Fourth Wave: Part Three

In the first two parts of this series, I talked a bit about some of the things that has been holding feminism back from being able to speak to the fact of gender variance. In part one, I mentioned the way that a considerable amount of feminist theory, radical feminism in particular, based itself on a binary dialectic, with a male oppressor class and a female slave class. Not unlike how marxism reduced all oppressions and social ills to consequences of the tension between the bourgois (property owners) and proletariat (workers), and envisioned a world where everything would just be dandy if we could get rid of private property, considerable swathes of feminism imagined a world where patriarchy was the defining oppression, all others simply consequences of it, and everything, perhaps, would be just dandy if we could just get rid of gender.

Obviously, such a utopian vision reads a lot more like a nightmarish, brutal dystopia to me. The world they propose creating in their Rad-Fem 2012 conferences, a world where gender transition is outlawed and called a “human rights violation”, is a world I would fight as hard as possible to prevent being realized.

And in part two I talked a bit about the degree to which much of feminism, again radical feminism in particular, has staked far far far too much on an absolutist, social-constructivist view of gender. This is a vision fundamentally at odds with the evidence, and if feminism as a whole can’t learn to resolve the “nature vs. nurture” debate (a debate trans-feminism got over years ago) then it’s going to doom itself to becoming discredited and irrelevent. Which isn’t good for anyone, given the degree to which we all depend on the sustained presence of a strong feminist movement.

But these problems don’t simply create an inability for feminism to address the needs of people who don’t fit into a cissexist, binary vision of gender and sex. They’ve furthermore steered feminism into a dead-end alley, careening at top speed towards a great big brick wall marked “intersectionality”.

The question of intersectionality has for a very long time been central to the evolutions feminism has gone through over the course of the 20th century. There has been a constant tendency within feminism for the movement’s goals and focus to be defined by the most privileged women within it, and for those most privileged women to have the strongest and most vocal voices.

This is true of all social movements. The black civil rights movement ended up having issues with sexism and homophobia, the gay rights movement ended up having issues with sexism, racism, ableism and transphobia, and even trans-feminism has a tendency for the strongest voices to be heard the loudest, even when speaking issues that the less privileged have been discussing for years. I talked a little bit about that on Wednesday.

A question that’s been bothering me a whole lot lately, especially considering how much of the things I’ve been thinking about lately are inextricably tied to intersectional oppressions, like the distribution of violence and risk, is the degree to which my relative prominence in trans-feminism, and my rare ability to reach a cisgender audience, is simply a byproduct of my other privileges. My being white, able-bodied, binary-identified, relatively gender-conforming, etc. And while I’m by no means middle-class, I certainly “pass” as such.

I always did. It’s part of how I managed to sustain a heroin addiction for three years without ever landing a criminal record. Smile at the cops. Let them think you’re just a harmless middle-class white kid slumming it, and be safely on your way.

Feminism, though, in speaking to such a broad population, and such a defining aspect of our lives (there is virtually no one out of this entire planet’s seven billion inhabitants, who has not ended up a participant in the political dynamics of gender), faced considerable pressure to address the needs of women other than the white, the middle-class, the heterosexual, the nuclear familied (is that a word? familied? I like it!). And over time, those pressures played out. Divisions occurred. Adaptations. Evolutions. Different waves were marked.

The third wave in particular was marked by an attempt to deal with the “problem” of intersectionality. It had other elements too, such as shifting to a conception of patriarchy as a distributed, emergent system of relationships, rather than a bottom-down, deliberate effort to control and subjugate women (though the latter does sometimes occur, of course). But where the third wave failed was in attempting to fit intersectional oppressions into the frameworks of feminism, rather than attempting to simply locate feminism in a larger, cooperative project of working against oppression itself.

Trans people aren’t the only group hated and abhorred by radical feminists. Sex workers come to mind, too. And the “lib-fems” and “fun-fems”. I’d also love to take a look at the distributions of race, ability and economic class if they successfully throw one of these conferences.

The problem is largely in the lingering existence of those basic, limited theoretical premises. If, for instance, patriarchy is the fundamental oppression, then intersectionality will always take a back seat to the gender dynamic, regardless of whatever complications and power differentials are in play. Take an interaction between a black man and a white woman. Who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed? A parapalegic man and an able-bodied woman. A man on the dole and the woman at the ministry who decides whether or not he gets his check. A sex worker and her client. A trans woman and a cis woman.

One of the most common arguments I hear from MRAs is something like “If you’re for equality, why do you call it feminism then? Feminism is for female-supremacy! Why not call it equalism?” My response is always pretty simple. We don’t need to tackle every human rights issue all at the same time. It’s okay to have particular areas of focus. And given the way power is distributed along the lines of gender in our culture, the way that although oppositional sexism hurts men too women are positioned as the “lower” status within that opposition binary, it totally, completely makes sense to prioritize addressing misogyny and how sexism impacts women (albeit with the intent to help guys out too while we at it, since ideally we’ll also be dismantling all the stupid structures that lead to the splash damage harming men).

It’s okay for gay and lesbian people to sometimes focus on issues that affect them specifically, without also having to work on trans rights issues. And it’s okay for black civil rights activists to sometimes focus on issues affecting them specifically without having to always include every other oppressed racial minority at the same time.

That’s all okay.

We could envision a world of social justice activism defined by a whole bunch of different movements, each with their own priorities and areas of focus, such that they can better narrow down their goals and determine the ideal strategies for meeting those goals, but at the same time existing in cooperation. Listening to one another. Not undermining one another. And being totally ready to drop their focus and work together whenever and wherever the issues and goals start to overlap.

That would be an awesome world.

But we’re just not there. Not yet anyway. But I think we can get there!

However, that won’t ever happen so long as we continue to act like the only reason to consider a given cause important enough to act on is to consider it definitively important, so important it eclipses other issues. It seems that simply saying “this is one of several important things that we, as a society, need to work on” isn’t enough for many people to feel happy with. Or happy investing themselves in. It always has to be “OMG THIS IS LIKE TOTALLY FUCKING THE MOST IMPORTANT SHIT IN THE HISTORY OF THE GODDAMN COSMOS EVERYONE STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND PROTEST THIS SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK NOW!!!”

But if we’re all competing for attention, and refusing to work with the rather obvious truth that, yeah, there’s more than one kind of oppression at play, more than one problem to deal with (and we can’t ALL deal with ALL of them ALL the time) we’re going to be stuck in a situation of actively undermining one another’s efforts. Theories become entrenched. Interpretations become distorted. Someone who is very obviously being oppressed within the grander cultural framework is seen as the “oppressor”, the “enemy”, simply because you can’t accept that there are other forces at work in addition to those you’ve most invested yourselves in.

I don’t want to be part of any feminism that refuses to acknowledge there’s more than one means by which an individual may be oppressed or marginalized. And I certainly don’t want to be part of any feminism that refuses to acknowledge more than one form of gender-based oppression.

