In her masculinity-in-crisis moananthon The End of Men, Hanna Rosin introduces us to two characters: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Their purpose is to help us understand why today’s men are losing out to their female counterparts. It’s not that women are better than men, nor even that this whole “losing out” thing is a myth. It’s because women are adaptable and men aren’t. Lucky women. Poor men.

According to Rosin, Plastic Woman has “throughout the century performed superhuman feats of flexibility” while Cardboard Man “hardly changes at all.” On the face of it, this sounds rather flattering to women. Men just plod along, being man-like, whereas we get to transform ourselves, Mr Benn-like, depending on whatever the circumstances (i.e. men) require. How cool is that? It’s in line with a lot of recent commentary on gender difference, which seeks to celebrate supposedly “feminine” characteristics – flexibility, patience, empathy – at the expense of supposedly “masculine” ones – rationality, stability, individualism. Women are, we are told, the new winners, both in the home and in the newly “feminised” workplace (it’s just unfortunate that those who live with us and those who decide on our salaries haven’t quite cottoned on to this. But never mind, the future’s female – it’s only the present that never is). (more…)

I originally wrote this piece for Socialist Resistance – in response to an idea that came from them, not me – but asked to have it withdrawn in light of this editorial announcement. I think it’s important for women’s work to be represented fairly and I don’t consent to my work being presented in contexts which don’t reflect the actual commission. The insistence that women’s voices in particular – particularly when women are describing their lives and needs – require “trigger warnings” is patriarchal to the core. When people are offended by women speaking or writing, it’s rarely women who are the problem.

In this particular instance I think Socialist Resistance need to be honest about their editorial policies and their political principles. There is a word for people for whom discussions of female bodies, female labour and male violence cause “offence and distress.” That word is not “trans”, “queer”, “marginalised” or “oppressed,” but “misogynist” (it’s been around for quite some time). If that is a publication’s desired readership, fine, but it is frankly bizarre for it to then use the term “socialist” when any analysis of the means of production expressly excludes the exploitation of female bodies and the experiences of female people as a labour class.

Moreover, if an editor believes it is contentious to claim that the exploitation of women is something which benefits a more powerful group (as opposed to something based on a random, free-floating “phobia”); if he or she thinks it is triggering to suggest male violence should be named; if he or she is unconcerned about the age-old exclusion of female bodies from understandings of what human bodies are, then that editor should say so. It’s not okay to make glib statements about not “supporting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces” when that is not what is being debated. If you’re going to slap a trigger warning on someone’s writing and make dog-whistle references to phobias, you need to give precise reasons why. And if your “socialism” is actually “redistribution amongst male people while female people carry on cleaning up everyone’s shit,” you need to be clear about this. Because selling your publication on the back of moral principles you don’t have simply isn’t fair.

***

I am wondering if an alternative title for this piece should be “why are some feminists so mean?” After all, this is the assumption made by many upon hearing that when it comes to trans inclusion, many feminists still want to talk about difference. “But trans women are women!” we are told, as though this will make everything alright. But it doesn’t. The impression is that we are cruel. Surely what is at stake matters a great deal to trans women but very little to us? Why can’t we just loosen up and let everyone join the “being oppressed as a woman” party on the same terms? Shouldn’t the excluding be left to the men?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least not if feminism is to mean anything as a political theory which analyses how and why women are oppressed, with a view to dismantling the structures which dehumanise, objectify and exploit. This is no more an abstract discussion for feminists than it is for trans people. It is not a matter of discomfort with particular words. It’s about real, flesh-and-blood suffering. If we cannot talk about how patriarchy arises, how it functions and who benefits from it, then we cannot help ourselves, let alone each other. We might as well go home.

In a 2014 piece for the Guardian, the trans journalist Fred McConnell describes gender as “one’s innate sense of self.” This is not a definition that many feminists would use. To us, gender is a hierarchical system aimed at enforcing women’s subservience. It is neither natural nor innate. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards writes, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women.” If you decide that woman = innately predisposed to meet the needs of men (and dress it up in fancy wording which suggests womanhood is actually to do with being pretty, nurturing, communicative etc.), you have a ready-made justification for abuses which have endured for millennia and are going on to this day. That is what gender means to us.

