Judith Butler, modern Queer Theory guru, defended incest and struggled to understand feminist notions of consent. Dr Em investigates.
Part I is available here:
Part II is available here:
Part III is available here:
Taking over the baton to captain this backlash against feminism was the high priestess of queer theory gibberish — Judith Butler — who, unsurprisingly, defended incest. Furthermore, she did this without making a single reference to the fact that most familial child sexual abuse is by a male relative to a female child. Rather she used queer theory to claim that by denying incest and legislating against it states were enforcing heterosexuality. In her triumph and magnum opus of flimflam — Gender Trouble — Butler postulated that ‘the incest taboo is the juridical law that is said both to prohibit incestuous desires and to construct certain gendered subjectivities through the mechanism of compulsory identification. But, what is to guarantee the universality or necessity of this law?'[efn_note]J. Butler, Gender Trouble (London, Routledge, 2000), p. 96.[/efn_note] The necessity of the law against incest is the harm that child sexual abuse, and in particular interfamilial child sexual abuse, does to the young survivor. The law is also necessary because of the prevalence. A study by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in the United Kingdom found that ‘there is considerable evidence to suggest that a substantial amount of child sexual abuse is committed by close relatives or those known to the victim. Victims can be both boys and girls, but the majority of victims are known to be girls’.[efn_note]Miranda A.H. Horvath, Julia C. Davidson, Julie Grove-Hills, Anna Gekoski, and Clare Choak, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, “It’s a lonely journey”: A Rapid Evidence Assessment on Intrafamilial child sexual abuse’ (June 2017), p. 15.https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Its-a-lonely-journey-REA-on-Intrafamilial-child-sexual-abuse.pdf.[/efn_note] The researchers for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner further delineated from ‘recent evidence that the ‘typical’ young person with sexually harmful behaviour is a white male who commits IFCSA against (female and male) children who are family members’.[efn_note]ibid. pp. 11–12.[/efn_note] These young white male sexual abusers and rapists will grow to become adult male rapists and can count on the support of queer theorists championing their transgressing of sexual boundaries and norms. This is one of the reasons this men’s sexual rights movement — queer theory — is diametrically opposed to feminism. The recognition and then cultural and legal prohibition against incest as a form of child sexual abuse was a cause championed by second wave feminists, the ones branded ‘terfs’ now. Louise Armstrong has analysed how ‘the issue of incest… was born of the women’s movement in the U.S., which is a political issue, an issue of violence toward women and children, an issue that belongs to feminism’.[efn_note]L. Armstrong, ‘Incest : A Feminist Core Issue that Needs Re-politicizing’ (2003), Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, https://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/resources/incest-feminist-core-issue-needs-re-politicizing-louise-armstrong-0.[/efn_note] Similarly, Gillian Harkins has outlined how ‘feminist researchers broke ‘the silence’ of this patriarchal conspiracy when they documented incest as a common form of child sexual abuse… the next step… was to use this research to intervene in the criminal justice and child-protective domains’.[efn_note]
G. Harkins, Everybody’s Family Romance: Reading Incest in Neoliberal America (London, University of Minnesota Press, 2009), p. 59.[/efn_note] Prior to feminist agitation in the 1970s, ‘incest had been treated as an isolated breach of proper alliance and normative conduct’, it was covered by marital laws rather than rape.[efn_note]ibid. p. 60.[/efn_note] The recoding of incest as rape by feminists is what Butler and other queer theorists are fighting against.
As well as opposing the legal strictures against intrafamilial child sexual abuse Butler claimed that the law against incest produces incest and the desire to sexually abuse children. Butler reasoned regarding the incest taboo that ‘not only does that taboo forbid and dictate sexuality in certain forms, but it produces a variety of substitute desires and identities’.[efn_note]J. Butler, Gender Trouble (London, Routledge, 2000), p. 97.[/efn_note] How does Butler reach this argument? Well, as she explains, ‘if we extend the Foucaultian critique to the incest taboo… the taboo might be understood to create and sustain for the mother/father as well as the compulsory replacement of that desire’.[efn_note]ibid.[/efn_note] Butler has obscured the fact that in the majority of incestuous child sexual abuse the perpetrators are male relatives sexually abusing female children, she has pushed the desire for abuse on to the child. American research has shown that the ‘younger the victim, the more likely it is that the abuser is a family member’ and that of ‘those molesting a child under six, 50% were family members. Family members also accounted for 23% of those abusing children ages 12 to 17’.[efn_note]Darkness to Light, ‘Child Sexual Abuse Statistics’, p. 13 https://www.d2l.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/all_statistics_20150619.pdf[/efn_note] Despite these facts, Butler promoted ‘the legitimacy and legality of public zones of sexual exchange, intergenerational sex, adoption outside marriage, increased research and testing for AIDS and transgender politics’.[efn_note]J. Butler, ‘Competing Universalities’, im: J. Butler et al, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (Verso, 2000), p. 160, my emboldening.[/efn_note] This is an example of how queer theorists sandwich advocacy for paedophilia or incest in between legitimate arguments for advancing gay and lesbian rights. This is done in order to legitimise the arguments for child sexual abuse and make them harder to fight.
Butler’s thoughts on sexual consent should be read with her defence of incest in mind. Butler proposed in general terms that consent was problematic because sometimes ‘they have consented, but do not like that they have’.[efn_note]J. Butler, ‘Sexual Consent: Some Thoughts on Psychoanalysis and Law’, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Volume 21, Number 2 (2011), abstract.[/efn_note] This is gold standard victim blaming and denies the feminist concept of an ongoing negotiated consent. Children may consent to activities because they do not understand the implications, have been coerced, groomed or simply because of the power differences between a child and an older adult. Children are socially groomed to do what they are told if the instruction is from an authority figure such as a parent. Consent is illusionary. Although talking about sexual consent Butler spent the explanatory paragraph thinking about consent as walking through a door to an analyst’s office and argued that ‘in other words, since someone may “have issues” with consent that become material within an analytic session, that person has also set up the problem of transference by consenting to walk through the door into the analyst’s office’.[efn_note]J. Butler, ‘Sexual Consent: Some Thoughts on Psychoanalysis and Law’, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Volume 21, Number 2 (2011), abstract.[/efn_note] I would argue that sexual consent and consent to physically enter one’s body is not marginally but overwhelmingly different to consent to enter a counselling session. Arguing cross purpose is a common tactic of Butler and other queer theorists to confuse the reader and mask what they are really saying. The idea Butler proposes, ‘that [the] person has also set up the problem of transference by consenting to walk through the door into the analyst’s office’, cannot be considered feminist.[efn_note]
J. Butler, ‘Sexual Consent: Some Thoughts on Psychoanalysis and Law’, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Volume 21, Number 2 (2011), abstract.[/efn_note] In contrast to Butler, feminists argue that just because one has walked through the door that does not mean all consent is transferred, one has consented to specific acts and the consent can end at any time. Butler is foundational to queer theory and shines a light on how anti-feminist queer theory is.