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Gender

I just read more commentary about the midwife controversy over who gives birth and breastfeeds babies, while having to look at the arrogant mug of the breastfeeding transman who has attacked women for wanting to use the word “woman.” It reminded me of Elizabeth Hungerford’s brilliant three points about “if transwomen are women” and I decided to adapt it.

The maxim “trans men are men” is either a false equivalency or we’re going to have to re-write every dictionary and encyclopedia and medical textbook and pretty much all of recorded human history, science, and language.

I maintain that the maxim is false, for at least these three reasons.

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Guest post by Kate Leigh

I couldn’t honestly tell you when I started following a liberal intersectional feminist philosophy. It was simply part of my thought process and by extension, my life, online and off. I followed all the blogs and pages. I contributed comments and shares. I told people to check their privilege and men need feminism too. Liberal feminism was the only feminism of which I was aware. In fact, I never called myself a liberal feminist while I held those views. I called myself a “Feminist” without realizing there were other types.

With a fresh memory of what went through my own mind as I held these beliefs, I endeavor to describe my experience of the liberal feminist point of view in the next section. In the final section, I explain how and why I changed my mind.

The Liberal Intersectional Feminist Mindset

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-Janet Mock, Author of Redefining Realness (former title: Fish Food)-

-Janet Mock, Author of Redefining Realness-

Janet Mock is a transwoman author who has strong opinions on gender and the sex industry shared in this memoir. Mock discusses many topics, but this review will cover five: essentialism, the term “cis”, the term “fish”, hormone blockers for children, and the sex industry.

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Huffington Post and Autostraddle both ran articles on January 27th, 2014 about the hashtag #protransprochoice and a petition started by three young adults: Beck Martens, Alice Wilder, and Calliope Wong–a transwoman who caused a media flurry in 2013 about being denied application for enrollment at a female-only college while Wong was still legally and anatomically male. The Autostraddle article is entitled #ProTransProChoice: Launching A New Reproductive Rights Movement. That’s right, a whole New Movement to accommodate gender identities! I consider this a particularly disturbing example of conflating ‘gender identity’ with physical sex and a stark reminder of what “sex not gender” means.

The #protransprochoice call for a New Reproductive Rights Movement demands that NARAL and Planned Parenthood spend their precious, limited funds[1] on media campaigns that explicitly cater to the gender identities of trans* people:[2]

The rhetoric of the pro-choice movement is typically based around the assumption that only folks who identify as women are hurt by restrictions on reproductive health care – such as abortion and contraception. #StandWithTexasWomen took the stage in 2013; “Trust Women” has been the mantra of this movement for decades. This language excludes trans* and gender non-conforming (GNC) people and thus, the movement has failed to address our reproductive and sexual health needs.

The offense is that speaking of “women” generally does not affirm or validate the identities of trans* people. Referring to abortion as a “woman’s” issue is unacceptable because, one, it does not include reference to female-born transmen who might need abortions and, two, not all “women” have vaginas. It makes trans* people feel unimportant and left out of the conversation. The #protransprochoice hashtag is just the latest iteration of on-going attempts from the pro-trans lobby to de-sex the way we speak about reproductive rights.[3]

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This is my response to the reactionary and misguided “A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism” (The Statement) posted at FeministsFightingTransphobia.wordpress.com.

We can all agree, I think, that people’s actual lives are more important than theoretical abstractions– including those related to “identity.” This is precisely why, as feminists, we demand acknowledgement for the lived realities and material conditions of women’s lives, including the social mechanics of sex-and-gender-assignment that ultimately give rise to women’s oppression. But beyond this, there are a truly alarming number of misrepresentations, inconsistencies, and logical errors in The Statement. I will address many of them below.

First things first, I want to point out that characterizing gender critical feminists as “transphobic feminists” remains unsupported where “transphobia” is not defined. Repeated use of this term to demonize a certain kind of political speech or political actor is clearly intended to be insulting rather than instructive; it serves as a way to shame us and any of our potential supporters into silence. Personally, I have no intention of insulting other feminists and escalating hostility by using similar epithets to describe them or their political views. 

