We live in a cisnormative and sexist society, which tries to force traditional gender roles upon everybody, including people who don’t like said roles and don’t want to follow them. There are countless ways how a bigot can try to force traditional gender roles upon another person. Some of these “strategies” are very blatant and hostile, others are subtle and barely noticeable. In this article I will share my observations of various tactics that bigots use in their attempts to maintain the status quo, namely, a sexist and transphobic society with prescriptive gender roles. I will also talk about how male bigots differ from female bigots.
All the claims I will make in this blog post are based upon my own personal observations. As you should know, anecdotal evidence is poor evidence and subject to sampling bias. Besides, it is highly likely that things are different in other cultures. I will be making claims like “female sexists do this, male sexists do that.” Those are based upon my observations, which could be faulty. Humans are bad at correctly analyzing statistics about the frequency of various events they have experienced. Thus you are recommended to take my words with a grain of salt. Of course, whenever I say “female sexists are more likely to do this,” I don’t mean that every female sexist I even encountered behaved like this. Bigots come in an endless variety, each with their own unique personal characteristics. Anyway, now that we are done with the disclaimers, I do think that there are noticeable differences in how male and female sexists/cisgender supremacists treat me and other gender nonconforming people.
Some people like to imagine that sexist men are the main culprits in maintaining a patriarchy and enforcing gender norms. Here’s what male sexists/cisgender supremacists are more likely to do compared to female bigots.
Anonymous sexist remarks online.
My observation is that male bigots are cowards. Most of them are afraid to tell me sexist shit while looking me in the eyes. They understand that their sexist beliefs are questioned by the rest of the society, thus they are more likely to practice at least a bit of self-censorship while talking face to face with an AFAB person. Anonymity, however, allows them to run wild and say all the nasty shit they never dare to utter in situations where they fear being held accountable.
Regurgitating general stereotypes.
I used to be friendly with a guy who was a member of the same organization as me. One day, in the middle of a normal conversation, he told me: “All women want children.” Holy shit! I immediately protested that I am planning to remain childfree by choice (back then I still assumed that I’m a woman). His answer: “You still haven’t figured out what will make you truly happy in life. Every woman who still has no children by the age of forty is unhappy and lonely.” I considered his attitude patronizing and nasty, and that was the end of our friendship.
Now, let’s contrast these examples with all those things women have done in their numerous attempts to force femininity upon me.
“Helpful advice” that is intended to encourage other women to act according to the gender norms.
Back when I was 22, one evening I was walking home from the university together with a female classmate. The two of us were friendly and our homes were in the same direction. We had a normal conversation until she said: “You should use make-up, it would make you more attractive, it would also help with masking your skin defect. And you could try changing your wardrobe, get more dresses and skirts. Also, you should think about getting a nice feminine formal jacket for all those occasions when you need to look presentable, you cannot just wear jeans all the time. Same goes for shoes. You know how first impressions matter, how a woman is treated better if she looks in certain ways. If you went to a job interview in your current outfit, you wouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides, if you put some effort into your appearance, you could look like a stunningly beautiful woman.” Holy shit! I was pissed off upon being told all these things. I quickly switched the conversation topic, because I didn’t want to start an argument with a university classmate (I might someday need her notes from some lecture), but I sure wanted to punch her in the face. The crazy thing about this conversation is how this woman imagined that she was doing me a favor by saying all these things, she was certain that she wasn’t being sexist and contributing to enforcing patriarchy in our society.
Countless women have verbally encouraged me to dress in a more feminine way. When I was a child, women taught me to cook, sew clothes, knit, and do various other “women’s jobs,” always reminding me that once I grow up, I will have to do all these things for my husband. When I protested that I hate cooking, I was reminded in no uncertain terms that this was my role in life, and a rebellion wasn’t an option. On one occasion, and elderly lady, who knew that I hate cooking, gave me a cookbook as a gift exactly because I so adamantly refused to learn how to cook.
If I confronted any of these women and told them that they are being sexist, they would adamantly deny the accusation. How could a woman be sexist? Why would a woman defend patriarchy? After all, all women have a vested interest in dismantling oppressive and sexist gender roles.
Here’s another example. Back when I went to school, my female geography teacher told the entire class during a lesson that in some other cultures women don’t shave their legs and how that is really gross. Never mind all those women’s locker room conversations I have listened to about how hairy female legs are ugly. Or all those locker room conversations about how it is wrong for a woman not to use make-up. Nicer women talked about how they personally love make-up. Thus they established a norm with their own example. Not so nice women talked about how other women who do not correctly use make-up look ugly.
Highly personalized sexist messages and a sense of ownership over other women’s bodies.