What I’d love to see is a feminism with a degree of humility. To stop looking at everything exclusively through the lens of established feminist theory. To be willing to accept realities the theory hasn’t yet accounted for. To be willing to accept other axes of oppression. And most of all, to start working towards finding how feminism can fit into the larger project of social justice activism, as a much-needed aspect of a whole that’s goals aren’t simply feminist goals, but human ones. A feminism that sees itself as a piece of a puzzle. The branch of activism that’s there to look at how gender plays out in oppressive ways and find ways to make it a play out a little more compassionately, tolerantly, fairly, openly. A feminism that can interlock with other pieces of the puzzle whenever it’s needed.

A feminism that is willing to let go of a premise when it stops working. A feminism that can admit when it got something wrong. A feminism that, rather than imposing its view of gender and the world on everyone else, tries to make some room for as many such views and genders and worlds as possible. A feminism that can bloody well cooperate with other types of activism, and acknowledge other oppressions. And perhaps most importantly, a feminism that considers people, their lives, their experiences and their choices, more important than theory, camps, branches and politics.

Feminism is needed. Feminism is essential to moving forward as a species. But only if feminism itself is capable of moving forward.


  1. Ma Nonny says

    “But if we’re all competing for attention, and refusing to work with the rather obvious truth that, yeah, there’s more than one kind of oppression at play, more than one problem to deal with (and we can’t ALL deal with ALL of them ALL the time) we’re going to be stuck in a situation of actively undermining one another’s efforts.”

    This reminds me of how some commenters on the internetz complain about how atheism should only be concerned with Church/State separation issues and not focus on feminism, racial disparities, etc (it seems, in an effort to silence those talking about it). I think your post here is a good reference for people who need to know “why” or “how” we could possibly use skepticism to explore other facets of life and other forms of oppression. Yes, topic X is a different focus than other people have, but that does not mean NOBODY should be talking about it. And just because it’s not *your* (general “you”) focus does not mean it isn’t worthwhile or doesn’t have similar underlying goals.

  2. Marcelo says

    Seems like you’re talking about a lack of maturity on the feminist movement?

    I think that’s a big problem with getting leaders on civil rights movements, it has to be someone who has taken enough beatings to be angry enough to get up and do something, but at the same time, be mature enough to direct the anger on productive ways instead of throwing punches to the air or blowing up random stuff.

    But I’m might be the last person that should be talking about civil rights.

    I don’t know a lot about the feminist movement, and just recently began to read you Greta and Skepchick, but never saw anyone say “Feminism is for female-supremacy!” is that really common?

    • Nentuaby says

      It’s common among anti-feminist goons and those who’ve bought into their propaganda. Staunch defenders of the patriarchy love to push it at “The Good Women” as a reason that they’re better than those icky feminists.

    • A. Person says

      Yeah. Watch what happens in most places when someone points out sexism and then count the number of replies using terms like “feminazi” or start mentioning how society “privileges” women.

    • says

      Yep. It’s definitely common, especially amongst MRAs (“mens rights activists”). Their philosophy is predicated on the idea that gender-based human rights is basically a zero-sum game, a tug-of-war with women on the one end and men on the other. To them, feminism is therefore all about getting women to win the tug-of-war, and create a matriarchy with women’s rights coming at the expense of men’s rights. That’s not ACTUALLY what feminism is, or what feminism’s goals are, but the MRAs are…um… very detached from reality, to say the least. So the accusation that feminism is “female-supremacism” is indeed a really common one. I’ve even heard trans women say this kind of shit! There’s also usually a tut-tutting, self-righteous “I’m for EQUALITY” statement at the end. Which is totally ridiculous given that their actual motive is disparaging and derailing feminism’s efforts to address the fucked-up sexism in our society, which of course is a huge impediment to equality and human rights.

    • says

      Seems like you’re talking about a lack of maturity on the feminist movement?

      I think that’s a big problem with getting leaders on civil rights movements, it has to be someone who has taken enough beatings to be angry enough to get up and do something, but at the same time, be mature enough to direct the anger on productive ways instead of throwing punches to the air or blowing up random stuff.

      To an extent, it’s inherent. “Putting up with things you don’t like” is considered to be an aspect of maturity. Therefore, anyone who goes against the status quo will be acting immaturely by definition — even although putting up with things that are wrong is a lot different from putting up with things you merely don’t like. Or, to put it another way: A mature person accepts things the way they are, whereas an immature person seeks to change things; therefore, all social progress has been brought about by immature people.

      Superstition is Nature’s way of establishing useful ideas even in the absence of a proper explanation. However, false positives can and do occur; so Nature also needs a way of weeding out useless beliefs. Youthful rebellion serves to accomplish this, by deliberately breaking taboos to test their validity. One teenager dares to eat bread that has been cut with a knife [*]; nothing bad happens. Superstition busted! Another tries not washing their hands after going to the toilet, and gets sick. Reasonable precaution confirmed.

      Alongside those challenging the patriarchy for “the right reasons”, there will always be those challenging it “just because”. I think the best we can do is present the right reasons honestly to the latter group, and hope they come eventually to count themselves among the former.

      I ….. never saw anyone say “Feminism is for female-supremacy!” is that really common?

      That’s the straw-dummy version presented by M.R.As. Compare some of the fallacious arguments used by Creationists: “evolution says [something absurd, that has no connection with the scientific theory of evolution], therefore my particular creation myth is true”. It’s always easier to attack a deliberate misrepresentation of reality, than it is to attack reality.

      And while it would be short-sighted to say that men experience no social disadvantages at all, it would be even shorter-sighted to say that these disadvantages are as severe as those faced by women. Also, these disadvantages boil down to “all men get unfairly tarred with the same brush because some men are still behaving unacceptably, even in the 21st century”, which simply would not apply if not for a minority of men acting like D.H.s — and many more thinking that is the way they are supposed to behave, because no-one calls them out on it. If some women treat all men as potential rapists, it’s because — unfortunately — some men are actual rapists. If you aren’t a rapist, don’t be a rape-enabler either: challenge anyone who tries to make out that it is normal behaviour, and don’t try to make light of a serious matter. (If you really must keep alive some faint spark of hope that a rape joke might ever be funny one day, please at least try to understand that, since absurdity is one of the necessary preconditions for humour, it would first be necessary for rape to have become an absurdly unlikely occurrence not just among your own little private social circle, but out in the whole world in general. And if you are a rapist, just stop it already.)

      I do think that things are improving, and I am optimistic that the improvements we are seeing will continue and speed up. After all, we have the benefits not only of modern communications technology, to spread ideas and enable debate; but of the same scientific method that brought us that technology, to help us figure out which deeply-entrenched beliefs are useful and which ones can safely be discarded. But it’s also important to remember that we are also emotional creatures; and just because we can’t see a hard scientific reason why something that feels right is right, doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

      Example: Even if being gay were a matter of choice as opposed to a fixed, intrinsic property with which an individual is born, that would be no reason to discriminate against gay people. And even if we have not mapped out every stage in the series of chemical reactions that goes on from the moment when we discover an act of unfair discrimination to our sense of unfairness being triggered, we still know what “unfair” feels like; and that should be reason enough to oppose unfair discrimination. In all its forms, even though in practice you might only be able to manage some.

