Socialization Matters: Why “Identity Libertarianism” is Failed Politics

IDENTITY VERSUS SOCIALIZATION

I want to explore what “woman” means when male-born persons can be “women” just the same as female-born persons.

Most significantly, the term “woman” must be disconnected from the socio-historic context that gives the term coherency in the first place. Without any material or experiential framework “woman’s” origin becomes irrelevant; she can be anything or nothing at all.

When male-born persons can be “women” just the same as female-born persons, the skin-deep veneer of social identity is being substituted for the complex, lifelong process of class-based socialization. This is neoliberal individualist choice-theory masquerading as the politics of liberation.

Identity-as-woman and socialization-as-woman describe very different social experiences. This should be an elementary distinction for anyone interested in the politics of sex and gender.

Identifying as a woman is a form of self-perception. It only requires consciousness of oneself as a social actor and the ability to articulate awareness of this. Identity as a woman can be claimed by anyone.[i]

Socialization as a woman, on the other hand, begins at birth and continues as a lifelong process. It seems to have no beginning and no end, almost as if it were organic or inevitable.[ii]  Socialization takes hold even before a young girl has social consciousness of her own and it operates without her consent. It is the day-by-day experience of learning and internalizing the gender-based norms, rituals, and behaviors that society demands of children born female. Socialization is experientially cumulative; the whole of socialization is greater than the sum of its parts. Aspects of this experience may be approximated, but they cannot be duplicated.

It is therefore inaccurate to insist that identity and socialization are equivalent or interchangeable. Further, deconstructing and eliminating oppression against women is impossible if we refuse to fully examine its origin, social determinants, and class-based operations.

GENDER ROLE ASSIGNMENT ON THE BASIS OF SEX

In everyday practice, socialization as a “man” or “woman” is determined at birth according to genital appearance. The graphic below illustrates how these assignments occur.[iii] Please note the gendered cultural symbols: a bow and flowers indicating a “girl” versus the baseball hat indicating a “boy.”

Fausto-Sterling

“Girl” or “boy” is assigned on the basis of genitals alone. “Girl” and “boy” are mutually exclusive categories. You’re a boy. Or you’re a girl. Not both. Or neither. SURGERY and distressing question marks are included on the Phall-O-Metrics scale, above, to indicate that if an infant’s genitals are ambiguous by accepted medical standards,[iv] they will be surgically “corrected” or “normalized” and the infant will be socialized as a “girl.”[v] Plastic surgery can visually approximate nearly any body part, but social role determinism at birth is never a choice. Boys will have properly sized penises or they will not be boys! They will be girls.

Sex matters because having a certain kind of genitals at birth is a prerequisite to socialization as a “boy.” Sex matters because the social role “boy” is a more favorable social role than that of “girl.” Girls are devalued,[vi] sexualized, and discriminated against simply because they are “girls.”[vii], [viii], [ix] There are objectively measurable material advantages to being male at birth. For example, boy-socialized people will be paid more for the same work.[x], [xi]

This is no accident; it is precisely how the human system of sex-based gender socialization works and has worked for thousands of years.[xii] Gender disproportionately distributes power to males via the cultural hegemony of over-valued masculinity. Gendered socialization begins at birth and has lifelong formative effects on the psyches of both men and women. The ugly result is institutionalized male dominance over females and femininity.[xiii] There is no nation in the world primarily controlled by girl-socialized people. Not a single one. Every measurable imbalance of social power between men and women can be traced back to the false naturalization of gender roles and gender role socialization.

It doesn’t make sense, then, for us to consider male-socialized people who identify as “women” to be the same as female-socialized people who were tracked to become “women” from birth.  We must have a more nuanced understanding of the social dynamics and determinants of class-based oppression.

IDENTITY LIBERTARIANISM

Prioritizing freedom of identity over all other objective qualifications for membership in a class of people is a political ethic that I refer to as “identity libertarianism.” It manifests as an unyielding insistence that we accept anyone into any social group, no matter what. Platitudes about an unconditional right to self-definition and entitlement to corresponding in-group membership are uncritically accepted in many progressive activist circles.[xiv] Dissent is silenced. “Identity libertarianism” often feels as if it’s been elevated to the status of moral obligation. But applying this ethic to classes that are constrained by institutional oppression fails on at least three accounts.

First, it trivializes the experiences of oppressed people by allowing external observers of disadvantaged groups to demand acceptance into the group, and then, to speak from a place of personal authority on behalf of the group (e.g., transwomen are women). This creates false equivalency between unwilling, lifelong members of an oppressed class and those who have consciously and deliberately identified into it—after having a chance to understand what they are getting into. The condition of being oppressed as a member of the class becomes the same as not being oppressed as a member of the class.

Along the same lines, if the political fashion of “identity libertarianism” dictates that all social groups must be open to all individuals at all times, there is nothing to prevent a member of the oppressor class from seeking entrance to the world of the oppressed for nefarious purposes.[xv] In fact, any attempt to impose reasonable safeguards against such possibilities is faced with vehement opposition. In this way, “identity libertarianism” bypasses the experiences of oppressed people, dismissing their needs and voices.

Second, by reducing the substance of group membership to nothing more than self-definition, those who support “identity libertarianism” also seem oblivious to the fact that one cannot leave an oppressed group as easily as others seem able to join it. Applied broadly it should be clear why “identity libertarianism” is bad theory. For example, “identity libertarianism” would suppose it was possible for a female-bodied person to fend off a rapist by informing her attacker she identifies as a male. Or possible for a person of color to defend himself against racial profiling by saying he identifies as white.

If life were as simple for the oppressed as “identity libertarianism” pretends, we could end oppression yesterday. The reality is that people who are oppressed on the basis of an immutable physical characteristic such as sex cannot escape their oppression merely by changing their self-perception.

