The Moral Bankruptcy of Gender Critical Definitions of Man & Woman

This post will rely on a single individual as an example of so-called “gender critical” thought: Holms. Holms writes frequently on FtB, and has been engaging in a long back-and-forth with myself and many others over on Mano Singham’s blog recently. (This conversation is happening on the same blog post where Mano suggested the value of discussions of horizontal hostility.) I have been growing steadily more uncomfortable with the exchange because it long ago veered away from any discussion that might illuminate how and why horizontal and intra-community hostility develop within a particular group. While Mano has made no move to shut the conversation down or even to express any specific discomfort over the thread, I think it is respectful to a blog owner to have the conversations suggested by a post, and to start your own thread somewhere else if you want to have a different conversation. Thus this post.

The phenomenon I want to discuss begins with a discussion of Holms’ definitions of “man” and “woman”:

I have actually said that ‘man = adult male human’ and ‘woman = adult female human’ are the current meanings as determined by common use.

[Read more…]

Explaining Horizontal and Intra-Community Hostility: Aoife Helps Out

Aoife O’Riordan who writes (or wrote, last post was in 2017) the blog formerly hosted here on FtB Consider the Tea Cozy once wrote a bit about anti-bi-woman sentiment in lesbian communities. She doesn’t gives us much about causes, but she does identify a problem similar to that experienced by trans* women in queer women’s communities (especially but not only those that label themselves lesbian communities). This should be no surprise, since she’s actually attempting to use the experience of cis bi-women to educate other cis people about the experiences of trans* people who share their communities.

There’s lots of lesbians, you see, who won’t date or sleep with bi women. Even if there’s mutual attraction, they don’t want to go there, simply ’cause we fancy men as well. Girl meets girl, girl fancies girl, girl finds out girl also fancies guys, girl backs away in disgust. While it’s absolutely their right to reject whoever they like for any reason the like (of course!), it still sucks to hear. And the fact that it’s a pattern familiar to almost every bi woman I’ve talked about is, y’know, a problem. This doesn’t mean that every lesbian in the world has to date the first bi woman who fancies her, regardless of whether the attraction’s mutual! It just means that a lot of bi women (and hopefully loads of lesbians too) would like it if the lesbians who do feel that way took some time to think about whether their feelings might be based on prejudices and stereotypes. That’s all.

But this anti-bi-woman prejudice, where it exists, isn’t explainable as a reaction to some genital configuration because it is just as prevalent when lesbians interact with cis bi-women as it might be when lesbians interact with trans* bi-women (though in practice it appears to be dramatically more prevalent, because sexual orientation tends to take a back seat to biological sex – past or present – in discussions of cis* lesbians interacting with trans* folk).

We have to draw on other knowledge to help us explain this intra-community split. Fortunately, I’ve written about this before on a Pharyngula thread:

[After WW2 and the Holocaust,] people wanted an ethical system that said, “Never again” and meant it. Clearly the deontology of divine command didn’t do it. You couldn’t count on contractarianism to make a government respect its citizens. So, what then?

The infinite, the universal, the transcendent is what. If we can’t give human beings an infinite, transcendent value, then there will always be the possibility that some community or nation will believe that mass killings are desirable based on comparing the value of those human beings (to the nation considering the killing, not to those people themselves) to the value the society places on its own goals.

Infinite worth was the way out of the despair of WW2. Existentialism spread like wildfire. Good stuff, in its way. It gave us terms & concepts like “devalue”.

If you see yourself as horribly devalued, however, and you latch onto infinite value ethics as your level to try and achieve your safety, a couple things [might] happen. First, you try to universalize: you want to get every woman on your side, the struggle is that important. Thus, “we’re all in it together”, thus “we’re all exactly the same in the way that matters most”, thus, “those sufficiently different from me that I truly can’t imagine myself ‘the same as’ cannot be in my category”, thus “those falsely claiming to be in my category are jeopardizing my movement and thus my safety,” thus “it is appropriate to label their destabilization of this category upon which I rely for my ultimate safety ‘an attack’ ”.

