Qu’on le voie comme binaire ou comme un spectre, le genre demeure une hiérarchie

The Vanishing Point: A Reflection Upon Lesbian Erasure is now available in French! Many thanks to TradFem for the translation.


« Il est impossible de nommer l’oppression et d’agir contre elle si aucun oppresseur ne peut être nommé. » (Mary Daly)

Qu’est-ce que le genre?

Le genre est une fiction créée par le patriarcat, une hiérarchie imposée par les hommes pour assurer leur domination sur les femmes. L’idée d’une structure binaire de genre a été créée dans le but de justifier la subordination des femmes en décrivant notre oppression par les hommes comme un état naturel, résultant de la façon dont se manifestent des caractéristiques innées prêtées aux hommes et aux femmes. La présentation du genre comme naturel ne sert pas seulement à dépolitiser la hiérarchie, elle recourt à l’idéologie essentialiste pour convaincre les femmes de la futilité de toute résistance radicale au genre comme mécanisme de notre oppression. Le désespoir engendre l’apathie, laquelle entrave le changement social plus efficacement que toute répression manifeste. Si l’abolition du genre (et donc le démantèlement du patriarcat) est un objectif non réalisable, nous les femmes n’avons d’autre choix que d’accepter notre statut de citoyennes de deuxième classe dans le monde. Traiter le genre comme inhérent à la nature humaine équivaut à accepter un modèle patriarcal comme conception de la société.

GENDER IS LESS

Le genre est moins comme ceci que comme cela…

Le genre est une hiérarchie qui permet aux hommes d’être dominants et conditionne les femmes à l’état de servitude. Comme le genre est un élément fondamental du patriarcat capitaliste de la suprématie blanche (hooks, 1984), je trouve particulièrement déconcertant de voir des éléments du discours queer soutenir que le genre n’est pas seulement inné mais sacro-saint. Loin d’être une alternative radicale au statu quo, le projet de « queerer » le genre, avec son caractère essentialiste, n’a pour effet que de reproduire les normes établies par le patriarcat. Une interprétation queer ne défie pas le patriarcat de manière significative : plutôt que d’encourager les gens à résister aux normes établies par le patriarcat, il leur offre un moyen de s’y rallier. La politique queer a moins contesté les rôles traditionnels de genre qu’elle ne leur a insufflé une nouvelle vie, et c’est là que se trouve le danger.

Soutenir que le genre pourrait ou devrait être « queeré » équivaut à perdre de vue la façon dont le genre fonctionne comme système d’oppression. Les hiérarchies ne peuvent, par définition, être assimilées à une démarche de libération. Les déséquilibres de 1600-Genderbread-Personpouvoir structurels ne peuvent être abolis par une simple subversion : réduire le genre à un enjeu de performativité ou d’identification personnelle nie sa fonction pratique en tant que hiérarchie. Toute idéologie qui ferme grossièrement les yeux sur le rôle du genre comme méthode d’oppression des femmes ne peut pas être qualifiée de féministe. En fait, comme l’idéologie queer reste largement acritique de la disparité de pouvoir qui sous-tend la politique sexuelle, elle est foncièrement anti-femme.

La logique de l’identité de genre est fondamentalement déficiente, puisqu’elle repose sur le principe qui fait du genre une caractéristique innée. Comme les féministes le font valoir depuis des décennies, le genre est socialement construit – il l’est de toutes pièces pour accorder aux hommes la domination sur les femmes. L’éducation des enfants, genrés avant même leur naissance, sert à diviser les sexes en une classe dominante et une classe dominée. Le féminisme reconnaît l’existence du sexe biologique, mais il s’oppose à l’essentialisme, soit l’idée que le sexe dicte qui nous sommes et qui nous pouvons être en tant qu’êtres humains. Le féminisme affirme que notre caractère, nos qualités et notre personnalité ne sont pas définies par le fait d’être hommes ou femmes. À l’inverse, la théorie queer soutient qu’il existe un ensemble de traits intrinsèquement masculin et un autre ensemble de traits intrinsèquement féminin, et que notre identité dépend de la façon dont nous alignons notre vie sur ces caractéristiques.

Au lieu de reconnaître qu’il existe plusieurs façons d’être un homme ou une femme, la théorie queer enferme les gens dans une gamme toujours croissante de catégories organisées selon des stéréotypes. Il n’existe aucune preuve scientifique pour soutenir l’existence d’un « genre du cerveau »; les prétentions quant à l’existence de cerveaux masculin et féminin reflètent une idéologie neurosexiste (Fine, 2010). Pourtant, l’idéologie queer positionne le genre comme une identité innée, en affirmant que le genre est « ce que vous ressentez ».

« Je trouve très difficile de me défaire des menottes d’une vie de conditionnement culturel qui a tenté de me convaincre que le genre est un fait biologique plutôt qu’un construit social. » Louise O’Neill, I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty

Le problème avec l’identité de genre

Malgré son essentialisme, la lecture queer du genre est de plus en plus répandue dans les milieux progressistes et féministes. Il n’est pas difficile de comprendre pourquoi. L’idéologie du genre reconnaît qu’une distribution binaire des rôles de genre masculin et féminin est restrictive pour les individus. Mais au lieu de préconiser le travail important à abattre pour démanteler la hiérarchie du genre, cette idéologie offre une solution beaucoup plus facile : une clause d’auto-exclusion individuelle qui permet aux gens de faire la paix avec le patriarcat. Adopter l’idéologie du genre équivaut à embrasser un récit d’exceptionnalisme. Adopter l’idéologie du genre est accepter qu’il existe une classe de personnes naturellement adaptées à leur position dans la hiérarchie du genre (soit comme opprimé ou comme oppresseur) en regard d’une autre classe de personnes qui seraient des exceptions aux règles traditionnelles du genre.

Un problème fondamental grève l’idéologie queer du genre. Comme je l’ai expliqué dans un essai précédent, ce problème est la misogynie. Prétendre que certains groupes sont naturellement adaptés au rôle de genre imposé à leur catégorie sexuelle – les personnes qualifiées de « cis » – revient à soutenir la misogynie. Les femmes classées comme « cis », selon la logique de l’identité de genre, seraient intrinsèquement adaptées à être opprimées par les hommes. Tout le système patriarcal se voit ainsi disculpé par l’idéologie du genre, présenté comme un événement naturel plutôt que comme un système d’oppression bâti pour accorder aux hommes la domination sur les femmes.