I am conscious the feminist definition of gender sounds a little depressing compared to the trans one. Maybe so, but it is a description of what is. Forced marriage, unpaid wifework, reproductive coercion, sexual slavery, educational exclusion … all of these things continue to be justified by the insistence that women are “naturally” subservient, caring, decorative etc. Moreover, the women to whom these things happen do not have the opportunity to identify out of their oppression because this oppression remains material in basis. Saying “I’m not a woman – my innate sense of self tells me I’m not THAT!” does not work (I write this as a pregnant woman and believe me, no amount of insisting “I’m a pregnant PERSON!” grants me an exemption from laws which were written on the assumption that women, as a reproductive class, should not have full bodily autonomy at all times in the same way that men do).

So what is the solution? Feminists propose that we abolish gender and accept that both male and female people are human, free to express themselves however they choose regardless of their sex. Trans activists propose that we abolish sex difference (as if one could) and accept that whether one is male or female depends upon how one identifies, using gender as a guide. Quite how the latter option deals with the material exploitation of sexed bodies under patriarchy – beyond making it unmentionable – isn’t very clear. Nor does it tell us how we might confront male violence (over 90% of all violent crime is committed by male people, regardless of how they identify). Are we therefore to assume that a predisposition to violence is merely a part of someone’s innate sense of self? And is it now up to perpetrators to say whether their violence really counts as “male violence,” dependent on how “male” they feel? Indeed, under the rules of trans politics, can we identify any forms of material oppression and dominance at all?

When feminists point out that trans women are not biologically female, we are not, as some would have it, behaving like “knuckle-dragging bigots.” We’re saying our bodies exist and matter, too. This isn’t a minor point. The idea that male bodies are the default bodies is patriarchy 101. Eve is constructed from Adam’s rib; Freud clocks our lack of penis and comments drily that “a hole is a hole”; modern medical research is still biased towards using male bodies. Denying sex difference by making male bodies the only “real” bodies is not some modern stroke of genius; it is conservative to the core. Moreover, it is directly contrary to the feminist objective of ensuring that biology is not destiny.

Many people find this hard to understand, thinking that to associate being female with having a female reproductive system is akin to “reducing women to their genitalia.”  It’s a non-argument that’s rather akin to saying anti-capitalists “reduce people to their earnings” or anti-racism campaigners are “obsessed with skin colour.” If we don’t talk about biology – and hence never demand the structural changes which ensure the world is built to suit the needs of all bodies – then for female people, biology always will be destiny. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that company bosses ever sat down and decided to actively discriminate against people who look like they might have the potential to get pregnant; they just built the rules on the assumption that the default employee is someone who definitely can’t. This then leads to enormous inequalities, forcing women into lower-paid, part-time work or excluding them from employment altogether (while allowing male people to continue to benefit from the disproportionate share of unpaid caring work undertaken by female people; unfortunately males who see “woman” as an identity rarely seem to identify with the floor scrubbing and arse-wiping aspect of the whole experience).

In all this it’s worth asking who really gains the most from trans politics in its current anti-feminist guise. Female people don’t and if we’re honest, neither do most gender non-conforming males. Whereas feminism seeks to dismantle male dominance, trans politics reinforces traditional masculinity by insisting that any quality that is considered insufficiently manly is shoved into the “woman/not man/other” box. Not only does this offer no challenge whatsoever to the global epidemic of male violence, but it ensures that women can continue to be blamed for it (If women were only more accommodating, men wouldn’t have to beat anyone up, as said by every single misogynist since the beginning of time). Moreover, this is entirely in keeping with a feminist analysis of gender as a hierarchy. When self-styled cis men order feminists to accept that “trans women are women,” what they’re really saying is “accept that my dominance is natural” (any admission that male people might freely identify with so-called feminine qualities without having to declare themselves female would be far too unsettling; it might show that patriarchy is a house built on sand after all).

