Feminism is not about who opens the jar.
It is not about who pays for the date. It is not about who moves the couch. It is not about who kills the bugs. It is not about who cooks the dinner. It’s not even about who stays home with the kids, as long as the decision was made together, after thinking carefully about your situation and coming to an agreement that makes sense for your particular marriage and family.
It is about making sure that nobody ever has to do anything by “default” because of their gender. The stronger person should move the couch. The person who enjoys cooking more, has more time for it, and/or is better at it should do the cooking. Sometimes the stronger person is male, sometimes not. Sometimes the person who is best suited for cooking is female, sometimes not. You should do what works.
But it is also about letting people know that it is okay to change. If you’re a woman who wants to become stronger, that’s great. If you’re a man who wants to learn how to cook, that’s also great. You might start out with a relationship where the guy opens all the jars and the girl cooks all the meals, but you might find that you want to try something else. So try it.
Trolls, Public and Private Space, And the Need to Stop Being Dicks
I have to comment on this passage from a Salon interview with law professor Danielle Citron, discussing the difference between trolling and cyber harassment:
My book truly deals with actionable harassment, not abuse that cannot be regulated (often called “trolling,” a loose term). Consider one of the earliest cases, of game developer and blogger […], where there are repeated credible threats of rape, doctored photographs of her being strangled, and lies about her. Then, a cybermob posted her Social Security number and home address, as well as defamatory lies about her. Whoever was responsible for those actions, even just some of them, would be treading on legal grounds –we can regulate true threats, defamation and certain privacy disclosures such as the disclosure of SSNs (which is like publishing your bank account number). To be sure, some of the folks who doxxed [the tech blogger] and published her SSN were self-proclaimed trolls, but nonetheless they engaged in unprotected activity by spreading defamatory lies and publishing her SSN.
By contrast, there the case of Zelda Williams. The person who repeatedly told her her father was ashamed of her may be called a troll, but that person is engaging in protected speech. So, too, the person who posted pictures of dead bodies. Even if that person did it repeatedly, it might not even amount to regulable intentional infliction of emotional distress, because Robin Williams’ death could be said to constitute a matter of public importance, rather than a purely private matter.
(I can recommend the interview in full.) I have no doubt in her assessment of the legality here. I just finished her book, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, and liked it a lot, I might write a review of it soon. But the situation she describes above is similar to the situations that got me interested in the topic of hateful speech on the Internet. It really irks me.
For once, I personally think it is perverse that the death of a man, husband and father is considered a “matter of public importance” in this context. It is interesting to the public, without a doubt. I, like many others, was deeply affected by it. But not in the way the people who actually shared their lives with him are affected. I fail to understand why this harassment needs to be protected by the U.S. constitution: For Zelda Williams, it is a private matter. What kind of public discourse, what truth is improved by sending a young woman pictures of corpses and telling her her dad was ashamed of her?
Personally I think people who “troll” a grieving person in this manner can go and have their CPUs overheat. But I think this story shows more than one problem facing us in the digital 21st century. With (social) media technology becoming ubiquitous the the lines between public and private spheres are blurring, and the form/degree of access to individuals for anyone is changing. While this can be great, the new possibilities challenge our understanding of concepts like “public” and “private.” Years ago, no one would have sought out the postal address of a celebrity’s daughter to send her manipulated photos. Almost no one would’ve yelled such horrendous things at her in bars, schools, streets, .. public places.
Many will easily dismiss what happened to Zelda Williams (and countless others pushed out of social media) as it did not happen “in real life” and she only quit twitter. Honestly: For me, that would feel like not being able to walk through a part of my neighborhood, close to my home, filled with neighbors I like, because of aggressive strangers. For me, this is hypothetical, a mental excercise I can easily engage in. Add the cyber harassment to the daily (street) harassment women* experience, and the world just got a whole lot narrower.
I’m not against these Internet-mediated changes in interpersonal communication, wonderful things are happening thanks to social media. But I do think that we need to find a way to use the amazing possibilities of teh Interweb and promote free speech while not being such colossal dicks to people. That way might not lead us through the legal or legislative system, but we need to find one. I cannot accept that this vicious form of “trolling” is something “we” can’t regulate.
This has tended to make socialism too much of a male creed, as others are supposed to hold back in the secure knowledge that their emancipation is in secure hands. This dream has faded. Feminism has helped develop a different sense of politics. Feminism is not just a challenge to men, but an example of breaking masculine hegemony which identifies reason, masculinity and universality, even for men. Feminists have learnt that people have to do things for themselves because it is only each oppressed group which can define the character and form of the oppression it suffers.
I think women report rapes when we feel we will be believed. The rapes that have been reported, as they have been reported, are the kinds of rapes women think will be believed when we report them.
The Great Celebrity Naked Photo Leak of 2014 – or perhaps we should call it The Great Celebrity Naked Photo Leak of August 2014, given that this happens so often that there won’t be only one this year – is meant to remind women of their place. Don’t get too high and mighty, ladies. Don’t step out of line. Don’t do anything to upset or disappoint men who feel entitled to your time, bodies, affection or attention. Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. You bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you. Your bared body is at once desired and loathed.
This is what we must remember. Women cannot be sexual in certain ways without consequence. Women cannot pose nude or provocatively, whether for a lover or themselves, without consequence. We are never allowed to forget how the rules are different girls. I suppose we should be grateful for this latest reminder.
I recommend reading the entire piece.
Tampering with Language to Shame the Devil.
In her book Feminism and Linguistic Theory Deborah Cameron makes a strong argument in the debate about eliminating sexist language:
“I do think, however, that it would be better if feminists operated with a more hard-headed, political notion of what we are trying to do. In my opinion we should be tampering with language not to tell the truth, but quite openly to shame the devil. It is disingenuous to claim that the conventions we propose are simply “better” than the traditional ones (more accurate, more precise), because really it is a question of political and ideological preferences - the traditional usage embodies one view of the world, the feminist alternative a different one, and we need to make clear that both these views are politically non-neutral. We should therefore be honest enough to defend our tampering not in terms of its purported linguistic merits, but in terms of its political utility for raising consciousness, denouncing sexism and empowering women.”
Cameron, Deborah. Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Palgrave Macmillan, 1992. p. 125
Goldberg’s One-Sided New Yorker Article “Undermines Transgender Identity,” And That’s Still A Euphemism
I subscribe to the New York Times digitally (mainly because it can be useful as a North American cultural studies student) and recently subscribed to their “what we’re reading” newsletter, a selection of articles from other publications NYT editors like every week. When I opened Tuesday’s newsletter, I was briefly exited. A recommended article from the New Yorker, called “What is a woman?” I’m really interested in gender identity, gender construction, etc. My high hopes waned a bit when I saw the article is by Michelle Goldberg, who hasn’t really represented nuance, intersectional feminism, or just openness to positions that aren’t her own in recent time. Reading the article, I felt uncomfortable and at odds with her portrayal of the radical feminist v. trans women debate. I couldn’t really put it into words at the time, so I didn’t write about it.
Yesterday, Bitch Magazine posted online a comment on the Goldberg piece that puts into words a lot of my thoughts, and then some more. Here’s one of several important passages:
Reading this passage, one might think TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] and trans people have a philosophical or semantic debate. Trans people’s identities, for which they and their allies are waging a worldwide human rights campaign to define as legally legitimate—backed by decades of medical and psychological data—and TERFs’ hateful academic theories carry equal weight and import. If those two sides were balanced in the piece, readers might walk away with a shoulder shrug, “Who knows whether trans identity is legitimate or not?” The title of the piece certainly encourages this confusion, making it a question as to whether transgender women should be seen as women.
But the piece isn’t even balanced. In a response to Goldberg’s piece published on Autostraddle, Mari Brighe noted that Goldberg cited 14 radical feminists, quoting nine and including two quotes from books. In contrast, she quoted only four trans women, including no quotes from books; two of her trans sources actually support radical feminist viewpoints. Likewise, Goldberg quotes TERFs misgendering trans women repeatedly, never mentioning that trans women find such language dehumanizing and hurtful. “Sadly, what she presents is a disturbingly one-sided view of the situation that relies on heavily anecdotal evidence, uncited claims and debunked theories, and ignores the extended campaign of harassment and attack that the trans community has endured at the hands of radical feminists,” writes Brighe.
In Goldberg’s narrative, it’s TERFs who come off as oppressed. Their ideas lack the “power and cachet” of the trans movement, and they’ve found themselves now “shunned as reactionaries on the wrong side of a sexual-rights issue.” To understand how unjust this characterization of things is, one has to understand all the issues relating to trans people and TERFs that Goldberg doesn’t mention.
TERF framing of trans rights activists as bullies is bad. Bullying, rape and death threats against feminist women are really, really wrong, something I see as so problematic that I’m writing my master’s thesis on it. However, Goldberg, TERF, and to a degree also Caroline Criado-Perez describe both camps in too homogenous, undifferentiated terms. Extreme bullies in both camps exist, sadly. People in both camps are affected by structural and individual sexism and/or transphobia and/or racsim and/or homophobia. But one thing Goldberg and TERFs claim is, in my opinion, simply wrong: Transgender people, as a group and mostly as individuals, do not have hegemonic power over ciswomen. It could be argued argued that ciswomen who consistently get their one-sided opinions published in magazines/papers/cultural institutions like The New Yorker or The Atlantic have (comparatively!) more power than most trans people…
One last thing: I strongly believe that both cis and trans women are women. Women can have a multitude of experiences and individual “forms” and bodily issues. Within this group different forms of relative degrees of privilege exist, not just on a cis-trans scale but also on a class scale, race scale, educational scale, etc.
What Does Cis Privilege Even Mean?
I want to be careful with this post. I’m a cis-man and have quite a bit of privilege, so I’m an outsider in this discussion. I don’t want to mansplain, but I thought I’d weigh in with my 2 cents. Please call me out if this is bullshit. This is not supposed to be authoritative in any way.
I get most of her points, and have no issue with most of them. She has every right not to identify with/not use the term “cis.” However, I think it’s a shame (and slightly ironic, but not surprising) that “cis” is understood by so many people as a derogatory term. I use it, and I think it is most useful this way, as a descriptor, relatively neutral, like trans - a way to describe non-trans people in an efficient, elegant way and without resorting to definitely problematic words like “normal.” I don’t think, however, that “cis” is one essential gender definition. “Cis” is also a term with a broad spectrum of different gender representations, etc.
I even think that I am not “cis” in the same way Caroline Criado-Perez is (under my definition as not-trans) Gender categories are that different for cismen and ciswomen that “cis” could be said to have different meanings for women. Being cis for a ciswoman comes with (or rather includes) so many rigid, subjecting, misogynist baggage that it can have a different effect. It is way, way easier to be cis as a dude, obviously. I would still say that “cis” is a useful category, word. As a “non-trans” category, as plain and descriptive as word can be in this context.
For me, a feminism (or other anti-discriminatory activism) that is too essentialist in its categorizations and approaches is really problematic, basically bullshit. This could be reason for (cis)women and trans/non-binary people to work together, not against each other. This is not a naive call for “unity” that dismisses very real and valid disagreements, not at all. But in principle, working together could work fine.
Cis-privilege, the concept Criado-Perez rails against the most (and I would too if I understood it like she does) is relative privilege. It doesn’t make any of the problems, bodily and not, that come with being a (cis)woman in our sexist societies magically disappear or turn into sunshine and sparkles. It “just” means ciswomen don’t have a set of problems that trans*, non-binary people have. I’m a white cisman from a upper-middle-class background, that makes me quite privileged. That doesn’t make the issues that I have, like my mental illness problems, disappear - but I don’t have problems that other people have, from cis feminists in England to trans women of color on the other side of the world.
Criado-Perez also writes a lot about being scared. Receiving insults and threats is scary. These threats and insults are a tactic that is really problematic and wrong - and extremely similar to tactics and rhetorics employed as silencing attempts by people in positions of greater hegemonic power: Misogynist men. I think a lot of the backlash Criado-Perez gets comes from trans*/non-binary people who are also scared (and/or angry) for good reason. Also scared to death (too often literally!) in societies that reject them. Trans*/non-binary people can be vocal, for better and sometimes worse, on social media and in certain circles. But they also do not have hegemonic power. Trans women who lived “male” before usually also didn’t live as hegemonic men either.
There is a lot of anger and bitterness between feminists like Criado-Perez and trans/non-binary people/activists. And that’s a pity, because these two groups could punch upwards together a lot better than at each other. (As far as I know, Criado-Perez isn’t actually rejecting the existence of transgender people. If she is actually a trans-erasing radical “feminist” things are a bit different..)
As far as I can tell from my outside perspective, a central problem in this discourse is that people still use binary concepts, essential dichotomies, too much. I do think a lot of these problems could be reduced by getting rid of too essential binaries - especially a rigid man - woman binary - without negating the existence and lived experiences of both transgender people and (cis)women like Criado-Perez. Nor should the blurring of binaries mean that hegemonic, sexist, transphobic men (positions, institutions, …) get away free. That still exists and still is a massive problem we should work against. The field is just more complex.
Conversation is not an equal opportunity activity.
I found this quote in Deborah Cameron’s Feminism and Linguistic Theory, as part of a discussion of men’s (vs. women’s) dominant linguistic strategies.
Our Habitus, Or: Men Are Collateral Damage of Patriarchy
This passage of Toril Moi’s great essay on using Pierre Bourdieu’s work for feminist theory touches on why men are affected by sexist structures - without there being such a thing as reverse sexism:
Our habitus is at once produced and expressed through
our movements, gestures, facial expressions, manners, ways of walking, and ways of looking at the world. The socially produced body is thus necessarily also a political body, or rather an embodied politics. Thus even such basic activities as teaching children how to move, dress, and eat are thoroughly political, in that they impose
on them an unspoken understanding of legitimate ways to (re)present their body to themselves and others. The body-and its apparel such as clothing, gestures, make-up and so on-becomes a kind of constant reminder ( of sociosexual power relations.It follows from Bourdieu’s understanding of the social effects of gender divisions that the dominant group -in this case men- do not escape the burdens of their own domination.