Who's Afraid of Gender?

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Pub Date Mar 19 2024 | Archive Date Apr 08 2024

Description

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2024 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Los Angeles Times, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Kirkus, Literary Hub, Autostraddle, The Millions, Electric Literature, and them.

"A profoundly urgent intervention.” —Naomi Klein


"A timely must-read for anyone actively invested in re-imagining collective futurity.” —Claudia Rankine

From a global icon, a bold, essential account of how a fear of gender is fueling reactionary politics around the world.


Judith Butler, the groundbreaking thinker whose iconic book Gender Trouble redefined how we think about gender and sexuality, confronts the attacks on “gender” that have become central to right-wing movements today. Global networks have formed “anti-gender ideology movements” that are dedicated to circulating a fantasy that gender is a dangerous, perhaps diabolical, threat to families, local cultures, civilization—and even “man” himself. Inflamed by the rhetoric of public figures, this movement has sought to nullify reproductive justice, undermine protections against sexual and gender violence, and strip trans and queer people of their rights to pursue a life without fear of violence.

The aim of Who’s Afraid of Gender? is not to offer a new theory of gender but to examine how “gender” has become a phantasm for emerging authoritarian regimes, fascist formations, and transexclusionary feminists. In their vital, courageous new book, Butler illuminates the concrete ways that this phantasm of “gender” collects and displaces anxieties and fears of destruction. Operating in tandem with deceptive accounts of “critical race theory” and xenophobic panics about migration, the anti-gender movement demonizes struggles for equality, fuels aggressive nationalism, and leaves millions of people vulnerable to subjugation.

An essential intervention into one of the most fraught issues of our moment, Who’s Afraid of Gender? is a bold call to refuse the alliance with authoritarian movements and to make a broad coalition with all those whose struggle for equality is linked with fighting injustice. Imagining new possibilities for both freedom and solidarity, Butler offers us a hopeful work of social and political analysis that is both timely and timeless—a book whose verve and rigor only they could deliver.

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2024 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Los Angeles Times, ELLE, Cosmopolitan, Kirkus, Literary Hub, Autostraddle, The Millions, Electric Literature, ...


A Note From the Publisher

Judith Butler is the author of several books including Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection, Excitable Speech, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, and The Force of Non-Violence. In addition to numerous academic honors and publications, Butler has published editorials and reviews in The Guardian, The New Statesman, The Nation, Time Magazine, the London Review of Books, and in a wide range of journals, newspapers, radio and podcast programs throughout Europe, Latin America, Central and South Asia, and South Africa. They live in Berkeley.

Judith Butler is the author of several books including Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, The Psychic Life of Power:...


Advance Praise

★ “A brilliant writer and thinker, Butler . . . offers a long-needed text clarifying confusion by design . . . Their newest offering is urgent, returning breathable air into a toxic cloud . . . The result is exhilarating and life-changing.” Booklist (starred review)

★ "[A] trenchant polemic . . . Thoughtful and powerfully assured, this is an essential take on an ongoing political battle." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A wonderfully thoughtful and impassioned book on a critically important centerpiece of contemporary authoritarianism and patriarchy. A master class in how gender has been weaponized in support of conservative values and authoritarian regimes.” Kirkus Reviews

“Judith Butler has been brilliantly troubling the landscape of gender construction for over three decades. At a time when anti-Trans and anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric and ideology is creeping into every facet of our lives—from school boards and libraries to legislation and political campaigns—Who’s Afraid of Gender gives its reader a roadmap away from surprising oppositions within the progressive left. Their work calls for solidarity in the face of the weaponization of anti-gender ideology wielded by the political right. Butler makes us aware that there will be no freedom without gender freedom. A timely must-read for anyone actively invested in re-imagining collective futurity.” —Claudia Rankine, author of Just Us

“Judith Butler’s Who’s Afraid of Gender is more than a corrective and antidote to this corrosive time and to the terrible conjoining of the far right, conservatives, and liberals over meaning and mattering made manifest in the phantasms of ‘gender.’ It is also—and urgently—a call and an invitation to ‘new coalitions and new imaginaries’ and ‘to help produce a world in which we can move and breathe and love without fear of violence.’ It is a call to reject ‘righteous sadism,’ to know the risk of making another world, and to act, anyway, collectively toward it.” —Christina Sharpe, author of Ordinary Notes

“Only Butler’s dazzling intellect and moral confidence could orient us inside the maze of projections, confessions, displacements, and co-optations that make up today’s wars over gender. It is the dream of a bygone, authoritarian masculinist power that unites the various fronts of this battle—and only solidarity between all who are in fascism’s crosshairs has a chance of saving us. A profoundly urgent intervention.” —Naomi Klein, author of Doppelganger

