Womanhood: On Sex, Gender Roles, and Self-Identification

A (not so) brief foreword: this essay was originally commissioned by an independent publisher looking to release an anthology on gender. In 2017 they asked if I’d be interested in writing an essay on womanhood. I was a little surprised, the publisher being explicitly queer and me being a radical feminist, but ultimately pleased: their goal was to publish a collection with plural perspectives on gender, and I believe wholeheartedly that having the space for plural perspectives on any issue is essential for healthy, open public discourse. I knew that my lesbian feminist essay would probably be in a minority standpoint, and felt comfortable with it being published alongside contradictory perspectives. Given the extreme polarity of gender discourse, which results in a painful stalemate between queer activists and radical feminists, it was encouraging to think we had reached a point where multiple views could be held and explored together.

So I wrote the essay, made the requested edits, and produced a final draft with which the publisher and I were both delighted. Their words: “We’re really happy with the edits you’ve done and the areas you’ve developed on upon our request. You did a splendid job refining the essay.” However, certain people objected to the inclusion of my essay before having read it. Some early readers gave the feedback that they were unhappy to find a perspective that they were not expecting, and alarmed that I had connected my personal experience of gender as a woman to the wider sociopolitical context we inhabit. Backlash escalated to the point that the publishing house faced the risk of having their business undermined and their debut collection jeopardised.

They gave me the option of writing another essay for the gender anthology, or having this essay published in a future collection. I declined both choices, as neither felt right – fortunately, there are more projects on my horizon. That being said I have great sympathy for the publisher’s position, and find it regrettable that their bold and brilliant venture should be compromised by the very people it was designed to support. Furthermore, I wish the publisher every success with this project, and all future endeavours. As for the essay, controversial even before being read, I have instead decided to publish it here as the seventh part of the series on sex, gender, and sexuality. It is, in my opinion, a good essay and deserves to see the light of day.

If you enjoy or learn from this essay, and can afford to do so, please consider donating to cover the lost commission of this work. [UPDATE: the publisher has offered partial payment depending on the success of their crowdfunding campaign. Thank you to everyone who has supported me. It means a great deal.]


 

Where there is a woman there is magic. If there is a moon falling from her mouth, she is a woman who knows her magic, who can share or not share her powers. – Ntozake Shange

I absolutely love women. I love women in a way that leaves me breathless, in a way that catches just behind my ribs and gently tugs at my heartstrings until they unravel. I love women with a depth and fervour that is fundamentally lesbian. And in loving women I find extraordinary reserves of strength, the will to keep on challenging white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (hooks, 1984), the motivation to chip away at every hierarchy and oppression that acts as a pillar upholding the ills of society. A love of women is central to my feminism, for bonds between women – links of solidarity and sisterhood in particular – have a revolutionary power unequal to any force on this earth.

According to Adrienne Rich, “the connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.” The connections shared by women, and all that flows across connections between women, open the possibility for radical social change – which is why lesbian existence and feminist politics are complimentary forces in a woman’s life.

Loving women as I do, I have spent a great deal of time musing upon what it is to be a woman, from where the appeal of women springs. As many young lesbians do, I speculate about the nature of the draw which compels us to watch all sorts of random crap on television simply because the middle-aged actress we fancy has a small role in the production. Having grown up in this world as a girl and subsequently learned how to negotiate this world as a woman, I have also reflected upon the social and political significance of the category – the weight which is undeniable. The question of what it means to be a woman has been central to feminist discourse for hundreds of years: establishing what womanhood is, pinpointing the means and motive behind woman’s oppression under patriarchy, and working out how to end that oppression are central feminist concerns.

At present the feminist movement is split in two over how to conceptualise woman and woman’s oppression. The tensions between queer ideology and sexual politics have proven every bit as divisive as the sex wars of the 1980s. The source of the split lies within gender – specifically, whether gender ought to be conceptualised as a hierarchy or as an identity within feminist analysis. Feminists have historically identified gender as the means of women’s oppression: patriarchy is reliant on gender to establish and maintain a hierarchy that enables men to dominate women.  But by the turn of the century queer theorists such as Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam began to suggest that gender may be subverted and experimented with until the very fabric of society is no longer recognisable.

Owing to the mainstreaming of queer ideology, we have entered an unprecedented era governed by the logic of postmodernism – a time in which the relationship between the physical body and material reality is untethered by the politics of identity.  As such, those engaging with the progressive politics – be they liberal or radical – begin asking ourselves anew: what does it mean to be a woman?

Woman as a Sex Class

A key element of feminist analysis is the recognition of woman as a sex class. By this I do not mean that all women’s experiences meet the same universal standards, or that all women are positioned similarly within the world’s power structures: factors such as race, disability, social class, and sexuality all shape where a woman is situated in relation to power. Rather, this perspective offers an acknowledgement of the role in which patriarchy plays in determining the power dynamic between women and men. Women’s struggle against patriarchy is collective, and emancipation from systemic oppression cannot be found through individualising a structural issue. Women of all colours and creeds, women of all classes and castes, are actively subjugated from birth – a political analysis which fails to incorporate this reality cannot truly be thought of as feminist. Women’s oppression is a direct result of having been born female-bodied into a patriarchal society. Considering woman as a sex class is, therefore, fundamental to meaningful feminist critique of patriarchy.

This mode of analysis – radically feminist analysis – can grate when misapplied by white women who seek to deny any difference between women’s lives. But when carried out correctly, with rigour and consideration, it has the potential to change the world.

My own womanhood is hardly conventional, Black and lesbian as it is. I do not meet white Eurocentric standards of female beauty or womanhood and no longer aspire towards those standards, which are rooted in racism and misogyny. Owing to skin pigmentation and hair texture, my Blackness is impossible to conceal – even if it were possible, having begun to unpick the misogynoir I have internalised from an early age, I would not choose to hide it in order to assimilate. To be visibly Other is to live with an increased vulnerability, to be perpetually open to manifestations of structural oppression. For a time I despised both my Blackness and my womanhood as a result of the painful alienation misogynoir brought into my life. I have since learned to place the blame firmly where it belongs, with the source of these cruelties: white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Since embracing radical politics I have learned to love both Blackness and womanhood, to love myself as a Black woman, in a way that was never possible during my pursuit of conventional beauty standards.

My lesbian presentation (Tongson, 2005) is a further rejection of those beauty standards. I style my hair in a fashion that is distinctly lesbian and have maintained a crisp undercut since coming out. At various points certain members of my family have attempted to enforce compulsory heterosexuality by shaming any outward presentation of a lesbian aesthetic, endeavouring to guide me back into the feminine role. I am told that returning to conventionally feminine presentation would render me “softer”, “more approachable”, and closer to the ideal of beauty. And while I could choose to pass for heterosexual, allowing an assumption that I am available and receptive to men to cushion me from a degree of marginalisation, I do not. I have no desire to appear soft or approachable, least of all to men – the oppressor class. Alice Walker proclaimed that “resistance is the secret of joy”, and she was quite right: there is a feeling of pure elation that flows from resisting the trap and trappings of heteropatriarchy.

Like every single woman living in a patriarchal society, I experience systematic oppression as a consequence of being female. Women – all women – are bound by the rigidity of the gender role ascribed to us on the basis of our biological sex. We are socialised from birth to be soft, compliant, nurturing so that we are primed to adopt the caring role required for upholding the domestic sphere owned by a man, be he husband or father. As Mary Wollstonecraft notably lamented, women are actively discouraged from pursuing our full potential as self-actualised human beings. Instead, women are subjected to a deliberate social (and often economic) pressure designed to create in us an ornamental source of sexual, reproductive, and domestic labour for men.

From Sojourner Truth to Simone de Beauvoir, there is a long and proud tradition of feminists critiquing the role of femininity. During her time as an abolitionist orator, Truth deconstructed womanhood to great effect, asking “ain’t I a woman?” Arguing against the hierarchies of race and gender that determined how the category of woman was understood in North American society during the heights of the transatlantic slave trade, Truth offered her own story as testimony to the falsehood of femininity. Truth used her own strength and endurance as empirical evidence, asserting that womanhood was in no way dependent on or related to the characteristics which construct femininity. Her opposition to gender essentialism and white supremacy continues to influence feminists’ perspectives on womanhood to this very day.

Feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir further critiqued femininity, connecting the socialisation of gender to the oppression of women by men. She theorised that man was the normative standard of humanity and woman understood purely in relation to him:

Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.

That woman is relegated to the Other, lacking in positive definition, mandates a life that is male-centric. If woman exists as the negative image of man, she is forever bound to him. Self-definition has long been recognised as a necessary tool for the liberation of an oppressed group, and if women remain dependent on men for definition then the root cause of our oppression can never be fully tackled. Adrienne Rich once claimed that “until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves” – as is often the case, her words contain more than a little truth.

Gender is normalised through essentialism, positioned as a natural and inevitable part of life. From the get-out-of-accountability-free card that is ‘boys will be boys’ to the constant refrain of “she was asking for it” when men act upon the cultural conditioning that assures them they are entitled to women’s bodies, the hierarchy of gender maintains the gross power imbalance at the root of sexual politics. Here is how I understand the connection between biological sex and gender roles:

Gender is a socially constructed trap designed to oppress women as a sex class for the benefit of men as a sex class. And the significance of biological sex cannot be disregarded, in spite of recent efforts to reframe gender as an identity rather than a hierarchy. Sexual and reproductive exploitation of the female body are the material basis of women’s oppression – our biology is used as a means of domination by our oppressors, men.

We teach boys to dominate others and disavow their emotions. We teach girls to nurture others at the expense of their own. And I think this world would be a better place if we encouraged more empathy in boys and more daring in girls. If gender were abolished, if we raised boys and girls in the same way, patriarchy would crumble. Like a great many feminists before her, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie advocates the elimination of gender:

The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations… Boys and girls are undeniably different biologically, but socialisation exaggerates the differences, and then starts a self-fulfilling process. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All be Feminists

It is impossible to consider the position of women in society, the reality that we are second-class citizens by design of patriarchy, without acknowledging the extent of the harm done by gender. Womanhood is caught up in the constraints of the feminine gender role, prevented from escaping male dominion. In the abolition of gender lies a radical alternative. In the abolition of gender lies women’s liberation.

Therefore, recent reframing of gender as an innately held identity has proven problematic in ongoing feminist struggle. Gender identity politics rely on essentialism that feminists have fought for hundreds of years, an essentialism that argues women are naturally suited to the means of our oppression. If gender is inherent – a natural phenomenon after all – then the oppression of women under patriarchy is legitimised.

Womanhood

During the second wave of feminism, it was argued that woman simply meant a biologically female adult human. Feminists (Millett, 1969; French, 1986; Dworkin, 1987) made the case that womanhood could and should exist purely as a biological category, unfettered by the feminine gender role – a vision of women’s liberation. This perspective is directly contradicted by a queer understanding of gender, which primarily focuses on gender as self-expression:

The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. This formulation moves the conception of gender off the ground of a substantial model of identity to one that requires a conception of gender as a constituted social temporality. – Judith Butler, Gender Trouble

A queer notion of gender presents it as a matter of performativity, arguing that dominant power structures may be subverted through transgressing the barriers of masculine and feminine gender roles. Identification with the characteristics associated with a gender role is taken as belonging to the category. Those who identify with the gender role ascribed to their sex class are described as cisgender. Those who do not identify with the gender role ascribed to their sex class are described as transgender. From a queer standpoint, sex is not a fixed category but rather an unstable one. Queer politics are formed gender as a mode of personal identification. Radical feminist analysis, in which gender is understood as a hierarchy, is dismissed as old-fashioned.

If one cannot say with absolutely clarity what is woman and what is man, the oppressed and oppressor classes are rendered unspeakable. Subsequently the hierarchy of gender is made invisible and feminist analysis of patriarchy grows impossible. Without words used as markers to convey specific meaning, women are deprived of the vocabulary required to name and oppose our oppression. Postmodernism and political analysis of power structures make uneasy bedfellows.

Here is where the controversy lies, where gender discourse grows explosive beyond the point of reconciliation between queer and radical feminism. If gender is a matter of personal identification, it is a purely individual matter and, therefore, depoliticised. The power differential between oppressed and oppressor is negated by a failure to consider man and woman as two distinct sex classes. Gender ceases to be visible as a means of oppression, further obscured as the categories of man and woman are considered immaterial. If sex classes are unspeakable, so too are the sexual politics of patriarchy.

