Who, then, is this Judith Butler?
Google her face.  Never heard of her.

Holy crap she looks like a man.
Theory does what theory can.

The couplet is an interesting device
For this poem—reproducing like mice.

It ridicules thick-necked jocks,
Brainless oafs in team-striped socks.

It notices girls with little bird faces,
Thinks of all the physical disgraces.

These are its children, the swarm
Of humanity, smelly and warm.

They say attention to looks is unkind—
And yet the body is the mind.

As a teen I had terrible skin
Which inside and outside almost did me in.

A few pimples? How can you complain?
But you do.  Ugly face means doubtful brain.

But then you find that beauty is lurking
Behind the ugliness—a poem starts working.

How did poems rescue disgrace?
Why’d you write poetry? I had pimples on my face.

But a life has phases: the beautiful child
With perfect skin, and mild

Becomes the haunted adolescent,
Ugly, hairy, angry, prescient.

Keats and Byron were my Superman.
I hated Beats, Modern, Ash Can.

So let’s unleash our ire upon
Eclectics who hate beautiful Byron.

And no, we don’t have a reason why
Beyond a truth that lives in the eye.

For truth that asserts itself in the mind
Is a light in the cave of the blind.

Everything under the sun is queer
To the liberals who hate Shakespeare

Kind of the way the subject of race
Matters to liberals of nervous grace.

Lost in Dante’s midlife-crisis wood,
Academic theory would be understood.

Academics need to express change
Far away from the shooting range.

After Sputnik made the sciences champ,
The Humanities became chilly and damp.

No one took out a loan for college
Until Sputnik caused the race for knowledge.

But now loans go for art and writing.
Billions in debt for questionable lighting.

If gender is performance, the audience is slow.
Ask Judith Butler, she ought to know!

We really wonder about Queer Theory:
Did a look in the mirror cause the query?

Butler’s a rat in the maze of her text:
“I look like a man!  Okay, what’s next?”

If one has a face that looks like a witch,
Perhaps it’s time for a gender switch.

When procreate beauty falls in disgrace
We call it the revenge of the ugly face.

God grants ladies reproduction.
Beauty is for reproduction’s end,

Since beauty inspires reproduction,
Love is our death as well as our friend.

But if ugly things reproduce,
What is beauty’s use?

Fleeting pleasure, food, attention,
A nice review, a poem’s mention?

In the higher realms, pleasure and hope
Push away the misanthrope,

The scholar, the rule, the task, obscure
Lose sight of beauty and make us poor.

Beauty, of course, can live within:
In Butler’s heart and in her kin.


  1. Laura Runyan said,

    November 19, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Touché! I like this, Tom!

    (By the way, my parents were beneficiaries of that post-Sputnik race. My mother was born in Appalachia, so without the GI Bill and that Sputnik funding for graduate school…)

    Butler is seen by many others in critical theory as one of the superstars in that world. It still perplexes me to no end, and I hope it always will.

    A pretty funny take on her “superstar” status:


    • thomasbrady said,

      November 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      In 1949, half of all college students in the U.S. were attending on the GI Bill.

      No college loan system was in place until Sputnik in 1957.

      The whole idea of college loans were originally for science students only.

      • Anonymous said,

        November 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm

        My parents didn’t have loans; they had full rides (fellowships) for doctorates at a certain Ivy League institution–which was, for my mother, QUITE a leap from her earlier life! Kennedy had promoted the idea of funding for the less economically advantaged if they’d done really well as undergraduates. My mom’s undergrad degree was in chemistry, but they also gave fellowships to some in the humanities, though the push was of course based primarily on competition with the USSR. The GI Bill paid for both my parents’ undergrad studies; my dad had been drafted, and my mother enlisted because it was her only route to college.

        • Laura Runyan said,

          November 20, 2013 at 5:10 am

          I don’t know why the comment directly above got posted under “Anonymous,” but it was mine.

  2. powersjq said,

    November 19, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    From Wikipedia: “The crux of Butler’s argument in _Gender Trouble_ is that the coherence of the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality—the natural-seeming coherence, for example, of masculine gender and heterosexual desire in male bodies—is culturally constructed through the repetition of stylized acts in time.” This seems like an important idea to me, and her basic point is well taken. I’m not sure it needs an entire field to work out its ramifications.

    Also from Wikipedia: “Butler’s conception of gender performativity has shaped the scholarship of an entire generation in feminist and queer studies.” Kind of seems like she founded the field.

    I think the use of academia to prosecute a political campaign is a dangerous proposition–both to academia and to politics. But then, dangerous is more or less synonymous with interesting when it comes to propositions. And it’s not like economists from the University of Chicago and Harvard are politically aloof–these are only the guys whose names we’ve never heard. Think of all the other politically engaged academics there are whose names we _do_ know.

    Seems like it would make research (and learning!) boring, to know your conclusions were before you asked any questions. I guess other people have different ideas of fun.

    • Laura Runyan said,

      November 20, 2013 at 1:33 am

      But Butler extends many of her notions about gender to the biological level: that BIOLOGICAL SEX is ALSO socially constructed. I’m far from alone in being politically progressive while thinking that such a claim is patently absurd. (Lefty Noam Chomsky is a vocal critic of postmodernism, by the way, which I mention because it violates several common misconceptions about the connection between leftism and postmodernism. The connection between the two is found primarily in the academy, and only in certain disciplines.) It’s no wonder that so many physical and biological scientists can’t take this stuff more seriously.

