Gender Revolution in Practice and Theory.

When she theorised about androgynous communities, Dworkin was pointing the way to dismantle patriarchy.  For her, the patriarchy is so tied up in creating and enforcing the differences between women and men so it can then privilege men over women, that the destruction of patriarchy is necessitated by the destruction of the polemic genders.

She offered support for the idea of humans as androgynous beings in our natural state, suggested that we once were androgynous in previous, more egalitarian cultures.  Somewhere along the way it became advantageous for men to draw distinctions between themselves and women, positioning themselves as a new, dominant class.  The creation and enforcement of a gender classification was for the purpose of domination.

The strict classification of gender ignored all of the variety found in the way different interplays of hormones affect people’s biology and behavior.  Instead of each person expressing their own unique hormonal balance, these variations were pathologized as imbalances and corrected with therapy and surgery, all for the purpose of maintaining the binary and thus male hegemony.  Intersex and transpeople had to be erased in order to maintain the illusion of distinct classes.  Goddesses and androgynous deities were demonized to make room for the One True Male God.

I accept her thesis as a viable and practical way forward.  Unfortunately the feminist practice around this theory is incredibly lacking.  The ways femininity as construct has been applied has lead to an entrenchment of transphobia and masculinity (also a construct) within feminist circles.  Feminist practice often resembles more of a reactionary defense of the cissupremacist status quo than a genuine determination to destroy the gender binary.  It manifests in a judgement of those who practice certain aspects of gender and sex rather than the underlying patriarchy behind the practices.

Queer theorists have been developing ways for us to move forward, and, as it is in its infancy, there are many limitations and wrong turns.  However, there is great value in what’s being developed in spite of its limitations.  I’d like to explore this and look at what’s valuable and what should be left behind or rejected.

Julia Serano has emerged as a controversial figure in this.  I’m not going to respond to the people who have been attempting to debunk her, those attempts so overtly belittle and misgender her that I have no desire to wade into those cesspools of transphobia.  No, I’d like to criticise where she’s lacking on established theory and highlight where she brings new, valuable insights into how we classify gender.

Serano’s take on femininity is one of the more controversial aspects, I think it’s also where she’s the most theoretically sloppy.  Her perspective seems more of a response to cissexist feminist practice without a full understanding of feminist theory.  In talking about femininity Serano often conflates it with women, for example, when she says that the rejection of femininity by feminists is misogynistic.  It may be poor practice, but it is not hostility to women.

Her take on feminism seems to lack an overall understanding of power dynamics and how it charges every relationship.  Her feminism is of the reactionary equalism variety, it’s not focused on ending the patriarchy but on viewing everyone as equal without considering the grip male domination has on all aspects of life.

While I reject Serano’s feminism, I find great value in her deconstruction of gender.  I still see limitations in the theory but I think it offers avenues to move forward.  The first notable aspect is her take on the essentialist vs. constructionist debate.  Serano explores the ways hormones affect behavior in a way that makes both camps nervous and she comes to the conclusion that neither is entirely correct.

She offers her experience with the way testosterone blockers dramatically change the way she experiences emotions and sexuality.  She describes the absence of testosterone as a fog lifting off of her emotions, allowing her to experience the full range of ups and downs.  I’ve heard transmen express that when they begin taking testosterone the opposite happens and they suddenly have to learn to manage their anger in new ways to avoid becoming monsters.

The gender essentialists would say this shows that men are naturally more aggressive and angry and that rape and abuse are natural expressions of maleness.  Social constructionists would disregard it as anecdotal and insist that male aggression is entirely socialised.  Serano recognises that testosterone makes it harder for people (regardless of gender) to process their emotions and that society warps that real effect into a essential maleness that both encourages men to be aggressive and gives them an easy excuse to not manage their anger while simultaneously punishing women for expressing their anger.  Her theory is that the different effects of hormones are used to justify the divisions between male and female.  I think it’s important to recognise this insight and realise that hormonal balances are unique to each individual, making the range of expression and biology just as unique.

I also find value in her model of gender and sexuality.  She breaks it down into three separate spectra.  The use of spectra is a limitation in seeing gender in post-patriarchy terms, but I think it is valuable to describe gender within the terms of the status quo.  The spectra are as follows:

Sexuality (attracted to)

men<———->women

Innate Gender (your identification)

man<———–>woman

Gender Expression

masculine<————->feminine

The limitations are apparent in the use of the binary to describe the spectra.  In a post-patriarchy world where the gender binary is gone, this model would make no sense.  The valuable part is that it allows each individual to plot their own unique positions on each aspect of their identity.  It disregards the connection between sexuality and gender that most people hold and frees one to the world of possible androgynous genders.

