The Violence of Gender

Recent reports  out of Greece reveal a campaign of terror being waged against the trans community.* The horror of this campaign is a prime teaching moment for the actual dangers posed to the gender non-conformists of both sexes, as opposed to the misstated dangers that are projected onto those who critique transgender theory and its implications for both gender non-conforming people and female-born and socialized people. This is an important time for all of us to stand up and condemn the violence done to other people. However, it is also an important time to ask the questions of how to stop this, of how to move beyond oppression associated with gender.  As a feminist who rejects current transgender theory, I abhor this violence.  I want to see folks who currently identify as trans living in a world where gender isn’t a thing, so there is no basis for the fascists to use to attack or oppress those who don’t comply with gender…because there is no gender.  No one looks at anyone else and associates ways of thinking, ways of acting or ways of being simply because of their sex.

Those who target the trans community for the type of violence currently occurring in Greece are doing so because of a deep, intractable commitment to gender and gender conformity. Not only do these groups believe gender exists and is natural, they are willing to go to extremes to enforce conformity. This is not the position of people who want to see gender abolished altogether, as is the case of those who criticize current transgender theory because of its reliance on the continuation of gender—whether it be binary or otherwise.

Unfortunately, transgender theory does not stand in opposition to the philosophy of those who carry out the type of violence occurring in Greece; it also holds to the idea that gender is a natural, in-born characteristic. It does hold that there is a naturally “feminine” way to experience the world and a naturally “masculine” way to experience the world. It just holds that gender isn’t tied to the biological sex of the individual; that a person’s “brain sex”** may contrast to that person’s “genital sex”. Sadly, I believe this insistence on perpetuating gender can only lead to more oppression and violence against the gender non-conformist, whether that person identifies as trans or not.

We already know that people who do not conform to gender stereotypes are treated as outcasts within society. For those who seek to enforce conformity between “brain sex” and genital sex—such as the fascists in Greece—this means violence or discrimination against them. For those who hold to transgender theory, this means labeling anyone who doesn’t conform as trans–whether that person identifies that way or not. Indeed, we are seeing very young children labeled trans by their parents simply because these youngsters prefer the dress or activities stereotyped as “belonging” to the other sex. The idea that we should simply celebrate and support these children as gender non-conformists is harder to come by.***

I believe that we can only hope to defend both the gender non-conformists of both sexes and the female-born and socialized by abandoning the defense of gender altogether, by destroying gender completely. We must encourage the gender non-conformist to refuse to comply. In fact, we should encourage (insist upon?) gender non-conformity as a revolutionary act, especially by men. That is, men should “refuse to be men”, to paraphrase John Stoltenberg.  We must also encourage the female-born and socialized to refuse to comply with the limits, roles and behaviors forced upon them by society and the gender hierarchy. We must make it safe for both the non-conforming and the female-born and socialized to do so. We must not ignore the very real differences between the oppression of the female-born and socialized (whether she is gender compliant or not) and the oppression of the male gender non-conformist. It is not the same.**** What’s more, the oppression of the gender non-compliant male is the doing of patriarchy, not the doing of feminists, as some would claim.  In fact, we must look hard at the interplay between trans theory and the oppression of the female-born and socialized.  Adopting the stereotypes of the other gender or even the genitals of the other sex doesn’t get us to the point where all people are free of the tyranny of gender hierarchy and conformity. Only the complete eradication of gender will do that.

NOTES:
*An interesting and telling aspect of this campaign is that it is an outgrowth of a campaign that also targets prostituted women. Trans folks are being accused of being prostituted, and forcibly being taken in for HIV/AIDS testing. At this point, they may be sent to detention camps. This campaign has been waged against prostituted women with little notice, it appears. I only heard about it from this article.
**The entire concept of “brain sex” is misogynistic. It holds that the behaviors of the male and the female are genetically programmed. It is pseudo-scientific essentialism. It is also one of the more recent attempts to use science to justify the subjugation of and discrimination against those born female. Any theory of social constructionism is incompatible with the concept of “brain sex”. It is precisely the kind of thinking that allows someone like Lawrence Summers to claim that women don’t hold as many positions in the sciences due to a lesser innate “aptitude”. MRA claims often fit well with theories of “brain sex”, which is another reason feminists should look long and hard at such theories and anyone who touts them.
***There does appear to be a smaller movement to do just this, however. More of this, please. Don’t label your child; just let that child be. Fight gender by allowing your child to be a male who refuses to be masculine or a female who refuses to be feminine.
**** Socialization begins at birth, and discrimination against the biologically female often begins even before birth (e.g. sex-selective abortion). To insist that the oppression of the gender non-conformist is the same as the oppression of the female-born and socialized is to ignore that. To insist that those born and socialized as female not be allowed to discuss that in female-only spaces is flat-out misogynistic.

