|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2015-06-08 11:39:00
"What Makes A Woman?" by Elinor Burkett - Comment and Response
Found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinio
Okay, first thoughts about the first few paragraphs: this comes across as very TERF-y at times.
Further thoughts on reading more of it: actually, come to think on it, this is not only a wonderful example of trans-exclusionary feminism, but also a wonderful example of the sort of feminism which makes me want to say "if this is feminism, I don't want to be identified as feminist!"
I can understand Caitlyn Jenner and Chelsea Manning wanting to make a distinction between their female identities (the ones they feel are correct) and the "false male" identities they were forced to assume as they grew up. I can understand them wanting to make it clear that they never "felt" male - that they were always female in their minds, that this was always who they were, regardless of what their bodies looked like. That their minds were female, from the start, and that their transition was a necessary part of asserting that female and feminine identity. I can also understand them making the standard confusion of mind and brain (I think there is a separation: "the brain" is the physical organ; "mind", meanwhile, is the emergent psychological process which is made possible through the complexity of the human brain).
I also think the writer is ignorant of a lot of the realities for women who transition from a perceived masculine identity to a perceived feminine one. I think she is unaware of or disregards the way psychiatry and psychology are used to gate-keep the transition process, ensuring transpersons who wish to transition to a more neutral or androgynous gender identity are denied their options unless they learn to play the correct roles and say the correct lines. I think she is unaware of or disregards the way people who transition to a female identity are required, as part of the process of transition, to assume an extremely "femme" presentation (whether they feel like identifying as a "femme" woman or not), and demonstrate a certain degree of hyper-femininity (while being policed on this as well - if they go "too far" down the "femme" track, it's considered a form of fetishism rather than genuine desire to transition, and that can affect their ability to obtain the necessary hormones for transition).
Both of these factors may be strongly influencing Ms Jenner and Ms Manning, given the circumstances of their transitions. Ms Jenner's masculine identity was fêted and celebrated for years; she had a very strong public identity as a male celebrity, and she would have had to fight very hard with a therapist to be permitted to transition at all. Ms Manning is transitioning as a prisoner in a military prison - and again, had to fight tooth and nail to be permitted to transition, to the point of making her transition into a human rights cause. Neither of these people are precisely your everyday transperson.
I think the writer also purposefully ignores the social conventions about the sorts of images which are allowable on the covers of fashion magazines, and the way the female body is typically displayed in such magazine covers in order to make a point.
The writer makes the point that the feminine identity of a transwoman is not the same as her feminine identity - and then goes on to assert certain experiences which I certainly can't empathise with as being central to her definition of a feminine identity. Experiences she clearly expects her audience to find in common, while being apparently unaware of how very exclusionary her list looks from the outside.
For example, I've never actually felt that men were looking at my breasts when they were talking to me (I'm one of those women who gets shoved into the category of "furniture" by default, not ever having been pretty or even vaguely attractive). I'm one of the many women (non-professional, non-corporate) who has never actually been in a position of having to lead a business meeting. I've never woken up after sex worried about pregnancy (because my partner and I both took responsibility for contraception and not having children, having had the discussion about whether we wanted kids - neither of us did - early on in our relationship), because, not being attractive to the wider spectrum of men, I haven't had as many opportunities for casual sex with men as the writer apparently did. (Should I mention lesbians and bisexual or poly-sexual women, or indeed any other group of women having sex with women? I think I should - a woman having sex with a woman doesn't have the same sorts of pregnancy and birth-control worries as a woman having sex with a man.) Period onset on public transport isn't one I've really worried about either, because I don't think of my period as being humiliating to me personally (irritating, yes. Humiliating? Fuck no). Discovering male colleagues are earning more than I do? Yeah, had that one, and it basically put me off working for any organisation where I'd have to negotiate my own pay check, because I don't have the skills to do myself justice. Oh, and I've worried about rape. But really, two out of five is not a passing score here, and I really think a lot of prominent feminists need to stop and think about who they're excluding from their personal definitions of "what female persons live through".