Third, the application of “identity libertarianism” theory to oppressed people results in victim-blaming. By focusing all of its attention on individual desires and self-perception–rather than acknowledging the systemic forces of oppression– “identity libertarianism” infers that the oppressed are in control of their own destinies. If one is unhappy in her current social role or identity, she need only find her “true self” among the many prefabricated social roles now open to her. There is no critical examination of the roles themselves.

Instead, “identity libertarianism” frames social distress as a personal problem that is best resolved on an individual level without any regard to enforced patterns of social stratification and cumulative socialization that demoralize entire groups of people. This is an unforgivable oversight. Poor decision making by oppressed individuals is not the cause of class-based oppression, nor is it the responsibility of the individual to escape the system that oppresses them. We must deconstruct the system itself.

CONCLUSION

Failure to permit individuals to craft their own identity-realities is not the cause of oppression. Colluding with individuals who craft their own identity-realities in the image of existing social constructs is not the solution to oppression.

The point of radical political analysis is to locate and attack the root of structural oppression. We cannot achieve liberation by simply reshuffling individuals between classes, while leaving the current social norms and hierarchies in place.

“Identity libertarianism” is an immature and ineffective ideology on which to center a political strategy for social justice. It offers women no explanation for or relief from the gendered constraints that shape the lives of female and girl-socialized people. At the same time, “identity libertarianism” places responsibility for social change on the individual—as if women’s social status were caused by nothing more than a series of bad personal choices.

This shallow and one-dimensional worldview must not displace material feminist analysis of the collective female social condition. Acknowledging the existence of a sex-based power hierarchy that is global in reach and deadly in consequence is foundational to feminism.[xvi] Acknowledging the process and negative effects that compulsory feminine socialization has on children who are not born with phalluses sufficiently large enough to classify them as “boys” is essential to the work of feminists. As a result, male-socialized people simply cannot be considered “women” the same as female-socialized people without making invisible the entire structural process that gives rise to gender and gendered inequality in the first place.

“Identity libertarianism” prioritizes the feel-good simplicity of in-group entitlement over responsible political analysis. It has no place in our movement.

_______________________________________________

Special thanks to No Anodyne for her patience, editing, and support as I wrote this.


[i] “Identity as a woman can be claimed by anyone” has been made legally enforceable by “gender identity” laws in over 15 American states, across the entire United Kingdom, and in many other jurisdictions across the world. This is a very powerful legal trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

[ii] It is not inevitable.

[iii] Credit to Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body. Page 67/478 of the pdf. http://libcom.org/files/Fausto-Sterling%20-%20Sexing%20the%20Body.pdf

[v] Intersex Society of North America frequently asked questions about the necessity of genital “normalizing” surgery. Accessed May 20, 2013: http://www.isna.org/faq/healthy

[vi] Article in the New York Times by Peggy Orenstein entitled “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” Accessed May 20, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html?_r=2&pagewanted&

See also the following books: Peggy Ornstein Cinderella Ate My Daughter; Sharon Lamb’s Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes; M. Gig’s Durham’s The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It; and Susan J. Douglas’s Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media.

[vii] Femicide is a global health crisis. Explanation by feminist Dianna Russell: http://www.dianarussell.com/origin_of_femicide.html; and more information from the World Health Organization:

http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf. Both accessed May 20, 2013.

[viii] The UN estimates that 140 million girls will be made child brides between 2011 and 2020. Article accessed on the web May 20, 2013: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2013/03/2013389502292887.html

[ix] Nearly 1 in 5 Women in U.S. Survey Say They Have Been Sexually Assaulted, article in the New York Times published on December 14, 2011. Accessed May 20, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/nearly-1-in-5-women-in-us-survey-report-sexual-assault.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1369073032-buNRr2xEqg883Zj5NFTSzw

[x] See SEC 2. FINDINGS, especially 5(A) and (B), of the Fair Pay Act of 2013: federal recognition of objective disparities between men’s and women’s earnings for the same work. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr438/text

See also SEC 2. FINDINGS of the Paycheck Fairness Act: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/s3220/text

[xi]The Paycheck Fairness Act has not yet been passed by the American government due to Republican resistance. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/11/paycheck-fairness-act_n_3063804.html

[xii] See book, Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice by Jack Holland (2006). http://www.amazon.com/Misogyny-The-Worlds-Oldest-Prejudice/dp/0786718234

[xiii] “The cult of masculinity” is the root of sexualized violence against women as theorized by Gloria Steinem and Lauren Wolfe. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/24/sexual-violence-women-cult-masculinity

[xiv] A poorly reasoned article featuring circular logic and accusations of “bigotry,” written by Gender Studies graduate student: Transphobia Has No Place in Feminism by Lauren Rankin. Accessed May 20, 2013 http://www.policymic.com/articles/38403/transphobia-has-no-place-in-feminism

Trans women are women. How do I know that? Because they say they are women. Because they identify as women. Because your gender expression is not dictated by the gender with which you were born. Because I, and many other cisgender feminists, trust trans women when they say they are women. Because women are women, and that’s really all there is to it.”

Actually, there’s a lot more to it.

[xv] Colleen Francis acted legally when exposing his intact penis to underage children in a women’s-only locker-room in 2012. Parents’ outrage as transgendered woman is permitted to use the women’s locker room ‘exposing himself to little girls. Article accessed May 20, 2013: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2227562/Colleen-Francis-Outrage-transgendered-woman-permitted-use-college-womens-locker-room-exposing-himself.html#ixzz2TrDtmFL0

See also footnote 1 to this article.

50 comments
  1. Excellent analysis. I just have a question. In the determination of sex, isn’t there quite an easy-to-spot scrotum in infant males? I have noticed that most definitions of ‘men’ revolve around the penis and there is little mention of testicles. But I haven’t spent much time around males of any age and still, there they are! Anyway, that just made me wonder. Thanks for the good work.