[This particular chain of ethical reasoning] also shows how the same women can claim to be anti-racist (“we’re all in this together, of course I care about women of color”) but end up pursuing an agenda that has nothing to do with ending racism (“The real oppression is sexism, it’s universal to every society.  So when we get rid of the real oppression, *THEY* won’t need racism to divide us and racism along with all those other subsidiary oppressions will pass away” – AKA “there will be no racism after the revolution, so don’t worry your nappy little head about white supremacy”). [original comment lightly edited for our purposes – cd]

Keep in mind that these aren’t thoughts that necessarily flow from existentialist ethics. Indeed de Beauvoir’s graph on ethics and morality was called, “Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté” (in english traditionally rendered: “The Ethics of Ambiguity”), and the intolerance of destabilized categories of essence is directly contrary to de Beauvoir’s concept of self-directed, self-determined essences. Nonetheless, these ethical statements about the negative value of subdividing the category of woman are descended directly from de Beauvoir’s leading-edge, second-wave existentialist feminism. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why I find exclusionary feminisms so incomprehensible at times. They clearly attempt to preserve quite a lot of de Beauvoir and other early second-wave feminisms, and yet they fully reject aspects of those feminisms that were fundamental to their cohesion and their ethics. In the language of de Beauvoir, they have embraced facticity and rejected transcendence.

Nevertheless, while hollow-boned, feather-winged flyers were not inevitable once early archosaurs evolved, and while hollow bones and other aspects of modern birds would be in conflict with the mode of existence that made early archosaurs what they were, looking backward we can say that birds’ descent from those early archosaurs is a historical fact. Likewise, it is a historical fact that these ambiguity-rejecting, fear-based feminisms descended from de Beauvoir’s feminism (albeit with admixtures from independent sources).

It can be very difficult to understand how trans* exclusive feminists who appear to cling to the second wave can simultaneously reject so much of the second wave’s fundamental insights. But this is not because the development of these feminisms and their ambiguity-rejecting ethics is inherently incomprehensible. Rather, the difficulty in understanding comes from attempting to derive these feminisms based solely on prior feminist categories. In fact, other sources of fear or love, other priorities and values, even other meta-ethics from entirely outside feminism are constantly mixing with our existing feminisms. At times, they enrich our work and make it more effective, as with Kimberlé Crenshaw and the development of intersectionality. At other times they mix poorly. But on its own, bringing into feminism other aspects of women’s experiences, knowledge, and thought is not a bad thing. Indeed it’s a good thing. We wouldn’t have feminism at all if we weren’t allowed to bring those things into a feminism that did not yet include them. How else would we have gotten a feminist labor movement? How else would we have gotten a feminist movement for a more ethical judaism?

So let’s understand that this fear of the other, this fear of destabilized categories, when brought into an early existentialist feminism that offers hope of a universal, stable category of woman, a category that can then be called upon for universal action, can seem wise. It does not instantly negate the opposition to sexism that is the organizing principle of all feminisms. But if you hold existentialist feminism to the light in just the wrong way, it seems as if our fears as women of sexist domination absolutely demands easy categorization, eradication of ambiguity, an undivided unity of interest.

It is tragic, but even the existentialism that so many thought offered a way to guarantee that we fallible humans would live up to our own mutual promise, “Never again,” cannot prevent dehumanization. It cannot prevent violence. It cannot prevent – and it has not prevented – genocide.

The cry for easy categorization, for undivided unities in the face of violence is a cry of fear. It guides us towards liberation no more reliably than any other fearful response. But it is comprehensible, and it should not on its own negate efforts to feel and to offer sympathy across the boundaries of rigid categorization those crying out in fear construct. Indeed better understanding and sympathy for the fear can often be useful in opposing the ossification of these new and contested constructions.

 

 

The Cotton Ceiling: The best argument yet that TERFs aren’t feminists?

If you’ve been reading my work for any amount of time, well, I’m very, very sorry. But more relevantly to this post, I want you to remind yourself that I’ve long been critical of the argument that TERFs are not feminists. This strikes me as odd. After all, many of the same people who make this argument for excluding TERFs from the feminist club also argue that trans* women must be women, in fact are by definition women, otherwise they wouldn’t be trans* women, they’d be trans*-something-else. By similar logic, it seems nonsensical to take the group of Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists and then argue that they aren’t feminists. If this is simply a descriptive label and not an epithet, as many people including myself contend, then by definition TERFs are feminists. They would have to be or they’d be TER-something-else. TERSE, I guess. (And Lawd, Lawd, the idea that they might be “TERSE” seems self-refuting, doesn’t it?) So I’m not going to argue that TERFs and their fellow travelers who bring up the cotton ceiling workshop again and again to this day are not feminists in the literal sense. Rather, I just want to show why I think that the people who make this argument are functionally feminism-illiterate. They might very well be feminists according to some particular definition you articulate, but that doesn’t mean that they’re informed feminists or that they have a competent understanding of feminist basics, or that what they’re doing actually advances feminism in any way.

