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?

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 12:32:59

Ah OK, KRITIQ. I see I have just wasted my time by really thinking about my reply to you and posting in genuine faith with my political analysis and position on opression, if your position is that anyone who disagrees with you reminds you of talking to racists.

I think it is hugely silencing (and rather dubious) of a white woman to invoke racism to other white women in this way.

This seems to be the way the debate goes with liberals and progressives - any attempt at political analysis of transgenderism is oppressive/discriminatory. End of story. STFU you haterz.

Which, unsurprisingly, is exactly the same position as patriarchy.

GothAnneGeddes Tue 05-Feb-13 12:41:24

No one is "silencing" you. You're still all here with your bigotry dressed up as analysis aren't you?

There is a difference between not wanting to engage with someone, because you find their reasoning repellent and "silencing".

I know a key part of the anti-trans spiel is how under attack you are, but you need to stop conflating disagreement or not engaging with silencing.

As part of the group called women, before I leave this thread, I would just like to state that you do not speak for me.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 12:46:41

Patriarchy sex or gender oppression? neither.... Patriarchy is born out of class society and has changed over time according to the mode of production and means of subsistence. So in the beginning women were chattels to be traded and were related to the men of their class and oppressed on the basis of sex/reproductive capacities. In some ancient civilisations the bride dowry wasn't given until the bride had passed the first hurdle of proving her "potential" to have children. Slavery is also born out of class society where the racism is used as the narrative to justify keeping slaves. As example, one tribe would kill all the men but take the women and children. Later as methods of production changed tribes enslaved the conquered men. In order to keep control they found that demoralising the slaves through the rape of conquered women and control of their children kept the slaves in line. They were subordinated because they no longer had sexual control and access to their own women. But the use of the slaves was economic/materialist.

So whilst I agree patriarchy results in sex based oppression, I would argue that it was born out of materialistic necessity and the formation of class society. This may account for what Kritiq says about the differences and comonalities of oppression. Slavery/race and sex based oppression are born from the same thing. Bringing gender into the discussion really only explains the processes of socialisation to perform designated roles, something that changes over time and again in relation to production. Expectations change over time, more young men expect women to work and contribute the same or more monetarily to the family whilst still undertaking the vast majority of childcare. This is somewhat different to the expectations of performing gender roles in the 1950's, and is as a direct result of capitalism, as is the fact that women do most of the economic work and family work in third world nations, the two are linked by economic globalisation. This requires quite different gender roles to those performed historically.

Where do Transpeople fit into this? I think it is important for women (born female) to have women only spaces because of the specific nature of their oppression (rooted in sex (only reinforced through gender) I think there are areas of struggle where the working class, people of colour and trans people should be united. The liberal agenda is about dividing people, so whilst rad fems are fighting liberalism ( and so they should) it might also be noted that to some extent they might risk falling into the trap of playing identity politics, which is all to the good of the very thing oppressing all of us.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 12:51:23

>>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<<

yy, but born out of the need to exploit the natural world and women's abilities, to requisition wealth for social power over other men.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 12:54:49

GothAnneGeddes

"No one is "silencing" you. You're still all here with your bigotry dressed up as analysis aren't you? "

To be fair, to dismiss a well-reasoned argument with a slur such as the 'bigotry' you've chosen to use here, is actually a form of silencing by making a hostile space where members will be slurred for speaking sincerely in pursuit of the truth.

"There is a difference between not wanting to engage with someone, because you find their reasoning repellent and "silencing"."

This is true. Not wanting to engage is a feeling of not wanting to engage (for whatever reason) silencing is where you use guilt-tactics, slurs and insinuation to try to discourage the other person from engaging.

"I know a key part of the anti-trans spiel is how under attack you are, but you need to stop conflating disagreement or not engaging with silencing."

This rather dismissive statement of genuine attack is actually a bit victim-blaming too - another silencing tactic... It reads - your experiences of being under attack are not real, in fact they are all your fault for not being able to take it.

"As part of the group called women, before I leave this thread, I would just like to state that you do not speak for me."

Well that is neither here nor there. BTW 'flouncing out' is another silencing tactic . It is possible to leave a thread without announcing it first smile

FreyaSnow Tue 05-Feb-13 13:06:09

The work done globally on women's rights is 'intersectional' although in many ways that is just a new term for working through a problem based on context, which is just common sense.