If womanhood can be reduced to the performance of the feminine gender role and a personal identification with that gender role, there is little scope for distinguishing between the oppressor and oppressed. Womanhood ceases to be indicated by the presence of primary and secondary sex characteristics and instead becomes a matter of self-identification. The oppressor may even benefit from a lifetime of the privilege conferred upon men through the subordination of woman and then claim womanhood. Dame Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Woman’s Hour, came under fire for highlighting that prior to transition, transwomen benefit from the social and economic privileges accorded to men in patriarchy. Shortly afterwards, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received backlash for differentiating between the experiences of women born as such and 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.

If it is no longer possible to consider the experiences of those born female, to analyse the relationship between sex and socioeconomic power, feminists can no longer identify or challenge the workings of patriarchy. This is a particularly unfortunate consequence of embracing queer ideology. Women’s rights are human rights, as the slogan goes – inalienable and absolutely worth fighting for. The injustices faced by women around the globe are intolerable: one in three women will be subject to male violence within her lifetime. Yet, if the linguistic tools necessary to critique patriarchy are removed from the feminist lexicon, women’s liberation hits an insurmountable stumbling block: you cannot challenge an oppression you cannot name, after all.

The cultural significance attached to the word woman is in a state of flux. As queer politics would have it, womanhood is simply the performance of the female gender role. As radical feminism would have it, the female gender role exists purely as a sexist stereotype of woman rooted in essentialism and misogyny. The only escape queer politics offers women from patriarchal oppression is for all those who are biologically female to identify out of the category ‘woman’. To claim the label of non-binary, genderfluid, or transmasculine – anything other than a cisgender woman, who is naturally suited to her status as a second-class citizen – is the only route queer politics offers biological women to being recognised as fully human.

Women, by queer logic, cannot be self-actualised and have no meaningful inner-lives. We are simply Other to men. It is for this reason that queer ideology has been able to reduce women to “non-men” – to “pregnant people”, “uterus-havers”, and “menstruators.”  It is worth asking: does trans-inclusivity depend upon women being written out of existence? While queer theory has reflected upon the nature of masculinity, it has not deconstructed the category of man beyond the point of recognition. Just as in mainstream patriarchal society, man is the normative standard of humanity and woman defined in relation to him. The positive definition of womanhood is treated as expendable within queer discourse.

As linguist Deborah Cameron asserts, women’s power to self-define is of immense political significance:

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.

However one understands the category of woman, its erasure can surely be recognised as a disastrous impediment to the liberation of women.

Lesbian Sexuality

The controversy over how womanhood is defined manifests most acutely around lesbian sexuality. An unfortunate consequence of queer politics is the problematising of homosexuality. Lesbian women and to a lesser extent gay men (for it is women’s bodies and sexual practices that are fiercely policed within patriarchy) routinely face allegations of transphobia within queer discourse. A lesbian is a woman who exclusively experiences same-sex attraction. It is the presence of female primary and secondary sex characteristics that create at least the potential for lesbian desire – gender identity is of little relevance to the parameters of same-sex attraction. As it is governed on the basis of biological sex rather than personal identification with gender, the sexuality of lesbian women is under scrutiny within queer discourse.

These words are not written with detachment. It is not an abstract concern alive only in theory. The reality is, this is a particularly uncomfortable window of time in which to be lesbian. We face mounting pressure to expand the boundaries of our sexuality until sex that involves a penis is considered a viable option. And sex that involves a penis quite simply isn’t lesbian, whether it belongs to a man or a transwoman.

I am deeply concerned by the shaming and coercion of lesbian women that now happens within queer discourse. The queer devaluation of lesbian sexuality – from the insistence that lesbians are a boring old anachronism to the pathologising of lesbian sexuality that occurs when we are branded “vagina fetishists” – is identical to the lesbophobia pedalled by social conservatives. Both the queer left and religious right go out of their way to imply something is wrong with lesbians because we desire other women.

Lesbian women are attracted by the female form. In addition to sharing a profound emotional and mental connection with other women, lesbians appreciate the female form – the beauty of women’s bodies is what sparks our desire. If biological sex ceases to be recognised as determining womanhood (or, indeed, manhood), it can no longer be said that there is such a body as a woman’s body. If the distinct set of sex characteristics which combine to form womanhood are rendered unspeakable, attraction inspired by those characteristics – lesbian desire – is made invisible. Something vital is lost when women are deprived of the language to articulate how and why we love other women (Rich, 1980).

Lesbians are being coerced back into the closet within the LGBT+ community. We receive strong encouragement to abandon the label of lesbian, which we are told is comically archaic, and embrace the umbrella term of queer in the name of inclusivity. But no sexuality is universally inclusive – by definition, sexuality is a specific set of factors which when met offer the potential for attraction. It is unreasonable – and frankly delusional – to imagine that sexuality can be stripped of any meaningful criteria.

A queer woman is less challenging to the status quo than a lesbian, easier for men to get behind, for queer is a vague term that deliberately eschews solid definitions – a queer woman may well be sexually available to men, her sexuality in no way an impediment to offering men the emotional, sexual, or reproductive labour upon which patriarchy is dependent.

Queer stigmatising of lesbians is a tactical manoeuvre designed to undermine acknowledgement of the female sex category. If there is no need to address same-sex attraction between women, the significance and permanence of sex categories demands no scrutiny. That encouraging lesbian women to consider sex that involves a penis has become newly acceptable, a legitimate line of discourse within the progressive left, is a terrible puzzle. The logic of it is straightforward enough, yet the underlying truths about what is happening within LGBT+ politics are not easy to look at. Yet still I cannot help turn it over and over in my mind, working at the ideas like a Rubik’s cube until the pieces fall into place. Queer ideology seeks to enforce compulsory heterosexuality in the lives of lesbian women just as surely as the standards set by patriarchy. By denying the possibility of lesbians exclusively loving other women, by delegitimising lesbians living woman-centric lives, queer politics undermines our liberation.

Conclusion

There is a persistent thread of misogyny running through queer politics, from the inception of queer to its present incarnation. Queer was the product of gay men’s activism, concerned primarily with sexual freedom and transgression: as such, queer did not represent the interests of lesbian women when it came into being during the 1980s and does not represent the interests of lesbian women now (Jeffreys, 2003). Queer is less about collectively challenging structural inequalities at their root than an individualised subversion of social norms.

Though it promised a radical, exciting alternative – one which many women have embraced, along with men – queer politics are ill equipped to dismantle systematic oppressions. Queer erasure of womanhood, queer disregard for women’s boundaries if they happen to be lesbian, and queer obscuring of the gender hierarchy breathes a new lease of life into patriarchy, if anything.

I dream of a world without gender. I dream of a world where men can wear dresses and be gentle without either being treated as a negation of manhood. But much more than that, I dream of a world where no assumptions are made about what it means to be woman beyond the realm of biological fact. And if that makes me a heretic in the church of gender, so be it – I’m an atheist.

Gender roles and the hierarchy they maintain are incompatible with the liberation of women and girls from patriarchal oppression. It is because I love women, and because I am a woman, that I cannot afford to pretend otherwise. Embracing gender as an identity is the equivalent of decorating the interior of a cell: it is a superficial perspective which offers no freedom.


Bibliography

Simone de Beauvoir. (1949). The Second Sex. London: Vintage

Judith Butler. (1990). Gender Trouble. London: Routledge

Andrea Dworkin. (1987). Intercourse. New York: Free Press

Marilyn French. (1986). Beyond Power: On Women, Men, and Morals. California: Ballantine Books

Sheila Jeffreys. (2003). Unpacking Queer Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press

Jack Halberstam. (1998). Female Masculinity. Carolina: Duke University Press

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

Kate Millett. (1969). Sexual Politics. Columbia: Columbia University Press

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2014). We Should All be Feminists. London: Fourth Estate

Adrienne Rich. (1979). On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978

Adrienne Rich. (1980). Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.

Ntozake Shange. (1982). Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo. New York: Picador

Karen Tongson. (2005). Lesbian Aesthetics, Aestheticizing Lesbianism. IN Nineteenth Century Literature

Mary Wollstonecraft. (1792). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects

 

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Dispatches from the Margins: On Women, Race, and Class

A brief foreword: this is my third dispatch from the margins – the first and second of my personal reflective essays on feminist movement building are available here. This one is dedicated to Jo & Cath Planet, and Siân Steans – women who are there for other women in every way that matters. I’d also like to thank Liz Kelly for opening my eyes to the ways in which power can be used, and the responsibilities that come with its accumulation.

Content warning: this essay explores themes of mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm.


Writing is really a way of thinking – not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet. ― Toni Morrison

Eternal Sunshine

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

My relationship with the feminist movement is struggling. I feel like this truth might make tough reading for some of the women who attach significance to my voice, but in a way that makes sharing it all the more necessary. I have no desire to be placed upon a feminist pedestal. Therefore, I am resistant to having my reputation as an essayist or feminist theorist obscure the aspects of my life which are too messy to fit within the limits of public expectations. Please don’t read anything I have written and imagine that I have all the answers to any set of questions – I’m a low-functioning depressive trying to negotiate a range of ongoing problems; “just a fucked-up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind.” It’s tempting to buy into the vision behind the public expectations placed upon me, of this intellectual Amazon who fears nothing and gets shit done, but it would also be deeply dishonest.

Everything good that I’ve said or done came from a place of uncertainty, which is the home of radical possibility. I never imagined that Sister Outrider would go this far, or I’d have written it anonymously. At the time of starting out it was inconceivable that women around the world would read my words and engage with my ideas – it seemed infinitely more likely that nobody would be interested in my perspective. It never fails to surprise me when women assume that I began this blog with a belief in the importance of my own words or ideas. That belief never did materialise, although I am now confident of the instinct that tells me what to examine. Which is why it’s possible to write all of the following…

There needs to be scope for women to explore the lows as well as the highs of practicing feminism – in particular, space for women marginalised through race, class, and sexuality to address problems created in our lives when the women who have more power than we do decide to wield it against us. Those exchanges are painful and demanding, but without them the women who ought to be centred within feminism end up pushed to the margins or growing so alienated that they leave the movement altogether. I have watched women with good hearts, sharp minds, and highly relevant critiques leave the feminist movement when the women holding the lion’s share of power refuse to hear them.

Radical feminists pride ourselves on being women who speak truth to power, and rightly so – but so much of what is good about our movement breaks down when women among our ranks are the power to whom truth must be spoken, when those women refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of critiques directed towards them. As a result, racism and classism flourish within the British feminist movement. It’s soul-destroying to watch a movement that is supposed to be about women’s liberation recreate the same hierarchies we’re meant to be dismantling – hierarchies with real, damaging consequences for women around the world.

When I first started to engage with radical feminist communities, I dared to let myself hope that I had finally found my tribe. Growing up a biracial Black girl in Scotland (a country whiter than a thousand packets’ worth of Uncle Ben’s rice) was an incredibly isolating experience. Add a large dose of mental illness and irrepressible lesbian tendencies to the mix, and we have ourselves a black sheep. There was never a context in which I fully belonged, or so the world told me on a daily basis. And then, as a young woman, I found this glorious, mismatched set of women who wanted to escape the elaborate pink prison society trapped us in – a prison called gender – and dismantle it brick by brick.

Radical feminist spaces nurtured my ideas and pushed me irreversibly down the path of liberation politics. I have made lasting friendships within these communities, forged connections with women I am honoured to call sister. I have also been hurt repeatedly by women behaving in ways incompatible with feminist values: white women who caucasityweaponise racism against me, white women who expose me to graphic racism because they wish to capitalise on my response, white women acting as though anti-racist politics must come at the expense of my commitment to feminism, white women treating women of colour like tokens instead of self-actualised human beings, white women approaching women of colour as a handy source of progressive ally cookies as opposed to valued comrades in political struggle, white women who don’t see race because acknowledging it would complicate their feminist utopia (remember how Charlotte Perkins Gilman casually endorsed white supremacy and eugenics in Herland?), and white women using sisterhood to claim that women of colour addressing all of this racism are the real problem because undermining solidarity between women. It’s exhausting. Carrying all this on a daily basis is mentally and emotionally exhausting.