      We used to assume that intersex children (those born with what used to be called “hermaphroditism”) could be reassigned a gender based on early surgery that determined what they would look like, post-surgically, on the outside. Unfortunately for many of these children, it doesn’t turn out to be so simple:


      We still have a lot to learn on this topic, and I’d like to see more emphasis on EVIDENCE, rather than post-structuralist “theory,” in our efforts to learn it.

      • powersjq said,

        November 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm

        Well said.

        “BIOLOGICAL SEX is ALSO socially constructed.” I haven’t read Butler, and I doubt I ever will. I can see a few ways of reading that this assertion that would make sense. The _experience_ of biological sex is definitely constructed socially, at least in part. The _social category_ of biological sex is also socially constructed to a large extent, though I would suggest that it’s based upon some awfully widespread experience of naturally occurring kinds or types of human bodies. I’ve come to the conclusion that no strict claim that nature has categories per se can withstand much scrutiny, but that doesn’t mean that the kinds or types that we find in nature are just “arbitrary” or “whimsically made up.”

        The lady’s a superstar in her field and in the community invested in the political program of that field. Good on her. Nothing wrong with folk heroes. The same thing happens in other disciplines, though perhaps not always with the same level of intensity.

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm

          It’s one thing, however, to say the natural and the social are linked, that the former strongly influences the latter, and quite another thing to say that the natural and the social are separate realities.

          • powersjq said,

            November 20, 2013 at 5:19 pm

            Agreed. If I understand aright, Butler is criticized for saying that there’s no such category as the natural. Or to be precise, that the category of the natural is a socio-linguistic construct. Again, I haven’t read her work, and I don’t intend to. I’m more interested in the first instance in the basic ideas than in the promulgator (though I accept the need to investigate the latter for some purposes).

            I think it’s obvious that “the natural” often operates linguistically as a moral and theological category. It can be–and often is–mobilized to castigate. E.g., homosexuality is unnatural; sodomy (a rather fluid term in the first instance) is unnatural; same-sex marriage is unnatural; and so on. These statements are adduced as moral arguments against sex acts between persons of the same sex, as legal arguments against legal recognition of the relationships of same-sex couples, and as ad hominem attacks against persons who in any way act like they enjoy (or even endorse) such sex acts. In such a context, it seems like good argumentative tactics to call the whole category of the natural in question. It also seems clear that one consequence of such a move would be to call into question the natural sciences’ presumptive subject of study. Why shouldn’t they have to defend the basic terms they use to secure public money to build particle accelerators and determine the way that our genes inform our political preferences (no kidding–I’ve seen this stuff peddled as science: the new fusion of neo-classical economics and gene theory is up and coming).

            I suspect it’s the pretense that “the natural” is a _neutral_ category that’s really at issue here. But no linguistic categories are neutral. Neutrality is a state that must be induced, and we do it for particular purposes. I get why undergraduates get so worked up about this stuff. “OMG! There’s no such thing as external reality! It’s all a construct!” Yes, all texts are constructs; but not everything is a text. I take it anyone with a sufficiency of life experience understands this basic point. When did we become so naive about the power of words?

  3. powersjq said,

    November 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    “Everything under the sun is queer
    To the liberals who hate Shakespeare

    Kind of the way the subject of race
    Matters to liberals of nervous grace.”

    I can make no sense of these verses except that they might read like doggerel zingers to those of a certain political temperament. What, are you channeling Jason Koo now?

    “We really wonder about Queer Theory:
    Did a look in the mirror cause the query?”

    In a word, yes. I think it’s weird to call it theory. I also think it’s eminently sane to think a whole culture might just be wrong about some stuff.

  4. The Old Man said,

    November 19, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Congratulations. This poem could serve as a prologue to the “Dunciad”
    the current critical scene demands.

  5. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    November 19, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    I don’t honestly think that Butler is ugly. She has good bone structure. She reminds me of the Janet McTeer character in the film Albert Nobbs, in which she, and Glenn Close’s character, pass as men. Butler does look somewhat mannish, with the short haircut, but I think that it’s a look she’s aiming for. Do we really want to go around judging scholars and poets, or anyone else for that matter, on their looks?

    • Laura Runyan said,

      November 20, 2013 at 12:44 am

      I agree that she has good bone structure, and she looked especially good when she was younger. I, too, suspect that that’s the look she wants–the image she wants to project to the world. And of course she could also be adopting a look that’s common to one or more of the subcultures to which she belongs.

      Still, I did appreciate Tom’s couplets!

  6. thomasbrady said,

    November 20, 2013 at 1:23 am


    The poem doesn’t ever say Butler is ugly.

    I don’t know if this is just the power of Mother Nature versus the power of Humans playing God, but a woman trying to look like a man never looks as good as a naturally attractive woman—or a naturally attractive man.

  7. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    November 20, 2013 at 1:44 am

    She does not want to look attractive to men, hence the short hair and no make-up. I didn’t understand why some lesbians adopt this look either, until I took a Feminist Philosophy class many moons ago. The look turns men off, so she doesn’t have to worry about being pestered by them. At the same time, it signals to lesbians what she’s about.

    You may not have spelled it out, but anyone could see that you find her unattractive from reading your poem. I’m pretty certain she wants it that way.