Comme la politique d’identité queer s’en tient à un récit reflétant une idéologie exceptionnaliste, la dynamique de la politique sexuelle se trouve entièrement passée sous silence. L’artifice linguistique du mot « cis » permet de redéfinir l’oppression des femmes comme un privilège, de sorte que toute libération des femmes « cis » face à l’oppression patriarcale cesse d’être une priorité. La politique sexuelle est mise de côté au profit d’une démarche d’auto-identification, qui rend politiquement invisible l’appartenance de classe sexuelle.

 

Screenshot_20170904-124333

« Tant de genres et pourtant, nous savons encore, magiquement, quelle moitié de la race humaine est censée torcher les derrières et brosser les planchers. » (Victoria Smith, @glosswitch)

Le genre est une prison, et j’ai de la compassion pour toutes les personnes qui s’y trouvent contraintes. Il est odieux que les hommes soient découragés des valeurs d’empathie, de gentillesse et d’expression personnelle créative. Il existe une cruauté réelle dans la socialisation des garçons à la masculinité. Cela étant dit, il faut tout de même examiner le lien entre l’idéologie du genre et l’occultation du privilège masculin.

 

Ce problème est bien illustré par l’exemple de Ben Hopkins, un des membres du duo punk britannique PWR BTTM. Hopkins est biologiquement masculin et, en tant que tel, a été socialisé à la masculinité. Comme beaucoup de personnes célèbres de son sexe, Hopkins a exploité sa renommée et son pouvoir pour violenter sexuellement des fans de sexe féminin. Selon une de ses victimes, Hopkins est un « prédateur sexuel reconnu qui a perpétré de multiples agressions, a intimidé d’autres personnes dans la communauté queer et a fait des avances non désirées à des personnes mineures ». Ce qui est censé différencier Hopkins d’une longue tradition d’agresseurs masculins ayant du pouvoir est qu’il s’identifie comme « genderqueer ».  En tant que tel, une perspective queer soutiendrait que les gestes de Hopkins ne peuvent être considérés comme des violences masculines exercées contre des femmes. L’exceptionnalisme queer manifesté dans la logique de l’identité de genre rend impossible de nommer ou de contester la violence masculine en tant que telle.

pwr-bttm-sexual-abuse-screenshot.jpg

Déclaration d’une survivante affichée sur des médias sociaux: « Hé, avertissement général : Ben de PWR BTTM est un prédateur sexuel reconnu, auteur de plusieurs agressions, etc., et vous devriez éviter d’assister à leurs concerts/boycotter leur musique/ne pas leur donner accès à des espaces sécuritaires. J’ai personnellement vu Ben amorcer des contacts sexuels inappropriés avec des gens malgré plusieurs « Non » et sans avertissement ou consentement, et j’ai entendu au cours des derniers mois plusieurs comptes rendus de Ben disant du mal d’autres artistes queer pour son bénéfice personnel, faisant des avances non désirées à des mineur.e.s même en sachant leur âge et se livrant à des violences psychologiques dans des relations intimes. Presque toutes les victimes de Ben sont queer. »

Les hommes apprennent dès leur naissance qu’ils ont droit au temps des femmes, à l’attention des femmes, à l’amour des femmes, à l’énergie des femmes et aux corps féminins. Pourtant, conformément à la logique de l’idéologie du genre, cette situation est perçue comme malheureuse mais aléatoire, plutôt que comme conséquence normale de la socialisation genrée que reçoivent les hommes dans la société patriarcale. Malgré son identification comme « genderqueer », la violence sexuelle infligée par Hopkins à des femmes ayant beaucoup moins de pouvoir social que lui est parfaitement en phase avec la logique de la masculinité. En quel sens un homme qui exerce le comportement le plus toxique enraciné dans la masculinité peut-il prétendre queerer le genre ou y résister?

Comme ses actions en témoignent manifestement, Hopkins n’a pas consciemment désappris sa socialisation masculine ou son droit d’accès aux corps féminins. La façon dont il choisit de s’identifier a peu d’incidence sur la sombre réalité de la situation. Pourtant, en revendiquant le label de « genderqueer », Hopkins a tenté d’effacer le privilège masculin dont il a continué à bénéficier. Dans un texte rédigé pour le blog Feminist Current, Jen Izaakson énonce clairement le paradoxe de sa prétention de queerer le genre :

« … Hopkins s’est servi de glitter, d’eye-liner et de robes vintage pour démontrer sa compréhension et son adhésion aux idéaux queer, pour illustrer un rejet de la « masculinité toxique » et des normes de genre socialement prescrites aux hommes. Mais porter des robes à fleurs et du lip gloss ne mène pas nécessairement à un rejet réel du privilège et de la prédominance dont disposent les hommes en régime patriarcal. En mettant l’accent sur des identités auto-définies, sur l’expression individuelle et sur la performativité, au lieu d’examiner la violence masculine et les systèmes de pouvoir inégaux, le discours queer a ouvert tout grand la porte à la misogynie. »

De façon semblable, la trans-activiste Cherno Biko (née homme) a ouvertement confessé avoir violé un transhomme (né femme) avec le fantasme et l’intention de l’engrosser contre son gré. Malgré son aveu public de cette agression sexuelle, Biko a pu prendre la parole sur la tribune de la Marche des femmes à Washington et a co-présidé le Conseil consultatif des jeunes femmes pour la ville de New York. Cela soulève des questions, non seulement sur l’apparente absence de prise en compte des agressions sexuelles dans les espaces féministes, mais aussi sur la mesure dans laquelle les mouvements politiques progressifs sont prêts à fermer les yeux sur des cas de violence envers des femmes si l’agresseur s’identifie comme transgenre ou « genderqueer ».

Les actes de violence commis contre les femmes sont à la fois une cause et une conséquence du patriarcat, et ils sont normalisés par la logique du genre. L’idéologie du genre ne tient pas compte de la disparité de pouvoir de la politique sexuelle – une hiérarchie instituée par le genre lui-même – et considère le genre comme une simple question d’auto-identification. La perspective queer s’en tient délibérément à un traitement individuel de l’enjeu identitaire afin de dépolitiser le genre, évitant ainsi des questions ardues sur le pouvoir et le patriarcat.

