Sex vs gender - getting confused

(94 Posts)

I was always taught that sex is a biological condition but that gender is a societal construct. That makes sense to me.

But I've recently become aware of the conflict between some feminists and transgender individuals. And I'm getting very confused. I agree that women-only spaces are important. And I agree that someone who is convinced they are female should be allowed to live their life as female. But then I get myself in a muddle about whether someone who identifies as female but was born male should be included in female-only spaces etc etc.

Can someone please help me untangle my thoughts on this?

GothAnneGeddes Tue 05-Feb-13 03:00:49

Big Spork where have you been?? We could have done with your input on the last thread. smile

Flora - Big Spork is a woman of colour and you've immediately whitesplained her. Well done.

Is this where we have to have another thread about intersectionality while certain folks huff and puff and say it is a distraction from the important stuff?

In response to the OP, one saying is:

Sex is what is between your legs
Gender is what you think should be between your legs
Sexuality is who you want in between your legs.

<waves to Kim>, might as well, while I'm still feeling cheerful.

FloraFox Tue 05-Feb-13 03:24:05

Goth are you saying that I can join the Southall Black Sisters if I identify as a woman of colour? Or are you just being gratuitously offensive?

GothAnneGeddes Tue 05-Feb-13 03:32:17

Flora - read what Big Spork has said about Trans-ethnicity and get back to me.

Or rather, don't, because it's a standard derail. There is a trans-ethnic community, but it doesn't involve being feeling they were born the wrong race.

FloraFox Tue 05-Feb-13 03:49:37

So just gratuitously offensive then.

WidowWadman Tue 05-Feb-13 05:23:25

Wow, didn't take long til the straw trans woman who wants to go to prison and rape all the real women has been wheeled out.

NormaStanleyFletcher Tue 05-Feb-13 06:46:16

There was a case of a pre-op trans woman (convicted of attempted rape) wanting to transfer to a female prison

http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/sep/04/transexual-prisoner-moved-womens-prison

kim147 Tue 05-Feb-13 07:22:47

<waves back to Goth but can't be bothered to post on this thread as too many people have their own entrenched views and have no idea what it is actually like to be transsexual>

I wish I hadn't asked.

WhentheRed Tue 05-Feb-13 08:28:37

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

WhentheRed Tue 05-Feb-13 08:45:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 09:57:54

BigSpork Tue 05-Feb-13 01:57:16
"Except female as assigned at birth do not have holy texts. Or specific guidelines we have to follow."
This comment completely misunderstands the analogy used. I did the analogy both ways round - where you could call 'Women's Studies (about women's reality)' standard texts being encroached upon. Or the other way around where the delusion of transsexuality is forced upon others.

"We can choose who we include. We can choose to be inclusive or exclusive."
Erm..... Hang on, there is reality - we can't 'choose' what belongs in what category if it is factually incorrect, but we can choose to go along with someone's delusion in order to be nice I suppose- but this might not always be the best course of action- if you are interested in reality. ALso, atheists or the religious deluded can choose to accept or reject including those who don't belong it their group too can't they?

"Modern Western Feminism seems to thrive on being exclusive and throwing down holy laws, but there are many other branches who do not see it that way."
This to me is a weird antifeminist assertion from nowhere - it sounds like it comes from some standard text, not based in anything real or well-argued, so on that basis I am rejecting it.

"1 in 100-150 people are born with intersex, many have them without knowing, those who are obvious will be put into one or the other category of sex due to archaic systems, should they be accepted if assigned female at birth or not? Even if they have a penis/testicles? Should those assigned female at birth but were exposed to a higher (male level) amount of testosterone in the womb count as well?"

Firstly, intersex people are based in biological reality, with their own set of problems like genital mutilation, etc. It is not on to use this reality to support the 'right' of delusional people to force the world to accept their delusion. Secondly, intersex people generally prefer to just be included in either sex, and a, androgen insensitive XY person will have lived through the common human female condition, so she is perfectly at home in a 'woman-only' space.

"Most other societies recognise a plethora of genders/sexes (even ancient Judaism, upon which the Christianity that Western civilisation is based and conquered others for, had 6 separate gender categories)."

This is padding - it doesn't really add much - there are all sorts of ways to classify people according to ideology - such as the caste system - it seems this a sudden jump from biological sex (including intersex) to constructed gender categories. This jump is what causes all the confusion.

"Should a trans*man, assigned female at birth, be allowed in all women's spaces, facilities, and services? Even if he completely passes as male visibly?"

