The Olympics, Maria Miller, and sleeping under bridges, by @marstrina

Cross-posted from: Not a zero sum game
Originally published: 28.01.16
Let me just say at the outset: I don’t really care about sports all that much. I don’t watch it, much less play it. The only reason I’m even talking about it now is because it’s a hugely important aspect of modern culture, in terms of both the passion that individual people invest in it and the multi-billion part it plays in the global economy. But as a person, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I didn’t even watch the Olympics when they were in he UK, meaning in my timezone and not at some outlandish hour in the middle of the night, so. Having cleared up any confusion about my Olympic aspirations, let’s have a look at what equality in sports looks like for trans men and trans women. 

 

The International Olympic Committee recently released the guidelines from its November “Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism“, in which it asserts a commitment to “ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition”. This is a pretty decent goal in and of itself, taken in isolation. It’s not clear to me why the commission is especially concerned with trans athletes; even at the largest estimates, they constitute a tiny proportion of the population. The crossover between people who are trans and people who are good enough to try for the Olympic games must be infinitesimal indeed; but OK, it’s the trendy minority right now, and the Caster Semenya case is still ringing in everyone’s ears, so fair enough.


Read more The Olympics, Maria Miller, and sleeping under bridges, by @marstrina

Girls Education is Imperative for Our Collective Success, by @rupandemehta.

Cross-posted from: Rupande Mehta
Originally published: 17.07.16

July 12, 2016 marked Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousofzai’s 19th birthday. Twitter celebrated the occasion with various hashtags (#YesAllGirls, #GirlsEducation, #MalalaDay) and by holding several chats. I had the pleasure of being part of one such chat (#REFSpeak), hosted by The Red Elephant Foundation led by the brilliant Kirthi Jayakumar. (Kirthi, a Mogul Influencer and Global Ambassador, is a lawyer by profession but tirelessly works for women’s rights the world over. You can read more about Kirthi here).

The guests on the chat came from various backgrounds but we all agreed on one thing: universal education for girls is essential. At a time when the world is evolving, on a daily basis, we need to ensure that girls are evolving with it and are aware of their rights and liberties.
Read more Girls Education is Imperative for Our Collective Success, by @rupandemehta.

(Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education, by @alisonphipps

Cross-posted from: genders, bodies, politic

(Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education

Abstract: In the context of renewed debates and interest in this area, this paper reframes the theoretical agenda around laddish masculinities in UK higher education, and similar masculinities overseas. These can be contextualised within consumerist neoliberal rationalities, the neoconservative backlash against feminism and other social justice movements, and the postfeminist belief that women are winning the ‘battle of the sexes’. Contemporary discussions of ‘lad culture’ have rightly centred sexism and men’s violence against women: however, we need a more intersectional analysis. In the UK a key intersecting category is social class, and there is evidence that while working-class articulations of laddism proceed from being dominated within alienating education systems, middle-class and elite versions are a reaction to feeling dominated due to a loss of gender, class and race privilege. These are important differences, and we need to know more about the conditions which shape and produce particular performances of laddism, in interaction with masculinities articulated by other social groups. It is perhaps unhelpful, therefore, to collapse these social positions and identities under the banner of ‘lad culture’, as has been done in the past.
Read more (Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education, by @alisonphipps

Politics, by definition, by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 27.08.17

That troublesome word ‘woman’ has been causing controversy again.

Last week, a Twitter user who goes by @ShoelessJoe1910 shared two responses from the makers of Collins Dictionaries to people who’d contacted them about the dictionary entry for ‘woman’. One correspondent had received a reply that looked like a standard piece of boilerplate:

As lexicographers, our duty is to report the language as it is used… Whilst we do welcome all feedback received from our users, any changes we make to our definitions are the result of a detailed review process and evidence-based linguistic research.

Another correspondent who raised the same subject got a different response:

Thanks again for contacting us about the definition of ‘woman’. …We are currently reviewing all our gender-related vocabulary to make sure that we accurately reflect the evolution in the vocabulary of gender and sexuality. This review will be completed in the coming months, and your comments will most certainly be taken into account. We always welcome feedback from our users, so do not hesitate to contact us if you notice any other inaccuracies and omissions.