I’m out of whatever combination of optimism, energy, and naïveté led me to believe I could do anything to improve upon the dynamic of race within the feminist movement. It’s painful to admit, but I don’t actually know if a feminist movement in which women willingly divest of hierarchical power is possible anymore. I’d like to keep believing that it is, but carrying hope around in both hands leaves you exposed and less able to defend yourself. This prolonged feeling of despair makes it very difficult for me to both reconnect with any feminist spaces and take sufficient care of my mental wellbeing. For months now I’ve been thinking about how to continue engaging with the feminist movement in a sustainable way, and there is no obvious answer. My relationship with feminism is struggling because of racism, because of that barely concealed disdain straight women reserve for lesbians, because of the spectacular array of cruelties visited upon women who voice truths inconvenient to the wider (and whiter) feminist movement.

We can rise up from our screwups, failures, and falls, but we can never go back to where we stood before we were brave or before we fell. Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can’t fake it anymore. We now know when we’re showing up and when we’re hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not… Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong. – Brené Brown, Rising Strong

I want to repair my relationship with feminism. This movement – the project of liberation – is everything to me. Feminism isn’t something I can simply put down or let go of – it has filtered through into every aspect of my life, shaped my way of being, and changed how I engage with the world for the better. I want to get back to a place where I feel like part of something so much bigger than myself, linked with women around the world in purpose. How to do that remains unclear. There is no way to undo knowledge or experience, so I can’t find a stronger connection with the feminist movement by going backwards. Instead I must locate a path onwards, even if I must build it from nothing. Zadie Smith once wrote that “you are never stronger than when you land on the other side of despair” – and the place beyond despair is my eventual destination, even while the route remains unknown.

I’ve asked an assortment of friends who are seasoned feminists what brings them back to the movement, and each of them speaks of a connectedness that eludes me – a way of finding joy in women, the unexpected and delightful moments opened up by practicing feminist principles, or an act of resistance bringing about results. And while all of these experiences – especially shared connection with women – are uplifting, they no longer keep me tethered to the movement after so many repeated onslaughts of racism and cruelty.

Bojack 5

Bojack Horseman

For months on end I had this recurring fantasy of driving a blade into one of my arteries, of the profound calm that would descend as I lost blood – a sense of euphoria better than having your first orgasm or the last slice of pizza. The reality would, I expect, be far more panicked and utterly horrible. Yet the idea grew into a fixation. These are what healthcare professionals refer to, through the veil of euphemism, as “intrusive thoughts.” Though it scared me, this vision appeared so vividly and frequently that it felt like a permanent fixture in my mental terrain (mental being the operative word). It has now been a month since this scenario appeared in my mind. It has now been a month since I last participated in Facebook, Twitter, or any feminist space. That doesn’t feel coincidental. I share this information to remind women that their conduct in feminist spaces, digital or material, has an impact on other women. Damage done may manifest in a whole variety of ways, not all of which are necessarily linked to mental illness. The degree of impact will differ from woman to woman, because some of us are coming from a stronger place than others.

Being in contact with feminist spaces where cruelty was not only permissible but actively encouraged has contributed to the decline of my mental health. There are at least two dozen women in my life who have, in one way or another, been damaged by toxic practice in feminist spaces. This problem is widespread and threatens the very foundations of our movement. It’s one of those things we never talk about, how cruelty and dominance have found a home in radical feminism. Fear has created a layer of silence around this problem, perhaps because so many women are afraid to acknowledge the extent to which toxic practices have been normalised within feminist space. Another part of that reluctance stems from women’s fear – particularly white women’s fear – of considering what it means to be the oppressor, and not the oppressed, in any political analysis. There is a false kind of safety in feminism which looks only at the hierarchy of gender, as it protects white middle class feminists from having to do the difficult work of critical self-examination and unearthing truths that are less than flattering.

White women seem to take the phrase ‘white feminism’ very personally, but it is at once everything and nothing to do with them. It’s not about women, who are feminists, who are white. It’s about women espousing feminist politics as they buy into the politics of whiteness, which at its core are exclusionary, discriminatory and structurally racist.

 

For those who identify as feminist, but have never questioned what it means to be white, it is likely that the phrase white feminism applies. Those who perceive every critique of white-dominated politics to be an attack on them as a white person are probably part of the problem. – Reni Eddo Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Feminist consciousness is a process, not a destination, which lasts women a whole lifetime. There is no end point to feminist consciousness: developing it involves effort, critical self-reflection, and a willingness to divest of whatever advantages we hold as a result of structural power imbalances. In short, as feminists we can always learn more – especially from the women we are arrogant enough to believe have nothing to teach us – and grow from that knowledge.

It is essential that we as feminists are prepared to give up a position of dominance to ensure the liberation of all women and girls. Exploring the full implications of what it means to belong to any dominant political class is not comfortable work, but confronting those difficult truths is necessary work. It’s important to remember, however hard it may feel, that unlearning a prejudice is a minor inconvenience in comparison to being subjected to that prejudice. For feminism to be truly radical, for feminism to succeed as a liberation movement, we must consistently go to the root of structural inequalities.

women race classNo practice which upholds the hierarchies of race and class can be described as radical, let alone feminist. Feminism is a political movement aiming to bring about the liberation of all women and all girls, not merely the white and middle class. However, there is a persistent strain of what masquerades as radical feminism – led by women who are predominantly white, middle class, and heterosexual – which aims to dismantle the gendered inequalities experienced by certain women whilst clinging to the privileges brought to them by hierarchies of race and class. It ought to go without saying that weaponising racism and classism against women who hold less social power than you do is a fundamental contradiction of feminist principles, yet this pattern of behaviour is rife within the British feminist movement.

This strain of white middle class feminism cherry picks which oppressions to challenge and which to enact on the basis of self-interest. The sad irony is that all oppressions share the common root of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. It is impossible to eradicate misogyny when you’re holding onto racism and classism with all of your strength.

Sisterhood is love and solidarity in action. Sisterhood is rejecting mean-girl cliques. Sisterhood calls out and calls in. Sisterhood is quiet, tender, loud, and joyful. Sisterhood is hard. Sisterhood is rewarding. Sisterhood is leading with love and letting go when love’s lost. Sisterhood is celebrating womanhood in all of its forms and facets.Crunk Feminist Collective

Periodically I am asked what I consider to be the biggest challenge facing feminists today. The answer is this: the dogmatic tribalism of white middle class feminists shielding each other from being held accountable for their hierarchical race and class politics. For women who claim to oppose “identity politics”, they participate in those politics frequently, abandoning reason and empathy both in order to protect women sharing their privileged identities from being challenged in any meaningful way. That Lean In brand of feminism, all about advancing the interests of comparatively privileged women at the expense of less powerful women, acts as a barrier not only to solidarity between all women but to the radical thoughts and deeds essential to liberation politics. It has to stop.

This total absence of critical self-reflection, enabled by a politics of individualism that is the antithesis of collective struggle, means that oppressive practices are imported from the mainstream into the allegedly radical. Gaining power has superseded liberation as their objective, meaning that those white middle class women who consider racism and classism legitimate extensions of their feminist practice are a threat – both to the feminist movement, and to women who hold less socioeconomic power than they do. These women sneer at any feminist analysis which addresses privilege precisely because that feminist analysis challenges the hierarchies from which their own power stems.

Where we are positioned in relation to power is not always static, and often determined by context. A nuanced analysis of power is central to feminist critiques of patriarchy – pretending that any hierarchy is somehow not relevant to or worth addressing within our analysis of power is an exercise in self-defeat. As feminists, we’re fighting in resistance to white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy – a system of power which Patricia Hill Collins describes it quite succinctly as a matrix of domination. Hierarchies of race, class, and gender are interlocking, interdependent, and fundamentally connected.

Although it was forged though being relentlessly Othered, I believe that never having an walls angela davisinherent sense of belonging has ultimately served me well; it is for this reason that I am usually open to the possibility of connection with women who are different to me, whether this difference means that they hold more power than I do, less power than I do, or something close to parity. As is often the case when one is visibly Other, learning to use difference creatively has been essential to my survival. Being positioned on the fringes of groups in which I have some level of belonging also gives me a handy vantage point – my eyes are drawn to common causes, sites where coalitions may be built between people marginalised in various ways. The authenticity of my ways of knowing the world gets challenged in pretty much every setting, meaning that it’s virtually impossible to sink into complacency and ever make the assumption that I know everything. If I had grown up taking my own belonging for granted, I very much doubt that I’d be a woman who writes or thinks in this way. Not bad, as silver linings go.

To be Other on multiple counts is profoundly challenging, but it also creates rich standpoints and fertile ground for movement building. I almost wish that it were possible to bring white middle class feminists en masse to a standpoint rooted in Otherness, even briefly, so that they would be more open to empathising and connecting with those Audre Lorde knew to “stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older…” I’d like to share the joy in what Otherness makes possible with white middle class feminists because, having felt it, practicing cruelty and domination against women with less power would be at least become harder to countenance. Replicating hierarchies would, perhaps, lose its appeal if a true vision of radical alternatives could be witnessed. Or maybe that’s foolish talk. Either way, I’m glad it’s a hypothetical scenario – if white middle class feminists chose cruelty and dominance over kindness and connection, it would crush what hope I have left for this movement.


Bibliography

Brené Brown . (2015). Rising Strong: The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution

Nathan Connolly (ed.). (2017). Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class by the Working Class

Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, & Robin M. Boylorn. (2016). The Crunk Feminist Collection

Reni Eddo-Lodge. (2017).  Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Audre Lorde. (1979). The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

Patricia Hill Collins. (1990). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment

Zadie Smith. (2000). White Teeth

Aux femmes blanches qui veulent être mon amie : guide féministe Noir de solidarité interraciale

For the White Woman Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend: A Black Feminist Guide to Interracial Solidarity is now available in French! Many thanks to the amazing women of Révolution Sorore.


Bref avant-propos : il s’agit de la conclusion de ma série d’essais sur la race et le mouvement féministe. Les parties 1, 2, et 3 sont toutes accessibles ici. La connaissance présentée ici a été acquise à mes dépens. Utilisez-la comme vous le souhaitez. Je dédie cet essai à toutes les femmes – Noires, racisées, et blanches – qui m’ont soutenue sur le chemin de la sororité.

Dès que je parle de racisme dans le mouvement féministe, cette question revient constamment : les femmes blanches demandent « que puis-je faire de concret contre le racisme ? Comment puis-je être solidaire des femmes racisées ? ». Il s’agit là d’une question compliquée, à laquelle je réfléchis depuis maintenant un an, et il n’y a pas de réponse simple. Il y a plutôt plusieurs réponses, aucune n’étant fixe et toutes étant sujettes à des adaptations contextuelles. La réalité de la situation est qu’il n’y a pas de réponse simple et établie aux siècles de racisme – racisme sur lequel notre société est fondée, et sur lequel ses hiérarchies de richesse et de pouvoir sont établies – qui façonnent les rapports entre les femmes racisées et les femmes blanches. Cette asymétrie de pouvoir et de privilège affecte les interactions personnelles. Elle crée les strates de défiance justifiées que les femmes racisées ressentent envers les femmes blanches, même (et peut-être tout particulièrement) en milieu féministe.

La modification des rapports dans lesquels la race n’existe que comme hiérarchie et construire des formes de solidarité pérennes entre femmes va nécessiter une introspection et un effort constants, ainsi qu’une volonté de la part des femmes blanches de changer leur approche. Voici ma perspective sur les étapes concrètes que les femmes blanches peuvent passer afin de remettre en cause leur propre racisme, qu’il soit conscient ou inconscient, dans l’espoir de leur donner la possibilité d’être véritablement sorores avec les femmes racisées.

« La première chose que tu dois faire est d’oublier que je suis Noire. La seconde est que tu ne dois jamais oublier que je suis Noire » Pat Parker, For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend

Reconnaissez les différences causées par la race. Ne définissez pas les femmes racisées par nos ethnicités respectives. De même, ne prétendez pas que nos vies sont les mêmes que les vôtres. Ne pas voir les races revient à ne pas voir le racisme. Ne pas voir le racisme revient à le laisser prospérer sans remise en question. Commencez par reconnaître notre humanité, en voyant les femmes racisées comme des personnes pleinement accomplies, dotées de perspicacité, de capacité à penser de façon critique, ainsi que – et c’est souvent le point le plus négligée dans cette conversation – de sentiments. Commencez par examiner la façon dont vous pensez les femmes racisées, et construisez à partir de ça.