On nous dit que le genre est une question profondément personnelle et qui donc, comme tous les bons libéraux le savent, ne doit pas être scrutée. Pourtant, la recherche démontre que les transfemmes « conservent un modèle masculin en matière de criminalité après une chirurgie de réaffectation sexuelle » et que « la même chose est vraie en ce qui concerne les crimes avec violence ». Étant donné qu’une femme sur trois subira de la violence masculine au cours de sa vie, cette question n’est pas anodine : 96 % des auteurs de violences sexuelles sont de sexe biologique masculin. La sécurité des femmes et des filles n’est jamais un prix acceptable à payer, même pas au nom de l’inclusion. La socialisation masculine joue un rôle démontrable dans le façonnement des attitudes et des comportements – si nous les femmes ne pouvons pas nommer la violence que nous vivons ou identifier le système qui la permet, nous ne pouvons pas les défier.

« Quand Simone de Beauvoir a écrit qu’une fille ne naît pas femme mais le devient, elle ne voulait pas dire qu’un individu né dans le sexe masculin, socialisé dans les attentes propres au genre masculin, pouvait simplement décider de prendre des hormones et peut-être de subir une chirurgie et de « devenir femme ». » Dame Jenni Murray

Dans l’optique de l’identité de genre, l’oppresseur peut se défaire de son privilège masculin et revendiquer le statut d’opprimé. Dans l’optique de l’identité de genre, les opprimées peuvent également rejeter les bases de leur oppression au moyen d’une auto-identification. L’idéologie du genre vise à réorienter une hiérarchie en termes d’identité. Malheureusement, on ne peut pas échapper par simple choix à une oppression de nature structurelle et systématique – même si le discours queer présente cela comme une voie légitime pour les femmes. L’homme constitue la norme par défaut de l’humanité, la femme étant reléguée au statut d’ « Autre » – uniquement définie par rapport aux hommes (Beauvoir, 1949). Pas étonnant qu’un nombre croissant de femmes, insatisfaites des limitations imposées par le rôle de genre féminin et conscientes que s’autoactualiser permet de dépasser le stéréotype creux de la féminité, cessent de s’identifier en tant que femmes.

Mais au lieu d’identifier le rôle de genre féminin comme le problème et de travailler à démanteler la hiérarchie du genre, les femmes sont encouragées à cesser de s’identifier en tant que telles si elles se comportent ou se sentent comme de véritables êtres humains. En présentant une pleine humanité et la féminité comme mutuellement exclusives, l’idéologie du genre invite les femmes à participer à un jeu traditionnel : Je-Ne-Suis-Pas-Comme-Les-Autres-Filles-Version-queer .

Il est compréhensible que les femmes soient impatientes d’échapper au rôle de genre féminin féminin; en fait, la libération des femmes face à la hiérarchie du genre est un objectif de base du féminisme. Mais le mouvement féministe préconise la libération de toutes les femmes de toutes les formes d’oppression, et pas simplement la libération de celles qui critiquent leur oppression individuelle par le genre – celles qui « n’aspirent à aucun type de féminité ».

Queerer le genre nourrit l’homophobie

gay-liberation Malgré tout ce qui se dit sur une « communauté queer », alliance prétendue entre les personnes LGBT +, l’homophobie a toujours été centrale à la politique queer. En effet, l’idéologie queer a émergé comme mouvement de ressac opposé aux principes féministes lesbiens, qui préconisaient un changement social radical par la transformation des vies individuelles (Jeffreys, 2003). Les intérêts politiques des femmes lesbiennes et des hommes gais marginalisés, à commencer par l’abolition des rôles de genre, ont été rejetés dans les milieux queer. L’individualisme interdisait tout accent particulier sur les politiques de libération féministe et gay, que le discours queer commença à décrire comme démodées, ternes ou anti-sexe.

Ces dernières années, cette dérision s’est accélérée pour devenir un sentiment ouvertement anti-gay. Les tentatives d’effacement des femmes lesbiennes et homosexuelles sont aujourd’hui pratique courante dans les milieux queer. Dans un billet d’opinion posant la question à savoir si l’identité lesbienne peut « survivre à la révolution du genre », Shannon Keating affirme que les sexualités lesbiennes et gays sont obsolètes :

« En regard du contexte de plus en plus coloré de la diversité de genre, un label binaire comme ‘gay’ ou ‘lesbien’ commence à sembler plutôt dépassé et lourd. Quand il y a autant de genres sur la carte, est-ce être fermé d’esprit – ou, pire, oppressif et exclusionnaire – de s’identifier à une étiquette qui implique que seul un genre vous attire? »

Il existe une souche persistante d’homophobie dans l’idéologie du genre. Elle se manifeste aussi régulièrement parce que cette homophobie est intégrée à la politique queer du genre. L’attraction aux personnes de même sexe est constamment présentée comme problématique du fait de reconnaître à la fois l’existence du sexe biologique et sa signification dans la détermination du potentiel d’attraction – ce qui contredit la prétention selon laquelle c’est le genre, et non le sexe, qui constitue l’étalon identitaire déterminant.

Plus tôt cette année, Juno Dawson, qui a signé le livre The Gender Games, a affirmé que l’homosexualité masculine n’était qu’un « prix de consolation » pour les hommes qui ne sont pas prêts à opter pour une vie de transféminité. Avant sa propre transition, Dawson a vécu et aimé en tant qu’homme gay; il est donc particulièrement troublant de le voir proclamer que l’homosexualité est moins digne de respect et de reconnaissance comme orientation légitime. Il a dépeint la vie en tant qu’homme homosexuel comme une alternative inférieure, un substitut déficient à une transféminité réprimée. Lorsque des gays et des lesbiennes ont protesté contre cette homophobie, Dawson a présenté une non-excuse qui a rappelé une vérité cruciale en matière d’identité de genre et de sexualité : « Beaucoup d’hommes et de femmes trans ont vécu auparavant comme gays ou lesbiennes avant leur transition, a-t-il dit, alors je pense que c’est un enjeu vraiment important à discuter … »

Il est tout à fait réactionnaire de soutenir que les gays sont, au fond, des femmes insatisfaites. Selon cette logique, seule la masculinité la plus straight et la plus toxique est authentiquement masculine. Et si les gays sont réellement des transfemmes straight, alors il n’existe pas d’hommes homosexuels. L’homosexualité se trouve ainsi « guérie » – un programme politique qui a longtemps appartenu aux conservateurs sociaux, mais que l’on peut maintenant retrouver dans l’idéologie queer. Et ce n’est pas un hasard si beaucoup de ceux qui choisissent de subir une transition chirurgicale ou médicale sont des gays ou des lesbiennes qui, au début de leur processus de transition, vivent en hétérosexuels. En Iran, où les relations homosexuelles sont punissables de mort, les clercs intégristes sont les premiers à « accepter l’idée qu’une personne puisse être piégée dans un corps qui est du mauvais sexe ».