    • Laura Runyan said,

      November 20, 2013 at 3:43 am

      Well, the lesbian community is a lot more diverse than many people realize. After all, “lipstick lesbians,” as they’re referred to and often refer to themselves within the community, also don’t want to date or sleep with men, but they don’t dress masculinely, either. I knew an extremely lovely sorority girl who was having an affair with another young woman in her sorority. Both women were “feminine” by conventional standards and were also attracted to other women who were more or less feminine by conventional standards. As one of them put it: “If I wanted to date someone who looked like a guy, I’d date guys.” As I said, it’s a more diverse community than just women who fit the Judith Butler mode.

      Fortunately, the one feminist philosophy course I took–which was taught in a philosophy department (I was a philosophy major) rather than as part of some critical theory curriculum–was a good course. The feminist film class I took, on the other hand (which was taught in the critical theory vein) was dreadful. Regarding lack of academic “rigor”? I thought if had to write one more personal JOURNAL entry as part of my “journey” through the films we were watching, I was going to throw up. I did take a psychology of women/women’s studies course several years ago that was good. It was taught by a professor of clinical psychology, though (a woman). She was a feminist AND a clear thinker. I didn’t go to college so I could sit around and share personal information in touchy-feely class discussions. Also, disagreeing with certain women in the class could be quite an unpleasant experience. I understood why the few men in the room almost never spoke, which is unfortunate; it seems to me that alienating male students is overlooking a valuable opportunity for thoughtful discussions about gender roles.

      I thought this “Mother Jones” article comparing a few women’s studies programs was not only honest but provided a much needed breath of fresh air:


      • thomasbrady said,

        November 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm

        From the Mother Jones article:

        “But the problem with a therapeutic pedagogy is more than just allowing students to discuss their periods or sex lives in class. Using the emotional and subjective to “validate” women risks validating precisely the stereotypes that feminism was supposed to eviscerate: women are irrational, women must ground all knowledge in their own experiences, etc. A hundred years ago, women were fighting for the right to learn math, science, Latin–to be educated like men; today, many women are content to get their feelings heard, their personal problems aired, their instincts and intuition respected.

        Politics, as usual.”


        • Laura Runyan said,

          November 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm

          What I found especially vexing, Tom, was when some (actually, many) postmodernist/post-structuralist feminist “theorists” aimed their anti-science thinking–so common to the bulk of critical theory–at women scientists and women mathematicians. The claims included that science is “phallocentric” and that women in science are “buying into the patriarchy.”

          It was part of that “women have a different way of knowing” nonsense that I found so offensive, and still do. I remember thinking at the time: I don’t know what a bridge designed by “feminist engineering” (whatever that might be) would look like, but I also don’t know that I would want to drive my car across it.

          So much for sisterhood!

          • thomasbrady said,

            November 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm

            Pedagogy + piecemeal empowerment = mendacity

            • powersjq said,

              November 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

              “Pedagogy + piecemeal empowerment = mendacity”

              There is no political order without a Noble Lie (or more correctly, without several). Your accusation lacks teeth.

          • powersjq said,

            November 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm

            I was also a philosophy major (this surprises no one here, I imagine), and the one course I took on feminism was a philosophy course. It was solid. I’ve always thought that basic feminist critique is simply correct. I’ve come to think that it’s basically a philological argument, which is why it plays well where people pay attention to language as such. As annoying as it could, I thought the “political correctness” thing was on balance good for women. Habits of speech are not quite identical to habits of thought or feelings, but they’re often close enough for practical purposes.

            If the issue is basically one of language, then what feminism is often up against is _connotations._ Not an easy target for criticism. The word “engineering,” for example, is related to the words “genital” and “generation.” In Galenic medicine, children have only one genetic parent: the father. The father is the generator; the mother bears and rears. One’s self-conscious, deliberate belief are in most instances too fragile to withstand the basic drift of the words we use to speak, to think, to write poetry. Poets make use of these halos of connotations when writing, and I think most poets would readily agree that trying to _manage_ these connotations is heavy lifting.

            Whatever modern science is, the language in which it expresses its basic aims and assumptions has (not infrequently deliberately) strong masculine overtones. To call it phallocentric overstates the case, but the basic critique is accurate. And demonstrable using straightforward philological analysis.

            Many of the terms we use–especially in academia and the arts–to praise a work and/or its producer have more or less overt connections to masculinity. “Bold,” “assertive,” “vigorous,” etc. Conversely, many terms of censure have connections to femininity. I view the “women have a different way of knowing” tack as an attempt to endue a lexicon more generally associated with femininity with positive valence. It’s at odds with other feminist tactics, but I don’t see why feminists need to agree on every point. It’s a big enough tent that an overall tolerance of experimentation seems like a wise protocol.

            As for putting word “feminist” or “gender” or women’s” in front of this or that noun, I think it’s more clumsy than anything else. A phrase like “feminist engineering” seems to miss the whole point. You can’t establish a positive relation between the ideas (functionally, the words) of “woman” and “engineering” simply by forcing them to sit next to each other for a while. The same criticism holds for “feminist studies” in general, which mainly ghettoizes the feminist critique.