The major problems women face globally are to do with their biological sex. DS was revising for GCSE Geography yesterday and the emancipation of women is a huge issue that is covered in every human geography topic; every time it is made clear that issues of work, democracy, education, health, human rights and environment for all people are dependent on emancipating women who are oppressed due to and through their reproductive capabilities.

This is completely obvious in government campaigns, in the work of aid agencies, the FAO, UN and so on. If feminism now wants us to sit around talking about how no two women are the same and how we all have our own unique identities because we're all special snowflakes, them it no longer has anything to do with the emancipation or liberation of women.

Most of the terms, types of argument and issues raised about cultural appropriation, gender identity etc in general across the internet are American ideologies that have nothing to do with how British ethnic minorities organise around race issues or how British women perceive being a woman.

Obviously rights for transgender people are important, but making a distinction between sex and gender is not primarily about a trans rights argument; it is largely about understanding the causes and consequences for whole societies of contemporary violence and oppression towards women, based on their biological sex.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 13:07:21

OK GothAnne.

How about you quote what I have said on this thread that is bigoted. How about presenting some analysis yourself rather than calling my analysis 'bigotry dressed up as analysis'?

I mean rather than just chuck the word about in argumentum ad hominem?

It is just too easy to throw insults about but never actually engage with the politics.

If the idea that patriarchy is a sex based oppressive structure repels you, I agree that the political position I hold, does not represent yours. I don't feel the need to attack you on that basis though - I prefer to present my view rather than attach insults to yours.

And LOL that calling people's ideas bigoted and similar to racists is not a liberal silencing technique. Calling women haterz is the oldest trick in the book. Pretending that we are the oppressors is just a new spin on that.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 13:40:23

Mini, I agree with much of what you say but I disagree with this;

Patriarchy is born out of class society

IMO it is the other way round - class is born out of patriarchy.

(Not that it is of huge importance really WRT today's struggle.)

JuliaScurr Tue 05-Feb-13 14:32:58
BigSpork Tue 05-Feb-13 15:11:38

Goth If it the trans* thread that I am thinking of, I made one quick comment and left for my safe space on Tumblr to re-coop and not been back much since. I spend more time there now.

As for the essentials of femaleness:
"There is no culture on earth where the female sex is the dominant power over the male sex." Not overall, but White women have social and economic power and status over Men of Colour. White women earn more overall, have higher social mobility, more likely to be believed by those in position of power, and will have the punishment for their crimes more in line with standard of white men and things associated with Men of Colour are more likely to be banned/deemed as lower. Both have this status over Women of Colour.

"Only females are at risk of becoming pregnant when raped": Yeah, do I need to get the rape studies and statistics out that show how more often Women of Colour are raped than White women? How about studies that have shown both average people and rapist say they think Women of Colour aren't rapeable? It's not Universal if society tells you that you can't be raped and you are far less likely to be believedor helped with it.

So, I can give you pregnancy and birth, which I've already discussed is completely different for Women of Colour in Western countries than for White women. The ideal pregnancy, birth, and motherhood is denied to Women of Colour.

So there is only a Universal Female Experience when we standardize one type of female as normal, which is what Women's Studies tend to do. Make White Women the standard, particularly the able bodied cis ones that are deemed worthy by White men. How is this progressive? My kin have been less than "real women" for generations.

And Bubbles - not all trans* people want hormones and surgery. That's actually a mainly Western obsession started by patriarchy telling those outside the cis community that that is what they should want. They trans* should want to appear "normal", normal being a body to match their gender. In actual trans* discussion, not the ones you are putting onto us, the concept of accepting the body/mind divide is highly important issue as is creating more fluid boundaries. Of the trans* in my social circle, not one has had any surgery, not one has discussed transitioning, the closest that it's ever come up is a trans*man discussing taking regularly available BC mainly to stop his periods which he found triggering (as well as the earlier mentioned issues of pregnancy and rape as therapeutic rape is a major issue) and a genderfluid person's absolute joy and glee when they got a strap-on (their favourite part was that it was blue, sparkly, and fit under their clothes well). Most of us don't want to fit into patriarchies box, we want to make our own.