      And if nobody seems to be behind your favourite oppressed minority group right now, grit your teeth and console yourself with the thoughts that (a) if it wasn’t for some other minority group being oppressed taking up so much of the energy and attention of the freedom fighters, then you’d have more support, and (b) instead of banging the drum even more loudly for your favourite cause and slowing down some other cause by distracting its supporters, you could lend your support to that cause, bring about its happy conclusion sooner rather than later, and be ready with an answer when a now-purposeless-but-still-angry mob starts asking the question “Who shall we fight next?”

      [*] “Simon”‘s own private superstition. Tearing a piece off a knife-cut sandwich, or tearing a crusty cob the rest of the way after starting it with a knife, is enough to neutralise the badness introduced by the knife cut. It sounds even more absurd when it’s written down like that.

    • ik says

      To be fair, there is a habit of feminists having their own female-centered movement, and then not tolerating any smaller man-centered movement. (Of course, even good-ish MRAs suck.) And men definitely do have a problem, which feminism has an interest in having solved and should do so without condescending or seeing men or masculinity as the enemy.

      Another reason is that a lot of modern, liberal, totally-not-even-vaguely-radical-or-scary feminists really like celebrating the history of people like Mary Daly who in addition to transphobia, held misandry rising even to genocidal levels.

      Not saying that those strawman attacks are not wrong or stupid. But an awful lot of feminists, while getting the ‘multiple social movements, aware of intersectionality but focused on their own goal’ thing completely right, tend to ignore some of this stuff or consider themselves the sole arbiters of all issues related to sex and gender.

  3. says


    There is a tension here. If we don’t push for trans womyn’s issues, and for all womyn’s issues, who will?

    If we set aside trans womyn’s issues to focus on ‘more urgent’ issues, there are always ‘more urgent’ issues.

    If we set aside all other issues to focus on ‘trans womyn’s issues,’ we will tend to ignore issues that affect some trans womyn but not others, we will tend to accept kyriarchy in any organizations we may be lucky enough to have, we will tend to accept nonsense in our theories, and we will lose needed allies. anarchafeminism, socialist feminism, etc. look at other types of oppression, and I think discussions of economic exploitation, racism, and sexism tend to shed light on each other. “pure” radical feminism actually reminds me of “pure” Marxism in the way it focuses on one type of oppression while assuming every other type of oppression is rooted in that one type.

    So it’s important to keep a sort of balance.

    I am rather distracted right now. I feel like the feminist movement isn’t doing enough on survivor issues and healing. I have a hard time finding useful resources as a survivor. There were three workshops at Philly, but two of them were centered on therapists, and how to fix us, and they just got me too angry to stay there. Eye contact? It hurts, and it hurts worse when I’m stressed. Breathing exercises? I have severe asthma. *headdesk* I know that gender-based violence, sexual assault, and ptsd aren’t universal female experiences, but they are extremely common and extremely important for those living through them.

    • says

      Yes, I believe that’s the point: intersectional progress, with different movements in harmony, won’t work if we imagine each person always has to work on the “most urgent problem”.

      Of course we all have our priorities, and there is tension because there are SO MANY PROBLEMS and we each only have so many resources and so much energy and joy and will.

      But maybe it can help to see how I think of intersectionality right now:

      Ideally, fighting the most well-known issues of sexism could help all women. Ideally fighting the most well-known issues of racism could help all people of color. Ideally, economic reforms could improve class equality for everyone. We would hope that any cause can organize, create a checklist of issues, and fight to change those in order of importance.

      BUT for example, then we still have racism and classism within feminism, so the most well-known issues of feminism are the ones that white middle-class women face. So, such a feminist movement may not always help other women. Even that is sort-of okay, if they don’t hurt other women.

      So, what about when feminists want a change that increases racism? What happens when anti-racists object? Given the dynamics of privilege, likely you have white women arguing with men of color, and the white women think “sexism is super-important” and the men of color think “racism is super-important”. Then each group sees the other primarily as evil oppressor. Now they’re in confrontation rather than just competition, and either way, women of color probably lose.

      That’s Natalie’s “brick wall called intersectionality”, as I see it. And the solution is for movements to listen to each other. If people of color say to feminists “this will increase racism”, then feminists should not react as “you’re the oppressor trying to shoot us down”, but should start a dialogue as to what can be done better. At THAT time, the movements need to work together and find common cause. And the best part is that that way, they can prioritize their own causes; they only have to be willing to communicate, to break down internal oppressions. Truly intrinsic conflicts are rare and can usually be negotiated.

      So, what if no feminists were racist or classist or transphobic, and no anti-racists were anti-feminist or ableist…you get the picture? What if each movement spent a lot of effort putting in all that work to break down the oppressions within it, and learning how to keep them from coming up again? Then, maybe not all the groups would act as one, but they would still act cooperatively. Then the divide-and-conquer tactics of oppression would not work.

      That doesn’t say what an individual might do based on their priorities. So let’s talk about me, yay! (feel free to skip 2 paragraphs) My priority in terms of what I try to remain aware of is current issues related to: sexism and homophobia ’cause it applies to me, cissexism and violence friends of mine have to deal with, the racism and violence and classism and ableism ’cause it applies to friends, and kids I’ve mentored. I try to be aware of all those issues, and it’s easy to care, if I don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I have to fix EVERYTHING”. And I am willing to be made aware of other issues and look them up when I have to, if somebody tells me. To do this well I need XP in not-getting-too-angry and taking-criticism and empathy. I don’t prioritize causes outside of the Anglophone world as partly it’s overwhelming, partly people keep demonstrating how easy it is to misjudge.

      My priority in terms of action is to focus on the issues I feel most able to help with, which is queer issues of multiple kinds. I’ve found that it is totally possible to be a useful, productive cis ally to transgender people, particularly trans women; checking privilege is not actually that hard when I don’t invest all my self-worth into thinking “I never act over-privileged anymore”, get or overwhelmed with guilt for having privilege. Or lose perspective and think “grue” actually has the fear-making power that the T-word or misgendering do. Also it’s possible to be a white anti-racist within those communities. I just have to listen to stories from people whose oppressions I don’t share, act on their ideas, and help check other privileged people. Having privilege doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to act, to help–intersectionality would be absurd if it meant only the person with ALL THE OPPRESSIONS can act (it’s impossible, and more oppressions often mean less time to act), so rather it means allyship is crucial.

      Finally, an excellent point you made: “I feel like the feminist movement isn’t doing enough on survivor issues and healing.”

      Thanks for that! I will keep it in mind and hope others do. That, and what you said about the offered spaces making you angry, might explain why a (clear-thinking college student, trans young woman) new friend of mine is so interested in developing healing spaces. So am I, but not in a systematic way; it just seems like healing, strengthening and friendships are vital to making positive change and being able to deal with challenges without being crushed.