Language: Usage and Debate in Progressive Politics

In the past week, I have been involved in discussions and debates related to the terminology used to describe traditionally oppressed groups.  The use of language can be a highly charged topic in leftist and progressive circles, whether one is discussing women or traditionally oppressed ethnic and racial groups.  The debate can rage over spelling or word choice.  In some cases, the discussion is true political analysis.  In others, it is simply a way to “win” an argument and cast the opponent as politically out-of-touch or bigoted.

My purpose here isn’t to insist that people use one word or another, that they adopt alternate spellings or spell words in a traditional fashion, but simply to explore the topic and the motivations behind certain word choices.  We all know that language has power.  The “power to name” has been important to radical feminists for decades.  The power to marginalize individuals using derisive language is one that powerful groups have used for millennia.  My purpose is to discuss how language evolves, the political usage of language, and how there can be considerable disagreement within historically oppressed and exploited groups about proper word usage.  I think it’s important for anyone with leftist or progressive politics to understand this–that what they may consider “politically correct” may be a matter of considerable debate within the actual marginalized group.

Some of the words, phrases and designations that can be viewed as proper by one group, but not by another include “cisgender” or “cis”, women-vs-womyn/wimin, and Latino/Latina-vs-Hispanic-vs-Chicano/Chicana-vs-“people of color”.*  The use of one or more of these terms can lead to heated debate.  At times, this debate is based upon not understanding how the words are viewed or used by certain communities, while at others the debate is based upon a more thorough understanding of how the words are viewed or used.  Regardless, the debates generally include accusations that someone “just doesn’t get it”.  Perhaps they do get it.  Perhaps they simply have other information or they disagree with the political arguments behind specific word usage.  There are other words and phrases that inspire similar debate, but I will mostly confine myself to a discussion of these three, because they are the ones with which I have the most real life experience.

The term “cisgender” or “cis” can get one into hot water when moving from a liberal feminist environment to a radical feminist environment.  In the liberal environment, one can be castigated for not using this word and paying fealty to its political implications. This confuses many feminists who begin moving into more radical feminist spaces from liberal feminist spaces.  They may use the term thinking they are being kind, sensitive and politically aware, only to be told that they are actually being anti-woman.  I agree that the term “cis” and “cisgender” are politically useless, at best.  However, I think it would be helpful to tell women why the term and the theory behind it are disputed, rather than simply condemning them.  Unfortunately, I think many of us may assume that other women understand the issues involved and are simply willfully ignoring those issues.  I don’t think this helps our cause of advancing the analysis of gender as a destructive hierarchy, rather than a neutral continuum.  It simply serves to confuse and alienate women who could be our allies.

Also related to the struggle of women is the use of alternate spellings for the very words “woman” and “women”.  Because many radical feminists find the etymology and implications of the words problematic, they choose to use alternate spellings.  Among others, these include “womyn”, “wimin”, and “womon”.  On the other side are those who say that the use of such alternate spellings alienate potential allies by appearing to erase men.  I find the argument that feminists need to cater to men’s egos–even when referring to women— misguided, at the very least.  That said, I also prefer to use traditional spellings for words.  For me, I fully understand the desire to name ourselves that lies behind the practice of alternate spellings.  I have very little patience for those who ridicule others for using alternate spellings.  However, I do find that the use of such spellings in articles meant to influence others (call it propaganda, if you want) can come across like jargon.  I also have an ingrained desire to use proper grammar and spelling because of my background in journalism.  So, I remain unpersuaded by the hardliners on either side.

The final language-related issue that stirs up debate is the terminology used to refer to both men and women who belong to historically oppressed and exploited racial or ethnic groups.  In the U.S., these groups are usually, demographically speaking, in the minority of the population.  On the other hand, when one considers the population of the world, they are not.  For many, this demographic difference between white-majority countries and the rest of the world means that the only acceptable term to use is “people of color” to describe all members of historically oppressed ethnic and racial groups.  This is understandable, and it’s a term I often use.  However, it is not a panacea.  There is considerable debate within Hispanic groups about how that particular group–which includes those in all racial categories–should be referred to.  This is a long and storied debate, and one that gets little notice outside of this particular group.