  2. smash said:

    Thanks for this awesome piece, Bess! It is so important to emphasize that socialization plays a huge role in our becoming women.

  3. Absolutely brilliant.

  4. Reblogged this on Noanodyne, too and commented:

    This takes the next step in analysis and language around the issue of gender identity and trans-identity politics

  5. I love how you managed to to work intersex issues into this without ONCE acknowledging intersex people in the main body of your argument – relegating them instead to a few lines in a footnote.
    I understand why. Fully acknowledging the reality of intersex people would undo your entire argument.

    The rest of your argument is a series of overly wordy strawmans.

  6. Hari B. said:

    First, to respond as a midwife to Kitty Barber’s question about scrotums: In a small number of babies, no, there is not an easily identified scrotum. Some babies have truly ambiguous *external genitalia–although imaging via ultrasound/other can verify the presence of testes still held up within the main body (adding that a number of male babies are born with clearly male external genitalia, but their testes have not yet descended into the identifiable external scrotum–descent of testes for some can take days/weeks). For those with ambiguous genitalia, the general appearance is of a vulva, although it may appear unusually large or otherwise not quite shaped right. There may or may not be an apparent vaginal opening.

    Otherwise, Elizabeth, thanks for this essay. Brilliant! Concise, clear, covering all the necessary basis so eloquently.

  7. Jack Artagan MacKenna,
    Oppression is a social phenomenon. Intersex people are forcibly incorporated into the social structure of gender-role assignment at birth, as explained in the post.

    I’m sorry that you didn’t understand what you read here, but the various physical abnormalities encompassed by the overbroad term “intersex” do not change anything that I have explained about the *social* mechanics of women’s oppression.

  8. mhairi said:

    Its an interesting and useful analysis, but limited. I dont follow the “I identify, therefore I am” school of thought, but how you are socially read determines how you are treated. Being read as a woman, regardless of genitalia, sees you treated one way, being read as a man sees you treated another.

    Trans women are women because they are read as women, they had a gender of woman because society puts that upon them. They choose it to some extent through presenting in ways which are associated with people of a female sex.

    “As a result, male-socialized people simply cannot be considered “women” the same as female-socialized people without making invisible the entire structural process that gives rise to gender and gendered inequality in the first place.”

    I dont think it makes it invisible – I think it undermines it, and will continue to undermine it the more trans women and trans men we have in society; the more parents bring theirchildren up in a gender neutral fashion and the less that weimpose gender identity on the basis of genitalia.

    Gender cant be escaped, but itcan be fucked around with sufficiently to renders it meaningless.

  9. lisaprime said:

    Well done. The radical feminist critique of transgenderism seems to me to consist of a few very important points which need to be clarified like this, and eventually summarized in a single document so that radfem objections to various aspects of transgender theory can be seen for what they are: objections to strong negative impacts on feminism, all women in their daily lives, and lesbians, and not expressions of hate or anger toward transgender people.

    Transgenderism as a theory is new and in flux. In its haste to achieve acceptance and mainstream legitimacy, it has overreached and is attempting to absorb and/or appropriate biological women’s collective movement for liberation. As Ms. Hungerford points out, an important reason trans people are not part of this collective movement as such, is that biological women experience a lifelong grooming and socialization for subjugation, involving psychological and physical trauma, which is categorically different from the experience of one who is born into the dominant class. I don’t see any reason why transgender theory cannot accept this truth and adopt a more nuanced position which takes this into account.

    I would like to see another article here extending this specific radfem objection Ms. Hungerford discusses. Women as a class are defined in great part, not only by our lifelong socialization, but by our long historical oppression. The ancient hierarchy of genders has been passed from generation to generation. Transgenerational trauma affects biological women. The erasure of women’s professions like midwifery, the witch burnings, the deaths in childbirth, the forced marriages, the treatment of women as property; these oppressions are built into western society and the reverberations must be dealt with. Some of these oppressions are still alive and well in other parts of the world. Our history as a collective category of people, what I will call a global caste, are minimized or erased when transgender people insist that they are in the same oppressed status as biological women. Finding remedies for this inbuilt caste system, as a result, become much more difficult as the problem is made invisible.

    Also, I think one other part of this objection that would be worth an extended and clear discussion would be the negative impact of postmodern feminism, which mocks and invisibilizes women as a subjugated class worldwide, as part of its general theory destroying all collective action (“grand narratives”).

    Thank you for this article and I hope to see it built upon.

  10. mhairi, 1> you are making a huuuuge assumption: that all trans-identified males who claim a female identity PASS as women to external observers. News flash: they don’t! Anyway, I covered this in “A feminist critique of cisgender,” which is also on this blog.

    2> Being treated “as a woman” in any particular moment is NOT THE SAME AS being socialized into the class “woman” from birth. That is the entire point of this article. The primary considerations between identity and socialization, again, are related to LIFELONG treatment and the INVOLUNTARY nature of the “identity.” Allow me to quote trans-hero Julia Serano (from Whipping Girl pages 222-223, Chapter 10 entitled “Experiential Gender”):

    My identity evolved out of a million tiny social exchanges where others made it very clear to me that my status in the world—my class, if you will-was that of a woman and not a man.

    and

    On an intellectual level, I knew that I would sometimes be dismissed or harassed once I started living as female, but I underestimated just how frustrating and hurtful each one of those instances would be. Words cannot express how condescending and infuriating it feels to have men speak down to me, talk over me, and sometimes even practically put on baby-talk voices when addressing me. Or how intimidating it feels to have strangers make lewd comments about having their way with me as I’m walking alone at night down dark city streets. And while I had numerous run-ins and arguments with strange men back when I was male-bodied, I’d never before experienced the enraged venom in their voices and fury in their faces that I sometimes do now-an extreme wrath that some men seem to reserve specifically for women who they believe threaten their fragile male egos.

