Dear Roxane – An Open Letter on Queer Feminism & Lesbophobia

A brief foreword: this letter was written as an invitation for queer, bisexual, and straight women who call themselves feminist to reflect upon their lesbophobia.


 

Dear Roxane,

As every woman active in the modern day feminist movement knows, there is a growing schism between queer ideology and sexual politics. The conversation has grown fraught, with those on either position growing heartsick from the conflict. It’s difficult, because points of connection are missed, especially on social media – where everything becomes somehow more polar, more about point-scoring than moments of political connection. And it was my aim to connect with you in raising the issue of lesbophobia, to share a meaningful engagement from which we could both develop, because otherwise nothing ever changes and the same mistakes are repeated ad infinitum – and a feminist movement that replicates the hierarchies of mainstream society is in no way equipped to dismantle them.

I am not writing with the intention of ridiculing you, nor do I claim to be some paragon of feminist virtue. The reality of the situation is that I’m just about as bougie as a Black girl can be, and held onto some shitty class politics until turning twenty two, politics which I will spend the rest of my life unlearning and resisting. While it is embarrassing to get things wrong, devastating to realise you have been complicit in the oppression of others, the real shame would be in turning your back on the women who try to address behaviour born of politics that are damaging to them. With this in mind, I hold compassion for you as I address the lesbophobia you displayed on Twitter.

In response to Kat Blaque’s Tweets about a confrontation with Arielle Scarcella, you said the following: “Oh my god. I am on the edge of my seat. Slap her.”

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From the context I gather this remark was intended with humour, a pass-the-popcorn type jibe about the drama, but the joke falls flat when we consider just how vulnerable lesbian women are in heteropatriarchy. Just this week it was announced that Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian lesbian rights activist, won her claim for asylum in Britain after a 13-year struggle to have the state recognise that as a lesbian she was at extreme risk of violence if forcibly repatriated. Lesbian women are treated with revulsion simply for loving women. We are disparaged and degraded for experiencing same-sex attraction, and abused – often brutally – for living woman-centric lives. By all means, criqitue Arielle Scarcella’s videos – I’m not stopping you. But please do not suggest that violence against a lesbian woman becomes legitimate simply because she subscribes to a set of politics that are not aligned with your own. Not even in jest.

Blaque is a well-known trans blogger. Scarcella is a well-known lesbian blogger. Blaque has made numerous videos denouncing Scarcella, and the beef between them is well known in the sphere of LGBT+ online community.  In many ways, this issue goes beyond the drama that happens between them, stretching to encompass all the tensions of gender discourse.

Gender discourse isn’t abstract. How the politics of gender manifest in our lives has very real consequences for everyone involved. You know this, and have written about it with great eloquence. The tensions within gender discourse have grown particularly explosive where lesbian sexuality is involved. What is sometimes referred to as the cotton ceiling issue – whether lesbian women ought to consider those identifying as transwomen as potential sexual partners – has become hugely controversial in the last few years.

For me, it is obvious: lesbians are women who exclusively experience same-sex attraction. As transwomen are biologically male, lesbian sexuality does not extend to include them. That is not to say lesbian women would not consider taking trans-identified lovers – as I have previously written, the boundary between a butch lesbian and a transman is often blurred, and many non-binary identified people are biologically female too – but rather that our interest is reserved for those who are physically, biologically female. It is also worth pointing out that approximately two thirds of transgender people have reported undergoing some form of gender-confirming surgery, meaning that the majority of transwomen are in possession of a penis – a definite no insofar as lesbian sexuality is concerned.

From what I have seen of her videos, Arielle Scarcella is of a similar view – she defends lesbian women’s right to assert sexual boundaries and the validity of same-sex attraction. No matter your opinion on Scarcella’s work, one question arises when considering the accusations of transphobia levelled against her: why, in 2017, is it contentious for a lesbian to categorically reject sex involving a penis? The short answer is homophobia and misogyny, both of which can be found in abundance in queer attitudes towards lesbian women.

Roxane 3 betaWhen I pointed out that your words were lesbophobic, you claimed this could not be because you are “queer as the day is long.” Since you are queer as opposed to lesbian, it is not for you to decide what is lesbophobic or not. Being queer does not inoculate you against homophobia or, indeed, lesbophobia. Queer is an umbrella term, a catch-all which may encompass all but the most rigid practice of heterosexuality. It is not a stable category or coherent political ideology, as anything considered even slightly transgressive may be labelled queer. Queer is a deliberately amorphous expression, avoiding specific definitions and fixed meanings. It need not relate to the politics of resistance, and indeed cannot relate to the politics of resistance because queer lacks the vocabulary to positively identify oppressed and oppressor classes. Queer seeks to subvert the dominant values of society through performativity and playfulness as opposed to deconstructing those values by presenting a radical alternative to white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Queer is the master’s tools trying to dismantle the master’s house, and – inevitably – failing. Predictably, queer replicates the misogyny of mainstream society. As lesbophobia is essentially misogyny squared, identifying as queer in no way indicates a politics that values lesbian women.

Being a lesbian woman is not the same as being a queer woman. That observation is not rooted in purism, but fact: lesbian and queer are two different realities. Devoid of concrete definitions, to be queer is to be sexually fluid – meaning the term queer is male-inclusive. Within the possibilities implied by queer, there remains scope for men to gain sexual access to women. As queer women’s sexualities do not explicitly – or even implicitly – reject men, queer womanhood is accepted in a way that lesbian womanhood will never be. The lesbian woman represents a threat to the status quo, to male dominion over women, in a way that the queer woman by definition (or lack of) never could. As a result, lesbians have been consistently pathologised and abused since the 1800s. I do not dispute that there are difficulties in the lives of queer women, but a degree of social acceptance may be purchased through vocally disparaging lesbian women in the way that you disparaged Arielle Scarcella.

To publicly shame and ridicule lesbians in an effort to alter our sexual boundaries is to follow the blueprint created by compulsory heterosexuality. And make no mistake – it is Arielle Scarcella’s adherence to lesbian sexual boundaries that Kat Blaque takes issue with, the outspoken self-definition of a lesbian woman, that have resulted in allegations of transphobia. The problematising of gay and lesbian sexuality is an unfortunate product of queer politics. If biological sex is unspeakable, so too is same-sex attraction; if same-sex attraction is unspeakable, so too is lesbian sexuality – the logic of queer forces us back into the closet by insisting that lesbian women and gay men abandon self-definition. And self-definition is fundamental to the liberation of any oppressed group. Sooner or later, those embracing the label of queer must reckon with that homophobia.

Arielle Scarcella sought to address the tensions between queer people and lesbian women in her videos – which, regardless of whether or not one agrees with her content, is a brave thing to have done. Few feminists want to speak publicly in a candid, heartfelt way about the relationship between gender and sexual politics because, irrespective of whether or not one speaks in good faith, a witch hunt is all too likely to ensue. Without having exhaustive knowledge of her work, I can at least say that I’m grateful Scarcella is speaking up for herself and her lesbian sisters. Even and especially within LGBT+ community, this is a particularly unpleasant time to be a lesbian.

The long answer as to why it is newly acceptable to pressure lesbians into altering our sexual boundaries reflects upon the history of anti-lesbian sentiment within feminism, from Betty Friedan branding us the “lavender menace” to Buzzfeed’s Shannon Keating dismissing us as “stale and stodgy.” Lesbians are routinely used as a foil to reassure the wider world that ‘normal’ women can engage in feminism without ending up ugly, angry, and bitter like the dykes. We are caricatured with great cruelty, presented as a malevolent extreme or reduced to a joke. The comparatively mainstream branches of feminism, be they liberal or radical, actively engage in the devaluation of lesbian womanhood.

The only reason your ‘joke’ about slapping Arielle happened is because she is a lesbian who categorically rejects dick. Queer politics have created a strange, painful context where lesbian women are acceptable hate figures in feminism for simply maintaining our sexual boundaries. But lesbians are not the whipping girls of other women, queer or bisexual or straight, nor do we exist as your symbol for all that is wrong within the feminist movement. Using lesbian women as such builds upon a long history of lesbophobia.

If lesbian women are suggesting to you (as many of us did) that your words contain lesbophobia, it is time to listen. Lesbians are not the oppressor class, and we certainly don’t hold the lion’s share of the power in an LGBT+ or feminist setting. Brushing us off as malicious TERFs is a whole lot easier than engaging with anything we have to say about the relationship between gender and sexual politics, a slick manoeuvre that enables queer discourse to delegitimise our words and the women with the courage to speak them. Lesbian women are lesbian precisely because we love women – not because we feel hatred towards any other demographic, although a respectable case has been made for misandry. Lesbian women do not exist to provide validation. The sole purpose of our sexuality is certainly not to provide affirmation. Lesbian sexuality is not a litmus test for transwomanhood.

When it comes to queer politics, lesbians are made into some sort of bogeyman – a spectre that haunts the progressive left. “Cis lesbian” and “TERF” are used almost interchangeably in queer discourse, used as shorthand to convey how utterly contemptible we supposedly are. If our concerns about coercion within queer culture are “TERF nonsense”, our sexual boundaries can be challenged without compunction. There is an Othering, a monstering of lesbian women, that is fundamental to this process. Demonising lesbians for being lesbian means that we are not worthy of compassion or basic human decency, that jokes about slapping, punching, raping, and otherwise abusing us are fair game in feminism.

Demonising lesbians for our sexual orientation is lesbophobia, no matter how you look at it. And I hope that you do look at it, Roxane, that you – and other women, be they queer or bisexual or straight – have some honest, critical self-reflection about why bits of your feminism come at the expense of lesbian women, about why you think that is an acceptable trade to make. This conversation is long overdue.

Yours Sincerely,

Claire

Seamos Honestas Sobre Cómo Las Políticas Queer Excluyen a las Mujeres Lesbianas

Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian Women is now available in Spanish! Many thanks to SOMOS LA MITAD for the translation.


Este post es el segundo de una serie de ensayos sobre sexo, género y sexualidad. El primero está disponible aquí. Escribo sobre la exclusión de las lesbianas porque me niego a que se me invisibilice. Alzando mi voz en disidencia, pretendo ofrecer tanto un reconocimiento a otras mujeres lesbianas como una resistencia activa a cualquier marco político —hetero o queer— que insista en que las lesbianas son una especie en peligro de extinción. Si que una serie de mujeres ame y de prioridad a otras mujeres es una amenaza para tus políticas, te puedo garantizar que eres parte del problema y no de la solución. Dedico estas letras a SJ, que me hace estar orgullosa de ser lesbiana. Tu amabilidad ilumina mi mundo.


El lesbianismo es, una vez más, una categoría disputada. La definición más literal de lesbian_feminist_liberation‘lesbiana’ —mujer homosexual— es sujeto de reciente controversia. Esta lesbofobia no nace del conservadurismo social sino que se manifiesta en el seno de la comunidad LGTB+, en la que las mujeres lesbianas somos frecuentemente demonizadas como intolerantes y retrógradas o rechazadas por ser consideradas un chiste anticuado, todo a consecuencia de nuestra sexualidad.

En el contexto postmoderno de las políticas queer, las mujeres que nos sentimos atraídas de manera exclusiva por personas de nuestro mismo sexo, somos consideradas arcaicas. No sorprende que los deseos de los hombres gays no sean analizados con el mismo rigor: en el marco queer, se anima a los hombres a que den prioridad a su propio placer, mientras se sigue esperando de las mujeres que consideremos el de los demás. Lejos de subvertir las expectativas patriarcales, las políticas queer reproducen esos estándares mediante la perpetuación de los roles  normativos de género. No es ninguna coincidencia que las mujeres lesbianas sean el blanco sobre el que recae toda la hostilidad queer.

Además de la proliferación del fascismo y de la normalización de la supremacía blanca, los últimos años han visto surgir una avalancha de anti-lesbianismo. El contenido en los medios, hipotéticamente dirigido a/y escrito por mujeres lesbianas, nos dice que somos una especie en peligro de extinción: Fuentes feministas que cuestionan si necesitamos siquiera la palabra lesbiana, páginas de opinión que afirman que la cultura lésbica está extinta, artículos arrogantes que aseguran que ‘lesbiana’ “suena como a enfermedad rara”, e incluso comentarios que afirman que la sexualidad lésbica es una reliquia del pasado en este nuevo mundo tan valiente y sexualmente fluido. Estos textos definen deliberadamente la sexualidad de las mujeres lesbianas como anticuada y pasada de moda. Incitan activamente al rechazo de la identidad lésbica mediante el convencimiento de la lectora de que será una mujer moderna y progresista sólo si está preparada para deshacerse de la etiqueta de lesbiana. Exactamente de la misma manera que el patriarcado premia a la ‘chica guay’ que se distancia de los ideales feministas, las políticas queer premian a las lesbianas que adoptan cualquier otra etiqueta.

Desanimar a las lesbianas para que no nos identifiquemos como tales y para que no reclamemos la cultura y las políticas de oposición que se nos han legado es una estrategia efectiva. Heather Hogan, editora de la publicación Autostraddle, supuestamente dirigida a las mujeres lesbianas; recientemente comparó en Twitter la resistencia de las lesbianas a la lesbofobia con los neo-nazis. La misma Hogan se define como lesbiana y sin embargo afirma que las posturas del feminismo lésbico son inherentemente intolerantes y retrógradas.

Guerreros queer, armados con sus teclados, lideraron y promovieron una campaña contra la Biblioteca del Movimiento de la Clase Trabajadora (Working Class Movement Library), en Salford, Inglaterra; por invitar a la feminista lesbiana Julie Bindel para que diera una charla durante el Mes de la Historia LGBT, y llenaron el evento de Facebook de mensajes abusivos, llegando el acoso a las amenazas de muerte. El hecho de que Bindel considere el género como una jerarquía en su análisis feminista es suficiente para tildarla de “peligrosa”. A su vez, la recién abierta Biblioteca de Mujeres de Vancouver (VWL) fue sometida a una campaña de intimidación por parte de activistas queer. VWL fue presionada para sacar algunos textos feministas de sus estanterías alegando que “eran dañinos” —la mayoría de los libros considerados objetables habían sido escritos por lesbianas feministas como Adrienne Rich, Ti-Grace Atkinson y Sheila Jeffreys.

Una no tiene que estar de acuerdo con todos los argumentos de las teóricas feministas lesbianas, para darse cuenta de que la eliminación deliberada de las perspectivas teóricas del feminismo lésbico, es un acto de cobardía intelectual con raíces misóginas.

La sexualidad, la cultura y el feminismo lésbicos están sometidos a la oposición concentrada de las políticas queer. La invisibilización de las lesbianas —una táctica típica del patriarcado— es justificada por los activistas queer bajo el alegato de que la sexualidad y la práctica lésbica son excluyentes, y de que esta exclusión es retrógrada (particularmente con las mujeres y los hombres transgénero).

¿Es el lesbianismo excluyente?

Sí. Toda sexualidad es, por definición, excluyente —está formada por una serie de características que establecen los parámetros que capacitan a cada individuo para experimentar atracción física y mental. Esto no es en sí mismo inherentemente intolerante ni retrógrado. La atracción es física y se basa en una realidad material. El deseo se manifiesta o no. La sexualidad lésbica es y siempre ha sido una fuente de polémica porque las mujeres que viven vidas lésbicas no le proporcionan a los hombres ninguna labor emocional, sexual o reproductiva; todas ellas exigidas por las normas patriarcales.

Una lesbiana es una mujer a la que le interesan y le atraen otras mujeres, lo que implica la exclusión de los hombres. El hecho de que los límites sexuales de las lesbianas sean lesbiancuestionados con tal fiereza es el resultado de una misoginia concentrada y reforzada por la homofobia. Mujeres que deseamos a otras mujeres, excluyendo a los hombres; mujeres que dedicamos nuestro tiempo y energía a otras mujeres, excluyendo a los hombres; mujeres que construimos nuestras vidas en torno a otras mujeres, excluyendo a los hombres; así es como el amor lésbico presenta un desafío al status quo. Nuestra misma existencia contradice el esencialismo tradicional usado para justificar la jerarquía de género: “es natural”, el propósito en la vida de toda mujer es servir al hombre. La vida lésbica se opone a esto de forma inherente. Crea espacios para posibilidades radicales, a las que se resisten tanto conservadores como liberales.

La sexualidad lésbica es disputada desde el discurso queer porque supone un reconocimiento directo y positivo de la biología de la mujer. Arielle Scarcella, una importante vlogger, se vio envuelta en una gran polémica por afirmar que, como mujer lesbiana, a ella le gustan “las tetas y las vaginas y no los penes”. La atracción de Scarcella por el cuerpo de la mujer fue tildada de transfobia. El hecho de que el deseo lésbico nazca de la atracción al cuerpo de la mujer (hembra) es criticado como esencialista porque sólo se produce ante la existencia de características sexuales femeninas (de hembra) primarias y secundarias. Como el deseo lésbico no incluye a las mujeres trans (transmujeres), es ‘problemático’ para el entendimiento queer de la relación entre sexo, género y sexualidad.

En lugar de aceptar las fronteras sexuales de las mujeres lesbianas, la ideología queer entiende esas fronteras como un problema que debe ser subsanado. La editora LGBT de Buzzfeed, Shannon Keating, aboga por la deconstrucción de la sexualidad lésbica como una posible ‘solución’:

“… tal vez podamos simplemente seguir desafiando la definición tradicional del lesbianismo, que asume que hay sólo dos géneros binarios, y que las lesbianas sólo deberían ser mujeres cis atraídas por mujeres cis. Algunas lesbianas que no se reconocen como TERFs, aún así dicen abiertamente que nunca saldrían con personas trans debido a ‘preferencias genitales’, lo que significa que tienen ideas increíblemente rígidas sobre el género y los cuerpos.”

La sexualidad lésbica no puede ser deconstruida hasta el punto de eliminarla por completo. Además, problematizar la sexualidad lésbica es en sí mismo problemático: una forma de lesbofobia. El lesbianismo ha sido ‘desafiado’ por el patriarcado desde tiempos inmemoriales. A lo largo de la historia los hombres han encarcelado, matado e institucionalizado a las mujeres lesbianas, las han sometido a violaciones correctivas —todo como vía para forzarlas a la heterosexualidad. La lesbofobia más clásica opera con políticas “no preguntar ni decir” (don’t ask, don’t tell). El precio de la aceptación social (léase: mera tolerancia) que asumimos, es permitir que se nos considere heterosexuales hasta que se demuestre lo contrario. Pero esto no supone ninguna amenaza.

La lesbofobia ‘progresista’, sin embargo, es mucho más insidiosa porque se da en los espacios LGBT+ de los que en teoría formamos parte. Pretende que tiremos por la borda la palabra lesbiana para sustituirla por algo más suave y dulce, como ‘Mujeres que Aman Mujeres’, o algo lo suficientemente vago como para eludir el ceñirse a una serie de fronteras sexuales estrictas, como queer. Pretende que abandonemos las especificidades de nuestra sexualidad para pacificar a otros.