L’idéologie du genre est fondamentalement conservatrice. Elle repose sur l’hypothèse voulant que les rôles de genre soient absolus et que les personnes qui s’écartent du rôle de genre attribué à leur sexe doivent appartenir à une autre catégorie. Les lesbiennes et les gays défient les rôles de genre simplement en aimant quelqu’un du même sexe, en s’écartant des schémas de domination hétéro-patriarcale pour créer une politique sexuelle d’égalité. Si une transition nous conduit à l’hétérosexualité, en conformité avec les rôles de genre, on nous amène en fait à nous conformer aux rôles de genre tracés par le patriarcat.

Personne ne naît dans le mauvais corps. Un corps ne peut, par définition, être le mauvais. Le système de genre, par contre, est mauvais d’une foule de manières. Le fait de problématiser les corps comme contraires à une hiérarchie qui les limite ne fait que reproduire l’idéologie destructive qui est au cœur du patriarcat. C’est une approche contradictoire à une politique de libération, et elle est, au mieux, malavisée et, au pire, complice avec le patriarcat.

Conclusion

La critique de l’idéologie du genre est fortement déconseillée. Je soupçonne que c’est parce que plus on explore la perspective queer du genre, plus sa misogynie et son homophobie deviennent apparentes. Une fois que le vernis progressiste commence à se fissurer – quand il devient évident que l’idéologie du genre est au mieux complaisante au sujet du patriarcat et des torts que celui-ci inflige aux femmes – la politique queer devient beaucoup plus difficile à vendre à la population en général.

fuck gender roles

MERDE AUX RÔLES DE GENRE

Ainsi, les féministes qui osent remettre en question l’idéologie du genre sont qualifiées de bigotes et ces critiques, et les femmes assez courageuses pour les faire, sont jugées illégitimes. Les femmes qui contestent l’idéologie du genre sont ridiculisées en tant que « TERF » – on nous répète constamment que leur seul motif de critiquer le genre est une malveillance, plutôt qu’une préoccupation réelle pour le bien-être des femmes et des filles. Ce à quoi je réponds par les mots de Mary Shelley : « Attention; car je suis intrépide, et donc puissante. » Toute tentative de décourager les femmes de s’en prendre à notre oppression devient profondément suspecte à mes yeux.

L’idéologie du genre crée une fausse dichotomie entre d’une part des personnes liées de façon innée aux rôles de genre traditionnels et, d’autre part, quelques rares exceptions qui ne le sont pas. La politique de genre est l’exemple le plus élaboré et le plus dangereux d’utiliser les outils du maître pour démanteler la maison du maître. Pourquoi queerer le genre lorsque nous pouvons l’abolir? Pourquoi gaspiller de l’énergie en essayant de subvertir une pratique oppressive lorsque nous pourrions l’éliminer complètement?

La femme est une classe de sexe – rien de plus, rien de moins. L’homme est une classe de sexe – rien de plus, rien de moins. Prétendre que l’ampleur de notre identité est fixée par le rôle de genre imposé à notre classe de sexe équivaut à légitimer le projet de patriarcat. En tant que féministe, en tant que femme, je rejette la politique queer et l’idéologie de genre qu’elle préconise. Au lieu de cela, je prétends que les femmes et les hommes qui vivent en dehors du scénario établi par le genre – que ce soit en versions queer ou patriarcale – devraient faire figure de révolutionnaires. Ce n’est que par l’abolition du genre que nous pourrons réaliser une véritable libération.


Bibliographie

Simone de Beauvoir. (1949). Le Deuxième sexe.

Cordelia Fine. (2010). Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference.

Lynne Harne & Elaine Miller (eds.). (1996). All the Rage: Reasserting Radical Lesbian Feminism.

bell hooks. (1984). De la marge au centre: Théorie féministe.

Sheila Jeffreys. (2003). Unpacking Queer Politics.

Audre Lorde. (1984). Sister Outsider: Essais et propos d’Audre Lorde.

Cherríe Moraga & Gloria E. Anzaldúa (eds.). (1981). This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

Bonnie J. Morris. (2016). The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture.

Victoria Pepe (ed.). (2015). I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty.

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. More Radical with Age.


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

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‘Punch a TERF’ Rhetoric Encourages Violence Against Women

A brief foreword. This is the sixth of my essays on sex, gender, and sexuality. (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 available here.) I suspect it’s also the least polished, as I was shaken by the assault of Maria MacLachlan and wrote this to work through my thoughts, but it was written from a place of truth.


My grandmother is a brilliant woman. She is clever, compassionate, and unfailingly kind. She is selfless, generous with her time, and loyal to those she loves. I have lived with my grandmother since birth – during childhood she read me Swallows and Amazons at night, sat by the pool during my swimming lessons, and took me to the cinema to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – the film which opened my eyes to the magic of cinema as a child. Nana also sat through Shrek and, with thinly-veiled disgust, Shrek 2. If that’s not love, what is? My grandmother and I have always been close. Since my grandfather died last year, and it has been just the two of us in the house, we have grown closer still – we live like what I’d describe as an infinitely more interesting version of the Gilmour Girls.

I’ve also noticed that my grandmother has grown a bit more radical in that time. She has stopped trying to convince me that men have their uses, which she often did after I came out to her as lesbian. She now has faith in my ability to do what were once considered “man jobs”, like building furniture or running heavy things to the dump. She will readily call racism by its name is and receptive to having racism pointed out. She has identified an abusive relationship and asked me for the relevant details about shelters to pass on and how best to support the woman in question as she left the relationship – I’m very proud of her for that.