I once had a conversation with a female surgeon who specialized in gynecology (I wanted to sterilize myself). She responded with immense hatred, vitriol, and disgust in her voice. She talked about how not wanting children made me delusional, sick, and loveless. To her I was an abomination. In past, she had worked with women who had fertility issues and wanted children, so for her I was lowest of the low. I was trying to throw away something that was supposedly sacred for her personally and for womanhood as such. Unlike my former male friend who emotionlessly made generic remarks about all women wanting children, this female doctor delivered a very personalized and hate-filled lecture about how I was sick and disgusting.
I find bigoted women less likely to engage in self-censorship compared to sexist men. They are less afraid to tell me abusive and rude shit while looking me in the eyes.
Women imagine that due to being female, they themselves are somehow the normative model for what every other woman wants in life. As in, “I want children and love make-up, therefore all other woman must be the same.” Even worse, they attempt to force their own lifestyle preferences upon every other woman out there. Sometimes it is patronizing: “That poor young woman who is trying to sterilize herself is confused and doesn’t know what to do with her life; I must prevent her from making a mistake.” Sometimes, they are angry: “How dare you live differently than me. We are all in this crab bucket together, don’t even try to get out.” On yet other occasions they feel upset than by choosing a non-normative lifestyle I am not validating their own normative lifestyles as the only valid option.
In the abortion debate, I have heard a woman say: “My daughter is the greatest source of joy in my life, I cannot imagine not having her, I would have been devastated if I had lost her during the pregnancy. Therefore, I approve a ban on abortions, this way I will make sure that no woman has to unnecessarily go through the pain of losing an unborn child.” This sexist person clearly failed to wrap her head around the simple fact that not all AFAB people feel about children the way she does. She couldn’t understand that some women are not like her.
Women also imagine that they have a right to verbally dissect other women’s bodies and appearance. They imagine that a woman cannot possibly say anything sexist, therefore it is acceptable for them to say literally anything about the body of some other woman.
Some people want to police other people’s lives and bodies. Many of these people are woman.
I have heard claims that men are the enemies who are maintaining a patriarchy. For me personally, the overwhelming majority of all the sexist abuse I have experienced in my life came from cis women. Some of these women even imagined that they are doing me a favor, and they failed to realize how they were perpetuating and reinforcing gender stereotypes and norms. When it comes to face to face conversations, I tend to be very argumentative. Some people even perceive me as scary to approach. My guess is that bigoted men were reluctant to say sexist crap to me fearing that I could retaliate. Bigoted women, on the other hand, imagined that due to being female they have a right to tell me all sorts of crap.
There exist TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and SWERFs (sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists), who follow a prescriptive, normative approach to feminism; i.e., telling other women what to do—TERFs with their gender, and SWERFs with their sexuality. How can some self-proclaimed feminist even try to tell me that I shouldn’t surgically remove my breasts? How can they try to tell me not to live as a man? It’s my body, it’s my lifestyle choice.
In my opinion, the ideals of feminism are (1) gender equality; (2) freedom for each person to choose how to lead their life without any mandatory gender norms. Gender equality entails equal pay, equal rights, equal access to education and job opportunities, etc. Basically, no person should be denied opportunities in life only because of their gender. Women’s freedom to choose their own paths in life means that each person can decide for themselves how they want to live. A woman should be free to stay single and childfree if she so chooses. She should be free to wear male clothes, forsake make-up and high heel shoes, and pursue a career as a mathematician. But she should also have a right to choose to wear pink dresses, get married, and be a stay-at-home mother. Of course, each man also should have the same freedom to choose for himself how to lead his life. The same goes also for trans and non-binary people.
You will notice that I treat sexism (“a woman ought to obey her husband”) and cisgender supremacy (“an AFAB person shouldn’t try to live as a trans man”) similarly. In my eyes, both are near equivalent. Both aim to take away from individual people their right of self determination. Both try to enforce a gender binary and some outdated traditional gender roles with all the corresponding norms and social expectations. Both try to tell other people that whoever was born with such and such genitals must live in a specific way.
Under patriarchy, cis men (self proclaimed paragons of moral virtue and defenders of traditional gender roles) want to tell AFAB people how to lead their lives. Under TERF ideology, cis women (self proclaimed feminists and defenders of traditional gender roles) want to tell AFAB people how to lead they lives. The similarity should be obvious. I don’t like being told to wear pink dresses. Similarly, I also hate being told that I am just a confused butch lesbian who shouldn’t even think about surgical body modifications.
Sexism and transphobia, two ideologies that try to enforce gender norms upon the entire human population, come in various shades and under different disguises. The abuse can be blatant and overtly hostile. Or it can be subtle and hard to notice, abusers can even pretend to be well-meaning and imagine that they are doing the victim a favor by patronizing them and denying their autonomy.