Judy Judy Judy

Judith Butler blows up her own argument in the middle of a sentence – and doesn’t correct it, even though it’s not a live conversation but an email exchange with a New Statesman writer.

When Justice Ginsburg established “sex” discrimination as a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to be treated equally, she underscored that equality was the basis for feminist legal victories. What if access to certain kinds of healthcare, including abortion, is a matter of equality? If men have adequate healthcare, and women do not, then women, or those who are pregnant, suffer discrimination. 

No, you can’t flip your own argument mid-sentence like that. You end up with gibberish. “If men have adequate healthcare, and women do not, then women, or men who are pregnant, suffer discrimination.” Wut? But you just said men have adequate healthcare, in contrast to women, not in contrast to women or men. Sometimes remembering to be incloooooooosive makes nonsense of your argument. 

Then it’s stupid in a different way.

Something similar is happening with trans healthcare. If people who are not trans get the healthcare they require, and trans people face discrimination at healthcare facilities, then they suffer discrimination.

That argument should be “If people who are not trans get the healthcare they require, and trans people don’t get the healthcare they require, then they suffer discrimination.” I wonder if she changed it because of unease – possibly unconscious – about the nature of that “healthcare.” As many of us point out several times a day, it is at the very least questionable that trying to change people’s sex with surgeries and cross-sex hormones can be called “health care.” I for one don’t think it is health care, I think it’s quackery and health damage.

This is an email interview, not a live one. You’d think she could do better.

Consider, then, that when we say that the denial of abortion rights is discrimination on the basis of sex, we may be saying that sex plays a role in the judgement to deny those rights that is unfair and unjust. We do not need to adjudicate whether the denial of abortion rights gets the sex right – probably not. So it is not on the basis of sex as it is that discrimination occurs. Discrimination makes reference to sex in unfair and discriminatory ways, and the only “sex” that legally matters is the one figured and operative in a discrimination action.

I have no idea what she thinks she means by that.

So when some feminists now make claims like, “the patriarchal oppression of women is heavily rooted in our reproductive systems”, it can sound like those reproductive systems are the cause of the oppression. That is muddled thinking, wrong, and does not advance feminist aims. It is the social organisation of reproduction that leads to the conclusion that abortion should or should not happen. The state is claiming that it has interests in the womb, and it is figuring the womb as its province, rather than the province of those who actually have them. It is precisely the anti-feminist forces that figure the womb in that way that we must oppose. Otherwise, we attribute the existence of oppressive systems to biology, when we should be asking how those oppressive systems contort biological claims to their own ends.


No the state isn’t claiming it has “interests in the womb.” The state, aka the collective of anti-abortion fanatics in Congress and state legislatures and the courts, is claiming it gets to force women to stay pregnant. It’s not about disembodied wombs, it’s about the treacherous sneaky selfish inferior beings who have those wombs. It’s about women’s ability (and purported duty) to produce babies, but not disembodied from the women themselves. There’s sadism and resentment and power-tripping involved here along with the Baby Imperative, and if you think there isn’t you’re on the wrong drugs.

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