Monopolisation du féminisme et autorité

Les femmes blanches qui monopolisent le discours féministe et qui se présentent comme les seules autorités qualifiées à déterminer ce qui est et ce qui n’est pas le Vrai Féminisme perpétuent de nombreux problèmes. Ce n’est pas un hasard si les contributions des femmes racisées, en particulier leurs commentaires s’adressant au racisme ou au privilège blanc, sont fréquemment reléguées au rang de distraction par rapport aux enjeux principaux du féminisme, c’est-à-dire les enjeux qui ont des conséquences négatives directes sur les femmes blanches.

Le présupposé tacite selon lequel la perspective d’une femme blanche est plus légitime et plus informée que la nôtre, que si les femmes racisées se renseignaient simplement davantage sur un enjeu particulier alors notre regard deviendrait lui aussi nuancé, est persistant. Ce présupposé est soutenu par la croyance selon laquelle les femmes blanches sont l’avant-garde du mouvement féministes, et que les femmes racisées sont au second plan. La situation est la même s’agissant de la politique de classe, avec les femmes des classes populaires étant catégorisées comme non informées quand leurs perspectives féministes diffèrent de celles des femmes de classe moyenne. Le renforcement de ces hiérarchies est le plus grand obstacle à la solidarité entre les femmes.

Les femmes blanches ont l’habitude de trancher entre ce qui est féministe et ce qui ne l’est pas d’une façon telle qu’elles centrent le vécu des femmes blanches et le positionnent comme la référence normative du vécu des femmes. Si le vécu des femmes blanches est la référence, le vécu des femmes Noires et racisées devient, par définition, la forme déviante – et ce paradigme contribue à altériser les femmes racisées.

Le féminisme est un mouvement politique dédié à la libération des femmes de l’oppression. Cette dernière est en partie genrée, mais aussi en partie basée sur la race, et la classe. Elle est aussi en partie reliée à la sexualité ou encore au handicap. Et au sein de ces catégories, il y a toujours possibilité de recoupement. L’incapacité à reconnaître l’intersection de ces identités maintient l’oppression des femmes les plus marginalisées, ce qui n’est en aucun cas un objectif féministe. Dire aux femmes racisées qui dénoncent le racisme « les filles, ce n’est pas votre moment » rentre directement en contradiction avec les principes féministes. S’attendre à ce que les femmes racisées gardent le silence pour le bien général, c’est-à-dire au bénéfice des femmes blanches, n’est, par nature, pas un acte féministe. L’idée qu’il y a un lieu et une heure pour reconnaître une forme d’oppression vécue par les femmes mine les principes sur lesquels le mouvement féministe est construit. Les femmes blanches doivent écouter ce que les femmes racisées ont à dire sur le racisme au lieu de détourner les critiques.

Les femmes blanches ont une fâcheuse tendance à s’imposer comme les sauveuses éclairées tout en présentant les hommes racisés comme des oppresseurs barbares et les femmes racisées comme des victimes passives d’une oppression qui ne vient que des hommes de leur groupe ethnique. Cette logique reconnaît que les femmes racisées subissent des violences genrées tout en effaçant l’oppression basée sur la race que nous subissons. De plus, cela nie la réalité de l’appartenance des femmes blanches à une classe oppresseuse – façon habile et déloyale de retirer aux femmes blanches toute responsabilité dans le maintien du racisme systémique. Si le problème du racisme n’existe pas, il n’y a pas besoin d’en parler. Si on ne parle pas du racisme, les femmes blanches peuvent continuer à en bénéficier sans remise en question.

Afin que la solidarité interraciale existe au sein du mouvement féministe, la question de la propriété doit être soulevée. Encore et encore, les femmes blanches se comportement comme si le mouvement féministe était leur propriété exclusive, auquel les femmes racisées peuvent à la rigueur participer sans jamais contribuer à la définition du discours et des actions. Non seulement cette approche efface le rôle historique essentiel des femmes racisées dans le mouvement féministe, mais elle nie la possibilité que les futurs efforts de collaboration se produisent sur un pied d’égalité.

Les femmes blanches qui veulent établir un rapport de confiance et de solidarité avec les femmes racisées doivent d’abord réfléchir à la façon dont elles pensent les femmes racisées, à la façon dont elles nous conceptualisent – est-ce que vous nous considérez comme des sœurs ou comme quelqu’un à qui vous apportez un soutien de façade sans jamais vraiment nous écouter ? Sommes-nous une partie centrale de la lutte féministe ou une simple case à cocher ? Une honnête auto-critique est essentielle. Analyse la façon dont vous nous pensez, étudiez avec critique les raisons, et travaillez à partie de là.

Organisation du militantisme féministe

Etes-vous en train de monter un groupe pour les femmes ? De créer un événement ou un espace féministe ? D’établir un réseau féministe ? Chaque rassemblement de femmes crée de nouvelles possibilités pour le mouvement féministe, et il se trouve que l’une de ces possibilités est l’amélioration des rapports de race en milieu féministe. En termes d’organisation collective, les femmes blanches doivent se poser la question suivante : y a-t-il des femmes racisées dans ce groupe ? S’il n’y en a pas, c’est pour une bonne raison. C’est bien beau de dire que des femmes auparavant amies s’organisent ou que quelques militantes partagent un but précis, mais la façon dont ce groupe s’est formé n’a pas eu lieu dans un vide social. Il s’est formé dans une société où les femmes de couleur sont racisées et altérisée à tel point que notre vécu de femmes est perçu comme fondamentalement moindre. Par conséquent, notre compréhension de la situation politique des femmes, et donc du féminisme, est perçue comme inférieure.

Par exemple, plus je m’investis dans la cause Noire, plus ma légitimité féministe est contestée par des femmes blanches qui persistent à croire deux idées erronées : la première, qu’il est impossible de s’occuper de plusieurs causes en même temps, et la seconde, que la politique de libération peut être clairement divisée puisque le chevauchement des identités n’a jamais besoin d’être pris en compte. L’idée selon laquelle mon soutien à la libération des Noir-e-s ne peut être qu’au détriment de mon soutien à la libération des femmes, qu’il dilue ma politique féministe, ne saisit pas la façon dont l’essence de ces deux engagements politiques a été établie et le fait qu’ils sont intrinsèquement connectés dans la vie des femmes Noires.

S’il n’y a aucune femme racisée engagée dans votre groupe féministe, réfléchissez au pourquoi et ensuite à la façon d’y remédier. Peut-être que votre organisation, votre contenu, ou votre praxis féministe est aliénante ? L’auto-critique est loin d’être un processus confortable, mais elle est nécessaire pour que la solidarité soit possible. Un élément fondamental de cet enjeu est la façon dont les femmes blanches se comportent avec les femmes racisées.

Considérer les femmes racisées comme un simple gage de diversité, et non comme des membres à part entière de l’équipe, trahit une forme de racisme dans la façon dont nous sommes conceptualisées. Nos compétences, savoirs, et engagements pour les femmes ne sont pas vus comme étant aussi évidents que la contribution des femmes blanches au groupe en milieu féministe. Le supposé selon lequel notre présence ne sera jamais qu’une façon de remplir des quotas ignore notre humanité. Oubliez cette façon de penser. Regardez notre valeur en tant qu’individues, comme vous en avez l’habitude avec les femmes blanches, et vous finirez par notre humanité aussi. Déconstruisez votre racisme avec la même vigueur que vous déconstruisez votre misogynie intériorisée.

Il est important que des femmes racisées soient impliquées au niveau organisationnel, en tant que membres de l’équipe qui conçoit les événements et les campagnes. Laissez tomber le paternalisme qui vous persuade que vous, en tant que femmes blanches, vous êtes en position de parler pour toutes les femmes.

Comportements

Point le plus évident : ne soyez pas racistes, ni dans vos mots, ni dans vos actes. D’une façon ou d’une autre, cela se verra. Si vous dites quelque chose à propos des femmes racisées en privé que vous ne diriez pas en public, réfléchissez à la raison pour laquelle vous différenciez ces deux environnements – la réponse est souvent liée au fait que les femmes blanches ne veulent pas être vues comme racistes. Paradoxalement, être vue comme raciste est devenu un plus grand tabou que le racisme même.

Et si votre racisme est confronté, ne voyez pas cela comme une attaque personnelle. Ne soyez pas les femmes blanches qui ramènent tout à leurs propres souffrances, dont les larmes les exemptent de toute responsabilité pour leurs actions. Réfléchissez plutôt à l’étendue des souffrances subies par les femmes racisées en raison de ce racisme – je garantis que c’est si douloureux que votre propre inconfort n’est rien en comparaison. Ayez la même empathie pour les femmes racisées qui subissent le racisme que pour les femmes blanches qui subissent la misogynie.

« A la fin, nous nous souviendrons non pas des mots de nos ennemis, mais des silences de nos amis » Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ne restez pas silencieuses quand vos ami-e-s sont racistes. Ne regardez pas ailleurs. Ne prétendez pas que rien ne soit arrivé. Votre silence vous rend complice de ce racisme. Votre silence normalise ce racisme, et fait partie de ce qui le rend plus légitime en général. Il n’est pas facile de défier quelqu’un dont on est proche, ou quelqu’un avec plus de pouvoir et d’influence. Mais la justice n’est pas toujours la chose la plus facile à mettre en pratique.

Enfin, ne vous reposez pas sur vos lauriers. Dans un récent entretien pour Feminist Current, Sheila Jeffreys regrette l’essor des politiques identitaires, qu’elle associe à la praxis intersectionnelle, affirmant que parce qu’on n’attend jamais des hommes qu’ils fassent tout, on ne devrait pas l’attendre des femmes. Cette attitude n’est pas rare parmi les femmes féministes blanches. Toutefois, l’attitude de Jeffreys soulève la question suivante : depuis quand le féminisme radical lesbien prend-t-il exemple sur le comportement des hommes ? Le féminisme n’est pas un nivellement par le bas, c’est un mouvement politique radical. Et cela implique une intense pensée critique, une remise en cause constante de l’oppression qui ne soit pas sélective mais totale.

Ce sera inconfortable. Ce ne sera pas une tâche aisée. Mais cela crée des pistes entières et nouvelles de soutien et de sororité entre les femmes. Solidarité qui soutiendra et nourrira toutes les femmes dans notre chemin vers la libération.

 

Binair of een spectrum, gender is een hierarchie

Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a Hierarchy is now available in Dutch! The original essay is available here. By her request, the translator remains anonymous – I am extremely grateful for her work.


Een kort voorwoord: dit is het vijfde essay in mijn serie over geslacht, gender and seksualiteit. Deel 1, 2, 3 en 4 zijn hier bij Sister Outrider te lezen. In dit essay, bestrijd ik het idee dat gender begrepen kan worden als iets anders dan een hiërarchie. Dit essay is opgedragen aan E, een ster van een lesbiënne en feminist.


 

 “Het is onmogelijk onderdrukking te benoemen en bestrijden als er geen benoembare onderdrukkers zijn” – Mary Daly

Wat is gender?

Gender is een verzinsel, gecreëerd door de patriarchaat, een hiërarchisch systeem opgedrongen door mannen om hun dominatie over vrouwen te garanderen. Het idee van een binair gender werd ingesteld om de ondergeschikheid van vrouwen te rechtvaardigen door de onderdrukking door mannen als de natuurlijke stand van zaken af te schilderen. Door gender als natuurlijk af te schilderen, wordt niet alleen de hiërarchie gedepoliticeerd, maar overtuigt er eveneens vrouwen van dat radicale weerstand ten opzichte van gender, het middel van onze onderdrukking – vergeefs is door uit te gaan van essentialisme. Deze hopeloosheid leidt tot apathie, wat sociale verandering meer ondermijnt dan onomwonden verwerping van gender. Als het afschaffen van gender (en daardoor het ontmantelen van het patriarchale systeem) een onbereikbaar doel is, hebben  vrouwen geen andere keuze  dan hun status als tweede klas burgers van de wereld te accepteren.  De visie op gender als een aangeboren eigenschap is het accepteren van de patriarchale blauwdruk voor de samenleving.

gender imageGender is een hiërarchie die het mogelijk maakt voor mannen om dominant te zijn en creëert de condities voor de ondergeschikte positie van vrouwen. Omdat gender een fundamenteel onderdeel is van de witte, kapitalistische samenleving (Hooks, 1984), is het is bijzonder ontzettend om te constateren dat elementen van het ’queer discours’ beweren dat gender niet alleen in het aangeboren en onveranderlijk,  maar zelfs heilig is.