            On the other hand, feminist studies also institutionalizes the feminist critique. It thereby provides institutional support to a substantial number of scholars who, though they’re basically just flat out good philosophers or historians (say), happen to make intensive use of some of feminism’s critical tools. There is a bigger picture. We have to put up with the general annoyingness of political correctness and the ersatz insipidity of gender studies, but the reflexively denigration to which our language subjects women has been somewhat tempered, and there’s a general sense that feminism can no longer be safely ignored. I believe those are worth more than a little discomfort.

            • Laura Runyan said,

              November 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm

              I don’t see science as having masculine overtones or words such as “bold” as denoting (or even connoting) manliness. (Isadora Duncan could have been described as a “bold” dancer, but that doesn’t suggest overt masculinity to me.) It’s still the case that more men than women become scientists, but women long ago demonstrated that they’re able to become outstanding scientists. Also, it’s hard for me to believe that the scientific method would have been radically different–say, emotive instead of evidence-based–had it been developed by women. Science is meaningless without evidence, and my sentimental reactions to my data won’t provide the best measure of whether or not that data tells me anything useful.

              Cultural constraints kept women out of these disciplines for centuries, but that doesn’t mean that women were/are inherently different in the way they’re able to understand or approach the sciences.

              I’ve studied the arts as well–I don’t see people as having to choose between the arts/humanities and science/mathematics–but I was also good at formal logic. Does that make me “masculine”? I don’t think so. What if a woman is BETTER at the kinds of reasoning used in “analytic” philosophy than the vast majority of her male colleagues? Why would we have to correct for her being female in a male-dominated discipline by referring to the notion that “women have a different way of knowing”? Apparently, in that discipline, I did NOT have a different “way” of knowing; I was just very good at the kinds of thinking that men had been able to participate in much longer–in fact, centuries before women could enter the academy. It’s this sort of distinction that women like me find insulting, regardless of how well-intentioned it may be.

              I do regard myself as a feminist, but my feminism differs substantially from most of the feminism put forward within critical theory sub-disciplines. It’s probably clear by now that as a philosophy major, I had little patience with the bulk of the recent and contemporary Continentalists (and I still do); the prose alone in much of that scholarship is so often so bad that it actually offends me. No humanities discipline needs to invent that much jargon over just a few decades.

              On the other hand, I like dissecting arguments. I taught my freshman comp students some basic logic with the hope that this knowledge would help them write better argumentative papers (which they were assigned by the English department to write). One thing I greatly appreciated about the “analytic” tradition, within which I took all my serious philosophy courses: Clear prose and clear argumentation were rewarded. I’ll take that any day over the obscurantism I have see far too often in the Continental tradition–a level of abstruseness that could easily explain why so many students involved with the latter rely so heavily on secondary sources about the authors they are required to read.

              • Laura Runyan said,

                November 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

                P.S. I’d also like to point out the European tradition of the male Romantic poets. Were they “feminine”? Or did they simply–for whatever combination of cultural and personal reasons–feel able to transcend superficial cultural notions of what “real men” write about?

                I want feminism to move us BEYOND these kinds of cultural limitations, not to reinforce the idea, for example, that women think dramatically differently from the way men do (though the implication intended by many recent and contemporary feminist theorists is, of course, that this different way is also superior); it’s a return to the idea of “women’s intuition,” etc., old stuff that predates the second wave of feminism and that I’d hoped we would have mostly left behind by now.

                Whether such a claim is used to place limits on women or to elevate them, it’s a destructive stereotype that misrepresents both genders.

                • vangiggles said,

                  November 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm

                  all-in-all, as far as stereotypes go, women’s intuition is fairly innocuous. my wife prides herself on it. then again, she’s not a feminist. when we first started dating, she claimed she was a 90’s girl. i didn’t realize until after our fist baby was born, she meant the 1890’s.

                  • Laura Runyan said,

                    November 21, 2013 at 2:40 am

                    This made me laugh (I mean, in a good way), I’ll admit.

                • powersjq said,

                  November 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

                  Your citation of the Romantics makes my point, which is only that the feminine and masculine are linguistic categories. I think they’re also broad (though not exhaustive) categories of embodied experience, but that doesn’t preclude their being linguistic, too.

                  “I want feminism to move us BEYOND these kinds of cultural limitations.” I share this ambition. Which is precisely why I would change the basic metaphor: “cultural limitations” are more like bones than walls. There are no free pastures “outside” cultural limitations–only barbarism (which _is_ an option, though I think a decidedly poor one). The body’s dynamism is a result of muscles pulling on the bones. Bones are limitations, and it is _because_ of these limitations than we can walk, run, and dance.

                  The only walls that feminism can break through are those construed in rather narrow (usually legal) terms: participation in primogeniture, the suffrage, wage equality, and so on. I’m more ambitious. I want our culture to accord women the same respect it accords men, not as a matter of determined self-will, but as a reflexive habit. Insofar as our language does our thinking for us (which I would argue is more than we are ever capable of thinking for ourselves), I want it to think/speak gender equality. I take this to be a fundamentally, and crucially, poetic task.

                  Equality is not sameness. There _are_ differences between the experiences of men and women, and though they’re few in number, they all have to do with fairly dramatic–even archetypical–experiences: sex, birth, breastfeeding. If these are not honored, then we don’t have equality, but only the legal pretense of it.

                  • thomasbrady said,

                    November 20, 2013 at 8:21 pm

                    So much good common sense spoken here on this tricky topic.

                    I’m really impressed!

