What is gender, anyway?

Originally published by Sarah Ditum at the New Statesman

This can be perplexing terrain, in which it’s not at all clear that everyone is speaking the same language, although they might be using the same words. In popular usage, “gender” is often simply a synonym for “sex”, and it’s unquestioned that “woman” and “female”, and “man” and “male” are naturally and irrevocably paired. (This could be called the essentialist account, or “gender is in one’s pants”.) Essentialism comes in slightly more sophisticated variants too, and one current proponent is Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, who has written extensively on what he calls “the essential difference”, claiming that the male brain is inherently systematising and the female brain inherently empathising, leading to a natural division of roles on the basis of a physical difference. (Baron-Cohen does allow that “not all men have the male brain, and not all women have the female brain”, but the fact that “systematising” roles occupied by men tend to be well-paid and prestigious, while “empathising” ones performed by women are less valuable or even entirely unpaid, is regarded as an unfortunate coincidence.)

Feminist analysis has vigorously challenged that view.

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Not gender fluid – just children

Originally published by the Brighton & Hove Independent

At primary school, children should be able to play and learn freely, developing wide interests – without being taught that girls do one thing and boys another. Children who enjoy non-traditional activities should no more be labelled ‘gender-fluid’ than they should be called gay. Parents of budding female engineers or male ballet dancers should value all their children’s talents, not assume their skills indicate gender dysphoria.

In a culture which regularly exposes children to images of sexual violence and exploitation, we should resist anything encouraging further sexualisation. We should not stoke anxiety in parents nor over-zealousness in teachers – nor excitedly impose the latest ideological fashion on children already allowed very little real childhood.

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Being a Minority of One.

Originally posted on Gender Critical Dad

My daughter has decided to become a man, wants a mastectomy and testosterone, the group that she’d been going to, turns out to be a cult, teachers I trusted had been enabling her delusion to boost the self righteous liberalism and pompous patronising tolerance . I’m supposed to come to terms with this and support her on this brave journey, but just I could not buy it.

It left me reeling, questioning my beliefs, my sanity, my decency and my motives. Why did I disagree with the consensus? I’ve always been a big headed git, but also capable of reflection and I think, reconsideration, but this stuff just left me in a spin

Its so gob smacking, that I didn’t want to talk about it in depth with my partner, If she agreed with me, it could just be to keep the peace, or because I’d worn her down.

I hit the internet, searched, somehow found https://www.reddit.com/r/GenderCritical/ and from the sidebar in that loads of links, full of sane women, frequently repeating the objections I had to trans, filling in details, providing a calm, reasoned argument, why the transgender system off belief is fundamentally flawed.

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Letter to a “TERF”

Originally posted at Bauhaus Wife

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It’s interesting to me that you seem to take offence to my pointing out biological facts about my son’s body.  He does indeed have a penis and testicles, that will, at some stage in his life (I assume, as all signs point to his body being healthy and functional) produce sperm.  My understanding of science is admittedly rudimentary, but he is clearly a male human and as such, he will never become pregnant through sexual intercourse, or give birth spontaneously to a child.  How could such a simple observation be contentious?

And I’m really not sure what you mean by “TERF-Y”.  I have heard that this is an acronym for “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist”. Who exactly am I “excluding” by observing the material reality of biology? I cannot fathom.

I agree entirely that the body does not always dictate our gender–this is, in essence, the underlying point of my original article: “Gender” is simply a set of social conventions and societal attitudes that inform, suggest, and sometimes even enforce, through subtle and not-so-subtle pressures, notions of masculinity and femininity.  “Gender” conventions shift and change from era to era and from place to place–that which is considered masculine at one time or in one culture, may be considered feminine in another.  “Gender” and what this means also varies greatly among individuals.  There is no metric to measure or quantify “gender”, and every human is “gender-fluid”–incorporating elements of that which is considered masculine and feminine, to some degree or another.

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A letter to … my little girl, who identifies as a boy

Originally published in The Guardian

So what if you become convinced that your particular body is “wrong”? Soon, from the vulnerable age of 16, you will be able to start down a road with serious drugs that will alter you for ever, drugs that will make you infertile, surgery that will cause side-effects for the rest of your life. And various “liberal” parts of society will call me an abusive parent for disagreeing with all of this.