Het ’queer maken van gender’ is verreweg een radicaal alternatief voor de status quo, in plaats daarvan versterkt het de normen die door het patriarchale systeem zijn opgedrongen door middel van het repliceren van patriarchaal essentialisme. Een queer begrip van gender daagt het patriarchaat niet op een zinvolle manier uit – in plaats van mensen aan te moedigen om de door de patriarchie gestelde normen te weerstaan, biedt het hen een manier om deze normen juist te omarmen. Queer politiek daagt  traditionele geslachtsrollen niet zo zozeer uit, maar blaast deze nieuw leven in– en hierin schuilt het gevaar.

Door te stellen dat gender ’queer’ kan of moet worden gemaakt, verliest men uit het oog hoe geslacht functioneert als een systeem van onderdrukking. Hiërarchische systemen kunnen per definitie niet worden opgenomen in een politiek van bevrijding. Structurele machtsongelijkheid kan niet omgebogen worden tot deze niet meer bestaat – de1600-Genderbread-Person opvatting van  gender als een kwestie van performativiteit of persoonlijke identificatie ontkent haar praktische functie in een hiërarchie. Elke ideologie die gender niet als een manier van onderdrukking van vrouwen onderscheidt, kan niet als feministisch worden omschreven – inderdaad, aangezien queer ideologie grotendeels onkritisch blijft ten opzicht van machtsverschillen achter de seksuele politiek, is anti-vrouw.

De logica van geslachtsidentiteit is fundamenteel gebrekkig, gebaseerd op het uitgangspunt dat gender aangeboren en essentieel is. Zoals feministen al decennia lang hebben beweerd, is gender sociaal geconstrueerd – een fabricage ontworpen om de dominatie van vrouwen door mannen mogelijk te maken. De opvoeding van kinderen, in zelfs voor de geboorte al ingedeeld in man/vrouw, dient de seksen te verdelen in een dominante en ondergeschikte klasse. Feminisme erkent dat biologisch geslacht bestaat terwijl het tegelijkertijd essentialisme bestrijdt, het ageert tegen het idee dat seks bepaalt wie of wat we kunnen zijn als mensen. Feminisme beweert dat ons karakter, kwaliteiten en persoonlijkheid niet bepaald worden door de vraag of we man of vrouw zijn. Queer theorie stelt daarentegen dat een reeks kenmerken intrinsiek mannelijk is en een andere reeks kenmerken inherent vrouwelijk, en dat onze identiteit afhankelijk is van hoe we met deze eigenschappen overeenkomen.

In plaats van te erkennen dat er veel manieren zijn om man of vrouw te zijn, schuift queer theorie mensen in een steeds groter aantal categorieën georganiseerd door stereotypes. Er is geen wetenschappelijk bewijs om het bestaan van typisch mannelijke of vrouwelijke hersenen te ondersteunen, en claims voor het bestaan van mannelijke of vrouwelijke hersenen zijn het product van neuroseksisme (Fine, 2010). Toch positioneert queer ideologie gender als een aangeboren identiteit, waarbij wordt gesteld dat gender is ’wat je voelt’.

‘De levenslange handboeien van culturele conditionering die me hebben geprobeerd mij te overtuigen dat een geslacht een biologisch feit is in plaats van een sociaal construct, zijn moeilijker te schudden dan ik zou willen.’ – Louise O’Neill, ik noem me een feminist: Opinies van vijfentwintig vrouwen onder dertig

Het probleem met ’gender identiteit’

Ondanks haar essentialisme is het queere begrip van gender steeds vaker in de progressieve en feministische ruimten te vinden. Het is niet moeilijk om te begrijpen waarom. Gender ideologie erkent dat een binaire mannelijke en vrouwelijke genderrol beperkend is voor individuen, maar in plaats van te pleitn voor het uitgebreide project dat nodig is om de hiërarchie van geslacht af te breken, biedt het een veel makkelijker oplossing: een individuele opt-out-clausule waarmee mensen zich kunnen verzoenen met het patriarchaat. Het omarmen van de gender is het omarmen van een verhaal van exceptionalisme .  Het omaremen van gender-ideologie is het accepteren dat er een klasse van mensen is die van nature ingesteld is om hun positie binnen de te accepteren (onderdrukt of onderdrukker) en een groep mensen die uitzonderingen zijn op de traditionele genderregels.

Er is een fundamenteel probleem met queer gender ideologie. Zoals ik eerder heb beschreven, is dat probleem misogenie. Door te beweren dat bepaalde groepen van nature geschikt zijn de geslachtsrol die hun sekscategorie heeft opgelegd, zogenoemde “cis” –personen, moet je misogynie onderschrijven. De vrouwen die als cis worden gecategoriseerd, zijn door de logica van geslachtsidentiteit inherent geschikt om door mannen onderdrukt te worden. Het hele patriarchale systeem wordt derhalve gekleurd door gender ideologie, gepresenteerd als een natuurlijke stand van zaken in tegenstelling tot een systeem van onderdrukking die ontworpen is om mannen de heerschappij over vrouwen te verlenen.

Omdat queer identiteitspolitiek gebouwd is rond een verhaal van exceptionalisme, wordt de machtsdynamiek van seksuele politiek volledig genegeerd. Door de taalkundige verdraaiing van “cis” wordt de onderdrukking van vrouwen als een voorrecht aangevoerd en daarom wordt de bevrijding van “cis” -vrouwen uit patriarchale onderdrukking opgeheven. Seksuele politiek wordt afgewezen door zelfidentificatie, waardoor het lidmaatschap van een seksklasse politiek onzichtbaar wordt gemaakt.

Screenshot_20170904-124333

“Zoveel genders en toch weten we, op magische wijze, welke helft van het menselijke ras verwacht wordt billen af te begen en vloeren te schrobben”  – Victoria Smith

Gender is een gevangenis, en ik heb compassie voor iedereen die daardoor wordt beperkt. Het is afschuwelijk dat mannen ontmoedigd worden om empathisch, vriendelijk te zijn en zich op een creatieve manier te uiten. Er is wreedheid bij het socialiseren van jongens in de mannelijkheid. Er wordt gezegd dat er een verband bestaat tussen gender ideologie en het witwassen van mannelijk voorrecht dat de controle vereist. Dat gezegd hebbende, er is een connectie tussen gender ideologie en het witwassen van mannelijk privilege.  

Dit probleem wordt geïllustreerd door het geval van Ben Hopkins, de helft van het punk duo PWR BTTM. Hopkins is biologisch man en is als zodanig gesocialiseerd in zijn mannelijkheid. Zoals veel bekende mensen die biologisch man zijn, exploitteerde Hopkins zijn roem en macht om zijn vrouwelijke fans seksueel te misbruik.  Volgens een van zijn slachtoffers is Hopkins een “bekend seksueel roofdier die veelvoudig heeft toegeslagen, andere mensen in de queer community heeft gepest en ongewenste advances heeft gemaakt op minderjarigen.” Wat Hopkins onderscheidt van de lange traditie van machtige mannelijke misbruikers is dat hij zich identificeert als genderqueer. Als zodanig zou het queer perspectief, Hopkins acties niet als mannelijk geweld tegen vrouwen beschouwen. Queer exceptionalisme, zoals deze zich manifesteert door de logica van genderidentiteit, maakt het onmogelijk om mannelijk geweld als zodanig te noemen of te bevechten.

 PWR-BTTM-sexual-abuse-screenshot

Mannen worden vanaf hun geboorte aangeleerd dat zij recht hebben op de tijd, de aandacht, liefde, energie en lichamen van vrouwen. Toch ontvangen mannen, in overeenstemming met de logica van genderideologie, ongelukkige, maar willekeurige, in tegenstelling tot een waarschijnlijk gevolg van de gendered socialisatie in de patriarchale samenleving. Ondanks de zelf-identificatie  als genderqueer, heeft het seksuele geweld dat Hopkins tegen vrouwen met dramatisch minder sociale macht dan hij, perfect de logica van mannelijkheid gevolgd. In welke zin kan een man die het meest toxische mannelijkheid gedrag vertoont, beweren dat hij gender queer heeft gemaakt.

Zoals zijn acties duidelijk maken, heeft Hopkins niet bewust de mannelijke socialisatie of zijn recht op vrouwenlichamen afgeleerd. Hoe Hopkins kiest om te identificeren, heeft weinig invloed op de gruwelijke realiteit van de situatie. Door te claimen genderqueer te zijn, probeerde Hopkins het mannelijke privilege waarvan hij profiteerd onder het tapijt te schuiven. Jen Izaakson schrijft voor Feminist Current over de paradox die schuilt in Hopkins’ claim genderqueer te zijn:

“… Hopkins gebruikte glitter, eyeliner en vintage jurkjes om een ​​begrip van en navolging van queer idealen te demonstreren, om een ​​afwijzing van” giftige mannelijkheid” te illustreren evenals een afwijzing van  gendernormen die sociaal toegeschreven worden aan mannen. Maar het dragen van bloemrijke jurken en lipgloss leidt niet tot een feitelijke afwijzing van het mannelijke recht en mannelijke dominantie van mannen onder het patriarchaat. Door middel van zelf-gedefinieerde identiteiten, individuele expressie en performativiteit, in plaats van het mannelijk geweld en ongelijkmatige machtsstructuren te onderzoeken, heeft queer discourse het mogelijk gemaakt voor misogynie om gemakkelijk toegang te verkrijgen tot het feest.”

Evenzo heeft de transactivist Cherno Biko (geboren als man) openlijk bekend dat een transman (geboren vrouw) verkracht te hebben met de fantasie en de bedoeling om deze tegen hun wil te bezwangeren. Ondanks publiek erkend te hebben  seksueel misbruik gepleegd te hebben, werd Biko uitgenodigd om tijdens de vrouwenmars in Washington op het podium te spreken en was de medevoorzitter van de adviesraad van de jonge vrouw in New York. Dit roept vragen op over niet alleen over het schijnbare gebrek aan aansprakelijkheid voor seksueel misbruik binnen het feminisme, maar ook in de mate waarin progressieve politieke bewegingen bereid zijn om geweld tegen vrouwen door de vingers te zien zodra de dader zich als transgender of genderqueer identificeert.

Geweld tegen vrouwen zijn zowel de oorzaak en het gevolg van het patriarchiaat, en ze worden genormaliseerd door de logica van het genderdenken. Genderideologie onderschrijft de machtsongelijkheid van seksuele politiek – een hiërarchie die door gender zelf is ingesteld – en in plaats daarvan beschouwt het gender als een kwestie van zelfidentificatie. Het queer perspectief individualiseert de vraag van identiteit om gender te depolitiseren, waardoor moeilijke vragen over macht en patriarchie worden vermeden.

We worden verteld dat geslacht een diep persoonlijke kwestie is en dient daarom, zoals alle goede liberalen weten, niet grondig te worden onderzocht. Desalniettemin blijkt dat transvrouwen ‘een mannelijk patroon behouden met betrekking tot criminaliteit na een geslachtsveranderende operatie’ en dat ‘hetzelfde geldt voor gewelddadige misdaad’. Gezien het feit dat één op de drie vrouwen in haar leven mannelijk geweld zal ervaren, is dit geen kleinigheid: 96% van de mensen die seksueel geweld plegen zijn biologisch mannelijk. De veiligheid van vrouwen en meisjes is nooit een aanvaardbare prijs om te betalen, zelfs niet in de naam van inclusiviteit. Mannelijke socialisatie speelt een aantoonbare rol in de vorming van houding en gedrag. Als vrouwen het geweld dat we ervaren niet kunnen benoemen noch systeem dat dit mogelijk maakt, kunnen we deze niet bestrijden.

“Toen Simone de Beauvoir schreef dat een meisje niet als een vrouw geboren is, maar eerder een wordt, bedoelde ze niet dat een individu van het mannelijke geslacht, gesocialiseerd in de verwachtingen van de mannelijke genderrol, simpelweg kan beslissen om hormonen te nemen en wellicht operatie te ondergaan en zo ‘een vrouw worden”- Dame Jenni Murray

Door de lens van genderidentiteit kan de onderdrukker zijn mannelijke voorrecht vebergen en de status van onderdrukte opeisen. Door de lens van genderidentiteit kunnen de onderdrukten ook de basis van hun onderdrukking verwerpen door middel van zelfidentificatie. Genderideologie wil een hiërarchie als een identiteit voorstellen. Helaas kan men niet aan structurele en systematische onderdrukking ontkomen – hoewel het queer discours dit als een legitieme route voor vrouwen voorstelt. De man is de standaard voor de mensheid, terwijl de vrouw die zich bezighoudt met ‘Andere’ – gedefinieerd alleen in relatie tot de man (Beauvoir, 1949). Het is geen wonder dat een groeiend aantal vrouwen, ontevreden over de beperkingen die door de vrouwelijke genderrol worden opgelegd en zich bewust zijn dat mensen meer zijn dan het holle stereotype van vrouwelijkheid, stoppen met het zich identificeren als vrouw.