                    Yes, Goethe’s “Sorrows of Young Werther” (late 18th century) was considered a groundbreaking work which said it was OK for men to be feeling, swooning creatures.

                    And this was, to a large extent, what Romanticism was all about.

                    It was “Feminism” by other means: “liberate” men to be like women.

                    A man can be “a man” and contain every single womanly trait.

                    A woman can be “a woman” and contain every single manly trait.

                    But then of course will come the ‘biological’ objection: hey, men don’t have to bear children!

                    And then we’re back to biology, again…

                    • Laura Runyan said,

                      November 21, 2013 at 2:39 am

                      (I would “Like” the above post as well, were this Facebook.)

                  • Laura Runyan said,

                    November 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm

                    I do not believe that biological differences between men and women are MERELY linguistic categories; the ability to give birth is not simply a product of language. I DO, however, know that feminist theories that focus on cognitive and personality differences between men and women, done with the assumption that these are innate differences, are insulting and reductive ways of looking at gender, and many of us find this assumption insulting.

                    You misread my point about the Romantics: that they emphasized emotion and intuition over reason (they were reacting to the Enlightenment). Yet many feminist theorists see the Romantics’ tendencies as belonging to the way WOMEN see the world. So which is it? (Or were Blake, et al, really just women who’d managed to “pass” as men?)

                    Sorry, but your archetypal theory is going to be extremely difficult (actually, I tend toward impossible) to support with any real evidence–which is yet another example of why I don’t take critical theory too seriously as theory.

                    • thomasbrady said,

                      November 20, 2013 at 9:37 pm

                      I agree with you, Laura.

                      To me, it often comes down to Nature v. Man Acting Like God.

                      To reduce Nature to linguistics is the great fraud of post-modern intellectualism, an insane, elitist power grab.

                      Linguistics doesn’t dictate to Nature. It’s the other way around.

                    • Laura Runyan said,

                      November 20, 2013 at 9:59 pm

                      I’m with you on this, Tom!

              • powersjq said,

                November 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

                “I don’t see science as having masculine overtones.” Well, there are (as you say) more male than female scientists. Scientists generally talk about their work in terms that are more or less related to masculinity. I thought the example of the word “engineering” wasn’t too shabby. I’m not talking about technical meanings of words, but about their vague _associations_. These are by definition vague, but that does not make them unreal or impotent.

                Of course you can use the word “bold” to describe a woman. I’m saying that calling a man bold is entirely pedestrian, while calling a woman bold is somewhat more striking. It’s that source and degree of that “somewhatness” that I think is interesting.

                Yes, woman can and have become scientists. That’s beside the point. The point is that it’s demonstrably more difficult for women to get and keep those positions. It’s telling that recent sociological studies on pre-adolescents indicate that girls are in general better than boys in _all_ academic categories until puberty hits. So what holds them back, because it doesn’t seem to be inborn ability.

                “It’s hard for me to believe that the scientific method would have been radically different–say, emotive instead of evidence-based–had it been developed by women.” Why do “emotions” and “evidence” seem like opposites? Are they really? In what sense?

                “My sentimental reactions to my data won’t provide the best measure of whether or not that data tells me anything useful.” Oh? I would think that the excitement of one’s colleagues _is_ a pretty good measure of the interest of the findings. Scientists are explicitly called upon to adopt an attitude of civility in the face of dissent and criticism; doesn’t this constitute a cultivation of a particular kind of “sentimental reaction?”

                “[…] women were/are inherently different in the way they’re able to understand or approach the sciences.” Again, depends on how you mean “inherently.” The evidence (and common sense) argue that there’s no difference in inborn ability. But girls _are_ socialized differently than boys. And the language people use to talk about science as an endeavor and about individual scientists is not neutral. A major barrier to women practicing science was–and is–simply that it feels “natural” to trope a male scientist as a hunter, a hero questing for truth, an adventurer on the shores of the unknown. It just _sounds_ more striking to trope a female thusly.

                “Does that make me “masculine”?” Of course not in the sense I take you to mean. But descriptions of what you were/are doing–and especially your excellence in doing it–would have to be in terms that are _both_ typically associated with men and generally resonant with (or perhaps redolent of) maleness. What I’m talking about is this incongruity.

                “The prose alone in much of that scholarship is so often so bad that it actually offends me.” I sympathize. No one brought up in the Anglo tradition is predisposed to the verbal flights and ethereal speculations typical of Continental philosophy. Derrida and Delueze in particular leave me cold, largely because of how they write. Still, you’re not going to pretend that “plain-speaking” isn’t also an affectation, are you? Quine and Rawls only _seem_ straightforward.

                • Laura Runyan said,

                  November 20, 2013 at 8:12 pm

                  My mother was a scientist and tenured faculty member, and she would vigorously dispute the claim that scientists tend to communicate with one another in “masculine” terms. Evidence-based isn’t inherently masculine; logic isn’t inherently masculine (I was good at logical reasoning as a kid, and that wasn’t because I was trained in it at an early age–which I wasn’t); analysis of data and literature reviews of others’ research aren’t inherently masculine. Neither is competitiveness, despite gushy talk about how women are more likely to cooperate with others (some are–just as some MEN are).