[Read more…]

Accountability Is The ONLY Radical Idea: Oh, and look what we have here!

I’ve been saying for years now that accountability is the only radical idea. You can propose single payer health care, you can propose shutting down entire federal agencies, you can propose a post-racial, post-sexual orientation society where everyone gets randomly assigned sex partners for 6 days before sex partners are randomly reassigned for the next 6 days, but nothing about any of those ideas is radical unless there are actual consequences for failing to implement them.

You can have the most hare-brained scheme proposed by the most hairy-eyed word-bomb thrower*1, but hare-brained schemes tend not to get actual implementation, and when things get hard, people will give up unless the consequences for giving up are worse than the consequences for moving forward.

So think about it: which would produce more screaming about radical change, a US president saying that they’re working on a proposal to tighten the laws and increase the penalties for white collar crimes, or a US president restructuring the justice department’s priorities so that no laws are changed, no new crimes are created, but every time a company is found to have committed a crime, the justice department actually sends the people that run the company to jail for conspiracy to commit that crime? ShearsonLehman defrauds investors and profits to the tune of US$12 billion, then negotiates with the feds to reduce the financial penalty down to US$250 million? Okay. That sucks. We’re incentivizing lawbreaking right? But if the top 200 corporate officers each spend a minimum of 12 years in prison, that’s a fuck of a lot more incentive for ShearsonLehman not to break the law going forward than the profit is an incentive to break the law. Also, when fucking EVERYONE involved in the conspiracy goes to jail, you get a fuckload more whistleblowers because they don’t want to be the least powerful person in the conspiracy, with no way to stop the fraud from getting too brazen, but with just as much criminal culpability as the persons at the very top of the corporation. The net result is a hell of a lot more effective than adding new penalties to some dusty book of laws without ever providing a credible threat than any executives will face any consequences at all.

Accountability, then, is the ultimate – and ultimately the only – radical idea. This is also why accountability is as rare as a mountain-dwelling tree wearing a tricorn and denying the existence of the FSM in front of CNN’s cameras on Talk Like A Pirate Day.

But wouldn’t you know it, while NBC isn’t willing to create actual structures of accountability, it appears that they’re actually going ahead with a little accountability mimicry. And not just NBC, but apparently at least one talent agency as well. “What’s that?” you ask. “What is our fair Crip Dyke on about?” It is just this: Megyn Kelly has been mutually dumped by her current talent-rep agency, and while apparently there has been a movement towards separation for a while now, the agency that Kelly was courting for her next monagentous relationship called off the engagement. You want more? Kelly’s ultimate boss, NBC News Chair Andy Lack, has made it clear he’s kicking her to the curb.

“But accountability mimicry?” you say. “Dear Crip Dyke, wouldn’t this be actual accountability?” I understand the inclination to think so, but that’s not exactly likely. If you read the article, NBC has been upset with Kelly about ratings, they’ve been upset about her insensitivity pissing off her guests in ways that created bad publicity for the show, and most of all they’ve been upset because – with notable exceptions during discussions of Kavanaugh and the guys to whom she wants to show actual favoritism – she repeatedly returns to the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace and expresses the opinion that guys should get fired for that shit. Of particular note, she has criticized NBC personalities and the NBC brass – including, yes, Andy Lack – for an environment in which sexual harassment is allowed to flourish. Andy Lack might be particularly upset about that last one because it comes across as actually being true, given all the evidence and shit.

So now when Megyn Kelly decides to rant about how blackface is just a jolly-happy-funtime and can’t we all just agree to let a little racism slide between whites, the outrage among many people around the country is certainly genuine, and the outrage among prominent Black presenters on NBC is probably genuine, but there are good reasons to question whether consequences imposed by management are actually motivated by her racism. This may not be accountability so much as backstabbing, revenge, and an effort to secure impunity for sexual harassers and the managers who enable them.

