Cross-posted from: Gappy Tales
Originally published: 13.12.17
The Political Compass is a model of two axes, one running horizontally from left to right, the other vertically down through the middle. One represents a spectrum of ideas concerning economic organisation: the far left of tightly controlled state economics running across to the deregulation and free markets of the right; the other of social control: a hard, top line of extreme authoritarianism sliding down into anarchy.
It is useful, this compass, in that it highlights well our preoccupation with left and right, to the extent that we tend not only to lose sight of the equally important vertical axis, but also to confuse the two; leading, among other things, to the often lazy conflation of the socially liberal with the left. It was in this way that a neo-liberal free marketeer such as Emmanuel Macron, was able in the French presidential election to be presented as somehow a candidate of the left, when in fact it was his libertarian, not leftist, values that held him in such stark contrast to Le Pen’s hateful authoritarianism.
This was the year Her Story Arc became F-BOM, the Feminist Book of the Month. Not to be conceited, but we consider ourselves pretty qualified to pick a good book! Working with self-published women authors to promote their work and give them more time and money to focus on their art has been an inspiring journey, and we are so looking forward to all the readers and writers we will meet in 2018, AND all the good books we’ll get to share.
A brief foreword: this is the fifth essay in my series on sex, gender, and sexuality. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are available here on Sister Outrider. With this essay, I challenge the notion that gender can be repurposed as anything other than a hierarchy. This one is dedicated to E, a stellar lesbian and feminist.
“It is impossible to name and act against oppression if there are no nameable oppressors.” – Mary Daly
What is Gender?
Gender is a fiction created by patriarchy, a hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women. The idea of a gender binary was established in order to justify the subordination of women by positioning our oppression by men as a natural state of affairs, the result of how characteristics innately held by men and women manifest. Framing gender as natural not only serves to depoliticise the hierarchy, but uses essentialism in order to convince women that radical resistance to gender – the means of our oppression – is futile. Hopelessness breeds apathy, which undermines social change more effectively than any overt challenge. If abolishing gender (and therefore dismantling patriarchy) is an unobtainable goal, women have no choice but to accept our status as second-class citizens of the world. To treat gender as inherent is to accept a patriarchal blueprint for the design of society.
Gender is a hierarchy that enables men to be dominant and conditions women into subservience. As gender is a fundamental element of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (hooks, 1984) it is particularly disconcerting to see elements of queer discourse argue that gender is not only innately held but sacrosanct. Far from being a radical alternative to the status quo, the project of “queering” gender only serves to replicate the standards set by patriarchy through its essentialism. A queer understanding of gender does not challenge patriarchy in any meaningful way – rather than encouraging people to resist the standards set by patriarchy, it offers them a way to embrace it. Queer politics have not challenged traditional gender roles so much as breathed fresh life into them – therein lies the danger. Read more Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a Hierarchy, by @ClaireShrugged
The 90s were a time of unbridled optimism. Fukuyama was so certain of the victory of Western liberal democracy that he excitedly declared that were witnessing the ‘End of History’, leaving us all to sit back smugly on our laurels, put our enlightened feet up and carry on reading the Guardian in the knowledge that all would be well. Society decided that we were living in a post-feminist world – (we’re so equal now, why do we need all those silly old ideals?) and we could concentrate on the important things like consumerism and working and not questioning the logic of endless growth through the magic of the free market. Times were good.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is “what is African feminism and how is it different from western feminism”. It is a valid question that points to the clarity that people seek in the process of self discovery, which is what becoming feminist is.
When a sentence begins with ‘As a mother…’, it’s generally a bad sign. This rarely heralds an insightful observation, as Andrea Leadsom demonstrated. The discussion will continue around the political wrangling, but I wanted to pause for a moment and consider the idea that motherhood grants a woman anything other than the ability to cook meals one-handed while holding a wailing baby.
As a Mother…
I’ve changed. It would be impossible not to. The focus of my life has shifted, and the opinions and feelings of others need to be taken into consideration. I’m sure this is true for most parents, not just mothers.
As a mother, I became aware of different aspects of life that I hadn’t considered. When my kids were babies, I noticed that dropped kerbs and accessible buses meant that I could get around the town easier. It made me pause and consider that the inconvenience of using a pram or buggy was a temporary one, unlike those in wheelchairs, who are often prevented from using a bus because the buggy space is full.
As my children grew, their needs changed. From searching for restaurants with bottle-warming and baby-change facilities to ones with a play area or colouring books, to ones with free wifi as the kids reached their teens.
