French in an Uproar about Judith Butler’s Gender Theories

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From the Boston Globe:

On Feb. 2, Paris once again became a vast political stage. One hundred thousand demonstrators had gathered, galvanized by a danger looming over the Republic. The threat was not, as in times past, fascism or Nazism, communism or totalitarianism. It was, instead, an ideology far more insidious and imported from, of all places, the United States.

A new specter was haunting France—the specter of gender theory.

In the United States, gender theory—embodied most notably, perhaps, by the work of Judith Butler at UC Berkeley—argues that gender is less a biological fact than a social fiction. Since the 1980s, gender studies has become a familiar part of the curriculum at liberal arts colleges. For the most part, though, the academy is where these theories have stayed, so much so that it’s impossible to imagine Americans protesting them. The current French scandal over this obscure branch of critical theory is a particularly bemusing example of the way in which certain kinds of intellectual goods get lost in translation: Not since their embrace of Jerry Lewis have the French responded so passionately to an American export we ourselves have never fully appreciated.

Behind the February protest were several political groups, uniting both traditionalist voters and conservative religious ones, that had organized massive demonstrations last summer during a vitriolic debate in France over the legalization of gay marriage. In May 2013, the Socialist government passed the law nevertheless. The battleground then shifted to a new proposed measure: an update to France’s “family law” that, among other things, stood to offer protections for reproductive assistance for gay couples. This year, many of the same protesters turned out again, their brightly colored pink and blue banners emblazoned with a battle cry: “Un papa, une maman: there’s nothing more natural.” * * *

Enough people had become horrified by the new impact of “gender studies” that, in February, they turned out in droves. Nearly overnight, “la théorie du genre” was on everyone’s lips. Gender theory was the “obsession” of the Socialist government, one conservative news magazine declared. Activists contacted public libraries to demand that they pull texts tainted by American gender theory from the shelves.

As a result of all this, Butler suddenly found herself massively famous in France.

Read the full article here.

-Bridget Crawford

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