    Feeling this from BIRTH + NOT having the option to retreat BACK into a male role, is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT experience. Difference MATTERS.

    3> Trans identities do NOT undermine “the entire structural process that gives rise to gender and gendered inequality in the first place;” they reinforce the NATURALISM of that process by insisting that our “true selves” can be accurately defined by the gender roles that CREATE women’s inequality. There is no criticism of the gender roles themselves, just that they have been given the “wrong” one. That is not undermining the system. I explained this in the post.

    4> You can’t fuck gender out of meaning. In order to have a coherent “gender” one must reference the constructs that it seeks to destroy. Please read Butler.

  11. lisaprime, THANK YOU for your comment. Indeed, there will be more.

    Slowly, but surely, I am building.

  12. mhairi said:

    1. Not all female women pass as women to external observers either – sometimes intentionally. I’ve misgendered quite a few female women in my time, including once (embarassingly) the chair of a school board of governors in a meeting.

    2. I agree to some extent, particularly in teh case where women transition late in life, however transitioning/becoming genderqueer as a prelude to transitioning is happening younger. TBH, although I don’t want to be dismissive of Serano, I dont agree with an awful lot of her ideas on trans stuff.

    3. IMHO, gender is based around the control of females, in particular the reproductive abilities that females hold. When men have babies at the same rate as women do, gender is purposeless, because it no longer acts as an ideological tool to control reproducers. It will break down, because it has no purpose.

    4. Yes, that is true, and IMHO its why so many trans women insist that they are “really female” and trans men insist that they are “really male”, because female=woman, male=man, The way our current contructs are made insist that they do this, and pressurise them into medical intervention. BUt the more accepted trans people are, the stronger they are to resist that pressure, the more wiggle room we have to start shaking off gender entirely.

  13. 1. I’m glad we agree here. The point of my article, however, is that women’s oppression is not a series of unrelated single episodes; it is the CUMULATIVE effect of a LIFELONG series of experiences where one is taught to “be a girl” for the purpose of filling a very scripted social role. Drag queens have been known to pass as women on Saturday nights; they are not WOMEN. It’s not THE SAME.

    2. Serano is largely useless, I agree. Learning begins in the womb. Children under 5 PASSIONATELY enforce gender. Seriously, children are often more ferocious about gender than adults are. Children’s brains can learn to fully process 2 languages before they can even speak (articulation required for identity!!). Developing conscious awareness of social roles and then CHOOSING the one you want (almost like informed consent) is a fundamentally DIFFERENT experience than being FORCED into one. It’s different. It will ALWAYS be different. We need to DEAL with that difference.

    3. Gender’s purpose is not ONLY to control reproduction. Additional purposes include maintaining male intellectual authority over all institutions and governments such that the large majority of the world’s natural resources and wealth are controlled by men.

    But regardless, the POINT is that TRANSITIONING from one social role to another does NOT undermine the system. “We cannot achieve liberation by simply reshuffling individuals between classes, while leaving the current social norms and hierarchies in place.”

    4. NON-”trans” people defy gender constructs all the time. It’s awesome and it’s important, I agree. But there is no need AT ALL to privilege a particular kind of self-definition (trans) above other kinds of gender non-conformity. This is especially true when MANY “trans” people reinforce the binary by claiming to be naturally defined by one sex-based social role or the other (don’t misgender me!! I’m a WOMAN. or I’m a MAN!). That does not undermine the system.

    “Failure to permit individuals to craft their own identity-realities is not the cause of oppression. Colluding with individuals who craft their own identity-realities in the image of existing social constructs is not the solution to oppression.”

  14. mhairi said:

    It is cumulative to some extent and you are right about children rigidly enforcing gender, its one of the very first things that we teach children daily from birth that they must conform to the social expectations of their sex. It is that which is the problem tho – that forcing. Once we see gender as a choice, the forcing becomes unacceptable. We do the same with children and heterosexuality yet when that people can (ie are socially allowed to) choose non-het sexual relationships, many do.

    Many trans people do reinforce the binary, and I agree its problematic, but trans people didnt invent the binary, to be non-gender conformant is to be devient, if you can pass/identify as a member of the opposite sex, you have a shot at being accepted as conformant. I think there are a lot of issues in the trans community, but those issues are created by the insistance that woman=female; man=male. Once we break that – with things like gender queer, gender fluid etc, which many women who are throwing up their hands in horror at the whole trans* issue would probably be more comfortable within – that is not “properly a man or a woman”, we lessen the pressure to conform to the binary, and indeed the binary itself.

  15. mhairi, I’m glad we have come to place of greater understanding but please address what I have said both in the article itself and in my comments to you:

    “We cannot achieve liberation by simply reshuffling individuals between classes, while leaving the current social norms and hierarchies in place.”

    Identities are not created “equal” in an unequal context.

    “If one is unhappy in her current social role or identity, she need only find her “true self” among the many prefabricated social roles now open to her. There is no critical examination of the roles themselves.”

    This is the problem! Structural oppression is not some kind of mystical or random accident!

    Women’s oppression is made possible by the institutionalization of the social roles “man” and “women.” These TWO very specific social roles are constructed and split (between masc and fem behvaiors) for the PURPOSE of creating and maintaining patriarchy. Femininity (assigned to female) is subordinate to masculinity (assigned to male). Masculinity is rational, femininity is emotionally hysterical. I could go on all day. They are separate and NOT equal.

    What you are suggesting, in essence, is that women will no longer be oppressed if we can reshuffle some males into the “woman” category and some females into the “man” category. This is an unsound proposition that fails to examine or explain WHY and HOW women are oppressed in the first place. !!

  16. mhairi said:

    I agree with practically all of the above, but not the conclusion.

    OK – Why and how are women oppressed in the first place….

    Females make babies. *Only* females can make babies. This is the key.

    Females are constructed into “women”, that construction is culturally and temporally bound, it differs between cultures and it differs between ethnicities within a culture.