Nonetheless, I say celebrate. Break open that juice box and take a good, hard suck at that straw, because when people get fired on the pretext of their racism, sooner or later the 300 million people who aren’t following inside politics at the big media companies are going to think that racism is an actual fireable offense. This is a classic example of the seemingly paradoxical phenomenon unintentional performativity. Performativity is a concept most frequently associated with feminist Judith Butler, and is intended to describe acts that create the truths they portray. Someone who has no wife, but who tells your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke, “I take you as my wife,” may very well (if certain preconditions are met) actually gain a wife by saying those words. Performativity is especially important in the Butlerian analysis of gender where a person say, “I am a woman,” far less frequently using actual language as such a person might do by brushing on some eye shadow or donning a dress. And, in performing gender in this way, one may very well become a woman at least for the purposes of how others will treat you on that day. But here’s the thing, if one does that often enough, then one gets treated as a woman with regularity, and in being treated as a woman with regularity, the psychological and sociological traits that adhere to women eventually adhere to the person performing womanhood. At that point, one might be said to have become a woman through performing womanhood and the performativity cycle, though much longer than even a wedding, is finally complete.

In the case of unintentional performativity, one can accidentally initiate this cycle. Of course, it’s not actually peformativity if the performance does not eventually create the reality, so unintentional performativity is not a one-off. It must actually begin or continue a pattern that eventually creates the reality it depicts.

Let me be clear: I do not think that NBC is getting rid of Kelly because of her racism. However, taking advantage of her racism to fire someone that NBC dislikes for other reasons requires making the case that it is reasonable to fire someone for their racism. Moreover, Kelly has a contract which is guaranteed unless she is fired for a sufficiently serious cause. So if NBC really wants to keep their money, and/or if they really want to hurt Kelly (the latter being the more likely motive), they have to make the case that it is not only reasonable to fire someone for a defense of blackface, but that it is unreasonable not to fire someone for such statements.

NBC, then, while clearly anti-accountability judging by the tolerance they showed to Matt Lauer and others, is going to be making the public case that those who use prominent media positions to spread racism must always be fired. We may suspect that an institution like NBC with its history of tolerating sexism and racism has other motives, but in portraying racism as a fireable offense, NBC is making racism a fireable offense.

Make no mistake, this is a feud between different members of the wealthy and powerful, and none of those directly involved actually want accountability for the wealthy and powerful. And yet, what today begins as mere consequence will someday become the outcome of accountability.

Today is a very, very good day.


*1: One of my favorite commenting pseudonyms in the ever!

I’m Convinced: Pineapple Does Not Belong On Pizza. Also? Feminism is better than its defenders argue.

Although what led me to that first conclusion wasn’t Hitler’s Pineapple Pizza rant.

HJ over at Reprobate Spreadsheet has been discussing – in quite helpful details – a number of aspects of the recent Boghossian, Lindsay & Pluckrose*1 hoax.

But I’ve read a bit about this hoax at quite a number of outlets – not just here at FtB – and one of the things I’ve found to be glaringly omitted amongst the accounts of this hoax is the possibility that the hoax does more to disprove the claims of BLP than it does to support them.

The central claim of B, L & P is that feminists will accept any assertion that claims to be feminist and pays a certain lip service to feminist dogmas (real or imagined). To prove this, BLP borrowed some words, phrases & structures from a certain segment of Mein Kampf and used them to dress up some vague bullshit about how solidarity and single-mindedness win political victories generally, so solidarity and single-mindedness would probably have defeated sexism by now had feminists embraced those two qualities earlier and more universally.

But here’s the thing: I fucking am a feminist, and as a trans* woman who tries very hard to balance harm reduction with eradication, I’m constantly finding feminist opposition to my identity, my views, or both. Seriously, at the extreme margins feminists have disagreed whether it is even possible to do more to dismantle sexism during a lifetime than participating in heterosexual marriages promotes it, and thus whether or not it’s possible for any woman to have a net-positive effect on the feminist cause if ever once that woman gets married to a man. There is “dogma” in feminism, but really only by definition: if you love sexism and want to support it, by definition you can’t be a feminist. Also by definition, to be actually feminist one must believe that sexism deserves opposition. This inevitably leads to certain broad sharing of opinions, but this is a consequence of defining a group of people in ways that they must oppose sexism to be included in the group.

