(No, I’m not pregnant.)

I’ve decided, after a period of switching on and off, to leave this blog open for anyone who feels like reading, but not to write for the next three months. It’s for various reasons, mainly to do with my own well-being, my constant sense that I owe people things which I probably don’t, and my need to stop feeling that, in terms of how feminist debate works, I’m never good enough (if only I said it better, people wouldn’t think x about feminists, gender, sex blah blah blah… As if that will ever work!). I need to concentrate on things that make me happy (i.e. wine and knitting, possibly also my children if I can be arsed).

Feminism makes me happy, when it is positive — but not when I feel I am watching women get hurt and cannot do anything about it. I worry a lot about young women not feeling they have a right to speak or to place their experiences in any context nor even to admit they feel pain. I worry about all the same patterns being played out time and again, as women take steps forward and are vilified for doing so, so much so that others watching decide that being “one of them” is the worst thing possible. I have been one of the women who felt this and then I’ve also been “one of them”. Finding the words to get beyond this — persuading women that it is safe to speak and that they will be understood when, to be fair, it isn’t and they won’t – is not something I can do. The fact that it seems no one can is, at the moment, truly heartbreaking.

The reasons I am announcing this is not because I feel I owe it to my legions of fans <grandiose nod to the non-existent masses>. It’s because I rarely stick to things I say I’m going to do, even if they’re for my own good. I felt that if I announced this here, fear of public embarrassment would prevent me from going back on it (like many people, I find embarrassment avoidance far more motivating than concern for my own well-being. And yes, like many people, I may not appear to be someone who cares about embarrassment, but actually I do – I’m just generally crap at avoiding it unless the rules are really obvious).

So anyhow, I’m off, for now (although I may pop up writing for places where I get paid, obviously, what with all the knitting patterns and Soave I have to buy).

Till later :)

 

This morning @FeministPics tweeted a newspaper report on the fascinating story of Harriet Capon, who spent two years presenting as a boy. When asked to explain herself, Capon claimed her motivations were economic:

I am one of a family of six. My mother, I regret to say, is in very precarious health, and about two years ago I started thinking seriously about how I could add to the household income to the best advantage. Of course everyone knows that a man can make more money than a woman in industrial employment. I cogitated for a long time, and finally I decided to become a ‘man’.

All of this took place a century ago. There was no Equal Pay Act, no anti-sexual harassment legislation, no maternity leave, none of the safety nets for which feminists have fought long and hard. Capon’s assumption – that if one wanted to make money in industrial employment, it was easier to be a man, even easier than it is today – was absolutely correct.

A short while after @FeministPics put out the report a tweet from another twitter user appeared, mentioning “Charles Capon, #trans boy for 2yrs during WWI”. It referred to the same story, only now it was presented in a completely different light. Suddenly it is suggested that Capon acted, not in response to a gender hierarchy which values males more than females, but because she was indeed one of the ‘higher value’ individuals. I’ve rarely seen a clearer example of neoliberal identity politics being privileged over economic, social and political oppression. Given the pitifully low status of women and girls the world over, this matters. (more…)

In his brilliant blog post on purity leftism, Matt Bruenig describes a group of activists whose “interest is not in reducing oppression as much as it is in reducing their own participation in it”

Above all else, they want to be able to say that they are not oppressing, not that oppression has ended.[…] A purity leftist that carries out some action or campaign does not care whether it achieves anything. Just participating in the action, although a meaningless gesture, is a gesture nonetheless.

We all know the type: someone who boasts loudly of their revolutionary credentials but who avoids all practical commitments for the simple reason that the moment you start doing something, you are tainted. It might be that your organisation has to ask the wrong people for money; perhaps you’ll need to use products that aren’t ethically sourced; maybe your resources are limited and you’ll need to choose whom you can and can’t help. For whatever reason, the moment an idea becomes a deed, it’s never as pure as it once was and for some people, the damage this would do to their self-perception is just too much.

