Judith Butler is an American professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Butler was born in 1956 and received her PhD in Philosophy from Yale University in 1984. Her dissertation was later published as “Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France”. She was later engaged in the post-structuralist wave within the feminist theory. She has some important books like: Gender Trouble (1990), Bodies That Matter (1993), Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (1997) and The Psychic Life of Power (1997).
In Bodies That Matter, Butler considers the issues of materiality, performativity, and the formation of the categories of "sex". She feels that the body has a history of being affected by sexual difference and has not escaped the effects of sexism According to Butler, sexual difference is never simply an issue of material difference. She thinks that sexual difference is based on discursive, gendered practices and symbols. Sex has become a regulatory ideal (in Foucault’s term) that produces the bodies it governs. It is a huge discourse enslaving bodies and which is in the service of heterosexuality. The discursive working of the construction of gender and the forcible reiteration (repetition) of its norms face with difficulties since bodies never always comply with these norms. These instabilities are opportunities for the rematerialization of sex according to Butler. She defines gender performativity not as a deliberate act but rather a reiterative and citational practice that reproduces and legitimizes the discourse. Hegemonic discourse materializes the sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative. By this way, sex becomes not a static definition of what one is, it is rather a norm by which the one becomes viable at all, that which qualifies a body for life as a body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility.
Butler's main idea, which appears repeatedly throughout her works, is that gender is a social artifice. In other words, we are not born with a particular "gender"; it is given to us in a social construction, in relation to our lives and what is perceived to be the roles we are supposed to play according to our gender. Sex is related to the biological differences coming from birth whereas gender refers to discursively constructed sexual characteristics. Moreover, because of the densely felt effect of the discursive gender, sex becomes something like a fiction, perhaps a fantasy. If gender is a construction we may face with the question of “who constructed it”. However, we do not precede or follow the process of discursive gendering, but rather we emerge within the matrix of gender relations. The activity of gendering is not a human act or expression; it is the matrix through which all willing first becomes possible. In this sense, according to Butler the matrix of gender relations is prior to the emergence of human. For instance, a baby is started to be called as “he” or “she” according to its sex before even he/she was born (very deterministic understanding of the materialization of the sex similar to the “ideology” of Althusser). The construction of gender makes human bodies subjects of discourse. Moreover, the construction of gender operates through exclusionary means. Construction is neither a subject nor its act, but a process of reiteration by which both subjects and act some to appear at all.
Butler strengthens her arguments by examples. For instance, in his philosophy, Plato sets up females as being bodiless and formless, a cite of reproduction which males use to create life. He imagines a male-only reproduction that denies women a role and creates a hierarchy of man-woman-beast. In addition to Plato's philosophy being autogenetic, it is compulsively heterosexual. The philosophy demands male-controlled heterosexuality so that the lines of gender/sex may be clear, suggesting that gender and sex can only be differentiated in a heterosexual society. In Butler’s view, feminist theory must take help from post-structuralism in order to understand and show how the gendered discourse which works against them organizes itself and subordinations. Butler also explains Foucauldian conception of subject and power. She claims that power operates for Foucault in the constitution of the very materiality of the subject, in the principle which simultaneously forms and regulates the subject of subjectivization.