Among the ethnic group referred to as “Hispanic”, there is a history of debate even over that term.  While it is currently used by the U.S. Census, there are those within the group who reject it due to its colonial implications.  It is a term they feel is used to connect them solely to Spanish colonizers, and does not recognize that the majority of those called “Hispanic” are descended from both indigenous and colonial backgrounds, with others being descended from only indigenous backgrounds, indigenous and African backgrounds, or only African backgrounds.  In short, it is considered Eurocentric and imperialist, as described by Cheech Marin.

Hispanic is a census term that some dildo in a government office made up to include all Spanish-speaking brown people. It is especially annoying to Chicanos because it is a catch-all term that includes the Spanish conqueror. By definition, it favors European cultural invasion, not indigenous roots. It also includes all Latino groups, which brings us together because Hispanic annoys all Latino groups.

In the 1960s, the words “Chicano” and “Chicana” became popular for Mexican-American activists, especially radical activists, to describe those of Mexican heritage who were born in the U.S.  Others reject that term for so-called derisive implications, as it was once used by Mexicans to describe Mexican-Americans, who were perceived as having lost their heritage.  The word has been used in the names of activist organizations in the U.S., such as Chicanos por la Causa.  “La Raza” is another term used for politically active Mexican-Americans, especially in California.  That, too, has been used in the names of activist organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza.

Similarly, the words “Latino” and “Latina” are subject to debate.  These words are often viewed in a similar way as “Hispanic”, linking the peoples of Latin America to their colonizers’ languages without any recognition of the indigenous or African origins of many in Latin America.  However, as indicated in the quote above, this is not a universal opinion, either.

And what of those in the U.S. who fall between categories, because they are of both Latin American and North/Western European descent?  Are these people of color?  Are they Hispanic?  Are they Latinos and Latinas?  Are they white?  Does their status change according to the situation?  This is important to me, because it involves my own children.  I met a Mexican-American man–first generation born in the U.S.–22 years ago.  I married him 21 years ago.  We have two children.  On official documents, they are listed as members of the Hispanic ethnicity and the white or Caucasian race.  How they are treated likely depends on the situation.  In person, they are treated as white.  Their skin tone is white, so they have the privileges associated with that white appearance.  Culturally, our family’s primary ties and influence are Mexican and Mexican-American.  On the other hand, if one were to see just their names written on a job application or academic paper, my children would be considered Hispanic by the reader.  As studies have shown, the appearance of a name indicating a female or member of another marginalized group can lead the reader to have built-in bias towards that individual and her qualifications.

But what of the term “people of color”?  As I said, I commonly use it, but I have run into issues with that term, as well.  It is not one my spouse embraces.  In fact, he does not even embrace the term “Mexican-American”.   He refers to himself, his family members and others within his national heritage group as simply “Mexican”, regardless of the country in which they were born or the passport which they carry.  This may be because his father was born and raised in Mexico, and almost all of their family still lives in Mexico City.   I have run into older Mexican-American folks who find the term “people of color” actively offensive.  Like the old fashioned term “colored” that was once used to describe African-Americans and is now widely considered offensive, they feel it defines them in opposition to whites.  It doesn’t say what or who they are, it says what or who they aren’t; there are “people” (who are white), and there are “people of color” (everyone else).  It also lumps them in with others of widely differing backgrounds and heritage.

So, where do we arrive at with this discussion of language?  For me, it’s realizing that even the terms most popular among leftists and progressives, the terms considered sensitive and supportive, are not always free of debate–quite fiery debate, in fact.  When we run across folks who don’t use the terms we consider sensitive or supportive, we should find out why.  Don’t assume insensitivity or lack of knowledge, unless it’s a historical pattern for a particular individual or the context makes it clear.  Find out what they’re saying and why, especially if they are someone you don’t know well.  Unless, of course, you’re just looking to silence someone who disagrees with you.  Then, you can continue being that “liberal bully” that Offbeat Empire refers to.  Just don’t expect to arrive at any real answers or gain new allies if you choose that path.

NOTES:

* I have used a number of links to Wikipedia articles in this piece.  That is not because I think Wikipedia is necessarily a good source.  Instead, I have chosen to include these articles because they include reference links to other, more helpful articles.

Finding the Balance: The Feminist Facebook Campaign

Yesterday, Facebook finally put out a statement on the site regarding the feminist anti-violence campaign.  In it, they spoke to the balance between allowing controversial ideas, while eliminating that which is harmful.

[W]e also work hard to make our platform a safe and respectful place for sharing and connection.  This requires us to make difficult decisions and balance concerns about free expression and community respect.  We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial.

My fear with campaigns like the anti-violence campaign on Facebook has always been that controversial, but not violent, material would end up being censored by those seeking to prove they’re “cleaning things up”. That is, that Facebook would overreact in seeking good P.R., and start eliminating controversial ideas, even when they did not celebrate, condone or encourage violence.