                  I don’t see calling a woman’s work “bold” all that striking in reference to a woman, especially in the 21st century–not unless we’re talking about warfare, with which women generally have far less experience. Maybe I’ve just known too many “bold” women–straight, lesbian, and in-between; maybe I’ve moved further beyond the stereotypes I saw on television and in other areas of popular culture when I was a child and teenager.

                  Good woman scientists are in high demand in many science programs at the university level, but the gender disparity in STEM fields appears to start before and during undergraduate school. So, no, it’s not beside the point that women CAN become scientists. You seem to be granting too much credit to the idea that woman have “different ways of knowing,” and if you’re at all inclined to believe that this difference in innate, then it’s important for others to point out the many counterexamples and, in doing so, to point out that women scientists are hardly seen as freaks of nature these days. I grew up in the same culture and was exposed to the same sexist language, and that didn’t impede my ability to reason well or to find unsubstantiated claims about “women’s intuition” suspect.

                  By the way, the numbers of women in analytic philosophy (as opposed to critical theory) have always been low–far lower than I’ve seen in any other discipline in the humanities–and they still are, though they’ve increased a bit. I never, however, experienced any gender bias from my philosophy professors. I likely would have, in the opposite direction, from many critical theory faculty members, though–at least if they talk at all the way they write, which I know many of them do. All kinds of cultural forces work against women studying and entering the sciences, but their low numbers aren’t a result of today’s science departments not wanting women on their faculties; the causes are much more complex than that and often play a role years before girls apply to college.

                  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about a quarter of the STEM workforce was made up of women in 2011, and many academic institutions would like to see that percentage increase as the number of STEM positions increase:

                  MIT does a much better job attracting female students than many other institutions do:

                  Caltech is also making serious efforts: http://diversity.caltech.edu/status_of_women.html

                  Starting sooner–in grade school:

                  Regarding “inherently”? Au contraire; many scholars in women’s studies argue that women ARE inherently–innately–different, intellectually and in terms of temperament, from men, an idea especially prominent in “cultural feminism” (though that’s not the only arena in feminism you’ll find it) (http://chisimba.umu.ac.ug:8081/jspui/bitstream/123456789/84/1/EDSLinda%20Alcoff.pdf).

                  Since I’ve seen no good evidence to support this view, you should probably dispute this particular point with them, not me.

                  So WHAT if I’m good at something a lot of men are also good at? My studies didn’t brainwash me into some supposedly-male pattern of thinking. In fact, I knew a fair number of bad or mediocre male philosophy students, some of whom seemed to have chosen the discipline just because they thought it was “cool.” And I know plenty of men who are lousy at reasoning skills.

                  If you’re going to refer specifically to sociological studies (not my favorite discipline, by the way–and it became far too influenced by critical theory), you might consider citing sources.

                  “I would think that the excitement of one’s colleagues _is_ a pretty good measure of the interest of the findings. Scientists are explicitly called upon to adopt an attitude of civility in the face of dissent and criticism; doesn’t this constitute a cultivation of a particular kind of ‘sentimental reaction?'” Here you’re referring to OTHER scientists’ emotional reactions, not the woman scientist’s; I was referring to the latter. What I meant is that channeling, say, the “science goddess” and “intuiting” over incense whether or not I should pursue a certain course of research isn’t a SCIENTIFIC way for a scientist to evaluate the quality of her data. You misread me here. What I wrote: “My sentimental reactions to my data won’t provide the best measure of whether or not that data tells me anything useful.” The emphasis was supposed to be on MY sentimental reactions.

                  Plain “speaking” is an affectation only if it’s done purely to make a superficial impression; if, however, the prose is clear because it actually SAYS something without resorting to jargon-laden pseudo-depth (in other words, posturing), then I call it this: GOOD WRITING.

    • vangiggles said,

      November 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      diane, my wife, who wears very little make up or jewelry, has cut her hair very short on several occasions, not because she is looking to turn off or on men, via her hair. i think it’s just a matter of personal preference. if you came up to her and asked her if she was trying to look like a man, well, i just wouldn’t want to be there to see how she would react to such a ridiculous accusation. she just likes to experiment every now and then, just as i do when i grow my hair out every 3 to 6 months.

      • vangiggles said,

        November 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm

        p.s. diane, fwiw, no man who is honestly attracted to women, truly cares about their hair. i like long hair on a woman, but i would have sex with a bald woman. there is much more to the female body than the length of her hair, or the strucure of her face for that matter. i mean, really, if getting laid were anything about how a person looks, i would still be virgin.

      • Laura Runyan said,

        November 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm

        If I could click “Like” in response to your comment, vangiggles, I would. I’m weaning myself off of Facebook, though, in an effort to become an occasional visitor there instead of a daily user, so maybe it’s good that no “Like” is available here!)

        • powersjq said,

          November 20, 2013 at 5:23 pm


          (I found a workaround! 🙂 )

      • Diane Roberts Powell said,

        November 21, 2013 at 2:30 am

        Yes, yes, I once had my hair cut very short when I was young. There are short pixie or feminine styles. But was your wife sporting a K.D. Lang or Judith Butler look? As far as you not caring about what a woman looks like, or if she even has ANY hair, maybe you’re just a really horny dude. I know some guys who would jump on any woman who breathed when they were really young. But hey, if you’re a middle aged guy and can still perform like that, more power to you. Either that, or thank God for Viagra, I suppose.

        • Laura Runyan said,

          November 21, 2013 at 2:42 am

          (This one above also made me laugh–just so ya know.)