It is a difficult one to call - because they call themselves a man, but by wanting to enter a woman-only space, are admitting they are female - so I suppose it would depend on their intention in wanting to attend.

"Should someone who is trans* outside of the gender binary - genderqueer, genderfluid, and so on, be allowed if they were assigned female at birth? Even if at that time they pass visibly as male?"

This obsession with 'passing' is not actually relevant - it is a trans obsession. There are a lot of women who people think are men by looking at them, but because they are women, they are welcome in women-only spaces.

"The main excuse I hear about not allowing in trans*woman is that someone who appears male might trigger a rape victim so should women who appear traditionally masculine in their features be denied?"

This is a weird thing to say. I am not quite sure how to answer the idea of 'excuse'. Put it this way - rapists are male. Its not their 'male appearance' that rapes women, it is the fact that they have male entitlement to use their male bodies to rape women. So when thinking about rape, it is better to think of the reality of bodily violation rather than superficial appearances.

"Many would argue that there is no one female human experience[..... ]You cannot tell me that is part of every person assigned female at birth's "female human experience" because it isn't."

Of course difference oppressions intersect. But being doubly oppressed doesn't invalidate the analysis of each oppression as a whole, or the need to understand a 'common human condition' under each of those oppressions, in order to make sense of it and unify to end this oppression as a movement. A movement is totally undermined when those who don't share a common oppression claim to have an equal, lived understanding of it.

"And this barely scrapes the surface. The common statistic about how much less women make than men? That's White able bodied straight cismen (as the standard) versus White ablebodied straight ciswomen. Throw in anything else, the gap widens."

Yes this is true, intersecting oppressions at work.

"Throw in anything else and the experience changes."
Throw in the delusion of those who transition to belong in the oppressed group and the 'common experience' will be diluted by the privileged experiences of the members of the oppressor group.

Sorry I was going to do the whole thing but ran out of time...

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 10:47:31

Unless we are talking about the new trend of people bringing together stereotypes and appropriation a culture they have no actual connection with - like people who disrespectfully don war bonnets, say they're on spirit quests because they 'feel' Native American. These people have power over those they are imitating, so not comparable at all.

Big Spork - I think this is what a lot of women feel the situation to be with regard to MTF transitioning (particularly when an adult heterosexual male transitions). And the fact that people are willing to do serious stuff like put themselves through surgery does not change the fact that there is a donning of a stereotype and an appropriation of a culture.

I think there is a whole lot less attention paid to FTM transitioning for a reason - that of the binary sex hierarchy as maintained through the social mechanism of gender, which places MAABs firmly as higher status than FAABs, no matter what the 'gender identity' of the FAAB might be.

Of course trans people experience violence, discrimination, etc. But it is not matriarchy/female supremacy which oppress trans people for bucking the gender trend - it is patriarchy/male supremacy.

And when trans people protest against oppressive constructions of gender, patriarchy doesn't provide a flexible solution. Patriarchy doesn't adapt. The solution is to reinforce patriarchal gender roles, provide surgery and hormones (which turn transgenderism into a medical condition) as a corrective measure and to redefine what women are. Et voila! - the status quo remains.

Pretty Orwellian stuff.

KRITIQ Tue 05-Feb-13 10:55:43

Thank you Big Spork for your succinct yet clear explanation of what transethnicity and cultural appropriation REALLY are (and not how these concepts are often used by racially and culturally privileged folks to try and justify their trans* exclusion.)

Folks who are genuinely interested in this issue and not just looking for a bunfight would be wise to look at previous threads (particularly look for Dreaming Bohemian's explanations) and the swathe of blogs and articles out there covering probably every angle of the issue. As Goth suggested (waves!) it's also worth looking for info on intersectional feminism and womanism to give the wider context.

I've been involved in one way or other with Feminist organisations pretty well all my adult life. I have used and will continue to use the term "gender" to describe the oppression women (including trans* women) because of the inferior value placed on women in society.

"Gender stereotypes" exist because of traditions and messages in popular culture that insist men and women must conform with specific behaviours and appearances. It's not because men and women "naturally" look all that different. It's not because there are fixed, mutually exclusive behaviours of men and women.

Women experience "gender based violence" based not on the presence or absence of a uterus, vagina, breasts or specific chromosomes (otherwise, people who don't have these things wouldn't be targeted.) They experience gender based violence because we live in a society that views women as inferior to men and supports men's entitlement to abuse and control women.