You can admire purity leftists as people who stick to their principles and never compromise or you can see purity leftism for what it is: privilege in action. People not getting their hands dirty because they simply don’t have to. It has much in common with choice feminism, described by Michaele L. Ferguson as a feminism that is “motivated by a fear of politics”:

It arises in response to three common criticisms of feminism: that feminism is too radical, too exclusionary, and too judgmental. In response, choice feminism offers a worldview that does not challenge the status quo, that promises to include all women regardless of their choices, and that abstains from judgment altogether.

Way-hey! A feminism that enables you to see yourself as the most principled, inclusive person while never, ever having to lay your own neck on the line. You never have to make a decision about who can be admitted to a shelter, or whether or not certain forms of work have a negative impact on women as a class. You just get to sit in judgment on those who do and that in itself can be your “activism”.

Becky, who founded the ethical clothing company Who Made Your Pants?, is neither a purity leftist nor a choice feminist. In a country with horrendously weak employment laws, in which employers are well within their rights to do the bare minimum for their employees – and in which most do — she founded a business that does more than that. She employs women who desperately need jobs to make clothing from recycled materials. The conditions in her factory are excellent. That said, it is not a perfect business. It is based in the UK, not on a fluffy cloud in Perfectland where nobody ever has to make compromises. It is a business which, on the spectrum of “never good enough”, strives to do as much as possible rather than as little as one can get away with. For this Becky deserves admiration.

And yet, for the likes of Brooke Magnanti, writing in the Telegraph, this is not good enough. To Magnanti, Becky’s project deserves not applause but derision. For how can it ever be free from the taint of capitalism? Isn’t everything, when you think about it – as first-year politics students often do, after several pints down the student bar – just all part of the same fucked up process? As Magnanti notes,

I can claim to be wearing an ethical jumper that I knitted myself, but where was the wool from? Shorn from what animals, in what conditions? What’s the dye? I can’t buy local wool; everything produced in the part of Scotland where I live goes off to stuff mattresses in Italy. And don’t even get started on the environmental wreckage of cotton crops. Ethical consumerism can’t be assessed on a single metric, and those who do so are laughable. It also does not mean the same thing to everyone in every circumstance.

She’s right, isn’t she? It’s complicated, oh so complicated. So complicated, in fact, that we might as well all sit on our privileged arses and do fuck all. Or better still, get paid to write about how complicated it is. At least then we’re not lowering ourselves by making pants that lack the requisite level of ideological purity.

Still, in a world that is so, so complicated it’s a good job there are still some occupations that aren’t complicated at all. Take sex work, Magnanti’s previous profession. In this case, one transaction between two (hopefully) consenting adults has no impact whatsoever on anything else in the entire world. It has no impact whatsoever on the extent to which all women’s bodies are objectified, commoditised and dehumanised. For some magic reason, upon which Magnanti never expounds, sex work is totally self-contained. Here, ethical consumerism can indeed be assessed on a single metric, despite the enormous power imbalances between men and women, and between clients and sex workers. It’s only when we’re dealing with pants and jumpers that being immersed in the capitalist-patriarchal mire happens to be of any relevance, or so we’re meant to think.

Do you know what? I am struggling to buy this bullshit, based as it is on a merging together of choice feminism, purity leftism and pure, naked spite. I would rather, a million times over, support someone who exploits people’s anxiety over capitalism than someone who exploits men’s anxiety over female sexual autonomy. I would rather, a million times over, support someone like Becky, who changes the material conditions of other women’s lives, than support someone who feeds off the fear of judgement that allows individualism to masquerade as feminism.

So, go ahead, Brooke. Choose your non-ethical pants, choose your column in the right-wing press, choose to believe you’ve fucked your way out of being privileged, white, and middle class. Choose all of these things but don’t ever, ever choose to try to make a difference. You’ll never meet the requirements of your own prudish politics so you might as well not try.

It was the free eyeliner that did it. After over a year of avoidance I caved in and bought a copy of Glamour and yes, it’s as rubbish as it ever was (but “hey, it’s okay if your new sandals require strategically placed plasters to be wearable”. So, there’s that).