A recent poster campaign asking feminists to be “more inclusive” showed a trans person trying to decide which toilets to use. On the door of the ladies’ were the words “get yelled at”; on the men’s, “get beaten up.” That’s patriarchy for you; men learn violence, the most women can do is seek to raise our voices. The trans solution? Demand entry into the “get yelled at” space, even if this also means granting entry to potential beaters as well as yellers. Accept male violence, but not female dissent, as a fact of life. The feminist solution?  The opposite: no to male violence, yes to raising our voices. Confront the system that enables the beaters. Do so even if it means you get yelled at and called a TERF and told to die on a daily basis. Do it because you know male violence is wrong, that no one deserves to be beaten and that all people should be free to express themselves how they wish, regardless of sex.

I know which option I’d choose. Other people can make their own choices, but let’s be honest: this is not about identity and inclusion. It’s about power. Think about who and what you’re propping up.

***

Postscript: An email trail

Bizarrely, members of Socialist Resistance are seeking to deny commissioning this article, despite it appearing on their site. This is the text of the email from Socialist Resistance that commissioned it:

The idea is that there will be an accompanying article by a trans activist and the context is that we are trying to get our heads around the debates. My view is that minuscule Trot groups shouldn’t take a line on these issues but do have an obligation to be aware of the debates. At some point in the next few months we hope to have a public meeting of some sort on the subject and it’s been quite a revelation how vociferous some people are when expressing their point of view.
So, I suppose the brief is “why do many feminists think people who used to be men are different from people who were born as women?’
As for the deadline – the first person who was asked didn’t deliver on schedule. Is Sunday evening too much of a rush?

 

This was their response to the piece I submitted, which is, word for word, as reproduced above:

Thanks Victoria. I can’t imagine anyone will find that controversial. What name would you like it to appear under?

And this is an email I sent querying their proposed title on the basis that people might consider it transphobic:

I just wanted to mention one other thing – I’m not sure what you’re proposing for a title but I wonder if something along the lines of “why do many feminists think people who used to be men are different from people who were born as women?’” might be a hostage to fortune on the basis that many trans activists (e.g. Paris Lees and Janet Mock) would say they’ve always been women, just not recognised as such, and also some feminists would say this isn’t what they think. Perhaps something like “feminists and transgender: why is there a debate?” would be more neutral?

All rather odd in light of subsequent misrepresentations. I’ll let people draw their own conclusions about the gender politics, group communication skills and editorial principles in play here.

I’ve written this post partly as a response to the recent behaviour of Rupert Read, the philosopher and Green MP who decided to be a half-hearted feminist for a bit then backed out once he realised that – surprise, surprise – feminists get loads of shit and said shit is, like, dead upsetting and stuff. It’s set me thinking on just how beneficial unacknowledged misogyny is to both men and women, and how so many people like to think they’re against the sexism but don’t link this to what would actually happen to them if they made a stand against the status quo. This is because people don’t really think about sexism very much, not even philosophers, but well, there you go. These are my thoughts on it and I don’t care whether you like them or not

Here are some things which will not happen if you speak out on behalf of women as a class: you will not get loads of people listening to your carefully worded, nuanced thoughts and saying “hmm, interesting, let me think about this some more”; you will not get people who disagree with you saying “sure, I think that’s one angle, but perhaps we could discuss it a little more?”; you will not get hordes of women eager to express their support and gratitude in public; you will not find people making connections between the problems you’ve highlighted and the surface-level examples of sexism they’ve noticed elsewhere.

If you expected any of these things to happen, then really you shouldn’t have spoken out in the first place. This is because such things would only happen if the class-based discrimination you are describing didn’t actually exist. If you have failed to consider this rather obvious point, assuming instead that since we’re all “basically in support of equality” it would therefore be fine for you to broadcast your important and valuable thoughts with impunity, then you still don’t get what “being oppressed as a class” actually means. (more…)

What is a woman, anyway? This question has been asked time and again, and still we don’t have a definitive answer. Why would that be? I have a theory: because under a system – patriarchy – which is invested in dehumanising females, the obvious response – “a female human” – would give the game away. Conscious of their own humanity, women might get uppity and stop letting men objectify their bodies, exploit their labour and generally piss about being violent. This would never do. Hence “woman”, unlike “man”, has to be really, really hard to define (so hard that you need a super-clever brain – the kind of brain that shares a body with a penis – to get it just right).