      I attempted to paraphrase half of what Natalie wrote in simplistic terms, added stuff I’ve learned elsewhere (e.g. Crommunist, he is good at anti-racism for allies), then talked about my current POV on activism and allyship. Oh, also it could maybe all be summed up with this brief thing on

      Also Natalie, if you read this comment please say if I’ve misconstrued something here?

    • says

      My huge reply went into moderation, so I get the chance to mention that I think I’m agreeing with you and that you’re agreeing with the post. That’s in case I sounded argumentative; I’m probably addressing other people.

  4. says

    (Negligible exposure to feminist theory / history beyond what you’ve written.) It seems like you’re characterizing fourth-wave feminism as skeptical feminism, rather than as another wave that pushes the movement a respectable stretch past previous iterations in the direction that a skeptical outlook would continue to take it. Do you see that as a reasonable expectation or hope? or, perhaps instead, do you have an inkling as to what shortcomings in fourth wave will later be recognized?

    • says

      If I was able to anticipate the shortcomings of what I’m framing, I’d do my best to address them now. So instead I simply have to assume that someone smarter, with the wisdom afforded by hindsight, will someday come along to refine the ideas that we’re working on today.

      My idea behind a “fourth wave” is taking the issues that seem to have become huge stumbling blocks for feminism, and things that the previous iterations of feminism just can’t get past, like transgenderism, sex work, intersectionality, and the relationship between theory and evidence / lived experience, and trying to rebuild feminism in a new iteration based on what we’ve learned from those stumbling blocks. So, in short: a feminism that is able to account of the full diversity of gender, that always defers to lived experience and new evidence and adapts its theories in accordance, that respects human autonomy and does not attempt to impose a feminist politic on the choices people make about their bodies (things like sex work or transition), and that works in cooperation alongside other social justice movements, and engages in open dialogue with such movements.

  5. says

    An excellent post. Once again I’ve learned a lot.

    I particularly love your writing on intersectionality. A related issue in which I’m very interested is the intersection between feminism and immigrants’ rights activism (the latter being something with which I’ve been involved). Undocumented immigrants of colour are stigmatized and oppressed – both by the immigration laws which deny them civil rights and place them under constant threat of deportation, and by the racist prejudice they face from society as a whole – and it is undoubtedly the case that this stigma and oppression is worse for undocumented women of colour, who have to contend with sexism and racialized sexism as well as the stigma of being undocumented. I’ve seen this issue discussed sometimes on feminist blogs – Womanist Musings and Tiger Beatdown both have great posts about immigrants’ rights from a feminist perspective – but it’s certainly an issue that could benefit from more attention.

    • says

      “liberal feminist”… it’s to imply a feminist who is only sort of half-invested in it, going for the easy, feel-good version of feminism that doesn’t require any real commitment or investment.

    • Erista (aka Eris) says

      To climb onto Cara’s coattails, what is a “fun fem”? I tried looking it up, but all I could find were blogs that sneered at women who dressed “provocatively,” had lots of sex, slept with people who had had lots of sex, or slept with someone in an open relationship.

      And I don’t understand why they think being liberal and a feminist is bad? Are they the conservative feminists or something?

      • Comrade Svilova says

        Some ‘fun feminists’ I know take the problemmatic position that anything a woman does is feminist, and refuse to analyze how our choices are inherently political — this is the aspect of so called fun feminism that I disagree with, and oddly enough, it’s somewhat similar to the conservative position that all women are feminists, whether their policy positions hurt or help women.

        I’m not going to stop wearing earrings because of the history of body modification and jewelry, some of which has been very oppressive to woman. But I think it can be very productive to examine beauty standards and expectations, so the aversion-to-examining that I see as a characteristic of ‘fun feminism’ is problemmatic to me. Just as I believe in a sisterhood of women, but when a female politician says something homophobic, transphobic or racist, I won’t ignore it just because she’s a woman.

      • lirael_abhorsen says

        Among a lot of self-identified radicals (not just in feminism – I see this in economic justice work, for instance), “liberal” is seen as a derogatory term because it implies that you’re too moderate, too mainstream, spineless*, wishy-washy, a dilettante, someone who doesn’t understand that radical changes and not just minor ones are needed. “Liberal” and “radical” are relative terms here – “liberal” in this context often means “enough less radical than the speaker for them to notice and care” (and the opposite phenomenon, of “liberals” bashing “radicals”, definitely exists, and works pretty much the same way but in reverse).

        *Against Me’s song “Baby I’m an Anarchist”, an illustration of this whole phenomenon, uses the phrase “spineless liberal” in the chorus, which I suspect accounts for the popularity of that particular phrase in some radical circles. I occasionally refer to myself as a spineless liberal ironically.

  6. Sarah says

    Thank you for your work on this subject.

    So is the problem with how intersectionality has been deployed vis-a-vis a problematic conception of feminism as a distinct enterprise from other anti-oppression activities, or with intersectionality itself? I’m not sure how to square your explanation of intersectionality as a brick wall in relation to thinkers such as Kimberle Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins unless you are talking about its actual employment within certain feminist contexts rather than the theory itself.

  7. says

    This is an awkward comment for me to write, because this is an issue which raises a lot of emotional discomfort and identity issues for me which I’m still not able to articulate very clearly. But I feel like there’s something important missing from (or perhaps just not sufficiently emphasized in) the perspective you’ve been laying out over this series of posts (the first two of which I’ve only just now read), and I’m hoping that maybe even a relatively inarticulate and garbled response from me might still create some useful motion towards filling in that gap.

    I want to be clear that I have no desire whatsoever to defend the transphobic stance taken by the feminists you’re countering here. I don’t really “get” what it’s like to have a deep-seated feeling that one’s body is the wrong gender from one’s self, or how that differs from my youthful desire to be a boy because they got to do all the fun stuff, but I don’t have to “get” it in order to recognize that trans acceptance is a critical part of full societal implementation of the fundamental principle that a person’s body is hir castle, and nobody else ought to have the right to tell hir how to live (or die) in it (and that it’s pretty dickish to even try).

    However, I do find myself very uncomfortable with what seems to be a not-uncommon thread in pro-trans-acceptance writing (not necessarily yours) of talking about gender as a Very Big, Very Important, Very Defining thing in and of itself. I’m fully aware (from some personal experience) that being forcibly prevented from living one’s identity along any axis can be a very painful experience, especially when that identity suppression takes on the incredibly horrific forms which are often wielded against trans people. Fighting that kind of self-destroying oppression is rightfully treated as centrally important.

    However, the thing I *really* don’t want to see is us giving ground to gender essentialism as a shortcut to trans acceptance. Feminists fight gender essentialism for very good reasons — throughout recorded human history it’s been used all too often to screw over all too many people. We don’t have to deny that biology has some role in shaping our personalities and tendencies in order to stand strongly on the principle that we need to treat individuals as individuals, and not just as members of Class Female or Class Male.