And my comment about White Western Feminism is only anti-feminist if you consider that to be the only type of feminism. Liberal Feminism, for an academic title, may get the most airspace, but it's far from the only path. The Women Studies books from that perspective are mainly the White, Western ciswoman's perspective and analysis - much like Women's history icons are mainly White women. I come from a different perspective that sees things more intertwined - that my experience is about being woman, and a Metis, and genderfluid, and about my socio-economic class and they cannot be pulled apart as you all seem able to do -0 and broader ranges of representation. Here's a basic wiki link on the variety of variants in feminism. Many will find you a lot more anti-feminist than they will me, for others you will be the epitome and I will be the enemy.

Many would call to question and try to get you to unpack how you can separate your identities so easily (hint: the not normal always have our extra in our face all the time that it isn't in others. Male is just human, White is just human, Cis is just human, Able is just human. I will never be classified as 'a woman', other qualifiers will always be added, and those qualifiers were upon my children from their birth even with a White British father). They would wonder how you could ignore the concept of passing when it is used in every oppressive context - passing is a concept entrenched in the oppressed dynamic with the oppressor: I know ciswoman who dress to pass as men to get places more safely, I know other women of colour who will use the one most White passing to get things done with White officials because of the Whiter the features the better we're treated and White passing people of colour have created whole White identities to survive and marry on to the point that their descendants become surprised how little White they actually are, passing isn't a trans* issue, it's a oppressed issue.

And finally WOMEN CAN BE OPPRESSORS. White Supremacy Hetero Patriachy is held up by women just as much as by men. Women oppress me regularly. The White midwifes (plural) who told me that I was less than as a mother, the White midwives who lied and tried to get my child taken away and refused to believe a woman like me was married, the White women who pull their children away from mine after they see me, the White club leaders who preach openness to my face and taught my daughter painful confusing narrow views behind closed doors, the women run shows that thinks having white able bodied ciswomen is enough representation for all assigned female at birth, the ciswoman who allowed a trans*woman to die of hypothermia outside a homeless shelter because finding the trans*woman help wasn't the ciswoman's business, all are oppressors. It isn't about being called out as haterz, Whtie men in power have an interest in having everyone else keep up the system, which is why Liberal Feminism gets the most airspace - it's the one most easily manipulated to their cause.

I hope that is enough analysis, especially along with my other novel.

BigSpork Tue 05-Feb-13 15:21:51

Wow, one trans*person is evil. I didn't know we had to be saints to get support and inclusion.

I guess all White Women should be banned after my case where 3 White Women held me down and forcibly inserted a medical device, joking about how they were raping me and teaching me lesson and left me in a pool of blood and almost caused me to miscarry my child.

Or how about the White woman who carved a B into her face and blamed on a mysterious Black women.

I could drudge up all sorts of evil ciswomen. The one universal experience is that there are fucked up people in every group. If you are going to use this one person to deny all trans*women support and safety, I really don't know what to say, I thought mainstream feminism had at least gotten to the point of knowing you can't stereotype a group by one person.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 16:26:46

BigSpork

As for the essentials of femaleness:

"There is no culture on earth where the female sex is the dominant power over the male sex." Not overall, but White women have social and economic power and status over Men of Colour. White women earn more overall, have higher social mobility, more likely to be believed by those in position of power, and will have the punishment for their crimes more in line with standard of white men and things associated with Men of Colour are more likely to be banned/deemed as lower. Both have this status over Women of Colour."

But you forgot to mention that men of colour have male privilege over white women even though white women have white privilege over men of colour. Although of course both men of colour and white women have privilege over women of colour. This does not put white women at the top of the pyramid, it puts white men at the top, with both white women and men of colour on the second tier, with women of colour on the third tier.

"Only females are at risk of becoming pregnant when raped": Yeah, do I need to get the rape studies and statistics out that show how more often Women of Colour are raped than White women? How about studies that have shown both average people and rapist say they think Women of Colour aren't rapeable? It's not Universal if society tells you that you can't be raped and you are far less likely to be believed or helped with it."

This is true. Women of colour suffer compound oppression.

