meaning of “woman” is socially constructed. Professor Butler’s theory reflects the influence of French postmodernist philosophy, particularly Michel Foucault. Critics of Professor Butler are expected not to call attention to the fact that Foucault was a gay pedophile (or, at least, a defender of pedophilia) who died of AIDS in 1984, in the same way that we are expected to ignore that Gayle Rubin, another of Professor Butler’s key sources, praised NAMBLA and is an advocate of homosexual BDSM.

Some would say that it is an ad hominem fallacy to note the personal perversions of the authors cited by Professor Butler in Gender Trouble, but I consider this relevant not only to understanding her arguments, but also explaining why her book so quickly gained quasi-religious authority in academic feminism. You see that what Professor Butler was telling her readers is that there are no rules when it comes to sexual behavior. Every feasible limit on sexual behavior — even the distinction between “male” and “female” — is dismissed by Professor Butler as socially constructed, an artificial product of an oppressive society. There is no such thing as “natural” or “normal” sexual behavior, nor do men and women possess any innate characteristics of personality or behavior that can authentically be described as “masculine” or “feminine.” The subversion of identity requires the obliteration of behavioral norms, you see, and this was evidently something that many academic feminists wanted to hear circa 1990, which explains the near-universal embrace of Professor Butler’s book as a required assignment in Women’s Studies programs.

Did I mention that Professor Butler is a lesbian, and that her theory of gender expressed a distinctly lesbian perspective? This is not speculation on my part, but something that Professor Butler has herself explained.

In her 2004 anthology Undoing Gender, Professor Butler explains (p. 207) that her first aim in writing Gender Trouble was to “expose . . . a pervasive heterosexism in feminist theory,” because feminists explained “sexual difference” in a heterosexual context. After invoking French feminists (Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray), Professor Butler then cites (p. 209) lesbian feminist Cherrie Moraga “and others” who were “beginning to theorize butch-femme categories” in ways which “were calling sexual difference into question”:

What happens when terms such as butch and femme emerge not as simple copies of heterosexual masculinity and heterosexual femininity, but as expropriations that expose the nonnecessary status of their assumed meanings? Indeed, the widely cited point that Gender Trouble made was the following: that categories like butch and femme were not copies of a more originary [sic] heterosexuality, but they showed how the so-called originals, men and women within the heterosexual frame, are similarly constructed, performatively established. So the ostensible copy is not explained through reference to an origin, but the origin is understood to be as performative as the copy.

You may have to read that 102-word passage very carefully to understand that what Professor Butler is saying is that there is no such thing as human nature. There can be no such thing as an authentic masculinity if, as she asserts, the “butch” lesbian’s behavior is accepted as an equally valid “masculinity,” rather than an attempted imitation of an authentic original. If the heterosexual man’s masculinity is as “performative” and as “constructed” as the lesbian’s “butch” persona, then there are no natural differences between men and women, and the traits we call “masculinity” and “femininity” are a sort of illusion, a fiction, a myth.

Except . . . no.

There are real differences between men and women and, while these differences may not be apparent (or particularly relevant) in a university classroom, they cannot be ignored in a place we call The Real World.


Look carefully at that list of the 20 most dangerous occupations and ask yourself why feminists aren’t demanding “equal opportunity” in the logging industry or on commercial fishing vessels. In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 5,657 Americans were killed on the job, of whom 5,228 — 92.4% — were male. While I don’t have an specific data on occupational hazards for university professors, I’m certain very few of Professor Butler’s colleagues have been killed on the job. The fatality rate per 100,000 workers in the field of “Education, training, and library occupations” was 0.3, whereas in “Construction and extraction occupations” it was 12.3, i.e., 40 times higher.

The Real Men of the Real World

Suffice it to say that men who work these very dangerous jobs are not only quite masculine, but almost entirely heterosexual. The Real Men of the Real World are not only quite different from women, but they’re also different from the kind of men who typically work in academia. Let’s face it, a crew of a dozen or so Alaska tuna fishermen could probably whip the entire male faculty of the University of California-Berkeley in a bar fight, and it wouldn’t even be close. My point is not to disparage men in academia, but rather that Professor Butler’s gender theory was developed in a context where masculinity is less crucial than in many other environments, where such traits as physical strength are paramount. And for most of human history, people didn’t work in air-conditioned offices or have such amenities as health insurance. Even in an entirely gender-neutral modern environment, human beings still possess traits inherited from ancestors who survived for generation after generation in conditions of primitive savagery. How would Professor Butler fare in rural Alabama where my grandmother was born in 1884?