    I think it’s absolutely possible to simultaneously maintain that gender and sex and the like should not be treated as defining (or even terribly important) characteristics in social, political, or professional interactions, while still recognizing that it is *extremely* important that everyone be able, as much as possible, to live the identity which best suits them in every way, including in matters of gender and sex.

    In short, I think gender is important not so much in and of itself, but because of the way it’s used to deny people full self-realization and satisfaction. It seems to me that the world will be better for everyone, trans included, when we can get to a point where we stop being so obsessed with who is “really” a dude or “really” a chick, and whether or not they’re doing what we think dudes and chicks are supposed to do. The obsessive need to police everyone else’s sexual behavior and gender conformity is a relic of an earlier era in our species’ history, a relic for which, if we manage to avoid destroying our environment and civilization and regressing to Stone Age levels of technology, we no longer have any use.

    Obviously, we’re not at that point now. Gender and sexual identity and gender role conformity are a huge deal right now because our society makes life suck a whole lot for anyone who doesn’t adhere to what’s prescribed for them at birth. But I still think the desideratum ought to be a state where people can be pretty much whatever they want along any and all of the relevant axes, and nobody really cares very much or makes any significant judgments on that basis except their sexual partners and their doctors.

    So, I dunno. Maybe this is pretty much what you’ve been trying to say and I’m just being dense, and if so I apologize. It’s just, as a very un-“feminine” but chromosomally and hormonally female person, gender essentialism has been an extremely strong negative force in my life, so I’m very uncomfortable with using anything that even looks like it as a defense for the trans cause (a cause which I *do* strongly support). I’m convinced that there has to be a way to negotiate this issue without denying either your identity or mine, and I hope what I’ve said here is at least somewhat of a contribution to that.

    • says

      Natalie doesn’t support gender essentialism and has, actually, frequently criticized it. I don’t see where you got that, other than the often-held misconception that everything has to be dichotomy between two opposed and purified ends.

      • says

        I didn’t say she supports it. I said it “seems to be a not-uncommon thread in pro-trans-acceptance writing (not necessarily yours)” (please note the part in bold), and that an address of the problems this causes is “missing from (or perhaps just not sufficiently emphasized in) the perspective [she’s] been laying out over this series of posts”. There’s a legitimate reason some feminists are made uncomfortable by some things that are said in defense of transgenderism, and even though I agree with Natalie that it’s absolutely wrong to use this discomfort as a justification for transphobia, I don’t think the way that she’s addressed it in these posts (as far as I’ve seen) is really a completely adequate response to the legitimate problem at the root of those concerns. I’m not trying to condemn her views here, merely suggesting a way to talk about the issue that shows how the perspective that sex and gender ultimately shouldn’t be very important can be used to unite trans and cis feminism rather than dividing us.

        If this is what Natalie has been trying to say all along, then I’m glad to accept that, but I’d rather either hear it from her or see you provide some evidence, because, like it or not, I did read this whole series to date, and I have read a certain amount of her other writings, and I haven’t gotten the sense so far that she’s been thinking of the issue in quite this way. I’m happy to be wrong about this, but please don’t just treat me like a troll that doesn’t deserve a substantive response. All I want here is to encourage the development of a narrative that shows how trans and cis women’s concerns can be allied on this front. I’m not trying to be the enemy here, dammit, but this stuff hurts me too, and I’ve got a right to have a voice in how it’s dealt with.

        • says

          And, to be clear (I know this got a little garbled in my original post — as I said, I’m still kind of working this shit out), the thing I’m objecting to here is a narrative in which gender and sex are Really Really Important as opposed to being fairly trivial and uninteresting to anyone other than sexual/romantic partners or doctors. What I would like to see these discussions include is a clearer emphasis on the fact that the current high importance of gender/sex is circumstantial (people are being denied the right to live in the way they feel most comfortable) rather then essential (it’s always going to be screamingly important whether you “are” a woman or a man, regardless of how enlightened we become), and that the ultimate desideratum ought to be a state where gender/sex just isn’t a big deal any more even though we can’t and shouldn’t live that way until everyone’s rights are secured. I think making this point more explicit would help resolve the concerns that lead some feminists into transphobia, and make it blindingly obvious that cis and trans ought to be allies rather than enemies on this.

          • says

            Argh, sorry for the self-replying, but just realized that I have one more thought I want to add here, then I promise I’ll shut up.

            I think a relevant analogy here would be to the atheist visibility movement. Right now, atheism is a pretty important thing for a lot of us, and our experience of becoming and coming out as atheist is a defining element of many of our lives. The reason for this is that atheism isn’t common or well-accepted, and so it’s often a very serious struggle to be able to come to that conclusion and then deal with others’ reactions to it. But, as the leaders of many of the atheist and secularist organizations have pointed out, ultimately, they would love nothing more than for their organizations to become irrelevant due to atheism becoming a well-accepted (or better yet, dominant and default) worldview, and this is the goal we’re all striving for. We want there to be a future in which atheism isn’t so centrally defining for us, but the only way to get to that day is by making it a huge deal about it now. As someone with a large personal stake in the struggle around gender rights, I think the same principle ought to hold there, and I’d like to see us keeping it a little bit more at the forefront of discussions.

          • says

            Sure, maybe we want a future where atheism isn’t a big deal. But that would be a future in which the big dealness of science, skepticism, evidence and critical thinking is taken seriously.

            Not a very good analogy, no. I am definitely NOT on the side of those who think the path forward lies in pretending things aren’t meaningful.

          • says

            Speaking as a religious individual, I think we’re in pretty bad shape concerning religion and skepticism. In present-day America, received religious authority gets a lot of respect, even when it’s pushing discredited theories like creationism, or hateful nonsense like heterosupremacy/homophobia, cissupremacy/transphobia, neurotypical supremacy, or the prosperity ‘gospel.’ But personal religious experiences are taboo. So people don’t learn to examine their experiences or to question the authorities.

          • says

            I should say, “regarding empiricism.” I think questioning is good, but defaulting to disbelief is problematic in some fields, such as history and gender theory.

          • says

            It’s not about “defaulting to disbelief” (whatever THAT is supposed to mean). It’s about placing the burden of proof on whosoever makes a truth claim. And that ISN’T problematic in either history or gender theory.

            If someone makes a truth claim in history, such as “Hannibal crossed the Rhone at this position in Provence”, the burden of evidence is placed on them to back-up that claim, not on others to disprove it. That’s totally reasonable. Likewise in gender theory. If someone says “gender identity is a deep, internal sense of the self emergent from neurobiological predispositions that are ultimately expressed and articulated through a socio-cultural context, and mediated by that context” that is a truth claim on which the burden of proof lies (that claim does indeed have a fair bit of evidence supporting it, as it happens). And if someone says “gender is entirely a social construct” or “gender is really ultimately unimportant” or “if we didn’t impose gender roles, nobody would ever need to transition” or whatever, those are also truth claims, that also require evidence. None of which it seems is forthcoming.

