Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pink and Blue Boxes, parts 1-3


Imagine a world into which a boy is born. We know he's a boy because we can see his perfectly healthy little baby penis and testicles. There is nothing shameful about noticing healthy genitals (or the sex they indicate correctly over 99% of the time.) His healthy little baby penis and testicles are not taken to symbolize anything about his innate personality nor about his future place in the world. The boy is not carefully sorted into a blue box with army toys and footballs. No such box exists. The boy is allowed to grow into his body and personality as naturally as possible. It turns out the boy likes art and reading and cooking. Sometimes he likes to wear jeans, sometimes skirts. He prefers to wear his hair at shoulder length. Nobody assumes anything about the boy's sexuality based on these neutral human interests and preferences.

The boy is taught to sort out his problems with respectful dialogue and rational compromise.

Anyone who tries to bully the boy is disciplined for unacceptable behavior.

Anyone who cannot accept the boy is a boy and not a girl is referred for psychiatric treatment.

If we can't imagine this world, there is nothing left to fight for.

Now, picture this instead: a boy is born. We know he's a boy because we can see his perfectly healthy little baby penis and testicles. His healthy little baby penis and testicles are taken as evidence of an innately dominant personality and thus justify his lifelong assignment to the dominant sex class. The boy is carefully sorted into the blue box with army toys and footballs.

This is all part of what feminists call "gender."

Some boys, of course, will go along with the blue box assignment. Some will rebel. Some will want out of the blue box entirely. Some who want out of the blue box will assume this means they should have been sorted into the pink box.

Meanwhile, some female humans - we know they are female because their healthy female genitalia were easily discernible at birth, and we can state they are female because there is absolutely nothing shameful about being female, TYVM - have been fighting their assignment to the pink box for centuries. We call these female humans "feminists." They've written reams of analyses positing this relationship between the pink and blue boxes:

They do not want into the blue box. Nor do they want to flip the boxes. They want to destroy the boxes.

Unfortunately, these feminists are operating in a world where the privileged few benefit from keeping the masses in reactionary ignorance. Thus critical thought is rare, and misinterpretation of any theory requiring even a jot of intellectual nuance runs rampant.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Is Radical Feminism Totalist?

(Totalist in the sense of ideological totalism.)

No, of course it isn't. Radical feminism is a framework of ideas, and an amazingly incisive and liberatory one at that.

Some radical feminists certainly do practice ideological totalism, however.

When I can spend half my waking hours writing and posting about the harms of gender, defending women's language and spaces - imperiling my own employment in the process - and still be attacked as a lesbophobic dick-licking enemy of women because I grant a handful of pro-feminist transwomen (all of whom actively fight the dominant narrative of transgender identity politics at personal cost to themselves) the pronoun "she" - that's ideological totalism.

I'm not saying this because oh-my-poor-feelings - although I am a human being and I don't deserve to be constantly trashed by my so-called "sisters" - but because women desperately need radical feminism and totalist behavior alienates them from it.
  • When you shame strangers on the internet for not knowing the feminist academic use of the term "gender," it might make you feel superior, but you're not actually educating anyone.
  • When you shame strangers on the internet for having empathy for transwomen, they aren't going to stick around to hear your analysis of the gendered expectations of empathy
  • When you repeatedly attack women who dare to only agree with 95% of your opinions, you can bet women who are curious about those opinions but already nervous about the current political climate are going to head for the hills.
  • When you repeatedly state that gender is a social construct but go on to behave as if you believe all individual males are innately evil, you both undermine your own argument and alienate the great majority of women who have no choice but to live in a world of men - many of whom they love in one way or another.
  • Furthermore, when you behave as if being born into a dominant class erases one's possibility for personal moral development - and you are white - you really do appear to be ignoring white supremacy in a manner usually reserved for ignorant racists.

Radical feminism is not an i-dentity through which one can establish one's superiority to other women. Radical feminism is an invaluable framework of ideas that is vital for women to access, but which is misrepresented and monstered to such a degree that it takes a lot of patient, honest, painful work to connect women with those ideas. Please consider the effect of your behavior on the women who need the analyses you claim to hold.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Empathy: Addendum

I'm in the tiny, grimy bathroom of a tiny, grimy rental apartment in a tiny, frat-infested college town in the middle of nowhere. I'm in my third job post graduate degree, working 80 hours a week for an obtusely sexist, abusive boss, and I still don't make enough to get ahead of the massive debt. Every bill is a panic attack in an envelope sitting like a bomb in my mailbox.

I'm in a "relationship," of sorts, with a(nother) tortured writer. He considers himself a "dominant" in bed, which it seems the majority of men do these days, bless their shitty little boyhearts. I let him abuse me. In those moments, I feel erased, and that erasure is the only relief I feel all week. He is my temporary suicide. I won't do the real thing, not as long as I have a dog who looks at me with all the love I never got as a child bubbling out of his eyes.