Peak Glamour Rubbishness comes on page 91, with a piece by Stephen Armstrong on “girl envy” (yes, I know). It’s one of those sleazy, sugar-coated MRA-in-disguise articles that tells you “hey ladies, you’re so great, what with your ability to multi-task, always look perfect, bear my children and do lots of shitty jobs so that I don’t have to!” Gee, thanks. Always good to know my subjugation is appreciated.

The piece goes on for three pages, providing plenty of choice nonsense to pick from. My particular faves include Armstrong quoting a fellow journalist, George, on what women are like once they’ve had given birth:

Mid-life crisis? Women have no time for that shit. From the outside, pregnancy looks like a nine-month crash course in the meaning of life. We men, on the other hand, seem destined to spend our late forties seeking enlightenment in Lycra that doesn’t fit, on carbon fibre bikes we can’t afford, doing triathlons. Yes, childbirth might do us a favour.

Yes, George. That is EXACTLY what it’s like. Post-natal depression? Never heard of it. Unhappy mothers in their late forties? Don’t exist. And then there’s Armstrong himself on why it looks like we ladies are “having a lot more fun”:

When we see you across the room – through a bustling party, in a high-powered meeting, back to the table after 15 minutes in the powder room or walking towards the bed – there’s something about the way you move, your mischievous smile, the smart joke and the totally sorted view of what’s needed that stops our heart and catches our breath.

It’s at this point you start to wonder whether Armstrong has met any women in real life or bases his whole reading of half the human race on TV adverts and rom coms. Certainly, he doesn’t seem to think women have an inner life in the way that men do. We don’t have any of those messy crises. We don’t feel conflicted or challenged or incompetent. We just sashay across the room, spreading sweetness and light, making everyone feel better with our “totally sorted view”. Jesus Christ. Thank god we’re not actual real, live people since that would really make things inconvenient for Stephen and George. (more…)

I knew my sons were boys four months before they were born. For each, a penis was visible on the twenty week scan. They were not, shall we say, “modest”, which is just as well, because I wanted to know in advance. I wanted to be able to prepare myself, by which I do not mean purchase a vat of blue paint and a range of suitably gendered toys. I wanted to know what, in a viciously gendered world, we’d be up against: the conditioning that tells my children to be violent, unfeeling, dominant, unable to admit to vulnerabilities, or the conditioning that tells my children they must be passive, self-effacing, nurturing, mere objects for the purpose of another’s self-definition. I wanted to have time to think about how to protect them (but there’s never enough time for that).

My sons are boys because they have penises. They are neither female nor intersex. They are male. They are not boys in the gendered sense of the word: their character, emotional life, intellect and world view are not shaped by the fact that they have magic boy brains. I am not, however, naïve; I know that much of what is shaping their experience as human beings comes from the fact that others believe such boy brains exist and will treat my children accordingly. This is why, as a feminist, I am against what gender is and does. It might be a hierarchy which implicitly positions my sons at the top, on the arbitrary basis of reproductive difference, but it is one that harms them, too. They are unique, creative, wonderful little people, not “a gender” (what is that, anyhow? How many genders would we need to allow them to be utterly individual? 7 billion? What, you mean like having no genders at all? Don’t be such a bigot!). (more…)

Laurie Penny has a colouring book:

It’s called Finding Gender, and it was sent to me by an activist who knows how much I love social justice and felt-tip pens. In the book, a small child and a robot go on marvellous adventures, and children and nostalgic adults get to scribble on their clothes and costumes, their hair and toys. It’s an ordinary colouring book in every respect, apart from the fact that the child isn’t identifiably male or female. Neither is the robot. The person with the crayons gets to decide what they’re wearing, whether they’re boys or girls, or both or neither.

It sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? I wonder if there are other books in the series. Finding Class, for instance, where the child isn’t identifiably rich or poor and the person with the crayons gets to decide whether he or she has a pony and a yacht or a half-eaten bag of chips. It’s such a wheeze when an oppressive, abusive hierarchy can be reduced to a few self-indulgent, superfluous stereotypes. You could almost – almost – convince a child that they get to define their own place in a classist, misogynist social structure. As for adults … well, you’d hope most would have a sense that this isn’t quite how things work.. (more…)

Most institutions, systems and objects are created on the assumption that the default person is male. Assumed maleness shapes how businesses are run, how research is conducted, even how proportions for furniture are calculated. Things are built for men whereas women, ever flexible, must mould themselves to fit whatever is available. Should women fail to fit in – by having children, by having the “wrong” bodies, by being “the wrong size” – it is they and not a man-made environment who get the blame. (more…)

Safe spaces are not just physical entities. They can, and should, exist inside your own mind. The most intimate safe spaces — the physical boundaries of your own body, the theoretical boundaries of your own self-definition — should be the most inviolable ones of all.

