Gender Neutrality is Wrong … Sometimes

Okay, so this is a quick note for those folks who aren’t completely turned off by pedantry and appreciate thinking more deeply about gender. If you ain’t both, this probably isn’t for you.

When “gender neutral” was first used in the context of trans* advocacy, access to bathrooms was probably a driving motivator of the language. In this sense, “gender neutral” is reasonable: the bathrooms themselves might easily have little to nothing to do with gender, including (importantly) things that humans tend to project gender on to even when they are not in any way associated with any particular human. So “Gender neutral” began largely communicating the idea of having no gendered connotations whatsoever – the sense we’ll use for the rest of this brief note. Bathrooms in the home are generally gender neutral in this sense, though we could certainly make a bathroom communicate femininity or masculinity by decorating it in particular ways. Still, when one tenant moved out, presumably those gender signifiers would also go: so, at least intellectually, we can separate the gender neutral bathroom from the gendered decor.

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The libs who cried wolf: a cautionary tail

Unreasonable libs: “Wolf!”

Reasonable centrist: “Yeah, you’re right. He’s definitely a wolf. But he hasn’t even been inaugurated yet. Give it time”

“Wolf!”

“Yeah, you’re right. He’s definitely a wolf, but he ran on being an outsider and disclosing code-word intelligence to the Russians and hiring a literal, actual foreign agent as National Security Advisor, well, that’s pretty outsider-stuff. No insider would do that. But it’s still the first 100 days, give him a chance to become presidential.”

“Wolf!”

“Yeah, you’re right. He’s definitely a wolf. And it is bad for the country and bad for democracy when he calls innocent people traitors, labels the press “enemies of the people” and makes himself synonymous with the country and, by extension, his personal interests synonymous with the country’s interests. But he told us he’s not the usual politician, so he’s just being true to his nature. No need to get worked up.”

“Wolf!”

“Yeah, you’re right. He’s definitely a wolf. He’s racked up a history of dishonesty unparalleled in US political history. But with that canine brain I don’t think he even actually understands that he’s lying. He just says he’s grandma to get a better chance to eat you, or because his wolf-nature doesn’t understand normal human communication and social reality. We can’t hold that against him, can we? It’s not like he’s maliciously lying.”

“Wolf!”

“Yeah, you’re right. He’s definitely a wolf. He’s definitely abused his office and committed offenses that are surely comparable to those that sparked Nixon’s impeachment, but I got to tell you, you never learned the lesson of that story, ‘The boy who cried wolf’ did you? We would have been able to remove him from office if you hadn’t gone and sacrificed your credibility crying ‘Wolf!’ repeatedly for three years.”

 

 

For Freud’s Sake: Anti-racists are the real racists…again?

A couple weeks ago an NPR bigwig wrote an editorial about how it was wrong to call racism “racism” or racists “racists” because that was a moral judgement, not a factual one.

That. Position. Is. Freuding. Bankrupt.

Treating racism as a matter of moral opinion leads us directly to this place:

[Text Excerpt, emphasis mine:] “If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district … perhaps progress could be made”

Ten days ago, Wonkette’s Dok Zoom did a story on how NPR’s  Keith Woods, VP for newsroom training and diversity, argued against the decision NPR’s newsroom had previously made to label racist shit as actually racist. The conclusion that Dok Zoom came to was this:

that’s a big part of the problem with Woods’s argument: When it’s reduced to a headline, it sure as hell sounds like “let’s not stir up controversy with the mean word racism.”

But I don’t think that’s even the biggest problem with Woods’s argument. No, I think the biggest problem is that when whether or not something is racist or someone is engaging in racism is a moral opinion rather than a factual question, then there is no possible basis on which the media (or anyone, really) can challenge the message “anti-racists are the real racists”. It is the effect of long-standing refusals of news departments to treat racism as a fact that has gotten us to the point where even in 2019 Trump thinks that accusing Elijah Cummings of racism is a good media strategy … and might even be right.

Since we’ve been hearing this asinine argument for more than 50 years now, it seems imperative that the US media pulls its head out of its collective burro and gets busy developing the skills necessary to actually investigate racism as a factual matter, something that either does or does not exist, not a matter of opinion.

 

Oh, and by the way: Tucker Carlson, when Jon Stewart said you were hurting the US? This is what he was talking about.

 

 

 

 

Ed Brayton & I Created Overlapping Posts: “The real racists”, then and now.