“If there is one scholar working today who has become strangely emblematic of right wing anxieties about gender and so-called ‘gender ideology’, it is Judith Butler. Here, Butler speaks back to that caricature with analysis that is calm and rigorous. Explaining carefully and critically the ways in which the spectre of ‘gender’ contains all sorts of reactionary fears, Butler demonstrates how global this countermovement is, how it functions, and how resisting it involves a better future for us all.” —Shon Faye, author of The Transgender Issue

“Judith Butler is the most important philosopher working in the United States today, and the one whose legacy is most likely to survive the test of time. Here, in clear, precise prose, and with devastatingly analytical precision, they dismantle the global attack on ‘Gender Ideology’, revealing it for what it is—an attack on democracy’s freedoms.” —Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works

“The global war against so-called 'gender ideology' is one of the most politically consequential and psychically intriguing phenomena of our present moment. Underneath it lies, Judith Butler argues in this powerful new book, a yearning for the restoration of a mythic patriarchal order in the face of mounting existential despair. As ever, Butler offers us a compelling diagnosis of the anxieties, fears and fantasies that structure our political present, pointing us towards both its darkest dimensions and its possible undoing.” —Amia Srinivasan, author of The Right to Sex

“Judith Butler’s big brain and big heart have consistently made other people’s lives more possible by grappling with and exposing how authoritarian ideas work. Here, they show how anti-trans and anti-queer rhetoric are on rapid rise from global and domestic Nationalists, the Catholic Church, and TERFS. And that these divergent groups all root their attacks in false accusations of harm, when they are the ones holding the power. By answering the question 'Who is out to destroy whom?' Butler dissects the distorted claim that expanding gender systems 'hurts' people who identify with the status quo. Butler turns these manipulative arguments on their heads, revealing the trope of perpetrators claiming victimhood as central to anti-trans politics. A useful, helpful, and hopeful book.” —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

“Taking you by the hand and leading you through the phantasms, projections, inversions, and fascist passions of a world in economic and political turmoil, this book is remarkably empathetic towards those whose gruesome rights-stripping endeavors and moral panics it exhibits. Who’s Afraid of Gender? combines authority and humility, humor and horror, psychosocial inquiry and active political commitment, while also serving as an accessible primer on key debates in queer theory and gender studies around “nature/culture,” performativity, blackness, and decolonial approaches, for example. Bravo. I am grateful and heartened that Judith Butler has so comprehensively assessed the scene and thrown down this antifascist gauntlet. Few could approach the task of an agnotology of present-day anti-genderism with such patient grace.” —Sophie Lewis, author of Abolish the Family 

★ “A brilliant writer and thinker, Butler . . . offers a long-needed text clarifying confusion by design . . . Their newest offering is urgent, returning breathable air into a toxic cloud . . . The...


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ISBN 9780374608224
PRICE $30.00 (USD)
PAGES 320

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Featured Reviews

This is a must read for anyone who finds themselves debating their right to exist on a near daily basis. When you're up against anti-intellectual and fascist modes of thinking, you have to arm yourself with as much information as you can get. Butler puts together an incredible review of history, philosophy, and current political agendas to show a wide range of arguments for and against gender. If you're already well versed on gender and transgender theory, a lot of this book is reiteration of common schools of thought, building toward more complex and intersectional ideas. I'm no gender rookie, but the different viewpoints Butler includes each had at least a little something that I hadn't heard or put together yet myself. The way Butler pulls it all together even helped make a few concepts I'd been struggling with really click onto place.
The text is highly academic, and is by no means an easy read. If you're not used to reading academic essays, it might be a bit of a struggle to fully immerse yourself, but I encourage you to just take it slow and let it sink in. Butler makes a point to circle back around every now and again, so as long as you stick with it, you won't get lost or left behind.
Thank you, Netgalley, for the advanced digital copy.

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5 stars

It seems like there are two camps of readers who will come to this text: Butler's preexisting acolytes (*raises hand faster than Tracy Flick*) and Butler's detractors. I can't speak to what the latter gets out of this, and I also...don't care.

Butler's work was part of my scholarship throughout all of my undergraduate and graduate coursework, it's foundational in the college courses I've been teaching for decades, and it has helped me better understand the world at large. For obvious reasons, I came in with high expectations, and I'm feeling fulfilled.

Butler answers their titular question, and they also provide a lot of context for where we are now and how we got here. I got a lot of out of this, but the most important benefit is the counteracting of so much gaslighting. I'm fortunate to be mostly in environments where that's not happening, but I still live in this society, where a lot of the issues Butler digs into here are the subject of constant f***ery, and there's only so much of that one can take before they start asking what the heck is even going on anymore.

So, Butler is showing up here not only with a well devised exploration of the central subject but also with some important, grounding reminders from the premier expert. It turns out there are still some folks afraid of gender (*sighs forever*), but Butler is still here to help the rest of us keep fighting for the obvious: basic human rights. I'm not sure there's a higher endorsement available.

This is - as anticipated - more foundational content from one of the greatest theorists of our time.

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