Throughout this response I will refer to myself and others who share my general view of gender as gender critical feminists (no acronym). Because that’s what we do. We are feminists who criticize gender as a harmful social construct that distributes power unequally.

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In a recent anti-radical feminist screed, published prominently on several leftist blogs, a trans* activist attempted to equate gender critical analysis with homophobia. This is the latest twist on the conflation of the lesbian and gay rights political movement with the trans* political movement. And it’s the latest indication that it will be lesbians, other women, and girls who are most harmed by that conflation.

Though there are claims that our groups have reason to have a strong political alliance, it’s arguable that Gay, Inc. – the large, well-funded and influential political groups – created this conflation simply to increase funding and reach. There doesn’t seem to have been a period of time where lesbians and gay men were allowed any discussion or input about this decision. But there are obvious reasons to question the unholy alliance.

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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.

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Guest re-post by Maggie H.

This post is the final part of a series of posts based on some of the RadFem Reboot 2012 presentation talk that I gave in Oregon recently on the patriarchal takeover of women’s sexuality.

Definition: As this is the final part here, I would like to make it clear by what I mean by BDSM for the purpose of this series. BDSM is ‘Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism (formerly known as ‘sadomasochism’); a form of patriarchal sexuality involving the eroticisation of the symbols of slavery, misogyny, captivity, rape and torture. It is a sexuality that involves the most egregious dynamics of domination and subordination (a.k.a. ‘dom/sub’) and the sexualisation of pain and/or danger.’

*****

So what happened to the woman-identified woman nowadays? Let me first go back to the origins and causes of the mainstreaming of BDSM within contemporary lesbian culture and communities. I will then elaborate more on how BDSM prevents revolution.

Back in the 1970’s, Radicalesbians released a statement saying that “a lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion” as a feminist call for woman-loving lesbianism. During the 1990’s, the lesbian pornographic magazine On Our Backs gave this statement an odd twist with proclaiming that “a lesbian is the lust of all women condensed to the point of explosion.” This was the beginning of lesbianism being socially defined solely on sexual terms. This was the end of woman-loving lesbian feminism.

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Guest post by Maggie H.

This post is the second part of a series of posts based on some of the RadFem Reboot 2012 presentation talk that I gave in Oregon recently on the patriarchal takeover of women’s sexuality.

Warning: This post contains some graphic depictions of pornified lesbian culture. I believe it is important to know what some lesbians are watching, making, writing & reading for fun’ these days. The examples taken from lesbian media are not ‘isolated cases.’ Many lesbians I spoke to actually say that they ‘love’ websites like Autostraddle or magazines such as Diva UK. These things are part of mainstream lesbian culture today.

*****

As pointed out at the end of the first part (on lesbian BDSM fanfiction, a cultural phenomenon within lesbian culture), the fandoms of Xena, Buffy, Stargate SG-1, Rizzoli & Isles (or whatever show lesbians want to read BDSM fan fiction from) are not the only lesbian cultures that have been affected by patriarchy. No, unfortunately, there are many more aspects of contemporary lesbian culture that have been poisoned by patriarchal ideology and male-centred sexuality too.

So let me take you through contemporary lesbian culture now.

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Guest re-post by Maggie H.

This post is the first part of a series of posts based on some of the RadFem Reboot 2012 presentation talk that I gave in Oregon recently on the patriarchal takeover of women’s sexuality.

Warning: This post contains some descriptions of what happens in written pornography. Skip those parts if you feel queasy; read them if you really want to know what some lesbians are writing & reading for fun’ these days.

Disclaimers: By writing this post I would like to make very clear that I am not criticising individual women for having particular sorts of fantasy. I am a former BDSMer myself. I am actually being critical of the pornographic works being published online, and of the patriarchal context within which such stories get written and read in the first place. I believe it is important to challenge the everyday political poisoning of our lesbian communities by BDSM culture. If you read or write those kinds of stories, I am not ‘attacking’ you personally; I am just trying to make a point concerning what you read or write.