The subject of both communications was whether a dictionary entry for ‘woman’ should define the word as meaning ‘an adult female human being’ (as Collins currently does), or whether it should (also) inform users that ‘woman’ denotes a person who identifies as a woman. The first correspondent wanted the lexicographers to maintain the traditional definition; the second wanted them to change it. 
Read more Politics, by definition, by @wordspinster

“Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”: some problems, at More Radical with Age

Cross-posted from: More Radical with Age
Originally published: 06.01.16

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.


Read more “Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”: some problems, at More Radical with Age

WHAT THE GOOGLE GENDER ‘MANIFESTO’ REALLY SAYS ABOUT SILICON VALLEY

Cross-posted from: White Heat
Originally published: 11.08.17
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Oh the terrible irony.
Photo by Mar Hicks

 

Five years ago, Silicon Valley was rocked by a wave of “brogrammer” bad behavior, when overfunded, highly entitled, mostly white and male startup founders did things that were juvenile, out of line and just plain stupid. Most of these activities – such as putting pornography into PowerPoint slides – revolved around the explicit or implied devaluation and harassment of women and the assumption that heterosexual men’s privilege could or should define the workplace. The recent “memo” scandal out of Google shows how far we have yet to go.

It may be that more established and successful companies don’t make job applicants deal with “bikini shots” and “gangbang interviews.” But even the tech giants foster an environment where heteronormativity and male privilege is so rampant that an engineer could feel comfortable writing and distributing a screedthat effectively harassed all of his women co-workers en masse.


Read more WHAT THE GOOGLE GENDER ‘MANIFESTO’ REALLY SAYS ABOUT SILICON VALLEY

The Wifework of Empathising with Absentee Fathers’ Struggles, by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 17.06.17

Perhaps it’s inevitable that, the same week the Guardian decide to publish a moving, impressive tribute to two young men publicising the toxic and predictable effects of violent masculinity, they’d also ruin all that good work by printing this piece, to destroy my ever-fragile faith in the male of the species.

(Kidding. I love men, me, and I think it’s totally important to keep saying that.)

Julian Furman, the author of the piece that so irritates me, nobly explains his history. ‘I … pressured my wife to start a family,’ he blithely explains, as if ‘pressuring’ someone to risk their health for nine months is a perfectly normal marital dynamic and not something to feel deeply ashamed of doing. But Furman seems to imagine this admission will endear him to readers, coming (as it does) hot on the heels of an overwritten depiction of how he tried to punch his father who, it seems, committed the crime of being concerned about his son’s emotional health. After a lengthy whinge about how awful it is not to be the centre of attention when you have a newborn, and how terrible it must be to actually have to do some of the childcare instead of living separately from your family and calling it ‘sacrifice’, Furman ends with an impassioned plea: men need to be heard. Silence is deadly. To begin, all that is required is for us to talk.


Read more The Wifework of Empathising with Absentee Fathers’ Struggles, by @LucyAllenFWR

The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, by @GappyTales ‏

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.

 


Read more The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, by @GappyTales ‏

The Thing about Toilets, at Not the News in Brief

Cross-posted from: Not the News in Brief
Originally published: 11.04.17

The thing about toilets is that it’s not just about toilets. It’s about ALL the public spaces which could present a risk to women and/or children because of factors such as confined space, being locked in, restricted escape routes and being either explicitly or potentially in a state of partial/complete undress. These spaces include public toilets (no, not your private one at home, stupid), changing rooms in shops, gymns, leisure centres etc, prisons, rape crisis centres, dormitories, shelters and more.