Mount Holyoke’s cancellation of its yearly production of The Vagina Monologues has given rise to a great deal of pseudo-philosophical babble regarding “reductive” and “exclusive” definitions of womanhood. According to a student spokesperson:

At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman. Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.

Oh dear! According to Jezebel this is all part of an “ugly battle” regarding “the expansion of the definition of ‘woman’ on college campuses”. Clearly, women are not walking vaginas (they are, as previously stated, human beings). But it seems to me that all the current “let’s make womanhood more inclusive” statements are rather missing the point. (more…)

Today I found out that a special “light touch stapler” is being marketed as “easy for ladies to use”. I for one am relieved to hear this. I am sick and tired of asking male colleagues to staple together my documents for me (right after I’ve made them forge my signature due to the fact that my office refuses to stock pens that are suitable for my delicate lady hands).

Of course, even with light touch staplers, the world is still a rough, tough place for a weak, fragile woman. Office stationery is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things that are too hard to handle. Take doors, for instance. We can’t open doors to save our lives. What’s more, the evils of feminism have left men unsure whether to help us with this or not, leaving us standing helplessly outside rooms until we’ve forgotten why we wanted to enter them in the first place. Then there’s driving (despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re crap at it) and holding positions of authority (hormones – which only women have, apparently – always get in the way). And as for politics – until they make a cutesy, mini Houses of Parliament, ideally one that looks more like the Happlyland Fairlyand Bluebell Boot, we’re all just going to feel alienated. It’s not that male politicians remain braying, misogynistic boors who talk over women; it’s the fact that the seat of government is not pink (and the doors are too heavy, and the stationery just too male).

Thankfully there are some things women are physically and emotionally strong enough to take on, which is just as well since otherwise we’d be really bloody useless. Take caring work, for instance. Delicate ladies who cannot lift a pen unless it is “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand” turn out to be just fine at wiping shit-covered toddler arses and lifting sick, elderly relatives twice their weight. It’s funny, isn’t it? Women – those fragrant little flowers – end up doing the vast majority of unpaid caring work: fetching and carrying, cleaning up blood and vomit, doing all that emotional heavy lifting that men just aren’t equipped to do. We even give birth to the next generation (ideally not by being “too posh to push”; let’s face it, staplers are hard but pushing a human being out of your vagina? Piece of piss).

Of course, a cynic might say that the whole weak woman construct is there to create the illusion that men are caring and providing for women when in fact it’s the other way round; we’re the ones providing the physical and emotional resources that enable men to faff around earning money, kicking footballs, killing each other and whatnot. Obviously that’s a crude way of putting it. I prefer to take a more nuanced line, which is that: yes, we women are clearly crap at staples and pens and power (the important things). It’s just as well we have our magic unpaid carer strengths to compensate. Sorry, men, that we can’t be more useful than that.

Who is your Person of 2014? Nigel Farage? Russell Brand? Or could it be … A woman???

Only kidding, obviously. Having a woman as Person of the Year would be political correctness gone mad. Woman of the Year, yes.  Person? Don’t be silly. People are male.

I could live with The Times naming Farage “Briton of the Year” (NB all humans defined by nationality are male, apart from Swedes, who are sexy blondes). I could live, almost, with the vast majority of positive alternatives to Farage being male. But when George Monbiot named Russell Brand his “hero of 2014” due to his apparently obvious distinctness from the “grand old men of the left”, something in me snapped. (more…)

There are times in your life that you find yourself going back over, again and again. For me the years 1987 to 1996 have a particular resonance. Filed away somewhere is the sense that then, and only then, I was really me. I know it’s not true – I was a dull person, a thin shadow who thought only of food and cold – but I still feel that I came closest to owning myself. Never close enough, of course, but what more can a woman expect?

