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 we’re reading: on identity politics, the War on Drugs and Ivanka Trump

All politics is “identity politics” by @MayaGoodfellow
via @WritersofColour

… The idea underlying this link of thinking is that the left have for too long focused on minorities at the expense of the “majority” (read: straight, white people), pushing the latter into the arms of the far-right. This comes from the age-old assumption– that has by no means been expunged from the left – that white, straight men have no identity other than one based in class (if they’re working class).

But all politics is identity politics. Nigel Farage pledged during the referendum campaign to “take back control” – not just from EU bureaucrats but migrants who were repeatedly racialised as a threat to this country. His platform was rooted in the politics of whiteness (and importantly this is a form of politics that doesn’t always exclusively speak to white people). It can be hard for some to see how this is true because whiteness masks itself as natural. As academic Gloria Wekker has said, whiteness is “not seen as an ethnic positioning at all”. It is the default – the identity contains worth and humanity. That’s why the working class is so often treated as a homogenous group that’s exclusively white. …

Princesses Are Terrifying. So Is Ivanka Trump by Sady Doyle via @ElleMagazine

For those of us who overdosed on Disney princess memorabilia growing up, good news: Thanks to Donald Trump and his legion of terrifying yet well-coiffed children, Americans are now closer to living in a monarchy than we have been since 1776. And Ivanka Trump—blond, pretty, well-mannered, given massive amounts of power over the citizenry thanks to nothing but her genetic makeup—is the closest thing we’ll get to a princess. Which is how we’ll all get to find out: Princesses are terrifying.

It’s not clear yet what role Ivanka Trump will play in her father’s administration. What isclear is that she will have one. It was reported Wednesday that she would occupy the White House offices usually reserved for the first lady. (Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks pushed back on this report.) Ivanka was initially tapped to join Trump’s two oldest sons as part of his “blind trust”—assigned the role of keeping the $3 billion conflict of interest that is the Trump Organization alive while her father was off presidenting. And yet, almost immediately after Trump was elected, she began holding meetings with foreign heads of state and hunting for houses in D.C. In subsequent weeks, Ivanka’s name was floated for every position from “climate czar” (although she has no relevant expertise re: climate change) to first lady (although Trump is married) to, most ominously, “women’s rights”and/or child care policy: “If you look at Ivanka—she’s so strongly, as you know, into the women’s issues and childcare…. Nobody could do better than her,” Trump told Fox News last Sunday.

‘Impunity has consequences': the women lost to Mexico’s drug war by Nina Lakhani in Jalapa

Ten years ago this week, Mexico’s then-president Felipe Calderón deployed thousands of troops to fight against organized crime, at the start of what became an all-out war on drug trafficking which has raged ever since.

Since then, more than 100 of the country’s most wanted drug traffickers have been captured or killed. Billions of dollars have been spent, but the campaign has not ended the narcotics trade, or enforced the rule of law.

On the contrary, the decade-long war has had a devastating impact on the country’s social fabric: violent crimes perpetrated organised crime factions – and the security forces themselves – have spread amid almost total impunity.

The human cost has been catastrophic: about 200,000 people have been murdered and at least 28,000 “disappeared” since 2007. Abuses by security forces are widespread.

Most of the victims have been men, but women also have been tortured, trafficked and targeted for particular brutality, with almost total impunity.

Official records indicate almost 7,000 women and girls have disappeared since 2007. But activists say the reality is much worse. The government register of the missing includes 164 women from Veracruz, yet a local monitoring group has documented almost 500 cases of girls and women who have vanished in the past three years alone.  ….

On Optimism and Despair by Zadie Smith  via @nybooks

A talk given in Berlin on November 10 on receiving the 2016 Welt Literature Prize.

First I would like to acknowledge the absurdity of my position. Accepting a literary prize is perhaps always a little absurd, but in times like these not only the recipient but also the giver feels some sheepishness about the enterprise. But here we are. President Trump rises in the west, a united Europe drops below the horizon on the other side of the ocean—but here we still are, giving a literary prize, receiving one. So many more important things were rendered absurd by the events of November 8 that I hesitate to include my own writing in the list, and only mention it now because the most frequent question I’m asked about my work these days seems to me to have some bearing on the situation at hand.

The question is: “In your earlier novels you sounded so optimistic, but now your books are tinged with despair. Is this fair to say?” It is a question usually posed in a tone of sly eagerness—you will recognize this tone if you’ve ever heard a child ask permission to do something she has in fact already done.

You are killing me: On hate speech and feminist silencing by @strifejournal

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 17.05.15

Radical feminists are regularly accused of denying trans people’s right to exist, or even of wanting them dead. Here Jane Clare Jones takes a closer look at these charges. Where do they come from and what do they mean? Is there a way to move towards a more constructive discussion?

The claim that certain forms of feminist speech should be silenced has recently become common currency. Notable instances include the ongoing NUS no-platforming of Julie Bindelthe cancellation of a performance by the comedian Kate Smurthwaite (which prompted a letter to the Observer), and, in the last month, the demand that a progressive Canadian website end its association with the feminist writer Meghan Murphy.

The basis of this claim is the assertion that a certain strand of feminist thought is hate speech. Versions of that assertion have circulated on social media for a number of years — complete with obligatory analogies between Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) and Nazis, the BNP or the Ku Klux Klan. But its effectiveness in excising speech from the public sphere was really brought home to me in August 2014, when the journalist and trans activist Paris Lees pulled out of a Newsnight debate with the gender-critical trans woman Miranda Yardley, saying she was ‘not prepared to enter into a fabricated debate about trans people’s right to exist.’


Read more You are killing me: On hate speech and feminist silencing by @strifejournal

Identity, experience, choice and responsibility

Cross-posted from: Gender, Bodies, Politics
Originally published: 27.06.15

This is the transcript of my keynote speech at a conference at Queen Mary University on June 27th 2015, entitled ‘Feminist Futures: critical engagements with the fourth wave‘. The full title of my talk was ‘Identity, experience, choice and responsibility: feminism in a neoliberal and neoconservative age.’ Versions of this speech have also been given at the Universities of Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham. There are various sources linked throughout – if you are not within a university and therefore unable to access the academic journal articles, send me an Email and I can download them for you.

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Hello. I’m Alison Phipps and I’m Director of Gender Studies at Sussex. It’s great to be here and I’d like to thank Amaleena, Alice and Anna for inviting me to speak today. We can – and I’m sure we will – debate whether we’re currently witnessing a ‘fourth wave’ of feminism and what this is, but for now I’d like to say it’s fantastic to be part of such a dynamic and thoughtful group. Looking at the other abstracts, I’m especially flattered to have been invited to give the keynote and hope I don’t disappoint!

I think one of the reasons I was asked to open the conference was that my work attempts to develop a meta analysis of feminist theory and activism. Some of this was brought together in my book which came out last Spring, called The Politics of the Body: gender in a neoliberal and neoconservative age. In this I developed a political sociology of various different debates, with a focus on interactions between different types of feminism (or ‘waves’ if you want to use that term). If any of you have read it, the talk today will move on from the book – as always when you attempt to develop a ‘history of the present’, I’m standing on uneven and shifting ground.


Read more Identity, experience, choice and responsibility