DE With Nussbaum


This piece was challenging for me to read given how reactionary it was. While many of Nussbaum's assumptions are incredibly problematic, points she raises throughout this article are well taken.

Beginning Nussbaum's article, the immediate question that is raised for me is how Nussbaum defines "women". Nussbaum is highly critical of Butler, criticizing Butler for what Nussbaum is reading as apathy and passivity toward activism. Nussbaum further critiques Butler suggesting that her theorizing isn't sound as it is specifically rooted within geographic space (i.e. the "global north", white and upper-middle class) and is solely written for the purposes of academic consumption within the Ivory tower. I believe Nussbaum implies that Butler is engaged in a process of theorizing the category of "women" out of existence. Specifically, Nussbaum remains concerned with negligence of the material realities of poverty, sexual assault, domestic violence, heterosexism and homophobia, structural and institutional violence. Claiming to speak for LGBTQ women, women of color, immigrant women, women residing in the "global south" and working-class women, Nussbaum's definition of "women" as a categorical space remains homogenizing as it assumes her position as a legal scholar is somehow not rooted in a classed, raced and geographic position. An example of this is Nussbaum's use of flaws in rape laws in India as this came across as patronizing. Nussbaum implies a universalized trajectory of development that places a more developed (parental) United States in juxtaposition to a less developed (infantilized) India. That this trajectory is universalized operates on an uninterogated assumption that India will one day develop in a way reflective of the United States. The two countries do not have historical or cultural specificities that have resulted in how laws are written.

Nussbaum places theory and activism as mutually exclusive polar opposites which I believe resembles the Cartesianist split of mind and body. Butler has been active within anti-zionist movements and LGBTQ movements. Michel Foucault was involved in prison abolitionist and LGBTQ movements, that either intended for their theorizations to be used as a means of resistance while also being engaged within communities is rendered both invisible and impossible by Nussbaum's reading.

I also find it interesting that Nussbaum juxtaposes the disrespectful language of Judith Butler to that of respectful language of male philosophers throughout the first half of this paper (though she does cite the work of female and feminist scholars toward the end of this piece).

What I believe is important to take from this piece is that activism within the academy alone can never be enough. Theorizations by feminists of color claiming an impossibility of neutral and objective knowledges, instead claiming situated knowledges as valuable (theory of the flesh). Theorization that is rooted in space and place is a space blurs the divisions Nussbaum has constructed between the academy and the material world.

In class I have made the remark that a common critique of Butler is the limitation of what her theorizing can do. A gender non-conforming queer identified person will find little use in the passages from Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter when experiencing physical and/or verbal violence directed at their body because of their non-normative gender and sexuality. But to deny the reception feminist and LGBTQ communities had to Gender Trouble, folks who were not in academia, neglects the ability of academic texts to leave the Ivory tower and not simply be consumed but embodied (Riot Grrrl? Homocore???).

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