My grandmother is also pro-life. She does not believe that abortion is legitimate or morally acceptable. She’s a committed Catholic and gets letters from SPUC every so often. I once joked to her that with my advocacy of abortion and her opposition to it, the output from our household basically cancelled itself out. It’s quite strange to think that Nana is roughly the same age as Angela Davis. I used to reason that, being of a different generation, it was to be expected that she held those views. But then, especially as I grew familiar with feminists who were active during the Women’s Liberation Movement and read more feminist books from the ‘60s and ‘70s, it seemed ridiculous to reduce her politics to a matter of age. Either way, I don’t agree with Nana about abortion. She certainly doesn’t agree with me. But we love each other very much and that disagreement – the most fundamental disagreement in our relationship – doesn’t alter the fact we’re ride or die.

what_is_gender_flyerOn our way out this afternoon, she gently pointed out that I seemed a bit down. My depression has been severe this year, and I know Nana worries. At first I didn’t say much. But months of therapy have made it substantially easier to divine the root cause of a problem. I told her that a 60 year old woman was beaten yesterday in London – that Maria MacLachlan was punched and choked for going to a talk about the Gender Recognition Act. I explained that the original venue, New Cross Learning, had backed out after being harassed into cancelling – the intensity of protest had the library worried about safety of staff, volunteers, and those accessing the community space. I briefly outlined the schism between a queer and a radical feminist understanding of gender. Mostly, I told Nana that I felt heartsick that a woman had been beaten.

Nana didn’t ask if I knew the woman in question, and I loved her for that – for getting that a woman being assaulted, any woman being hurt, was painful to hear of. What she did ask is if the police caught those behind the attack, if feminist women were challenging it. The mechanics of digital media are as much a mystery to Nana as her daily Sudoku puzzles are to me, but she sees me glued to my phone all day long and understands enough to know that if women gather our energies to make a fuss over injustice then something will come of it. And I told her the truth, a truth that left me even more heartsick: not exactly. There are women who have rallied, and there are women who have looked the other way.


And my Nana said what dozens and dozens of seasoned feminists lack the courage to say: that the attackers were brutes. She asked what sort of horrible, small-minded person would deliberately hurt a woman in her sixties.

For a split-second I wondered what the response to describing those behind the attack as ‘horrible’ or ‘brutes’ would be on Twitter. TERF, obviously – that’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, for the uninitiated. Maybe Nazi. (More and more, I’ve noticed radical feminists who are lesbian described as Nazi – without the slightest recognition that lesbian women were persecuted, rounded up as “asocials” for their refusal to produce blonde-haired blue-eyed babies, and killed by the Nazi regime.) And then I knew, as is so often the case, that my grandmother was right. They are horrible. They are brutes.

The footage is difficult to watch. A group of women gathered at the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where they had arranged to meet before moving on to the venue – which had

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“NO TERFS ON OUR TURF!” Shared by Sisters Uncut

been kept secret owing to the risk involved. The protest – organised by Action for Trans Health London, Sisters Uncut, and Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society – is in full swing. There’s a lot of shouting. The atmosphere is febrile. Amidst the clusters of people, Maria MacLachlan holds a camera to document the proceedings. She is set upon by someone substantially bigger than her. Two more attackers join in after MacLachlan pulls down her assailant’s hood so that they may be identified, as though the beating of a sixty year old woman is too great an undertaking for one man alone. MacLachlan gave her account of her assault to Feminist Current:

[She] had been trying to film the protest when some of the trans activists began to shout, “When TERFs attack, we fight back.” She asked them, “Who’s attacking?” At this point, MacLachlan says a young man in a hoodie tried to grab her camera. “I think he knocked it out of my hand but it was looped to my wrist. He turned back and tried to grab it again. I hung onto it.” As the two struggled, MacLachlan pulled back the hood of the man holding her camera, so onlookers could photograph his face, and another man ran over and began punching MacLachlan. Wood and a third man pushed her to the ground, where she says she was kicked and punched.

The whole incident is disturbing. There is a long history of violence being used to discourage women from collectively organising, and the assault of Maria MacLachlan FB_IMG_1505469664006opens the latest chapter of a story called patriarchy. Both the violence and the context that enabled it to happen must be scrutinised.

How have we reached a point where beating a 60 year old woman can be credited to the politics of liberation? How have we reached a point where feminists can ignore that a 60 year old woman was beaten? How have we reached a point where some self-proclaimed feminists read about this assault and questioned whether a woman was lying about violence, if it really happened, or – if it did happen – she provoked the attack? The silence and disbelief of other women, women who call themselves feminist, is like salt in a wound. Our whole movement is built around the belief that no woman should be subject to violence, and that those women who do experience violence are fully deserving of our support.

The deeper we go into feminist politics and spaces – especially digital feminist spaces – the easier it becomes to forget about certain realities of feminist struggle. The gap between ideas and reality, between the theory being developed and the everyday unfolding of women’s lives, grows until something vital is lost through the cracks of that in-between space. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that queer politics and gender ideology have flourished in the internet age; when so much of our lives are lived online, it is easier to lose focus on the significance of material reality.

While it is certainly shocking that Maria MacLachlan was beaten by trans activists, it was not altogether unpredictable. Last year a transwoman called Dana Rivers murdered an interracial lesbian couple and their son. Not long before committing triple homicide, Rivers protested the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival on the grounds that it was trans-exclusionary. For the last few years, a steady flow of violent rhetoric has been levelled against women, in particular lesbians – much of it from self-identified feminists. Kill all TERFs. Punch all TERFs. Knife a TERF. Burn a TERF. Rivers shot and stabbed the Wright family before setting fire to their house, violence that is mirrored by the language directed towards the women denounced as TERFs. The violence trans activists and allies enacted when Vancouver Women’s Library launched was similarly normalised by misogynistic, abusive language. Given that “punch a TERF” has become something of a rallying cry for those invested in upholding gender ideology, women cannot afford to feign surprise when it actually happens.


Radical feminists have warned against the violent rhetoric attached to the term TERF for years, and been dismissed as bigots for our trouble. Jokes and threats involving violence against women, often indistinguishable, are now commonplace on queer corners of the internet. Etsy stock badges that conflate trans liberation with violence against women. We have reached a bizarre point at which violence against women is circulated as a bold message of resistance by people who claim to be feminists.

Painful disagreements and challenging ideas need not result in abuse. I can’t imagine a single woman campaigning for abortion rights and access to reproductive healthcare beating up my grandmother for her opposing views. Nor could I imagine any of the campaigners who have got in touch with my grandmother beating pro-choice women, even if they do think we’re heading for an afterlife of eternal damnation. The conversations I’ve had with Nana about abortion have been hard for both of us. Realistically, we’re never going to agree. But that doesn’t mean those conversations have to be destructive.

Screenshot_20170914-220321There must be a way to talk about the tensions between gender ideology and sexual politics without abusive language or acts of violence. The subject is fraught, uncomfortable, and certainly not abstract for anyone involved with gender discourse – which is all the more reason to bring empathy to the table. Dehumanising women to the point where we are considered legitimate targets of violence only upholds the values set by patriarchy. We do not approach the subject of gender from a position of power – gender has been used, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, to oppress women. That gender is fundamental to the oppression of women is too often overlooked in gender discourse.