    So as Sojourner Truth pointed out in the slaveowning south, white women and black women were constructed in different ways, which best fitted with the control over their reproductive abilities. White women were told they were delicate creatures who must not fash themselves, protected fiercely, and instilled with a massive fear of the Black Man as a means of controlling their reproductive activities. Black women on the other hand were constructed as beastlike, with voracious sexual appetites and no care for their young, to justify the brutal exploitation of their reproductive power and their offspring.

    Females are *made* into women, by the clothes that it is acceptable to wear, by the tasks that it is acceptable for them to do, for the behaviours it is acceptable for them to display. Woman is the social construction which surrounds “those which are capable of producing babies”. So long as we have that link, much as we try to shift how we conceive of women, patriarchy will adapt. So long as the class of “producers of babies” is identifiable in some way through gendering, there is a public aspect which can be controlled through public narrative

    You can try and get rid of gender all you like, but it persists, time and time again, it persists, eradication isnt possible.

    What transfeminism offers us instead is an opportunity to break that link. To hide the fact that we can produce babies, by allowing/encouraging people who cant to look like us; and encouraging some of us to look like people who cannot.

    No public identification of biosex means that gender becomes useless as a tool of patriarchy.
    We cant kill gender, but we can breed it out.

  17. mhairi, it seems inconsistent to say

    “Females are constructed into “women”, that construction is culturally and temporally bound, it differs between cultures and it differs between ethnicities within a culture.”

    and then also

    “You can try and get rid of gender all you like, but it persists, time and time again, it persists, eradication isnt possible.”

    I can only guess that you are making a distinction between “woman” and “gender”? I do not follow.

    SEX is the control. SEX is what cannot be eradicated. It cannot be controlled by medicine/science and it cannot be identified away. What we can control are social constructs. Like this: by refusing a definition of “woman” OR of “female” that relates to “the clothes that it is acceptable to wear, by the tasks that it is acceptable for them to do, for the behaviours it is acceptable for them to display.” THAT is the bullshit.

    You are correct to point out that the construct of “woman” as a social role clearly reflects the child-bearing capacity of female bodies. The feminine social role is defined by: nurturing, coddling, self-sacrificing, body-based intuition, etc. But this is not inevitable. Female bodies can bear children without requiring female *people* to be the primary care-takers of children and nurturers of the entire world.

    More to the point of our discussion, the existence and reproductive capacity of female bodies does not socially necessitate a corresponding social role “woman” that looks ANYTHING like what we currently consider “gender” and “femininity” and “woman.”

    Transfeminism, as you call it (not endorsing this term!), does not deconstruct the female social role of “woman,” nor does it detach bodies from social roles. Transfeminism prefers to tell untruths about biology itself! Absurdities, really (don’t get me started on brain sex). But transfeminism does not call bullshit on the constructs of “man” and “woman,” it tries to reshuffle us between existing positions without giving any explanation for the *deadly* inequality that the roles have created. Changing man/woman roles is simply not possible for most people in the world. Transfeminism is not helpful here. At all. !! And neither is “identity libertarianism.”

  18. mhairi said:

    Ok – there are lots of genders [that is ways of socially constructing your presentation in such a way as to be read as desired by others], some of these include “the camp”, “the macho”, “the high femme”, “the boi”, “the butch”, “the bear” etc. At the moment, all genders must be subsumed into one of two overarching ones “man” or “woman”, each gender that a person chooses must be read within this binary, and this binary is based on the sex of the person. You cannot have a “female camp” or a ” male high-femme” while sex and gender is bound, because camp is a sub-gender of “man” and “high femme” is a sub-gender of woman.

    So woman is a gender, but it is a meta-gender, which includes a whole load of genders within it.

    Biologically, sex has a load of different aspects (hormones, chromosomes, genitalia etc), POLITICALLY, sex is the relationship to the means of reproduction. The closer you are to being able to gestate a foetus, the more you will be labelled female, The closer you are to being able to fertilise an egg, the more you will be labelled male. The precise relationship can be medically altered to some extent (fertility drugs, vasectomy, sterilisation, the pill, etc), but – at least with current technology you cannot go from being a reproductive female to a reproductive male. To a very large extent you sex is fixed, no matter where on the male/intersex/female continuum you start out from.

    *** “the existence and reproductive capacity of female bodies does not socially necessitate a corresponding social role “woman” ”

    Up until that point in your sentance I am with you…

    *** “that looks ANYTHING like what we currently consider “gender” and “femininity” and “woman.”

    See this is what we have been trying to do for years – change what the label “woman” means. But it persists, still it persists – because it is linked to biosex, all the baggage of nurturing, coddling, self-sacrifice etc, that is implicit within the female reproductive role gets transferred over onto the social role of “woman”, it mutates, but it persists.

    Transfeminism (this is not to be confused with trans activism, most trans activism is not feminist, and some is outright misogynistic), takes a different approach, rather than battering our heads against the wall trying to stop the gendering of woman, we accept that there is a gender of “woman”, it is one of many genders, and that it is not sex-linked. One the break between sex and gender is broken, the binary breaks down, people can adopt whatever gender they want without the added baggage of it being held within one of the dominent two.

    No female bodied person has to be a woman if they dont want to, neither does any male bodied person have to be a man. In fact no-one has to be a man or a woman any more, there is no compulsion

  19. Gender is what keeps women in chains all over the world. Individual women may be able to identify themselves out of that reality, but individual decisions will never help all girls and women. There’s nothing wrong with an individual doing something to make herself feel better, but to ignore what gender does to the whole class of females, because they are females, is disingenuous at best and cruel at worst. Girls and women really are suffering and dying because of gender. Care or don’t, but stop pretending that isn’t happening.

  20. mhairi, I’m astounded by your myopic worldview.

