Judith Butler’s Trouble

“A Berkeley student approaches two older women. She has a flier in her hand. “Hey, happy No-Pants Day!” she exclaims, in the state of undress to match her words. One woman waves her off. The other is Judith Butler, perhaps the most famous theoretician of gender and its undoing. Butler laughs and points to the camera, which is filming a documentary for French television. “You’re gonna be on television, and you’re gonna get in trouble, and I’m gonna tell your parents.”

The student appears miffed at this appeal to parental authority. “I mean, I’m old enough to be on television without pants on.” Looking at the camera, Butler pokes fun at the young woman’s rebellion: “C’est la folie de Berkeley, n’est-ce pas? Sans-culotte, un nouveau sens du sans-culotte, pas révolutionnaire.” The sans-culottes of revolutionary France were the very poor, who did not wear the silk breeches (culotte) of the aristocracy. In the madness of Berkeley, those genuine revolutionaries were replaced, Butler implies, by fake revolutionaries, the pants-shedding Berkeley ­undergrads who were going to get in trouble with their mothers.

The episode is ironic, for Butler rose to prominence by troubling conventional views of sexuality and gender.”

Image by Miquel Taverna via Creative Commons. Image cropped and resized.