Most women know that this is not how things work in practice. They have known it all their lives. Taught to be accessible and passive from birth — not hard, boisterous and demanding — they learn that their safety is partial and contingent on a lack of resistance. Do what the nice man says and no one will get hurt.

Feminism has fought against this, arguing that women deserve the space to be whoever they are, freely, as complete entities rather than as adjuncts to the male ego. There have been political outcomes to this (the creation of women’s refuges and family planning clinics, for instance) but also internalised, personalised ones (women being able to acknowledge that they are more than passive accessories — and in doing so learning that they have the right to say no). (more…)

In The Beauth Myth Naomi Wolf describes how sickness and health “are often subjective judgments that society makes for its own purposes”:

Women have long been defined as sick as a means of subjecting them to social control […] The Surgical Age took over from the institutionalization of female “mental illness,” which had in turn overtaken the institutionalization of nineteenth-century hysteria, each phase of medical coercion consistently finding new ways to determine that what is female is sick.

Wolf was writing about the cosmetic surgery industry at the end of the 1980s. This pressure is still with us, greater than ever before, but still we are finding new, more complex ways of diagnosing women as ill and unfit for activism or debate. I see this happening within feminism itself. It’s not just that women are told they are sick as a means of silencing dissent; dissent itself has been pathologised. You can be well, but only if you keep your mouth shut.

Terms such as bigot, TERF, whorephobe and SWERF are hurled at women whenever they do not toe the line regarding essentialist definitions of femininity and sexual passivity. It’s a means of discrediting arguments by suggesting that the subject is diseased, unable to think clearly due to multiple phobias. I think there’s a direct line to this from the cults that Wolf describes. Women who threaten the misogynist status quo by being active and demanding have to be put out of service one way or another. (more…)

When I was three, I knew that boys had penises. I did not know that girls had vaginas because no one told me. I presumed, as I think many do, that my lack of a penis was just that: a lack. Even later on, when I learned about human reproduction, still I found my role in it to be passive, that of a vessel waiting to be filled. The noble sperm battles his way through the harsh environs of Womanland, hunting out the ovum, who is playing hard to get. The continuation of the species depends on the sperm penetrating the boundaries of the resistant egg, or at least that’s the narrative spin that patriarchy puts on it. Woman as creator was never going to fly.

The reduction of women to holes, serving only to define those who fill them, is central to how misogyny perpetuates itself. Our perceived permeability and lack of completion is used to justify the marginalisation of women and the exploitation of our bodies and labour. Our own flesh and blood does not make us weak, but the metaphors derived from it – woman as hell mouth, moral abyss, cesspool, vacant space – have long supported arguments that women are not quite people. We tend not to voice these arguments today but the fundamental assumptions remain. (more…)

Misogyny is not particularly nuanced. It has a long history and manifests itself in different ways across different cultures, but essentially it’s always the same: hating women, viewing them as less than human, denying them their subjectivity. None of these things is very refined; indeed, when you are on the receiving end of misogyny, you know that it is gut-wrenchingly blunt.

Responses to killer Elliot Rodger’s misogynist manifesto have not been nuanced. This is because there are no subtle shades in lines such as these:

Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such. […]I would take great pleasure and satisfaction in condemning every single woman on earth to starve to death. I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die. If I can’t have them, no one will, I’d imagine thinking to myself as I oversee this. Women represent everything that is unfair with this world, and in order to make the world a fair place, they must all be eradicated.

There is no reason for us to pore over these words, looking for the complexities, the justifications, the finely balanced decisions. This is someone who despised women for being women. And yet the language he uses – If I can’t have them, no one will – will be familiar to many of us. It’s there in descriptions of women as sluts, whores, prick teases, temptresses. It’s there in the way men treat women who reject them or try to leave them. It’s there in the belief that all men are entitled to penetrate women’s bodies. Such a view of women is all around us and if that sounds monstrous and extreme, that’s because it is. (more…)

When we bought my youngest son a set of Ladybird stories to satisfy his love of fairy tales, it took me a while to notice that these were the same stories I’d read as a child. The pictures had changed but gradually it became clear that the words remained the same. I remembered the rhythms and metaphors, almost hearing my mother’s intonation as she’d once read them out to me.

At first I thought “oh, how cute! A blast from the past!” Then I read on and the feeling morphed into “bloody hell! No wonder I’ve always had a love-hate Stockholm Syndrome relationship with heteronormative patriarchy! It started right here!” (more…)

One of many seemingly trivial things that infuriates me is the sight of the strappy summer top or dress. This is an item of clothing under which most women would want to wear a bra and yet, unless it is the fashion, bra straps are not meant to be on show. Up till now there’s been no real solution to this. Strapless bras slip down, while transparent bra straps have never fooled anyone. However, the bra-free alternative — nipples at your navel — is even worse. So you see these clothes in shop windows and in magazines and after a while you start to think “is it me? Do other women have breasts of helium? Who — apart from the woman who’s buying the smallest size — is meant to wear these things?” It is a mystery and like many fashion-related mysteries, it’s one that will make you feel a failure at womanhood for no reason whatsoever. (more…)

Recently I started coming across the word “femmephobia” to describe critiques of pinkification, female stereotyping and the beauty industry. The femmephobe is someone who exhibits an irrational fear of all things traditionally associated with femininity. She is prejudiced against people who use femininity as a means of expression. It’s not because she’s identifying an oppressive structure which limits everyone’s choice, but because she just doesn’t like girly girls. She is, in short, a bigot.

I’d say I’m a bit of a femme myself. I like make-up and prefer dresses to trousers. I think cars and football are boring (because they bloody well are). I’d rather do crochet than play on the Wii, unless it’s a relatively fluffy platform game that doesn’t involve too much killing. Hence I have a degree of sympathy with those who cry “femmephobe!” I can see the position as a distant relative to that adopted by earlier feminists who sought to re-evaluate traditionally female activity and culture. There is nothing inherently trivial about the work “feminine” people do, the poses they adopt, the means by which they express themselves. Moreover, devaluing “the feminine” is not just sexist but culturally imperialistic, since definitions of femininity vary between cultures. (more…)

A couple of years ago, on my 37th birthday, I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s a Hollywood film so it probably goes without saying the gender politics were unimpressive. Nevertheless, this film really pissed me off. It’s everything that’s terrible about how mainstream feminism is marketed and it’s a bloody fairy tale. Just what is wrong with the world?

Charleze Theron’s Ravenna, the villain of the piece, is a cross between Tampax Pearl’s Mother Nature and Valerie Solanas. She is pitched against Kristen Stewart’s Snow White, who is young, beautiful and feisty, all set to overthrow a patriarchal regime that demands all women be young, beautiful but not particularly feisty. Snow White rebels by remaining young and beautiful while also having agency™ and being empowered™ – go her! Meanwhile Ravenna, the Evil Queen, can only maintain her youth and beauty by being evil. Deep down she’s an ageing minger and therefore not worthy of exerting any power or influence. So Snow White kills her. Yay feminism! Kill that stupid, youth-addicted, power-hungry, post-menopausal waste of space! (more…)

As a feminist I’ve spent a great deal of time worrying about one thing: misogyny, that is, the hatred of women for being women. Over the past few days, however, something has come to my attention: it doesn’t actually exist! You know that global phenomenon whereby women and girls are valued less than men and boys – paid less, silenced, treated as goods to be exchanged? Turns out it’s all a massive coincidence. It might look like there’s more to it than that but don’t worry – it’s all one big misandrist fib (NB misandry does exist, obviously).