            How evidence, truth claims, skepticism, critical inquiry and the scientific method work, and WHY they work, doesn’t change from field to field. There are some areas of human endeavour where science isn’t usually the best or most useful approach, such as art, and there are lots of questions that can’t ever have objective, concrete, absolute or quantitative answers, like questions of values, ethics and beauty. But logical fallacies, cognitive biases, and dangerously irrational ways of thinking are always going to be problems whenever you try to make claims about the world, the universe, their laws, or anything in it. And our strategies for avoiding those problems are always going to help.

          • says

            Ancient history doesn’t often lend itself to the division between “proven” and “not proven.” Ancient history more often lends itself to “best guess” and “alternate guesses,” or to “multiple independent sources” or “single source” or “only dubious sources,” or to “consistent with better-documented analogous situations” or “inconsistent with better-documented analogous situations.” In my opinion, the division between “proven” and “not proven” tends to result in the premature elevation of reasonable speculations to proven facts. For example, the horse harness seems to have been known in Roman times, not invented in medieval times.

            Gender studies poses a different set of challenges. How do we objectively prove a subjective experience? I don’t think it’s possible for those of us who are all-too-aware of our subconscious sexes to prove the existence of subconscious sex to someone who is not aware of his/her/hir subconscious sex. There is indirect evidence, including the brain biopsies, but there is always another explanation of the indirect evidence. I think if someone finds the claim that subconscious sex doesn’t exist intellectually fruitful enough, they might put up with more complicated explanations of the other evidence. I know this position that subconscious sex does not exist is inconsistent with my subjective experience, but it’s possible that the sorts of claims I have made about subconscious sex are somehow, perhaps through a sort of translation error, inconsistent with their subjective experience. Also, I don’t want to give them the opportunity to set a burden of proof that we can never meet, I would rather people use a balance of evidence in cases where there is some significant evidence on each side, and that people accept that I’m not crazy for feeling like I have a subconscious sex.

          • Erista (aka Eris) says

            Er, I’m going to go on record as saying that gender and sex are really important. I am a woman, and attempts to deny my womanhood are generally attacks on me (i.e. they attempt to deny one of the supporting pillars of my self). Now, I should be able to be a masculine woman, a feminine woman, an androgynous woman, and so forth, without people treating me badly or denying my womanhood.

            I feel like the insistence that gender and sex are not important can only be made by a person whose gender and sex align with gender and sex norms and bodies. The issues that cis women face are struggling to be able to be the kind of woman they want to be, not whether or not they get to be a woman at all. It’s like . . . okay, I’ll give you an example. I was once at a training session with a woman who was allergic to sesame seeds. I am not allergic to sesame seeds. Whether or not there were sesame seeds in my food was incredibly unimportant to me because my consuming them would not cause me issue. For this other woman, it was a matter of life or death; she could not eat anything that contained something derived from a sesame seed. This might lead me to insist that the sesame seed is not a real issue, that the real issue is the healthfulness or non-healthfulness of the food that we are being served.

            If you’re cis gendered, it’s like you do not have an allergy. For cis gender, everything is fine in that particular section of life; there might be a desire to have greater freedom to act as a woman in specific ways, but ultimately the baseline of womanhood is basically safe. For a trans person, this is not the case. To be trans is to be trapped in a body and gender category that you are having a mental allergic reaction to. Sex and gender become a matter of life and death. That will always make gender and sex screamingly important to trans people.

          • says

            I’m not so sure about this sesame seed analogy. The allergic person’s need to avoid sesame seeds is a huge deal because sesame seeds are everywhere. Needing to avoid sesame seeds is not something our society generally caters to, and therefore that person has to struggle against significant cultural hurdles to get food she can safely eat. However, in a hypothetical sesame-seed-allergic-person’s utopia, restaurants and food manufacturers and home chefs might treat feeding people with sesame seed allergies as a normal part of doing business, so that it would be no more of a big deal for this person to select safe choices off the menu than it is for me to find vegetarian food choices nowadays in most decent restaurants in large cities. It still wouldn’t be *irrelevant* that she couldn’t eat sesame seeds, but it wouldn’t be a huge life-defining thing either.

            And that’s my point with all this gender stuff — I don’t imagine we’ll ever get to a point where gender will functionally not exist, nor am I really proposing that we should try, but I don’t really see why it should be controversial to say in the long run, the ideal state is one where gender and sexual preference don’t have huge amounts of social significance, beyond mate choice and medical decisions. In other words, if I walk into a room and state that I’m female, ideally it people shouldn’t assume anything about me other than that only people who want to date women are going to be interested in going out with me.

            I get that mate choice and medical decisions are are still pretty damn important, but my point is that in this ideal world it wouldn’t be terribly gossip-worthy if some celebrity’s kid started undergoing hormone therapy, and the Nobel master of ceremonies wouldn’t even blink if someone identified as female wore a tux instead of an evening gown to the Nobel awards ceremony, and so on and so forth. All these little stupid gender-policing “women do A and men do B and never the twain shall mix” things that people get in such a tizzy about would just be *gone*, because nobody would bloody care any more.

            Obviously we can’t live as if things are that way now, because people still do get in pointless tizzies about things, and we’ve got to work to get past that first, and that work and those struggles *are* important. But I don’t see why we can’t consider something like this to be the long-term goal of it all.

            And here’s where I start to reveal my emotional entanglement with the issue and not just talk about it in the abstract any more… There’s a suggestion that treating gender as not terribly important is somehow a denial of people’s womanhood, or whatever, but I don’t get where that’s coming from. I honestly don’t even know what a “womanhood” is. I’m not entirely convinced that I was born with one (or with a “manhood” either, for that matter), and I don’t understand at all why it’s so goddamn important to have. All my life I’ve been told over and over that my “womanhood” and my “femininity” are incredibly fucking important and incredibly definitional, and I don’t even know where to fucking find the things, much less what I would do with them if I found them.

            I’m being told that I need to check my privilege as if I’ve been born with some special gift of having my inner womanhood match with my outer womanhood, but as far as I can tell I don’t even have the first one, just the second one. I live in the body I have because it’s what I have and I don’t see much point in going out of my way to mess around with it, not because its shape resonates deeply with something in my nonexistent soul. All my life I’ve been told that I’m supposed to care very deeply about what gender I apparently am and let it define me, not just by the hetero-cis-patriarchal-normative-bullshit majority, but even by the feminist/LBG/trans/genderqueer/asexual/whoever outliers, and all I’ve really ever wanted is to be left the hell alone about it.

            Natalie claims that I’ve got cis privilege, but I am almost beginning to think the truth here is that cis and trans alike at least have the privilege of being able to emotionally identify with one or the other side of the binary, so they know what slots they’re supposed to fit into. I don’t. I don’t even want a goddamn slot, and I don’t see why it’s so fucking much to ask of society that I not be required to care about identifying with one.