I’ve just finished reading Elaine Showalter’s The Female Malady. It’s a brilliant book but one that I’ve found incredibly triggering (and “triggering” isn’t a word I often use). It has set off a lot of memories for me, and a lot of resentments that usually bubble under the surface of my fleshy, ageing exterior. It’s a book about women as people – real people with real inner lives – and it surprises me how rare that is. It’s about women trying to make themselves heard and then watching it veer off course, again and again. At the risk of sounding self-obsessed (and this is a self-obsessed post) I can identify with that. It reminds me of my own experiences as an anorexia patient and the scars that haven’t gone away. (more…)

Why do women wear high heels? It’s a question men can ask but feminists can’t. When men ask it they’re being light-hearted and humorous, expressing jovial bafflement at the strange ways of womankind. When feminists ask it they’re being judgemental bullies, dismissing the choice and agency of their Louboutin-loving sisters. So it is that Ally Fogg can get away with writing a piece for the Guardian on why he, Fogg, does not like women wearing heels (I defy any woman to do this without being considered a raging femmephobe – just ask Charlotte Raven).

In said piece, Fogg tells the story of a female friend – a kind of Everywoman in stilettoes – “grumbling about the blisters and bruises being caused by her latest proud purchase”:

I muttered something about taking more care when trying things on in the shop and she looked at me as if I had started speaking fluent Martian. “I’d never not buy a nice pair of shoes just because they didn’t fit!” she exclaimed, then we sat gawping at each other while silent mutual incomprehension calcified the air.

It’s a real Mars and Venus moment, suggesting that when it comes to shoes women are a bit, well, irrational (bless ‘em). Fogg later comments that he is “more attracted to a woman who looks like she can drink me under the table then carry me home, making a sturdy pair of DMs just the ticket”

I live in hope that one day the human race will view high heels with the same horror with which we view foot-binding. Women would be spared innumerable podiatric agonies and men would, I think, just about cope. Until then I shall content myself with the knowledge that I’m right and the rest of the human race is a bit daft.

I can see the good intent here. No one wants women to have ruined feet (unless it’s feminists who are making that point, in which case ruined feet become empowering). But “a bit daft”? Really? Femininity, and the way in which it shapes women’s supposed free choices, is a little more complex than that. (more…)

Last weekend I engaged in two rather different cultural pursuits: I started reading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl and I took my children to see the film Paddington. Now, I say they were different (certainly I enjoyed one a lot more than the other), but there were some similarities nonetheless. The challenge to the gendered status quo, for instance. On that point, Paddington and Serano are as one. Yes, I know that might sound weird, but you’ll just have to bear with me.

Whipping Girl is one of those books that you’ve read before you’ve actually read it, at least if you’ve spent any time on feminist twitter. For me it was a bit like Harry Potter: I kept hearing the same things about it until I started to feel sure people were misrepresenting – there had to be more to it than bloody Hogwarts – but no. It is what it is. Serano genuinely claims that “while it is generally considered to be offensive or prejudiced to openly discriminate against someone for being female, discriminating against someone’s femininity is still considered fair game”.* She also talks about feminists “buy[ing] into traditionally sexist notions about femininity—that it is artificial, contrived, and frivolous; that it is a ruse that only serves the purpose of attracting and appeasing the desires of men”. She writes about “empowering” femininity.*** She also claims to know that “certain aspects of femininity (as well as masculinity) are natural and can both precede socialization and supersede biological sex”.**** It’s actually really disappointing. I did hope for at least some glimmer of insight, or perhaps a bit less misogyny (but what would I know? I’m too busy making the world sexist simply by pointing out that sexism exists). (more…)

2014-11-16 12_44_53-transawarebristol - Twitter Search

Hey, check out this poster from #transawarebristol! Isn’t it inclusive? Isn’t it liberating? Doesn’t it say everything you’d want it to say? No more shall bigoted females take it upon themselves to have opinions about who should share enclosed spaces with them; after all, it’s not up to them! Fuck them and their irrational, hysterical little phobias! Only some people are allowed to feel threatened, or to have an idea about what womanhood means, and it sure as hell isn’t them. Other people know best.