    No female bodied person has to be a woman if they dont want to, neither does any male bodied person have to be a man. In fact no-one has to be a man or a woman any more, there is no compulsion

    LOL! Seriously?? #firstworldproblems? This is demonstrably untrue. I do NOT have the choice not to be a woman. Nor do BILLIONS of other females in the world.

    Even assuming I did, what is my alternative? Now I can chose to be a MAN instead? That’s not “freedom.” And this is not a solution to anything. THIS is where *criticism* of the social roles “woman” and “man” MUST come into play. And critical analysis is the complete OPPOSITE of reinforcing these categories as defined by males who claim to know exactly what being a “woman” means!

    In REALITY, females can not simply throw off the shackles of womanhood and declare oneself FREEEEE! Only a tiny, insignificant number of ultra-privileged females have the social liberty to become trans men. The idea that we all have this liberty is just…unbelievably self-centered.

    “Gender is what keeps women in chains all over the world. Individual women may be able to identify themselves out of that reality, but individual decisions will never help all girls and women. There’s nothing wrong with an individual doing something to make herself feel better, but to ignore what gender does to the whole class of females, because they are females is disingenuous at best and cruel at worst. Girls and women really are suffering and dying because of gender. Care or don’t, but stop pretending that isn’t happening.” ~No Anodyne

    All that self-defined mumbo jumbo about what what sub-gender “femme” and “camp” are does NOT help women as a class. Infinite gender-fucking is NOT politically effective. It’s a narcissistic self-help game played by people who are unable or unwilling to look outside themselves at the bigger picture of how the constraints of the social role “woman” have resulted in the oppression of female humans on a scale larger than any other the world has ever known.

    See book, Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice by Jack Holland (2006). http://www.amazon.com/Misogyny-The-Worlds-Oldest-Prejudice/dp/0786718234

  21. mhairi said:

    I was specifically talking in that last paragraph of after we break the sex/gender link.

    Some females do have a more easy choice not to be a woman, for example the sworn virgins of Albania are female men – they are accepted as men within their community and culture; within the West, within trans* friendly communities female men are accepted. It is indeed a privilage to have such a community around, for most societies insist on females being gendered as women.

    Within trans friendly communities there is much more acceptance of and striving for gender neutral, gender queer, gender fluid etc identities, but until we universally break the sex/gender link within the ordinary everyday world of the supermarket etc, people will gender you as man or woman.

    There are ideological differences and conflicts within the trans* community, and I agree that some do fall into the stereotype that you mention. But the social role of women only oppresses females because we insist that all females must be women.

    Once men have babies at the same rate as women do, the patriarchy is in its death throws.

  22. lisaprime said:

    Aaargh, I am sorry, mhair, but I have no idea what you are talking about. The problem must be in our respective definitions of crucial concepts
    .
    “Some females do have a more easy choice not to be a woman, for example the sworn virgins of Albania are female men – they are accepted as men within their community and culture.” Ok, they are incorporated by necessity as men. Are they perhaps special cases? Are they perhaps a tiny minority? Are they perhaps never considered full men with the opportunity, for example, to reproduce? How, in short, is this some sort of example for radical feminism?

    “most societies insist on females being gendered as women”. All societies require this. How is it an advantage to add a few trans women into this unjust system?

    “until we universally break the sex/gender link within the ordinary everyday world” This is so simplistic. How do you break this link with the 3.5 billion women who are linked coercively because of their biology? Trans “women” can voluntarily float around…pleasant, but since they are not women, why should we care? As (the majority of) people who are different because of our reproductive capacities, for instance, why are you attempting to incorporate our oppression into your own specific problems? Because there are 3.5 billion of us and a negligible number of you? OK I get that. But if you want to join the majority of people on this earth in our liberation struggle, you won’t be dictating the terms. let me tell you that.

  23. lisaprime said:

    “But the social role of women only oppresses females because we insist that all females must be women”

    Excuse me, mhairi, but wtf are you talking about? This has to be the most clueless statement about the status of women I have ever heard.

  24. mhairi,

    But the social role of women only oppresses females because we insist that all females must be women.

    This is not true. It is the role *itself* that is oppressive. Women are dumb (not as smart as men), women belong in the kitchen (men belong in the world), women are good care-takers, women are sensitive and emotional, women are docile and submissive, women love male attention. ALL of this is the baggage of being a woman– it is defined by contrast with “man” and it is designed to “compliment” masculine characteristics. It is not something to celebrate and preserve!

    It is because of these *roles* that females are subordinate to males. And paid less. And can’t walk the streets at night. And, and, and!

    That’s nice and all that some males WANT to take on this social role. But it is NOT liberating; it never has been and it never will be.

    To quote myself from a Feminist Critique of Cisgender:

    Notwithstanding variations caused by intersecting factors such as economic class, national jurisdiction, and cultural differences; the collective female social location is consistently less than similarly situated males in terms of: (i) material resources received as an infant and child, (ii) respect, attention, and intellectual encouragement received as an infant and child, (iii) risk of being sexually exploited or victimized, (iv) role within the hetero family unit, (v) representation and power in government, (vi) access to education, jobs, and promotions in the workforce, (vii) property ownership and dominion over space.[vi]

    Recognizing this, feminism understands gender as a powerful– but not inevitable– tool of organizing social relations and distributing power, including physical resources, between the sexes. The near-universal quality of life disparities enumerated above are created, enforced, and replicated through the enforcement of gendered difference and the meanings assigned to these differences.

  25. Brigitte Lechner said:

    Bloody good read … and comments.

  26. Mhairi: “Once men have babies at the same rate as women do, the patriarchy is in its death throws.”

    Those “men” you speak of having babies are objectively, biologically female. And those females cannot identify their way out of that. Having babies in a worldwide culture of oppression of the people who have babies will remain the same whether we call those baby-havers “men,” “women,” or “baby havers.” You are missing the point over and over and over, Mhairi. The system. The system. The system. It is the system that is the problem and you and your small group of like minds cannot overthrow a system by rearranging people in the boxes that already exist.

