Judith Butler, born in Cleveland, Ohio on February 2, 1956, is a leading philosopher whose theories in the fields of political philosophy, feminism and ethics are well known. She has held many prestigious teaching positions, including a professorship in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature department at the University of California, Berkeley. The thrust of her studies and research is in what she calls "post-structuralist" efforts within the conceptual framework of the feminist theory, which question some of the underlying premises of feminism. She has also conducted extensive research on Jewish philosophical writings regarding Zionism and its tactics.
Butler was born into a family of immigrants from Russia and Hungary. Although her mother was raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish home, she later became affiliate with the Conservative, and then the Reform, streams of Judaism, along with her husband who had always attended a Reform synagogue. Butler went to Hebrew school and was intrigued by the ethics and philosophy classes. She was most impressed by the teachings of Martin Buber, Hegel, Kant and Spinoza.
Butler studied at Yale University, where she received her B.A. degree in philosophy and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1984. The title of her dissertation was Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France; it was widely accepted by scholars and eventually published.
Before joining the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, in 1993, she taught at Johns Hopkins University, Wesleyan University and George Washington University. In 2009, she was awarded the $1.5 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award for her contributions to, and achievements in, the fields of humanities and feminism. In 2006, Butler became the Hannah Arendt Chair at the world- famous European Graduate School, located in Switzerland.
In her most famous book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Judith Butler asserted that feminism as a whole, and the feminist movement in particular, erred in claiming that women belong to a single group with common interests and characteristics. This concept has lead to a clear division between the sexes, by clearly defining and categorizing people into two groups: men and women. She argued against feminism's rejection of the notion that biology is dictates a woman's destiny. Instead, feminists devised the theory of patriarchal culture, which teaches that feminine and masculine genders are determined by culture and that the only difference between men and women is physical.
In her book Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (1993), Butler claims that sexuality is not only about attaining and exhibiting pleasure and how bodies react and perform those pleasures. She takes gender and bodies at face value and not as a sexual entity.
In August 2003, Butler published an article in the London Review of Books, "No, It's Not Anti-Semitic," in which she disagreed with statements made by Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University. Summers had said that criticizing the policies of the State of Israel was a form of anti-Semitism. Butler argued that it is not right to equate Zionists with Jews or Zionism with Judaism and moreover, it is incorrect to say that Jews who disagree with Israeli policies are self-hating. She also addressed the dispute over whether Israel has the right to exist, claiming that argument is only valid if one believes that Israel alone is responsible for keeping the Jewish people viable and alive. Those people also trust that State of Israel will ensure that another holocaust does not occur.
In June 2010, the Christopher Street Day (CSD) Parade in Berlin bestowed its Civil Courage Award, known as the Zivilcourage-Preis, on Butler. She refused to accept it, however, because some comments and remarks made by organizers were racist. She claimed that the CSD organization had not done anything or said anything to distance themselves from those remarks, especially ones with an anti-Muslim overtone.