“We Don’t Need Another Wave”

To borrow my title from Melody Berger.  She’s right, the focus on waves only highlights differences among feminists when the core concerns have always been the same.  Trends and tendencies come in and out of the forefront, internal hypocracies keep coming up to be addressed and re-addressed.  The mistrust between radical and liberal feminists is a constant. What has really changed?  Femininity, sex and porn, racism, classism, the disagreements and alienations are all still there, our revolution’s camps can’t be neatly described with waves

As the revolution pushes forward, new contradictions will come to light and we’ll have to address those, too.  However, the core mission remains and as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we still hold the bigotry and chauvinism of previous feminist generations.  This has been painfully highlighted for me recently, when I discovered the wonderful world of transphobic radfem blogs, while my group of blogger comrades had a falling out over trans-exclusion.

I’ve been defensive as a radfem, I’ve defended our transphobia as a relic of the past, or at least a waning legacy of the second wave.  You can imagine my shock to see that it’s a trend that is alive and well, and not just at Michigyn.  I hope it’s a waning trend, certainly there are no prominent authors publishing books like, The Transsexual Empire.

These overtly tranphobic blogs might be dismissed as a fringe current that long ago lost the attention of the movement.  I could buy that without deluding myself, more troubling however, is the popular blogs that have a cissexist undercurrent to them that goes chronically unchecked.  Take, for example, Twisty’s so called “Laurence Fishburne” test on the subject of feminity.  Imagine a man, like Laurence Fishburne, or one with a similar gravitas, doing something, if he’d look ridiculous doing it then it’s a feminine practice.

I happen to think Laurence Fishburne would look great doing all sorts of feminine things.  The transphobes following her blog would think it ridiculous, but they’d think I look ridiculous every time I walk down the street.  Here’s a picture of a big macho muscle man, one with a Fishburnesque gravitas:

I think he looks great, transphobes may disagree, cissexist might lecture him that his bucking of the gender binary degrades women.  Yes his chest and feet are bound, that’s problematic, but does he look ridiculous?  I don’t think so.

So, let’s remember, the legacy of Daly and Ramond are with us, it can’t be put into waves.  Even at the time there were people questioning it, and today it persists.

So, to borrow from Berger once again: “We don’t need another wave.  We need a movement.”

Welcome Savage Death Island Ambassadors.

I hope we can have a dialog, because the intersections of queer theory and feminism are very difficult to navigate, especially the radical varieties.  We should be natural allies and yet we have many differences to work out, mostly blindspots in our theories and praxis.  A quick note to all of the SDIslanders who are sending me hate mail, I’m just going to delete it, to those of you who are here to talk about theory and praxis, welcome.

Twisty does a great job of breaking down the theory around the oppressiveness of femininity. She’s way more up on this stuff than me so that’s to be expected, and it’s all solid theory, so thanks for the learning, I know you don’t like to talk about basic blamer stuff on your blog.

I’m still a little tripped up on how it’s applied.  My comrade makes a great break-down over here, and I’d like to let their words and our dialog there speak for themself, I’d urge any advanced blamers who are interested to offer their perspective.

One of the points of my post, the one Twisty was responding to, was to talk about cissexism in feminism.  So, while I appreciate the schooling, Twisty, I’d also like to talk about where you have cisprivileged blind-spots.  If you’re interested in specifics I can talk about it with you.  I don’t see a need for a public call out.

So, advanced blamers, I appreciate the chance to have this dialog on the destruction of gender, I hope we can get to the bottom of the rift.

Feminist Femmes

During this past week’s transeruption on I Blame the Patriarchy, Twisty enumerated a few items from the Savage Death Island’s Constitution after her defense of transwomen’s access to women only spaces.  The first items she listed is this:

Femininity, the practice of femininity, and the fetishization of femininity degrades all women, regardless of the gender assignment of the practitioner or fetishizer.

While I appreciate the offer of transinclusion, I can’t help but feel that this is a dig at transwomen.  I think there’s a good deal of cissexism in Twisty’s take on the issue and she has a few blind-spots.

In the comments of this blog a comrade, irateandri, expressed the following:

I was initially a little concerned over what you were saying because I see so many expectations pushed onto transwomen. Be more feminine or you won’t pass and your identity as a woman will be further called into question; be less feminine or you’re just reinforcing Patriarchy. Be less masculine or you’re making women feel unsafe, be more masculine or you’re merely performing a pathetic caricature of femininity. There is no safe way to be a woman if you are trans, it is always poisoned by cissupremacy.

One of the factors that excludes many transwomen (at the very least, the ones who are feminine) from feminism is the rejection of femininity.  With all of the cissexist expectations put on her, how can a transwoman feel safe with people who insist that her gender expression is a contrived tool of her oppressor.

It takes a lot of cisprivilege to lecture transwomen on the ways they navigate society’s gender expectations.  At it’s heart, the rejection of femininity is a male-centred way of thinking.  The assumption that femininity is for attracting men.

I’ve heard it expressed by ciswomen that they have to moderate the way they express their gender because every random man on the street will assume her presentation is just for him rather than an expression of her own agency.  One woman who enjoys all sorts of femmie things; makeup, dresses, glitter, feels she can’t were low cut tops, not because she doesn’t like her cleavage, but because she doesn’t want every man on the street drooling down it.

