Women are being censored because they wish to discuss the politics of gender. I say NO. Who wants to join me?

(1000 Posts)
Beachcomber Sun 20-Jan-13 19:48:45

Ok, I'm guessing that many here have heard about Julie Burchill's explosive article defending her friend Suzanne Moore against trans activists.

I'm also guessing that there are a lot of women who don't know that trans activists have been becoming increasingly influential in many areas that affect Women's Rights since the 1980s and 90s. These areas include feminist websites and blogs (such as the F word), feminist meetings and conferences, women's music festivals, in feminist literature and in academia teaching gender studies (a subject that used to be taught as women's studies) and in post-modernist and queer theory circles.

Transactivists call any resistance to their increasing influence and presence in these areas of female interest "transphobic". Discussion of gender identity as an oppressive social construct and as a threat to feminism and women's rights is also considered transphobic. Consequently, discussion of women as being a political class of people oppressed due to our sex and our reproductive capacity is becoming harder and harder for feminists to have without being accused of transphobia and bigotry. This is very very concerning.

Numerous women have been threatened or silenced by these people (for example they have been no platformed and/or picketed at feminist events or attacked and threatened after writing articles or essays discussing gender identity).

Let me be very clear that this discussion is about transactivists and people who threaten others into silence. It is not about transpeople in general (some of whom have stated that they are afraid to get involved in the controversy).

In my opinion, no matter which side of the gender identity debate one stands on, surely we can all agree that debate should be allowed to take place. One side cannot be allowed to shout down, threaten and silence the other.

The recent events are not just about differing opinions on gender identity though (or I wouldn't be bothering to post this), they are about women's right to talk about and identify sex based oppression and male supremacy, and therefore to fight against sex based oppression and male supremacy. And that is why this is an important if not vital issue for women's rights.

I think women's rights politics are reaching a pivotal moment - a moment in which we must stand up for our right to discuss our status as second class citizens as a result of the biological fact that we are female. If we can't discuss it, we don't have much hope of fighting it.


To summarise the link - a well known and influential feminist blogger has been censored for discussing the issues outlined above. She is not the first woman to be silenced by these people. I think it is about time we stood up to them.

Thanks for reading.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 10:11:12

We're not remotely looking at a small number of internet extremists. In fact, the most thoughtful and moderate voices I've heard have been on the internet.

What is scary is that I'm seeing a generation of people who're growing up simply accepting a hierarchy of oppression and assuming that questioning that hierarchy is bigotry. I know people who have never for a moment thought about any of these issues - and a large number of them straight, white males - who are still knee-jerk in their certainity that they know exactly which groups are most oppressed and most in need of their sympathy. And it's not women. Women have won the battles and they're now just making a fuss. Or women are still sore about the minor issues they face, and they need good, right-thinking men to lead the way and tell them what to worry about next.

It's not actually the fully paid-up transactivists who scare me - it's the people who accept everything without thinking about it. And who assume you could only disagree out of bigotry or ignorance.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 10:12:43

kim - I think you're edging towards strawman arguments here.

I think the fault lies with the patriarchy. I won't speak for beach but I wouldn't be surprised if she also blames the patriarchy.

I don't see anyone saying 'and all this is down to trans people'.

Beachcomber Mon 21-Jan-13 10:14:22

Branleuse do you really not mind being labelled as a person who identifies with the gender assigned to them as a lower status, second class, oppressed group?

As a person who is at peace with the idea that they exhibit submissive behaviours and are of less value to society, and that this is natural because it is intrinsically linked to your biological sex?

Because that is what cisgender means to women politically.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 21-Jan-13 10:16:05

I am with you Beachcomber.

I massively object to being told that the way I understand gender to be constructed counts as hate speech. I object to being told that it is not allowed to express disbelief of someone's claim to be a certain sex. It's a matter of conscience for me. If I say I believe that everyone claiming to be female is a woman, I'm lying. I'd better keep my fucking mouth zipped then hadn't I?

Beachcomber Mon 21-Jan-13 10:16:29

"It's not actually the fully paid-up transactivists who scare me - it's the people who accept everything without thinking about it. And who assume you could only disagree out of bigotry or ignorance."

Aint that the truth LRD.

kim147 Mon 21-Jan-13 10:18:11

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 21-Jan-13 10:18:23

'It's not actually the fully paid-up transactivists who scare me - it's the people who accept everything without thinking about it. And who assume you could only disagree out of bigotry or ignorance.'


dreamingbohemian Mon 21-Jan-13 10:29:37

I want to go back to something that Beachcomber said, as it's confusing me and I wonder if I'm the only one:

'And do people really think that it is transphobic to discuss gender identity as a social construct and to state that male bodied persons are not exactly the same as biological females and that the two therefore have different needs and political identities?'