So what about this conclusion: feminists are willing to entertain a wide variety of ideas, even vague, daffy or ill-conceived ones, for long enough to be sure that they’re being rejected for their vagueness, daffiness, or poor conception*2.

Let’s consider for a moment what it would mean if the BLP paper had actually been published but feminists reading the paper wrote new papers opposing the ideas presented, showing (or attempting to show) that reflexive solidarity and true single-mindedness do not lead toward the feminist society most feminists want. In that case, the BLP paper would have played a role in the debate by sparking thought and making a new articulation against a rigid feminist movement once again relevant. It would not have made english-speaking feminist movements more fascist (or fascist at all).

It is not shocking that such bad thinkers as BLP wrote a paper advocating that feminism embrace movement-totalitarianism, a concept that has been rejected in feminism over and over again. It is also not shocking that BLP thought that feminists being willing to publish an idea that has been rejected time and again by movement feminism signals a feminism that is dogmatic.

What is shocking, however, is that no one seems to be pointing out that publishing ideas with which the majority of feminists disagree actually constitutes evidence consistent with the opposite of BLP’s hypothesis.

I strongly suspect, not being a reviewer of this journal article, that the reviewers may very well have thought something like “the benefits of single-mindedness haven’t ever convinced a majority of feminists, and since the general topic has been well covered it might seem appropriate to reject this, but if current feminists are deriving an argument for single-mindedness from important feminist writings, then those current feminists should have their ideas distributed and critiqued so that either they learn better or the current feminist movement has a chance to consider rejected strategies in light of new scholarship.”

Thinking like that, which is entirely consistent with acceptance of the Mein Kampf rework, is antithetical to the BLP hypothesis.

So what did BLP do to enable them to consider and reject that interpretation? Well… nothing.

So the antithesis position can’t yet be said to be proven by BLP’s own study, but the failure of BLP to even consider this explanation of their hoax’s success in getting a few papers published further demonstrates that BLP cannot collectively think themselves out of a paper bag.

I wish that more of the persons writing about BLP’s hoax in the immediate aftermath of their original article (especially but not only the higher-profile articles included in well-funded media outlets) had challenged BLP on this specific point.


*1: Lest anyone think otherwise, I put these in alphabetical order, not knowing whether any of them are more responsible for the approach and/or content of the hoax then others. Partitioning of credit and blame is neither implied nor should it be inferred from this order.

*2: As the right often fails to appreciate, feminists fully support good conception.

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.

[Read more…]

Andy Lewis Is A Stable Genius Who Wishes You Morans Would Get A Brian

So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.

The answer? Andy Lewis.

[Read more…]

Achievement Unlocked! We don’t know what sexism is!

So in this great conversation we’re having that began with discussing whether TERFs are feminists ultimately required addressing the question, What is feminism? I gave an answer here:

if you work to end sexism, you’re probably a feminist.

After Hj Hornbeck posted a riff on Siggy’s original question (that riff is found here), I felt compelled to create my own post, with failed sarcasm calling this discussion a Fiiiiiiiiiggghht. In that, I repeated my proto-definition of feminism where Hj Hornbeck and others found it, furthering the conversation by discussing the perils of gate-keeping as well as other topics.

But let’s allow those topics to continue being discussed in their original venues. I’m interested in this astute reply to my definition delivered by Hj Hornbeck:

[Read more…]

Rewatching To Catch A Predator: Rape Culture Makes Accurate Predictions

One of the less appreciated aspects of rape culture is how rapists are demonized, literally portrayed as animals, violently and obviously deranged, or otherwise clearly outside the human norm.

Part of this is addressed through push back against the “stranger in the bushes” myth. But even where we have been successful in raising awareness that

  1. a large amount of rape is perpetrated against children or vulnerable adults who know and are being supervised by their rapists and
  2. another large chunk of rape is perpetrated against people who first accept a date with someone who eventually rapes them

there is still a lingering myth that these rapists are somehow disguised demons, but demonic nonetheless. There is massive resistance to the idea that there’s a continuum of violation, instead insisting that, for instance, when Rebecca Watson asked repeatedly during a conference – even during her plenary address – not to be propositioned as she wasn’t at the conference for sex, someone ignoring that “no” and propositioning her anyway is completely and utterly different from someone who ignores a “no” to sex.

[Read more…]