The core issue here appears to be intersectionalism, or rather, the complete lack thereof. There appear to be any number of white, cissexual, heterosexual, upper-middle-class, professional, university-educated, able-bodied, attractive-to-men women who have decided the feminist movement is All About Them (and to a certain degree, they're correct) who get positively affronted whenever someone who doesn't fit into their little clique asserts either femininity or feminism. When someone who isn't white speaks up and says "what about the experience I have as a black woman?" When someone who isn't able-bodied speaks up and says "what about the experience I have as a disabled woman?" When someone who doesn't fit the prevailing beauty standards speaks up and says "what about the experience I have as a fat woman?" And, it seems, when someone who is transgender speaks up and says "what about my experience as a trans woman?" Their personal huffs and flounces shouldn't be defining the movement as a whole.
We're starting to learn (or possibly re-learn - historians and anthropologists are finding a lot of interesting things out about our past when they look at history without the blinkers of current social attitudes) the full range of gender expression possible for humans. We're finally starting to look at gender as being less of a binary, and more of a continuum, with conventional definitions of "masculine" and "feminine" probably winding up somewhere at about the 20% and 80% markers along it. We're learning that gender (along with all other forms of identity) is a product of our minds, and that our minds aren't necessarily matched to the external markers of the body. So some people with uteri identify as men, and some people with penes identify as women - and it's worth recognising those people as people, and recognising the body bits as a different but equal set of factors. So yes, using "vagina" as a short-hand for "person who might need or have needed an abortion at some point" is a mistake. Using "woman" for the same thing is much the same (and if you think needing an abortion is hard enough for people who identify as women, imagine identifying and presenting as the gender where becoming pregnant is pretty much ruled out and needing to terminate a pregnancy!).
The pseudo-panic (I was going to use the term "pseudo-hysteria" here, but decided against it) this writer intends to push is one of transwomen "erasing" the identities of "women like [her]" (why not use the term "cis-women" and be honest about your transphobia?). She equates the work of second wave feminists at removing gendered barriers to employment to the work of trans* activists at removing the barriers to transition, which I feel is something of a false equivalence, particularly since said work wasn't the sole province of the second wave feminists. Her comment about "our daughters play with trains and trucks as well as dolls" strikes me as somewhat ironic, given the massive gender role separation in children's toys these days - and the way that the major toy manufacturers are dead-set on not only maintaining the existing separation, but making it greater. (I wonder when she last walked into a toy store with a little girl and tried to purchase a toy truck).
She points to the flexibility permissible in female gender presentation these days as a factor in why three-quarters of transitions are Assigned-Male-At-Birth(AMAB) to female (transwomen) with only about one quarter of them being Assigned-female-at-birth(AFAB) to male (transmen). I'd ask her to consider, however, the way the gate-keeping of the psychological and psychiatric systems is used to regulate expressions of a desire to transition, and the way "insanity" or "mental illness" is defined. A person AFAB seeking to transition to being a man is likely to be thought of as suffering (depending on the therapist's background) either penis envy, privilege envy, or just plain old envy and delusion. I would guess the actual number of people expressing a desire to transition from either assigned gender is pretty much the same on either side - but I suspect the number of people assigned female at birth who wish to transition to masculinity who are medically permitted to do so drops off precipitously after puberty, and even more so after the early twenties. Given the amount of effort required for non-childbearing ciswomen who don't want children to get relatively simple, relatively reversible surgery to tie their fallopian tubes have to go to, I suspect the social and medical pressure exerted on AFAB transmen to remain presenting as female would be massive.
I agree with this writer there's a lot of work men need to do on the way masculinity is defined and presented (and if she'd pointed out the complete lack of enthusiasm for the job demonstrated by the majority of persons identifying as male, I'd have agreed with her even more). But quite frankly, I don't see that attempting to lock transwomen out of the definition of "women as a whole" is a good move to get this work started. Trans identity is already gatekept by the medical community and the psychological and psychiatric community, not to mention the trans-erasing radical feminist community. I seriously doubt mainstream feminism needs to step up to the plate.
 Trans-Erasing Radical Feminism - the sort of feminism which basically states flat out that transwomen aren't "real" women because they weren't born with the correct genitalia.
 Can I just say, I have to wonder about when organised feminism became, by default, a movement intended solely for those women who were considered attractive by men?
 This can include things like requiring the permission of her husband, if she's married, or of her parents if she isn't - this for a fully functional adult with no mental illnesses or developmental impairments.
This entry was originally posted at http://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/54100.htm