I can't afford the dog, who came into my life when I was married, before divorce bankrupted me. But I cannot give him up. I cry into his fur. I cry all the time. I have no idea how to get out of the hole I'm in. Hard work doesn't do it. Nothing helps. I have no hope.

I'm in the tiny, grimy bathroom of a tiny, grimy rental apartment in an empty landscape and a life of brick walls. I'm tired. My head hurts.

The stick I peed on two minutes ago reads positive.

I shut down half my brain. I shut down the panic. I go to a movie with a friend. I don't tell her I'm pregnant. Later, I text the writer. He wants to talk. I say, not now. I'm not going to cry. I can control that much.

I might love to have a baby, but like I said, I can't even afford my dog. Best not to think of what might be. Best not to think what is happening INSIDE ME.

I log on. I spend hours searching, but there is no abortion clinic anywhere near me. (The clinic up the street, the one I walk by every day on my way to work, is run by pro-lifers). I call the Planned Parenthood abortion line. The voice on the other end is calm and kind. This makes it harder to not-cry.

We figure out what I have to do in order to comply with all the new Republican laws: take a half day off work to drive four hours (round trip) to the nearest clinic that can show the required video and provide the required form to begin my waiting period. Take another full day off to drive three hours (one way) to the nearest clinic to perform the actual procedure.

I can't afford both the gas to make those trips and groceries, but that's alright, as I don't have much of an appetite anyway.

My boss wants to know why I'm taking the time off. I tell him "doctor's appointments." He pushes, I snap. He assigns me even more work in retribution.

All day alone in waiting rooms. Interviews, forms. Perfunctory ultrasound performed by uninterested clinician. "Yep, there it is," she says, with an instrument not much smaller than my arm crammed up my vagina. The abortion itself is breathtakingly painful but blessedly brief. A nurse lets me squeeze her hand while it feels like my innards are being sucked out through my cervix. I walk on shaky legs to the recovery room. I joke with the other women. Most of them already have kids. We all wear unclenched faces of relief. We call out our thanks to the grim-faced doctor as he leaves. He spends all day every Friday doing this. He is the only doctor performing abortions in this third of the state.

I've rented a hotel room nearby, as a friend cautioned me against driving home directly after. The writer is paying for it. He's waiting for me. He brought me a heating pad. He wants a blow job. I give him one. I am a good girlfriend. (Except I'm not his girlfriend.)

On the drive home alone I cry. I cry a lot. At home, I continue to cry. Great heaving helpless sobs that morph into dry heaves. I'm not sorry I had an abortion. I'm immensely relieved it's done. I'm crying because my life is a closed box.

A month later, I email the writer to announce my period has arrived. I am overjoyed. The relief comes in huge waves. His response: "I don't really need to hear about that."

"I don't really need to hear about that."

I begin to comprehend how he sees me. Or how he doesn't see me. I'm not a person. I don't continue to exist when I'm not in the same room as his dick. I'm a doll, I'm a cheerleader, I'm an editorial assistant. The parts of me that are useful to him are, while useful, real, but the rest of me is but the echo of a rhetorical tree fallen in a lonely forest.

I think back to my marriage. I was a nanny, a secretary, a maid. A useful accessory with no claim to an inner life.

I begin to love myself out of pure contrariness. I begin to inhabit my body again. I begin to stop loving men.

My reality is a female reality. I will not have it erased.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On empathy

Because I'm a gender critical feminist on the internet, I'm often told I need to "just have some damn empathy" for trans people. As is my wont, I go to the dictionary:

Of course, this would seem like an impossible demand if I listened to the countless trans activists announcing that non-trans people can never know what it is like to be trans, that we shouldn't even ask for a definition of it (even as we are simultaneously expected to voluntarily define ourselves as not-it), that we should simply listen and accept.

Maybe instead of empathy, they really mean sympathy?

I do feel sincere sorrow for anyone who experiences sex dysmorphia, as I would for anyone with a painful medical condition. However, I don't feel pity toward transsexual people. I don't think pity is a very useful emotion. I think many of the people scolding me to be more "empathetic" *do* feel a kind of horrified, disgusted, abject pity about the transsexual experience, which stops them from thinking very much about it at all. And I think this refusal to *look at what's really happening* is what allows people who experience no sex dysmorphia at all to co-opt the transsexual experience for political cover, while spouting obviously anti-woman rhetoric.

But what about this pity? What is so special about the pity some people feel for male transsexuals that they have no problem telling women to give up our language, our spaces, our analysis, just give transwomen anything they want, no questions asked?

(Why do I concentrate on transwomen rather than transmen? Simple: because transmen, who are female, do not have the institutional power to wreck men's boundaries or take away their language.)


An old college friend recently became very ill and nearly died; circulation to her limbs was compromised to such an extent she lost both hands, one foot, and part of another foot. She has five children. Her friends and family were very lucky in fundraising for advanced prosthetics; still, she will never feel any of her kids' hands in her own again. She must struggle through every mundane task, must endure the stares and pity when she goes out in public. The prosthetics chafe all day and come off every night. When I think of her lying in bed, with so many body parts gone, unable to even fluff her own pillow, adjust the blanket or get up to use the bathroom on her own, I am stricken with sorrow.

Some statistics from the Amputee Coalition

Two million amputees in the United States alone. Yet I am not told I must voluntarily identify as a "non-amputee," stop defining humans as bipeds, object to any language implying the use of healthy hands or feet, or in any other way center amputees in my day to day life, much less my politics. I am not told I must play-pretend that prosthetic limbs are just like natural limbs or else my friend might kill herself. Why is the suffering of amputees so qualitatively different from the suffering of transsexuals? Why can we expect amputees to adjust to their new realities and deal with the hardships they face, but human language, feminism and sex-based boundaries must all bend around the feelings of transsexual people?


The pity some people feel for transsexuals renders them reactionary and thoughtless because it is bound up in their own gender expectations. A man "identifying as" a woman is a member of the dominant (superior, default human) class who identifies with the subjugated (inferior, subhuman other) class - someone to be pitied for sure, if you buy into the gender hierarchy. But - no matter their exhaustive denials - these people still know that male people are male, and female people are female. And they do not merely expect female people to empathize and/or sympathize with male people. They expect us to anticipate, prioritize, and indulge the feelings of male people. To empty our female Selves and fill our hearts and minds and bodies back up with the needs and desires of a male Other. 

This is, of course, merely more of the same vis-à-vis the oppression of women. 


I was raised in a sexist family. This means I was told from Day 1, by the people who were supposed to love me the most, that who I was inside was unacceptable for anyone inhabiting a female body. My accomplishments were derided; my failures were exaggerated, punished, often fabricated out of thin air. I lived in fear of violence in my own home, and when I fought back I was punished. I was a math prodigy, but was held back/obstructed not only by my family, but by teachers and school administrators who felt such talents unsuitable for a girl. I've thrown myself on the sword of marriage and step-motherhood only to be told that none of that sacrifice or work matters because I was born to serve. I'm constantly told my body is wrong, misshapen, unlovable by every corner of the media. I've been sexually harassed at work, severely underpaid, ignored, exploited. I've been treated as sub-human by multiple doctors in multiple specialties.

And I'm one of the lucky ones - I'm white, I was born in a rich country, I've worked my way into the middle class. My suffering as a female person still matters. I feel tore up inside. All the time. Tore up, sore, weary. I suffer from agoraphobia and clinical depression, including suicidal ideation. I am only still alive because I found feminist analysis. I was then able to make sense of the world, to understand why people treated me like shit, to understand that I did not deserve that treatment, that I could therefore fight for a better life.

I'm also lucky because in my 30s my parents came to accept me for who I am. I helped my mom come to feminism. Now my mom is gone, passed away from ovarian cancer. I think of her and I'm immediately transported back to a childhood in which I felt trapped, imperiled, hated, fragile, exhausted. Then I think of her own youth, incredibly intelligent but impregnated at age 15 and all life goals out the window. I think of our shared experiences of chronic diseases dismissed by doctors, and I wonder if the cancer would have been caught earlier if we hadn't all assumed the pain was from Crohn's Disease, itself undiagnosed and untreated until her mid-50s because the excruciating abdominal pain was said to be "all in her head." I wonder if I too will develop ovarian cancer, and if I should have the hysterectomy I fought against for over ten years while seeking treatment for uterine fibroids.

But I'm told female biology is a social construct, unimportant, in no need of naming because transwomen don't experience it. And I'm told this dismissive bullshit is feminism.

This triggers me. This makes me feel physically ill and emotionally embattled. Being told I must erase my own experiences and deny my own needs is just more of the same bullying I've experienced all my life. It's just more male supremacy being forced down my throat, trying to choke off my words, my air.

But of course actual women - adult human females - are not allowed to be triggered by sex-based oppression. We're just supposed to shut up, lie back and take it. Any resistance will be framed as either (innate) weakness or (unnatural) selfishness.

But I know the truth, I see it and speak it, no matter if my voice shakes. If transwomen were female, they would be expected to *give* empathy, rather than demand it all for themselves. And if transwomen weren't male, they wouldn't confuse empathy with capitulation.