My children have a book called Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas. In it, a little pig called Wibbly reveals his likes and dislikes and invites children to think about theirs, too. Do you, like Wibbly, like bananas, or do you prefer apples? Would you, like Wibbly, play with the ball, or would you rather cuddle the bear?
The message, as you might have guessed, is that we’re all different and that’s perfectly fine. I like this message. It’s a message with which I can get on board. However, I’ve started to wonder about the identity politics of it. If Wibbly likes bananas and hats and balls, is he even a pig at all?
For instance, you could argue that since Wibbly’s preferences are so deeply anthropomorphic in nature, he isn’t really porcine after all. He’s maybe a human, or something in-between – let’s call it non-binary species. By the same token, I could say that not everything I like is stereotypically human. Some days I’d rather roll around in a mud-filled sty rather than drive to work. So maybe I’m non-binary species too. All well and good, right? This is, after all, what our inner selves are telling us. Except – except! – Wibbly still has a pig body and I have a human one.
“Pig body? Human body?” I hear you say. “Are these not mere constructs? Is it not pure reductive biological essentialism to define Wibbly by his curly tail and his snout? Is he not more than that?”
Well, yes, by and large, if what we’re talking about is who likes bananas and who doesn’t. Not, however, if we’re talking about who gets made into sausages (Wibbly, member of the subordinate species class) and who doesn’t (me, member of the dominant one).
And here’s the thing: the exact same thing applies to gender. That’s why feminists (the brave ones, at least) talk about it not as identity, but as a class hierarchy. My reproductive organs do not define whether or not I like nail polish, or dresses, or cars. My femaleness does however locate me in a social hierarchy, just as Wibbly’s pig-ness locates him in a species hierarchy. Wibbly can wear as many party hats as he likes, but we still look at him and remember his roast dinner potential. I can cut my hair, wear trousers, avoid makeup, but people will still look at me and see a member of the penetrable, reproductively exploitable class. My reproductive and sexual choices will remain policed in a way that is specific to my female body and the social status imposed upon me because of it.
Hence when Eddie Izzard describes his “somewhat boyish somewhat girlish” identities, I find myself breathing a deep sigh. Because however girlish he says he feels, what it all comes down to is him liking different stuff. All well and good. Wibbly would approve. But when it comes down to the actual function of gender, his body won’t be the one that gets served up on a plate.