        • November 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm

          • Diane Roberts Powell said,

            November 21, 2013 at 10:20 pm

            Hey Des, thanks for that. She’s a very handsome woman, isn’t she? I remember reading an article by a radical lesbian feminist, in my feminist philosophy class, in which she wrote, “We have to think butch. We have to think dyke,” as a way of reclaiming those terms.

            • noochinator said,

              November 22, 2013 at 11:33 am

              You’re welcome! I just added Beatty’s Dick Tracy to my Netflix queue.

        • vangiggles said,

          November 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm

          no hornier than the rest. i just like to make good on my needs, for the purposes of good health. middle-aged, almost dead, but no viagra necessary.

          an abiding fondness for liquor, women, and song, as the saying goes, along with a good diet and regular trips to the gym. springsteen, mick jagger, probably the two fellas who have informed my regimen most.

          • Keef support said,

            November 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm

            Keef has some very interesting things to say about his sexual experiences:


            • thomasbrady said,

              November 21, 2013 at 6:29 pm

              I notice the interviewer avoided the taboo topic: have you ever been in love?

          • thomasbrady said,

            November 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

            Camille Paglia would have a field day with this; she would gush, “You see? Nature, red in tooth and claw, with its mad desire to breed and fornicate, eclipses and overwhelms all niceties re: hair styles, sexual preferences, academic theory etc To which the queer theory professor would retort, “Well, yes, that’s why I’m civilized, that’s why I’m human. I balance on niceties and nuances, thank you very much!”

  8. thomasbrady said,

    November 20, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Interesting. Heterosexuals cannot target their looks like that. If a man wants to look good for women, he can’t help but look good to homosexual men, right? But Butler can actually turn off men as well as heterosexual women and yet lure in the gay women. Brilliant! That is advanced, and I admire that. Thanks, Diane.

    • vangiggles said,

      November 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      tom, been hit on by a few men in my lifetime. has nothing to do with my looks. i am a fairly ugly freak of nature, along the lines of woody allen, except he’s probably more handsome than me. i can talk anybody into bed. it’s that simple. really….

      • thomasbrady said,

        November 20, 2013 at 7:46 pm

        Hide your wives and daughters!

        Anyone who says they ‘can talk anybody into bed’ is either an idiot or a liar.

        How do you know they (the millions you’ve bedded) didn’t talk you into bed?

        You wild and crazy guy…

        • vangiggles said,

          November 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm

          neither an idiot nor a liar be….

  9. anonymous said,

    November 20, 2013 at 3:23 am

    I can’t comment on humanity
    but here I recognize poetic insanity.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm


      Not sure what you mean by “insanity,” but I find the wittily discursive in poetry usually works better than image. Insanity is when poets attempt what is obviously best left to the visual arts.

  10. Laura Runyan said,

    November 20, 2013 at 5:34 am

    Responses to the Mother Jones article, which I first read when it was published, include criticism as well as comments from some in the field who heartily agree with her:


    (Susan Faludi’s criticism seems to ignore the possibility that pedagogical options include more than just a focus on “intuition” or having dry “facts and figures” crammed in your brain as you passively accept them.)

  11. vangiggles said,

    November 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    tom, just because a woman has short hair does not mean she is trying to look like a man. for example, when i grow my hair out long, i’m not trying to look like a woman. merely experimenting with different looks and feels. has your daughter’s mother never had short hair?

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 20, 2013 at 6:52 pm


      C’mon, you know I’m not just talking about a woman with short hair.

      Diane Powell, in a comment above, explained it nicely:

      “She does not want to look attractive to men, hence the short hair and no make-up. I didn’t understand why some lesbians adopt this look either, until I took a Feminist Philosophy class many moons ago. The look turns men off, so she doesn’t have to worry about being pestered by them. At the same time, it signals to lesbians what she’s about.”

      • vangiggles said,

        November 20, 2013 at 7:16 pm

        i’m telling you, if i were single, it would take more than a butch haircut to send me packing. men who are attracted to women don’t care about their make up and hair. those kinds of fashionable displays are, generally speaking, for other women. fashion is a means of competition for many women. again, there are plenty of women with this same look who are probably not lesbians, just like there are plenty of effeminate men who are not gay, and are not trying to attract men.

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 20, 2013 at 8:02 pm


          Agreed. Looks (and even style) are not everything.

          Would published works on queer theory “send you packing?”

          • vangiggles said,

            November 20, 2013 at 8:13 pm

            no, a simple, no thank you, i’m not interested would do.

            published works? no, that would be a bit presumptuous, assuming a person is gay because of what they are studying?

            • thomasbrady said,

              November 20, 2013 at 8:18 pm

              No…what they themselves have published…like Butler…

              • vangiggles said,

                November 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm

                or what they have published, especially if i have not read the person’s work, such as butler, i would not make any assumptions about the person’s personal appetites.

            • Laura Runyan said,

              November 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm

              Butler is “out,” though. Her partner is political science professor Wendy Brown, though Brown is also very into critical theory.

              Philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s critique of Butler’s ideas (which I consider a worthy one):


              • thomasbrady said,

                November 21, 2013 at 1:46 am

                But vangiggles says he can “talk anybody into bed” and I assume he means what he says. And he admits he’s ugly, so he must know what to say.