My dealings with constructivism are in another field entirely (ethnic conflict) so I'm wondering if I've got this wrong. Because to me, if you accept that gender is a social construct, then it implies that people who were not necessarily born to that gender can still assume that identity and, thus, yes, assume the same political identity (perhaps not entirely at the collective level, but certainly at the individual level). To say that gender is a social construct but political identities are still rooted in biology is what we would call in my field, I think, a primordialist interpretation of identity (you are what you were born to).

To me, it doesn't quite make sense to say that someone can adopt a particular gender identity but not all the extended identities that are attached to that gender. But I admit this could be because of the prism through which I view identity, ethnicity being a key component of political identity in the parts of the world I focus on.

Basically, I'm wondering whether the root of this debate lies in the fact that people have different ideas about identity construction and attach different importance to the biological element. Because if that's the case, I don't really see any middle ground, just like in my field with the primordialists vs the situationalists.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 10:33:19

What is constructivism, please?

I'm obviously not very well read in this area.

But it seems obvious to me there's a distinction between ideal and reality. We'd all like to see the social construct of gender got rid of. But it hasn't happened yet.

So how can it be right to say that, just because feminists don't agree with gender as a construct, it's women who should be the first to act as if it didn't exist? Surely this would only further entrench discrimination?

In fact I think that is what is happening. But that may be over-simple since I'm not familiar with all of your terminology.

dreamingbohemian Mon 21-Jan-13 10:45:34

LRD I think interpretations of constructivism vary quite a bit across fields, hence my confusion, as I suspect the way in which I'm used to it is not quite the same as in discussions about gender.

But for example with respect to ethnic conflict, it's a rebuke to the idea that ethno-political identities are rooted in blood -- inherent, automatic, and non-changing. Instead we say ethnic identities are socially constructed -- they are what people make them out to be, they change over time, and to some extent people can join or leave those identities.

It basically says that identity is fluid, and political identities are greatly influenced by socialised attitudes, not innate characteristics. Hence my confusion with respect to the role of biology in these debates, which seem to depend very heavily on constructivist thought.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 10:51:39

Thank you, I'll have a look.

So which identities do you think are inherent/automatic? Because it seems to me that some transsexuals and some non-transsexuals think gender identity is innate. But I'd say, if it is, it's something I don't have. I don't think identity can be automatic or fixed or innate.

The issue to me is, within our society, the people who have wombs and vaginas, who're capable of having children or having abortions, are people who're discriminated against. This discrimination has a historical and cultural aspect, so our identities are naturally formed in reference to this. And, equally, this abuse of women can't be separated from the way women's bodies are. It's conditional on our biology being as it is.

I don't understand why that is an issue?

I would really like to get to a point where 'gender' wasn't a concept we used any more. I'd still have the same body I have now, but no-one would make assumptions about me based on it, and no-one would assume they had the right to interfear with my body.

Some of this seems to chime in with what people describe as being transsexual experiences, which is why I am not sure that there is such a thing as female cis privilege. But then, it seems transsexuals don't (all) want to get rid of gender as a concept, so I don't know how easily we can all agree.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 11:05:29

I don't know if this makes sense of the issues with biology and social conditioning, but I try to imagine what it'd be like 'come the revolution' (just using that as shorthand, trying to think about a non-misogynistic world).

I would like to imagine that, if we didn't have misogyny and we didn't have the idea that gender is the organizing binary, then we'd all be a lot happier about how our identities relate to our bodies. I'd like to think that some people who're transsexual might not feel as if they needed to change anything about themselves, because maybe they'd be happy? But I can't really know and I can understand that that may sound as if I'm minimizing what it is that motivates people to do something as serious and expensive and difficult as transitioning.

But I think, even if ('come the revolution') people did feel deeply unhappy with their bodies, it wouldn't necessarily matter. I'd like to think if an individual is so deeply unhappy with part of their body that they feel the only option is to have surgery, who am I to judge that personal choice?

The difficulty in our very definitely misogynistic world is that that personal choice happens in a context, and that context is one where women's bodies are constantly being treated violently and women's identities are constantly being taken to pieces or hidden behind men's. In this context, mightn't it be acceptable to say I want to talk to other people who have the same body as me and whose experiences have been shaped by having that same body? I don't get why this is unreasonable.

drjohnsonscat Mon 21-Jan-13 11:11:32

ok feeling very undereducated here - read through the first few posts but I don't know what cis means.

kim147 Mon 21-Jan-13 11:13:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PlentyOfPubeGardens Mon 21-Jan-13 11:14:49

I'm with you.

While I'm here I just want to say thanks to Kim for starting the other thread and to all those who contributed so respectfully and thoughtfully. It was a great discussion (that was full before I read to the end) that made me proud of MN and, I thought, put those involved in the whole JB and Twitter shitfest to shame.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 11:17:36

drjohnson - as kim says, that's how it's usually used by transpeople.