I’ll be honest: I am struggling to see how this type of “don’t worry your pretty little head about this, proto-bigot” approach to gender liberation is of use to anyone. Women don’t worry about personal safety for the fun of it, nor do they seek to set their own boundaries just because they’re stupid and mean. They have fears relating to male bodies that are real and valid, and a sense of self that is as authentic as anyone else’s. Telling them “well, you shouldn’t – other people’s feelings come first” is just misogyny 101. (more…)

According to the online commissioning briefs of CBBC, the channel is “for everyone, everywhere”. Still, let’s not get carried away. The whole thing might sound diverse but apparently “children haven’t changed as much as we might think: girls are still girls and boys are still boys”. But what does that even mean?

If you’re hoping that “Our Guide to the CBBC Audience” might offer further details, you’re out of luck. That webpage is now blank, following complaints about sexist stereotyping earlier this year. Back then anyone hoping to pitch to CBBC would be informed that male viewers were “task focused” while female ones were “emotionally focused”:

Girls are more socially adept and motivated than boys. They will chat enthusiastically, try to support the people they care about and form profound friendships and relationships and develop an interest in boys from age 10. […] [Boys] enjoy achieving goals and completing physical challenges. There is a focus on doing, confrontation and physical strength, and for many their football team is a top priority. […] They often think girls of their age are annoying but like to talk about their body parts and sex.

Interesting, right? And handy, not just if you’re penning the latest white male hero plus ethnic minority male sidekick plus equal-but-not female helper cartoon series (hello, Mike the fucking Knight!). It’s almost as though CBBC commissioners were planning ahead, for a future in which today’s young girls end up passive, patient carers for today’s young boys, who will be out there having their own adventures and not giving a shit about anyone (because hey, supporting people you care about is girls’ stuff!). It’s such a shame that Mumsnet feminists caught wind of all this and forced them to cover their tracks! (more…)

I’ve been doing God a lot recently.

The reason for my conversion is a school inspection. 100 years ago people in the small village where I work wanted their kids to be educated. Passionately, desperately wanted them to be educated. And the landowners, who were exploitative patronising rentiers but not yet living in an age where they were convinced this was just because they had worked a bit harder at uni, felt they ought to help out a bit. And everyone came together under the one organisation that had united them for generations, and they founded a Church of England school for a village that chose Christianity in the same way it chose breathing. And across the country people did the same. And as a whole it was probably the greatest, most positively transformative charitable act in English history. And because of that act of charity, the Anglican Church Inspectors came, saw and reported.

Since this is education in 2014, though, they didn’t just look at whether the school delivers what those original founders would have wanted. Instead we had to show a Distinctive Christian Character ™. School needed to be saturated with that character, values and prayer boards all around.  And, evidence was needed that our DCC produced improved standards. Which is why I found myself trying to explain how it Christianity (not God, the inspection doesn’t quite demand that) had improved our maths results. And so the original breath-taking act of redemptive charity led 100 years later into a neo-liberal hell where choice and brand is key, and where performance related pay rules: if this school has the added value of being Christian and is supported by the Church, then the Church has the right to ask how that support adds value to anything and everything. (more…)

Dear Antony Loewenstein

I would like to congratulate you on being brave. So, so brave for writing a piece in the Guardian on why feminists are doing it all wrong. It’s especially brave given what an awful, entitled, sexist piece it is. Still don’t worry. I doubt very much that too many rape threats, accusations of bigotry and no-platformings will be coming your way.

It’s nice that you realise “men have a stake in gender equality”:

… from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium.

Do you know what would also have been nice? Also acknowledging that men like you have a stake – a pretty enormous one – in gender inequality, from benefiting from unfair pay, all the way to getting away with rape and murder. Still, never mind. It’s not like it’s your job to point these things out. That’s for the feminists, especially the “western ones,” who are currently too busy having “debates about celebrity red carpet dresses and celeb-feminism” (yeah, that’s totally how all the shelters and rape crisis centres are being maintained). (more…)

Women exist.