El Techo de Algodón 

El debate del Techo de Algodón es zanjado muy a menudo como “retórica TERF”, y sin embargo el término fue creado originalmente por la activista trans Drew DeVeaux. De acuerdo con la blogger feminista queer Avory Faucette, “la teoría del Techo de Algodón trata de desafiar la tendencia de las lesbianas cis de… dibujar la línea en acostarse con mujeres trans o en incluir a las lesbianas trans en sus comunidades sexuales”.

Planned Parenthood ofreció un ahora notorio workshop sobre este tema: Traspasando el Techo de Cristal: Desmontando Barreras Sexuales para Mujeres Trans Queer.

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Las fronteras sexuales de las mujeres lesbianas se presentan como “barreras” que “traspasar”. Esto legitima la formulación de estrategias para animar a las mujeres a involucrarse en determinados actos sexuales, o lo que es lo mismo, la coacción sexual blanqueada por el lenguaje de la inclusión. Esta narrativa se sustenta en la objetificación de las mujeres lesbianas, colocándonos en la posición de sujetos de conquista sexual. La teoría del Techo de Algodón se basa en una mentalidad que defiende los derechos sexuales de terceros sobre los cuerpos de las mujeres, y es incentivada por un clima de clara misoginia.

La sexualidad lésbica no existe para validar ni ser validada. Los límites sexuales de las mujeres no son negociables. Muchos de los argumentos del discurso queer recrean la cultura de la violación creada por el heteropatriarcado. La obtención de acceso sexual a los cuerpos de las mujeres lesbianas es una suerte de ‘test’ para la validación de las mujeres transgénero (transmujeres) y es deshumanizador para las mujeres lesbianas. Asegurar que la sexualidad lésbica es motivada por la intolerancia retrógrada crea un contexto de coacción o chantaje en el que las mujeres se ven presionadas para reconsiderar sus límites sexuales por miedo a ser etiquetadas como TERFs.

Negar el acceso sexual al propio cuerpo no es lo mismo que discriminar a la parte rechazada. No considerar a alguien como un potencial compañero sexual no es una forma de ejercer opresión. Como clase demográfica, las mujeres lesbianas no tienen más poder estructural que las mujeres transexuales (transmujeres) —apropiarse del lenguaje de la opresión en el debate del Techo de Algodón es, en el mejor de los casos, hipócrita.

Sin rodeos: ninguna mujer está obligada a follarse a nadie, jamás.

Conclusión

La sexualidad lésbica se ha convertido en el lugar en el que explotan las tensiones que rodean al sexo y al género. Esto se debe a que, bajo el patriarcado, recae sobre las mujeres la firme obligación de proporcionar validación al prójimo. Los hombres gays no son llamados retrógrados e intolerantes por rehuir el sexo vaginal como consecuencia de su homosexualidad. Amar a los hombres y desear el cuerpo masculino, resulta en cierta manera lógico, en un marco queer, en un contexto cultural construido alrededor de la centralidad de la masculinidad. Por el contrario, como el cuerpo femenino es constantemente degradado bajo el patriarcado, que las mujeres deseen a otras mujeres resulta sospechoso.

“Si yo no me definiera por y para mí misma, acabaría siendo triturada y devorada viva en las fantasías de otras personas.” – Audre Lorde

Las lesbianas hemos encarado la misma vieja combinación de misoginia y homofobia desde la derecha y ahora estamos siendo incansablemente escrutadas por la izquierda queer liberal: que seamos mujeres que no tienen ningún interés en el pene es aparentemente polémico a lo largo de todo el espectro político. Los conservadores nos dicen que tenemos taras, que somos anormales. La familia LGBT+, a la que se supone que pertenecemos, nos dice que somos irremediablemente anticuadas en nuestros deseos. Ambos intentan de manera activa deconstruir el lesbianismo hasta el punto de la desaparición. Ambos intentan invisibilizar a las mujeres lesbianas. Ambos sugieren que simplemente no hemos probado una buena polla todavía. Los paralelismos entre las políticas queer y el patriarcado no pueden seguir siendo ignorados.


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

El Problema que No Tiene Nombre porque “Mujer” es Demasiado Esencialista

Este es el tercero de una serie de ensayos sobre sexo y género (ver partes 1 & 2). Inspirada por los comentarios de Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sobre identidad de género y por la consiguiente respuesta social, he escrito sobre el lenguaje en el discurso feminista y el significado de la palabra mujer.


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“¿Alguien me puede decir alguna manera más corta y no esencialista para referirse a las ‘personas que tienen útero y esas cosas’?” – Laurie Penny

La pregunta de Laurie Penny, que trata de encontrar un término que describa a las mujeres biológicamente hembras sin usar la palabra mujer, ejemplifica muy bien el mayor reto que tiene el discurso feminista en estos momentos. La tensión entre las mujeres que reconocen y las que borran el papel de la biología en el análisis estructural de nuestra opresión, ha abierto una gran brecha (MacKay, 2015) en el seno del movimiento feminista. Las contradicciones surgen cuando las feministas tratan de defender cómo la biología de las mujeres conforma nuestra opresión en una sociedad patriarcal, a la vez que deniegan que nuestra opresión sea fundamentalmente material. En algunos puntos, el análisis estructural riguroso y la inclusividad no son buenos compañeros de cama.

Esa misma semana, Dame Jeni Murray, que ha conducido durante cuarenta años el programa de la BBC Woman’s Hour (La Hora de la Mujer), fue criticada por preguntarse “¿Puede alguien que ha vivido como hombre, con todo el privilegio que ello conlleva, reclamar su condición de mujer?”. En su artículo para el Sunday Times, Murray reflexionaba sobre el papel de la socialización de género recibida durante los años formativos en la configuración de nuestro comportamiento, desafiando la idea de que es posible divorciar el Yo físico del contexto sociopolítico. De la misma manera, la novelista Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie casi fue llevada a la hoguera por sus comentarios acerca de la identidad de género.

Cuando le preguntaron “¿Importa de alguna manera la forma en la que se llega a ser mujer?” Adichie hizo lo que muy pocas feministas se atreven a hacer en estos momentos, debido a lo extremo del debate en torno al género, y dio una respuesta pública sincera:

“Cuando la gente habla sobre si las mujeres trans* son mujeres, lo que yo pienso es que las mujeres trans* son mujeres trans*. Creo que si has vivido en el mundo como hombre, con los privilegios que el mundo concede a los hombres, y después cambias de género —es difícil para mí aceptar que se puedan entonces equiparar tus experiencias con las de una mujer que ha vivido desde que nació como mujer, a la que no se le han otorgado esos privilegios que se les otorga a los hombres. No creo que sea algo bueno combinar las dos cosas en una sola. No creo que sea bueno hablar de los problemas de las mujeres como si fueran los mismos problemas que tienen las mujeres trans*. Lo que quiero decir es que el género no es biología, el género es sociología”. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Para el tribunal de la opinión queer, el crimen que cometió Adichie fue diferenciar entre aquellas que son biológicamente hembras y criadas como mujeres, y aquellas que transitan de hombre a mujer (y que fueron, a todos los efectos, tratadas como hombres antes de empezar su transición), en su descripción de la condición de mujer. En el discurso queer, los prefijos ‘cis’ y ‘trans’ han sido diseñados para señalar precisamente esa distinción, y sin embargo es sólo cuando las feministas intentan expresar y explorar esas diferencias, que esta diferenciación resulta una fuente de ira.

Las declaraciones de Adichie son perfectamente lógicas: es absurdo imaginar que aquellas socializadas como mujeres durante sus años formativos tienen las mismas Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie_photo1experiencias vitales que aquellas socializadas y leídas como hombres. La sociedad patriarcal depende de la imposición de género como vía para subordinar a las mujeres y garantizar el dominio de los hombres. Combinar las experiencias de las mujeres y de las mujeres trans*, borra el privilegio masculino que las mujeres trans* tuvieron antes de la transición, y niega el legado del comportamiento masculino aprendido. Además niega el verdadero significado del cómo se llega a ser mujer y de las implicaciones que tiene en la condición de mujer. En definitiva, niega ambas realidades.

‘Everyday Feminism’ publicó un artículo resaltando siete puntos que prueban que las mujeres trans* nunca tuvieron privilegio masculino. Un artículo que tal vez habría sido más efectivo en su propósito de abogar por la solidaridad feminista, si no hubiera dirigido semejante misoginia etarista hacia las feministas de la segunda ola en la línea que abre el texto. Con este artículo, Kai Cheng Thom sostiene que “…si [las mujeres trans*] son mujeres, eso implica que no pueden recibir ningún tipo de privilegio masculino —porque el privilegio masculino es algo que, por definición, sólo hombres y personas que se identifican como hombres pueden experimentar.”

Y aquí está el punto crucial del asunto —la tensión que existe entre la realidad material y la auto-identificación, en cómo se construye la definición de la condición de mujer. Si la condición de mujer trans* es sinónimo de la condición de mujer, las caraterísticas distintivas de la opresión de la mujer dejan de ser reconocibles como experiencias propias de las mujeres. El género no puede ser categorizado como un instrumento de opresión socialmente construido, si además tiene que ser considerado como una identidad innata. La conexión entre el sexo biológico y la función primaria del género —oprimir a las mujeres en beneficio de los hombres— queda borrada. Como declaró Adichie, esta combinación, en el mejor de los casos, no ayuda nada. Si no podemos reconocer los privilegios que reciben aquellos que son reconocidos y tratados como hombres, en detrimento de sus homólogas femeninas, no podemos reconocer la existencia del patriarcado.

La biología no es el destino. Sin embargo, en la sociedad patriarcal, determina los roles asignados a las niñas y los niños al nacer. Y hay una diferencia fundamental en la posición en la que las estructuras de poder colocan a aquellos biológicamente varones y a aquellas biológicamente mujeres, independientemente de su identidad de género.

“Las niñas son socializadas de maneras que son dañinas para su sentido del Yo —para que se reduzcan a sí mismas para satisfacer los egos de los hombres, para concebir sus cuerpos como contenedores de culpa y vergüenza. Muchas mujeres adultas tienen dificultades para superar y desaprender la mayoría de ese condicionamiento social. Una mujer trans* es una persona que ha nacido varón y una persona a la que, antes de su transición, el mundo trataba como varón. Esto significa que experimentó los privilegios que el mundo otorga a los hombres. Esto no niega el dolor de la confusión de género o las difíciles complejidades de cómo se siente al vivir en un cuerpo que no es el suyo. Porque la verdad sobre el privilegio social es que no tiene nada que ver con cómo te sientas. Tiene que ver con cómo te trata el mundo, con las sutiles y no tan sutiles cosas que internalizas y absorbes.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Si las mujeres no pueden seguir siendo identificadas con fines políticos como miembros de su casta social, la opresión de las mujeres no puede ser abordada o combatida. Por consiguiente, los objetivos feministas se ven socavados por las políticas queer.

La lingüista Deborah Cameron ha identificado esta tendencia como la de “la increíble mujer que desaparece”, resaltando el patrón de las realidades vividas por las mujeres y de la opresión invisivilizada por el lenguaje de género neutro. Mientras la condición de mujer es despiadadamente deconstruida en el discurso queer, la categoría de condición de hombre sigue pendiente de ser discutida.

SLM-NOWO-31

No es un accidente que la masculinidad permanezca incontestable incluso cuando la palabra mujer es considerada ofensiva y excluyente. ‘Hombre’ es el estándar normativo de humanidad, ‘mujer’ es el otrodel hombre. Al reducir a las mujeres a “no-hombres”, como trató de hacer el Green Party en Reino Unido; al reducir a las mujeres a “personas embarazadas”, como aconseja la Asociación Médica Británica (British Medical Association); el discurso queer perpetúa la clasificación de las mujeres como otro.

La ideología queer usa las convenciones patriarcales en su propia conclusión lógica, mediante la completa eliminación de las mujeres.

Definir a la clase oprimida en relación con el opresor, denegando a los oprimidos el uso del lenguaje para que hablen de cómo se les margina, sólo sirve para ratificar la jerarquía de género. Aunque estos cambios lingüísticos parecen inclusivos al principio, tienen la consecuencia imprevista de perpetuar la misoginia.

“Eliminar la palabra mujer y el lenguaje biológico de las discusiones relativas a la realidad corpórea de las mujeres nacidas hembras, es peligroso. Negarse a reconocer la anatomía femenina, las capacidades reproductivas y la sexualidad ha sido, desde hace mucho, trabajo del patriarcado. Parece como si hubiéramos tenido unas cuantas décadas doradas de reconocimiento,en las que hemos podido llevar nuestra experiencia vivida en nuestra condición corpórea de mujer —pero ahora tenemos que abandonar este lenguaje en favor del grupo. Incluso con la lógica en el asiento del conductor, es difícil no sentir que este aspecto de la condición de mujer está siendo borrado con incómodos ecos del patriarcado que dejamos atrás.” – Vonny Moyes

Hablar de los asuntos relativos al sexo biológico y de la socialización de género se ha vuelto cada vez más controvertido, con algunos sectores de la ideología queer clasificando automáticamente ambos temas en el ‘mito’ TERF. Sería muy fácil desear que la conexión entre la biología de las mujeres y nuestra opresión, así como las consecuencias de la socialización de género, fueran sólo mitos. En un escenario así, aquellas personas en posesión de un cuerpo femenino —mujeres— podríamos simplemente identificarnos de otra manera para evitar la opresión estructural, podríamos escoger ser de cualquier grupo que no fuera el de la casta oprimida. Sin embargo, la explotación de la biología femenina y la socialización de género, juegan ambas un papel central en el establecimiento y mantenimiento de la opresión de las mujeres por parte de los hombres.

Las políticas queer cambian el envoltorio de la opresión de la mujer para venderlo como una posición de inherente privilegio, mientras, simultáneamente, nos priva del lenguaje necesario para abordar y oponer esa misma opresión. El asunto de la identidad de género nos deja a las feministas en un dilema a dos bandas: o aceptamos que ser marginadas como consecuencia de nuestro sexo, es privilegio cis; o alzamos la voz para después ser etiquetadas como TERFs. No hay espacio para voces disidentes en esta conversación —no si esas voces pertenecen a mujeres. En este sentido, hay muy poca diferencia entre los estándares establecidos por el discurso queer y aquellos que gobiernan las normas patriarcales.

La palabra mujer es importante. Con el nombre viene el poder. Como Patricia Hill Collins observó (2000), la auto-definición es un componente clave de la resistencia política. Si la condición de mujer no puede ser descrita positivamente, si la condición de mujer se entiende sólo como el negativo de la condición de hombre, las mujeres quedan relegadas a la condición de objeto. Es sólo mediante la consideración de las mujeres como el sujeto —como seres humanos auto-realizados y con derecho a la auto-determinación— que la liberación se vuelve posible.

“La fuerza de la palabra ‘mujer’ es que puede ser usada para afirmar nuestra humanidad, dignigad y valía, sin negar nuestra feminidad corpórea y sin tratarla como una fuente de culpa y vergüenza. No nos reduce a úteros andantes ni nos desexualiza ni nos descorporiza. Por eso es tan importante que las feministas sigan usándola. Un movimiento cuyo propósito es liberar a la mujer no debería tratar la palabra ‘mujer’ como algo sucio.” – Deborah Cameron

F-31Si no usamos la palabra ‘mujer’ abiertamente y con orgullo, las políticas feministas carecerán del alcance necesario para organizar una resistencia real a la subordinación de la mujer. No se puede liberar una casta de gente que no debe ni siquiera ser nombrada. La condición de mujer es devaluada por estos traicioneros intentos de invisibilizarla. Si las mujeres no nos consideramos a nosotras mismas dignas de los inconvenientes que causa el nombrarnos directamente, específicamente; difícilmente podremos argumentar que valemos las dificultades que traerá la liberación.

Cualquier ofensa potencial, causada por referirse inequívocamente al cuerpo femenino, es menor comparada con el abuso y la explotación de nuestros cuerpos femeninos bajo el patriarcado. Como Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie dice, “‘Porque eres una chica’ nunca es una razón para nada. Jamás.”


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

Sexo, Género y el Nuevo Esencialismo

Sex, Gender, and the New Essentialism is now available in Spanish! Many thanks to SOMOS LA MITAD for the translation.


 

Breve prefacio: Este es el primero de una serie de ensayos sobre sexo, género y sexualidad. Si estás de acuerdo con lo escrito, fenomenal. Si no estás de acuerdo con nada de lo que leerás a continuación, también está perfectamente bien. De cualquier manera, tu vida no se verá afectada por nada de esto una vez que cierres esta pestaña independientemente de lo que pienses sobre este post.

Me niego a seguir callada por miedo a que se me etiquete como mala feminista. Me niego a seguir callada mientras otras mujeres son sometidas al acoso y derribo por sus opiniones en torno al género. En nombre de la sororidad, este texto está dedicado a Julie Bindel. Puede que nuestros puntos de vista no siempre coincidan, pero agradezco mucho su trabajo para acabar con la violencia machista contra las mujeres. En palabras de la gran Audre Lorde: “Soy intencionada y no le tengo miedo a nada”.

Cuando me matriculé para formarme en Estudios de Género, mi abuelo me apoyó —contento de que por fin hubiera encontrado la dirección para encaminar mi vida y de que hubiera desarrollado una ética de trabajo que nunca se llegó a materializar durante mis años de colegio— aunque le sorprendía el tema. “¿Para qué tienes que estudiar eso?” Me preguntó. “Yo te lo puedo enseñar gratis: si tienes partes masculinas*, eres un hombre. Si tienes partes femeninas*, eres una mujer. No tiene más misterio, no necesitas una carrera para saber eso”. (*Las convenciones sociales nos impedían a mi abuelo y a mí usar las palabras pene o vagina/vulva en esta conversación o en cualquier otra que mantuviéramos.)

Mi reacción inicial fue el shock: después de haber pasado demasiado tiempo en Twitter y habiendo sido testigo de la extrema polaridad del discurso en torno al género, era consciente de que expresar una opinión como esa en las redes sociales conllevaría el riesgo de convertirte en el sujeto de una campaña de abuso continuado. Sin embargo, siendo blanco y varón, deduje que —si mi septuagenario abuelo decidiera aventurarse a usar Twitter— probablemente estaría a salvo de tal abuso, que normalmente y casi en su totalidad se dirige a las mujeres.

Y además, el escuchar ese punto de vista expresado con esa naturalidad, el estar juntos, sentados en el jardín de casa; nos situaba a un mundo de distancia de las tensiones del espacio digital, del miedo de las mujeres a ser etiquetadas como ‘malas feministas’ y a convertirse en blanco del acoso público. Esta conversación con mi abuelo me llevó a considerar no sólo la realidad del género, sino también el contexto del discurso de género. La intimidación es una táctica silenciadora muy poderosa —un ambiente gobernado por el miedo no conduce al pensamiento crítico, al discurso público o al desarrollo de ideas.

Hasta el final de su vida, mi abuelo permaneció completamente ignorante ante el cisma que el género había creado en el movimiento feminista, una división conocida como la guerra de las TERF. Para las no iniciadas, TERF son las siglas en inglés de Feminista Radical Trans-Excluyente (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) —un acrónimo que se usa para describir a las mujeres cuyo feminismo es crítico con el género y que abogan por la abolición de la jerarquía. Lo que cada una entiende por género es sin duda la principal fuente de tensión entre las políticas feministas y las políticas queer.