*****

I feel the need to talk about fan fiction, as it has become an important part of lesbian culture nowadays in some circles. This includes stories based on the characters of Willow & Tara (from Buffy: Vampire Slayer) and Xena & Gabrielle (from Xena: Warrior Princess) –and there are also lesbian fan fiction stories based on the characters of Stargate SG-1, Rizzoli & Isles or other shows lesbians happen to be fans of. Not all lesbian fan fiction stories are bad or misogynistic (some can actually be really good and female-centred), but BDSM sexuality is often glamorised in some popular lesbian fan fiction tales. Those stories are written and read by lesbian fans of those TV shows, everyday women: women like you or me. Any lesbian can become an anonymous fan fiction writer nowadays, and get easily published on the Internet for free via specific fan fiction websites.

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Sex Role BoxesI was coercively assigned a sex role at birth. As soon as medical personnel saw that I didn’t have a penis, the process of putting me and keeping me in a very narrowly-defined box began. From then on I was coercively stopped from doing or being things associated with boys and coerced into doing and being things associated with girls. I fought many bitter, painful battles over years of being forced into that box. A handful of those battles I won; most I lost, because the full power of adults was brought to bear to keep me in my proper sex role.

It’s intensely frustrating that in the intervening years experiences like this have continued for girls and boys. But worse, rather than meaningful progress toward simply allowing children to live their lives outside of any box, there is now a very powerful movement that claims that forcing children into the other restrictive sex role box is the solution. The problem, these people claim, is not that the person was coercively assigned a sex role at all, it’s that they were coercively assigned the incorrect sex role, and that (of course!) can be fixed by adopting the other sex role.

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womans-inhumanity

“As feminist women, we knew that we were doomed without sisterhood – so we proclaimed it, even in its absence. We wanted to will it into existence, verbally, without wrestling it into being.” ― Phyllis Chesler, ‘Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman’ (2002/2009)

Feminist writings on ‘horizontal hostility’ among women, tend to focus on articulating various means by  which to reduce it, ‘work-around’ it, or heal it through creating new foundations of feminist community ethics in our relationships with each other.  Although there is always recognition that the hostility exists, they also reflect a strong desire to quickly ‘move on’ beyond the problem, to the outlining of more-or-less utopian “solutions”. Hence we have a number of books speculating on how female-friendship and feminist ethics should be.

If you are looking for similar ‘solutions’, this book is not for you.  Phyllis Chesler does not provide any ‘solutions, but seeks to go to the ‘root’ and unpack the common characteristics of female experience of such hostility both personal and political in an attempt to more fully understand, in the lines of ‘Understanding the problem, is half the solution’. (But only half!).
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butch-femme-LGHaving been educated into radical feminist analysis by a group of incredible Australian lesbian feminists who collectively have a very clear view that the butch/femme hierarchy in the lesbian community as one that is unhealthy to lesbian relations, it surprised me to discover, both online and in real life, a push to incorporate butch/femme ideologies into lesbian feminist practice and theory. The push seems to be from a strong concern that women classified as ‘butch’ are a class of women who are specially oppressed under male supremacy and that they are being transitioned out of existence. Read More

This post contains graphic descriptions.

Radical feminists often argue that BDSM practice is about degrading, humiliating, violating and torturing women.  It is patriarchal violence against women—whether it occurs in your bedroom, on your computer screen, or is simulated during your lunchtime book reading.

We do not blame women who participate in it, but we will analyze it through a feminist lens.

BDSM is the legitimization of domestic violence against women. Case in point: The Feminist and the Cowboy.  Author Alisa Valdes wrote an erotic semi-autobiographical book about a dominant lover who violently f’ked her under the guise of consensual “play”. After her book was released, Vales wrote a blog post detailing the real life abuse that the “cowboy” inflicted on her. Though the abuse was framed as consensual in her book, her real life experience with the cowboy involved being raped, verbally abused, threatened, and abandoned once he discovered her pregnancy.

Similarly, during a recent BDSM play abuse session, abuser Steven Lock strangled a woman he had recently met on a dating site with a rope, chained her to his bed, lashed her 14 times, f’kd her, and then left her chained. She had to call a friend to help her escape, but Lock was cleared of all abuse charges once he claimed the assault had been “consensual”.