We exist in our own right. If all the men in the world ceased to exist tomorrow, we women would carry on being, feeling, doing, desiring, thinking, planning, just as we did before. The idea of us, such as it exists for men, isn’t what we are. That which may or may not differentiate us from men isn’t what we are. We are not the leftovers, the not-men. We’re not an outfit anyone can put on. We are complete human beings.

To say so is still an act of insurrection, leading to numerous calls for repentance. You will be told that in making women into solid, living, breathing beings, with their own boundaries, you are being “exclusive.” You will be told that you are erasing the lived experience of those who insist that their external perceptions of female experience override your internal ones. You will be told that since there is no such thing as “shared girlhood” there is no point in having a name for a group marginalised on a worldwide scale in a remarkably consistent way. You will be told that since words are not the thing in itself, there is no need for a marginalised group to have its own definition; indeed, without said definition, would the group be marginalised at all? You will be told all of this but what it still boils down to is the same old conservative, male supremacist idea of what women are: whatever men say they are and whatever men aren’t. It is not progressive, radical or liberating; it is misogyny of Biblical proportions:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man,23 And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.

“Taken out of Man.” That’s all you are: there is no part of you that is not accessible to Man, not just your body, but not even your experiences. If a man claims to be you, then he is. You can’t ask questions. It’s not as though your very being has validity and meaning in and of itself. You’re just “one of those people” (let’s not even call them “women,” since they’ve no need even to own words). (more…)

To be a woman is to be penetrable, there to take whatever men wish to ram inside you. It can be anything, from words to ideas to body parts, just as long as there is no reciprocity. Nothing of your own reality – your words, your ideas, your body – can make an impression on anyone else. You raise your voice but you might as well still be gagged. You say the same words, again and again, but until they’ve been uttered by someone male, they might as well not have been said at all.

At times this is a joke, as in this Fast Show sketch. Ha! Men! They never listen to women! At other times, our penetrability, set against men’s refusal to absorb in return, can be lethal. Reeva Steenkamp took what Oscar Pistorius chose to force inside her: bullets. Now what remains are his words, his ideas, his living, breathing body. As women we’re meant to suck it up because what’s the alternative? His story is the only one on offer; if we tried to tell another, who would listen? (more…)

Over the past year I have seen far too many feminists – brilliant feminists, who put their heart and soul into fighting for women – denounced as “violent TERFs”. There have been articles demanding that others shun them. Men demanding that other feminists do not support them (and said other feminists complying). Misogynist diatribes speculating on these women’s sex lives on the basis that this is the least they deserve. Bullshit articles holding these women responsible for the deaths of 50,000. And I haven’t said very much. What little I have said has been enough to get me classed as a “violent TERF” too.

There’s a problem with saying anything, of course. If someone says “you’re an X”, there’s the risk that in saying “I’m not an X”, all you’ve done is validate the concept of X-ness and associate yourself with it. So it is with TERF-dom. A TERF would say she wasn’t a TERF, therefore any denial is, witch trial-style, evidence of guilt. And a TERF just would say TERF is a slur when it’s actually a purely descriptive term used to denote a political position: the political position of some stupid bigoted bitch who deserves to die in a fire. So what can you do? Say nothing, or join in with the kicking, just so you can tell yourself it won’t ever happen to you.

And yet it still might, since it’s hard to keep denying that sex class analysis matters in feminism. If you can’t think why, study some de Beauvoir or some Firestone. Go out into the world and look at what is happening to women and girls. Read some Crenshaw and think about how difference matters – and what a difference being female makes. Ask whether you really believe an oppressor class’s external perception of what women are, no matter how “fluid”, gives the oppressed enough of a voice. If after all that you still believe there is some band of devil women who experience membership of a marginalised group as belonging to an exclusive club, then knock yourself out, but don’t kid yourself you’re a feminist. Allowing an oppressed class the right to their own self-definition and boundaries is Feminism 101.

Anyhow, today I am angry. I am angry because a violent male has been sentenced to four days – just four days – in prison for a sustained sexual assault on a female victim. We are required to refer to the perpetrator as a “she”. We are asked to call the rape of a woman, using a penis, a “lesbian” assault. We are expected not to call this male violence, for that would make us “violent TERFs”. But it is male violence. It is.