The word itself is a fairly obscure Latin word. It means 'on the same side' (as in, for example, 'cis-Atlantic' would mean 'on the same side of the Atlantic', as opposed to 'trans-Atlantic').

It has been used in some academic contexts (like Chemistry) as a prefix for some time.

drjohnsonscat Mon 21-Jan-13 11:21:34

Thanks for that. Now I understand cis-priviledge.

Amazing how people want their experience to be the result of someone else's power, as opposed to just being their own experience. I don't find the accordance of my brain and body gender to be a privilege exactly!

It sounds a bit like the unfortunate politics in the deaf community where people with cochlear implants have "betrayed" the deaf community by entering the hearing world.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 11:23:30

That's a really interesting comparison.

I've been trying for ages to think about what compares with this situation, because it is difficult - there's not just two sets of oppressed people, there's also a difference in terms of what those people believe is the right thing. I think that comparison sums it up perfectly. And, unfortunately, that makes me feel more that there really are some differences it's hard to resolve.

dreamingbohemian Mon 21-Jan-13 11:29:14

LRD -- with regard to only wanting to talk to people who are biologically women -- I'm not going to say it's unreasonable, but I just can't relate to it at all. To me, the enemy is oppression and I'm willing to talk to anyone who wants to fight it, with the understanding that that may bring some additional issues to the table and that's fine. I may find more solidarity with someone who was not born a woman than with someone who was (plenty of women aren't feminists!) so to me, to base those discussions on biology is a bit too narrow.

To me, whatever the original basis for oppression (i.e. biological differences) it has clearly grown over the millennia to include much more. And again, this is why I'm confused, because I think that as soon as you open up the idea of constructed identities, which are based on more than just biology, then you are essentially saying that it is not just biology that is a factor, at which point it seems strange to only want to talk to people who are biologically similar.

AliceWChild Mon 21-Jan-13 11:35:48

I'm in Beach. I'm so fed up with the silencing of women who want to talk about the politics of gender.

At my first encounter with trans politics, I remember thinking how terrible it was that trans people faced prejudice and wanting to stop that happening. I was new to feminism, let alone new to trans politics.

I then thought on it, and couldn't make sense of the whole idea of gender being something you feel. All my understanding directed me towards it being something socially constructed by a patriarchal society as an act of power. So what was this gender that was an innate part of someone, that they could feel and could be wrong? Feeling you don't fit with stereotypes of femininity and masculinity, absolutely made sense. Totally. But that this meant that you had to change your body to fit, baffled. (Tbh it also made me very uncomfortable that I could see young women who seemed very like me at that age, feeling they didn't fit, feeling at odds with the world, wanting to make the world change to be a better place, feeling at odds with femininity and all that entailed, finding the solution in making irreversible changes to their body, which would impact on their future choices regarding children.)

So I did lots of reading. Lots of speaking to people, in as far as you can. I quickly discovered asking the 'wrong' questions gets shouted down rather quickly. I went back to Butler, I tried to make connection to my own knowledge of associated theories which is pretty good, I read all the blogs that people kept saying 'wow awesome' about.

But nothing answered my fundamental questions. Nothing actually engaged in the political discussion of gender. It all got shouted down.

That led me to the point where I'm in. And its vital that women say this.

FloatyBeatie Mon 21-Jan-13 11:37:36

Agree, dreaming bohemian: there's a paradoxical kind of biological essentialism/anti-constructivism involved in saying that there is a monolithic biological basis for socially constructed gender oppression

caramelwaffle Mon 21-Jan-13 11:41:36

I'm with you Beach

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 11:42:17

dreaming - no, I didn't say that. I don't want to speak only to people who're biologically women, not at all.

I think a lot of the time, everyone ought to be speaking to each other. But sometimes, it's fine for people to go off into smaller groups. I wouldn't crash a meeting for lesbian feminists, for example. I would want to see women who were born/brought up as women have the same allowance to go off into a small group sometimes, is all.

That's why it's not strange to want to talk to people who're biologically similar - because it isn't something I'd always want to do, but only sometimes.

Also, I think you're downplaying the importance of growing up in a particular context (informed by biology), which is the thing that's really important to me. I'm not putting it very well. But, basically, sometimes it matters to me to talk to someone who knows what it is like to be cat-called for having breasts, and who's grown up with that experience.

It's not the sole defining moment of my life, or anything - but it's not something to be ignored, either.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 21-Jan-13 11:44:00

Isn't it the case that the patriarchy (or whatever name you give to organized oppression of women) is the factor that places the emphasis on biology? It's the patriarchy that insists that biology separates men from women, and that gender has a biological basis. And it's the patriarchy that uses the facts of how women's bodies are, to oppress them.

In order to fight against that, you can't just ignore biology - it'd be like fighting in the dark. IMO.

kim147 Mon 21-Jan-13 11:44:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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