To borrow a phrase from Julia Serano, let’s put the feminine back in feminism.   I’ll leave you with a few quotes of her’s from a 2007 Bitch Magazine interview,

I’m not attracted to men. [But] sometimes I like getting dressed up, but I know that when I do, men on the street will comment more, people are going to perceive me as dressing that way in order to gain attention. And that sucks, because that’s not what my motive is. But the other option is to repress my femininity or repress my desire to dress up when I feel the desire to do so. And that’s what I did most of my life as a male. And that sucks, too.

—-

In feminism and in the queer community, there’s a strong anti-feminine attitude. If you look at the gay male community, masculinity is praised, femininity is suspect. If you look at the lesbian community, masculinity is praised, femininity is suspect. We have to get that out of our heads. Whenever I hear a feminist argue that women are subordinating themselves to men when they dress up, to me it sounds like a slightly toned-down version of “women who dress provocatively are asking for it.” It’s the same argument.

More on Transwomen and Male Privilege

The following is a comment in response to “Cisfeminism, Transwomen and Male Privilege” on a feminist forum:

I feel like it’s important to qualify that there is a big difference between attempting to exercise male privilege, what Bornstein calls male behavior, and actually having male privilege extended to you by others. when I came out by just telling people I identify as a woman, people generally still extended male privilege my direction, but when I came out by actually presenting that way — being “full time” — nobody extended male privilege to me any more.

I agree that there’s a distinction between how you act and how others treat you.  I’m sure I am extended more male privilege by others than many transwomen, esspecially those who live in stealth, because I’m genderqueer and my transition doesn’t involve any medical changes.  I’d be very cautious with this line of thinking though.  There seems to be two big problems with it that allow it to be used to reinforce  both male supremacy and cissexism.

It would be too simplistic to ignore that male privilege is also extended based on your behavior, not just your appearance.  A transwoman who shows learned male behavior will have people deferring to her privilege regardless of her appearance.  This reinforces male supremacy by taking accountability off of the individual flexing their privilege and putting it on everyone else.

That dynamic is especially problematic in women’s only spaces.   A ciswoman is put in the paradoxical position of having to call out male privilege in a supposedly safe space while not being cissexist.  If accountability is pushed from the woman not checking her privilege to the others in the space then the appearance of cissexism is impossible to avoid.

Let’s also consider the implicit cissexism in the thinking that male privilege extended from others is a factor in determining access to women’s spaces.  Earlier I wrote that I likely am extended more male privilege than many transwomen.  However, transwomen who do not use hormones, hair removal or facial surgery will also be extended more male privilege, this is a consequence of cissexism.

Do we really want to open the door for others to be able to determine womanhood or maleness based on our appearance, or how feminine we are.  Is a transwoman who can’t afford SRS, hormones and fashionable clothes any less of a woman?  Should her access to women’s spaces be determined by how feminine she feels like presenting that day?  No, the only factor that should go into a transwoman’s inclusion in a safe space is how well she does at checking her privilege at the door.

International Women’s Day

“There should be no need for this month or this day to exist, but it does, because women are still far from equal.” - Womanist Musings

 

Feminist fist

Cisfeminism,Transwomen and Male Privilege

It took becoming a woman to discover my “male behavior”- that is, exhibiting male privilege.  When I was first coming out, I used to hang out mostly with women.  Any act of mine that was learned male behavior stuck out like a sore thumb.  Things like leaping up and taking charge, even when it wasn’t called for; things like using a conversation like a sledgehammer; things like assuming that everyone owed me special consideration for my journey through a gender change- I still shudder at my arrogance.

-Kate Bornstein “Gender Outlaw”

There’s been quite a lot of criticism of Bornstein for internalised transphobia, but I find hir take on male privilege to be very refreshing.  The feminist and trans blogosphere has had a flare up on the issue of radical feminism and transphobia lately and looking back on hir words offers much needed perspective.

Male privilege is not something that disappears when a MTF spectrum person comes out.  It’s something that must be actively addressed and it takes time and work.  This seems to me to be at the heart of the debate.

Cisfeminsts must recognise that their concerns over male privilege entering women’s spaces needs to have a great deal of nuance to avoid the trappings of cissexism.  Transwomen need to recognise that the possibility of bringing male privilege into women’s spaces is very real.  Excluding transwomen is the wrong approach, increased scrutiny of transwomen is not correct either.  Every individual must be taken as an individual if the goal is to make a safe space.

So many factors go into the ammount of male privilege expressed by a transwoman; how actively she checks it, how long she’s been checking it, what age she was when she came out, when she began transitioning.  These days, when transgirls are coming out and transitioning at younger and younger ages, the diversity of experiences among transwomen is only going to increase.

There’s so much hurt and trauma behind the rift between cisfeminists and transfeminists.  We should be allies in the struggle against patriarchy, we should know that the source of that hurt is not each other, it’s male domination.  We have both been bringing cissexism and misogyny to the table for too long and it’s time to set it aside and work together because we all have a common enemy.

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