I noticed the differences in pre-school child-care between UK and Germany where we lived when the kids were little, and became aware of the high costs that were a burden to many families in UK.
They started school and I became more interested in the education systems in the countries in which we lived. The way in which the world treated my daughter in comparison to my son affected me and encouraged me to become more feminist, more politically active.
In the coming years, I’ll take more of an interest in further education, colleges, apprenticeships. We are already starting to think about paying for the college years, how to enable our kids to buy property, giving them a good start in life.
Parenting is not a science. Sure, there are studies about breastfeeding, attachment parenting, education systems and more, but there is no ‘right’ way to parent children because every child has different needs.
My experiences have given me insights into many aspects of life. Maternity provisions, child-friendly products and services, child-care and education, housing requirements for families, feminism… but this is all from my perspective, as a educated white woman with a comfortable home life and loving family. Other parents will have taken a very different view on life, based on their experiences.
And others base their world-view on experiences in other walks of life. I can’t speak with authority on what it is like to work as an academic or a researcher. I don’t know what it feels like to be so poor that you don’t know how to get through the week. As much as I can empathise with the struggles and support the rights of people of colour, I can’t walk in their shoes. Why should my life experiences be any more valuable just because I am a mother?
The insights gained as a mother shaped my opinions; they don’t make my opinions any more valid than those of the next person. And they certainly don’t make me more suited for political office than a childless person.
Salt and Caramelis a blog about the sweet and the bitter side of life. Freelance writer Lynn Schreiber shares tips on Social Media, blogging and parenting, reviews products and events, and highlights issues surrounding the rights of women and girls. (@JumpMag)
Cross-posted from: Glosswatch
Originally published: 25.08.17
Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Joss Whedon, has written an essayalleging that the director isn’t quite the feminist he appears to be. Colour me unsurprised. There’s only so much good-guy posturing a feminist can take before she starts to become a little suspicious.
It’s not that I’ve any particular beef with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nor that I think men shouldn’t speak out against sexism wherever possible. But I’ve long harboured a mistrust of male directors – Whedon, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar – who gain a reputation of being “good at doing women”. Who are they, these magic woman-whisperers, who see through woman’s childlike, primitive exterior and coax out the inner complexity? How do they manage to present women, these blank, mysterious objects, as actual human beings? Read more Despite his “strong female leads”, Joss Whedon’s feminism was never about real women, by @glosswitch
It’s hard to know where to start. When it was announced that Wonder Woman would be getting her own movie years ago, I was excited that the debut would coincide with the year I anticipated graduating from my MBA program. A year and a half ago I was excited that the movie debut would coincide with having the first female President of the United States. What a year 2017 would be, I thought.
My MBA graduation has ended up being delayed a year, and that’s fine. But we all know how the presidential election turned out. We march. We protest. We persist. We aren’t sorry.
And we needed Wonder Woman. I needed Wonder Woman.
Women only spaces are a fundamental part of the feminist movement and represent women’s right to self-determination and liberation. We’re collecting short stories, poetry, and essays that illustrate, explore and define the importance of women-only spaces for the feminist movement and women in general: as a space which prioritises women’s voices over mens and that refuses to allow men to dictate the terms of the conversation.
Currently, the definition of ‘women-only spaces’ is under debate and those that exist are under annihilation by so called “austerity cuts” that are destroying women’s access to refuges and rape crisis centres. But, women only spaces are essential not just for women experiencing male violence. They are an essential space for all women as libraries, sports centres, and community centres.
The proceeds of this book will be used to support this platform covering the costs of hosting and website maintenance and development.
An oft-repeated mantra among proponents of the notion of gender identity is that “gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”. The basic idea is that what makes gender oppressive is not, as the radical feminist analysis would have it, that it is an externally imposed set of norms prescribing and proscribing behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary biological characteristics, and coercively placing them in one of two positions in a hierarchy. Rather, the problem is that we recognise only two possible genders. Thus humans of both sexes could be liberated if we recognised that while gender is indeed an internal, essential facet of our identity, there are more genders than just “man” or “woman” to choose from. And the next step on the path towards liberation is the recognition of a range of new gender identities, so we now have people referring to themselves as “genderqueer” or “non-binary” or “pangender” or “agender” or “demiboy” or “demigirl” or “aliagender” or “genderfuck” or “trigender” or “neutrois” or “aporagender” or “ectogender” or “veloxigender”…I could go on.
Cross-posted from: Gappy Tales
Originally published: 06.04.17
I have been thinking lately about the power of language; in particular how it can be used to silence. I’ve been a feminist all my life, my mother was a second wave activist, and I care hugely for the future of our movement.