I have written in the past about my internal conflict with the concept of free speech.  That conflict has led me to tread carefully when people start talking about “hate speech”. In fact, I had to think a bit before deciding whether to join the Feminist Admin campaign this week. However, after careful consideration, the campaign against the violent images about raping and beating women was something I couldn’t refuse to support. These were not people talking about “controversial” topics. These were people reveling in violence, reveling in images of women’s beaten and bloodied bodies. They weren’t trying to arrive at answers to difficult questions. They were just trying to get off on seeing women beaten up.

I consider this blog and the related Facebook page to be controversial. They discuss very controversial topics, such as gender, from a radical perspective. However, I seek to weed out attacks or links that I consider focused on individuals instead of issues. This is why I made a decision a while ago not to post links to some of the more inflammatory radical feminist sites that discuss gender. I felt that some of them were focused on individuals and personal ridicule, instead of being focused on issues. To me, that kind of individual-focused rhetoric doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it turns people off and makes them tune out what is actually being said about the ramifications of certain positions.

The same is true when I discuss my opposition to religion, whether on Facebook or this blog. I abhor violence aimed at individuals because of their religion. I am an adamant supporter of the rights of Palestinians.  However, I cannot in good conscience allow that to keep me from discussing religion as ideology and how it is a tool in women’s oppression.  The stakes for real women are too high.

I would consider the Facebook pages of Male Privilege Activists (a.k.a Men’s Rights Activists, or MRAs) to be controversial, but I would not seek to have one shut down if it didn’t post the kind of content this campaign has focused on. I may despise what they have to say, but I’m not going to report them for “hate speech”. In fact, I’m not going to bother with them at all. I may criticize them, but I’m not going to seek out their nonsense.

Anyway, I hope Facebook gets it right. I hope they can find the balance that allows us to discuss controversial ideas, while keeping the images that celebrate violence out. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

Neo-Paganism and Feminism

I was born a member of an old Mormon family, a family stretching back to upstate New York and the origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  As a result, I spent many years within the church and still have many family members there.  At a fairly young age, I knew that membership in the church was not conducive to my sanity.  The limits placed on the female were too many to count.  They are also too well known for me to need to enumerate them here.  Suffice it to say that they were killing me, mind and body.  However, it took many years and several false starts for me to shake off not only this particular religion, but religion, in general.  One of those false starts was a turn to the Wiccan religion.

Wicca (and Neo-Paganism, in general) is an attractive option for so many women who are trying to find their way in the world, experiencing the failures of organized religion, but still needing the comfort of a Greater Power.  Its celebration of the Goddess and belief in a time before patriarchy are so important to women who need to believe that there are examples of a better way in the distant past.  I’m certainly not one to claim that, once upon a time, the status of women was not greater than it is now.  (In fact, I actively believe that.)  Goddess worship may well have been a sign of that.  However, we can see goddess worship lasting well into the age of male oppression of females, all the way into modern India.  It is not enough to simply point to the goddesses in a pantheon, and say that women have greater status in Culture X.

The most problematic aspect of modern goddess worship is not where it came from or whether those cultures were patriarchal.  The most problematic aspect is how it represents “masculine” and “feminine” in the modern world.  In my personal Facebook feed today, I came across a shared status update from another page.  It spoke of the shortcomings of the “pragmatic, male oriented reality”, while singing the praises of the “great female powers of intuition”, the “receptive powers of the female shield”, and the “feminine trait of contemplation”. *

Within the Wiccan ritual, there is a very strong belief in gendered forces.  Certain characteristics and natural forces are related to the feminine, while others are related to the masculine.  This is often played out during ritual by plunging a ceremonial blade into a sacred chalice.  In Wiccan writing, there is repeated reference to feminine qualities of the Goddess versus masculine qualities of the God.  The feminine is related to intuitiveness, caregiving, protection of children and the hearth, nourishment, and magic.  Motherhood is all.  The masculine is related to more active concepts, like hunting and protection of the group and the woman.**  These gendered forces must be balanced, but they are still there.  In addition, the argument is that both the feminine and the masculine live within each individual, regardless of sex.  Why they must, then, be referred to in gendered ways isn’t explained.

So, what’s wrong with that?  Well, a lot of things, if you believe (as I do) that there are only human ways of acting, feeling, thinking and being.  There is no innate feminine or masculine way of experiencing the world.  There is no “brain sex“.  This gendered way of categorizing human actions and characteristics is patriarchal at its very core; it can’t lead us from patriarchy, because it’s steeped in it.