"So there is only a Universal Female Experience when we standardize one type of female as normal, which is what Women's Studies tend to do. Make White Women the standard, particularly the able bodied cis ones that are deemed worthy by White men. How is this progressive? My kin have been less than "real women" for generations."

This doesn't logically follow. White dominance does not erase male dominance. The universal female experience is domination by men - the fact that regrettably (in the dominant discourse) this power relationship has historically been viewed through a 'white lens' doesn't lessen the reality or the universality of this fact.

"And Bubbles - not all trans* people want hormones and surgery."

I never said they did. Which of course can be problematic.

"Most of us don't want to fit into patriarchies box, we want to make our own."

Perhaps some of us don't want to be in boxes at all?

"And my comment about White Western Feminism is only anti-feminist if you consider that to be the only type of feminism."

No, the slur that radical feminism is 'white' and 'western' when it aint.

"my experience is about being woman, and a Metis, and genderfluid, and about my socio-economic class and they cannot be pulled apart as you all seem able to do ."

It is all a matter of how you use critical thinking. You don't have to pull anything apart, but you can view the oppressive forces from different angles.

"how you could ignore the concept of passing when it is used in every oppressive context - passing is a concept entrenched in the oppressed dynamic with the oppressor: I know ciswoman who dress to pass as men to get places more safely, I know other women of colour who will use the one most White passing to get things done with White officials because of the Whiter the features the better we're treated and White passing people of colour have created whole White identities to survive and marry on to the point that their descendants become surprised how little White they actually are, passing isn't a trans* issue, it's a oppressed issue"

But this is where it gets confusing. Women are not the oppressors of MtF trans. Male patriarchy is, so why do MtFs focus so much on 'passing' in women-only spaces eg spas, rape survivors meetings, etc, etc. Instead of trying to 'pass' as those belonging to the powerful oppressing group, they want to pass as the oppressed group. It is not analogous.

"And finally WOMEN CAN BE OPPRESSORS."
Indeed they can be oppressors, but they are not the oppressors of like-for-like males. For example white women do not oppress white men, women of colour do not oppress men of colour, disabled women do not oppress disabled men and so on.

"I hope that is enough analysis"

Not quite wink

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 16:57:50

BigSpork are you saying that because white women have white privilege we should STFU about female oppression? I don't think there are many feminists who believe in a universal female experience - we know that women are treated very differently throughout male supremacist society. This often comes up in arguments about porn for example, with feminists pointing out that porn is very racist and that alone makes it unacceptable. Same with what you say about WOC and rape. One could say the same for women with disabilities who are also at disproportionate risk of rape and sexual assault.

A lot of feminist culture is lesbian culture and lesbians are very well placed to understand that there is a hierarchy to female oppression.

I'm very sorry to hear of what happened to you when having your baby. Were you treated like this in the UK - it sounds like you have been assaulted?

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 17:10:48

Actually, I've just re-read your post and I'm now asking myself if you are saying that only women of colour experience female oppression. confused

I understand the concept of passing in order to better survive as a member of an oppressed class amongst one's oppressors. It is politically rather different though when a male bodied person tries to pass as female - indeed it is the total opposite.

WhentheRed Tue 05-Feb-13 19:11:56

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.

I have re-read my post as I follow the thread. This statement more accurately reflects my view. I was a bit too timid in using the word "experience". Experience to me meant the experience of oppression based on sex. Thank you Beachcomber.

WidowWadman Tue 05-Feb-13 19:22:05

You can call your opinion "analysis" until your blue in the face, it's still just an opinion. And accusing those who disagree with you of silencing, in itself is a pretty hefty silencing technique.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 19:56:56

WidowWadman

"You can call your opinion "analysis" until your blue in the face, it's still just an opinion. And accusing those who disagree with you of silencing, in itself is a pretty hefty silencing technique."

Where did that come from? Analysis is different from opinion. And calling out silencing tactics is not silencing, it is trying to keep the conversation open- avoiding victim-blaming, slurs, manipulation, etc, that are 'conversation stoppers'. I can't believe you actually agree with what you said yourself- I think you want people you disagree with to feel guilty for speaking freely....which is erm....

FloraFox Tue 05-Feb-13 20:30:09

It's not the disagreeing which is silencing, it is throwing insults, plying guilt and flouncing off.

FreyaSnow Tue 05-Feb-13 20:34:09

I'm not sure why these threads get so wordy and theoretical so fast. It seems pretty straightforward.

Some groups of women are much more oppressed than others. I doubt any woman on here is going to claim that they are as oppressed as the average woman in Somalia.

But all groups of women are oppressed to some extent on the basis of their biological sex, because that is the basis on which women are collectively oppressed.

The fact that different groups of women are oppressed differently doesn't somehow make all people who are oppressed differently women.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 20:57:03

Or constantly turning up only to make inane comments about the opinions of one poster, it looks a bit odd. WW is there one poster in particular that you would like to silence?

Beach, I think it is important because we need to find ways of uniting various struggles against common cause, in that way change can happen. Taking a more historical materialist stand point is less exclusionary, it does make sense of all oppression, not just female oppression.

BigSpork, I really don't understand how change will happen if we all keep focusing not on what we have in common but on all these various qualifiers. Judging from your post, it would seem that accepting trans-women as women, accepting they face similar but also very specific problems, is actually a wasted effort. We are all individuals, with various qualifiers, where do these qualifiers stop, with race, culture, religion, short sightedness, the difference in height........how you take your coffee? If we are going to be divided into smaller and smaller angry parcels of individual highly specific oppressed people, then those that benefit from our collective oppression will have won.

I have been thinking about this a lot, how can we really be free to realise our capacities, to be truly accepted as individuals? would that be in a class society with hierarchies of privilege and exploitation, where we really are individuals? or collectively without social distinctions, without class? I think there is more freedom in collectivity, because those who include us amongst their ranks do so because of acceptance, not because we are outside looking in, kept at a safe distance, it is most convenient to overlook what other people are doing, what they suffer, what they look like, as long as it is far away from us. If you have acceptance, you have freedom to be an individual. With acceptance and collectivity everyone would take very seriously the oppression of other people.

WidowWadman Tue 05-Feb-13 21:13:48

Mini - I don't want to silence anyone,thank you and personally I argue against the contents of postings, and don't half care about the names attached to them, so please don't try to accuse me of personal attacks.

If you feel I've gone ad hominem, feel free to report me.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 21:23:34

What I find interesting WW, is the fact that out of 4 paragraphs the only thing you respond to seems to me to be personal. Strange. That's leave it there. I would prefer to hear your opinions on intersectionality, liberal hegemony, trans issues......

WidowWadman Tue 05-Feb-13 21:40:09

Mini

I've stated my opinion on trans issues and intersectionality on this and many other threads, but happy to repeat.

People should be free to identify as they feel they are without fear of ridicule, atack and bullying.

Noone has the right to ask anyone no matter whether cis or trans about their genitals, as what is in their pants is their own business.

Noone has the right to ask anyone about their medical history, as that's a private matter.

Noone has the right to out someone else against their will.

The hate speech used on sites such as bugbrennan and gendertrender is disgusting.

The idea that trans women have privilege over cis women is ludicrous.

Judging a whole group of people on the basis of behaviour of a small subgroup of extremists is wrong.

The constant denial of their own privilege by women who clearly are privileged is ridiculous.

Nobody should sleep with anyone they're not attracted to, I doubt anyone's denying that.

Trans people probably face more rejection than not trans people, which I assume must be hard to deal with. They should be allowed to talk about that - talking about dealing with rejection does not equal insisting that everyone should sleep with them.

The difficulties faced in shelters, such as outlined early in the thread need to be addressed sensitively. Saying "let them sort out their own shelters, it's not our business" is heartless at best.

Is that enough?

(Btw I used "cis" because it types quicker than FAAB and I really can't be arsed with that acronym)

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 21:53:19

WidowWadman is it possible to put these things together to form a coherent analysis with a bit a context rather than a bullet-point list of assertions? Otherwise it is not really adding to the discussion any more than purging your mind of any 'top ten list of things that piss me off' would add.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 21:58:23

Thank you WW, I am off to bed (very tired) I will read and reply.

Does it matter how its presented. I'll give up too grin it becomes exclusionary to insist that we all use a prescribed debating style. And what WW post makes clear is that theory doesn't substitute for opinion and vice versa and both should be valid.

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