La Jerarquía de Género 

El patriarcado depende de la jerarquía de género. Para desmantelar el patriarcado —objetivo central del movimiento feminista— el género debe ser abolido. En la sociedad patriarcal, el género es lo que hace que el hombre sea el estándar normativo de humanidad, y que la mujer sea lo Otro. El género es el causante de que la sexualidad femenina esté tan estrictamente controlada —las mujeres somos putas si permitimos a los hombres el acceso sexual a nuestros cuerpos y somos unas estrechas si no lo hacemos— y de que no se juzgue de la misma manera la sexualidad masculina. El género es la razón por la que las mujeres que son abusadas por hombres sean culpabilizadas y públicamente avergonzadas —’lo estaba pidiendo a gritos’ o ‘iba provocando’— mientras el comportamiento de los hombres abusadores se suele justificar con un “ya sabes cómo son los hombres” o “en realidad es un buen hombre”. El género es la razón por la que se premia a las niñas que son cuidadosas, pasivas y modestas, cualidades que no se fomentan en los niños. El género es la razón por la que los niños son premiados por ser competitivos, agresivos y ambiciosos, cualidades que no se fomentan en las niñas. El género es la razón por la que se considera a las mujeres como una propiedad, pasando de pertenecer a sus padres a pertenecer a sus maridos a través del matrimonio. El género es la razón por la que se espera de las mujeres que hagan el trabajo doméstico y emocional a la vez que la gran mayoría de los cuidados, y de que estos trabajos sean devaluados e invisibilizados por considerarse femeninos.

El género no es un problema abstracto. En Reino Unido, cada tres días hay una mujer asesinada por un hombre. Se estima que, cada año, 85.000 mujeres son violadas por hombres en Gales e Inglaterra. Una de cada cuatro mujeres británicas sufre violencia a manos de su pareja masculina, cifra que aumenta a una de cada tres a escala global. Más de 200 millones de mujeres y niñas, en vida a día de hoy, han visto mutilados sus genitales. La liberación de las mujeres y las niñas de la violencia de los hombres y de la violencia usada para mantener esta diferencia de poder, es un objetivo fundamental del feminismo —objetivo que es del todo incompatible con la aceptación de las limitaciones que impone el género como frontera de lo que es posible en nuestras vidas.

“El problema con el género es que prescribe cómo debemos ser en lugar de reconocer cómo somos. Imagina lo felices que seriamos todos, lo libres que seríamos de ser nosotros mismos, si no tuviéramos la carga de las expectativas de género… los niños y las niñas son innegablemente diferentes biológicamente, pero la socialización exagera las diferencias y da paso a un círculo vicioso.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All be Feminists

Los roles de género son una prisión. El género es una trampa construida socialmente y diseñada para oprimir a las mujeres como casta sexual en beneficio de los hombres como casta sexual. Y la importancia del sexo biológico en esta dinámica no puede ser ignorada, pese a los recientes esfuerzos por redefinir el género como una identidad en lugar de una jerarquía. La explotación sexual y reproductiva de los cuerpos femeninos son bases materiales de la opresión de las mujeres —nuestra biología es usada por nuestros opresores, los hombres, para dominarnos. Y aunque hay una pequeña minoría de personas que no encajan en el binarismo del sexo biológico —las personas intersexuales—, esto no altera la naturaleza estructural y sistemática de la opresión de las mujeres.

Las feministas han criticado la jerarquía de género durante cientos de años y por buenas razones. Cuando Sojourner Truth trató de deconstruir la feminidad, criticó cómo la misoginia y el racismo anti-negros conformaban la definición de la categoría de mujer. Usando su propia fuerza física como evidencia empírica, Truth demostró que ser mujer no dependía de las características asociadas a la feminidad y cuestionó la marginación de los cuerpos femeninos negros, tan necesaria para elevar la fragilidad de la feminidad blanca al ideal femenino. ‘¿No soy yo una mujer?’ (Ain’t I a Woman) es una de las primeras críticas feministas al esencialismo de género; el discurso de Truth era un reconocimiento de la interacción de las jerarquías de raza y género en el contexto de la sociedad patriarcal de la supremacia blanca (Hooks, 1981).

Simone de Beauvoir también deconstruyó la feminidad diciendo que ‘no se nace mujer, se llega a serlo’. En su ‘Segundo Sexo’, afirmaba que el género no es innato, sino que impone una serie de roles y que se nos socializa para adoptar unos u otros en función de nuestro sexo biológico. Resaltó las limitaciones de estos roles, particularmente las impuestas sobre las mujeres como consecuencia del esencialismo de género, de la idea de que el género es innato.

Como de Beauvoir defendió, el esencialismo de género ha sido usado contra las mujeres durante siglos con el objetivo de negarnos la entrada en la esfera pública, en la vida independiente de la dominación masculina. Afirmaciones como que la mujer tenía una capacidad intelectual inferior, una pasividad inherente y una irracionalidad innata, eran excusas que se utilizaban para relegar la vida de las mujeres al contexto doméstico, basándose en la idea de que ese es el estado natural de la mujer.

La Historia demuestra que la insistencia en que existe un “cerebro femenino” es una táctica del patriarcado que ha servido para que el sufragio, los derechos de propiedad, la autonomía del cuerpo propio y el acceso a la educación formal, fueran dominio exclusivo de los hombres.  Si miramos la larga historia de la misoginia, que se apoya en la idea de un cerebro femenino, no solamente comprobamos que es científicamente falso sino que además este neurosexismo (Fine, 2010) o neuromachismo es contradictorio con la perspectiva feminista.

Y aún así el concepto de cerebro femenino está siendo reivindicado no sólo por los conservadores sino también en el contexto de las políticas queer y de izquierdas, que generalmente se consideran progresistas. Explorar el género como una identidad en contraposición con una jerarquía, a menudo se basa en la presunción de que el género es innato —”en el cerebro”— y no construido socialmente. Así, el desarrollo de las políticas trans y los consecuentes desacuerdos acerca de la naturaleza de la opresión de la mujer —sus raíces y lo que define a la mujer— han abierto una gran grieta (MacKay, 2014) en el seno del movimiento feminista.

Feminismo e Identidad de Género

La palabra transgénero se usa para describir el estado de un individuo cuya concepción de su propio género no está alineada con su sexo biológico. Por ejemplo, a alguien que nace con cuerpo de mujer y se identifica como hombre se le denomina hombre trans (transhombre) y a alguien que nace con cuerpo de hombre y se identifica como mujer se le llama mujer trans (transmujer). Ser transgénero puede implicar cierto grado de intervención médica, que puede incluir terapias de reemplazo hormonal y cirugía de reasignación de sexo, un proceso de transición que se lleva a cabo para alinear el Yo material con la identidad interna de las personas transgénero. Sin embargo, de los 650.000 británicos que entran en el paraguas transgénero, se estima que sólo 30.000 han llevado a cabo algún tipo de transición médica o quirúrgica.

El término trans describía inicialmente a aquellos que nacen hombres y se identifican como mujeres, o viceversa, pero ahora se usa para denominar una gran variedad de identidades basadas en la no conformidad de género. Trans incluye identidades no binarias (cuando una persona no se identifica ni como hombre ni como mujer), la fluidez de género (cuando la identidad de un individuo va cambiando de hombre a mujer y viceversa), y el género queer (cuando un individuo se identifica con la masculinidad y la feminidad a la vez o con ninguna de las dos), por nombrar algunos ejemplos.

Lo contrario de transgénero es cisgénero, una palabra que se usa para aceptar la alineación del sexo biológico con el rol de género que le corresponde. Ser cisgénero se ha establecido como privilegio en el discurso queer, con las personas cis en la posición de clase opresora y las personas trans en la de oprimida. Aunque las personas trans son innegablemente un grupo marginado, no se hace ninguna distinción entre los hombres y las mujeres cis en relación a cómo se manifiesta esa marginación. La violencia machista es responsable de los asesinatos constantes de mujeres trans (transmujeres), un patrón trágico que Judith Butler achaca a “la necesidad de los hombres de cumplir con los estándares socialmente establecidos de masculinidad y poder”.

Desde una perspectiva queer, lo que dictamina si la sociedad patriarcal te margina o te beneficia, es el género con el que te identificas y no la casta sexual a la que perteneces. En este sentido, las políticas queer están fundamentalmente en desacuerdo con el análisis feminista.

El marco queer posiciona el género en la mente, donde existe como una identidad autodefinida positivamente, no como una jerarquía. Desde una perspectiva feminista, el género se entiende cómo el vehículo para perpetuar el desequilibrio de poder estructural que el patriarcado ha establecido entre las castas sexuales.

“Si no se reconoce la realidad material del sexo biólogico o su significado como eje de la opresión, la teoría política no puede no puede incorporar ningún análisis del patriarcado. La subordinación continua e histórica de las mujeres no ha surgido porque algunos miembros de nuestra especie decidieran identificarse con un rol social inferior [y sería un acto de atroz culpabilización de la víctima (victim blaming) sugerir que así ha sido]. La opresión ha surgido como método por el cual los varones pueden dominar a esa mitad de la especie que puede gestar descendencia, y explotar su labor sexual y reproductiva. No podemos entender el desarrollo histórico del patriarcado, ni la continua discriminación machista, ni la misoginia cultural, si no reconocemos la realidad de la biología de la mujer ni la existencia de una casta de personas biológicamente hembras.” – Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about sex and gender

Como la teoría queer se basa en pensamientos post-estructuralistas, por definición es incapaz de aportar un análisis estructural coherente de ninguna opresión sistemática. Después de todo, si el Yo material es arbitrario en la manera en que cada uno experimenta el mundo, no puede ser un factor en el entendimiento de ninguna casta política. Lo que la teoría queer no advierte es que la opresión estructural no tiene nada que ver con cómo se identifica cada individuo. El género como identidad no es un vector en la matriz de la dominación (Hill Collins, 2000) –si alguien se identifica o no con uno o varios roles de género determinados, no tiene ningún efecto en la posición que el patriarcado le otorga.

El Problema con la Etiqueta ‘Cis’

Ser cis significa “identificarse con el género asignado al nacer”. Pero la asignación de roles de género basada en las características sexuales es una herramienta del patriarcado que se usa para subordinar a las mujeres. La imposición de una serie de limitaciones en función del género asignado con el objetivo de definir la trayectoria de su desarrollo, es la más temprana manifestación del patriarcado en la vida de una persona, lo cual es especialmente dañino en el caso de las niñas.
El esencialismo que se esconde tras la asunción de que las mujeres se identifican con el vehículo de su opresión, se basa en la creencia de que las mujeres estamos inherente e idóneamente preparadas para que se ejerza poder sobre nosotras. En otras palabras, categorizar a las mujeres como ‘cis’ es misoginia.

A través de la lente postmoderna de la teoría queer, la opresión como casta sexual se ve como un privilegio. La violencia masculina, a nivel global, es una de las primeras causas de muerte prematura de las mujeres. En un mundo en el que el feminicidio es endémico, en el que una de cada tres mujeres sufren violencia machista… nacer mujer no es un privilegio. Que una mujer nacida hembra se identifique con un rol de género determinado o no, no influye en si se verá sometida a la mutilación genital femenina, o en si tendrá dificultades para acceder al cuidado médico de su salud reproductiva, o en si será discriminada por menstruar.

Es imposible escapar a la opresión material de base mediante la identificación personal como individuo del género opuesto. Por tanto, la etiqueta cisgénero tiene poca o ninguna influencia sobre la posición en la que el patriarcado coloca a las mujeres. Considerar que habitar un cuerpo de mujer es un privilegio, implica rechazar el contexto sociopolítico de la sociedad patriarcal.

La lucha por los derechos de las mujeres ha sido larga y difícil, cada avance conseguido a un muy alto precio por aquellas que resistieron al patriarcado. Y la lucha no ha terminado. Los significativos avances en el reconocimiento de los derechos de las mujeres conseguidos por la segunda ola de feministas, fueron deliberadamente rechazados con una reacción sociopolítica muy violenta (Faludi, 1991), un patrón que se está repitiendo en la actualidad hasta tal punto que el acceso de las mujeres al aborto legal y a otras formas de cuidado de su salud reproductiva está siendo puesta en riesgo por el fascismo conservador que prolifera en Europa y Estados Unidos. Intersecciones de raza, clase, capacidades y sexualidad, también juegan un papel importante en la definición de la manera en la que las estructuras de poder actúan sobre las mujeres.

Y aún así, en nombre de la inclusión, las mujeres estamos siendo despojadas del lenguaje requerido para identificar y posteriormente combatir nuestra propia opresión. Las mujeres embarazadas pasan a ser personas embarazadas. Amamantar pasa a ser dar el ‘pecho/torso’ (chestfeeding en lugar de breastfeeding). Citar la biología de las mujeres se convierte en una forma de intolerancia retrógrada que hace imposible el hablar de las políticas reproductivas, de parto y de maternidad sin transgredir la ‘norma’. Además, hacer que el lenguaje en referencia al sexo sea neutral, no previene o combate el que las mujeres sean oprimidas como casta sexual. Borrar el cuerpo de las mujeres no altera en manera alguna la forma que tiene el género de oprimir a las mujeres.

Desde el punto de vista queer, el discurso de género pertenece exclusivamente a aquellos que se identifican como trans. El resultado es que muchas feministas tratan de evitar el tema del género, a pesar de ser la jerarquía que desempeña el papel principal en la opresión de la mujer. Las invitaciones a beber lejía o a morir en un incendio son, nada sorprendentemente, una táctica silenciadora muy efectiva. Los chistes y las amenazas —muchas veces imposibles de distinguir unos de otros— en referencia a la violencia contra las mujeres se usan de manera habitual para callar voces disidentes. Este abuso no puede ser considerado como defensivo, como la frustración de los oprimidos volcada sobre el opresor. Es, en el mejor de los casos, hostilidad horizontal (Kennedy, 1970), y en el peor, la legitimación de la violencia masculina contra las mujeres.

Las políticas de identidad queer yerran al obviar, y a veces ignorar, las formas en las que las mujeres son oprimidas como casta sexual. Este abordaje selectivo de las políticas de liberación es defectuoso en su fundamento. Despolitizar el género y abordar de manera acrítica los desequilibrios de poder que crea, no beneficia a nadie y mucho menos a las mujeres. Sólo la abolición del género traerá consigo la liberación de las restricciones que el género impone. Los grilletes del género no pueden ser rediseñados como objetivo en la búsqueda de la libertad.


 

Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

The Vanishing Point: A Reflection Upon Lesbian Erasure

No longer would these truths be contained inside me, and so it is time to send these words out into the world.

Part four in my series of essays on sex and gender – here are parts 1, 2, and 3. This one is dedicated to E for The Argonauts and the encouragement.


 

This is a strange time to be a young lesbian woman. Well, young-ish. In the time it has taken me to evolve from a fledgling baby dyke into a fully formed lesbian, the tension between queer identity politics and women’s liberation has become pretty much unbearable. Facebook added Pride flag reactions in the same month they started banning lesbian women for describing ourselves as dykes. As equal marriage legislation and same-sex adoption rights grow increasingly standard in mainstream society, the right of lesbian women to self-define and declare sexual boundaries is undermined within the LGBT+ community. Such contradictions are characteristic of this era, but that doesn’t make them any easier to live with from day to day.

Love is love, unless you happen to be a lesbian woman – in which case your sexuality will be relentlessly deconstructed under suspicion of being exclusionary. love is loveAs I have written before, every sexuality is by its very definition exclusionary. Sexuality is a set of parameters that govern the characteristics we are potentially attracted to in others. For lesbians, it’s the presence of female primary and secondary sex characteristics that create (but do not guarantee) the possibility of attraction. Sex, not gender (nor even gender identity), is the key factor. But in a queer setting, as in mainstream patriarchal society, lesbian is a contentious label.

Lesbian women are instead encouraged to describe ourselves as queer, a term so broad and nebulous as to be devoid of specific meaning, on the grounds that nobody in possession of a penis is read as being entirely outside of our sexual boundaries. Jocelyn MacDonald rounds it up nicely:

“Lesbians are women, and women are taught that we’re supposed to be sexually available objects of public consumption. So we spend a lot of time saying “No.” No, we won’t fuck or partner with men; no, we won’t change our minds about this; no, this body is a no-man’s land. Lesbian, straight or bi, women are punished whenever we try to assert a boundary. Queer as a catchall term makes it really hard for lesbians to assert and maintain this boundary, because it makes it impossible to name this boundary.”

In a time when acknowledging biological sex is treated as an act of bigotry, homosexuality is automatically problematised – the unforeseen consequences of queer identity politics are wide and far-reaching. Or rather, it would be more accurate to say, lesbian sexuality is made problematic: the idea of women exclusively directing our desires and energies towards one another remains suspect. Somehow, the pattern of men centring men in their lives never receives the same backlash. Lesbians are a threat to the status quo, whether it’s part of heteropatriarchy or queer culture. When lesbians dismiss the idea of taking on a partner with a penis, we are branded “vagina fetishists” and “gynephiles” – given that lesbian sexuality is routinely pathologised in queer discourse, just as lesbian sexuality is pathologised by social conservatism, it’s no surprise to me that so many young women succumb to social pressure and drop lesbian in favour of queer. Self-erasure is the price of acceptance.

“It is no secret that fear and hatred of homosexuals permeate our society. But the contempt for lesbians is distinct. It is directly rooted in the abhorrence of the self-defined woman, the self-determining woman, the woman who is not controlled by male need, imperative, or manipulation. Contempt for lesbians is most often a political repudiation of women who organize in their own behalf to achieve public presence, significant power, visible integrity.

 

Enemies of women, those who are determined to deny us freedom and dignity, use the word lesbian to provoke a hatred of women who do not conform. This hatred rumbles everywhere. This hatred is sustained and expressed by virtually every institution. When male power is challenged, this hatred can be intensified and inflamed so that it is volatile, palpable. The threat is that this hatred will explode into violence. The threat is omnipresent because violence against women is culturally applauded. And so the word lesbian, hurled or whispered as accusation, is used to focus male hostility on women who dare to rebel, and it is also used to frighten and bully women who have not yet rebelled.” – Andrea Dworkin

As queer identity politics would have it, biological women being exclusively interested in being with other women is a sign of bigotry. Let’s not waste paragraphs on equivocation. This world contains more than enough silences around the subject of gender, and it is invariably women who pay the highest price for those silences – in this case, women who love other women. And so I will say it: for lesbians to categorically deny the possibility of taking a partner with a penis is framed as transphobic by queer politics because it does not include transwomen in the sphere of lesbian desire. The inherent lesbophobia of reducing lesbian sexuality to a source of validation is, of course, given a free pass.

Yet, lesbian sexuality doesn’t necessarily exclude people who identify as trans. Lesbian sexuality can extend to biologically female people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer. Lesbian sexuality can extend to biologically female people who identify as transmen. As a comparatively high proportion of self-identified transmen lived as butch lesbians prior to transition, it is not unheard of for transmen to be part of lesbian relationships.