BDSM occurs in the context of patriarchal rape culture, where women always “deserve” the rape, violence, abuse and death that men dish out to them, and women who object to this treatment are called names, and dismissed out-of-hand.

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(Note : this post was inspired by a comment I made over on the Ms. Magazine)1

If you’ve been paying attention to latest events and declarations by transwomen and transfeminists, you might be wondering, like I am, why transfeminism contains the word “feminism” at all.  Feminism is about the liberation of FEMALES/WOMEN from the system of MALE/MEN’S dominance (patriarchy), so one would expect any term containing the word “feminism” to have at least *some* connection to females (I am using the word female here to mean the majority of women in the world who have been assigned female at birth, including intersex, and raised as girls/women, in contrast to trans women, who were assigned male at birth,  have lived and been socialized as men, and remain biologically male even after -or if- they transition).  And yet, as transfeminism becomes more mainstream, it seems to be narrowly focused on only a few issues that are specific to trans people only, and not even exclusive to trans WOMEN.

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Consistent with common usage of the term “cisgender,” the graphic below explains that “…if you identify with the gender you were assigened [sic] at birth, you are cis.”

Another Trans 101: Cisgender webpage describes cis this way: “For example, if a doctor said “it’s a boy!” when you were born, and you identify as a man, then you could be described as cisgender.” [i] Likewise, girl-born people who identify as women are also considered cisgender. WBW are cis.

Framing gender as a medically determined assignment may seem like a good start to explaining gendered oppression because it purports to make a distinction between physical sex and gender. Feminism similarly understands masculinity and femininity (e.g., gender) as strictly enforced social constructs neither of which are the “normal” or inevitable result of one’s reproductive sex organs. Feminism and trans theory agree that coercive gender assignments are a significant source of oppression.

On closer inspection of the concept of “cisgender,” however, feminism and trans theory quickly diverge. Read More

The title of a recent New York Times blog post reads “In Reporting Pain, Women the More Sensitive Sex”. The article discusses the results of a Stanford University study that were published this week, comparing women’s and men’s reports of pain for identical medical ailments. What is mysteriously absent from the article in all of its hand wringing about women reporting “more pain” is a very obvious answer for the discrepancy: men simply underreport pain.

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Patriarchy has been reconstructing women to “fit” within male biological norms and convenience for millennia. One of the first bits of female biology to start reconstruction was pregnancy and birthing, more recently, patriarchy has focussed on reconstructing sexuality and sexual identity. In all cases, this reconstruction removes all the uniquely female bits. As Germaine Greer in her classic The Female Eunuch pointed out, women often seek social reconstruction as castrated males, or as mentioned in Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed, women’s only options are to 1. Live WITH a man, or 2. Live LIKE a man. Read More

Not so long ago, I read about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, and the ensuing firing and arrests of men heralded as leaders of a community for decades, and a flurry of news articles like this one at Huffpost about the ongoing ‘Crisis of Masculinity’.  Poor dudes.

To be honest, I never thought too much about  bloke stuff before, not since that day walking home from school, I found my 15 year old baby brother squared off against a bunch of other boys, all reeking that feral pubescent testosterone gymclass odour after footy training.

Strong enough to peel your nail-polish and melt your mascara.  Really. A lot of ballet position postures and gestures, but with snarling, drooling, and bared frothy canines between the bum-fluff.  When I asked what was going on, my brother told me to bugger off, as it was “guy stuff”, and not to tell mum if I knew what was good for me. Read More

As many Aussies do over the holiday period, I went to the movies to watch some trash. I had a particular film in mind so I went to the website of the local cinema. As per usual every single movie advertisement featured men or male characters front and centre, with long lists of male actors names covering the poster and a few token females thrown in. The only exception to this was the poster advertising the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. On the poster for this movie there is a young woman, stripped to her waist. A man is standing behind her with his arm clenched over her breasts as if she is his possession. This year, as with every other year, women’s role as owned possessions is made crystal clear in Hollywood. Read More