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.

Caroline Criado-Perez wrote post about the “non-binary vs. feminism war,” her position in it and why she doesn’t identify as “cis.”

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.

Men Get Raped Too – A response. (TW)





This is an incredible piece of writing on the phenomenon that has become a meme of sorts, “What about teh menz?”. I really enjoyed this, instant follow.


You know, I just checked back in on this post, and something about this last response rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I disagree with anything it said on its own, just because I think it ignored a very real problem in responding to reactions in feminist discourse and I think it missed the context on what it was responding to.

Here’s the deal: Straight cis men do get raped. Straight cis men do get abused. Straight cis men do suffer lots of problems because of weird patriarchal notions of masculinity. You’d be hard pressed to find a feminist that disagrees with those ideas. But here’s the thing: it can’t and shouldn’t dominate the conversation when women or trans men or LGBTQ folks talk about the type of oppression that THEY face. And it does! All the time, and in ways that are totally irrelevant.

When you read a post where a woman describes her rape trauma, and someone comes in and says “Well, men get raped too, what about the men?”, they’re not saying “We’re all potential victims of sexual assault, look at how awful this is, let’s examine it as one entity called “human” that is opposed to this type of behavior in all of its forms.” What they ARE saying is “STFU, woman. This isn’t just a woman problem, so you’re not allowed to talk about it in any terms that acknowledge your womaness, or gender as a factor at all. We don’t care that rape statistics show that women are much, much, more likely to be raped than straight cis men. We certainly don’t care that people with disabilities and trans people face even more severely heightened odds of being raped. We don’t care. Straight cis men get raped too. Therefore this is a non-story and you really shouldn’t be talking about it. Especially not in any context that we don’t agree with or approve of. Men get raped too, so your story is irrelevant.”

That’s why “But what about the menz?” is a meme in feminist circles. It’s because we see that idea ALL THE GODDAMN TIME. If we talk about about anything related to harassment, anything related to how we experience the world on a day to day basis, some asshole will come in and say “Men could conceivably experience that too, YOUR ARGUMENT IS IRRELEVANT.” It’s a derailing tactic. A way of telling us to Shut The Fuck Up, and center the conversation around the people that matter: straight white cis guys.

It’s a reminder that if we make the conversation about us and our own experiences, and we don’t go out of our way to acknowledge those straight, cis white guys… well, clearly it’s because WE are excluding THEM, and it has nothing to do with their inability to identify with us. Because they’re the default. So you can’t talk about human experience in female terms and have it not be automatically exclusionary to the guys that you are not talking about. Or the white people you’re not talking about if you’re discussing the experience of being a person of color. Or the straight people you’re not talking about if you’re talking about being gay.

And as a feminist, let me say this: Guys, I understand that bad things happen to you. I understand that you experience rape, harassment, problems related to sexuality and your masculinity. I get that. When I talk about me? It’s not because I’m refusing to talk about you. You’re allowed in. Share your stories, but stop acting like there’s something wrong with me if I don’t talk about yours every single time I talk about mine. Tell us what happened to you and how it made you feel and why you feel that way. Sit down at the proverbial table  with us, have a drink, and tell us what makes you sad about the world.

But don’t you dare fucking interrupt me while you do it. This is a conversation, and in a polite conversation you have to listen and wait for your turn.

Good text on why “men get raped, too” is both correct – and a derailing tactic.

Men Get Raped Too – A response. (TW)