Judith Butler, the American theorist of cultural studies has found herself at the centre of media attention in France as controversial gender-related legislation is debated.
As a result of all this, Butler suddenly found herself massively famous in France. She had established her reputation in the early 1990s with “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” a book that itself drew on French theory. Schooled in the work of Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, Butler argued that what we assume to be essential human characteristics are instead malleable traits fashioned by social habits. Rather than springing fully formed from our biological nature, sexual identity is sculpted by what literary theorists call discursive practices and what the rest of us call language, dress, and cultural conventions. Simone de Beauvoir had famously declared that one is not born a woman, but instead one becomes a woman. In essence, Butler doubled down by emphasizing the subversive as well as repressive possibilities in social constructions of the self.