I hadn’t read Ed Brayton yesterday when I created my discussion of the Trumpian defense of cissexism. However, as it turns out, he also posted something addressing the same phenomenon. He chose to emphasize the history of the argument, rather than how it comes about and what it says about popular understandings of practical ethics, meta ethics, and oppression. Nonetheless, it’s very relevant:

We hear a lot of racists claim that they aren’t racist, the real racists are the ones who accuse them of racism. One might thing this is a new argument, but George Wallace, who might as well have worn a white sheet and hood to the governor’s office in Alabama every day, made this exact same argument, word for word, in 1968.

[See Brayton’s post for a video of Wallace’s argument in Wallace’s own words.]

While the trans-hostile version of this isn’t that trans* people are the real anti-trans*ists, it’s quite close. The essence of the trans-hostile claim is that trans* people are killing gender liberation, and that anti-trans feminism is the only method of achieving gender liberation. Thus anti-trans feminists are the real pro-trans feminists, and pro-trans* activists (feminist or not) are actually anti-woman and anti-feminist.

But “the people who identify racism and racists are the real racists” argument has strong components of “Black people aren’t necessarily anti-Black, but they’re anti-white and their activism is also wrong in ways which make racial liberation impossible, while the the KKK and the CCCs and more generally the white anti-Black public figures who are commonly called racists have the only real solutions to racism. Thus George Wallace is the true hero of the anti-racism movement and the people who are given credit for fighting racism are actually retrenching it.”

Understood this way, the TERF statements and these statements made by George Wallace and his defenders in the 1960s are near-exact analogs. I’d like to think that we’d learned our lessons from past struggles, but not only have we not learned to recognize these cissexist arguments in the TERF context, too many of us still buy into the original racist form of the argument a hundred years after it was first made and more than 50 years after it was first widely criticized in mainstream media.


As an addition, I thought I would point out that George Wallace of the 1960s deserves all the scorn he gets, but not everyone remembers that after an attempted assassination that resulted in an irremediable spinal injury, Wallace became quite a different person. (It’s not clear how much of that would never have happened without the assassination attempt, but since it’s frequently mentioned by others I figure it’s worthy of mention here for context that is at least possibly explanatory.) While I don’t think he ever became anti-racist in the sense we would want to see from someone today, he did turn his back on his statement, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” As wikipedia reports:

In the late 1970s, Wallace announced that he was a born-again Christian and apologized to black civil rights leaders for his past actions as a segregationist. He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he realized he needed to seek love and forgiveness. In 1979, Wallace said of his stand in the schoolhouse door: “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” He publicly asked for forgiveness from black people.

During Wallace’s final term as governor (1983–1987) he made a record number of black appointments to state positions, including, for the first time, two black people as members in the same cabinet. [footnote numbering removed by me – cd]

I like noting this part of Wallace’s story where it’s possible to do without minimizing the harms of racism, because it illustrates a capacity for human growth and betterment that is fundamental to the choices we make to educate others about oppression. People really can and do get over prior prejudices. They can and do change policy stances. They can and do identify and fix faults in themselves. While some people may, empirically, be beyond hope, we can’t know which people those are until they have died. As long as folks are alive, and as long as you can do so while still caring for yourself, efforts to educate even the George Wallaces among us just might be worth it.

 

“It’s Always Men”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was beat up by a baseball team yesterday, rhetorically. The team’s management wanted to show some right-wing propaganda and show some they did. Displaying a video prepared by others that included shifting images illustrating a Reagan speech, the team’s stadium screen showed pictures of AOC, Kim Jong-Un, and Fidel Castro while the Gipper’s voice said, “Enemies of freedom”. It would, of course, be bad enough if the three faces were all elected officials who belonged to the Democratic Party, but grouping AOC with Kim and Castro was particularly bad.

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Andy Lewis’ Gendered Gotcha

I rarely do this outside of classrooms, but I’m going to give folks here some definitions that are in common use among people that seriously study gender. Why? In part because Andy Lewis seems to think that there is no coherent definition of gender generally and woman specifically because gender is an inherently incoherent concept while sex is an inherently coherent concept and that to the extent that we use the words gender or woman or man we should use them only in reference to underlying, coherent categories of sex. The Andy Lewises of the world appear to believe that this definitional challenge – and the poor response most people give when asked to meet it – proves the fundamental rightness of an anti-trans*, pro-TERF feminist philosophical position.

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