If there is a problem with terminology here – if the right to self-define clashes with the right to call violence by its proper name – then that problem is not caused by feminists. It’s caused by males who rape women and all those who refuse to identify them as such. It’s caused by a gender hierarchy which non-feminists both defend and refuse to acknowledge. Feminists don’t owe anyone a solution to the linguistic contradictions emerging from this mess. It’s not for us to tiptoe around with language so that no one feels “erased” by the description of a male penis violating female flesh. It’s not our fault. We didn’t create this gender hierarchy. We challenge it. If you prefer to micro-manage it, making tweaks here and there while those at the bottom of the pile continue to suffer, go ahead. But again you are not a feminist.

I know what the standard narrative for this particular news item will be. All “violent TERFs” do. Just as every act of male violence against women and girls is wickedly “exploited” by feminists who wish to name the problem (making feminists, not murderous men, the baddies), a trans woman committing rape will be “exploited” by TERFs to put the vulnerable trans community at risk. Because those written off as the penetrable class are not vulnerable themselves. Because naming male violence within a community makes you responsible for male violence inflicted on that community. Because you can vilify a whole group (feminists) for violent acts that have not been committed by a single one of them. Because extrapolating that there are issues with language and categorisation which put women at risk is an act of violence in itself, deserving of a lifetime’s denigration and exclusion. Rape? We’ll give that four days. Four days and no one speak a word, because you know the rules for male violence: isolated incidents. Always remember that and never forget that you’re only words away from being denounced, forever, as a violent TERF.

In the late 90s The Fast Show used to feature a recurrent sketch in which a group of men and one woman would be brainstorming for ideas. The punchline was always the same: the woman would be the one to find the solution but no one would seem to hear it until a man repeated it using slightly different words, having not quite understood it, whereupon he’d be treated like a total genius.

I think things are a bit like that in feminism these days. We have decades of serious scholarship and wonderful ideas but unfortunately most of it has come from not just from women, but from stupid old cis women (a bit like your mum, but more bigoted). That can’t be any good, can it? Best repackage it to make it seem more clever and authoritative. Best say it’s coming from someone with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of sex and gender. Best pretend it’s all new, all the better to continue pissing from a great height onto the very people we claim to be liberating. (more…)

Yesterday Buzzfeed published a spoof guide to contemporary feminist terminology. As a contemporary feminist, how I laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, after about half a second’s laughing, I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone wrote an actual guide to some actual feminism? One that actually mentions male oppressors and doesn’t spend half the time focussed on which feminists hold unacceptable views?” So despite being female and therefore crap, I decided to give it a go.

Gender (noun):

  1. Oppressive hierarchy, situating adult human males (as the construct “man”) at the top, adult human females (as the construct “woman”) at the bottom.
  2. Nebulous thing that makes you want to wear certain clothes, have certain ideas, do certain activities, adopt certain mannerisms etc. Otherwise known as “being a person”.

(more…)

I can’t remember when I first realised my son was a person. I guess as a mother you always know these things. Right from the moment he was first placed in my arms I sense there was something person-y about him, almost as though he might be an individual with his own consciousness, fully capable of developing a sense of himself which was not inextricably linked to gender stereotypes. Quite why this should be, I couldn’t say, but now that he’s older, I believe more and more that I was right. Nonetheless, like any mother, I have moments when I still wonder if I’m failing him.

From an early age my son has liked things. Some of them have been pink and some of them have been blue and some of them have been other colours. He has also liked activities, some of them boisterous and aggressive, some of them gentle and caring. Sometimes he goes through phases of liking more pink things than blue things, or doing more gentle things than aggressive things. A more attentive mother might have sat down with an excel spreadsheet, listed the number of boy activities and preferences in one column, the number of girl ones in another, and come up with a suitable gender for such a child. I never did this. I just looked at him and thought “ah, a male person, albeit one growing up in a world full of crappy categories arbitrarily linked to sex difference. Oh well, we’ll do our best to ignore them”. (more…)

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…)

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