            I get that if you want a particular slot and you’re denied it, it really really goddamn sucks, especially given the really horrible ways that the people who happen to fit their assigned slots treat the people who would feel more fulfilled if they were permitted to switch. But what I don’t get is why there’s this insistence on the slots themselves being so important. Why isn’t the important thing simply that people ought to be able to live their lives however they like as long as they’re not hurting anyone else? If you’ve got an inner womanhood or manhood and you know what you want to do with it, then I am 100,000% supportive of that and I will fight to the death for your right to do so. All I ask is that you please not try to win your freedom to identify as you wish by fucking with my freedom to not have to identify at all.

          • says

            Natalie claims that I’ve got cis privilege, but I am almost beginning to think the truth here is that cis and trans alike at least have the privilege of being able to emotionally identify with one or the other side of the binary, so they know what slots they’re supposed to fit into. I don’t. I don’t even want a goddamn slot, and I don’t see why it’s so fucking much to ask of society that I not be required to care about identifying with one.

            I don’t think you understand how privilege works. Privilege is how society TREATS YOU. Between you, a cis woman who emotionally identifies with her gender, and myself, I’M the one most likely to get murdered, assaulted, abused, kicked out of shelters, denied employment, sexually assaulted, etc.

            You’re completely, totally allowed to say that gender is not important FOR YOU. That’s totally okay. What you DON’T get to do is start claiming “gender isn’t important” and complaining on trans blogs, where it has been EXTREMELY meaningful to most people, that we treat it as such, and allowing the fact that isn’t important FOR YOU to be the defining aspect of how you dictate to others how feminist theory “should” operate.

          • says

            Also, a potentially relevant distinction here:

            “My gender/gender expression/sexuality is important to me.”


            “Gender/gender expression/sexuality are important.”

          • says

            Anne: I definitely feel where you’re coming from with that discomfort with gender. But I don’t agree with you; I left you a longish explanation below.

        • says

          Um… it is important. Our identities are important. Our ability to express them is important. Maybe, for cis people, gender seems like “no big deal”, but when you have to actually fight for it, when you’ve spent your whole life fighting for it, when you never had the opportunity to take it for granted, THEN it becomes clear how much it matters. Check yr privilege.

          • says

            See my wall-o-text above. You’ve succeeded in provoking a certain amount of unwilling self-revelation from me on this, so please keep that in mind when you respond.

          • says

            Anne: dunno if you can expect a response from Natalie, according to Twitter she has limited computer access this week.

            Look, I think I’m close to where you are in terms of gender identity. I’m a cis woman, but I REALLY don’t like having femininity enforced on me. That is when I notice that it’s being enforced against my inclinations. There may well be some variance in how strongly any given person, trans or cis, identifies their sex, and you may not identify strongly with female. I used to think I didn’t, but I’m pretty happy being female.

            But the thing is, gender is more complex than some sexual marker. One big aspect of gender is that it’s like a language: part of it is how you express yourself, and part of it is how other people respond to your self-expression. From your comment I’m sure you realize how much this leads to people misinterpreting each other, e.g. reading an assertive woman as a “bitch” instead of a “strong leader”. And men or women can get different readings of the same behavior by choosing more feminine or masculine-coded appearances, ok I could go on too long here…

            But if I really stop to think about it, there are things I take for granted about being a cis woman: like, easier physical and emotional contact with others than cis men usually have (and it’s often hardest for any out trans people: this in particular is a sensitive issue). I was an aspiring trans ally before, but the only reason I know this stuff is I’ve had the great honor of spending a lot of time with a trans woman before and after she went full-time. I got to see how the exact same feminine gestures she made would be better understood after she was full-time, and they were worth the times when her behavior got her ignored as a woman when she’d been heeded as a “man”.

            So yes, gender expectations in our society are restrictive, and privilege men when it comes to acting powerful, and yes, that sucks. But in my ideal world, people would simply have a more flexible understanding of gender; they would still use gender to relate to others, only not be so unimaginably stupid as to take the various pieces of a single person’s gender presentation and read them all by one of two possible standards. And honestly? Once I came to that understanding, I got a lot more comfortable with my own gender ID. It’s one of the benefits of being a trans ally.

            I got cis privilege but I can still repeat that you should check yours. Consider that your personal vision of a genderless world may be in direct conflict with others’ visions, and that would hurt not only trans people but plenty of cis people who align strongly with femininty or masculinity. We can do a lot better than our current world, but a fairly negotiated ideal code of gender still might put you personally in a position where you’d have to be a little assertive to gain others’ recognition of your particular androgynous personality and communication style. I could be wrong, but I think we can deal with that. Does that make sense?

          • says

            hall-of-rage, I see some of what you’re saying, but I have to ask, are the only two things that I’m allowed to be either cis or trans, so that if I’m not trans I must therefore have “cis privilege”? Because I’m really not on board with that. I might accept that I have “getting-by-without-fighting-to-change-my-gender-categorization” privilege, but I can’t help noticing that my deep-seated feeling that I shouldn’t have to have any gender identity at all is apparently even less respectable than being trans, seeing as how I can’t seem to have it treated as legitimate even among people who presumably have a certain amount of experience with other people trying to push gender identities on them that they aren’t comfortable with.

            So I’m getting kind of pissed off at all of this “check your privilege” stuff. I’m not trying to be all “woe is me” about this, because I can mostly get by okay in life as long as I stick to modern western nations and nerd-havens, but I kind of feel like this is going in a bit of an oppression olympics direction, such that if I don’t “win”, my lived experience doesn’t matter in determining how we can ensure freedom for EVERYONE.

            Also, I don’t feel like what you’ve said acknowledges the distinction I drew in my additional comment between, “My gender is important to me,” and, “Gender is [intrinsically] important.” There’s a difference between placing great personal importance on a certain aspect one’s life and insisting that that particular thing has to be an important part of everyone’s life and experiences. The latter is what I’m objecting to. The former is something that I’ll gladly fight for everyone’s right to do, and what I think this whole thing ought to be about.

          • says

            Not everyone with who’s cis has cis privilege. Not everyone who’s trans lacks it. But YOU definitely have it, in abundance, it’s distorting your perspective, and if you have any GENUINE interest in understanding any of this stuff rather than just announcing your oh-so-insightful cisgender opinions then you should really take a step back, acknowledge that, and try to understand why we might be saying that. Right now, you’re being a privilege-denying, sheltered, entitled jerk and I’m not AT ALL fond of that.

          • says

            Aaaaand I reread the comment policy, and realized even non-serious Twitter stuff probably shouldn’t go on here, according to #4. I am really sorry, Natalie, and I will not do that again.

          • says

            You don’t have to see cis/trans as a binary. Those terms actually aren’t that specific: there’s cissexual, transsexual, cisgender, transgender. See the glossary and look at transgender, which is a very inclusive term. Cis privilege isn’t a binary thing either, because trans people get some cis privilege when they pass as cis (whether that’s assigned sex or identified sex), and cis people can be misgendered etc etc. But the point here is that if you have enough cis privilege, you won’t be inclined to see gender in the comprehensive way that many transgender people do.

            Also notice the brilliant transgender umbrella graphic at the end of this post of links.