Over centuries feminists have been labelled man-haters, family destroyers, ugly; yet still we’ve continued to raise our voices. Recently however, we’ve seen those wishing to shut us up change tack.
Last week I posted an article online about a transwoman accused of violently raping two women. I expressed concern as to the risk to female prisoners should that individual serve their sentence in a women’s prison. And I was called a bigot and compared to a white supremacist by a friend I had known twenty years.
I was chatting to a friend on Twitter the other day about my post on the script we use when we do vulnerability online and we ended up talking about writing in general. I mentioned that these days, I worry that anything I publish will just be awful navelgazing. I joked then that actually, when I look at my navel it reminds me that there’s a story there. Even gazing at my own navel is a storytelling opportunity. See, I am a storyteller after all.
When I look at my navel, there’s a funny little line inside it and only I can really tell that it’s a little misshapen compared to how it used to be. It’s the only visible evidence of a laparoscopy I had done at the beginning of 2013; one of the three incisions the doctors made right before they removed one of my ovaries, the associated Fallopian tube and something else – something hidden.
Cross-posted from: Helen Blogs
Originally published: 27.11.16
Its been a while since I last wrote something …
In fact over a year, and part of me has wondered over the last few months whether or not I have lost the ability to write. Or whether I’ve just lost confidence.
You can let me know after you’ve read this maybe?
I’ve been working on some thoughts for quite some time now and have never actually managed to feel like I had sorted them enough to publish for people to read – thats if I still have any readers! Anyone still out there?
And then I realised over the last few days especially, that perhaps I am never going to have them ‘sorted’.
I’ve also struggled with pressuring myself about the fact that I felt this stuff should be/needed to be ‘deep’, and theological and and and … but maybe they don’t need to be, and maybe they are just simple ideas and maybe some simple truths that don’t need over complicating right now, if ever?
Cross-posted from: Mrs GLW
Originally published: 12.12.16
In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed. The video is well on its way to having 6 million views. Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.
A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model. So I decided to have a watch. With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response. He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves. Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men. So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.
After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men. So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views. The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them). The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same. The overarching narrative of both videos are:
… Yes, she is sort of naked a lot of the time, but this isn’t objectification so much as a cultural reset: having thighs, actual thighs you can kick things with, not thighs that look like arms, is a feminist act. The whole Diana myth, women safeguarding the world from male violence not with nurture but with better violence, is a feminist act. Casting Robin Wright as Wonder Woman’s aunt, re-imagining the battle-axe as a battler, with an axe, is a feminist act. A female German chemist trying to destroy humans (in the shape of Dr Poison, a proto-Mengele before Nazism existed) might be the most feminist act of all.
Women are repeatedly erased from the history of classical music, art and medicine. It takes a radical mind to pick up that being erased from the history of evil is not great either. Wonder Woman’s casual rebuttal of a sexual advance, her dress-up montage (“it’s itchy”, “I can’t fight in this”, “it’s choking me”) are also feminist acts. Wonder Woman is a bit like a BuzzFeed list: 23 Stupid Sexist Tropes in Cinema and How to Rectify Them. I mean that as a compliment.
… To me, whatever chance Wonder Woman had of being some kind of feminist antidote to the overabundance of superhero movies made by and for bros was blown by its prevailing occupation with the titular heroine’s sex appeal. Characters frequently note that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who goes by Diana in the film, is “the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen.” Her male companions in the fight against Germany’s WWI forces drool behind her back at the notion that there may somewhere be an island full of women who look like her, with no men in sight. When she walks into a room, even dressed in a plain gray suit and bowler hat instead of her usual sensual armored leotard, men go silent and stare. “I’m both frightened and aroused,” goes one character’s response to Diana’s ass-kicking moves, prompting one of the audience’s loudest, longest laughs at the screening I attended.
“Her femininity is part of the story, for the way it makes even the other heroes in the movie underestimate and discount her. But her gender is never the story’s primary thrust,” wrote a critic at the Verge this week. Disagree. By the time the action got too fast-paced and loud for any more characters to marvel at Diana’s fine bod and bone structure, I was about an hour past being sick of the “sexy lady is also hypercompetent” joke. …
… However, wherever there is a mainstream feminist victory, there are racial undertones that need to be addressed. Women’s March, is that you?Wonder Woman’s epic tale is no exception, historically and as a Hollywood Blockbuster. Noah Berlatsky at The Establishment did a great job of documenting the intentions of Wonder Woman’s creator William Marston on creating an ideal woman. That woman was white and, Berlatsky noted, based on some casually sexist essentialist ideas about women.