Gender IS a social construct, as is race, class, disability and homosexuality. There is nothing inherently inferior or superior in people of different sexes, different ethnic backgrounds, different abilities, different socio-economic statuses or who have relationships with people of the same sex. It is only because our hegemonic patriarchal/kyriarchal society TELLS us continuously that people have more or less worth based on these factors that some people retain privilege and power and others experience marginalisation and oppression.

KRITIQ Tue 05-Feb-13 11:03:16

Just a further point . . . yes, Gender is a social construct. I have heard some feminists refuse to engage with the concept at all because it is a social construct. But, it IS a thing, a thing that exists, a thing that has a massive impact on our society. I want to see a world where gender, race, class, etc. do not matter. But, we don't live in that world yet.

They aren't just imaginary monsters under the bed that go away when you turn the light on. To deny their existence and their impact is to deny the experience of people who suffer at the sharp end of these constructs. This is a big part of why, for example, many women of colour choose to define as "womanists," because they feel many white, relatively privileged feminists, fail to acknowledge that the experience of white, relatively privileged feminist IS NOT the industry standard experience of oppression.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 11:04:25

They experience gender based violence because we live in a society that views women as inferior to men and supports men's entitlement to abuse and control women.

KRITIQ, why do you think society assigns lower value to women than it does to men/gives higher status to men than to women?

Can you define 'gender based violence'? What form/forms does this violence take?

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 11:06:56

KRITIQ
"Women experience "gender based violence" based not on the presence or absence of a uterus, vagina, breasts or specific chromosomes (otherwise, people who don't have these things wouldn't be targeted.) They experience gender based violence because we live in a society that views women as inferior to men and supports men's entitlement to abuse and control women. (otherwise, people who don't have these things wouldn't be targeted.) They experience gender based violence because we live in a society that views women as inferior to men and supports men's entitlement to abuse and control women."

This is not true. Women experience "sex based violence" based on the assumption they have a uterus, vagina, breasts & specific chromosomes which have the female reproductive role associated. It is this 'sex role' behind women being viewed as inferior and behind men's entitlement to abuse and control women.

"otherwise, people who don't have these things wouldn't be targeted."

This is a sudden enormous leap - you are saying that because violence happens irrespective of female reproductive capability being verified by the perpetrator before perpetrating, then this reproductive capability has no part to play in the oppression of women? hmm

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 11:19:50

By the way there are lots of women of colour who identify as radical feminists, who play a huge part in contributing to the discourse and the movement, and have had a vital role in enriching radical feminist analysis to include intersecting oppressions.

Women of colour do not have to accept that- a man who amputates their penis and takes hormones is a woman just because that is what this person says they are- in order to have an understanding of the intersecting oppressions they face as a woman of colour or the right to organise to end these oppressions specific to themselves as women of colour.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 11:21:28

"Gender stereotypes" exist because of traditions and messages in popular culture that insist men and women must conform with specific behaviours and appearances.

And this too please KRITIQ.

What is the origin of these traditions and messages? Why do they exist? What is the reasoning behind them? Why do we have a global culture (which takes different forms, but which exists worldwide) which insists that males and females (the two sexes which exist in the human species) conform to specific behaviours and appearances? With the female constantly being hampered and hobbled, excluded from power structures and control of land, capital and means of production?

Why do we have practices like foot binding and FGM? Or institutions like prostitution and marriage? Or rape culture or the feminization of poverty or highly gendered domestic violence? Or women and children as chattel?

My answer would be because patriarchy is a sex based oppression. It is a male supremacy. Therefore the form this oppression takes is sex based. The mechanism is gender. The tools - gendered violence and control.

Gender exists because of sex.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 11:25:22

beachcomber apologies if I seem to be replicating much of what you are saying - it is cross-posting. Very well-said with everything.

KRITIQ Tue 05-Feb-13 11:39:00

1.) Why does society assign lower value to women? For the same reason it assigns lower value to people of colour, to poor people, to disabled people. Because most of those who are at the "top of the tree" are not these things. In order to maintain their privileged position, they select appearance and behavioural factors to distinguish themselves as more capable and worthy.

2.) Definition of Gender Based Violence? A pretty good explanation can be found here.

Rather than going around in more circles on this, I think what it boils down to is that you (Beach) and I have differing concepts of what "woman" means.

From your previous contributions (and correct me if I am wrong) you believe to be a woman requires specific chromosomes and/or reproductive organs. You also (I think) believe that one must have the "experience of growing up female," to be a woman (although I'm not sure of your stance where a person had one but not the other.) For this reason, you do not accept that a trans* woman can ever be considered within the definition of "woman."

