Judith Butler: Burn the Witch!
Philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler
One of Bennington’s most celebrated former students, gender theorist Judith Butler, was under a state of constant harassment by extremist conservative groups during a recent visit to Brazil, brought about by her organization of a seminar series called Os fins da democracia, or The Ends of Democracy, in São Paulo.
Butler, who attended Bennington College from 1974 to 1976, is one of the world's most regarded gender theorists and contemporary philosophers. She is currently Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at U.C. Berkeley, and Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School. Her most famous text, Gender Trouble, is considered one of the foundational books for queer theory and gender politics in the 21st century, and her theories on gender performativity are considered deeply influential.
Protesters in Brazil gathered to voice their disapproval of Butler’s involvement at the SESC, a Brazilian non-profit arts foundation, burning her in effigy, holding signs declaring Butler a witch, and promising that she would “Burn in Hell." In an article published in Inside Higher Ed, Butler discussed the protests, noting that she had never been scheduled as a speaker at the conference. Opponents had "assumed that I would be speaking on gender since the allegation is that I am the founder of 'the ideology of gender,'" Butler wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed. She went on to explain:
That ideology, which is called 'diabolical' by these opponents, is considered to be a threat to the family. There does not seem to be any evidence that those who mobilized on this occasion had any familiarity with my text Gender Trouble, published in late 1989. But they took that text to be promoting the idea that one can become any gender one wants, that there are not natural laws or natural differences, and that both the biblical and scientific basis for establishing the differences between the sexes would be, or already is, destroyed by the theory attributed to me.
The protesters derided Butler and her theories as "evil," and a group of 20 evangelicals and ultra-Catholics--captured on this disturbing cellphone video--accosted Butler and her partner, Wendy Brown, at the airport in São Paulo. Butler described the scene this way:
They were screaming at me to leave Brazil, where I was not wanted. And there seemed to be some mention of pedophilia (which I strongly and absolutely oppose, as would any feminist scholar and activist). There were physical fights between the protesters and some bystanders who intervened physically to stop them from harassing us, but neither one of us were hurt. As I entered the security area, one of them yelled out in English that 'Trump will take care of you!'
The irony is that the protests were a glaring example of the nationalist, anti-democratic, anti-feminist and homophobic currents that the conference had been organized to wrestle with in the first place.
"Indeed," Butler wrote Inside Higher Ed, "they reminded us at the conference why we were right to worry about the state of democracy."