Where is the boundary between a butch lesbian and a transman? During her reflections on lesbian life, Roey Thorpe considers that “…invariably, someone asks: Where have all the butches gone?” The short answer is transmasculinity (and the long answer requires an essay of its own). At what point within the spectrum of identity does butch end and trans begin?

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The border is amorphous, though in an imaginative sort of way Maggie Nelson attempts to chart it within The Argonauts. Her lover, the artist Harry Dodge, Nelson describes as a “debonair butch on T.” To Nelson’s thinking, “whatever sameness I’ve noticed in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. Rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy.” Dodge is fluidly gendered and masculine presenting. Testosterone and top surgery do not remove an understanding of what it is to be located, in this world, as female. Those truths coexist.

The idea that lesbians are transphobic because our sexual boundaries do not extend to accommodate penis is a phallocentric fallacy. And the pressure on lesbians to redefine those boundaries is frankly terrifying – it rests on an attitude of entitlement towards women’s bodies, an entitlement that is part of patriarchy and now being replicated within queer space. Lesbian women do not exist as sex objects or sources of validation, but self-actualised human beings with desires and boundaries of our own.

Talking about queer politics with gay male friends my age is something of an eye-opener. I am reminded of two things: With men, no is accepted as the closing word. With women, no is treated as the opening of a negotiation. Most gay men in my life are in turns horrified and amused by the notion that the parameters of their sexuality could or should be expected to move in accordance with the dictates of queer politics. Some (the fortunate ones – ignorance here is bliss) are unfamiliar with the rabbit hole of queer theory. Others (the newly initiated) are, unsurprisingly, resistant to the queer problematising of homosexuality. One went so far as to suggest gays, lesbians, and bisexuals break away from the alphabet soup of queer politics and self-organise specifically around the lines of sexuality – given that numerous dykes have been  subject to the TERF witch-hunt for making the same case, it was at once uplifting and depressing to hear a man outside of radical feminism voice the same views without fear of censure.

I am glad to say that none of the gay men I call friend have opted for what can be described as the Owen Jones route: dismissing the concerns lesbian women as bigotry in pursuit of those tasty, rainbow-sprinkled ally cookies. The trend of left-wing men cashing in on misogyny to bolster their own reputations is a tale as old as patriarchy. That it happens in the context of queer community comes as no great surprise, as queer culture is male-dominated.

Queer community can ultimately be an alienating for lesbian women. Although I participated in queer spaces around the time of coming out, I have grown steadily more withdrawn from that context over time. I am by no means alone in that – plenty of lesbian women within my age bracket feel conscious of being erased and displaced in queer settings, places we are told that we are meant to belong. It’s not purely older lesbians who are resistant to queer politics, although god knows they warned us about its misogyny. My only regret is not listening sooner – that I wasted time and energy trying to bridge the ideological gap between queer and radical feminisms.

Queer discourse uses something of a carrot and stick approach to shoehorn young lesbians into conforming – either we can embrace queer and belong, or we can be irrelevant outsiders just like boring older lesbians. This approach, reliant as it is on ageist misogyny, was misjudged: I can think of nothing I would like to be so much as an older lesbian, and it is pretty wonderful to know that’s the future in front of me. The depth of thought older lesbians extend towards me, the way they challenge and guide me through the process of feminist consciousness, plays a pivotal role in shaping both my sense of the world and how I understand my place in it. If I am really fortunate, one day I will have those soaring (and, at times, intellectually gruelling) conversations with future generations of baby dykes.

Although I appreciate the support and sisterhood of older lesbians (by far my favourite demographic of human beings), in certain respects I also envy them the relative simplicity of lesbian existence during the 1970s and ‘80s. The reason for that envy: they lived lesbian lives in the time before queer politics went mainstream. I do not say that lightly, or to imply that the past was some utopia for gay and lesbian rights. It wasn’t. Their generation(s) had Section 28 and mine has same-sex marriage. What gains my generation benefit from are the direct product of their struggle. Yet they were allowed to live at least part of their lives in a time when, of all the reasons the word lesbian was met with disgust, being deemed “too exclusionary” was not one of them. There was no impetus, within a feminist or gay context, to “queer” lesbian sexuality.

Some things haven’t changed a great deal. Lesbian sexuality is still routinely degraded. Lesbian women are still the posterdykes for “don’t worry, I’m not that type of feminist.” Only now, when I check my Twitter notifications, it genuinely takes a moment to work out whether my being a lesbian has offended the alt-right or the queer left. Does it particularly matter? The lesbophobia takes the same format. The hatred of women is identical.

women's libOver Pride, a picture of a smiling transwoman clad in a bloodstained t-shirt proclaiming “I punch TERFs” circulated on social media. The image was captioned “this is what gay liberation looks like.” That those of us living at the intersection of gay identity and womanhood – lesbians – are often branded TERFs purely by virtue of our sexuality makes this claim particularly dubious. Considering that we live in a world where one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, I cannot share in the amusement – there’s nothing revolutionary or countercultural in making a joke about punching women. Violence against women was glorified without a second thought, positioned as an objective of liberation politics. And we all know that TERFs are women, as men who assert boundaries are rarely subject to such vitriol. Pointing out the misogyny of course results in a fresh deluge of misogyny.

There is one favourite rejoinder reserved for feminists critiquing the sexual politics of gender identity, a retort associated more with surly teenage boys than any politics of resistance: “suck my girldick.” Or, if malice couples with a stab at originality, “choke on my girldick.” Being told to choke on a girldick doesn’t feel any different from being told to choke on a garden variety dick, yet it has become almost a routine part of gender discourse unfolding on Twitter. The act remains the same. The misogyny remains the same. And it’s telling that in this scenario the sexual gratification is derived through an act that quite literally silences women.

An iconic line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet proclaims that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” With this in mind (for there is far more of tragedy than romance about this situation), I argue that a penis by any other name would sexually repel lesbians. And that’s fine. Sexual disinterest doesn’t equate to discrimination, oppression, or marginalisation. Sexual entitlement, however, does: it plays a fundamental part in the oppression of women, and manifests clearly through rape culture. Within a queer framing there is no space given over to discussions about the misogyny that enables entitlement towards sexual accessing lesbian women’s bodies. Simply acknowledging that the issue exists is considered beyond the pale and, as a result, that misogyny is protected by layers and layers of silence.

This is not such a brilliant time to be a lesbian. The unwillingness of queer politics to simply accept lesbian sexuality as valid in its own right is deeply isolating, at points privileging the desire to have sex over the right to refuse sex. And yet lesbian connection persists, as it always has done. Lesbian relationships continue to nourish whilst offering a radical alternative to heteropatriarchy – just because it’s not particularly visible right now, just because it doesn’t have the mainstream (i.e. patriarchal) appeal of queer culture, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Lesbians are everywhere  – that will not change.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.


Bibliography

Margaret Atwood. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale

Andrea Dworkin. (1978). The Power of Words

Cherríe Moraga. (2009). Still Loving in the (Still) War Years: On Keeping Queer Queer

Maggie Nelson. (2015). The Argonauts

Adrienne Rich. (1976). Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

Loud and United – Reflections of a Black Feminist on the Road

Dedicated to my mother, Angela, without whom this adventure would have been impossible. Thank you, mum – for getting me to the airport and for encouraging me to spread my wings.


The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories – in short, out of our heads and into our hearts. – Gloria Steinem

Before

At the beginning of this year – the first lived without the guidance of my grandfather – I challenged myself to two things: more travel and more adventure. The writer’s life is typically one of books and ideas, and although writing has the power to transport both author and audience to extraordinary places, across the vast expanses of human imagination, I sometimes wonder if I use writing as an excuse to retreat from the world and into myself. By inclination I crave routine and solitude, neither of which can be depended upon in the great unknown. That is, perhaps, why it is so important to push myself outside of the comfort zone so easily constructed around the familiar and open myself to new experiences. Through the unexpected, the unpredictable, we grow and learn more about ourselves in the process. When static, we too often see what we expect to see as opposed to what’s really there in front of us.

20170607_142308Feminist theory is meaningless without the ability to put it into practice. And life, though it can at times be daunting, requires living. So I am on a plane to Brussels for Loud and United, an event which marks twenty years of the Observatory on Violence Against Women. The Observatory was created to put political pressure upon governments across Europe to eradicate male violence against women and girls.

Loud and United is split into two parts: a symposium in which experts, politicians, and activists discuss the realities of male violence against women, and a march through the streets of Brussels to protest that violence. Loud and United is the perfect balance of words and deeds, what Audre Lorde described as the transformation of silence into language and action. In coming together, naming the agent, and resisting the insidious idea that male violence is a ‘natural’ part of women’s lives, we resist the very foundations of patriarchy. I want to be part of that resistance. And it doesn’t hurt that Gloria Steinem is to give the keynotes address.

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This isn’t my first trip to Brussels – last September I was there for what turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life so far: Young Feminist Summer School. Fifty women from across Europe came together to exchange activist experiences and learn from each other’s feminist perspectives. Sharing space and time with my AGORA sisters developed my understanding of the relationship between feminist theory and practice like nothing else, radically altering my approach to feminist organising. Being part of that group blew away the cynicism that threatened to take root in me, dealt with the weariness that came from challenging racism within the feminist movement, and restored my belief that anything is possible when women work together. AGORA also imparted a degree of self-confidence, a sense of my work being legitimate and having a place within the context of the feminist movement.

Attending Young Feminist Summer School changed so much for the better. And I almost didn’t go – partly out of the panic that stems from chronic anxiety, partly due to a heavy bout of Imposter Syndrome, and partly because my grandfather was dying. On the final day of Summer School, I received a call to say that he couldn’t be released from hospital until I had been taught to feed him through a tube – which I did for the final month of his life. It was a difficult time. Becca, one of my AGORA sisters, introduced me to spoon theory during Summer School – a disability metaphor coined by Christine Miserandino to explain the extra limitations capping the available energy to spend on the day to day tasks that make up everyday life. And now, almost a year on, I have even less spoons within reach. In caring for my grandfather I ceased caring for myself, which created something of a spoon deficit.

I have taken leave of absence from university owing to depression, scaled back professional and social responsibilities, and entered a kind of hibernation period to focus on my health. I have set three rules to live by: 1) go to therapy 2) volunteer at the Women’s Library at least one day every week 3) look after yourself properly. It’s a cliché, a bourgeois twenty-something going to Europe to find herself, but I will not apologise for that. After Young Feminist Summer School I can think of no better place to look for that bold young woman with a radical spirit than the city of Brussels, no better point to reconnect with my politics and the passion behind them than Loud and United.  People living with debilitating illnesses and disabilities are expected to justify every last speck of joy, but I am going to grab it with both hands and without apology.

When the plane touches down in Brussels, I begin to feel hopeful. Armed with enthusiasm and a basic grasp of the French language, I set off to board the shuttle bus to the city centre. I spend the journey alternating between staring at the lush expanses of green fields and blue sky and reading Gloria Steinem’s most recent book, My Life on the 20170614_174803Road. Steinem’s reflections are thoughtful, and something about the way she connects physical movement through the world with a development of ideas strikes a chord. What I like most about Steinem’s writing is that from her early essays to recent reflections delivered in her eighties, she doesn’t pretend to know everything and is therefore always open to learning and improving her own feminist praxis. If there were such a thing as total and definitive understanding of the feminist movement, Gloria Steinem would have more right to claim it than most. But there isn’t. Feminism is a socio-political movement propelled by women’s actions and ideas – it’s a continuously ongoing process, not a destination. Its progress is best marked not only in the accordance of women’s rights, but in the development of surrounding ideas and attitudes.

Ilaria, a fellow graduate of Young Feminist Summer School, is waiting for me at the bus stop. She introduces me to her girlfriend Michela and we work out how best to communicate. Ilaria and her girlfriend moved to Brussels from Italy last September, which – being a total homebody – I find incredibly brave. Michela speaks French with a little bit of English. I speak English with a little bit of French. We meet somewhere in the middle, with Ilaria translating what Michela and I cannot. As they guide me back to their flat, I feel none of the anxiety of being away from home alone. Because I am not alone.

We drop my luggage off at the Tetris House, affectionately termed as everything has an exact space, to head out for dinner and drinks. As we walk, I am struck by the beautiful art nouveau design of the buildings. Ilaria fills me in on the area’s history. She and Michela live in the most diverse part of Brussels – half of the population is white, and half of the population is people of colour. Houses that were once the pied-à-terre of Belgium’s upper classes are now flats occupied, more often than not, by migrant families. It’s the first port of call for people from all around the world when they first move Brussels. Sure enough, as we meander through the city I see a gorgeous spectrum of brown skin. It is nothing short of divine to feel so inconspicuous.

Belgian fries are in a league of their own, so we get chips for dinner. Mine are accompanied by a falafel wrap, which makes going abroad and getting chippy for tea seem acceptably cosmopolitan. The greatest difference between Brussels and Glasgow is how each city’s inhabitants occupy public space. In the cobblestone courtyards, the pavements are full of tables and chairs set out by nearby bars. To my surprise, Ilaria says that we can sit outside a pub of our choice and eat our meal there. She and Michela choose from a long list of fancy beers – one Belgian treat I decline owing to an unapologetically femme taste in drinks.

At the bar, there are five fridges full of craft beers. They are as mysterious to me as the rules of any sport that isn’t Quidditch. I search for a fruit cider, the closest acceptable approximation to beer. The bartender takes pity on me and comes over to help. He laughs, not unkindly, when I explain what I’m looking for and says that they don’t stock any such thing. I struggle to understand the Flemmish accent to his French. When he realises that not only do I speak English, but that I am Scottish, the bartender is delighted. “Glasgow? I love Glasgow,” he tells me. “That city is CRAZY!” He pantomimes the sort of argument that is characteristic of the city, mimicking those interactions that walk the fine line between masculine bonhomie and pure aggression. It involves a lot of gesticulation and “FUCK YOU!”  That’s Glasgow alright. Perhaps out of kindness, perhaps out of the fear that he has given offence, the bartender pours me what can only be described as a triple gin and tonic. He moves the gin to a pint glass upon realising that both ice and tonic will not fit. Fortunately, Glasgow has taught me how to hold my drink.

Back at the table, we discuss lesbian politics and culture. Ilaria and Michela moved to Brussels because it’s a better place to be a lesbian couple than Italy. Life away from Catholic homophobia and social conservatism is happier. Scotland isn’t perfect but, by comparison, I feel fortunate. Two leaders of Scottish political parties are lesbian. Holyrood is “the gayest parliament in the world.” Not bad at all.

We talk about our first forays into lesbian culture – how much the shows with even a couple of lesbian characters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or even solid lesbian subtext (Xena) had meant to us all growing up. We all watched The L Word. There were so many sex scenes in it that I would wait until my grandparents went to church before watching an episode on Netflix lest they overhear. Needless to say, feast days and holidays of obligation (extra church on days other than Sunday) were always welcome – thanks be to God! Michela thinks this is hilarious. She watched Sugar Rush when it first aired, despite not having much English, and would watch programmes in any language provided there were lesbian characters. The lengths to which lesbians will go to see ourselves represented in the media know no bounds.

On the way to the bar, I had spotted people drinking what looked like irn-bru in wine glasses. Ilaria told me that it was, in fact, aperol spritz and suggested we have some next. She asks what’s in irn-bru. Aside from sugar and colour, I haven’t the faintest idea. Does anybody? For a time irn-bru was banned in America, which says a lot about the ingredients in Scotland’s other national drink. At first I’m not convinced by aperol spritz. Michela taps an inch down the glass and reassures me that by this point in the drink, the taste will improve. She’s right.

During

Having been anxious about Loud and United since the moment my plane tickets were booked, I feel remarkably at ease with the world on the day. Ilaria can’t make it, has to go to work first thing in the morning. Michela makes a delicious breakfast and we head out. In the lobby we pass two older women, and Michela pauses to talk to them. I assume they are neighbours, perhaps another lesbian couple, and feel glad for Ilaria and Michela. Older lesbians make the world a better place. But when she joins me on the street, Michela explains that the women go from door to door trying to convert people to Christianity. When Michela told them that she’s a lesbian, they responded that God would still love her. For a split second I wonder if it’s truly a love-thy-neighbour Christianity being advocated here, but Michela explains the catch: God is prepared to love lesbians provided we don’t have sex with women. Neither of us can keep a straight face. I asked Michela what she said to that. She replies, with a mischievous grin: “No way. I love sex with women.” Our laughter carries throughout the street. In this we are agreed. I’ll take lesbian sex over God’s love on any day ending in y.

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Michela guides me through the metro and leaves me at Grand-Place.  The square is even more beautiful than I had remembered, a magnificent display of gilt and Gothic architecture. Spotting a security guard, I explain that I’m here to help the European Women’s Lobby set up for their event. He doesn’t let me in, says the EWL aren’t here yet, and so I sit at the edge of the square and scribble away in a notebook until another volunteer arrives. With a confidence that is uniquely American, she talks security into hallletting us inside. The EWL are nowhere to be seen, so we explore the building and marvel over the opulence of Brussels. The room is extraordinary. Wooden walls panelled with richly painted murals, a high ceiling supported by ornately carved beams, and even pews lining the back – it looks more like a church than a feminist meeting space. There is something delicious about repurposing places that symbolise male wealth and power for women’s liberation. The meeting space in Glasgow Women’s Library, where we recently held an all-female literary festival, used to be a gentlemen’s reading room.

When the EWL team arrives, I am filled with relief. We set up signs and flags, put out badges, organise seat reservations, and arrange a selection of literature about the European Women’s Lobby’s projects – tasks that are comforting in their familiarity after three years of volunteering at the Women’s Library. Believing passionately in feminist documentation, I snap pictures as we go. I take a photo of Disrupting the Continuum of Violence Against Women and Girls and text it to Liz Kelly.

Liz theorised the continuum, radically altering the way male violence is framed and conceptualised not only within feminist theory but support and prevention work. I think she’ll be pleased by the way her work is being applied but, more than that, I think she’ll enjoy “disrupting.” It’s a good word. Disruption is very Liz: being so thoroughly radical in her feminism has created a boldness in her this is catching. Being radical in my own feminism lends me a certain courage, too – not once do I question my right to be at Loud and United, or the legitimacy of being there.

As soon as we are ready, the doors open. Two hundred and fifty women from around the world enter the hall, united by a commitment to ending male violence. Edith Schratzberger-Vécsei, President of the European Women’s Lobby, gives the opening address. She talks of how habituated to male violence societies across the world have become, invites us to “disrupt an ancient system” in dismantling patriarchy. “All the forms of violence that we’ll be discussing today have one goal: to silence women.” It is fitting, then, that we should be loud as well as united.

The first panel is HERstory. Women’s organisations from across Europe share their expertise in resisting male violence against women. The agent is named. The root cause 20170608_135151is addressed. Biljana Nastovska is exactly right in her assessment of patriarchy: “violence against women is a manifestation of unequal power relations between women and men. Violence against women is not accidental, but structural and political.” There is something profoundly moving about witnessing the women of the Observatory’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls, the passion of their belief in this cause. Vanja Macanovic explains why she works for the Observatory: “As long as one woman is raped or beaten, prostituted or trafficked, the European Women’s Lobby Observatory will be there to fight it.” Her words, so resolutely spoken, have a superhero quality about them.