In fact, women of color typically only showed up on Marston’s Paradise Island in heavily stereotyped representations. I would go so far as to argue that the introduction of Phillipus — the Black woman who trained Wonder Woman in combat when she was young and served as an advisor to her mother, Queen Hippolyta — in 1987 had him turning in his grave. Serves him right. By casting Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress to play the title role in this film, Jenkins and the producers are also deviating from the white blueprint made by Marston. …
That huge pile of receipts busted the record for the highest-grossing opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. (The previous record was held by Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey, which made $85 million in its 2015 opening weekend.) It also debuted in the top spot in many countries, including China, where it made $38 million. ….
In 2016, just 7 percent of the 250 top domestic grossing films were directed by women. Among high-ranking roles on film productions (like producers, editors, writers, and cinematographers), that number was higher, but not by much: Only 17 percent of those roles were filled by women. …
Imagine you star in a movie that is widely considered to be one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. The movie has your name in the title. You are the character whom the whole story revolves around, a story told to a sick little boy in need of a distraction as he lays in bed, home from school. You are the two most important things for a fictional woman to be according to societal standards: beautiful and marriageable.
And you’re also a princess, because that’s how these stories always work. …
Those who know the secrets of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride know that he started writing the story for his daughters, one who wanted a story about a bride and the other who wanted a story about a princess. He merged those concepts and wound up with a tale that didn’t focus overmuch on his princess bride, instead bound up in the adventures of a farmboy-turned-pirate, a master swordsman in need of revenge, a giant with a heart of gold, and a war-hungry Prince looking for an excuse to start a terrible conflict. It was turned into a delightful movie directed by Rob Reiner in 1987. …
…. The film does have flaws. It’s a little too long and there is an effects-smothered, super-powered punch-up towards the end that is familiar from dozens of other superhero films. There are other ways to end a blockbuster – think of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade’s puzzle-solving or The Poseidon Adventure’s escape scenes. Diana’s such a good character that she doesn’t need so many bells and whistles.
But there is such power to seeing a woman up there, facing down armies and bounding into the air to smash a tank or take out a sniper, that it hardly matters. If you have daughters (older than five or six, say), bring them along – this will make young girls feel like they can fly. There have been 30 superhero films since 2005 and every single one had a male lead. Studios thought women just couldn’t lead superhero films. Wonder Woman proves them wrong. ….
…. This is the first major superhero movie directed by a woman, Monster’s Patty Jenkins, and a lot rides on it. If Wonder Woman can knock it out of the park, commercially and critically, that success will help women in Hollywood – both behind the camera and in front – and it’s tempting to suggest that it’s every feminist’s duty to go along on the opening weekend just to prove that women can make, and lead, giant action movies. …
This is the third in my series of essays on sex and gender (see parts 1 & 2). Inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on gender identity and the subsequent response, I have written about language within feminist discourse and the significance of the word woman.
Update (17/03.17): this essay is now available in French.
“…what’s a shorter non-essentialist way to refer to ‘people who have a uterus and all that stuff’?” In many ways, Laurie Penny’s quest to find a term describing biologically female people without ever actually using the word woman typifies the greatest challenge within ongoing feminist discourse. The tension between women acknowledging and erasing the role of biology in structural analysis of our oppression has developed into a fault line (MacKay, 2015) within the feminist movement. Contradictions arise when feminists simultaneously attempt to address how women’s biology shapes our oppression under patriarchal society whilst denying that our oppression is material in basis. At points, rigorous structural analysis and inclusivity make uneasy bedfellows.
That same week Dame Jeni Murray, who has BBC Woman’s Hour for forty years, faced criticism for asking “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood?” Writing for the Sunday Times, Murray reflected upon the role of gendered socialisation received during formative years in shaping subsequent behaviour, challenging the notion that it is possible to divorce the physical self from socio-political context. Similarly, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came under fire for her comments on gender identity. Read more The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist by @ClaireShrugged
I wrote this post a year ago and just remembered it after seeing the following quote from Toni Morrison:
There is something very beautiful about female friendships. They have always been central to women’s lives, and yet we spend much more time analysing relationships with men than we do with each other, except when we talk about how destructive women can be towards one another. That is true; many women are socialised to see other women as competition – that continues to be one of the central pillars of patriarchy. We all do it – we say “women are like this” or “women do this and that.” We talk about how much easier it is to hang out or work with men. We worry a lot about where we are in terms of looks, intelligence, etc compared to other women – all the while measuring ourselves according to what we think men like or want. All of this is true and a lot has been said about this in feminism.