I believe that being a woman is not just down to chromosomes or organs. I don't believe there is a "universal experience" of growing up female. For example, a disabled girl and disabled boy may have more common experiences of oppression due to their disability than the disabled girl will have with a non disabled girl because of her sex or gender. I do believe that trans* women are women, in the same way that Black women are women, working class women are women, disabled women are women, etc.

And, because our positions differ so vastly on the issue of inclusivity and intersectionality of oppression, we are never going to find common ground on this one. As I said on a previous thread, it has common features with the issue of abortion. Someone who believes human life begins at conception so abortion is murder and someone who believes human life starts when the foetus is viable so abortion is acceptable will never, ever, ever come to an agreement on the matter.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 11:44:03

No worries BubblesOfBliss - as you say cross posting. Your posts are great - also I think you actually posted before me! We aren't replicating - we are two people saying the same thing because it is our analysis.

KRITIQ Tue 05-Feb-13 11:47:20

Bubbles, if women experience "sex based violence" on the basis of the assumption that they have female chromosomes and reproductive organs, then trans*women would never be raped. I simply don't accept that a woman's reproductive capacity is the only reason women are controlled and abused under patriarchy. Otherwise, those without this capacity would be afforded higher status.

I got to the part where you said "amputated penis," and I blanched. Nope, I don't have the stomach for this nastiness any more than I no longer have the stomach to argue with racists. The feeling I get is the same. I'm out.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 11:55:07

KRITIQ "1.) Why does society assign lower value to women? For the same reason it assigns lower value to people of colour, to poor people, to disabled people. Because most of those who are at the "top of the tree" are not these things. In order to maintain their privileged position, they select appearance and behavioural factors to distinguish themselves as more capable and worthy."

This is not actually true. Although 'othering' is an essential part of oppressiveness - in that it enables the oppressor to cohesively oppress and believe they are right in their oppressiveness, it is not true that all people are othered for the same reasons. It is quite within the rights of each 'othered group' to form an understanding of the reasons specific to their own othering and oppression in order find a way to be liberated from their oppression. Putting all oppressions in a intellectual blender for convenience or to make deluded people feel better does not help anyone to actually arrive at the truth. It just halts a deeper analysis and understanding.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 12:02:02

"Bubbles, if women experience "sex based violence" on the basis of the assumption that they have female chromosomes and reproductive organs, then trans*women would never be raped. I simply don't accept that a woman's reproductive capacity is the only reason women are controlled and abused under patriarchy."

Hang on, you can equally say that men can be raped by men too. The raping of men or transwomen, does not invalidate the reason for women's oppression being rooted in their expected reproductive capability from birth.

"Otherwise, those without this capacity would be afforded higher status."

I detect another unsubstantiated intellectual leap here.. How does this fit?

"I got to the part where you said "amputated penis," and I blanched. Nope, I don't have the stomach for this nastiness any more than I no longer have the stomach to argue with racists. The feeling I get is the same. I'm out."

You know what - I find the amputation of genitals pretty disturbing too. Doesn't mean it is not true, or to talk about the truth is 'nasty'... I feel that I am being subjected to a manipulative silencing by guilt here.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 12:11:42

1.) Why does society assign lower value to women? For the same reason it assigns lower value to people of colour, to poor people, to disabled people. Because most of those who are at the "top of the tree" are not these things. In order to maintain their privileged position, they select appearance and behavioural factors to distinguish themselves as more capable and worthy.

Surely it is in order to achieve a position of privilege. And this privilege takes a form - it exists in concrete ways. I would say that the reason lower status value is assigned is in order for one group to exploit another. In order to achieve that exploitation one group most have control of the other group. In the case of people of colour the exploitation is for capital gain - to exploit a workforce (often in the form of domestic service) and to exploit people's energy, land and resources. Race is the mechanism of control used to achieve this.

With women it is to exploit us as a workforce and to control us as the providers of a future workforce and heirs. It is also to exploit us for sexual services, domestic service and as means of control of land and resources. Gender is the mechanism of control used to achieve this.

The other advantages to privilege are fun add ons, the real reason is exploitation. Exploitation and control are what make the political difference between oppression and discrimination.

I don't believe there is a 'universal experience' of growing up female. I do however believe that there is a universal oppression, a universal female oppression. This oppression is applied to different female groups in slightly different ways, but its origin lies in our sex.

White males are not more worthy or capable than people of colour and/or women. But they want to exploit us and in order to do so they must 'other' us and create binary hierarchies. People of colour are othered by the binary hierarchy of race - people of colour othered by white. Human females are othered by the hierarchy of sex - female othered by male.

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