In plaats van de vrouwelijke genderrol als het probleem te identificeren en de genderhiërarchie te ontmantelen, worden vrouwen nu zich niet langer als zodanig te identificeren als ze zich gedragen of voelen zoals mensen nu eenmaal doen. In plaats van vrouwen de middelen aan te reiken om hun geïndividualiseerde misogynie af te schudden, moedigt de geslachtsideologie hen aan om vrouw zijn te verwerpen en zich te beroepen op individuele uitzonderingen op de gendersysteem. Door volledige mensheid en vrouwelijkheid als wederzijds exclusief uit te nodigen, nodigt genderideologie vrouwen uit om deel te nemen aan Ik-Ben-Niet-Zoals-Andere-Meisjes: De Queer Editie.

Het is begrijpelijk dat vrouwen graag de aan vrouwelijke genderrol willen ontsnappen – inderdaad, de bevrijding van vrouwen uit de genderhiërarchie is een kerndoel van het feminisme. Maar het feminisme pleit voor de bevrijding van alle vrouwen van alle vormen van onderdrukking, niet alleen de bevrijding van degenen die stellen dat hun individuele onderdrukking vanwege hun gender verkeerd is – diegenen die “niet een soort ’vrouw zijn’ ambiëren“.

De homofobie van het ’queer’ maken van gender

Ondanks dat er gesproken wordt over een ’queer community’, een alliantie tussen ledengay liberation van de LGBT + alfabet soep, ligt er altijd al homofobie aan de basis van queer politiek. Queer-ideologie kwam op in reactie op  lesbische feministische principes, die een radicale maatschappelijke verandering bepleiten door het transformeren van persoonlijke levens (Jeffreys, 2003). De politieke belangen van lesbische vrouwen en gemarginaliseerde homoseksuele mannen – met name de afschaffing van geslachtsrollen – worden door queer politiek van tafel geveegd. Individualisme voorkomt elke geconcentreerde focus op feministische en homoseksuele bevrijdingspolitiek, wat door queer discours wordt beschreven als ’ouderwets’, ’saai’ of ’anti-seks’.

In de afgelopen jaren is het openlijk anti-homo sentiment gestegen. Pogingen om lesbische vrouwen en homoseksuele mannen uit te wissen zijn nu bon ton in de ’queer’ wereld. Shannon Keating schrijft in een opinie waarin de vraag wordt gesteld of de lesbische identiteit de genderrevolutie kan overleven dat de ’lesbisch’ en ’homoseksueel’ verouderde termen zijn.

“Tegen de steeds kleurrijkere achtergrond van gender diversiteit, begint een binair label als ‘gay’ of ‘lesbisch’ muffig en saai te voelen. Als er zo veel genders zijn, is het dan niet ’close-minded- of erger nog, schadelijk en exclusief- als je je identificeert mete en label dat  impliceert dat je alleen maar aangetrokken bent tot één van hen?”

Er is een volhardende tak van homofobie binnen de genderideologie. Deze manifesteert zich zo regelmatig, omdat deze homofobie verwoven is met genderpolitiek. Aantrekking tussen mensen van gelijk geslacht, wordt halsstarrig geproblematiseerd omdat deze het bestaan van biologisch geslacht erkent, alsmede haar betekenis voor het bepalen voor potentiele aantrekkingskracht – iets wat ingaat tegen de claim dat gender in plaats van geslacht van belang is voor iemands identiteit.

Eerder dit jaar beweerde Juno Dawson, de auteur van The Gender Games, dat het zijn van een homoman eigenlijk niets anders is dan een ‘troostprijs’ voor diegenen die niet bereid zijn om te kiezen voor het leven als een transvrouw. Voor Juno’s transitie leefde en had hij lief als een homoseksuele man, daarom is het is het bijzonder lastig dat Dawson homoseksualiteit verklaarde als iets dat minder respect en erkenning verdient.  Dawson schetste het leven als een homoman als een minderwaardig alternatief, een armzalig substituut, voor de onderdrukking van zijn van een transvrouw. Toen homoseksuele mannen en lesbische vrouwen bezwaar maakten tegen deze homofobie, maakte Dawson een niet-verontschuldiging die een fundamentele waarheid over de politiek van geslachtsidentiteit en seksualiteit blootlegt: “Veel transmannen en- vrouwen leefden voor hun transitie als homoseksuele mannen of lesbiennes dus ik vind het een heel belangrijk punt om te bespreken… ”

Het is ontzettend regressief om te betogen dat homomannen eigenlijk onvoltooide vrouwen zijn. Volgens deze logica is alleen het meest heterosexuele en giftigste van mannelijkheid werkelijk mannelijk. En als homoseksuele mannen in werkelijkheid transvrouwen zijn, bestaat er niet zoiets als een homoseksuele man. Homoseksualiteit is ‘genezen’ – een agenda die traditioneel tot sociaal conservatieven behoorde, maar nu binnen de queer ideologie wordt betoogt. En het is geen toeval dat zoveel van degenen die kiezen voor een chirurgische of medische transitie, homoseksuele mannen of lesbische vrouwen zijn, die na hun transitie als heteroseksueel leven. In Iran, waar relaties tussen mensen van hetzelfde geslacht met de dood worden bestraft, zijn geestelijken bereid om ”het idee te accepteren dat een persoon in een lichaam van het verkeerde geslacht kan worden gevangen”.

Geslachtsideologie is fundamenteel conservatief. Het is gebaseerd op de veronderstelling dat genderrollen absoluut zijn, dat diegenen die afwijken van hun opgelegde genderrol moeten behoren tot een andere categorie. Lesbische vrouwen en homoseksuele mannen dagen genderrollen uit, simpelweg door van iemand van hetzelfde geslacht te houden en  door af te wijken van de heteropatriarchale patronen van dominantie om een ​​seksuele politiek van gelijkheid te creëren. Als we overgaan naar heteroseksualiteit, in overeenstemming met de genderrollen, moeten we ons aanpassen aan de genderrollen zoals die door het patriarchiaat worden voorgeschreven.

Niemand is geboren in het verkeerde lichaam. Een lichaam kan per definitie niet verkeerd zijn. Het systeem van gender is daarentegen onjuist op alle fronten. Het problematiseren van lichamen in plaats van de hiërarchie die ze beperkt, repliceert alleen de destructieve ideologie in de kern van het patriarchiaat. Het keert de benadering van de politiek van bevrijding om, in het beste geval heeft het het patriarchiaat verkeerd begrepen, in het slechtste geval is het er een onderdeel van.

Conclusie

 Kritiek op genderideologie wordt sterk ontmoedigd. Ik vermoed dat dit komt doordat hoe meer men het queere begrip geslacht verkent, hoe duidelijker haar misogynie en homofobie wordt. Zodra de progressieve glans begint te verbleken – zodra het duidelijk wordt dat genderideologie in het beste geval gedienstig is aan het patriarchaat en de schade die deze berokkent aan vrouwen, wordt de queer politiek veel moeilijker om te verkopen aan de algemene bevolking.

 

fuck grEn zo worden de feministen die gender-ideologie bevragen als onverdraagzaam gebrandmerkt, de kritiek en die vrouwen die dapper genoeg zijn om deze te maken, worden als illegitiem weg gezet. Vrouwen die genderideologie in vraag stellen, worden TERF’s genoemd – we worden er telkens verteld dat hun enige motief voor hun kritiek op genderideologie valsheid is, in tegenstelling tot een betekenisvolle zorg voor het welzijn van vrouwen en meisjes. Daarmee citeer ik Mary Shelley: “Pas op; want ik ben onbevreesd en daarom krachtig.” Elke poging om vrouwen te ontmoedigen om onze onderdrukking aan te pakken, is diep verdacht.

 

Geslachtsideologie creëert een valse dichotomie van mensen die vanaf hun geboorte gebonden zijn aan traditionele geslachtsrollen en een uitzonderlijk kleine groep die dat niet zijn. Geslachtspolitiek is het meest uitgebreide en schadelijke voorbeeld van het gebruik van de methodes van de meester om het huis van de meester te ontmantelen. Waarom gender queer maken als wij deze helemaal kunnen afschaffen? Waarom verspillen wij onze energie met het omkeren van onderdrukkende praktijken als we deze helemaal kunnen afschaffen.

 

’Vrouw’ is een geslachtsklasse – niets meer, niks minder. ’Man’ is een geslachtsklasse – niets meer, niets minder. Stellen dat de reikwijdte van onze identiteit wordt bepaald door de genderrol die onze geslachtsrol wordt opgelegd is het legitimiseren van een patriarchaal project. Als feminist, als vrouw, verwerp ik de queerpolitiek en de geslachtsideologie die deze bepleit. In plaats daarvan stel ik dat vrouwen en mannen die buiten het script leven op basis van gender- of het nu queer- of patriarchale classificaties is – omarmd worden als revolutionairen. Alleen door de afschaffing van gender kunnen we ware bevrijding bereiken.

Interracial Solidarity in the Feminist Movement – #FiLiA2017

A brief foreword: this is the transcript of the keynotes address I delivered at FiLiA 2017, on Saturday the 14th of October. I was initially hesitant to share this speech, as I can no longer think of interracial solidarity between women of colour and white women as a viable project. However, out of commitment to feminist documentation and the women who requested it be made public, I have decided to post the transcript.

Writers and theorists who remain immobile, closed to any shift in perspective, ultimately have little to offer. Perhaps in the future I will return to advocating interracial movement building. Perhaps not. Either way, this transcript is an outline of the thoughts I held on the matter.


It is an honour to be here with you all today, and a privilege to share the stage with Kate, Sophie, and Cordelia. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this year’s FiLiA conference. As someone who is passionate about movement building, it is a pleasure to be here speaking about the radical potential within feminist sisterhood. As Adrienne Rich once said, “The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.” Given their revolutionary potential, I think that as feminists it’s worth exploring the possibilities contained within the connections between women – some of which remain largely unrealised or underexplored. For this reason, I’m here to talk to you about interracial solidarity within the feminist movement – a mine of untapped potential within our politics and many women’s lives.

Before we get going, it’s important to say that the burden of self-reflection and action required to improve the dynamic of race within the feminist movement lies with white women. This is at points a tough conversation, but it’s also a necessary one, and for the white women hesitant about engaging fully with it I’d like to point out that racism is consistently undermining the efforts made by feminist women – the benefits to fully unpicking racism from feminist spaces and communities are legion. To the women of colour in the audience, I have decided to focus on this specific issue because it is vital that all the Black and Brown girls coming into this movement experience better from it than what has gone on before in mixed feminist spaces. Every last one of them deserves more.

Feminism is a social movement devoted to the liberation of women and girls from oppression. The oppressions we experience are the result of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy – quite a mouthful, but it is vital to acknowledge that these hierarchies are all interconnected. Systems of oppression cannot be neatly divided into separate entities when they constantly overlap in our everyday lives. Since you’re engaging in a feminist space that’s all about trying to develop ideas on how to improve our movement and make this world a better place to live in, I’m working in the belief that most of you will be receptive. We are all here at FiLiA as feminists who understand the value of movement building. I’ll try to be gentle, but not at the expense of the radical honesty this conversation demands.

The reality is that race politics are where a lot of white women fall down in their feminist practice. Not all white women – but enough that women of colour are reasonably wary of those interactions. White liberal feminists have a habit of failing to consider racism in terms of structural power. White radical feminists can be quite unwilling to apply the same scrutiny or structural analysis to the hierarchy of race as they do to the hierarchy of gender. Both liberal and radical white feminists often carry the expectation that women of colour should prioritise challenging misogyny over resisting racism, as though the two issues are mutually exclusive and not woven together in the fabric of our everyday lives.