Once upon a time, feminism was a social movement. It was a movement by and for women. It had actual objectives – like liberating women from male oppression. It meant something.
Nowadays, with the popularity of third wave liberal feminism, feminism* can be whatever you want it to be. Anybody can be a feminist, including men, and any act can be a ‘feminist’ statement- even if it upholds institutions and structures that oppress and harm women as a whole – it’s all good as long as a woman ‘chooses’ it.
While feminists in decades past fought against the objectification of women, believing it contributed to our second-class status, this same sexualising treatment has been repackaged as female empowerment or women owning their sexuality (which incidentally tends to be indistinguishable from the porn-inspired fantasies of heterosexual men… go figure). Empowerment, it appears, means women being reduced to object status on their own terms. …
“How could she say such a thing?!” Behind every response to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent remarks about transwomen was the message that people were not only outraged with the Nigerian novelist and feminist, but disappointed in her as well. In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Schaub wrote that she “angered” the transgender community. Paper Magazineexplained that “People aren’t reacting well” to her comments. Raquel Willis said she “gaslighted” transgender people only to “strip them of their womanhood” atThe Root. Unapologetic Feminism characterized Adichie’s comments as revealing her “lack of sophistication” as a thinker. (It couldn’t possibly be that she had a valid, albeit different, opinion about womanhood — she had to be confused or stupid.)
Most outlets who decried Adichie’s comments were dishonest in their representation of the conflict, almost exclusively reproducing the opinions of people who disagreed with her. By excluding the notable support and solidarity she received from numerous men and women, Adichie’s opinion was presented as an aberration (therefore more condemnable) and more isolated than it is. …
… My family lived in Palo Verde Mobile Home Park, on the east side of town. The Colorado River and the border of Arizona were a stone’s throw away. Our corrugated home was surrounded by irrigation canals, where my uncles often fished and caught dinner, and where one uncle, years later, was found bloated and floating, death unknown.
It wasn’t what anyone would call a glamorous experience.
This background, this essential part of who I am, makes it particularly difficult to stomach the latest trend in “simple” living — people moving into tiny homes and trailers. How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call “living light,” poor folks call “gratitude for what we’ve got.”
And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that incites my discontent. From dumpster diving to trailer-themed bars to haute cuisine in the form of poor-household staples, it’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice. …
A few years ago, my husband and I ran into a mutual acquaintance at a restaurant. This young man – a person who would surely identify as progressive – spent the entirety our interaction completely ignoring me. He spoke only to my husband; he wouldn’t even look at me when I asked a direct question.
While it would be tempting to write off the exchange as simple rudeness, this brand of slight is familiar to most women. Perhaps it happens when you go to buy a car and the salesperson only speaks to your male partner. Or when you meet someone at a work event and they only introduce themselves to the male colleague beside you.
On Saturday January 21st the Women’s March on Washington took place in order to protest the potential effects the election of president Donald Trump would have on women’s rights in the USA. Conceived of by women, organised by women, networked and shared by women and overwhelmingly attended by women, the Women’s March became a chance for women worldwide to join in solidarity with their American sisters, and march for women’s rights in towns and cities all over the world. And this is what women did, in large numbers and in many places.
In New York City in 1999, I heard a talk in which Riki Anne Wilchins (self-styled ‘transexual menace’, and described in the Gender Variance Who’s Who as ‘one of the iconic transgender persons of the 1990s’) declared that feminists had no theory of gender. I thought: ‘what is she talking about? Surely feminists invented the concept of gender!’
Fast forward ten years to 2009, when I went to a bookfair in Edinburgh to speak about The Trouble & Strife Reader, a collection of writing from a feminist magazine I’d been involved with since the 1980s. Afterwards, two young women came up to chat. Interesting book, they said, but why is there nothing in it about gender?
From my perspective the book was allabout gender—by which I meant, to use Gayle Rubin’s 1975 formulation, ‘the socially-imposed division of the sexes’. Feminists of my generation understood gender as part of the apparatus of patriarchy: a social system, built on the biological foundation of human sexual dimorphism, which allocated different roles, rights and responsibilities to male and female humans. But by 2009 I knew this was no longer what ‘gender’ meant to everyone. To the young women at the bookfair, ‘gender’ meant a form of identity, located in and asserted by individuals rather than imposed on them from outside. It wasn’t just distinct from sex, it had no necessary connection to sex. And it wasn’t a binary division: there were many genders, not just two. Read more A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster