Tag Archives: gender

Book: Gender Trouble (First Read)

What does this book say?

Judith Butler‘s complicated brain in prose. A conversation piece.
209 pages, ★★

I love women, but even I see Judith Butler’s brain as a incomprehensibly tangled mess.

As someone who persistently tried—and failed—to ‘fit in’, Judith Butler wrote Gender Trouble in an attempt to understand her own identity. She didn’t feel fully-accepted into any socially-constructed identity, so in Gender Trouble, she carved out her own.

I care less about what she writes than about why she writes it. Contemplating the differences between men and women on a philosophical level is pointless for most of us, but it would be of great inspiration to someone in similar shoes to the author. Actually, the author said in an interview, “Gender Trouble was an attempt to understand how my family and myself failed to comply with Hollywood norms”. Voilà.

“Gender Trouble was an attempt to understand how my family and myself failed to comply with Hollywood norms” — Judith Butler

My first impression was “this book is unintelligible”. I had a dictionary at hand for words like phantasma, cathexis, exogamy and phallogocentrism but not all of them were there. After 80 pages, I retreated to YouTube and Wikipedia in search of summaries and author interviews. I side-tracked onto Slavoj Žižek videos before going back to the book. Most of it still looks unintelligible to me.

Despite not really understanding this book, Gender Trouble made an excellent conversation piece. This book stimulated hours of discussion in my living room (even though nobody fully understood this book); we talked about sex, lesbians, equality, sexual identity, and most interestingly, why some people feel compelled to write books about it all.

One reading is clearly not enough. I missed 100% of the humour and 99% of the point. Maybe that’s because I’m a man. Or maybe it’s because I’m just stupid. I promise to read it again.

I prefer Slavoj Žižek as a philosopher. ★★

Book: The Essential Difference

An insightful over-interpretation
269 pages, ★★★★

The Essential Difference is a easily-readable popular psychology book. Its thesis is that “men are different from women in just about every conceivable way” (it’s the sex equivalent of The Geography of Thought, which pulled East and West apart to equal extremes)All the book’s claims are supported with scientific studies, so I’m not doubting the validity of the research. However, I am left asking, “why?”

I learned the most from chapters 8 (with a large, and surprisingly flattering section on Autism and Aspergers’) and chapter 12 (on extreme feministic traits). The self-test section taught me that I have a below-average EQ, an above-average IQ, and half the symptoms of Aspergers’ (however, I also have half the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and some sort of personality disorder, but doesn’t everyone?)

To enjoy this book, refrain from reading it as a tennis match between two sexes (it isn’t, but lends itself to being misinterpreted as such). The Essential Difference mixes ethical balance and scientific data very well.

Interesting highlights include: a definition of empathy, five definitions of gender, an EQ test, and the fact that “women with a bigger right breast are better at math”.

Disappointments include: excessive stereotypes, and the fact that “women with a bigger right breast are better at math”.

My views are unchanged. I still think that men are only good at certain things when you compare them to women, that women are only good at other things when you compare them to men, and that to imply that either sex is wholly superior over the other is a very male way to think. The Essential Difference didn’t change my viewpoints (on gender, autism, empathy, and on my own character), but it did further my understanding.