For years amazing women such as Stella Dadzie, who will be speaking to you tomorrow morning, have been documenting and challenging the racism and misogyny that Black women experience in Britain. I’m not here to prove that racism exists or has negative consequences for women of colour in Britain: it does. I am here to talk about how we – as feminists, as women who share a social movement – can unpick racism from feminist communities. I’m going to talk about movement building, the dynamic of race in the feminist movement, and practical steps towards building interracial solidarity between women.

As we participate more in feminist spaces and conversations, women build a deep understanding of patriarchy – how it works, and where we are positioned by the hierarchy of gender. Feminism has enabled women to connect the personal with the political in our analysis of patriarchy. Nothing about feminist politics or theory is abstract – it all connects back to some element of women’s lives. The movement also gives us space to think about how structural inequalities have impacted upon our experiences, shaped our realities. And once you start to join the dots between the personal and the political, the extent to which women are marginalised around the world becomes clear.

White women rightly consider themselves to belong to the oppressed sex class. And I think that it’s because white feminist women fully understand the implications of belonging to the dominant class that exploring what it means to be part of the dominant racial class can be so challenging. This awareness punctures the fundamentally misguided belief that all women are positioned the same within structures of power.

That knowledge does not fit alongside the claim that a unilateral, one-size-fits-all approach to feminism is going to work – that really gender is the main problem women have to contend with, and everything else can wait. So in order to side-step any difficult conversations about race and power within feminism, we’re fed this idea that talking about race divides women. In addition to protecting white women from the having to confront their own racism, this argument suggests that the energies of all feminist women would be best concentrated on challenging sex-based oppression – if we follow this logic, it leads to the expectation that women of colour work towards an agenda that sees a great many white women liberated while we are left within exploitative hierarchies.

Focussing on misogyny alone isn’t going to solve all of the problems created by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, let alone dismantle that system of power. Being selective about the forms of exploitation and dominance that we analyse is not only ineffective, but a contradiction of core feminist principles. Every feminist knows that revolution isn’t brought about by half-assed politics. We have to live those politics and let them diffuse throughout every aspect of our lives. There’s no way that we can drive a cultural shift towards women’s liberation if we don’t make sure that feminism recognises and prioritises the needs of all women – of colour, working class, disabled, migrant, lesbian, bi. All women.

It isn’t talking about race that divides women – it’s racism that divides us. To be specific, women as a political class are divided by the racism white women direct towards women of colour, the racism that white women observe and fail to challenge because, ultimately, they benefit from it. Whether intentional or casually delivered, that racism has the same result: it completely undermines the possibility of solidarity between women of colour and white women. White women’s unwillingness to explore the subject of race, to acknowledge the ways in which they benefit from white supremacy, acts as a barrier between mutual trust.

So It’s not really a secret that certain strands of feminism have an ongoing problem with race. The feminist movement didn’t form inside of some sort of social vacuum, separate from white supremacist values or beliefs. Everyone in this society absorbs racism. People of colour internalise it. White people weaponise it against us. Even within the movement. Here are some examples of how.

Less so now that intersectionality has become so fashionable, but some white women have a tendency to position racism and sexism as totally distinct and separate problems, issues that do not overlap and do not therefore need to be analysed together. This perspective completely disregards the lived realities of women of colour. While a significant amount of early radical feminist writing and activism was what we would now describe as being intersectional in nature, white womanhood was too often treated as the normative standard of womanhood within the second wave of feminism. As a result, women of colour were and continue to be further marginalised in a context that is supposed to be about the liberation of all women.

Another issue is the response when we try to address racism in the feminist movement. When white women disregard and speak over those women of colour who do voice concerns over racism, that’s not sisterhood. If anything, that pattern of behaviour undermines sisterhood by exploiting the hierarchy of race. Telling us that we’re angry, scary, imagining things, being overly sensitive, or playing on any other racial stereotype to shut down the conversation and assert the innocence of white womanhood is racism, plain and simple. Yet it happens so routinely.

And then there are the hierarchies that manifest within feminist organising, hierarchies that only replicate the system of value created by white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. The balance of authority tipping towards white women in mixed feminist spaces is not neutral. Women of colour ending up on the fringes of a feminist group or campaign, brought to the centre of the team only when there’s a camera about, is not neutral.

Looking over patterns that unfold within feminist spaces, there are three main areas which I invite white women to consider for future collective projects within the movement. This is by no means an exhaustive list of every single issue that stems from racism within the movement, and neither is it a definitive guide. The politics of engagements between white women and women of colour are contextual, relational, and shifting – nothing is set in stone, and truly organic connections can’t be pre-scripted. That being said, perhaps some of these points will prove helpful in shaping approaches to those interactions.

The first point is white women acting as gatekeepers of the feminist movement, positioning themselves as authorities of feminism above other women. Of course white women have developed a rich body of knowledge throughout their participation in feminism, but feminism is a global movement containing multitudes of women – however worthwhile it may be, white women’s theorising cannot reasonably be assumed to hold universal or absolute feminist truths applicable to all women. This tension manifests in a lack of understanding towards the perspectives held by Black and Asian feminists – there can be a tacit assumption that our ideas aren’t worth meeting or building upon within mainstream feminism. Or, if we approach an issue from a different angle to white women, there’s often an implication that if our ideas were a little more developed or nuanced, the disagreement wouldn’t exist. And that makes it very difficult to enter a feminist conversation on an equal footing.

Feminist organising is another area worth drawing attention to. It takes such energy and commitment to sustain a group or campaign. I fully appreciate that, and commend all the women who are part of creating that magic. All the same, it’s important to keep working towards best feminist practice – and improving the dynamic of race within mixed feminist spaces is very much an achievable goal. If there are no women of colour in your group, team, or collection, ask why not. Please don’t fall into the trap of complacency and think that no women of colour are interested in working collaboratively. If there are none, there’s a reason for our absence. Reflect on what it might be about the project that’s off putting and try to work out steps to change it. Give women of colour reason to trust you. Think about it this way: how much time would you realistically spend in an optional activity where being on the receiving end of misogyny was a distinct possibility?

And when there are women of colour within the feminist space, think about your approach to us. Do you give us the same support, encouragement, and understanding that you would another white woman? When we speak, do you listen to our voices and engage with the layers of what we have to say? Do you think of us as full members of the collective, necessary to the work done by the feminist movement, or as tokens and boxes to be ticked on a diversity form? How you answer those questions make a profound difference. Those are deciding factors in whether sisterhood can exist.

The most direct step is to reconfigure how you think about women of colour. I don’t really like the word ally, because allyship tends to devolve into something hollow and performative. It also doesn’t really offer the scope for a mutual connection, which is what interracial solidarity between women is. But unpicking racism has a steep learning curve. How could it not when white supremacist values are at the foundation of this society? During the course of that learning process, especially during the early stages, try and keep in mind that most feminist women of colour have had these conversations about race dozens and dozens of times. And those conversations cost us more than they cost you. There are plenty of quality books and resources on the subject, so make use of them.

And now I have some points for women of colour who are pursuing any kind of solidarity with white women – less advice than reminders. Look after yourself. Don’t forget to prioritise self-care. Your needs are important, and it’s okay to take whatever space and time you need. I think because of the superwoman quality that gets projected onto Black women especially, we are not always positioned as in need of gentleness or empathy – so it is crucial that we take care of ourselves and each other.

Remember that you can say no. It is a complete sentence, short and sweet. And you don’t owe anybody an explanation as to why.

You’re not a learning resource, and you’re not the Morgan Freeman type character in a white woman’s story – you’re a human being with her own story. So don’t be afraid to set boundaries, assert needs, and follow your own instincts.

There is something fundamentally freeing about spaces that are built by and for women of colour. Those spaces have a joy and easiness to them, and there is this indescribable feeling of connection – it’s very nourishing to experience. Women come out of our shells and share so much of ourselves that it is impossible to be unmoved by a women of colour space. Last weekend I was in Amsterdam for the second annual Women of Colour in Europe conference, and inhabiting a space like that is sustaining. That feeling is what I think of when I picture sisterhood. And I think we’ll have achieved a greater degree of interracial solidarity when there is greater scope for women of colour to access that feeling of ease and belonging in mixed feminist spaces.

If I am willing to remain an optimist, it is because I believe in a feminist movement built upon true solidarity – one in which “all women” means “all women”, not an insistence that white women are prioritised. And I can’t think of a better place to start building it than FiLiA. Although our movement struggles with the dynamic of race, it can improve here and now. To be a feminist is to be an optimist – to retain the belief that structural inequalities can be dismantled, the belief that better is possible.

When women of colour address the racism demonstrated by white women, we are seeking to overcome the ultimate barrier between women. I don’t think many women waste their breathe on a critique if they don’t think it can bring about positive results. I’ll finish with this quote by Chandra Mohanty, which sums it up beautifully: “…sisterhood cannot be assumed on the basis of gender; it must be forged in concrete, historical and political practice and analysis.”

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.

‘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.

PWR-BTTM-sexual-abuse-screenshot

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.

 

 

A Questão do Desaparecimento – Uma Reflexão Sobre o Apagamento da Lesbianidade

The Vanishing Point: A Reflection Upon Lesbian Erasure is now available in Portuguese! Thanks to Ação Antisexista for the translation.


Estes são tempos estranhos para ser uma jovem mulher lésbica. Ou melhor, jovial. No tempo que me levou para evoluir de uma inexperiente sapatão caçula em uma completa e formada lésbica, a tensão entre as políticas de identidade do queer e a libertação das mulheres se tornou realmente insuportável. O facebook adicionou reações da bandeira do orgulho gay no mesmo mês que eles começaram a banir mulheres lésbicas por nos descrevermos como butch (algo como sapatão ou caminhão em português). Enquanto a legislação de casamento e o direito de adoção para casais do mesmo sexo se tornam cada vez mais parte da sociedade dominante, o direito de mulheres lésbicas de se auto definirem e declararem seus limites sexuais é comprometido dentro da comunidade LGBT+. Tais contradições são características desta era, mas isso não torna elas mais fáceis de suportar dia após dia.

Amor é amor, a não ser que aconteça de você ser uma mulher lésbica – neste caso sua love is lovesexualidade será incansavelmente desconstruída sob suspeita de você estar sendo excludente. Como já escrevi anteriormente, cada sexualidade é por definição excludente. Sexualidade é um conjunto de parâmetros que governa as características que potencialmente nos atraem nas outras pessoas. Para lésbicas, é a presença das características sexuais primárias e secundárias das mulheres que geram (mas não garantem) a possibilidade de atração. O sexo, e não o gênero (nem mesmo a identidade de gênero), é o fator chave. Mas no ponto de vista queer, assim como no da sociedade patriarcal dominante), lésbica é uma designação contestável.

Mulheres lésbicas são encorajadas a se descreverem como queer, um termo tão abrangente e vago que parece ser desprovido de significado específico, pelos motivos de que ninguém que possuí um pênis é tido como inteiramente fora dos nossos limites sexuais. Jocelyn MacDonald coloca muito bem:

“Lésbicas são mulheres, e mulheres são ensinadas que devemos estar disponíveis sexualmente como objetos de consumo público. Então nós despendemos muito tempo dizendo “Não”. Não, nós não vamos transar ou nos relacionar com homens; não, nós não vamos mudar de ideia quanto a isso; não, este corpo não é território masculino. Lésbicas, hetero ou bissexuais, nós mulheres somos punidas sempre que tentamos demarcar limites. O queer sendo um termo genérico torna realmente difícil para lésbicas assegurarem e manterem estes limites, porque se torna impossível nomear estes limites.”

Em tempos em que o reconhecimento do sexo biológico é tratado como um ato de intolerância, a homossexualidade é automaticamente problematizada – as consequências não previstas das políticas identitárias de gênero são enormes e de largo alcance. Ou ainda, seria mais correto dizer, que a sexualidade lésbica virou um problema: a ideia de que nós mulheres direcionemos nossos desejos e energias de uma para outra continua suspeita. De alguma forma, o padrão de homens centrarem homens nas vidas deles nunca recebe o mesmo backlash (reação negativa, resposta em forma de ataque). As lésbicas são uma ameaça ao status quo, seja no heteropatriarcado ou na cultura queer. Quando nós lésbicas rejeitamos a ideia de nos relacionarmos com alguém com pênis, nós somos taxadas de “fetichistas de vaginas” e ginefílicas – Levando em conta que a sexualidade de lésbicas é rotineiramente patologizada no discurso queer, assim como a sexualidade lésbica é patologizada pelo conservadorismo social, não é surpresa para mim que tantas mulheres jovens sucumbam a pressão social e abandonem o termo lésbica em favor do termo queer. O auto apagamento é o preço da aceitação.