Yet women in the not-so-distant past had their own very dangerous job: Motherhood. Pregnancy and childbirth were rather routinely a cause of death for women in the many thousands of years that preceded the development of modern medical technology. There has lately been much media attention to the maternal death rate in the United States, said to be the highest in the industrialized world. Yet the U.S. ranks 138 among all nations with 14 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births which, while higher than the U.K. (9/100,000) or France (8/100,000), is far lower than in sub-Saharan Africa, where maternal death rates are more than 600/100,000 in nine nations, and above 300/100,000 almost everywhere. Many of these maternal deaths are caused by infectious diseases. Keep in mind that penicillin, the first antibiotic, was not discovered until 1928 — five years after my own father was born. Before the widespread use of antibiotics, men and women alike died of infectious diseases that today can be easily treated. More than a half-million Americans died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, most as a result of secondary infections of bacterial pneumonia.

My point is that it is the comfort and safety of modernity which permits Professor Butler to engage in speculative critical theory about gender as a social construct, speculations which not only ignore the primitive conditions in which male-female differences developed, but which also take for granted the continuation of modernity. One wonders what the tribesmen of Afghanistan would make of Professor Butler’s theory about the “nonnecessary status” of a “performatively established” masculinity.

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” as Richard Grenier observed (a quote sometimes mistakenly attributed to George Orwell, whom Grenier was merely paraphrasing, in reference to a Kipling poem). The peace and prosperity that permits Professor Butler to engage in theoretical speculation (and collect a taxpayer-funded annual salary of nearly $300,000 for doing so) ought not to be taken for granted, but this is exactly what her theory does. Not only does the authentic masculinity of Real Men in the Real World “stand ready to do violence” against terrorists, criminals and hostile foreign powers, but these men also do the thankless (and often dangerous) work that enables her to enjoy her enviable standard of living. The truck driver who delivers the food for her dinner, or the pilot who flies her to her next academic conference — does any of these men count for anything at all in Professor Butler’s calculations of the value of masculinity? Of course not.

Working in my cozy home office on a morning when the temperature outside is 28°F, it would be easy for me to forget that the heating oil that makes possible my comfort is provided by men in the business of “Oil and gas extraction” which, according to the Labor Department, has an occupational fatality rate of 15.5 per 100,000 workers. And the power for my computer is supplied by men working as “Electrical power-line installers and repairers,” with an on-the-job death rate of 29.1.

A remarkable sort of insanity is required to ignore or take for granted the value of authentic masculinity, as does Professor Butler’s gender theory, and yet this lunatic ideology now enjoys a hegemonic authority in academia. When Dr. Lisa Littman published a study of “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” Brown University removed an article about her research from its website because of “concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.”

What did Dr. Littman’s research discover?

This is the phenomenon Brown University public-health researcher Lisa Littman has identified as “rapid onset gender dysphoria.” ROGD differs from traditional gender dysphoria, a psychological affliction that begins in early childhood and is characterized by a severe and persistent feeling that one was born the wrong sex. ROGD is a social contagion that comes on suddenly in adolescence, afflicting teens who’d never exhibited any confusion about their sex.
Like other social contagions, such as cutting and bulimia, ROGD overwhelmingly afflicts girls.

Why are girls more vulnerable to “social contagions”? Without any professional credentials in psychology, I can only offer speculative suggestions, but isn’t it possible that this vulnerability to social influences is hard-wired into female neurology by the same hereditary process that hard-wires men for risk-taking and aggression? One does not need a Ph.D. in evolutionary psychology, however, to notice male-female differences. My experience of parenthood, as the father of six children now ranging in age from 16 to 29, qualifies me to make some general suggestions in this matter based on direct observation.

What accounts for the deranged mentality of so many teenage girls in 21st-century America? Why has Third Wave gender theory driven so many young women insane? Isn’t it a fact that, by destroying social norms of sexual behavior — including our traditional understanding of male-female differences — contemporary feminism has thrust these vulnerable teenagers into a world where there are no common-sense rules to guide them toward responsible adulthood? All teenagers are prone to chafe against the constraints imposed on them by parental expectations, but what happens to girls when parental authority is absent or undermined by social and political forces which communicate to impressionable youth that Mom and Dad are hateful bigots for expecting their girls to be girls? The transgender cult now insists that parents who don’t cooperate with their agenda are guilty of child abuse.