                • Laura Runyan said,

                  November 21, 2013 at 2:15 am

                  That’s some level of eloquence he must have acquired!

              • powersjq said,

                November 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm

                Wow! Thanks for posting, Laura. Nussbaum reads Butler so we don’t have to. I know I needed to read more Nussbaum, and this is another reason why. This was a fantastic read that clarifies my reservations about Butler and all the “theorizing” that drifts along with her.

                As I’ve said, I haven’t read Butler and I’ve no intention to. My ignorance has inclined me to be charitable. I readily admit, though, that the kind of “critical theory” that Butler epitomizes and that you so detest also bores and infuriates me, for all the reasons that Nussbaum lays out. Empty, cynical, knowing. Meh.

                Again, thanks.

                • Laura Runyan said,

                  November 21, 2013 at 10:49 pm

                  Thanks for your response, powersjq. Y’know, I could probably be much more charitable toward these ideas–I mean, it’s not as if Professor Butler is an overall stupid or ignorant person–had they not taken over whole disciplines. When I realized it had reached that point (at least in most university programs within those disciplines, anyway), I just grew increasingly frustrated.

                  Something Nussbaum illustrates so well: You can be part of the “left” or be “liberal” or “progressive” (whatever term one chooses) without belonging to the “academic left.” It got harder and harder, though, to find an undergraduate English department in which that was still true!

                  • Laura Runyan said,

                    November 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm

                    And it got even harder to find GRADUATE “academic” English programs for which it was true.

        • Diane Roberts Powell said,

          November 21, 2013 at 5:27 am

          Speaking of effeminate men who are not gay or trying to attract other men, has anyone taken note of Russell Brand? I have NEVER seen a guy that claims to be straight, act so effeminate. But then again, he did say he performed sex acts on a guy in a bathroom, but claimed it was only because it was part of the TV show he was filming. He was on the Ellen show once, and he literally scared the crap out of her because he started moving closer and closer to her and acting like he was getting sexually excited. Look it up on You tube. It’s hilarious.

          • Laura Runyan said,

            November 21, 2013 at 5:31 am

            I need to check that out this week. Ellen doesn’t seem too easily scared, so I’ll be curious to see her reaction!

          • thomasbrady said,

            November 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm


            I don’t think Russell Brand is effeminate so much as a super-relaxed, British, lady’s man, dandy. There’s a clip of him making an American news lady very uncomfortable but not in a threatening way. He made her seem socially inept.

  12. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    November 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    There are innate differences between men and women. Anyone who thinks differently hasn’t taken care of children. Girls are much more verbal, earlier on, while the boys are physically active sooner. There are many more examples.

    The inequality between men and women is real and happens on a personal level. A woman doesn’t ask a guy out, because he would feel like he was being chased. And what woman proposes marriage to her boyfriend? Sure, it happens here and there. But until women are treated equally in the personal relationships with men, I won’t hold my breath waiting for any glass ceilings to break.

    • Laura Runyan said,

      November 21, 2013 at 1:31 am

      Certainly we can name innate differences between men and women, but I’m more than a little leery of naming any that are behavioral–not that this means there couldn’t be any. But it’s extremely difficult to determine that a behavioral characteristic is innate rather than learned. Butler, however, takes it too far for me to take seriously; she claims that our behavior also creates blatantly biological aspects of gender (our biological sex), and yet she provides no evidence for this claim. So how does she account for differences such as menstruation, pregnancy, and insemination? Are they really a function of performativity? Why should I accept her account? Simply because she and her followers find it politically and “theoretically” attractive?

      I’ve known more than a few women who’ve asked men out, and more than a few men who found the gesture pretty exciting. At least SOME gender roles have changed in recent decades. When I was a kid, being a stay-at-home dad was almost unheard of; now I see some of these fathers pushing strollers together in the middle of the afternoon on a business day. Is it the norm? No, but it’s also not seen as terribly strange anymore.

      • vangiggles said,

        November 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

        i was a stay-at-home father. thoroughly embarrassing showing up in the grocery store during the day, with the rest of the unemployed and blue-hairs. now that i’m working again, i rarely ever set foot in a grocery store, or take as large a role in many of the household chores that were a staple of my day.

        many of my friends, however, in their high-stress, high-income positions, claimed to be quite jealous of the fact that i was a stay-at-home father. regardless, i will never regret the time i got to spend, when i was actually awake and sober, with my children. lots of good times, from what i remember….

        as for changes in the dating scene, my son, beautiful bastard that he is, during high school, was frequently approached by young ladies for dates and proms. my daughter, however, also a normal looking beautiful person, would never approach a boy first. i raised that one right, god bless her. i get a little kick out of every heart she breaks, and can’t wait for her to break up with her current beau.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 21, 2013 at 2:06 am

      Diane, But look how two men (or two women) can be so vastly different, two brothers even. It comes down to this: Nature cares about one thing: breeding. In order to do this She created two things: men and women. And there are such vast differences within the pool of 1) men and 2) women to increase the chances of someone in one group finding someone in the other group that interests them. That’s it. It’s not complicated. Nature doesn’t care about anything else, not equality, not linguistics, just breeding. Why is this so hard to grasp? Yes, and men can think and act just like women and women can think and act just like men. Nature doesn’t care. Why should she? She hard-wired men/women for breeding and that’s what defines sex and gender. Period.

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