            I’m not sure I have time, energy or even ability to address your reply properly, sorry, am going to bed. But if you take time to do the Essential Reeding on the sidebar, you might come to agree with “gender is important”–in short the reality of gender is important, people all participate in how gender works in our society, and nobody really knows what’s “intrinsic” to gender.

          • says

            Also… If somebody could please provide a definition of “womanhood/manhood” or “femininity/masculinity” that’s not circular, dependent on particular cultural assumptions, or reductively biological (the last of which I suspect most folks here wouldn’t approve of anyway), and then explain to me why it’s Very Important that everyone have such a thing, or at least appear somewhere along a notional continuum between the two, I would much appreciate it.

            Also also, please don’t call me “androgynous” or any of that other stuff either. The whole thing I’m questioning here is why it’s important to measure how masculine or feminine my “self” is, and by choosing that term you’ve essentially decided that since I don’t feel that I have a distinctive “womanhood” or a “manhood” deep inside me raging to be expressed, I must instead have some mixture of both. Can’t you just let me be me without insisting on fitting me into the categories you’re comfortable with?

          • says

            It doesn’t have to be Very Important for everyone.

            Nor is it necessarily important for YOU to measure your masculinity or femininity.

            You know why?

            Because it’s not all about you.

            The fact that YOU don’t find it important to define that, and that other people might not either, that’s a PRIVILEGE. It doesn’t give you the right to chastise those of us for whom it is important.

            You’re not going to win me over by repeatedly pointing out how you’re capable of completely taking for granted this thing that I had to fight for my entire life, and have sacrificed a whole fuck of a lot to be able to have.

            Again: check yrself before you wreck yrself.

            As for definitions of masculinity/femininity that aren’t cultural: nope. Can’t do. They ARE cultural. And as for womanhood / manhood that’s not cultural or biological: sense of self, related to conceptual categories. Presto.

    • says

      I feel like there’s too much to cover in one post, so I’ll just focus on one or two things. Okay, one thing.

      I don’t feel comfortable with gender. I know who I am, and what kind of body and endocrinology is right for me. But I don’t feel right bringing gender into it. When my therapist, and some folks from my support group, encouraged/pressured me to start wearing skirts &c. I went along with them. But ever since I’ve felt pressured by gender and by the expectation to conform to feminine stereotypes.

      How do I relate my experience of gender with some other womyn’s experiences of gender? It’s tempting to try to dissect gender into different components, but there are still some components that I experience as pressures and some other womyn experience as self-expression. How do I relate my somewhat-butch experience of femininity with my femme friends’ experiences of femininity? I don’t know.

  8. Yaz says

    I’ve come late to this series (sorry), but I’m curious about who you mean when you talk about rad-fems that do a lot of ‘hating and abhoring’.
    Radical feminists have been copping a lot of flack since the 1970s but in my experience none have been haters, in fact they have been stalwart activists and compassionate people.
    Are these straw-figures, then, or are there actual people who can genuinely be called on their (apparently) bigoted attitudes?

    • says

      Yes. They’re actual people.

      Go look into Rad-Fem 2012. Sheila Jeffreys. Mary Daly. Janice Raymond. Cathy Brennan. Elizabeth Hungerford. Dirt. Gendertrender. The hordes of transphobic radical feminists who follow them. Look at the things that even people like Germaine Greer have said about trans women. Read about Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival or Kimberly Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief. Or just google “transphobic feminism” and read.

      I’m sorry, but if you can think this is compassion, and have NEVER seen any hatred in radical feminism, you’re either not actually looking, or are seriously blind to transphobia and cissexism. And it doesn’t stop at hatred of trans women, either. Sex workers are also severely mistreated by this branch of feminism.

      I know I’ve sounded a bit harsh with some commenters lately, but I’m getting really sick of certain kinds of questions. Like people just being “BA WHA? Transphobia? In feminism!? I never heard of such a thing!” … like, it’s not a secret. It’s intensely obvious. And I don’t want to have to walk people through something that is EASILY found with just a minimum of actual looking… or actual willingness to see it.

      • says

        I’m not going to post links, but you might be able to find:

        – Germaine Greer’s “Pantomime Dames” (in *The Whole Woman*) (I haven’t read this one yet)

        – Mary Daly’s “Deadly Deception: Mystification through Myth” (in *Gyn/Ecology*)

        – Janice Raymond’s “Sappho by Surgery: The Transsexually-Constructed Lesbian Feminist” (in *The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male*)

        – Sheila Jeffreys’ “Transgender Activism: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective”

        – Bev Jo’s “‘Transwomen’ are Merely Castrated Men”

        – Almost anything at Gendertrender or FactCheckMe

      • Yaz says

        My question was a sincere one, and I am perhaps not as ignorant as you suggested. I identity as a transperson, and have also taken two University courses taught by Sheila Jeffreys many years ago when she taught in Australia.
        So I understand the issues fairly well, I suspect, but yet as a person Sheila Jeffreys always treated me with kindness and respect. So yes, I disagree with some of her take on feminism and politics more generally (and in that respect she is very much a baby boomer) but I wouldn’t call any of it hate-speech.
        The trans issue is a deeply dividing one because it both reifies and undercuts gender simultaneously – I defy anyone to suggest the issues are clearcut, on either a personal or political level, except to agree that no-one should experience violence or prejudice.
        But it is frustrating to me that once again ‘we’ seem to be getting into horizontal hostility, when I personally have much more of a problem with the straight white men who still hold most of the power in this world, rather than the feminists I don’t agree with. I know who I’d rather share a meal, or a rally with…
        So what are you/we trying to say?

        • says

          I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I’m saying I don’t care how friendly someone is, or what “side” they’re on, hatred, bigotry, discrimination, etc. is unacceptable and should not be supported or tolerated or approved of or even left quietly alone. We need to call it what it was wheresoever we find it, and fight it. And regardless of whatever personal kindnesses may have been visited on you by Sheila Jeffreys, she currently is pushing (and helping drive) a vocally transphobic campaign that has real, genuine negative consequences for real trans people…. real human beings. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to that just because she happens to call herself a feminist.

          Yes, overt and direct bigotry and hostility towards minorities still exists in this world. But I honestly consider the subtler and more insidious kind that go unchecked in our daily lives, and amongst the “good people”, to be at least as dangerous and important to address.

          Some right wing idiot saying “all these tranny freaks should be burned!” is NOT as dangerous as someone like Sheila Jeffreys, because Jeffreys has far more capacity to influence the overall cultural perception of trans people. It’s in those perceptions that our rights and safety and dignity and access to resources, treatment, equality, etc. is to be won or lost.

          • Yaz says

            Thanks for the time you’ve spent replying to me. I appreciate it, and will think over what you’ve said…

      • says

        If you’re linking to something with horrible transphobia, you probably should not provide a direct link: see the comment policy, number 6.

        (Though maybe it’s ok as this is an article in the Guardian, not an actual siteful of transphobes? I don’t know how pingback works there, I would just default to “give the link in pieces” instead of a direct link.)

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