I wish that frontline workers in women’s organisations were celebrated and valourised the same way Wonder Woman is – while Diana Prince provides a symbol of hope, the work the women’s sector do is very real. In Britain, 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced street harassment. 45% have experienced it in a form of unwanted touching. And when women of colour resist street harassment, we get racist abuse too. The support and prevention work done in the women’s sector is vital. It makes this world a better place. The Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt neatly sums up the endemic of male violence against women: “when we talk about gender-based violence, it is violence because you are a woman.” In every society, we are punished and abused simply for having been born female.

The second panel is Inspiring Initiatives by Women’s Rights Activists. Inspiring is right. The organisations represented are La Maison des Femmes, Sexual Violence Centre Cork, Lilies of the Street, and Women’s Tribunal. These women stare unflinchingly at the very worst of male violence in order to support women through it, enduring in the hope of creating a world in which male violence is eliminated. The words of Mary Crilly (Sexual Violence Centre Cork) in particular stand out. She talks candidly about the rage she feels against male violence, how the horror of male violence weighs upon her, and feeling burnt out as a result. Mary acknowledges how high the cost can be. And then Mary describes why she keeps going, why every woman in the room must keep going too. She says “at some point in your life someone will come to you and say ‘this happened to me’. If you are open to hearing it, they will tell you.” I think of that telling. I think of being told. Mary is right when she says that meeting such a disclosure with empathy is one of the most important things any of us will ever accomplish.

The mechanism of violence is what destroys women, controls women, keeps women in their so-called place. If we want to end male violence against women, we must think of the most vulnerable and leave no woman behind. – Salome Mbugua

Next, we hear testimonies of women who have survived male violence. Witnessing this panel is an extraordinary privilege. Monica Weissel Alvarez speaks with radical honesty about her experience of intimate partner violence. The total absence of institutional support she received – Monica’s helplessness to escape her abuser, being “trapped in circles of domination” – is devastating to hear about. Alisha Watts recounts her experience of online grooming, of how she was isolated and exploited by her abuser. As Alisha’s voice trembles, I am in awe of her courage – the bravery required to share something so raw and painful in front of two hundred and fifty people in the hope of helping other women and girls. That iconic Maggie Kuhn quote springs to mind: “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”

The final panellist to speak is Fiona Broadfoot, who became an abolitionist campaigner upon exiting the sex industry. Nothing on this earth could have prepared me for hearing Fiona’s story. She was groomed into prostitution at fifteen and spent eleven years in the sex trade.

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Of that time, Fiona says “I was at immediate risk of extreme sexual violence and abuse. I lost my identity and what little self-confidence I had. Rape became an occupational hazard.” She repressed the trauma by telling herself it was a job like any other. At 17, Fiona told herself “innocent women will be raped if I don’t do this.” Fiona begins to cry while sharing her story, for which she makes no apology: “it’s a sign I’m a healthy human. I used to distance myself and display no emotion.” It’s only then that I notice the tears on my own face, notice that women all around the room are in tears too. There is no shame in crying. I never want to become the kind of person who can look at such injustice and remain unmoved.

As with Monica’s story, it is devastating on two levels: that Fiona experienced this violence, and that institutional misogyny meant structures that should have helped her worked against her. Fiona’s pimp was on first name terms with the Vice Squad. She was criminalised and he was not. When she tried to rebuild her life, Fiona was kicked out of her college course due to having been arrested for prostitution. Afterwards, she returned to prostitution. Fiona’s words will stay with me for the rest of my life, as will her strength and dignity. Even with so much cause to be angry at the world, Fiona spends her life trying to make it a better place for the girls who live in it. I am determined to follow her example, to emulate Fiona’s generosity of spirit. Getting called SWERF (sex-worker exclusionary radical feminist) on Twitter is a tiny, tiny price to pay for standing beside Fiona and all the women in her position, of which there are many. Although not all women survive the sex industry. The mortality rate of women in prostitution is up to forty times above the average. Between 60 and 80% of women in prostitution experience regular physical and sexual abuse by men. The sex industry isn’t revolutionary or liberating, but a manifestation of patriarchy and capitalism. It is time to end demand, to end men’s belief they are entitled to sexually access women’s bodies.

After the Stories of Survivors of Male Violence panel, I am emotionally exhausted. And so I fulfil that millennial stereotype and check my phone for a bit, retreating into the world of WhatsApp and Twitter. Liz has replied, asking if the continuum was referenced in the EWL literature. I read through the pamphlet, find no direct reference to Liz or her research, and write back to tell her. This is a difficulty within feminist theorising. Good Loud United Badgesfeminist practice involves sharing ideas and making information as widely accessible as possible. Radical feminism can challenge ownership and institutional power as following patterns of male dominance. But there is something inherently radical about acknowledging women’s work, the development of women’s ideas over time and who made it possible. As Virginia Woolf observed, “Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Making women’s ideas invisible, treating them as common knowledge rather than giving credit, only serves to further the erasure of women in public life. The continuum is a widely known concept. Upon seeing the pamphlet, I thought immediately of Liz’s work. But if I hadn’t read Surviving Sexual Violence (Kelly), hadn’t known where the continuum came from, making that connection would be impossible. Other women could read the pamphlet without being able to trace the idea back to its source.

Referencing women’s ideas is a revolutionary act. It is a form of resistance to say that a woman made this, a woman did this, a woman thought this. And so I reference Liz publicly, Tweeting about the use of her theory in Disrupting the Continuum of Violence Against Women and Girls. Liz responds to my Tweet, saying that she loves this use of her work but believes as feminists we have a responsibility to acknowledge one another. The European Women’s Lobby get back to her immediately and positively. I’m confident they will add the appropriate references to the publication, and glad to have nudged them in the right direction. Acknowledging women’s ideas is at the heart of my life with Glasgow Women’s Library.

It’s just as well I do check Twitter. My friend Pauline has Tweeted her astonishment at finding me here, so far from Scotland. I fizz with excitement at the thought of Pauline here in this room. Sure enough, her Tweets pepper #LoudUnited. We make plans to meet up after the symposium. This will be the first time I have met Pauline in person, though we have been friends for over a year. We met through radical feminist Twitter. My favourite thing about Twitter is that it has the power to connect women around the world, that it hosts such a fertile ground for feminist discourse.

As the panel changes over for the final time, a woman sat in the row in front turns to face me. She asks “are you Claire? Do you write Sister Outrider?” Guilty as charged. I nod. She recognised me from Twitter, says that my writing is exciting and that she is glad to have met me. After she turns back to face the front, I mull over her words. It’s not totally uncommon to be recognised at home, buying books or visiting libraries. Those are settings in which I am expected, places where I have worked. But this is a continent away from those contexts. Although my writing has been translated, I could not have predicted that anyone would connect me to it. It is in parts disconcerting and thrilling. I vow not to let myself develop an inflated sense of self-importance, regardless of how far my writing ever reaches.

And then in walks Gloria Steinem, a masterclass in humility from which a good few writers could learn. Her presence is assured yet unobtrusive, though heads swivel. Nothing about the way Gloria conducts herself is designed to monopolise attention. She sits in the second row awaiting introduction whilst Twitter explodes with her arrival.

When Gloria takes the stage, there is heartfelt applause. She holds up one fist in a feminist salute, just like in that iconic photograph of her with Dorothy Pitman-Hughes. It

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Gloria Steinem addresses Loud and United

was Gloria’s commitment to joint speaking tours with Black women, her approach to interracial solidarity between women, that drew me to her work. And now the woman whose words have come to me through books, videos, and podcasts is speaking to this audience directly. She highlights that the women in this room have overcome boundaries of difference to come together in support of women’s liberation. Observing that patriarchy is under five thousand years old, that it was not universal and is not permanent, she creates a feeling of optimism. It is possible in that moment to imagine that a better future is within reach, a world free from male violence.

Although the word intersectionality (Crenshaw) is never explicitly used, the principles are there in what Gloria says. She talks of race and class and caste alongside gender, about how all hierarchies are interconnected, sharing her theory of supremacy crimes: acts of violence and domination committed not for material gain, but with a view to maintaining the privileges that come with being at the top of a hierarchy. Gloria credits Black Lives Matter as being “a brave and important movement” and goes on to discuss the crimes of George Zimmerman. Before he murdered Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s history was littered with acts of violence against women. In her view, these are both forms of supremacy crime. “Supremacy crimes are related. One predicts another.”

Next comes the part I have been silently dreading: the march. At risk of confirming everyone’s worst suspicions about keyboard warriors and slacktivism, I hate going to protests. It’s not a question of if I will experience an anxiety attack, but rather how many. The crush of people, the noise, the difficulty in getting away – these are difficult. Discursive activism is what comes naturally. Earlier this year I went on the Women’s March in London to protest Trump’s inauguration and the erosion of women’s rights. It was powerful to be part of that resistance. It was also terrifying. I put on an oversized pair of sunglasses and prayed that Liz – so bold and determined – wouldn’t notice that I was crying. There was a point when I wanted to ask her if we could go to one side while I closed my eyes and did a breathing exercise, but in the rush I just couldn’t find the words. So I didn’t talk to her for whole stretches of time, lost in my own panic. Liz tried to steer us through the crowds as quickly as possible. Afterwards, knowing what it cost, she told me that I did a brave thing in marching. Liz is a good friend. But today I am here alone, une femme seule. I make a beeline for Joanna, the EWL Secretary-General, and decide to keep a member of the team within sight at all times. So radical.

On the way out of the building, I hand Gloria a Glasgow Women’s Library badge. It’s one of my creations – badge-making is one of the many unexpected skills I have picked up at GWL. Another is confidence. I ask Gloria to sign her book for me, and she obliges. Joanna takes a picture of us together. And for the first time in memory I don’t look at the image wondering whether I look sufficiently thin or pretty. I look truly happy, and that is enough.

The protest is in turns brilliant and scary. Provided I keep the EWL team in sight, the panic is manageable. As we march, we chant: “Sol-sol-sol! Solidarité avec des femmes du monde entire!” Solidarity with women of the entire world. This, I believe in wholeheartedly. Loud and United feels like a fitting description of the group. People stop to listen to our message, to watch the protest go past. The crowd is dotted with pussy hats and feminist banners. We are a force to be reckoned with. A shout goes up: “keep your rosaries away from my ovaries!”

A stage is waiting in the middle of the square. Various women’s organisations wave banners and lead chants. Balloons are blown up. T-shirts and badges are handed out. On the other side of the square, women draw the Venus symbol in purple chalk. In the middle, they lay flowers in memory of all the women killed by male violence. A feeling of harmony between women makes alright simply to occupy this space.

IMG_20170609_224917_653Wielding an impressive megaphone, Joanna takes the stage to introduce Gloria. Perhaps it is my imagination, but Gloria seems more at ease in the midst of a protest than behind a lectern. She observes a truth that is obvious to women of colour yet often disregarded within mainstream feminist spaces: “Sexism and racism go together. You can’t fight one without the other.” The Black women beside me cheer, and I do too. It feels good to have the connection between racism and misogyny acknowledged, highlighted by a woman who is arguably the world’s most recognisable living feminist. There is always that danger in feminist space that white will be treated as the standard unit of womanhood.

Girls line the front of the stage holding up the Loud and United banner. It is moving to see the future of feminism standing before a woman who is emblematic of the second wave, the past and the future woven together in the present. The smallest girl raises her fist like Gloria. When the rally is over, Gloria gestures to the girl’s father who lifts her onto the stage. I love this *picture. It captures the joy, the hope, and the solidarity of the day.

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(*Image shared with the express permission of the child’s parent. Not to be recirculated.)

As the rally disbands, two young women sat smoking on the stage call me over. Both recognise the Glasgow Women’s Library logo on my tote bag. One of their friends was an ERASMUS exchange student in Edinburgh and frequently travelled through to GWL. Many women in and around Glasgow consider the Library a home away from home, a peaceful place to work or while away the hours. It’s nice to think of that Women’s Library joy sending ripples across the continent, of international connections between women.

After

Following the buzz of the protest, it is a relief to sit and chat with my AGORA sisters: Ilaria, Ahinara, and Aurelie. Ahinara has a Spanish translation of Gloria’s book, which I 20170609_224529admire. We get drinks and snacks from a nearby supermarket and listen to a salsa band play live music. It feels good to simply be in that moment. Michela joins us when she finishes work, and I finally get to chat to Pauline in person. We talk about the power of radical feminist Twitter, how online misogyny works to silence women, and anonymity on social media. Wary of threats and violence, Pauline doesn’t share her name or location on Twitter. This layer of privacy enables her to maintain a distance between life online and offline. Men tend to exploit anonymity, use it as a shield from consequence when sending abuse, whereas women often use anonymity as a way of protecting ourselves from abuse. To an extent I regret not creating a separate Twitter account for Sister Outrider and remaining anonymous, but at first it never occurred to me that more than a dozen people would actually bother to read this blog.

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As ever, I am astonished by the energy of my AGORA sisters. Ahinara goes to do more work, and Aurélie departs for a feminist meeting. The rest of us wander through Brussels in search of food. Over dinner we discuss how male violence shapes the very fabric of society. More importantly, we discuss forms of resistance. There is a slight irony to sipping a neon blue cocktail named after Walter White, a character who typifies Toxic Masculinity: Nice Guy™ edition, as the conversation unfolds. Pauline tells us of a case in which a violent father used his last weekend of unsupervised visitation rights to murder his two children and commit suicide in order to punish his wife for ending their marriage. Their bodies, well-hidden, were found by chance. He had intended for her to spend the rest of her life wondering what happened to her missing children. It’s a harrowing story, not an isolated incident but part of the pattern of male violence. Sometimes I think the company of other women – their understanding and encouragement – is the only thing that makes life under patriarchy bearable. That, and good food.

Before she goes, Pauline invites me to come for a visit in her home country. I accept. In the style of Shonda, this is my year of yes – no more turning down adventures or opportunities. Radical feminist Twitter is a brilliant community, connecting women around the world. It’s filled with challenges and complexities, but also women looking to share and develop their ideas. It’s also a good place to make friends. My generation were warned about stranger danger online, yet there are few things I delight in more than meeting radical feminists from Twitter in person. There is something wonderful about being together with someone that has shared space and ideas with you. Bridging the gap between community space online and offline isn’t always practical, but it can be wonderful.

 

Ilaria and Michela take my for my first authentic Belgian waffle, which tastes like heaven, and tour of the Brussels gay scene, which feels like home. In both aesthetic and atmosphere, the bar we gravitate towards reminds me of nothing so much as Delmonica’s, though no doves hang from the ceiling. But first they give me a tour of LGBT 20170609_224229art around the area. For Pride, a crossing is made into a rainbow. In the alley beside Rainbow House, there are gorgeous protest murals as tall as the surrounding buildings. It’s touching to witness this art as resistance, touching that Ilaria and Michela thought to show it to me. There is a popular saying in radical lesbian circles: “A day without lesbians is like a day without sunshine.” Ilaria and Michela remind me of the truth in those words. We discuss lesbian culture over cocktails, including mounting tension between lesbian and queer politics. Like every lesbian I know back home, Ilaria is frustrated that LGBT spaces are dominated by gay men. Still, there is something undeniably wholesome about seeing men sharing tender gestures – holding hands, cuddling on benches, and kissing one another on the mouth in greeting. It’s a refreshing change from the brutality of conventional masculinity.

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“I hope you realise that what you see in porn is not real life lesbian sex! It’s just girls having sex the way men would want them to…”

The next morning, I’m up early – a little fuzzy after the previous night’s antics, but filled with purpose. Pierrette has invited me to join an abolitionist meeting she is facilitating with young activists from across Europe. During Young Feminist Summer School Pierrette ran a workshop on prostitution, the sex industry, and why the European Women’s Lobby endorses the Nordic Model called Whose Choice? – I was impressed by how she conducted that session and am keen to see what other forms her work takes. Like so many great things, the meeting happens in a library. Stickers on the spines of books make books about women, sexual politics, and gender easy to find.

Often we are told that ending demand is impossible, that in this world men will inevitably buy sexual access to women’s bodies. Proponents of the sex industry commonly fall back on the defence that “it has always been this way”, positioning opposition to the prostitution of women as naïve. Similarly, social conservatives tell us that male dominance over women is part of the natural order. Both rely on a sense of hopelessness at the scale of the problem to discourage feminists from pursuing social change. Yet this network of activists demonstrate such commitment to ending demand that I can’t help feeling hopeful, even if it is an uphill struggle. They care. That’s such a simple thing to say, but it’s true. They care. And how one views the sex industry does ultimately boil down to a question of empathy. To feel empathy with women, one must recognise us as fully human. And it is impossible to simultaneously feel empathy with women and view our bodies as sexual objects which money entitles men to access.

20170609_225123A narrative of “choice” is often used to whitewash the structural power imbalances upon which the sex industry depends. According to research, “poverty, family loss, homelessness, drug addiction and a history of physical and sexual abuse combine to make young women vulnerable to entering prostitution.” Consideration of choice without analysis of context is meaningless when discussing the realities of women – and they are overwhelmingly women – prostituted as part of the sex industry. When we talk about choice in relation to prostitution, it is important to scrutinise the choice of the men who buy sex. We must question why so many men feel entitled to sex with women, why they consider sexual access to our bodies an inalienable right. This meeting is one of those rare occasions in life when I am truly happy to see that men are part of the group, giving wholehearted opposition to the sex industry. After all, demand will not end until men’s attitudes towards women change.

Mid-way through the session, Gloria Steinem makes a surprise appearance. I don’t notice her straight away, having returned from the bathroom, although she is sitting directly in front of me. Gloria fits into the group quite naturally. She participates in but does not dominant the conversation between activists and experts, making the odd suggestion when useful. I like that her public profile hasn’t distracted Gloria from feminist activism and organising. The way she occupies group space, present and unassuming, is true to good feminist practice. Though I could happily spend all day learning from this group – not simply what they say, but how they say it – I must resume my own life on the road.

As I leave the room, Hanuka presses a copy of her book into my hands. Big City Violets is a diary of her time as a social worker, filled with difficult truths and delicate line drawings, which makes this gift all the more personal. I begin to read it on the journey home, until the turbulence grows too much. Even then it stays in my thoughts. Writing can be cathartic, a way of giving voice to painful things that are hard to express and making sure they no longer go unseen. Hanuka’s book shows a cycle of trafficking and prostitution and drug addiction and violence, a cycle that decimates women’s lives. Not only did Hanuka contain those truths within herself, she put them out into the world. So the seeds of liberation are planted.

Exhaustion catches up with me as I zig-zag through passport control. I wonder what Brexit will mean for determining airport lines, how we will queue – such a British worry. But dividing people by whose passport is EU and whose isn’t becomes redundant. Both trips to Brussels filled me with an appreciation for the European Union, in particular all the social good it has made possible. A familiar feeling of horror sets in as I consider anew the consequences of Brexit. What good are the politics of isolation?