You might think that, say, gender stereotyping in toys and clothing was linked to attempts to “naturalise” oppressive gender roles. Turns out it isn’t. Gender stereotypes are totally cool; the only trouble is we keep giving the wrong toys to the wrong kids, a bit like getting odd socks out of the wash. Once we’ve got that sorted it’ll be fine to keep stereotyping by gender (there won’t be any actual reason to do so, but still, it’s got nothing to do with misogyny, since that’s a figment of our collective imagination). In the meantime the important thing is to remember that all mix-ups harm boys just as much as they harm girls – otherwise that wouldn’t be fair, right? (more…)

Today I read a review of Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s The Vagenda. I have not yet read the book itself, which is aimed primarily at young women. I probably will read it at some point, but for the time being I’ve decided I don’t have to. A man has read the book and offered his own view on womankind’s relationship with popular culture. This has got to be better than anything some stupid Grazia subscriber might think.

David Aaranovitch is not a young woman. He does, however, have daughters. What’s more, he is known to have existed in the proximity of women for most of his life. He walks amongst them, observing their curious ways and idiosyncrasies. Who better, then, to report back to the rational masses on the enigma that is Women Who Do Stupid Things That Facilitate Their Own Oppression? (more…)

In response to yesterday’s post I have received a lot of well-meaning messages informing me that “gender is not a binary”. This is, I assume, to disabuse me of the foolish notion that there’s only boring old male and female. I am reliably informed (as if I didn’t know it already) that there is plenty more in-between. Hence we don’t need to panic about gender itself oppressing people. There’s enough to go round! Don’t fear it, queer it! Everything is awesome! etc.

I am not convinced by this argument, not because I have any doubts about the number of gender identities currently on offer. There are loads. It’s like being in an Eastern Bloc country just after the Fall of Communism – look at the choice! No more shall we join a uniform stream of Men and Women trudging miserably out of the People Factory. We’re free at last! (Or at least we would be if it wasn’t for those pesky TERFs still clinging on to their Stalinist views on gender equality.) Gender is not a binary – it’s not! That Facebook drop-down provides all the empirical evidence we need. The trouble is, it might not be a binary, but it sure as hell is a hierarchy. (more…)

So yes, I’m writing another – another – post on the word “cis”. Everybody quake in fear! But I’ve had so many useful comments, which have given me so much food for thought, that I’d like to get them all out and see what happens.

The other reason is the previous post is based on personal pain. It was, as these things are, read as competitive. I felt hurt; other people felt hurt. This is an attempt to be more dispassionate and to explain why, as far as I can see, the term “cis” isn’t working – and why we need to allow non-trans women to define themselves on their own terms:

1 Cis is not a necessary alternative to trans

Many people find it hard to see what is wrong with this statement:

anyone not trans is cis

But what if someone said this:

“anyone not Muslim is Christian”

It doesn’t make any sense, does it? The fact that being a Muslim is predicated on having a religious belief does not mean that anyone who is not a Muslim must have a different religious belief, let alone one specified by you.

You could amend the first statement to:

“anyone not trans is cis or non-binary or genderfluid or two-spirit etc.”

However, then the equivalent would be:

“anyone not Muslim is Christian or Hindu or Sikh or Jewish etc.”

There is quite clearly something missing: the space for people who do not wish to be defined by these belief systems at all. In the case of the former statement, that would be a huge number of feminists, with good reason.

I am not religious. I don’t define myself as an atheist any more than I define myself as a “not believer in fairies”. I just don’t wish to define myself in relation to religion in any way, shape or form. Does it mean I don’t believe Muslims are Muslims? Of course not. Similarly, does not identifying as cis mean I don’t believe trans people are trans? Clearly not. Nor does it mean that I am agender (I am female and I am a woman. Gender does not come into it). An absence of belief is not the erasure of someone else’s. On the other hand, the demand that someone actively endorses your worldview by declaring themselves a believer or risk being deemed a bigot and subjected to ongoing threats and abuse … well, what would you call that?

2 It’s morally unacceptable to demand that another person swears allegiance to a belief system they experience as harmful

This is what is being done when feminists who do not believe in gender as anything other than a construct are ordered to identify as cis. It is not merely unfair; it is cruel, a cruelty which is intensified when the consequences of not submitting are to be declared a hateful bigot and a TERF. There are non-trans women whose experience of gender is contained only within the harm that has been done to them and others. It’s not okay to then tell them that they just don’t “get” gender or that “real gender” is totally distinct from gender oppression and stereotyping. If they do not experience or believe that, merely being faced with such statements is traumatising. Gender has an absolutely real and valid meaning for them and to suggest that any attachment to this meaning encroaches on the space of someone more oppressed is manipulative and untrue. This is not about hierarchies of suffering, it is about the integrity of meanings to people who are traumatised in different but equally deplorable ways.

3 Individuals should have the freedom to identify with any gender – or none

This is linked to the previous two points and it is that basic: to be cisgendered has no meaning to someone who does not experience themselves as gendered in any way other than by the gaze of others. Indeed, to enforce cisgendered status on someone who feels this way is to double up the oppression; it’s asking someone to confess to an experience that they themselves do not believe in, in effect, to own up to ignorance of their own selves and submit to the higher authority of those who “know” their gender better (trans people will be familiar with how awful this feels, but so too will most AFAB women, who experience this in various ways from the moment they are born).

In a recent piece for the Guardian, Fred McConnell described gender as “one’s innate sense of self”. I don’t know what this means. This does not mean I am deficient or ignorant. It means I don’t think that’s what gender is. Hence when McConell says “cisgender […] refers to those whose sex and gender do match” I am 100% sure that I am not cis. I don’t experience this matching but nor do I experience a sense of allegiance with any other gender construct. It should not matter to anyone else that I don’t. It is not their business.

4 Trans women should not depend on non-trans women for self-definition

Why the hell should they even want to? My not-cis-ness says nothing about your trans-ness. You don’t need me as a foil to offer validation. You are your own person.

If we were to push this to its logical conclusion, we could say that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. Either gender exists as an innate sense of self or it doesn’t. Either God exists or he doesn’t. Why, exactly, would we want to push it to this degree? Will we ever get a final answer, a voice from on high? No. I don’t care if you don’t. Moreover this is not the same as me saying “you’re not the man or woman you say you are” (I think this can be particularly hard to grasp, not least due to the oppressive conditions under which trans people have to define themselves, but it’s true).

5 Evidence of innate difference is not evidence of innate gender difference

Or rather, it only is if you’re already someone who believes in gender as an essence rather than merely a construct. This is very straightforward but I don’t think this can be stressed enough. It is frankly absurd that radical feminists get termed flat-earthers and anti-scientific simply because they refuse to make the leap of faith that says, for instance, that evidence of different brain patterns in trans people can be linked to the concepts “male” and “female”. If other people want to make that leap, that’s up to them, but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with scientific proof. I believe Jesus existed. I also believe he was an amazing man. Is that evidence for the existence of a Christian God? No. Believing in God involves bringing together faith and evidence to form a coherent narrative. People who don’t have faith in gender won’t produce the same narrative in response to biological difference as those who do. We should be able to live with that. It’s only a problem when evidence of biological difference is used to justify gender-based oppression (which it has been, again and again). In these instances, an agnostic position on gender and biology surely seems the fairest way to proceed.

6 Beliefs are not the same as social and cultural privilege

It is self-evident that trans people suffer enormous amounts of discrimination and rejection. This does not mean that being an AFAB woman is a privilege in and of itself. In a society which continually dehumanises women it simply cannot be. Moreover, if you do not experience gender as anything innate, you do not suddenly have the choice to align yourself with the dominant gender. It’s not some liberating free-for-all. You’re just an AFAB woman dealing with a world that presents “womanhood” as something you are not.

Some trans women may think that non-trans women owe them – that our right to define womanhood on our terms is trumped by their greater suffering. Certainly, tweets such as this would suggest it:

faulty term

But such a view has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth of anyone’s experience of gender or womanhood. If you are a child who wants people to lie about their feelings so that you feel better, perhaps this is an okay solution. The rest of us would rather ask for cultural change and social acceptance for everyone. Such external acceptance would include you – but when it comes to self-acceptance, you have to do that on your own.