    Elizabeth already said this perfectly clearly in this post: “We cannot achieve liberation by simply reshuffling individuals between classes, while leaving the current social norms and hierarchies in place.”

    Do you understand why? Can you sit with the fact that it is the reproductive capacity of females that makes them vulnerable IN A SYSTEM that operates a locus of control right where females are baby-gestators and child caretakers. If there were “men” who could do that and other “men” who couldn’t there would still be a hierarchy between those two separate and unequal classes of people. Your fantasies notwithstanding.

  27. SEX matters. Reframing female reproduction as something that both men AND women do in order to satisfy the identities of a few males who think they are “women” is 1000% unacceptable.

    As No Anodyne said above, it doesn’t matter WHAT we call it, THIS is what institutionalized oppression and control of female reproduction looks like: men making rules about women’s lives.

    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/05/24/2055311/gohmert-fetal-abnormalities-abortion-bill/?mobile=nc

    “Even though medical experts have repeatedly warned that cutting off legal abortion access at 20 weeks will force more women to carry non-viable fetuses to term, several states have enacted “fetal pain” bans over the past several years. After Arizona passed this type of stringent measure in 2012, the volunteer organizations that counsel women whose unborn children die from fatal fetal defects braced for an influx of new families dealing with that grief. When that restrictive law ended up in court, and opponents pointed out that it’s cruel to require women to give birth to children only to be forced to watch them die, Arizona defended its abortion ban by claiming that those fetal abnormalities are “the woman’s problem.””

    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/11/06/1144301/arizona-fetal-birth-defects-womans-problem/?mobile=nc

  28. smash said:

    mhairi just to be clear, the sworn virgins of Albania are not trans. Some had to live as men to support their families when there was no male breadwinner available, and some did so to avoid the horrible restrictions placed on the gender “women”.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/10/AR2007081002158_2.html

    We want to smash the destructive restrictions placed on the gender “woman”; not just provide an option for women to opt out if they wish.

    We care about the freedom of all women.

    So I think it is disingenuous to consider these women trans. That’s not what they are. They are trying to survive the best way they know how. They are trying to make a life for their families and escape horrific gender-based oppression. They are not “men trapped in women’s bodies”, or “women with men’s brains”, or people with dysphoria.

    Their case is a perfect illustration of why gender is harmful. Their escape from being treated as women is not “is indeed a privilage to have such a community around” as you say, for their situation keeps the horrible patriarchal system firmly intact.

  29. mhairi said:

    Buggar – have kindof lost track of the comments….bear with me…

    **Lisa

    - for a start I’m female, fully reproductively female and was assigned so at birth. So I am one of the 3.5bn

    Not all societies insist that females become gendered as women – Albania is one example that I’ve given but there are also others, yes I do agree they are few and far between but such is the nature of patriarchy

    “But the social role of women only oppresses females because we insist that all females must be women”

    Let me explain further – there is a social role “woman” all those who are identified as being in that social role are oppressed by patriachy. There is also a biological entity of “female” – females have a different relationship to reproduction than males. We assign all females to the social class of women, thereby oppressing all those who (potentially, for not all are fertile) may produce babies on the basis of their acceptable social role.

    **Elizabeth

    “It is the social role itself that is oppressive”

    Yes, I agree. But that social role is built on the back of an essentialising “female nature”
    Logic goes along the lines of
    1. “All baby makers are nurturing”
    2. “All baby makers are female”
    3. “All females are women”
    4. “All women are …nurturing, submissive, caretaking.etc, etc, etc”

    2 is patently true. So if we want to destroy the social roles of women, either all baby makers arent nurturing, or all females arent women. 1 is definately disputable, but there is no good evidence for 3 other than it is widely accepted.

    I agree with you that it is the social role which is oppressive, but the social role is built on the back of all women being female.

    Abortion is a female issue. It is biological not social.

    ***No Anodyne

    “Those “men” you speak of having babies are objectively, biologically female.”

    Yes, they are, by biological necessity. And yes, you are right – it is the system which oppresses females, but *part of that system* is the allocation of all females to a social role which justifies their oppression.

    “oppression of the people who have babies will remain the same whether we call those baby-havers “men,” “women,” or “baby havers.”

    No, it wont remain the same where the biological baby-havers aren’t all accorded the same social role, because at the moment, baby havers can be very easily identified, because there is a way that women “should” present and a way that men “should” present – deviate from that (eg butch, camp) and you are transgressing and you will be punished for it, but you will still be subsumed into your primary (ie man or woman) gender.

    Seriously imagine a world where the people who you currently identify as men started showing up at work pregnant, having maternity leave. Discrimination against baby-havers would become far more difficult as it would be harder to tell who the baby havers are.

    ***smash
    I dont buy into that “women trapped in mens bodies” or “female brains” stuff, no more than I buy into a gay gene.

    “We want to smash the destructive restrictions placed on the gender “woman”; not just provide an option for women to opt out if they wish.”

    I want to smash gender, I want it to disappear, but as long as gender is useful for the patriarchy it will come up time and time again in different guises. The social role of women isnt a monolith, in different times and cultures it varies depending on the patriarchial needs of the society – so now in Western society, the social role of women is very much about being sexual/sexualised/objectified, a free provider of sexual labour; in the 1950s, the social role of women was very much centred around being domesticised, a free provider of domestic labour; in ante-bellum USA the social role of Black women was as breeders, a free provider of reproductive labour.

    By destroying the sex/gender link, you are destroying…
    1. the ability to identify baby-havers
    2. the inferences about “what women are like” which are made on the basis that they are baby havers.

    Once gender has no meaningful oppressive use, it will die.