The reason these spaces are SEX-segregated is that men can be violent and sexually predatory towards women and children (no, not all men, and yes, women can be violent too). The stats are stark, and divide the sexes up quite neatly according to likelihood of violence and abuse. 98% of sex offenders are men. Most of the victims are women and children. It is not just the most serious sex crimes which inform this public policy of sex-segregation however: there is a whole raft of other, lesser, crimes committed where men have access to women in intimate spaces. These include indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual harassment. Added to that there are the almost exclusively male types of antisocial behaviour, such as indulging the fetish of listening to women urinate, public masturbation and peeing on the seat.
Read more The Thing about Toilets, at Not the News in Brief

How do they know who to kill?

Cross-posted from: Not a Zero Sum Game
Originally published: 17.02.17

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 09.20.22A video is doing the rounds, in which a white person with a lifetime of male socialisation behind them – in other words, someone at the apex of human privilege –  gives great fanfare to the banal observation that science is an activity rather than a phenomenon and that classification is the imposition of more-or-less imperfect linguistic concepts on a more-or-less well understood underlying physical reality. On the basis of this stoned undergrad level of profundity, this person now exhorts us to lay aside our childish attachment to the classifications “male” and “female” and admit that, given that sex is a “social construct”, then it’s just frankly not real, and our attachment to those categories is an old fashioned piece of bigotry that oppresses the minority who wish it to be known that their sex tracks their gender.


Read more How do they know who to kill?

Include me out. How ‘inclusion’ is killing feminism.

Cross-posted from: Sister Hex
Originally published: 16.12.15

The problem with this modern obsession for ‘inclusion’, especially for university societies, is that it’s not only killing the soul of feminism or lesbian/gay rights but it’s basically devoid of any common sense.

The reason we’ve always had separation in activism has never been particularly about exclusion specifically, but for reasons of focus, empowerment, allowing an oppressed voice space to speak and sharing experience. This, in turn, lead to clear analysis and particular campaigning. Separation in activism is both common and successful and has been used in anything from civil to gay rights.


Read more Include me out. How ‘inclusion’ is killing feminism.

The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 15.03.17

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.


 

Screenshot_20170315-144208“…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

The Sex Delusion by @GappyTales

Cross-posted from: Jeni Harvey
Originally published: 24.04.17

We live in an age of alternative facts.

And so this article will begin with the premise that there are knowable truths, separate from our personal perspectives and belief systems. Water is wet, for example. Whether on the left or right of the political spectrum, water is never dry. With this in mind, here are some long agreed upon and universally recognised word definitions: 
Read more The Sex Delusion by @GappyTales

What we’re reading: sisterhood, gender, and feminist mothering

The trouble with the sisterhood in academia by anonymous

I’ve wanted to write this for some time, but never found the words. If I’m honest, I’m certain that some fellow women academics will not be pleased to hear what I have to say. Luckily, I’m currently on a flight, 12km above the ground, where I feel safe from the judgments that would confront me were I to exorcise this academic grievance at the coffee station. But we need to start talking about the way women hold back other women’s careers.

At my institute I’ve recently joined a lively discussion on equality in academia that was initiated by the Athena Swan programme. I’ve taken part in several earnest official conversations during lunches, and several unofficial conversations after work in the pub. Much of this has focused on gender inequality, and the problems that male – and predominantly white male – academics create for early career women in particular. …

The Good Daughter by @VictoriaPeckham

In Tate Britain is a painting by the Victorian artist George Elgar Hicks of a woman ministering tenderly to her invalid father. It is called Comfort of Old Age. The work is the final panel of Hicks’s triptych Woman’s Mission. The first part, Guide of Childhood, in which the same figure teaches her little boy to walk, has been lost. But the second panel also hangs at the Tate in London: Companion of Manhood shows our heroine consoling her husband after ghastly news.

Hicks depicted “woman” in her three guises – mother, wife, daughter – and in her ideal state, the selfless provider of guidance, solace and care. Her life has meaning only in so far as it nourishes and facilitates the lives of others, principally men. …

Black British writing: a tribute to Buchi Emecheta by Eashani Chavda

On Wednesday 25th January 2017, Nigerian author Buchi Emecheta passed away at the age of 72. There is so much to be said about Buchi and the impact she had on black British writing. I never had the honour of meeting her, but she is a true heroine of mine and an inspiration to my own writing. Her voice and sheer determination made her one of the first successful black British female authors and paved the way for other black British women. Emecheta’s greatest contribution to black British writing is  the voice she gave to a community and the socio-political issues that marginalised them. 

Whilst black writing had soared overseas in conjunction with the civil rights movement in America, its progress in Britain was much more gradual and largely lead by men. Despite this, Buchi Emecheta is up there with Samuel Selvon, Stuart Hall, Joan Riley (to name just a few) as a great pioneer of black British writing. While male writers covered topics of class and racism in mid-20th Century Britain, Buchi highlighted the plight of black women in Britain and the double-colonisation they faced. While intersectionality has become a buzzword for feminists today, Buchi approached the topic of misogynoir back in the 1970s. The struggle of black migrant women following the Windrush era, and the layers of oppression they faced were fluently articulated in Buchi’s writing. The social realities she depicted in her novels were felt by a large community of women, who being isolated in their own homes, workplaces and on the bleak streets of London, could finally feel some relief in knowing that they were not alone. Not only did she expose the racial, gendered and classist discrimination of 20th Century Britain, Buchi defied patriarchal structures within the Nigerian community, all whilst taking great pride in her culture and her blackness. …

Why I’m raising my kids to know their sex, not their gender by J.J Barnes  via @FeministCurrent

In January 2017, the BBC aired a controversial documentary called, “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” which explored the doctrine that children know best when it comes to their “gender identity,” and that we should accept their beliefs without question. Following the airing of this documentary, the BBC came under fire from trans activists, who claimed the documentary would spark prejudice and lead to the social rejection of “trans kids.”

As the mother of a four-year-old girl and a 10-month-old girl, and step-mother to a four-year-old boy, I find the limited discourse around “trans kids” troubling. As I watch my children growing, learning, changing, and exploring, the idea of allowing them to make such a life-changing choice, so young, without question, is abhorrent. …

How do we get more boys reading? (Clue: ‘boy books’ aren’t the answer.)

Cross-posted from: Tricialo
Originally published: 10.10.15

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The Let Books Be Books campaign has attracted much media coverage and high profile support, but labelling books ‘for boys’ is sometimes defended as a useful tool for getting boys to read. Tricia Lowther argues that gendering reading doesn’t help literacy, and may even be harming boys’ chances.

The Let Books Be Books campaign asks children’s publishers to take the ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ labels off books and allow children real free choice in the kinds of stories and activity books that interest them. The campaign has had success with publishers and retailers like Usborne Parragon, and Paperchase, and seen support from prominent authors, but of course there have been people who disagree with us, and one argument in particular keeps cropping up; gendered books are acceptable because we need to encourage boys to read more. 
Read more How do we get more boys reading? (Clue: ‘boy books’ aren’t the answer.)

What we’re reading: The Handmaid’s Tale, Black feminism, and gender

“reflections on writing ‘self’…while free-falling through words and memories” by @MaraiLarasi

 … I write all the time, but rarely in this way. I write constantly in my work. I write because it’s what I do. I do Black-Feminist ending violence work…and it requires that I write…and my activism, my work, my job…all rest within a space of navigating, challenging and dismantling intersecting oppressive systems. I ‘speak truth to power’ while not wanting to be implicated in those power systems. I walk a tightrope between revolution and reform. I use words to expose inequities and to build bridges. I weigh each moment’s pragmatism against the next moment’s reImagining. It’s a messy space. It’s one where creativity and ‘voice’ are curtailed and managed in the interest of effective advocacy. It’s one where acts of speaking and writing can be powerful in themselves (and in a context of censorship and silencing they are not to be taken for granted or diminished); but they can equally feel like conversations in an echo chamber. I write and speak into a reImagined future, a lifetime of numerous generations, one that allows my ancestors to be as present as those that will be born into my tribe in the years to come. I write and speak words that become lines, paragraphs, references and footnotes in policy papers and briefing notes. My thoughts become sound bites in articles and tweets. I have ‘voice’ yet it is splintered and reconstructed, often in patterns that are not of my own design. This is not a ‘waaaah…poor me’. This is merely a reflection of how ‘di ting set’…

Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future by Naomi Alderman

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah. …

The Radical Feminist Aesthetic Of “The Handmaid’s Tale” via @annehelen

The television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which debuts next week on Hulu, is filled with small, barbed revelations. Even if you’ve read the book, and you know what you’re in for, there’s so much to startle you: there’s Elisabeth Moss’s face, which, through roles in Mad Men and Top of the Lake, has become an emblem of women persevering in the face of sexual violence and abject sexism. There are jarring moments of presentness — the way the characters offhandedly reference Craigslist, or Tinder — that make it impossible to pretend this is a scenario of the distant past or future. There’s the quiet profanity of Offred’s internal monologue — her use of “fuck” and “cum” in particular — which is so dissonant with the sunny, shining world that surrounds her.

And then there’s the way the world is rendered: Gilead, as it’s called, is a startlingly exquisite Eden, with dark, claustrophobic corners — a place where the individual has no power, save the small, essential spaces she carves for herself within her mind. So many dystopic narratives are filmed as fantasy spaces: worlds we can observe briefly and from a careful distance, or in which we are positioned to identify with a bloodied, vanquishing hero. The Handmaid’s Tale quietly forces the audience into the position of the handmaid herself: To watch is to feel the daily realities, the sensations and smells, the invisible constrictions and silent aggressions of living under patriarchy. In this way, The Handmaid’s Tale is both a beauty to behold and a slap in the face, employing a vibrant film language that not only proves itself the equal to, but expands upon its canonical source text. …

If ‘inclusivity’ is a priority, let men make their washrooms ‘gender-neutral’  via @FeministCurrent

In the liberal rush to make anything and everything “gender-inclusive,” who is getting the short end of the stick? I bet you know the answer to this one… We are only too aware, as feminists, that it is always women and girls whose interests seem to be considered non-urgent, unimportant, and irrelevant. It is always girls and women who are politely supposed to step aside for everyone else. With a smile, at that.

When journalist and BBC broadcaster Samira Ahmed attended a screening of I Am Not Your Negro at the Barbican Centre in London she found the women’s washroom had disappeared. Now, in place of the “women’s” sign was one that read, “gender-neutral with cubicles,” and in place of the “men’s” was “gender-neutral with urinals.” How convenient for men to have two different washrooms to choose from! How inclusive.

Ahmed wasn’t the only one who complained about this change. When she spoke to staff at the Centre, they told Ahmed they had already argued, internally, that the transformation was a mistake. On Twitter, one woman wrote, “Gender neutral toilets !!! Never seen so many confused and desperate people!! Whose bright idea?!!” Another tweeted: “Barbican now have gender neutral toilets. They just changed the signs, formerly male ones state they have urinals. Guess what happens?” …

Hysteria, Witches, and The Wandering Uterus: A Brief History by Terri Kapsalis via @lithub

I teach “The Yellow Wallpaper” because I believe it can save people. That is one reason. There are more. I have taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1891 story for nearly two decades and this past fall was no different. Then again, this past fall was entirely different.

In our undergraduate seminar at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we discussed “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the context of the nearly 4,000-year history of the medical diagnosis of hysteria. Hysteria, from the Greek hystera or womb. We explored this wastebasket diagnosis that has been a dump-site for all that could be imagined to be wrong with women from around 1900 BCE until the 1950s. The diagnosis was not only prevalent in the West among mainly white women but had its pre-history in Ancient Egypt, and was found in the Far East and Middle East too.

The course is titled “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” and gets its name from one of the ancient “causes” of hysteria. The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. “Treatments,” including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place. “Genital massage,” performed by a skilled physician or midwife, was often mentioned in medical writings. The triad of marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy was the ultimate treatment for the semen-hungry womb. The uterus was a troublemaker and was best sated when pregnant. …

“That’s a boy thing” by @MurderofGoths

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 05.01.17

My kids have reached that age. Now the infuriating conversations have started.