I know many women find solace in Wicca, especially Dianic Wicca.  There are still things that I appreciate about it, such as the belief in the “interconnectedness” of life and other forces in the universe.  I still believe in those things, although my belief and appreciation of that connection is scientific instead of magical these days.  I also believe strongly that goddess imagery can help women who are constantly bombarded with the solely male representations of the most important, powerful, divine forces in the universe.  Having the strictly male images of divinity constantly before you, while being told that humans are in “god’s image”, is psychologically devastating.  This is especially true for a young girl.  I still hold dear to goddess imagery for this very reason.  However, I don’t believe that we can be liberated by engaging in magical thinking.  I don’t think we can be liberated by investing in ideas of feminine traits versus masculine traits.  The essentialism will always backfire on us.  We need to put our faith in the strength of real women, not in goddesses or “feminine” qualities.

NOTES:

* I am not linking to the post or directly mentioning the page for two reasons.  The first is that the link leads to someone’s personal Facebook profile, and I don’t want to directly criticize this particular woman or put a link to her profile in a blog post.  This isn’t about a single individual; it’s about an ideology.  The other is that I have interacted with the owners of the page who shared it on several occasions.  They are kind, good-hearted women.  They have shared things from TLSOF more than once.  I’m not writing about this to criticize them or “out” them in any way.  Again, it’s about the ideology.

** There are a few exceptions to this, such as Athena and Diana, but they are rare.

A feminist critique of “cisgender”

“The pattern of gender, constituted through gender’s repeated performance on the stage of life, demonstrates that males and masculinity are institutionally dominant over females and femininity.  Gender is not just a fun dress up game that individuals merely identify with in isolation from all contextual and historical meaning, but the most powerful tool of structural oppression ever created by humans.

“Notwithstanding variations caused by intersecting factors such as economic class, national jurisdiction, and cultural differences; the collective female social location is consistently less than similarly situated males in terms of: (i) material resources received as an infant and child, (ii) respect, attention, and intellectual encouragement received as an infant and child, (iii) risk of being sexually exploited or victimized, (iv) role within the hetero family unit, (v) representation and power in government, (vi) access to education, jobs, and promotions in the workforce, (vii) property ownership and dominion over space.[vi] “

via A feminist critique of “cisgender”.

The Means of Reproduction: The Evolution of Women’s Oppression and Exploitation

Marxist have long held that the working classes would find their way out of a life of exploitation by seizing the means of production. Only this would lead to the revolution and true workers’ liberation. In The Dialectic of Sex Shulamith Firestone adapted Marxist arguments to speak of women, and how we would find our way to the revolution and true women’s liberation. Her discussion of the means of reproduction speaks to the very nature of our oppression and exploitation: the ability to bear children. That is, our biological nature.

Many people argue that speaking of women’s oppression in these terms is limiting and exclusionary. The claim that it leaves out those women who are unable to bear children, for whatever reason. They claim it leaves out transwomen. I would argue that neither of these arguments are relevant. The nature of women’s oppression and exploitation has evolved over the millennia, but it is rooted in one simple truth: the idea that all women are assumed to be child-bearers, and those children and the women who bear them are assumed to be the property of men. It does not matter whether an individual woman has a child, wants to have a child, or can have a child; it is assumed that she is capable of doing so, and that she inevitably will do so. It is assumed that the woman’s children will take the names of their father, because that is the only heritage that matters.

As I have written previously, and as many other historians and thinkers of the past have written, the original family unit of the human being is mother and her offspring. This is true of most mammals—indeed, most animals, in general. The mother and her offspring are the primary unit. The larger clan is made up of female relatives. Males are with the group until they reach sexual maturity, then they leave and join an unrelated group of females for procreative purposes. In this social set-up, there is no lifelong pair bonding of male and female. They procreate, but the father is not considered integral. In fact, the father may be unknown, since the female may have had sexual relations with more than one male.

Most Socialist thinkers, along with many anthropologists and historians, believe this set-up began to change when humans began to settle into permanent or semi-permanent societies. Although it has some historical weaknesses, Frederick Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State explores this from a Marxist perspective. The idea is that the social status of women was destroyed when humans began what we now call “civilization”. This was often based upon agriculture and landowning. Under earlier socioeconomic arrangements, there was little surplus. Hunter-gatherer societies, for example, gathered the food they needed for the present moment and a short time in the future (e.g. the winter months). In these societies, women were often actively engaged in the accumulation of food, not just in its preparation. They could do this, while also bearing and rearing children; the physical drain was not too great for this to be possible. This gave them much more freedom in their personal lives. To know you can subsist without the aid or protection of another is a primary requirement for personal freedom.