7 It’s important to distinguish between non-believers and extremists

Most violence against trans men and women is committed not by gender non-believers but gender extremists – AMAB men who cannot cope with the idea of anyone transgressing their strictly-bound gender rules (rules which radical feminists, who frankly don’t give a shit what you wear, how you feel or how you present yourself, wholly reject). It’s curious, then, that the feminist rejection of cis is instantly aligned with the transphobic violence of the über-cis. I think, deep down, the people who do this are conscious it is disingenuous. However, it’s easier to hit out at those whom you can claim threaten your sense of self rather than those who threaten your physical safety (just as it’s easier to rant at “militant secularists” rather than at Christian EDL members who set fire to mosques). Of course, it’s not fair. You alone are responsible for your sense of self. If someone tells you you’re shit or you’re not the person you say you are, they are wrong. If, on the other hand, someone else’s sense of self seems to contradict yours, this is not an act of aggression. It’s just people being people.

8 Gender as a construct is deeply harmful to AFAB women

This shouldn’t need reiterating, but it is. Rape, VAW, FGM, exploitation, inequality, femicide. Hence feminism. And yes, you can say “but that’s not real gender”. It might not be to you but it is to me. So let’s just leave it there.

9 No one ever gets final confirmation that they are A Real Woman

Because this isn’t a female version of Pinocchio. No blue fairy will come along and wave her magic wand. This is real life.

This was one trans woman’s response to my previous post (or rather, it’s the least offensive of her many responses):

on a plate

I’ll allow you a moment to laugh bitterly at the absurdity of it. If this person had actually read any of the previous things I’d written about the term cis (rather than cried “TERF” and “bigot” in response to the very idea that I’d had an opinion) she’d know that due to ill-health I didn’t experience puberty until I was in my twenties. I considered myself a woman before then, just as I considered myself a woman after having a miscarriage and will consider myself a woman when I go through the menopause and should I ever have a hysterectomy. Ovulation does not a woman make.

This is not to deny the political importance of defining “woman” in reproductive terms. I know a lot of people struggle to get their heads round this. But you just said … Well, yes, no one said this was easy! The oppression of women as a class is inseparable from patriarchal attempts to control reproduction. You can rebrand it by saying “pregnant people” all you like but a refusal to put misogyny in context betrays the perceived breeders/vessels/gestators (whatever we now call them if the right to use “woman” is withdrawn). They will remain a sub-class only one which has now been denied the dignity of a cultural and class heritage.

The upshot of this, of course, is that people have to share (I know, what a pain!). Pregnant trans men have to put up with being intermittently co-opted by Class Woman for the sake of political argument, and pregnant women have to accept (as, to be fair, I think most do) that their reproductive status is not a trump card in the Game of Womanhood.

There will never, ever, be a point in anyone’s life when they are handed a Certificate of Full Womanhood. Because that would be meaningless. We make of our womanhood what we can. It’s not a thing you can touch or measure in a test tube. It’s the messy context of a human life. Of course, not everyone thinks this, at least not yet. That’s why I’d argue that a push for greater acceptance of “messy, human, fuzzy around the edges womanhood” could strike a real blow against transphobia (in a way that demanding non-trans women identify as cis – and hence reinforcing the sense that womanhood truly is an absolute – never, ever can).

Most women hate their bodies. This is one of those boring facts that everyone knows and no one bothers to change. We half-heartedly order women to “love themselves” and “embrace their curves.” We encourage them to watch Dove adverts so that they may campaign for Real Beauty (while also worrying about ugly underarms). We eventually tell them fuck it, beauty is empowerment, why not embrace your self-hatred? Whatever we do, it’s not all that important since at the end of the day it’s all vanity. Hate away.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t hated my body. Really, truly hated it, albeit in a way that I don’t tend to think of as hate (I think of it as “having a shit body” or “being a fat, ugly bitch” or in countless other ways which problematize not my hatred, but my body itself as an offensive object). At times my hatred of my flesh has almost killed me, leading to hospitalisations and force-feedings. I still wish there was less of me. Whatever my size I will always wish to be less. (more…)

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