“Não é nenhum segredo que o medo e o ódio a homossexuais permeiam nossa sociedade. Mas o desprezo por lésbicas é distinto. É diretamente arraigado no repúdio à autodefinição da mulher, à autodeterminação da mulher, às mulheres que não são controladas pela necessidade, pelo comando ou pela manipulação masculina. O desprezo por lésbicas é mais comumente um repúdio político às mulheres que se organizam em seu próprio benefício em busca de estarem presentes no espaço público, de que sua força seja validada, que sua integridade seja visibilizada.

Os inimigos das mulheres, aqueles que estão determinados a nos negar a liberdade e a dignidade, usam a palavra lésbica para provocar o ódio às mulheres que não se conformam. Este ódio ecoa em toda parte. Este ódio é sustentado e expressado por praticamente todas as instituições. Quando o poder masculino é desafiado, este ódio se intensifica e se inflama de forma a ser volátil, palpável. A ameaça é de que esse ódio pode explodir em violência. A ameaça é onipresente porque a violência contra a mulher é culturalmente aplaudida. E assim a palavra lésbica, gritada ou sussurrada em tom de acusação, é usada para direcionar a hostilidade dos homens contra as mulheres que ousam se rebelar, e é também usada para assustar e intimidar as mulheres que ainda não se rebelaram.” – Andrea Dworkin

A política de identidade queer tende a pensar que mulheres nascidas mulheres se interessarem exclusivamente por outras mulheres é um sinal de intolerância. Não vamos desperdiçar parágrafos com equívocos. Este mundo já tem silenciamentos acerca de gênero mais do que o suficiente, e é invariavelmente as mulheres que pagam o maior preço por estes silenciamentos – neste caso, mulheres que amam outras mulheres. Então eu digo o seguinte: lésbicas negarem categoricamente a possibilidade de se relacionarem com alguém com pênis é tido como transfóbico pela política queer porque não inclui mulheres trans na esfera dos desejos de lésbicas. A lesbofobia inerente na redução da sexualidade lésbica à fonte de validação, obviamente recebe passe livre.

Ainda assim, a sexualidade lésbica não necessariamente exclui pessoas que se identificam como trans. A sexualidade lésbica pode se estender a pessoas que nasceram mulheres que se identificam como não binárias ou queergênero. A sexualidade lésbica pode se estender a pessoas que nasceram mulheres que se identificam como homens trans. Comparando a alta proporção de que homens trans auto identificados viviam como lésbicas butch antes de transicionarem, não é incomum que homens trans façam parte de relacionamentos lésbicos.

Aonde está o limite entre uma lésbica butch e um homem trans? Durante suas reflexões sobre a vida das lésbicas, Roey Thorpe considera que “…invariavelmente alguém pergunta: Aonde todas as butches foram parar? A resposta curta é masculinidade trans (e a resposta longa requer um artigo próprio). Em qual parte dentro do espectro de identidade termina o butch e o trans começa?

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O limite é amorfo, embora de forma imaginativa Maggie Nelson tenta traçar em The Argonauts. O parceiro dela, o artista Harry Dodge, é descrito por Nelson como um “butch charmoso em T.” segundo Nelson “qualquer semelhança que eu observe nos meus relacionamentos com mulheres não é a semelhança como Mulher, e certamente não é a semelhança das partes envolvidas. Ao invés disso é a esmagadora compreensão compartilhada do que significa viver no patriarcado.” Dodge é gênero fluido e de aparência masculina. A testosterona e a cirurgia de remoção dos seios não removem a compreensão do seu local neste mundo como mulher. Estas verdades coexistem.

A ideia de que lésbicas são transfóbicas porque os limites da nossa sexualidade não se estendem em acomodar o pênis é uma falácia falocêntrica. E a pressão nas lésbicas para redefinirem esses limites é francamente assustadora – se baseia numa atitude do direito de propriedade sobre os corpos das mulheres, uma atitude que é parte do patriarcado e agora tem sido reproduzida na esfera queer. As mulheres lésbicas não existem para que sejam objetos sexuais ou fontes de validação, mas como seres humanos autodefinidos com desejos e limites próprios.

Conversar sobre a política queer com amigos homens gays da mesma idade que eu é algo revelador. Eu sou lembrada de duas coisas: para os homens, ‘não’ é uma palavra aceita como assunto encerrado. Com mulheres, o não é tratado como uma abertura à negociação. A maioria dos homens gays fica horrorizada ou então surpresa com a noção de que os parâmetros de suas sexualidades possam ou devam mudar de acordo com as imposições da política queer. Alguns (os mais sortudos – a ignorância é uma benção) não estão familiarizados com a fantasiosa teoria queer. Outros (os recentemente inciados) estão, como era de se esperar, resistentes a problematização da homossexualidade do ponto de vista queer. Teve um que chegou a sugerir que gays, lésbicas e bissexuais rompessem com a sopa de letrinhas do alfabeto da política queer e se auto organizassem especificamente em torno das suas sexualidades – dado que as lésbicas estão sendo sujeitas a caça às bruxas TERF (feministas radicais trans excludentes em português) por terem feito a mesma sugestão, foi ao mesmo tempo encorajador e lamentável ouvir de um homem que está fora do feminismo radical dizer a mesma coisa sem medo de ser censurado.

Fico feliz em dizer que nenhum dos homens gays que eu chamo de amigos optaram pelo que pode ser descrito como a lógica de Owen Jones: rejeitar as preocupações das mulheres lésbicas e as tratar como atos de intolerância, numa tentativa de conseguir biscoitos-de-arco-íris da aprovação como aliado trans. A onda de homens de esquerda em lucrarem com a misoginia para consolidar sua reputação é um conto tão antigo quanto o patriarcado. Não é uma grande surpresa que isso aconteça dentro da comunidade queer, já que a cultura queer é dominada por homens.

A comunidade queer definitivamente pode afastar as mulheres lésbicas. Embora eu tenha participado de espaços queer quando eu estava me assumindo, acabei me retirando cada vez mais daquele contexto com o tempo. Eu não sou de forma alguma a única – muitas mulheres lésbicas da minha faixa etária se sentem excluídas e deslocadas nos ambientes queer, lugares que nos dizem que deveríamos pertencer. Não são apenas lésbicas mais velhas que são resistentes a política queer, apesar de que deus sabe o quanto elas nos avisaram sobre a misoginia nela. Meu único arrependimento é não ter ouvido antes – que eu tenha perdido meu tempo e energia tentando conciliar divergências ideológicas entre o queer e o feminismo radical.

O discurso queer se utiliza de uma abordagem coerciva para forçar lésbicas a se conformarem – ou nós acatamos o queer e pertencemos ao grupo, ou nós seremos apenas figuras irrelevantes que estão “por fora” como “as velhas lésbicas chatas”. Esta abordagem, na misógina discriminação pela idade, foi equivocada: eu não consigo imaginar nada que eu quisesse ser mais do que uma lésbica mais velha, e é maravilhoso saber que este é o meu futuro. A influência que tem em mim a profundidade do pensamento das mulheres mais velhas, a forma como elas me desafiam e me guiam no processo de consciência feminista, tem um papel central em formarem tanto a minha noção sobre o mundo como compreender meu lugar nele. Se eu for realmente sortuda, um dia eu terei aquelas conversas elevadas (e as vezes, intelectualmente extenuantes) com as futuras gerações de jovens lésbicas.

Embora eu aprecie o apoio e a sororidade das lésbicas mais velhas (de longe meus seres humanos favoritos), em certos aspectos eu também as invejo pela relativa simplicidade da existência lésbica nos anos 70 e 80. A razão para esta inveja: elas viveram vidas lésbicas num tempo anterior a política queer se tornar dominante. Eu não estou dizendo isso desconsiderando ou implicando que o passado foi uma utopia para os direitos de gays e lésbicas. Não foi. A(s) geração(ões) deles tiveram a cláusula 28 (“section 28”), cláusula que bania que a homossexualidade fosse considerada nas escolas como relacionamento familiar normal) e a minha tem o casamento entre pessoas do mesmo sexo. Os avanços que beneficiam minha geração são resultado direto da luta deles. Ainda assim as lésbicas podiam viver pelo menos parte de suas vidas numa época em que de todas as razões pelas quais a palavra lésbica foi encarada com desgosto, ser considerada “demasiado excludente” não era uma delas. Não houve um ímpeto, dentro de um contexto feminista ou gay, tornar a sexualidade lésbica esquisita (“queer” em inglês, a autora aqui faz um trocadilho).

Algumas coisas não mudaram muito. A sexualidade lésbica é comumente degradada. As mulheres lésbicas ainda estão nas campanhas lésbicas do “Não se preocupe, eu não sou aquele tipo de feminista.” Só que agora, quando eu checo as minhas notificações no Twitter, realmente levo um tempo para descobrir se minha lesbianidade ofendeu a “alt-right” (nova denominação da extrema direita) ou da esquerda queer. Isso faz alguma diferença? A lesbofobia tem o mesmo formato. O ódio às mulheres é o mesmo.

women's libDurante a Parada Gay, uma foto de uma mulher trans sorridente vestindo uma camiseta manchada de sangue dizendo “eu soco as TERFs” circulou nas redes sociais. A imagem tinha a seguinte legenda “isso é como a libertação gay se parece”. Aquelas de nós que vivem na intersecção entre a identidade gay e a mulheridade – lésbicas- são frequentemente taxadas de TERFs puramente pelo fato de que nossa sexualidade torna esta reivindicação dúbia. Considerando que vivemos num mundo onde uma a cada três mulheres sofre violência física ou sexual durante sua vida, eu não me surpreendo– não tem nada de revolucionário ou contracultural em fazer uma piada sobre bater em mulheres. A violência contra as mulheres foi glorificada sem pensar duas vezes, colocada como um objetivo de políticas libertárias. E nós todos sabemos que TERFs são mulheres, já que homens que definem limites são raramente sujeitos a tais ataques. Apontar a misoginia obviamente resulta numa nova enxurrada de misoginia.

Existe uma réplica preferida reservada para as feministas que criticam as políticas sexuais da identidade de gênero, uma resposta certamente associada mais com adolescentes meninos do que qualquer política de resistência: “chupe meu pau de garota”. Ou, se a maldade se junta com uma tentativa de originalidade, “engasgue com meu pau de garota”. Ouvir “engasgue com meu pau de garota” não parece nada diferente de ouvir te dizerem que engasgue num pau de qualquer tipo, mesmo assim isso se tornou já quase uma parte da rotina do discurso de gênero que se abriu no Twitter. O ato permanece o mesmo. A misoginia permanece a mesma. E isso está dizendo que neste cenário a gratificação sexual é derivada de um ato que muito literalmente silencia as mulheres.

Uma frase icônica de Shakespeare em Romeu e Julieta proclama que “uma rosa com qualquer outro nome teria um aroma igualmente doce.” Com isso em mente (por existir muito mais tragédia do que romance sobre esta situação), eu diria que independente do nome um pênis iria repelir sexualmente as lésbicas. E isso é ok. O desinteresse sexual não é a mesma coisa que a discriminação, a opressão ou a marginalização. Porém, sentir que a sexualidade é um direito que se tem sobre alguém é : ele é parte fundamental da opressão das mulheres, e se manifesta claramente na cultura do estupro. Dentro da concepção queer não há espaço dedicado para discussões sobre a misoginia que possibilita o se sentir no direito de ter acesso sexual aos corpos de mulheres. Simplesmente reconhecer que o assunto existe é considerado inaceitável, e como resultado, temos a misoginia protegida por camadas e camadas de silêncio.

Esta não é uma época radiante para se ser uma lésbica. A falta de vontade das políticas queer para simplesmente aceitar a sexualidade lésbica como válida por direito é profundamente desamparadora, ao ponto de se privilegiar o desejo de ter sexo sobre o direito de recusa ao sexo. E mesmo assim a conexão lésbica persiste, como sempre persistiu. Os relacionamentos lésbicos seguem florescendo enquanto oferecem uma alternativa radical ao heteropatriarcado – só porque não é particularmente visível agora, apenas por não ter o apelo dominante (isto é, patriarcal) que tem a cultura queer, não significa que não esteja acontecendo. As lésbicas estão em toda a parte – isso não vai mudar.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.


Translation originally posted here.

Original text initially posted here.

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