It was only after the invention of agriculture that surplus was gathered and that food production became a physically difficult task. It was no longer as easy for a woman to engage in food accumulation and childbearing. This change in food production also led to a sense of ownership over the land, hoarding of goods, and trading of this surplus. All of these things required a female to have a long term, stable tie to a single man. The man’s primary (or exclusive) role in food production meant that the means of this production came to be seen as his sole property and his sole domain. This was property that he wanted to remain in “his” family, to follow a patrilineal inheritance path. As a result, he needed a guarantee that the children borne by “his” woman were, in fact, his biological children. Hence, the desire to control female reproduction and sexuality. That is, the drive to control the “means of reproduction”.

The growth of patriarchy can be seen as based upon the drive to control the means of reproduction. As such, the exploitation and oppression of women are direct outgrowths of our ability to bear children. The myths, methods and excuses for exploiting and oppressing women took on lives of their own, but were and remain rooted in this fact. Patriarchy would become entrenched, but was borne out of socioeconomic arrangements. Social organizations and belief systems would arise to reinforce the patriarchy. All lived together in one incestuous relationship.

As the socioeconomic reality changed, women became more and more tied to the one thing that we did that was different from men: our childbearing capabilities. The various manifestations of patriarchy are built around this. We see this in the view of women’s sexuality, in the social requirement of marriage, in sexualized and other male violence towards women, in the battle against reproductive choice, and in the discrimination against women in the political and economic arenas.

In order to keep control over their property, assuring it passed to their male heirs only, men had to control the sexuality of women. This was accomplished in a number of ways. First, female sexuality had to be shown as dangerous. Women had to be convinced that sex was not desired by a virtuous woman. We had to feel in our very bones that it was something we did as a duty to men, but not ever for our own enjoyment. Sex would be based upon what brought pleasure to men. It would reinforce the overall social dictates of dominance and submission, teaching women that everything in our lives—up to and including our sexual interactions—should illustrate our submission to men.

To keep control over our sexuality, we had to be taught that it belonged to a single man—our husband. The demand of female chastity outside marriage was put into place. The demand that marriage be our one and only goal in life became integral to the very definition of “woman”. We were to provide men our bodies and the fruit of them (i.e. children). In return, men were to provide us with the very material means of survival. If we were not tied to one man, we would be forced to serve many men in order to meet our material needs. This might mean prostitution, or it might mean serving patriarchal religion. Regardless, we were not allowed the means to survive without ties to men.

In addition to the means of survival, men were to provide us something else: protection. Protection from whom and from what? Well, other men, of course. The threat of sexualized and other male violence is a very effective tool for keeping women tied to “good” men. We know all too well that we are vulnerable to attack. This is based purely on our biological nature as women. When we are victimized, it is almost always by men. That victimization is then turned on us; we are blamed for the violent actions of these men. It may mean being married off to a rapist. It may mean being put on trial for “adultery”, if we are married or the rapist is married. It may mean being asked why we were in that place at that time doing whatever we were doing. It may mean having someone demand to know what we did to provoke this man. And what is the fix for this? The protection of “good” men—fathers, husbands, brothers, sons.

Since all of these things tie into the control of women’s reproductive capabilities, it stands to reason that reproductive choice would be the enemy of patriarchy. Giving women the right to control when we have children and how many children we have negates the male control over our bodies. It implies that we are full human beings. It says that our bodies and our children belong to us. It also denies the essential nature that patriarchy has assigned us: the means of reproduction. The means of creating new workers, new bureaucrats, new warriors, new power brokers, new captains of industry. This is why the “old maid”, the childless woman, is the most hated person in patriarchal society. We have but one purpose under patriarchy: to give men more men. This has been true whether the economic structure was feudalist or capitalist, whether the political structure was monarchic or pseudo-democratic.

Keeping women from the spheres of political, social or economic influence was both a function of the control over our reproduction and a means to perpetuate that control. Our biological capability to give birth has been used as an excuse to keep us from the means to economically support ourselves. We have been told that some jobs are just too physically difficult for us. We have been told that other jobs are dangerous for us due to our childbearing capacity. We have been told that, as mothers and nurturers, we do not have the “nature” to perform some jobs. We have been told that our biological nature and hormones make us emotional and unstable, thereby unsuited for some jobs. We have been told that taking time off to give birth and rear our children is an undue economic burden on potential employers; that we will eventually want time off to marry and to have children.