I look at you: your perfect body. I can’t bear the idea that someone may try to convince you that you’re in the wrong one because you like dinosaurs and pirates, and hitting things with sticks.

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Default: male

Originally posted at language: a feminist guide

The idea behind substituting ‘non-men’ for ‘women’ was to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary people. It will be news to nobody that this is a contentious issue in contemporary feminist politics. But whatever position you take on the issue itself, ‘non-men’ remains problematic from a linguistic point of view. It cannot easily be made to function as an inclusive, feminist or non-sexist term, because it repeats the most basic and ubiquitous of all sexist linguistic gestures: treating men as the default human beings while relegating women to what the radical feminist linguist Julia Penelope dubbed ‘negative semantic space’. ‘Non-men’ defines a subordinated group in relation to the dominant group, ‘men’: consequently it ends up, in today’s jargon, ‘centring’ the dominant group, even if that isn’t the intention.

The idea of maleness as the default setting is manifested linguistically in all kinds of ways. My last post discussed a different linguistic expression of the same principle—the gratuitous gendering of women like Zaha Hadid, who was often referred to using the gender-specific label ‘female/woman architect’, whereas men are simply ‘architects’. In many languages the male-as-default principle is built into the grammatical system, requiring masculine forms of articles, adjectives and pronouns to be used both in generic references to a category and in specific references to any group containing even a single male individual.

But it isn’t just in language that this principle holds sway. It influences the way we process all kinds of representations of the world—visual as well as verbal.

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Does Eddie Izzard like bananas? The Wibbly Pig guide to gender

Originally posted at Glosswatch

My children have a book called Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas. In it, a little pig called Wibbly reveals his likes and dislikes and invites children to think about theirs, too. Do you, like Wibbly, like bananas, or do you prefer apples? Would you, like Wibbly, play with the ball, or would you rather cuddle the bear?

The message, as you might have guessed, is that we’re all different and that’s perfectly fine. I like this message. It’s a message with which I can get on board. However, I’ve started to wonder about the identity politics of it. If Wibbly likes bananas and hats and balls, is he even a pig at all?

For instance, you could argue that since Wibbly’s preferences are so deeply anthropomorphic in nature, he isn’t really porcine after all. He’s maybe a human, or something in-between – let’s call it non-binary species. By the same token, I could say that not everything I like is stereotypically human. Some days I’d rather roll around in a mud-filled sty rather than drive to work. So maybe I’m non-binary species too. All well and good, right? This is, after all, what our inner selves are telling us. Except – except! – Wibbly still has a pig body and I have a human one.

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It’s ignorant and arrogant to equate the crusade to invade private spaces with the Civil Rights Movement

Originally posted at Liberation Collective

Under no circumstances, ever, at any time, is it appropriate to compare the legitimate, factual, courageous, moral imperative that spurred the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s with the attempts by transwomen to access intimate female spaces. Ever.

Do not conflate Jim Crow and the segregation of public spaces by whites against Black people with attempts to open women’s bathrooms, shelters, prisons, locker rooms, and other female-only spaces to male-born people. Don’t cry that this is “the New Civil Rights frontier!” Don’t suggest that the injury to men correctly barred from women’s private spaces is anything even remotely like the humiliation, hatred, and hurt caused to people of color during the years of legal public segregation. And whatever you do, do not suggest that the preening belligerence displayed by men who demand entry into women’s spaces is really just the same bedrock courage, dignity, passion, and righteousness of those who occupied lunch counters and public toilets to win for others basic civil rights.

It’s not simply incorrect. It’s delusional; more than that, it’s ignorant in the extreme and criminally, obscenely, arrogant.

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Gender is not a binary of equals, it is a hierarchy

Originally posted at Butterflies & Wheels

This is why feminists find chatter about “gender identity” so grating and wrongheaded. It’s like talking about “slave identity” or “camp inmate identity.” Gender isn’t a party, it isn’t looking hot in that tiny little dress, it isn’t walking so that your bum is shown off to advantage.

Gender is a hierarchy, and talking about one’s “hierarchy identity” is fatuous.

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