Woman by Proxy

Originally published by Julian Vigo on Medium

What the non-binary/gender fluid/transgender (et al) movement has completely missed is that women have been articulating their discomfort with gendered constructs through various precise and eloquent feminist discourses for decades. I have steadfastly maintained that all humans — especially females — are non-binary through the performatives of the everyday and the political and social constraints imposed upon their lives and bodies. Sexism functions on the assumption that females should match the singular, social definition of “woman” and it is against this monolith of gender against which women have historically fought as women have had to negotiate the interstices of gender, straddling the contradictions, negotiating the discomforts. That struggle took the form of women defying their bodies and families, deracinating the mechanisms and political codes of gender, and transforming their bodies into a socially and politically tendentious vehicle for political and even personal liberation. Women have always known that gender was never real simply because they had to become so well-versed in manoeuvring around it for survival.

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No party for non-men

Originally posted at Glosswatch

The problem for the feminist – and for women in general – is not with femininity per se. It is not that taken individually, so-called “masculine” characteristics are in any way better or more useful than “feminine” ones. It is that femininity functions within a system that places women and men under very different social pressures, the primary aim of which is “to ensure that women should be in the power and service of men”.

This is basic feminism. It makes no judgment on what individual men and women are “really” like, rather it points out that the idea of inherent differences between men and women has been used to facilitate male people’s oppression of female people. As Richards puts it, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women” (submission, chastity, unpaid reproductive, emotional and domestic work).

Fast-forward 36 years and it seems we’ve forgotten the basics.  It’s not that we no longer use gender to extract resources and labour from one class of people for the benefit of another. Men still own the vast majority of the world’s material resources. Women still struggle for safety, visibility, education, reproductive autonomy, freedom from abuse. But for some reason we’ve stopped bothering to analyse gender as a social hierarchy. Perhaps it got too hard, or maybe it just got boring. Either way, these days it’s every woman – or non-man – for her/theirself.

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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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Old Women: Shut the Fuck Up.

Originally posted at In Permanent Opposition

Ageism is a curious form inferiority enforcement, because it is the one condition that most of us will one day share. The young women who have grasped the feminist mantle and have re-imagined it into something that Old Women like Fay Weldon and Germaine Greer do not recognise, seem to be lacking in a basic form of humility. Even apart from the bile inducing idea that political and philosophical ideas should come in nifty trends and fashions, there seems to be a wilful ignorance about the fact that the very same fate awaits them. That one day they too, will be considered irrelevant. In fact, with the garrulous and thrifty pace of social media discourse these days, it might happen quicker than they think.

Now, clearly, younger feminists feel a sense of baggage about the second wave; they feel that these earlier feminists had a narrow agenda that didn’t account for the various different experiences of womanhood available. Now without doing a Feminist History 101 here, one wonders to what extent this is actually a fair representation of the many voices speaking and books penned during that 1960s and 70s period. One wonders if some contemporary feminism has actually took its history lessons from oversimplified media parodies.

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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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Women Saying ‘No’

Originally posted at Gender Apostates

Women have always been called names for saying no. Frigid, bitch, prude. These words are meant to shame us into saying yes.

Women are supposed to be available, welcoming, obedient, and it has been the aim of the women’s movement since its inception to challenge these preconceptions, to say no to men’s definition of us.

It is thanks to feminism that since 1991 wives can say no to their husbands and have that ‘no’ backed up by law. It is thanks to feminism that women no longer have to accept dismissal if they marry or become pregnant. It is thanks to feminism that women in the West are beginning to feel confident in saying no to men in myriad different situations.

Prude, bitch, frigid don’t sting like they used to. Misogynists in the west are losing society’s assumption that women should say yes. Increasingly, it is they who are shamed for insisting. As feminists we applaud this.

However, when it comes to transgender males, men who wish to call themselves women – or more to the point want us to call them women – the story is very different. If we say no to the appropriation of our name, our bodies, our struggle, it is we women who are shamed. We’re being re-named: TERF, cis, transphobe. We’re being re-named by men who wish to try on the costume ‘woman’; they think it doesn’t fit us any more, us no-sayers are not the pliable girls of their dreams, and we must share.

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Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals

Originally posted at New York magazine, Science of Us

It’s conservative lawmakers and organizations who have refused to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change, who have rallied to keep evolution out of textbooks and comprehensive sex education out of classrooms, who have stymied life-saving research into stem cells and gun control.

But that’s in the world of politics and lawmaking, where conservatives often have a numerical advantage. In the halls of social-science academia, where liberals do, it’s telling that some of the same sorts of feeding frenzies occur. This should stand as a wake-up call, as a rebuke to the smugness that sometimes infects progressive beliefs about who “respects” science more. After all, what both the Bailey and Chagnon cases have in common — alongside some of the others in Galileo’s Middle Finger — is the extent to which groups of progressive self-appointed defenders of social justice banded together to launch full-throated assaults on legitimate science, and the extent to which these attacks were abetted by left-leaning academic institutions and activists too scared to stand up to the attackers, often out of a fear of being lumped in with those being attacked, or of being accused of wobbly allyship.

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