  30. Mhraini,

    “Seriously imagine a world where the people who you currently identify as men started showing up at work pregnant, having maternity leave. Discrimination against baby-havers would become far more difficult as it would be harder to tell who the baby havers are.”

    This assumes that all humans with a basic knowledge of the biological differences between females and males (SEX) have devolved millions of years into a time when our species weren’t aware of how females got pregnant, and this very basic and major difference between the TWO sexes. Anyone who isn’t soaked in a genderqueer fantasy land knows that only females have babies, not males. So even if more of the people having babies were transmen (as in your fantasy), it would change NOTHING for females, because that would require MEN/MALES (and the rest of society) to recognize TRANSMEN as MALE, which they never will. Especially if transmen are having babies! That INSTANTLY outs them as FEMALE!!!

    EVERYONE knows that males cannot get pregnant. Switching up your gender presentation doesn’t change a thing. Lots of butch women get pregnant too, that changes nothing for women either, even though they probably get “misgendered” just as often as transmen. Also, fact : most transmen still look like lesbians or at best, 16-20-year old boys/young men. And they don’t have functional penises. That is one of the BIGGEST reasons men will NEVER accept transmen as men/male, nor, in fact, will straight women who want to get pregnant by their partner.

  31. mhairi said:

    “if more of the people having babies were transmen (as in your fantasy), it would change NOTHING for females, because that would require MEN/MALES (and the rest of society) to recognize TRANSMEN as MALE, which they never will. Especially if transmen are having babies! That INSTANTLY outs them as FEMALE!!!”

    Yup, it outs them as female, and as trans.

    You are arguing tautologically here tho…you are saying that for trans men to be accepted they would have to be recognised as males, but they are not, they are females. But once society accepts non-pregnant trans men as men (the male part is implied, but erroneous), a greater acceptance of female men, as evidenced by pregnancy is on the way.

    You suggest that (male presumably) men and women who want to get pregnant by their partner will not accept trans men as men (I’ll ignore the males bit, for they are blatently not male – trans men are usually female or at least towards the female end of intersex).

    Like misogyny where some men consider women people and others dont, men will always be a problem, thats life; thats patriarchy. I assume the inference in the latter part is that straight women who want to get pregant will not consider them as potential reproductive partner, that’s certainly possible, in the same way that lesbians dont consider female women potential reproductive partners, that doesnt mean that they dont consider them men, simply that they dont see them as a potential reproductive partner, in the same way as they might not consider a man who has had a vasectomy, or who is infertile.

  32. I assume you’re well acquainted with “tautology,” mhairi, because people have accused you of it. You are arguing in circles and making claims based on your other claims without ever backing them up from something outside your own claims. Repeatedly saying that when society accepts females as men then females will be accepted as men isn’t shoring up your argument: “once society accepts non-pregnant trans men as men (the male part is implied, but erroneous), a greater acceptance of female men, as evidenced by pregnancy is on the way” is tautology.

    Here’s the rub, mhairi: “once society accepts.” You are arguing that society will accept this because they will have to because it will be a fait accompli once enough people who SELF identify as “men” will be OTHER identified as men. Because reasons. None of which you bother to explain. Because you can’t. Because that’s not how society works.

    If it worked for females to simply SELF identify out of their oppression, there would be no oppression of all the women who don’t SELF identify as anything other than human. Yet here we sit in 2013 with the global expression of the utter hatred of girls and women as rampant, virulent, and deadly as ever before.

    And as the original post makes perfectly clear — so clear that you would have to be determined to put your hands over your eyes and turning off your brain to not see it — women not making the effort to SELF identify out of their own oppression is not the reason for their oppression. And implying, as you are, that they ARE at fault is just more misogyny.

    It is not tautology to point out that the words “man” and “men” have universal definitions in every human language. The “men” running the global institutions that keep girls and women in chains have no trouble understanding what the word means or in figuring out who does and doesn’t belong in the designation. People who do not have working penises and who do have working wombs will not be accepted, period. You can’t just wave that away with a glorious fairy tale of somedays and rainbows. In the here and now you and others arguing in the same way you are have no answer for the horrific things girls and women who are born female experience. That is really what is at stake here, not some gender fairy tale where some edgy cool trans* and queer folks get to play dress up at will.

    Indulging in fantasy while 100s of millions of females are suffering from very real global hatred of their sex is grotesque.

  33. Sang said:

    This blog reminds me of Feminist Standpoint Theory. Experiences of a female is not the same as a male or transgender person. Experiences of a transgender is not the same as a female or a male. Experiences of a male is not the same as a female or a transgender.

    Think of the horrifying experience of a rape victim, for example. A person who has not experienced rape will not understand 100% of how it is for a rape victim. Furthermore, being a female you may still not have the same experience. Add compounding characteristics such as being visible minority, disabled, and female –you cannot say how it feels or what it’s like if you are not a visible minority, disabled and female.

    Females, males and transgender people have different experiences, the way a non-rape victim can’t FULLY, 100% identify what it’s like to be a rape victim/survivor.

  34. Sang, thank you for your comment. I think it is incumbent upon every person engaging in political debate to strike a balance between acknowledging experiential(lived) difference and refusing to abanodon class-based analysis. I am reminded of what being a “woman” means everytime someone else is described by reference to her “womanhood.” HER. It is not EXACTLY the same experience, but there is still important meaning in the similarities.

  35. Another well written article, thank you, brings sanity to my life and standing up to these folks who INSIST they are Lesbian or Female, when most decidely they are not, and bring ALL their male assumption of privilege and sexism with them, no matter what the cosmetic appearance is externally.
    Most MTF’s don’t read as female anyway…..they read as decidely trans or male trying to ‘pass’ as female, with the dyed hair, over exaggerated sexual movements, heavy makeup and outfits that most women especially most Lesbian women would NEVER wear!

  36. JR said:

    Pardon my French, but this is fucking brilliant. Bookmarking.

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