Airports are terrible places for grief. I think it’s because the world is filtered into a binary of home and elsewhere, the familiar and the unknown. A part of me cannot help but expect that my grandfather will be there waiting for me, as he so often was, eager to hear what I have achieved during the course of my absence from our home. I remember his delight as I stepped onto the ward last September – the promise of home I brought to him, as he so often brought to me. I remember the scratchy blue wool of his jumper against my cheek. But my mother is waiting for me, has driven over an hour to collect me. There’s work to do at the Women’s Library, on Sister Outrider, and in so many other spaces. I have stories to share and truths to tell. Coming back is not always easy, and neither is continuing. But if we do not return from one adventure then we cannot begin the next.


Bibliography

Kat Banyard. (2016). Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. (1989). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color

Gail Dines. (2010). Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality

Liz Kelly. (1988). Surviving Sexual Violence

Hanukah Lohrengel. (2016). Big City Violets

Audre Lorde. (1977). The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

Christine Miserandino. (2003). The Spoon Theory

Rachel Moran. (2013). Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution

Gloria Steinem. (2015). My Life on the Road

Prendre les problèmes à la racine : à propos des jeunes femmes et du féminisme radical

Grasping Things at the Root: On Young Women & Radical Feminism is now available in French! Many thanks to TradFem for the translation.


 

Brève présentation : un certain nombre de jeunes femmes ont communiqué avec moi depuis un an en me demandant ce à quoi ressemblait le fait d’être ouvertement radicale au sujet de mon féminisme. Voir des jeunes femmes se rallier au féminisme radical me rend optimiste pour l’avenir. Mais que celles-ci aient peur de manifester publiquement un féminisme radical est tout à fait inquiétant. Voilà pourquoi cet article est dédié à l’ensemble des jeunes femmes assez audacieuses pour poser des questions et contester les réponses reçues.


 

Pourquoi le féminisme radical est-il attaqué à ce point ?

Holy Cow! Too Funny!!!!!!

Le féminisme radical n’a pas bonne presse. Ce n’est pas exactement un secret : l’affirmation ignoble de l’idéologue de droite Pat Robertson selon laquelle l’agenda féministe « …encourage les femmes à quitter leur mari, assassiner leurs enfants, pratiquer la sorcellerie, détruire le capitalisme et devenir lesbiennes » a donné le ton aux échanges généraux à propos du féminisme radical. Si le point de vue de Robertson sur notre féminisme frôle la parodie, sa misogynie, agrémentée d’une lesbophobie flagrante, a également servi à discréditer le féminisme radical comme suspect.

En effet, si le féminisme radical peut être rejeté comme un complot sinistre ou ciblé comme une simple blague, cela évite à la société de répondre à une foule de questions difficiles à propos de sa structure patriarcale. Il en résulte que le pouvoir n’a pas à être redistribué, ce qui permet de bloquer toute remise en question ennuyeuse pour les membres des classes oppresseures. La diabolisation du féminisme radical est un moyen très efficace d’entraver tout changement politique important, de maintenir le statu quo. Il est donc prévisible que la droite conservatrice s’oppose au féminisme radical.

Ce qui est souvent plus difficile à prévoir, ce sont les propos venimeux adressés au féminisme radical par la gauche progressiste, dont on s’attend à ce qu’elle soutienne une politique de justice sociale. L’atteinte de cette justice par les femmes appelle notre libération du patriarcat, y compris celle des contraintes du genre, qui est à la fois une cause et une conséquence de la domination masculine. Mais quand on se penche sur les raisons de l’hostilité de la gauche, elle devient tristement prévisible.

Deux facteurs ont permis à cette gauche de légitimer son opposition au féminisme radical. C’est d’abord la manière dont la politique de libération a été fragmentée par le néolibéralisme et remplacée par ce que Natasha Walter a appelé la politique du libre choix. Le choix personnel, et non le contexte politique, est devenu l’unité d’analyse préférée du discours féministe. Par conséquent, toute analyse critique des choix personnels, comme le préconise le féminisme radical, est devenue un facteur de discorde, malgré sa nécessité pour impulser tout changement social d’importance. Le deuxième facteur est la généralisation progressive d’une interprétation queer du genre. Au lieu de considérer celui-ci comme une hiérarchie qu’il faut contrer et abolir, la politique queer positionne le genre comme une forme d’identité, un simple rôle à performer ou à subvertir. Cette approche a pour effet ultime de dépolitiser le genre (ce qui est loin d’être subversif) en fermant les yeux sur son rôle dans le maintien de l’oppression des femmes par les hommes. Ce sont alors les féministes critiques du genre qui sont traitées comme l’ennemi, plutôt que le genre lui-même.

Conséquemment, nous nous retrouvons aujourd’hui dans un contexte où le féminisme radical est attaqué d’une extrémité à l’autre du spectre politique. Dans les médias sociaux, on a l’impression que les féministes radicales sont tout aussi susceptibles d’être prises à partie par des féministes s’autoproclamant queer que par des militants masculinistes – la principale différence entre les deux groupes étant que les masculinistes ne cachent pas, eux, leur détestation des femmes.

Les jeunes femmes sont particulièrement dissuadées de se rallier au féminisme radical. On nous a nourries de mots-clés sans substance comme « choix » et « empowerment », et on nous a incitées à poursuivre l’égalité au lieu de la libération. À partir des années 90, le féminisme a été présenté comme un label et diffusé par le monde du commerce et au moyen de slogans, plutôt qu’un mouvement social ayant pour but de démanteler le patriarcat capitaliste de la suprématie blanche (bell hooks).

guerilla girlaLa troisième vague du féminisme a été commercialisée comme une solution de rechange marrante au caractère sérieux de la deuxième vague, systématiquement calomniée comme sévère et sans joie. Certaines manifestations de l’oppression des femmes, comme l’industrie du sexe, ont été relookées comme autant de choix triviaux offrant un potentiel d’autonomisation (Meghan Murphy). Si les jeunes femmes ne sont pas disposées à accepter la danse-poteau et la prostitution comme autant de divertissements inoffensifs, nous risquons d’être dénoncées comme tout aussi rabat-joie que les femmes de la deuxième vague ; on nous refuse l’étiquette honorifique de « fille cool » et tous les avantages qui accompagnent le fait de ne pas contester le patriarcat. Ce n’est pas une coïncidence si des accusations lancées de façon routinière aux féministes radicales, comme celle de « puritaine » ou « bourgeoise à collier », sont lourdes de misogynie et d’âgisme : si les féministes radicales sont présumées être des femmes plus âgées, la logique du patriarcat exige que le féminisme radical soit ennuyeux et dépassé. Le désir de l’approbation masculine, inculqué de force aux jeunes filles dès la naissance, et la menace tacite d’être associée à des femmes plus âgées servent à empêcher les jeunes femmes de s’identifier au féminisme radical.

Si le féminisme libéral a séduit un vaste auditoire, c’est précisément parce qu’il ne menace pas le statu quo. Si les puissants sont à l’aise avec une forme particulière de féminisme – le féminisme libéral, le féminisme corporatif de l’adage « lean in », le féminisme qui se dit prosexe – c’est parce que ces formes de féminisme ne présentent aucun défi pour les hiérarchies où s’ancre leur pouvoir. Pareil féminisme ne peut permettre aucun changement social important et est donc incapable d’aider une classe opprimée, quelle qu’elle soit.

Quelles conséquences négatives a le fait de manifester un féminisme radical ?

Les réactions que suscite le fait de se manifester comme radicale sont particulièrement désagréables. Sans mentir, cela peut s’avérer intimidant au début. Mais avec le temps, cette peur reculera, voire se dissipera complètement. Vous allez arrêter de penser « Je ne pourrais jamais dire cela » et commencer à vous demander : « Pourquoi ne l’ai-je pas dit plus tôt ? » La vérité exige d’être dite, qu’elle soit ou non rassurante. Les réactions et les violences adressées aux féministes radicales sont de pures et simples tactiques de censure. Qu’elle provienne de la droite conservatrice ou de la gauche féministe queer, cette réaction de backlash (Susan Faludi) est une façon de supprimer des voix de femmes dissidentes. Constater cette dynamique a un effet libérateur, tant sur le plan personnel que politique. Sur le plan personnel, on reconnaît que la bonne opinion qu’auraient de vous des misogynes a bien peu de valeur. Sur le plan politique, il devient manifeste que prendre la parole est un acte de résistance. Vous allez simplement cesser graduellement de vous en faire.

Par contre, assumer la haine que des gens vous portent est un processus énergivore. À un certain moment, vous vous rendrez compte que vous n’êtes pas obligée de supporter ce fardeau et vous vous donnerez la permission de le déposer. Consacrez plutôt cette énergie à votre bien-être. Lisez un livre. Jouez d’un instrument. Parlez avec votre mère. Faites vos ongles. Écoutez en rafale une série télévisée comme The Walking Dead. Le temps que vous passez à vous inquiéter de ce que les gens disent de vous est une ressource précieuse qui ne peut être récupérée. Ne leur faites pas le cadeau de votre inquiétude, c’est exactement ce qu’ils veulent. Chassez les gens hostiles de votre espace mental.

Vous avez peur d’être qualifiée de TERF (féministe radicale trans-exclusive). Soyons réalistes : cette peur d’être stigmatisée comme TERF est ce pour quoi tant de féministes craignent de se montrer ouvertement radicales et sont de moins en moins disposées à reconnaître le genre comme une hiérarchie. Et il est normal de ressentir cette peur, dans une dynamique qui a pour but de vous effrayer. Cependant, la peur doit être mise en perspective. La toute première fois où l’on m’a traitée de « TERF » était pour avoir partagé une pétition d’opposition aux mutilations génitales féminines sur le réseau Twitter. Et quand j’ai souligné que les filles à risque de MGF l’étaient précisément du fait d’être nées femmes dans le patriarcat, et que les filles mutilées étaient souvent de couleur, vivant souvent dans le Sud global (Gayatri Spivak) – et donc peu avantagées par le « privilège cis » – les accusations se sont poursuivies, se répandant comme une traînée de poudre. Comme je ne me suis pas repentie pour avoir diffusé cette pétition, comme je n’ai pas condamné d’autres femmes pour sauver ma peau au tribunal de l’opinion publique, cela a continué. Le fait d’être lesbienne (une femme qui éprouve une attraction homosexuelle, c’est-à-dire désintéressée par les rapports sexuels impliquant un pénis) n’a fait qu’attiser les flammes. On peut aujourd’hui trouver mon nom sur diverses listes de personnes blackboulées ou bloquées aux quatre coins d’Internet, ce qui est assez drôle. Parfois, il faut vraiment en rire, c’est la seule façon de conserver son équilibre.

Ce qui est moins amusant, c’est de se faire dire que l’on est dangereuse. Il existe une notion insidieuse voulant que toute féministe qui interroge ou critique une perspective queer sur le genre constitue une sorte de menace pour la société. Des femmes ayant consacré toute leur vie adulte à mettre fin à la violence masculine contre les femmes sont maintenant décrites, sans aucune trace d’ironie, comme étant « violentes ». Au plan politique, il est inquiétant que tout désaccord sur la nature du genre soit défini comme une violence au sein du discours féministe. Il y a quelque chose d’indéniablement orwellien à qualifier de violentes les personnes qui s’opposent à des violences, dans la novlangue pratiquée par la politique queer. Présenter comme violentes les féministes critiques du genre occulte la réalité que ce sont des hommes qui exercent l’écrasante majorité des exactions infligées aux personnes trans ; ce faisant, on supprime toute possibilité pour les hommes d’être tenus responsables de cette violence. Les hommes ne sont pas blâmés pour leurs actes, quels que soient les dommages qu’ils causent, alors que les femmes sont souvent brutalement ciblées pour nos idées. À cet égard, le discours queer reflète fidèlement les normes établies par le patriarcat.

Le féminisme radical est généralement traité comme synonyme ou indicatif d’une transphobie, une accusation profondément trompeuse. Le mot transphobie implique une répulsion ou un dégoût qui n’existent tout simplement pas dans le féminisme radical. Je veux que toutes les personnes qui s’identifient comme trans soient à l’abri de tout tort, persécution ou discrimination. Je veux que toutes les personnes s’identifiant comme trans soient traitées avec respect et dignité. Et je ne connais pas une seule féministe radicale qui défendrait quoi que ce soit de moins. Malgré le désaccord entre les perspectives radicales et queer en matière de genre, cela ne résulte d’aucun fanatisme au sein des premières. L’abolition de la hiérarchie du genre a toujours été un objectif clé du féminisme radical, une étape nécessaire pour libérer les femmes de notre oppression par les hommes.

Comme c’est souvent le cas avec l’analyse structurelle, il faut penser en termes de classe d’oppresseurs et de classe d’opprimé.e.s. Dans le patriarcat, le sexe masculin est l’oppresseur et le sexe féminin l’opprimé – cette oppression a une base matérielle, ancrée dans l’exploitation de la biologie féminine. Il est impossible de détailler les formes d’oppression des femmes sans reconnaître le rôle joué par la biologie et sans considérer le genre comme une hiérarchie. Si les femmes sont privées des mots servant à définir notre oppression, un langage que la politique queer considère comme violent ou intolérant, il est impossible pour les femmes de résister à notre oppression. C’est là que réside la tension.

joan jettEn fin de compte, se faire insulter sur Internet est un coût que je suis plus que disposée à payer si c’est le prix nécessaire pour faire obstacle à la violence infligée aux femmes et aux jeunes filles. Si ce n’était pas le cas, je ne pourrais pas me qualifier de féministe.

Ai-je choisi de me manifester publiquement comme radicale ?

À aucun moment n’ai-je pris la décision de me manifester publiquement comme radicale. Même dans sa forme la plus basique, mon féminisme comprenait que la « positivité sexuelle » et la culture porno étaient en train de reconditionner l’exploitation des femmes comme « autonomisantes », et que les discussions sans fin sur le libre choix ne servaient qu’à occulter le contexte où ces choix étaient effectués. Je me souviens également de ma perplexité à voir les mots sexe et genre utilisés indifféremment dans le discours contemporain, alors que le premier désigne une catégorie biologique et le deuxième, une construction sociale fabriquée pour permettre l’oppression des femmes par les hommes. Je trouvais profondément déconcertant le fait de voir le genre traité comme une provocation amusante ou, pire, comme quelque chose d’inné dans nos esprits ; après tout, si le genre était naturel ou inhérent, il en irait de même du patriarcat. J’étais consciente que l’on traitait mes points de vue comme démodés, mais, même si cela tendait à m’isoler, je n’étais pas troublée par la tension entre mes opinions et ce que je reconnais aujourd’hui comme l’idéologie féministe libérale.

International-Feminism-01Ce n’est qu’en retrouvant des féministes radicales sur le réseau Twitter que j’ai compris que beaucoup de féministes contemporaines réfléchissaient selon le même cadre, bref, que ces idées n’existaient pas uniquement dans des livres écrits quelque vingt ans avant ma naissance. Je ne dis pas cela pour décrier le féminisme des années 1970, mais plutôt pour souligner une nostalgie presque attendrie dans ma conceptualisation de cette époque et de la politique qu’elle a mise au monde. La deuxième vague me donnait l’impression d’avoir eu lieu incroyablement loin – y réfléchir me faisait penser à une fête à laquelle vous êtes déjà quelques décennies en retard… C’était à mes yeux comme si le féminisme des idées et des actions radicales avait disparu. Aujourd’hui, je me rends compte que c’est exactement ce que les jeunes femmes sont amenées à penser, dans l’espoir que nous allons nous faire une raison et accepter notre oppression au lieu de la défier à la racine.

Ayant grandi et affiné mes idées, il semble maintenant peu probable que j’aurais trouvé une place si j’avais été dans ce contexte : en comparaison d’autres féministes lesbiennes, je suis assez apolitique en ce qui concerne la sexualité : je ne suis toujours pas convaincue qu’il est possible de choisir d’être lesbienne, je ne sais pas si je choisirais de l’être si cette option existait (il y a un attrait indéniable au fait d’être un peu plus « intégrée » qu’Autre), et je m’oppose à l’idée que les femmes bisexuelles manquent de courage dans leur praxis féministe, du fait de ne pas « devenir » lesbiennes. Pourtant, je n’aurais pas trouvé ma voie vers de telles conversations sans le féminisme radical exprimé sur Twitter.

Comme ma conscience politique a été catalysée par le féminisme radical de Twitter, une communauté où je continue à trouver stimulation et enchantement, il m’a semblé naturel de participer publiquement à ce discours. J’étais plus soucieuse du développement de mes idées – apprendre auprès d’autres femmes et plus tard, leur communiquer mes réflexions – que d’éventuelles réactions hostiles. De façon peut-être naïve, je n’avais pas pleinement envisagé l’avantage de dissimuler ma conviction politique. Me relier au discours féministe radical, participer à ses idées et communiquer avec leurs adeptes ont toujours été mes priorités. Je n’ai pas envisagé au début la possibilité d’acquérir un profil public, et je considère aujourd’hui le mien comme une séquelle généralement agaçante de ma participation au discours féministe, plutôt qu’un avantage qui vaille la peine d’être entretenu en soi, ce qui est peut-être pourquoi je ne pratique pas d’autocensure en vue de soigner ma popularité.

Y a-t-il des conséquences professionnelles au fait d’être une féministe radicale ?

Cela dépend de ce que vous faites comme métier. D’innombrables féministes radicales ont été signalées à leurs employeurs pour avoir souligné la différence entre les concepts de sexe et de genre. Quand vous travaillez dans le domaine des femmes, être ouvertement radicale présente un risque particulier. De même, les femmes qui sont universitaires ou possèdent une forme ou l’autre de pouvoir institutionnel sont dans une position délicate, face au dilemme de mettre en danger une carrière ou de s’exprimer franchement. Je connais des dizaines de féministes radicales qui réalisent plus d’avancées sociales pour les autres femmes en ne disant rien d’explicitement radical – tout en faisant le travail le plus extraordinaire et le plus nécessaire. Aucun de ces travaux ne serait possible si ces femmes choisissaient de mourir au champ d’honneur de la politique de genre. Un résultat direct d’une telle politique serait des pertes pour d’autres femmes ; qu’il s’agisse de cours d’alphabétisation ou de l’adoption de politiques pour contrer la violence masculine, il y aurait des conséquences très réelles si des femmes secrètement radicales perdaient leurs postes. Il y a des moments où garder le silence est l’option la plus intelligente, en particulier dans les conversations sur la politique de genre, et je ne condamnerai jamais les femmes qui prennent cette décision tactique.

Ma carrière en est une de travailleuse autonome : à cet égard, je trouve utile de n’être redevable qu’envers moi-même. Cela étant dit, une carrière autonome dépend des organisations qui sont disposées à commander mes écrits ou mes ateliers. Le rôle de paria est plutôt contre-productif à cet égard. Il est arrivé que des gens contactent (ou du moins menacent de contacter) des endroits où j’étudie, fais du bénévolat ou écris. Rien n’en est advenu. Pourquoi ? Parce que leurs accusations sont fausses. Je n’ai rien à cacher au sujet du féminisme : il n’y a pas de squelettes dans le placard de ma politique sexuelle. Je ne dirai jamais rien d’autre que ce que je crois, ce que je peux étayer avec des preuves, ce que soutient un corpus important de théorie féministe.

Il est crucial de pouvoir parler avec conviction et de documenter ses dires quand ils sont remis en question. Ces qualités sont aussi celles auxquelles font appel les personnes et les organisations qui m’engagent. Un thème récurrent de ces commissions est qu’au moins une personne au sein de chaque organisation a discrètement exprimé son soutien de mon féminisme radical. Bref, le féminisme radical est moins ostracisant qu’on veut nous le faire croire.

Je suis chargée de produire du travail en lequel je crois. Rien de ce que mes détracteurs disent ou font ne change cette réalité. Pour citer Beyoncé, la meilleure revanche est le papier dont vous disposez.

Comment réagissent les féministes non radicales ?

Assez mal. Pas toujours, mais souvent. Certaines de mes discussions les plus enrichissantes et les plus stimulantes sur le plan de la réflexion ont été avec des femmes qui ne sont pas des féministes radicales, mais qui engagent la discussion de bonne foi. Malheureusement, ces interactions sont la minorité.

Les menaces venues d’inconnu.e.s, tout en étant parfois effrayantes, sont une chose à laquelle je me suis habituée. Je les signale aux autorités compétentes et je poursuis ma route. À la suite de la période d’attaques la plus concentrée que j’aie subie, ce ne sont pas les menaces qui m’ont le plus pesé, mais les réactions des féministes queer et libérales. Certaines d’entre elles se sont publiquement réjouies de ces violences et de leurs conséquences. Leur féminisme est du type qui s’oppose au racisme, à la misogynie, à l’homophobie, etc. jusqu’à ce que ces préjugés nuisent à quelqu’un dont la politique ne s’harmonise pas à la leur. J’ai trouvé cela déconcertant. Préparez-vous à ces moments. Soyez également prêtes à perdre de faux amis.

C’est une position étrange dans laquelle se retrouver. Si l’étiquette TERF vous a déjà été appliquée, elle enlève quelque chose à votre humanité aux yeux du grand public. Vous n’êtes plus considérée comme méritoire d’empathie ou même de décence humaine fondamentale. Cela n’a rien de surprenant, car l’épithète de TERF est souvent accompagnée de menaces et de descriptions explicites de violences. Elle a pour effet de légitimer la violence à l’égard des femmes.

L’insulte TERF fonctionne comme l’accusation de « sorcière » dans la pièce Les Sorcières de Salem. Ce n’est qu’en condamnant d’autres femmes que vous pouvez éviter d’être vous-même condamnée. La panique répandue rend certaines personnes frénétiques. Beaucoup de féministes seront prêtes à vous qualifier de monstre pour sauver leur propre réputation. Elles ne méritent pas votre respect, sans parler du temps qu’il faudrait pour comprendre leurs motifs.

Cela vaut également la peine de se pencher sur les réactions de féministes qui ne sont pas publiquement radicales. Des femmes me confient régulièrement que j’exprime leurs convictions intimes, elles me remercient de prendre la parole, me disent que mes écrits résonnent auprès d’elles. Cela a un côté gratifiant, oui, mais aussi un effet d’isolement. Un courage presque surnaturel est projeté sur les femmes ouvertement radicales, en une forme d’exceptionnalisme souvent utilisée par d’autres femmes pour justifier leur silence. La chroniqueuse Glosswitch parle souvent de ce phénomène et elle a raison : il serait beaucoup plus gratifiant que les femmes qui nous expriment un soutien en privé revendiquent publiquement leur propre politique radicale, si elles sont en mesure de le faire.


Bibliographie

bell hooks. (2004). The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Susan Faludi. (1991). Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

Feminist Current

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.). (2015). Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism

Gayatri Spivak. (1987). In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics

Natasha Walter. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

Hibo Wardere. (2016). Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

Grasping Things at the Root: On Young Women & Radical Feminism

A brief foreword: a number of young women have contacted me in the last year, writing to ask about what it is like to be publicly radical in my feminism. That young women embrace radical feminism makes me optimistic for the future. That young women are too scared to be open about their radical feminism is utterly grim. And so this post is dedicated to every young woman bold enough to ask questions and challenge answers.

Update: this post has since been translated into French.


 

Why does radical feminism get so much bad press?

Radical feminism isn’t popular. That’s not exactly a secret – Pat Robertson’s infamous Holy Cow! Too Funny!!!!!!claim that the feminist agenda “…encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians” has set the tone for mainstream discussions of radical feminism. While Robertson’s perspective on radical feminism verges upon parody, his misogyny served with a side of blatant lesbophobia, it has also served to frame radical feminism as suspect.

If radical feminism can be written off as something sinister or dismissed as the butt of a joke, none of the difficult questions about the patriarchal structuring of society need to be answered – subsequently, power need not be redistributed, and members of the oppressor classes are saved from any challenging self-reflection. Rendering radical feminism monstrous is a highly effective way of shutting down meaningful political change, of maintaining the status quo. It is, therefore, predictable that the socially conservative right are opposed to radical feminism.

What’s often more difficult to anticipate is the venom directed towards radical feminism thought by the progressive left, which is assumed to support the politics of social justice. For women to achieve that justice, we must be liberated from patriarchy – including the constraints of gender, which is both a cause and consequence of male dominance. Yet, when one considers why that hostility emerged, it becomes sadly predictable.

Two factors enabled the left to legitimise its opposition to radical feminism. Firstly, the way in which liberation politics have been atomised by neoliberalism and replaced by the politics of choice (Walter). Personal choice, not political context, has become the preferred unit of feminist analysis. Therefore, critical analysis of personal choice – as advocated by radical feminism – has become a matter of contention despite its necessity in driving meaningful social change. The second factor is the gradual mainstreaming of a queer approach to gender. Instead of considering gender as a hierarchy to be opposed and abolished, queer politics position it as a form of identity, a part to be performed or subverted. This approach ultimately depoliticises gender, which is far from subversive, disregarding its role in maintaining women’s oppression by men. Feminists who are critical of gender are treated as the enemy, not gender in itself.

As a result, we find ourselves in a context where radical feminism is reviled across the political spectrum. On social media it feels as though radical feminists are just as likely to be abused by self-proclaimed queer feminists as we are men’s rights activists – the main difference between the two groups is that MRAs are honest about the fact they hate women.

Young women in particular are discouraged from taking up the mantle of radical feminism. We have been raised on a diet of hollow buzzwords like ‘choice’ and ‘empowerment’, taught to pursue equality instead of liberation. From the ‘90s onwards, feminism has been presented as a brand accessed through commercialism and slogans instead of a social movement with the objective of dismantling white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (hooks).

guerilla girlaThe third wave of feminism was marketed as a playful alternative to the seriousness of the second wave, which is routinely misrepresented as joyless and dour. Manifestations of women’s oppression, such as the sex industry, were repackaged as harmless choices with the potential to empower (Murphy). If young women are not prepared to accept pole dancing and prostitution as a harmless bit of fun, we risk being tarred by the same boring brush as the second wave; we are denied the label of “cool girl” and all the perks that come with remaining unchallenging to patriarchy. It is no coincidence that “pearl-clutching” and “prude”, accusations commonly directed towards radical feminists, are loaded with ageist misogyny – if radical feminists are presumed to be older women, the logic of patriarchy dictates that radical feminism must be boring and irrelevant. Both the desire for male approval that is drilled into girls from birth and the tacit threat of being associated with older women are used to keep young women from identifying with radical feminism.

Liberal feminism has gained mainstream appeal precisely because it doesn’t threaten the status quo. If the powerful are comfortable with a particular form of feminism – liberal feminism, corporate “lean in” feminism, sex-positive feminism – it is because that feminism presents no challenge to the hierarchies from which their power stems. Such feminism can offer no meaningful social change and is therefore incapable of benefiting any oppressed class.

What are the negative consequences of being openly radical?

The backlash to being openly radical is the least fortunate element of it. I won’t lie: in the beginning, that can be intimidating. With time that fear will fade, if not dissipate. You will stop thinking “I couldn’t possibly say that” and start wondering “why didn’t I say that sooner?” The truth demands to be told, regardless of whether or not it happens to be convenient. Backlash and abuse directed towards radical feminists is a silencing tactic, plain and simple. Whether it comes from the conservative right or queer feminist left, that backlash (Faludi) is a means of silencing dissenting women’s voices. This realisation is freeing, both on a personal and political level. Personally, the good opinion of misogynists is of little value. Politically, it becomes clear that speaking out is an act of resistance. You will simply stop caring.

It takes energy, carrying the hatred people direct towards you – at some point you will realise that you’re not obliged to shoulder that burden and give yourself permission to set it down. Spend that energy on yourself instead. Read a book. Play an instrument. Talk with your mum. Do your nails. Binge-watch The Walking Dead. The time you spend worrying what people say about you, worrying if people like you, is a precious resource that cannot be recovered. Do not give them the gift of your worry – it is exactly what they want. Evict haters from your headspace.

You’re scared of being called a TERF. Let’s be real. That fear of being branded a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) is why so many feminists are afraid to be openly radical, are increasingly unwilling to acknowledge gender as a hierarchy. And that’s alright to feel that fear – it’s meant to be scary. However, the fear needs to be put into perspective. The first time I was ever called “TERF” was for sharing a petition opposing female genital mutilation on Twitter. And when I pointed out that girls were at risk of FGM precisely because they were born female in patriarchy, that the girls who are cut are often of colour, often living within the global south (Spivak) – not exactly enjoying a wealth of cis privilege – the accusations only continued.

It spreads like wildfire. Because I did not repent for sharing that petition, because I did not condemn other women to save myself in the court of public opinion, it went on. That I am a lesbian (a woman who experiences same-sex attraction, i.e. disinterested in sex involving a penis) has only fanned the flames. My name can now be found on various shit lists and auto-block tools across the internet, which is pretty funny. Sometimes you do just have to laugh – it’s the only way to stay sane.

What’s less amusing is being told that I am dangerous. There is an insidious idea that any feminist who queries or critiques a queer perspective on gender is some sort of menace to society. Women who have devoted their adult lives to ending male violence against women are now described, without a trace of irony, as being violent. On a political level, it’s disturbing that disagreement over the nature of gender is positioned as violence within feminist discourse. There is an undeniably Orwellian quality to those opposing violence being described as violent, a double-speak perfected by queer politics. Framing gender-critical feminists as violent erases the reality that men perpetrate the overwhelming majority of violence against trans people and, in doing so, removes any possibility for men to be held accountable for that violence. Men are not blamed for their deeds, no matter how much harm they cause, whereas women are often brutally targeted for our ideas – in this respect, queer discourse mirrors the standards set by patriarchy.

Radical feminism is commonly treated as being synonymous with or indicative of transphobia, which is deeply misleading. The word transphobia implies a revulsion or disgust that simply is not there in radical feminism. I want all people identifying as trans to be safe from harm, persecution, and discrimination. I want all people identifying as trans to be treated with respect and dignity. And I do not know another radical feminist who would argue for anything less. Although radical and queer perspectives on gender are conflicting, this does not stem from bigotry on the part of the former. Abolishing the hierarchy of gender has always been a key aim of radical feminism, a necessary step in liberating women from our oppression by men.

As is often the case with structural analysis, it is necessary to think in terms of the oppressor class and the oppressed class. Under patriarchy, the male sex is the oppressor and the female sex the oppressed – that oppression is material in basis, reliant on the exploitation of female biology. It is impossible to articulate the means of women’s oppression without acknowledging the role played by biology and considering gender as a hierarchy – deprived of the language to articulate our oppression, language which queer politics deems violent or bigoted, it is impossible for women to resist our oppression. Therein sits the tension.

joan jettUltimately, getting called names on the internet is a cost I am more than willing to pay if it is the price required to oppose violence against women and girls. Were it otherwise, I would be unable to call myself a feminist.

Did I choose to be ‘out’ as radical?

At no point did I make a decision to be publicly radical. Even in its most basic form, my feminism understood that ‘sex positivity’ and porn culture were repackaging women’s exploitation as ‘empowering’, that endless talk about choice only served to obscure the context in which those choices are made. I also recall being puzzled by the words sex and gender being used interchangeably in contemporary discourse – the former is a biological category, the latter is a social construction fabricated to enable the oppression of women by men. Seeing gender treated as an amusing provocation or, worse, something innate in our minds, was deeply disconcerting – after all, if gender is natural or inherent, so too is patriarchy. I was conscious that my views were considered old-fashioned but, although it was slightly isolating, not troubled by the tension between me and what I now know to be liberal feminism.

It was only through finding radical feminist Twitter that I realised plenty of International-Feminism-01contemporary feminists thought with the same framework, that these ideas did not exist solely in books that had been written some twenty years before I was born. I do not say this to disparage the feminism of the 1970s, but rather to point out that there was an almost wishful nostalgia to my conceptualisation of that era and the politics it embodied. The second wave felt impossibly far away – thinking about it was like thinking of a party for which you are already decades too late. It felt like that feminism, of radical ideas and action, was gone. Now I realise that is exactly what young women are conditioned to think in the hope that we will grow complacent and accept our oppression instead of challenging it at the root.

Having grown up and developed my ideas, it now seems unlikely I would have found a place had I been of that context – as lesbian feminists go, I am fairly apolitical with regard to sexuality: I’m still not convinced it is possible to choose to be a lesbian, do not know that I would choose to be a lesbian even if the option had been there (there is an undeniable appeal to being slightly more ‘of’ than Other), and oppose the notion that bisexual women are being half-hearted in their feminist praxis because they will not ‘become’ lesbians. Yet, I would not have found my way into those conversations without radical feminist Twitter.

As my political consciousness was catalysed by radical feminist Twitter, a community that continues to challenge and delight me, it seemed natural to participate in that discourse publicly. I was more concerned about developing my ideas – learning from and, later on, teaching other women – than any potential reaction. Perhaps naïvely, I had not fully considered the convenience of closeting my politics. Being connected to radical feminist discourse, engaging with its ideas and the women behind them, was always the priority. I did not initially consider the possibility of acquiring public profile, and now consider it as a largely unfortunate by-product of my participation in feminist discourse as opposed to something worth maintaining in its own right – perhaps why I do not self-censor for the sake of popularity.

Are there professional consequences for being a radical feminist?

It depends on what you do. Countless radical feminists have been reported to their employers for differentiating between sex and gender. Being openly radical when you work in the women’s sector carries a particular risk. Similarly, women who are academics or hold some form of institutional power are in a delicate position, faced with the dilemma of jeopardising a career or speaking out. I know dozens of radical feminists who achieve more social good for other women by saying nothing explicitly radical whilst doing the most extraordinary, necessary work. None of that work would be possible if those women chose to die on the hill of gender politics. A direct result of that would be other women losing out – from literacy classes to policy on male violence, there would be very real consequences if covertly radical women lost their positions. There are times when staying quiet is the smarter option, particularly in conversations about gender politics, and I will not condemn women who make that tactical decision.

My career is freelance – in this respect, being directly accountable only to myself is useful. That being said, a freelance career is dependent on organisations being willing to commission my writing or workshops. Becoming a pariah is fairly counterproductive in that respect. At points people have contacted (or at least threatened to contact) places where I study, volunteer, and write. Nothing has ever come of it. Why? Their accusations are false. I have nothing to hide about feminism – there is no shameful secret at the heart of my sexual politics. I will only ever say what I believe in, what I can back up with evidence, what a substantial body of feminist theory supports.

Being able to speak with conviction and follow through when questioned is crucial. Those qualities are also what appeal to the people and organisations who hire me. A recurring theme with commissions: at least one person within the organisation has covertly voiced support for my radical feminism. Radical feminism is less of an anathema than we are made to believe.

I am commissioned to produce work that I believe in. Nothing my detractors have said or done changes that fact. To quote Beyoncé, the best revenge is your paper.

How do non-radical feminists react?

Badly. Not always, but often. Some of the most rewarding and thought-provoking engagements are with women who are not radical feminists yet engage in good faith. Unfortunately, those interactions are in the minority.

Abuse from strangers, while it can be frightening, is something to which I have grown habituated. I report it to the relevant authorities and move on. Following the most concentrated period of abuse I have endured, it was not the threats that weighed on my mind, but the responses of queer and liberal feminists. A number openly celebrated my abuse and its consequences. Theirs is the type of feminism that is opposed to racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. up until the point those prejudices damage someone whose politics do not align with their own. That was disconcerting. Be prepared for those moments. Be prepared to lose false friends, too.

It’s a strange position to be in. If the label TERF has ever been applied to you, it strips away something of your humanity in the eyes of the wider public. You are no longer viewed as a worthy recipient of empathy or even basic human decency. This isn’t surprising, because TERF is often used in conjunction with violent threats and graphic descriptions of abuse. It legitimises violence against women.

TERF functions something like “witch” in The Crucible. Only by condemning other women can you avoid that condemnation yourself. There is a frantic edge behind the panic it spreads. There are plenty of feminists who will be prepared to monster you to save their own reputations. They are not worth your respect, let alone the time it would take to puzzle out their motives.

It is also worth considering the responses of feminists who are not publicly radical. Women routinely tell me that I am saying what they believe, express gratitude that I speak out, tell me that my words resonate. And this is gratifying, yes, but it is also isolating. An almost supernatural courage is projected onto openly radical women, an exceptionalism that is often used by other women to justify their silence. Glosswitch often speaks about this phenomenon, and she is right – it would be far more rewarding if the women who offer private support would publicly claim their own radical politics instead, provided they are in a position to do so.


 

Bibliography

bell hooks. (2004). The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Susan Faludi. (1991). Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

Feminist Current

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.). (2015). Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism

Gayatri Spivak. (1987). In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics

Natasha Walter. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

Hibo Wardere. (2016). Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today

 

 

 

Le problème qui n’a pas de nom… parce que le mot « femme » est qualifié d’essentialiste

The Problem That Has No Name because ‘Woman’ is too Essentialist is now available in French! Many thanks to TradFem for the translation.


Voici le troisième de ma série d’essais sur le sexe et le genre. Les deux premiers : 1 (Le sexe, le genre et le nouvel essentialisme) et 2 (Lezbehonest (Parlons franchement) à propos de l’effacement des femmes lesbiennes par la polique queer) sont également affichés sur TRADFEM.

Inspirée par la prise de position de l’autrice Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sur l’identité de genre et par la réaction qu’elle a suscitée, je parle ici du langage dans le discours féministe et de l’importance du mot femme.


 « Y a-t-il une façon plus courte et non essentialiste de parler de « personnes qui ont un utérus et tous ces trucs »? », a demandé sur le réseau Twitter la journaliste Laurie Penny. À plusieurs égards, la quête de Penny pour trouver un terme décrivant les personnes biologiquement femmes sans jamais utiliser le mot femme décrit le principal défi posé au langage féministe actuel. La tension entre les femmes qui reconnaissent et celles qui effacent le rôle que joue la biologie dans l’analyse structurelle de notre oppression s’est transformée en ligne de faille (MacKay, 2015) au sein du mouvement féministe. Des contradictions surviennent lorsque des féministes tentent simultanément de voir comment la biologie des femmes façonne notre oppression en régime patriarcal et de nier que notre oppression possède une base matérielle. Il existe des points où l’analyse structurelle rigoureuse et le principe de l’inclusivité absolue coexistent difficilement.

Au cours de la même semaine, Dame Jeni Murray, qui anime depuis 40 ans l’émission radio de la BBC « Woman’s Hour », a été prise à parti par des trans pour avoir posé la question suivante : « Est-ce que quelqu’un qui a vécu en tant qu’homme, avec tous les privilèges que cela implique, peut réellement revendiquer la condition féminine? » Dans un article rédigé pour le Sunday Times, Murray a réfléchi au rôle de la socialisation genrée reçue au cours des années de formation dans le façonnement des comportements ultérieurs, en contestant l’idée qu’il est possible de divorcer le moi physique du contexte sociopolitique. De façon semblable, la romancière Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie est présentement mise au pilori pour ses propres commentaires sur l’identité de genre.

Lorsqu’on lui a demandé « La façon dont vous en êtes venue à la condition féminine a-t-elle de l’importance? », Adichie a fait ce que peu de féministes sont actuellement disposées à faire en raison du caractère extrême du débat entourant le genre. Elle a répondu sans détour et publiquement :

« Alors, quand des gens soulèvent la question « est-ce que les transfemmes sont des femmes? », mon sentiment est que les transfemmes sont des transfemmes. Je pense que si vous avez vécu dans le monde en tant qu’homme, avec les privilèges que le monde accorde aux hommes, et que vous changez ensuite de sexe, il est difficile pour moi d’accepter que nous puissions alors comparer vos expériences avec les expériences d’une femme qui a toujours vécu dans le monde en tant que femme, qui ne s’est pas vu accorder ces privilèges dont disposent les hommes. Je ne pense pas que ce soit une bonne chose d’amalgamer tout cela. Je ne pense pas que ce soit une bonne chose de parler des enjeux des femmes comme étant exactement identiques aux enjeux des transfemmes. Ce que je dis, c’est que le genre ne relève pas de la biologie, le genre relève de la sociologie. »

Au tribunal de l’opinion queer, le crime d’Adichie a été de différencier, dans sa description de la condition féminine, les personnes qui sont biologiquement des femmes, et élevées en tant que telles, de celles qui passent du statut masculin au statut féminin (et qui étaient, à toutes fins utiles, traitées comme des hommes avant leur transition). Dans le discours queer, les préfixes de « cis » et de « trans » sont conçus pour tracer précisément cette distinction, mais ce n’est que lorsque des femmes féministes précisent et explorent ces différences que leur reconnaissance suscite la colère.

La déclaration d’Adichie est parfaitement logique: il est ridicule d’imaginer que les personnes socialisées et perçues comme femmes au cours de leurs années de formation ont vécu les mêmes expériences que les personnes socialisées et perçues comme hommes. La société patriarcale dépend de l’imposition du genre comme façon de subordonner les femmes et d’accorder la domination aux hommes. Amalgamer les expériences des femmes avec celle des transfemmes a pour effet d’effacer le privilège masculin que détenaient les transfemmes avant leur transition et de nier l’héritage des comportements masculins appris. Cela nie la signification réelle du moyen d’accès à la condition féminine pour façonner cette expérience. Cela nie ces deux ensembles de vérités.

Le site web Everyday Feminism a publié une liste de sept arguments visant à prouver que les transfemmes n’ont jamais détenu de privilège masculin. Cet essai aurait peut-être été plus efficace pour préconiser la solidarité féministe s’il n’avait pas, dès la première phrase, adressé une attaque misogyne et âgiste envers les féministes de la deuxième vague. Dans cet article, Kai Cheng Thom soutient que «[…] si les transfemmes sont des femmes, cela signifie que nous ne pouvons pas bénéficier du privilège masculin – parce que le privilège masculin est par définition une chose que seuls peuvent vivre les hommes et les personnes qui s’identifient comme hommes. »

Voici le nœud de la question – la tension qui existe entre la réalité matérielle et l’auto-identification comme facteurs de définition de la condition féminine. Si la transféminité est synonyme de la condition féminine, les caractéristiques de l’oppression des femmes cessent d’être reconnaissables comme expériences de femmes. Le genre ne peut pas être catégorisé comme un mode d’oppression socialement construit s’il doit aussi être considéré comme une identité innée. Cette lecture efface le lien entre le sexe biologique et la fonction première du genre : l’oppression des femmes au profit des hommes. Comme l’a dit Adichie, cet amalgame est au mieux inutile. Si nous ne pouvons pas reconnaître les privilèges dont disposent les êtres reconnus et traités comme masculins sur leurs homologues féminins, nous cessons de pouvoir reconnaître l’existence du patriarcat.

La biologie n’est pas le destin. Cependant, au sein de la société patriarcale, elle détermine les rôles assignés aux filles et aux garçons à la naissance. Et il existe une différence cruciale dans la façon dont les êtres biologiquement masculins et biologiquement féminins sont positionnés par les structures dominantes de pouvoir, indépendamment de l’identité de genre.

« Les filles sont socialisées de façons nuisibles à leur sentiment de soi, socialisées à s’enlever de l’importance, à se plier aux égos masculins, à penser à leurs corps comme des sites de honte. Arrivées à l’âge adulte, beaucoup de femmes luttent pour surmonter, pour désapprendre une bonne part de ce conditionnement social. Les transfemmes sont des personnes nées hommes et des personnes qui, avant leur transition, ont été traitées en tant qu’hommes par le monde. Ce qui signifie qu’elles ont vécu les privilèges que le monde accorde aux hommes. Cela n’élude pas la douleur de la confusion de genre ou les aspects complexes et pénibles de leur sentiment d’avoir vécu dans des corps qui n’étaient pas les leurs. En effet, la vérité sur le privilège sociétal est qu’il ne concerne pas la façon dont vous vous sentez. Il concerne la façon dont le monde vous traite, les influences subtiles et pas si subtiles que vous intériorisez et absorbez. » –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Si les femmes ne peuvent plus être identifiées comme membres d’une classe de sexe à des fins politiques, l’oppression des femmes ne peut plus être directement abordée ou contestée. En conséquence, les objectifs féministes se trouvent sapés par la politique queer.

La linguiste Deborah Cameron a identifié une nouvelle tendance actuelle, celle de l’« étonnante femme en voie d’invisibilisation ». Elle met en évidence le modèle d’effacement des réalités vécues par les femmes, y compris leur oppression, par un langage neutre à l’égard du genre. Mais alors que la féminité est sans cesse déconstruite dans le discours queer, la catégorie de la virilité demeure, elle, à l’abri de toute contestation.

Ce n’est pas un hasard si la masculinité reste incontestée, même au moment où le mot femme est traité comme offensant et « excluant ». L’homme est présenté comme norme de l’humanité, et la femme comme autre-que-l’homme. En réduisant les femmes à des « non-hommes », comme a tenté de le faire le Parti Vert britannique, en réduisant les femmes à des « personnes enceintes », comme conseille de le faire la British Medical Association, le discours queer perpétue la définition de la femme comme autre. L’idéologie queer pousse les conventions patriarcales à leur conclusion logique en repoussant littéralement les femmes hors du vocabulaire et donc de l’existence.

Définir la classe opprimée en fonction de l’oppresseur, nier aux opprimées le vocabulaire pour parler de la façon dont elles sont marginalisées, ne contribue qu’à ratifier la hiérarchie du genre. Bien que ces changements linguistiques semblent à première vue inclusifs, ils ont pour conséquence imprévue de perpétuer la misogynie.

« Supprimer le mot femme et les termes biologiques de tout échange concernant la condition féminine corporelle semble dangereux, écrit la chroniqueuse Vonny Moyes. Refuser de reconnaître l’anatomie des femmes, leurs capacités reproductives et leur sexualité a longtemps été le fait du patriarcat. Il semble que nous ayons bénéficié de quelques décennies dorées de reconnaissance, et que nous avons pu afficher fièrement notre expérience vécue de la condition féminine corporelle, mais nous devons maintenant abdiquer ce vocabulaire au nom du reste du groupe. Même si la logique semble être aux commandes, il est difficile de ne pas ressentir l’effacement de cet aspect de la condition féminine, avec de troublants échos du patriarcat traditionnel. »

Aborder les questions du sexe biologique et de la socialisation genrée est devenu de plus en plus controversé; les adeptes les plus extrêmes de l’idéologie queer qualifient ces deux thèmes de mythes TERF (un qualificatif péjoratif signifiant « féministe radicale excluant les trans ». On souhaiterait bien un caractère mythique au lien entre la biologie des femmes et notre oppression, ou aux conséquences de la socialisation genrée. Dans un tel scénario, celles qui possèdent un corps féminin, les femmes, pourraient simplement échapper par auto-identification à l’oppression structurelle, et choisir de faire partie de n’importe quel autre groupe qu’une classe opprimée. Mais il est manifeste que l’exploitation de la biologie féminine et la socialisation genrée jouent toutes deux un rôle central dans la création et le maintien de l’oppression des femmes par les hommes.

La politique queer reconfigure l’oppression des femmes comme une position de privilège inhérent, tout en nous privant simultanément du langage requis pour analyser cette même oppression et y résister. Le thème de l’identité de genre laisse les féministes déchirées par une sorte de dilemme : soit accepter que d’être marginalisées en raison de notre sexe constitue un privilège « cis », soit protester et risquer d’être stigmatisée comme TERF. Il n’y a pas de place pour les voix dissidentes dans cette conversation – pas si ces voix sont celles de femmes. À cet égard, il y a très peu de différence entre les normes établies par le discours queer et celles qui régissent les règles patriarcales.

Le mot femme est important. Avoir un nom confère du pouvoir. Comme l’observe Patricia Hill Collins (2000), l’autodéfinition est un élément clé de la résistance politique. Si la condition féminine ne peut être articulée positivement, si elle n’est comprise que comme l’envers négatif de la virilité, les femmes sont maintenues dans la position d’objet. Ce n’est qu’en considérant les femmes comme le sujet – en tant qu’êtres humains auto-actualisés ayant droit à l’autodétermination – que la libération devient possible.

« La force du mot « femme » est qu’il peut être utilisé pour affirmer notre humanité, notre dignité et notre valeur, sans nier notre féminité incarnée ou la traiter comme une source de honte. Ce mot ne nous réduit pas à des ventres ambulants, ni ne nous dé-genre ou dématérialise. C’est pourquoi il est important pour les féministes de continuer à l’utiliser. Un mouvement dont le but est de libérer les femmes ne devrait pas traiter le mot « femme » comme obscène. » (Deborah Cameron)

Sans une utilisation fière et explicite du mot femme, la politique féministe manque de l’ampleur nécessaire pour organiser toute résistance réelle à la subordination des femmes. On ne peut pas libérer une classe de personnes qui ne peuvent même pas être nommées. La condition féminine est dévaluée par ces insidieuses tentatives de la rendre invisible. Si les femmes ne se jugent pas à la hauteur du malaise créé par le fait de nous nommer directement, précisément, nous ne pouvons guère prétendre valoir la peine des difficultés que la libération doit susciter.

Toute éventuelle infraction causée par une référence sans équivoque au corps féminin est peu de chose en comparaison des violences et de l’exploitation de nos corps féminins en régime patriarcal. Comme le dit Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: « « Parce que tu es une fille » ne constitue jamais une justification de quoi que ce soit. Jamais. »


Bibliographie 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2014). We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2017). Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Kat Banyard. (2010). The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

Deborah Cameron. (2007). The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?

Patricia Hill Collins. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (Second Edition)

Finn MacKay. (2015). Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement

Natasha Walter. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism


 

Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist

This is the third in my series of essays on sex and gender (see parts 1, 2, & 4). Inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on gender identity and the subsequent response, I have written about language within feminist discourse and the significance of the word woman.

Update: this essay is now available in French and Spanish.


 

Screenshot_20170315-144208“…what’s a shorter non-essentialist way to refer to ‘people who have a uterus and all that stuff’?” In many ways, Laurie Penny’s quest to find a term describing biologically female people without ever actually using the word woman typifies the greatest challenge within ongoing feminist discourse. The tension between women acknowledging and erasing the role of biology in structural analysis of our oppression has developed into a fault line (MacKay, 2015) within the feminist movement. Contradictions arise when feminists simultaneously attempt to address how women’s biology shapes our oppression under patriarchal society whilst denying that our oppression is material in basis. At points, rigorous structural analysis and inclusivity make uneasy bedfellows.

That same week Dame Jeni Murray, who has hosted BBC Woman’s Hour for forty years, faced criticism for asking “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood?” Writing for the Sunday Times, Murray reflected upon the role of gendered socialisation received during formative years in shaping subsequent behaviour, challenging the notion that it is possible to divorce the physical self from socio-political context. Similarly, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came under fire for her comments on gender identity.

When asked “does it matter how you arrived at being a woman?” Adichie did what few feminists are presently prepared to do because of the extremity within debate surrounding gender. She gave a candid public response:

“So when people talk about ‘are transwomen women?’, my feeling is transwomen are transwomen. I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man, with the privileges the world accords to men, and then switch gender – it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experiences with the experiences of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, who has not been accorded those privileges that men are. I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of transwomen. What I’m saying is that gender is not biology, gender is sociology.”

In the court of queer opinion, Adichie’s crime was to differentiate between those who are biologically female and raised as such, and those who transition from male to female (and were, for all intents and purposes, treated as male before undergoing transition), in her description of womanhood.  Within queer discourse the prefixes of ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ are designed to draw precisely that distinction, yet it is only when feminist women articulate and explore those differences that their acknowledgement becomes a source of ire.

Adichie’s statement is perfectly logical: it is ludicrous to imagine that those socialised and Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie_photo1read as female during their formative years have the same experiences as those socialised and read as male. Patriarchal society depends upon the imposition of gender as a means of subordinating women and granting men dominance. Conflating the experiences of women and transwomen erases the male privilege that transwomen held prior to transition and negates the legacy of learned male behaviour. It denies the true significance of how one arrives at womanhood in shaping that experience of womanhood. It denies both sets of truths.

Everyday Feminism published a piece outlining seven points that prove transwomen never held male privilege, a piece which would perhaps have been more effective in advocating feminist solidarity if it didn’t direct ageist misogyny towards second wave feminists in the opening line. Within this article, Kai Cheng Thom argues that “…if [transwomen] are women, that means we cannot receive male privilege – because male privilege is by definition something that only men and masculine-identified people can experience.”

Here is crux of the matter – the tension that exists between material reality and self-identification in shaping definitions of womanhood. If transwomanhood is synonymous with womanhood, the hallmarks of women’s oppression cease to recognisable as women’s experiences. Gender cannot be categorised as a socially constructed means of oppression if it is also to be considered as an innate identity. The connection between biological sex and the primary function of gender – oppressing women for the benefit of men – is erased. As Adichie stated, this conflation is at best unhelpful. If we cannot acknowledge the privileges those recognised and treated as male hold over their female counterparts, we cannot acknowledge the existence of patriarchy.

Biology is not destiny. However, within patriarchal society, it determines the roles ascribed to girls and boys at birth. And there is a fundamental difference in how those biologically male and biologically female are positioned by dominant structures of power, irrespective of gender identity.

“Girls are socialized in ways that are harmful to their sense of self – to reduce themselves, to cater to the egos of men, to think of their bodies as repositories of shame. As adult women, many struggle to overcome, to unlearn, much of that social conditioning. A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own. Because the truth about societal privilege is that it isn’t about how you feel. It is about how the world treats you, about the subtle and not so subtle things that you internalize and absorb.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If women can no longer be identified as members of a sex class for political purposes, women’s oppression cannot be directly addressed or challenged. Subsequently, feminist objectives are undermined by queer politics.

Linguist Deborah Cameron has identified the trend of “the amazing disappearing woman”, highlighting the pattern of women’s lived realities and oppression being rendered invisible by gender-neutral language. Whereas womanhood is relentlessly deconstructed within queer discourse, the category of manhood is yet to be disputed.

no womenIt is not an accident that masculinity remains uncontested even as the word woman is treated as offensive, exclusionary. Man is positioned as the normative standard of humanity, woman as other-to-man. In reducing women to “non-men”, as the Green Party attempted to,  in reducing women to “pregnant people”, as the British Medical Association advised, queer discourse perpetuates the framing of woman as other. Queer ideology takes patriarchal conventions to their logical conclusion by quite literally writing women out of existence.

Defining the oppressed class in relation to the oppressor, denying the oppressed the language to speak of how they are marginalised, only serves to ratify the hierarchy of gender. Though such linguistic shifts appear inclusive at first glance, they have the unforeseen consequence of perpetuating misogyny.

“Removing the word women and biological language from discussions of female bodily reality seems dangerous. Refusing to acknowledge the female anatomy, reproductive capabilities and sexuality has long been the work of the patriarchy. It seems we had a few golden decades of acknowledgement, and could wear our lived experience of bodily womanhood proudly – but now we have to drop that language in favour of the group. Even with logic in the driver’s seat, it’s hard not to feel this particular aspect of womanhood is being erased with uncomfortable echoes of patriarchy past.”Vonny Moyes

Addressing the issues of biological sex and gendered socialisation have become increasingly controversial, with more extreme elements of queer ideology positioning both subjects as TERF “myth”. It would be easy to wish the connection between women’s biology and our oppression, the consequences of gendered socialisation, were myths. In such a scenario, those in possession of a female body – women – could simply identify our way out of structural oppression, choose to be part of any group other than an oppressed class. Yet exploitation of female biology and gendered socialisation both play a pivotal role in establishing and maintaining the oppression of women by men.

Queer politics repackages women’s oppression as a position of inherent privilege whilst simultaneously depriving us of the language required to address and oppose that very oppression. The issue of gender identity leaves feminists in something of a double-bind: either accept that being marginalised on account of your sex is cis privilege or speak up and risk being branded a TERF. There is no space for dissenting voices in this conversation – not if those voices belong to women. In this respect, there is very little difference between the standards set by queer discourse and those governing patriarchal norms.

The word woman is important. With a name comes power. As Patricia Hill Collins observes (2000), self-definition is a key component of political resistance. If womanhood cannot be positively articulated, if womanhood is understood only as a negative of manhood, women are held in the position of object. It is only through considering women as the subject – as self-actualised human beings with the right to self-determination – that liberation becomes possible.

“The strength of the word ‘woman’ is that it can be used to affirm our humanity, dignity and worth, without denying our embodied femaleness or treating it as a source of shame. It neither reduces us to walking wombs, nor de-sexes and disembodies us. That’s why it’s important for feminists to go on using it. A movement whose aim is to liberate women should not treat ‘woman’ as a dirty word.”Deborah Cameron

Without proud and open use of word woman, feminist politics lack the scope to mount anyradfem-symbol real resistance to women’s subordination. You cannot liberate a class of people that may not even be named. Womanhood is devalued by these insidious attempts to render it invisible. If women do not consider ourselves worth the inconvenience caused by naming us directly, specifically, we can hardly argue that we are worth the difficulties that liberation must bring.

Any potential offence caused by referring unequivocally to the female body is minor compared to the abuse and exploitation of our female bodies under patriarchy. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.”


Bibliography

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2014). We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2017). Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Kat Banyard. (2010). The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

Deborah Cameron. (2007). The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?

Patricia Hill Collins. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (Second Edition)

Finn MacKay. (2015). Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement

Natasha Walter. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism