From Me to We
I was all set to react to the second Butler lecture given on 11/14, but somehow her talk became entangled with ideas we’ve been playing around with in class and these two thoughts are the result of that entanglement...
* I wonder if Butler can or does communicate her ideas to a wider audience than those at the highest levels of academia. This question stems from the prompt for our last web event, which asked us to direct our thoughts at a target audience and write in a way that was both educational and meaningful for that audience. Although I’ve had only limited experiences with Butler’s work, I’ve found much of it to be dense and difficult to unpack, even as a college student (and I’ve heard and seen echoes of that thought from my classmates). What’s more, while I agree with some of my peers’ comments that her lectures seem a bit more manageable than her written work, I still found myself mulling over one deeply complex sentence as she moved on to the next. I wonder if she ever simplifies her work to appeal to people of various backgrounds? Or ages? Messages like, “everyone is entitled to a livable life” or “those who choose not to conform should still have the right to appear” are valuable for all people to learn, whether they’re kindergartners learning about tolerance and respect or middle schoolers learning about difference and discrimination or full fledged adults working and living in the “real world”. It would be a shame if her ideas were only conveyed to those who had the maturity level and educational background to be able to understand them in their current format.
* We. It’s a powerful word that symbolizes a collective identity, some common trait or ideology that binds people together. Butler suggested in her lecture that we should broaden the definition of ‘we’ and in doing so we will expand alliances. For most collective identities, whether inherited (ascriptive traits like race) or acquired (anything from religion affiliation to sports team allegiance), there is a fairly obvious tie that binds. What, then, are the characteristics that exclusively define ‘women’ as a group? If one identifies as female, what does that mean, exactly? I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel some sort of camaraderie with others who identified as female, but I’d also be lying if I said I could explain what exactly we have in common that binds us. Some women I know can’t have children, so that’s out. Some don’t share my sex organs, so that’s out too. Some don’t wear dresses, some don’t like rom-coms, and so the list goes on until the last straw I grasp at is that all who identify as women do not identify as any other gender. But then, that’s not always true either. So what are we left with? What makes me part of a bigger WE? If I continually expand my definition of we, is my alliance as strong or as meaningful?