Of course, this is a vicious circle. Women have been cut out of the means to succeed or even to survive in society, regardless of the socioeconomic system of that society. Then, the fact that we have not enjoyed success at the same rate as men is considered proof that we aren’t capable; that patriarchal attitudes and practices were right all along. With the advent of technological means of production, that has subsided to a degree, but it still exists. We are still told that women don’t get to the highest levels of government or business because we take too much time off to bear or rear children.

An even more insidious practice is to relate our biological nature with socially constructed gender and the physical expression of gender norms. The concept of femininity is culturally tied to submission, physical representations of our biology (i.e. accentuation of breasts and the “feminine” form are what makes us worthwhile human beings), expressions of nurturing behavior, and a willingness to sacrifice Self for the benefit of others, among other things. All of these concepts which are tied to the feminine gender are based upon the patriarchal requirements placed upon us because of our biological nature as child bearers. Gender is yet one more tool in the patriarchal toolbox of our oppression and exploitation.

Some have adopted a misguided notion that gender is integral to the fight for women’s liberation. The historical record and years of fighting for political rights has proven that our oppression and exploitation is rooted in our perceived child bearing capabilities, so a fight based upon gender will never liberate women. We will continue to be oppressed based upon this capacity–whether or now we, as individual women, want or can have children–so such a tactic is doomed from the start. We must recognize that the roots of our oppression lie in our biology, and the attempts to control that biology. We will not become free or safe by being more or less feminine, since femininity is something created in attempt to justify and reinforce our oppression. We will only become free by taking control over our own biology, by attacking the ideology that gives men a say in controlling our sexuality and our reproduction. To tear down the structures that allow men to use our biology as an excuse for keeping us from the places of power, whether that power is economic, social or political. That means attacking the deeply entrenched cultural biases about what it means to be a potential bearer of children.

To rid us of exploitation and oppression is not an easy task. It is not about just ending patriarchy. It is not just about ending capitalism. We must end both at the same time. We must demand that the means of reproduction be seized and controlled by those of us who do the labor. We must dismantle the structures in place that seek to allow men and the societies built on patriarchal philosophies to control our reproduction. Only Socialism can allow for this. Only in a society where women and their children are guaranteed the right and the ability to survive and to thrive—whether or not they are attached to a man—will females be free of exploitation and oppression.

Meanwhile, we must tear down the supporting structures that have taken on lives of their own. Patriarchal religion, the concept of gender, male violence against females—all of this and more serve to keep us entrenched in a world where the female is not valued. Where Socialism has failed in the past is that it has focused solely on the economic structures and philosophies of a society. The rise of patriarchy may be linked to socioeconomic evolution, but it has taken on a life of its own. It has developed its own ideology and social structures that are apart from government and economics. These ideologies and structures, which are based upon our biology, must be attacked and destroyed.

Patriarchy and the Gender Concept

I have read one trans* activist or their ally after another claim that the concept of transgender somehow transgresses the concept of binary gender. I have never been able to grasp just how anyone could arrive at that conclusion. In fact, transgender theory embraces binary gender; it simply holds that one can be born with the wrong gender. Nothing about that transgresses the patriarchal social construct of gender. In fact, it reinforces it. And who are the most likely victims of such reinforcement? Well, women, of course.

My questions about gender did not arise from any feminist theory. In fact, I came to question the entire concept of the immutable nature of gender when I was in college. One semester, I took a cultural anthropology course entitled “Gender & Society”. It was a cross-cultural exploration of gender. Not of sex, but of gender. What I learned there was that concepts of gender varied quite dramatically from one society to another. There was not a single way of being that could be called “feminine” that stretched across all cultures. Similarly, there was not a single way of being called “masculine” that stretched across all cultures. This would come as a surprise to those who insist that one can be a male, yet experience the world in a feminine way. That doesn’t happen simply because there’s no such thing as experiencing the world in a feminine way.

What I learned in that class is that males and females don’t inherently find themselves drawn to one activity or another. They don’t see the world one way or the other based upon being male or female. They do, however, find themselves drawn to certain activities or see the world in a specific way based upon how their particular societies say each sex should be. Whether it’s sex-specific jobs, appearance and ornamentation, or anything else we commonly associate with gender, the only thing that is constant is that the male way of being or behaving is valued more than the female way of being or behaving. This tells us two things: that women are harmed far more by the social construct of gender than are men, and that there could not possibly be any truth in the concept of gender if it varies so widely among cultures.

Of course, even within a culture, individuals, their experiences and their interests vary widely. My own family is a prime example of this. The gender concept of the West says that males should be more aggressive, more confrontational, more interested in politics, better at math, more interested in technology. It says that men are sexually stimulated visually, while women are more into “feelings”. It says that men give affection to get sex, and women give sex to get affection. It says that women value their long term sexual relationships more than men do. It says that women desire to “nurture”, while men desire to “provide”. It says that little boys like certain things and behave in certain ways, and little girls like other things and behave in a diametrically opposed way. Of the four of us in my nuclear family, we all stand in conflict to these gender concepts to varying degrees.

