Reading Questions: Butler

You are responsible for reading p. 253 through p. 261 (" a dictate from nature."). Because this is difficult material, it might not be a bad idea to read all of it early in the week, and then read it again after having had the lectures on it.

1. According to Butler, what are the two ways that Beauvoir's The Second Sex is foundational to feminist philosophy? (253)

2. What were Sartre and Beauvoir's different assessments of whether or not she was a philosopher? (253)

3. What does Butler suggest was "the source both of her [Beauvoir's] philosophical invisibility and of her largely unexamined philosophical significance"? (253)

4. What "structure of lived experience" was Beauvoir particularly concerned with? (253) What important questions did this concern lead her to ask and attempt to answer? (253-254)

5. What two significant claims of Beauvoir does Butler suggest need closer scrutiny? (254)

6. How does what it means to have a body depend on historical context? How does it follow from this that gender is in some sense a historically constructed idea? However, how is gender then "disguised" as a purely natural fact? (254)

7. What sorts of problems are raised by Beauvoir's use of "become"? (254-255)

8. Is our being a certain gender a passive state or an active state, according to Beauvoir? (255)

9. Why would Beauvoir never say that a person is a woman? How is this related to bad faith? (255-256)

10. When it comes to gender, why is it necessary to substitute "a vocabulary of action" for "the reified vocabulary of self-identified nouns"? (To reify something is to see it as a concrete thing.) (256)

11. Why is it impossible to "become any gender we please at a moment’s notice"? (256)

12. What is the contradiction inherent in women's experience as, on the one hand, "the Other" and, on the other, as active, choosing agents and subjects? (256-257)

13. What is the "uneasy but exhilarating fact" that Butler identifies as "the strength of Beauvoir's analysis"? (257)

14. What popular misconceptions about gender does Aretha Franklin's "you make me feel like a natural woman" exemplify? Paradoxically, however, how does this song also reveal that these ideas about gender are not really true, but are in fact an emotionally powerful fantasy? (258)

15. In what ways are Beauvoir's views on whether or not gender is a natural substance akin to existentialist ideas on action and the self? (259, you may also want to reread Sartre, pp. 31-34)

16. How is our natural reaction to thinking of a effeminate man linked to the false views on what gender is? (259)

17. How can we, through our own acts, change the possibilities of gender? How might this even lead to a whole new vocabulary of gender? (260)

18. What does Butler finally conclude about both the constraints put upon gender by culture and about the prospects for changing our current cultural possibilities with regard to gender? (260-261)

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