Gender and the Psychotic Teenager

We might identify many factors (e.g., the omnipresence of social media) as implicated in the emergence of rapid onset gender dysphoria as a phenomenon among teenage girls, we cannot deny the role played by proponents of Third Wave feminist theory who have lent an aura of intellectual respectability to the subversion of identity and the attack on the gender binary. An ideology that insists there are no rules when it comes to sexual behavior, which celebrates abnormality while stigmatizing “heteronormativity” as oppressive to women — i.e., the ideas promoted by Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble — will predictably produce confusion once this belief system escapes from an academic context to run rampaging through popular culture, like Godzilla stomping Tokyo.

Like the mad scientist in a horror movie who has created a monster, Professor Butler seeks to evade responsibility for the harm to innocent lives she has caused by insisting that her intentions were noble and enlightened. Permit me to remind you of what manner of damage these deranged young women are inflicting on themselves:

‘James’ in 2015 (left) and in 2018, after ‘top surgery’ (right).

“James Waters” is a 22-year-old self-declared Marxist who uses the pronouns “he/xe/it.” She used to have breasts, but had them amputated (double mastectomy, known as “top surgery” in the jargon of the transgender cult) earlier this year, after two years of testosterone treatment. You can watch a 2016 YouTube video of “James” mumbling about her/“his” hormones, but did I mention “he/xe/it” is schizophrenic? And has a Tumblr blog? Yes, “James” is “a gay schizophrenic indigenous artist,” as she/“he” explained in a January post soliciting donations . . .
How old was “James” in 2011, when she/“he” first “came out and began transitioning”? She was a 15-year-old girl, with “an eating disorder and severe self harm problems,” which is not surprising because gender dysphoria has high rates of co-morbidity with other mental illnesses. . . .

You can read the rest of that June 2018 post, which makes the important point that in many places (including Canada, where “James” lives), transgender treatment is being provided at taxpayer expense. How did it become acceptable practice to treat mental illness with hormones and mastectomy? And why is this treatment so urgent and necessary that governments are spending taxpayer money for it? How are we to comprehend such craziness — taxpayer-subsidized abnormality, as it were — except as a real-world consequence of the Third Wave gender theory originated by Judith Butler and promoted by many hundreds of other academic feminists who have made Professor Butler’s ideas a sort of campus cult religion? The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

As commonly understood by Third Wave feminists, gender theory means that there are no natural differences between men and women, that every human being is a blank slate — tabula rasa — with no instincts or innate characteristics. It is from this belief that the idea of male-female differences as the product of “social construction” emerges and, in turn, the idea that we can be molded to conform to whatever pattern the intellectual elite prefer. The executives at Gillette apparently believe that male behavior can be altered by radical feminist sermons delivered as TV advertising, and we are thus bombarded with anti-male propaganda by the marketers of shaving products while, simultaneously, the government is spending taxpayer money to amputate the breasts of teenage girls and inject them with testosterone to turn them into “men.”

Actual males are stigmatized as “toxic” for being masculine, but we are required to celebrate what Professor Butler calls the “expropriation” of masculinity by women. Indeed, you can be punished — fired from your job — if you do not endorse transgender ideology. But forcing people to play along with this charade will not turn illusion into reality. What will happen instead is that requiring everyone to participate in this make-believe game of “gender” will drive people crazy. It’s already happening — just look at the daily headlines about the epidemic of mental illness among the young, and the rising rates of opioid addiction and suicide.

A world without norms is a world without meaning, and an ideology that tells people that their lives have no meaning or purpose, that there are no moral standards by which they can determine good or bad, right or wrong, will predictably lead them into decadence and despair.

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The Sex Trouble project has been supported by contributions from readers. The first edition of Sex Trouble: Radical Feminism and the War on Human Nature is available from, $11.96 in paperback or $1.99 in Kindle ebook format.





2 Responses to “A World Without Norms: The Influence of Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’”

  1. Saturday Links | 357 Magnum
    January 19th, 2019 @ 12:01 pm

    […] From The Other McCain – A World Without Norms: The Influence of Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’ […]

  2. News of the Week (January 20th, 2019) | The Political Hat
    January 20th, 2019 @ 11:58 pm

    […] A World Without Norms: The Influence of Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble” That question is sometimes raised when I relate the latest outburst of madness from academia (e.g., “How has the form of your child been culturally interpreted?”) or from popular culture (e.g., Gillette’s advertising attack on “toxic masculinity”). Indeed, this spiraling descent into insanity has disturbed many feminists themselves. […]