First, let’s speak of my spouse and myself. I am the one who controls the money, and I have been the one who makes most of the money for quite some time now. I am the one who is more aggressive and confrontational–both politically and personally. Once our children reached school-age, my spouse became the primary caregiver. He enjoys it quite a bit. I am the one who does home repairs and knows technology. We are both attracted to visual sexual stimulation; I’m no more into the love-for-sex concept than he is. However, at this point, he shows the kind of devotion to our relationship that I was prone to as a teenager. In short, he’s the one who does most of the active work to keep our relationship strong; this has always been the concern and job of women, so says the culture construct of gender.

Our children were not brought up in a gendered household. They were not encouraged to “act like a boy” or “be a good girl”. Our daughter grew to love things and interact with people in a way that boys generally do. This isn’t a “tomboy”; this is a girl who was not taught to act according to the gender concept. She was always self-assured as a child. She wasn’t interested in “girl things”, and she resisted the pressure to wear feminine clothing. She never wore make-up. She rode skateboards and played sports. Most of her friends were boys, although she had some very close female friends. This was just her way of being. To a great extent, it still is.

Our boy is even less impressed by gender concepts, because he is autistic. The primary manifestation of autism is an inability to understand and disinterest in social concepts. Gender means less than nothing to him, because it is entirely a socially conceived and built concept. In many ways, he acts very much like a stereotypical boy. In many other ways, he acts very much like a stereotypical girl. His primary interests are “girl” interests: he wants to be Snow White, he loves the Disney princesses, he talks of being a “ballet princess”. He’s not attracted to these stereotyped images of feminine beauty for romantic reasons; he wants to be these female characters. It does not occur to him that a boy can’t be a princess or want to dress up as Snow White.

So, what conclusions to draw from a family that refuses to recognize gender as an inherent way of being? What to say of parents who refused to tell their children that there was a “male” experience and a “female” experience? No one here is “transgendered”. We’re just people who don’t give a shit about what society says we should like and how society says we should be. We are human beings, no more nor less. My daughter and I are females who refuse to recognize the cultural dictates of femininity. My spouse and our son are males who refuse to recognize the cultural dictates of masculinity.

And here we arrive at the greatest failing of transgender theory. Even general experience will tell you that the majority of transgendered individuals are male-to-female. In fact, studies say that male-to-female out number female-to-male by almost 3-to-1. The male-to-female trans* are certainly the most vocal and publicly active segment of the population. Why is that? I think it’s quite simple. Women are encouraged to “act like a man”. It’s supposed to be a badge of honor to be compared to a man in a patriarchal society. On the flip side, a male who is likened to a female has just been hit with the greatest insult–pussy, bitch, woman, girl.

It is more socially acceptable for the female to act in stereotypically masculine ways, so it is less necessary to identify as transgendered when she doesn’t fit the stereotype of feminine. For the male, it is not acceptable to be labeled “feminine”. So, some members of that “feminine” male population will choose to identify as transgendered, instead. See, they’re just women trapped in the bodies of men, not feminine men. What they fail to realize is that, by doing so, they have just reinforced the binary gender concept. They aren’t a “feminine” male; they’re really a female, because only females feel or act the way they feel or act. They have just tied all women to the social construct of femininity that has been used to restrict our activities and our self-determination under patriarchy. They have just played the trump card for the patriarchy.

In other cases, those who are diagnosed as transgendered and encouraged to have sex reassignment surgery have gone through abuse as children. Some psychiatrists who are eager to slap the “transgendered” tag on them try to dismiss this as a reason for their feelings of uncertainty and confusion. This victimizes the person yet again. Unfortunately, those who come out with these regrets publicly are victimized a third time by those in the transgender community who wish to silence them.

In the end, this isn’t about condemning the trans* community. They are victims of a patriarchal society that tells us there really is a female way of being and a male way of being. They are victims of a patriarchal society that tells men that accepting any stereotypically feminine feelings or behaviors is a failure on their part. This is about realizing that gender is a social construct. This is about realizing that gender is used to bind both women and men to ridiculous notions of how they “should” be. This is about realizing that gender concepts are especially harmful to women and girls. This is about moving towards a world where concepts of gender no longer matter, no longer exist. Transgender theory doesn’t get us there. It keeps us stuck, bound by patriarchal concepts of binary gender.