“Boys do this, girls don’t”

“That’s a girls toy”

“Girls don’t like that”

No matter that, up until this point, I’ve always encouraged both children to play with and like whatever they want. I’ve been very clear that there are no “boys toys” and “girls toys”. Myself, and the rest of the family, have done whatever we can to make clear to both children that girls and boys are more alike than different.

Unfortunately I’m not able to control the environment my children grow up in as they get that bit older.

Here’s the thing that gets me though, I hadn’t quite considered how strange small child logic can be, as evidenced by conversations with my 4 year old son.
Read more “That’s a boy thing” by @MurderofGoths

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 16.01.17

The paper I recently gave at the Gender and Medieval Studies conference in Canterbury was titled – after much thought – ‘Walled Desire and Lesbian Anxiety in Chaucer’s “Legend of Thisbe”‘. It should be out in The Chaucer Review before too long, but for the moment, I want to think about that second term: ‘lesbian anxiety,’ which has proved to be a topical one in much wider context that I could have anticipated when I responded to the Call For Papers.

My work is, obviously, mostly about medieval England, centuries before anyone (still less a mainstream writer such as Chaucer) thought to fling around a term like ‘lesbian’ with the cheerful abandon of a BBC blurb for a Sarah Waters adaptation.

The category of women I’m looking at are difficult to recognize. They are fictional women in mainstream literature, and therefore we don’t see them engaging in actual same-sex sex. They aren’t, on the whole, gender nonconforming in overt ways – like, for example, the cross-dressing heroines of earlier French romances, who frequently end up in flirtations with, or even in bed with, women – and, even if they were, gender nonconformity isn’t a particularly good litmus text of medieval female preferences for same-sex desire anyway. There’s a strong tradition, as Karma Lochrie has shown, of medieval onlookers interpreting ‘masculine’ behaviours and activities in women the result of imbalanced humours, easily found in women such as the cheerfully cougarish Wife of Bath. And after all, what we recognize as ‘female masculinity’ is heavily socially conditioned in the first place. So, how do I identify – and write about – women whose same-sex desire is revealed through suggestions and innuendos that are anything but ‘queer,’ either in the popular sense of uniting same-sex desire with gender nonconformity, or in the academic sense of being boldly subversive and disruptive? It’s hard, and my recent conference paper succeeded (I think!) in demonstrating that there’s a difficulty, without giving me a concrete answer to the problem. 
Read more Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’ by @LucyAllenFWR

A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 15.12.16

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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 all about 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

What makes a word a slur?

Cross-posted from: language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 06.11.16

Content note: this post contains examples of offensive slur-terms. 

Last week, the British edition of Glamour magazine published a column in which Juno Dawson used the term ‘TERF’ to describe feminists (the example she named was Germaine Greer) who ‘steadfastly believe that me—and other trans women—are not women’.  When some readers complained about the use of derogatory language, a spokeswoman for the magazine replied on Twitter that TERF is not derogatory:

Trans-exclusionary radical feminist is a description, and not a misogynistic slur.

Arguments about whether TERF is a neutral descriptive term or a derogatory slur have been rumbling on ever since. They raise a question which linguists and philosophers have found quite tricky to answer (and which they haven’t reached a consensus on): what makes a word a slur?

Before I consider that general question, let’s take a closer look at the meaning and history of TERF. As the Glamour spokeswoman said, it’s an abbreviated form of the phrase ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’; more specifically it’s an acronym, constructed from the initial letters of the words that make up the phrase. Some people have suggested this means it can’t be a slur. I find that argument puzzling, since numerous terms which everyone agrees are slurs are abbreviated forms (examples include ‘Paki’, ‘Jap’, ‘paedo’ and ‘tranny’). But in any case, there’s a question about the status of TERF as an acronym. Clearly it started out as one, but is it still behaving like one now? 
Read more What makes a word a slur?