No matter what your politics, we should all recognise that beating up a 60 year old woman doesn’t liberate. It’s violence against women. If your politics justify violence against women, they are shitty and misogynistic politics. It is not complicated. There is no justification. Women are not legitimate targets of violence. Not for having different views to you. Not for listening to or engaging with ideas you disagree with. Never. Plenty of the progressive left looked the other way at “punch a TERF” rhetoric normalising violence against women, and this is what it led to: a woman being beaten.

Violence against women has no place in the politics of liberation. If you ignore this Screenshot_20170915-132601assault to keep your ally cookies on queer identity politics, you’re complicit. If you give language that normalises violence against women, you’re complicit. Violence against women has no place in any context. That is what radical feminists consistently argue. Radical feminist women are depicted as violent simply for our ideas about gender – meanwhile, those who perpetrate physical acts of violence against women are framed as our victims.

When radical feminists critique gender, we are accused of debating trans-identified people’s right to live free from violence or even accused of exterminating trans-identified people. Aside from being falsehoods, these claims serve to discredit radical feminists’ explorations of gender. Writing for Trouble and Strife, Jane Clare Jones unpicks queer misrepresentations of radical feminism:

[Gender] debate is not academic for anyone involved. For both trans and non-trans women, what is at stake is the ability to understand themselves in a way that makes their lives livable. For feminist women, the axiom ‘trans women are women,’ when understood to mean ‘womanhood is gender identity and hence, trans women are women in exactly the same way as non-trans women are women’ is experienced as an extreme erasure of the way our being-as-women is marked by a system of patriarchal violence that aims to control our sexed bodies.
This system of patriarchal violence also marks the lives of trans women, who are indubitably victims of the kinds of male violence feminists have spent years attempting to resist. To cast certain feminists as the principal threat to trans existence, it is therefore necessary for trans-ideology to sideline the patriarchal violence that affects both women and trans people, and instead, position feminists at the apex of a structure of oppression.

Reframing women’s oppression as a form of privilege has enabled the disciples of gender ideology to target women as the oppressor and feel legitimate in doing so. But this perspective fails to consider the reality of the situation: women are an oppressed class, marginalised as a result of having been born female into a patriarchal society. Women do not hold a wealth of structural power over trans-identified people, and claiming that women challenging the means of our oppression are enacting anti-trans violence is ludicrous. Radical feminists are the staunchest and most consistent critics of male violence, which is the cause of transphobic attacks.

If you’re a feminist who has ever used the term TERF to describe a radical feminist, stop and think about the violent misogyny it’s used in conjunction with. Think about how “punch a TERF” led to Maria MacLachlan being assaulted. Think about whether you want to be complicit in violence against women, or play a part in challenging that violence – I suspect it’s the latter.

And if you’re going to keep branding women TERFs, remember: you cannot beat dissent out of women. Trying to do so only recreates patriarchal values, which started the pattern of using violence to render women compliant. It isn’t decent human behaviour, never mind feminist. Women are resilient – we have to be, to make it through life under patriarchy. And we will not fall silent.


 

Bibliography

Marilyn Frye. (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory.

Audre Lorde. (1983). The Master’s Toois Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.

Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a Hierarchy

A brief foreword: this is the fifth essay in my series on sex, gender, and sexuality. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are available here on Sister Outrider. With this essay, I challenge the notion that gender can be repurposed as anything other than a hierarchy. This one is dedicated to E, a stellar lesbian and feminist.


 

“It is impossible to name and act against oppression if there are no nameable oppressors.” – Mary Daly

What is Gender?

Gender is a fiction created by patriarchy, a hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women. The idea of a gender binary was established in order to justify the subordination of women by positioning our oppression by men as a natural state of affairs, the result of how characteristics innately held by men and women manifest. Framing gender as natural not only serves to depoliticise the hierarchy, but uses essentialism in order to convince women that radical resistance to gender – the means of our oppression – is futile. Hopelessness breeds apathy, which undermines social change more effectively than any overt challenge. If abolishing gender (and therefore dismantling patriarchy) is an unobtainable goal, women have no choice but to accept our status as second-class citizens of the world. To treat gender as inherent is to accept a patriarchal blueprint for the design of society.

gender imageGender is a hierarchy that enables men to be dominant and conditions women into subservience. As gender is a fundamental element of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (hooks, 1984) it is particularly disconcerting to see elements of queer discourse argue that gender is not only innately held but sacrosanct. Far from being a radical alternative to the status quo, the project of “queering” gender only serves to replicate the standards set by patriarchy through its essentialism. A queer understanding of gender does not challenge patriarchy in any meaningful way – rather than encouraging people to resist the standards set by patriarchy, it offers them a way to embrace it. Queer politics have not challenged traditional gender roles so much as breathed fresh life into them – therein lies the danger.

To argue that gender could or should be “queered” is to lose sight of how gender functions as a system of oppression. Hierarchies cannot, by definition, be assimilated into the politics of liberation. Structural power imbalances cannot be subverted out of existence – reducing gender to a matter of performativity or personal identification denies its practical function as a hierarchy. Any ideology which flagrantly disregards gender as the method of women’s oppression cannot be described as feminist – indeed, as queer ideology remains largely uncritical of the power disparity behind sexual politics, it is anti-woman.

The logic of gender identity is fundamentally flawed, resting on the premise that gender is innately held. As feminists have argued for decades, gender is socially constructed – a fabrication designed to grant men dominion over women. The upbringing of children, 1600-Genderbread-Persongendered even before birth, serves to divide the sexes into a dominant and subservient class. Feminism recognises that biological sex exists while opposing essentialism, opposing the idea that sex dictate who or what we are capable of being as humans. Feminism asserts that our character, qualities, and personality are not defined by whether we are male or female. Conversely, queer theory argues that one set of traits is inherently masculine and another set of traits is inherently feminine, and our identity is dependent on how we align with those traits.

 

Instead of acknowledging that there are multitudes of ways to be a man or a woman, queer theory pigeonholes people into an ever-increasing range of categories organised by stereotype. There is no scientific evidence to support the existence of gendered brains, and claims of inherently gendered brains are the product of neurosexism (Fine, 2010). Yet queer ideology positions gender as an innately held identity, claiming that gender “is what you feel.”

“The manacles of a lifetime of cultural conditioning that has tried to convince me that gender is a biological fact rather than a social construct are more difficult to shake off than I would like.” – Louise O’Neill, I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty

The Trouble with Gender Identity

Despite its essentialism, the queer understanding of gender has grown increasingly mainstream within progressive and feminist spaces. It is not difficult to understand why. Gender ideology acknowledges that a binary of male and female gender roles are restrictive for individuals, but instead of advocating the extensive work required to dismantle the hierarchy of gender, it offers a far easier solution: an individual opt-out clause that enables people to make peace with patriarchy. To embrace gender ideology is to embrace a narrative of exceptionalism. To embrace gender ideology is to accept that there is a class of people naturally suited to their position within the hierarchy of gender (be it oppressed or oppressor), and a class of people who are exceptions to the traditional rules of gender.

There is a fundamental problem with queer gender ideology. As I have previously written, that problem is misogyny. To claim certain groups are naturally suited to the gender role imposed upon their sex category – “cis” people – is to endorse misogyny. The women categorised as cis, by the logic of gender identity, are inherently suited to being oppressed by men. The whole system of patriarchy is therefore whitewashed by gender ideology, presented as a natural occurrence as opposed to a system of oppression built to grant men dominion over women.

As queer identity politics are built around a narrative of exceptionalism, the power dynamics of sexual politics to be ignored altogether. Through the linguistic twist of “cis”, women’s oppression is reframed as a privilege and therefore the liberation of “cis” women from patriarchal oppression ceases to be a priority. Sexual politics are negated by self-identification, through which membership of a sex class is rendered politically invisible.

Screenshot_20170904-124333

“So many genders and yet we still know, magically, which half of the human race is expected to wipe arses and scrub floors.” – Victoria Smith, @glosswitch

 

Gender is a prison, and I have compassion for everyone constricted by it. It is abhorrent that men are discouraged from empathy, kindness, and creative self-expression.  There is real cruelty in socialising boys into masculinity. That being said, there is a connection between gender ideology and the laundering of male privilege that demands scrutiny.

This issue is exemplified by the case of Ben Hopkins, one half of the punk duo PWR BTTM. Hopkins is biologically male and, as such, was socialised into masculinity. Like a great many famous persons who are biologically male, Hopkins exploited his fame and power to sexually abuse female fans. According to one of his victims, Hopkins is a “known sexual predator who has perpetrated multiple assaults, bullied other people in the queer community, and has made unwanted advances towards underage minors.” What allegedly sets Hopkins apart from a longstanding tradition of powerful male abusers is that he identifies as genderqueer. As such, queer perspective would have it that Hopkins’ actions cannot be considered male violence against women. Queer exceptionalism as it manifests through the logic of gender identity makes it impossible to name or challenge male violence as such.

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Statement from Survivor

Men are taught from birth that they are entitled to women’s time, women’s attention, women’s love, women’s energy, and women’s bodies. Yet, in accordance with the logic of gender ideology, unfortunate yet random as opposed to a likely consequence of the gendered socialisation men receive in patriarchal society. Despite identifying as genderqueer, the sexual violence Hopkins enacted against women with dramatically less social power than him follows perfectly the logic of masculinity. In what sense can a man who carries out the most toxic behaviour rooted in masculinity claim to be queering or resisting gender?

As his actions make clear, Hopkins has not consciously unlearned male socialisation or entitlement to women’s bodies. How Hopkins chooses to identify has little bearing upon the grim reality of the situation. Yet in claiming the label of genderqueer, Hopkins attempted to erase the male privilege from which he continued to benefit. Writing for Feminist Current, Jen Izaakson clearly articulates the paradox of Hopkins claiming to queer gender:

“…Hopkins used glitter, eyeliner, and vintage dresses to demonstrate an understanding of and adherence to queer ideals, to illustrate a rejection of “toxic masculinity” and the gender norms socially ascribed to males. But wearing flowery dresses and lip gloss does not necessarily lead to an actual rejection of the male entitlement and male dominance of men under patriarchy. By centering self-defined identities, individual expression, and performativity, instead of scrutinizing male violence and unequal systems of power, queer discourse has allowed misogyny easy access to the party.”

Similarly, trans activist Cherno Biko (born male) openly confessed to raping a transman (born female) with the fantasy and intention of impregnating them against their will.  Despite having publicly acknowledged committing sexual abuse, Biko was invited to speak on stage at the Women’s March in Washington and served as Co-Chair of the Young Women’s Advisory Council for New York City. This raises questions not only about the apparent lack of accountability for sexual abuse within feminist spaces, but also the extent to which progressive political movements are prepared to overlook instances of violence against women if the perpetrator identifies as transgender or genderqueer.

Acts of violence against women are both cause and consequence of patriarchy, and they are normalised by the logic of gender. Gender ideology disregards the power disparity of sexual politics – a hierarchy instituted through gender itself – and instead considers gender purely as a matter of self-identification. The queer perspective deliberately individualises the issue of identity in order to depoliticise gender, thereby avoiding difficult questions about power and patriarchy.

We are told that gender is a deeply personal matter and therefore, as all good liberals know, not to be scrutinised. Yet research demonstrates that transwomen retained a male pattern regarding criminality following sex reassignment surgery, and that the same was true regarding violent crime.” Given that one in three women will experience male violence in her lifetime, this is no small matter: 96% of people who commit acts of sexual violence are biologically male. The safety of women and girls is never an acceptable price to pay, not even in the name of inclusion. Masculine socialisation plays a demonstrable role in shaping attitude and behaviour – if women cannot name the violence we experience or identify the system that makes it possible, we cannot challenge it.

“When Simone de Beauvoir wrote that a girl is not born a woman but rather becomes one, she did not mean that an individual born into the male sex, socialised into the expectation of the masculine gender, can simply decide to take hormones and maybe have surgery and ‘become a woman’.”Dame Jenni Murray

Through the lens of gender identity, the oppressor may shed his male privilege and claim the status of oppressed. Through the lens of gender identity, the oppressed may also reject the grounds of their oppression by means of self-identification. Gender ideology aims to repurpose a hierarchy as an identity. Unfortunately, one cannot simply opt out of an oppression that is structural and systematic in nature – although queer discourse presents this as a legitimate route to women. Man is the default standard of humanity, with woman relegated to “Other” – defined purely in relation to men (Beauvoir, 1949). Is it no wonder that a growing number of women, dissatisfied by the limitations imposed by the feminine gender role and conscious that self-actualised human beings are more than the hollow stereotype of femininity, cease to identify as women.

Instead of identifying the feminine gender role as the problem, and working to dismantle the hierarchy of gender, women are encouraged to stop identifying as such if they behave or feel as human beings do. Instead of giving women the tools to unlearn internalised misogyny, gender ideology encourages them to disown womanhood and claim to be individual exceptions to the rule of gender. Through positioning full humanity and womanhood as being mutually exclusive, gender ideology invites women to participate in I’m-Not-Like-Other-Girls: Queer Edition.

It is understandable that women are eager to escape the feminine gender role – indeed, women’s liberation from the hierarchy of gender is a core feminist objective. But the feminist movement advocates the liberation of all women from all forms of oppression, not simply the liberation of those who believe their individual oppression through gender is wrong – those who “don’t aspire to any kind of womanhood.”

The Homophobia of Queering Gender

gay liberationDespite talk of queer community, an alliance between members of the LGBT+ alphabet soup, homophobia has always been at the root of queer politics. Queer ideology emerged as backlash to lesbian feminist principles, which advocated radical social change through the transformation of personal lives (Jeffreys, 2003). The political interests of lesbian women and marginalised gay men – primarily the abolition of gender roles – were dismissed within queer spheres. Individualism precluding any concentrated focus on feminist and gay liberation politics, which queer discourse began to describe as old-fashioned, dull, or anti-sex.

In recent years, this derision has escalated into openly anti-gay sentiment. Attempts to erase lesbian women and gay men are now standard practice within a queer setting. In an opinion piece that questions whether lesbian identity can “survive the gender revolution”, Shannon Keating claims that lesbian and gay sexualities are obsolete:

“Against the increasingly colorful backdrop of gender diversity, a binary label like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ starts to feel somewhat stale and stodgy. When there are so many genders out there, is it closed-minded — or worse, harmful and exclusionary — if you identify with a label that implies you’re only attracted to one?”

There is a persistent strain of homophobia within gender ideology. It manifests so regularly because that homophobia is woven into queer gender politics. Same-sex attraction is relentlessly problematised because it acknowledges both the existence of biological sex and its significance in determining the potential for attraction – a contradiction of the claim that gender, not sex, is the defining unit of identity.

Earlier this year Juno Dawson, author of The Gender Games, claimed that being a gay man was merely a “consolation prize” for those unprepared to opt into a life of transwomanhood. Prior to transition, Dawson lived and loved as a gay man – therefore, it is particularly troubling that Dawson proclaimed homosexuality to be anything less than worthy of respect and recognition as legitimate. Dawson positioned life as a gay man as an inferior alternative, a poor substitute, for repressed transwomanhood. When gay men and lesbian women objected to this homophobia, Dawson delivered a non-apology which hit upon a fundamental truth about the politics of gender identity and sexuality: “Lots of trans men and women previously lived as gay men or lesbians prior to transition so I think it’s a really important thing to discuss…”

It is wildly regressive to argue that gay men are really unfulfilled women on the inside. By that logic, only the most straight and toxic of masculinities is authentically male. And if gay men are really straight transwomen, there is no such thing as gay men. Homosexuality has been ‘cured’ – an agenda that traditionally belonged to social conservatives, but can now be found within queer ideology. And it is not coincidence that so many of those who choose to undergo surgical or medical transition are gay men or lesbian women who, upon undertaking transition, live as heterosexuals. In Iran, where same-sex relationships are punishable by death, clerics are prepared to “accept the idea that a person may be trapped in a body of the wrong sex.”

Gender ideology is fundamentally conservative. It is based on the premise that gender roles are absolute, that those who stray from the gender role ascribed to their sex must belong to another category. Lesbian women and gay men defy the gender roles simply by loving someone of the same sex, by deviating from the heteropatriarchal patterns of dominance to create a sexual politics of equality. If we are transitioned into heterosexuality, into compliance with gender roles, we are made to conform to the gender roles mapped out by patriarchy.

Nobody is born in the wrong body. A body cannot, by definition, be wrong. The system of gender, on the other hand, is wrong in every way. Problematising bodies as opposed to the hierarchy which confines them only replicates the destructive ideology at the heart of patriarchy. It is an upside-down approach to the politics of liberation, misguided at best and complicit with patriarchy at worst.

Conclusion

Critiquing gender ideology is strongly discouraged – I suspect this is because the more one explores the queer perspective of gender, the more apparent its misogyny and homophobia become. Once the progressive veneer begins to crack – once it grows clear that gender ideology is at best complacent about patriarchy and the harms patriarchy visits upon women – queer politics become much harder to sell to the general populace.

fuck gr

And so those feminists who do question gender ideology are branded bigots, the criticisms and those women brave enough to make them rendered illegitimate. Women who question gender ideology are derided as TERFs – we are told time and time again that their only motive in critiquing gender is malice, as opposed to meaningful concern for the well-being of women and girls. To that, I echo the words of Mary Shelley: “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” Any attempt to discourage women from addressing our oppression is deeply suspect.

Gender ideology creates a false dichotomy of people who are innately bound to traditional gender roles and those exceptional few who are not. Gender politics are the most elaborate and harmful example of using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Why queer gender when we can abolish it? Why waste energy trying to subvert oppressive practice when we can do away with it altogether?

Woman is a sex class – nothing more, nothing less. Man is a sex class – nothing more, nothing less. To claim the scope of our identity is defined by the gender role pressed onto our sex class is to legitimise the project of patriarchy. As a feminist, as a woman, I reject queer politics and the gender ideology it advocates. Instead, I argue that women and men living outside of the script set by gender – be it the queer or patriarchal classifications – should be embraced as revolutionaries. Only through the abolition of gender can we achieve true liberation.


Bibliography

Simone de Beauvoir. (1949). The Second Sex.

Cordelia Fine. (2010). Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference.

Lynne Harne & Elaine Miller (eds.). (1996). All the Rage: Reasserting Radical Lesbian Feminism.

bell hooks. (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.

Sheila Jeffreys. (2003). Unpacking Queer Politics.

Audre Lorde. (1984). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

Cherríe Moraga & Gloria E. Anzaldúa (eds.). (1981). This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

Bonnie J. Morris. (2016). The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture.

Victoria Pepe (ed.). (2015). I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty.

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. More Radical with Age.

 

 

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