Separating Lesbian Theory from Feminist Theory, by Cheshire Calhoun

Separating Lesbian Theory from Feminist Theory

written by Cheshire Calhoun
Ethics
Vol. 104, No. 3 (Apr., 1994), pp. 558-581
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2381979
To be used for educational purposes only.
First, lesbianism ought not to be read solely as resistance to patriarchal male-female relationships. One misses a good deal of what it means to live life as a lesbian as well as much of the political significance of lesbian practices by doing so. Second, even if empirically and historically heterosexual dominance and patriarchy are completely intertwined, it does not follow from this fact that the collapse of patriarchy will bring about the collapse of heterosexual dominance.10 Heterosexual society may simply adapt to new social conditions. Thus it is a mistake for feminists to assume that work to end gender subordination will have as much payoff for lesbians as it would for heterosexual women.

“Political Lesbianism” is Identity Politics

Identity politics is, in part, the act of adopting an identity for the purpose of making a political point. In the case of “political lesbianism,” lesbian is reduced to a social identity that informs others of your political ideology, rather than a factual description of a woman’s private sexual behavior.  As with all identities, “political lesbian” demands external recognition in order to exist. If others do not acknowledge or understand you as a “political lesbian,” there cannot be any resulting social influence. “Political lesbian,” then, functions primarily as a social performance.

First, how does one make herself as a “political lesbian” known to others? Is it accomplished by name, deed, appearance, or some combination thereof? Well, if by name alone, then “political lesbianism” is truly nothing more than a label, a performative utterance.[i] I think even self-identified “political lesbians” would agree it requires more. If “political lesbianism” comes into being by sexual deed alone, it may remain entirely confidential. If women have sex but no one knows it, their deed cannot possibly affect the wider political climate. Publication of oneself as a “political lesbian” is necessary for social influence and political relevancy. So deed may be necessary, but it too is insufficient. Ultimately, appearance may be the most effective method of ensuring that one’s announcement of herself as a “political lesbian” is coherently received by her social audience. Yet “political lesbianism” is not a fashion movement and does not prescribe particular garments or colored hankies for visibility.[ii] I have read as many definitions of “political lesbian” as I can find; there is no consensus on what it means.

Secondly, the efficacy of “political lesbianism” as a political action depends on the same rationale as every other form of identity politics: the loyal volunteers are expected to behave in a certain way that supposedly effectuates positive social change. I’ve made jokes about what “political lesbians” think the best sexual positions for fighting patriarchy are, but it’s not entirely funny. We cannot fuck our way to liberation. I learned that from queer theory. In practice, being a lesbian- “political” or otherwise- does not decrease, but actually increases, women’s experiences of discrimination and social denigration. It is arguably sadistic to encourage women to deliberately expose themselves to oppression in order to advance the collective status of other women.

More broadly, a social performance methodology of politics evades confrontation of forces beyond the immediate realm of one’s personal life. Political activism is not a self-help movement; it is the intellectual and material deconstruction of unequal class-based power dynamics that give rise to oppression. As I have explained elsewhere, oppressed people have not created their own oppression with “bad identity choices,” nor are women’s “bad sexuality choices” the cause of our sexual oppression as females.[iii] The ostensibly feminist theory of “political lesbianism,” however, focuses on the personal choices of women privileged enough to exercise control over their own sexual expression. Unfortunately, most women in the world do not have this liberty.

One’s sexuality should never be in service to her politics. If you’re lesbian, that’s just great. If you’re not a lesbian, who cares? Not me. I don’t care who you have sex with or what you call yourself; that’s your business. Market-constructed, phallocentric sexuality can and should be critiqued. Compulsory heterosexuality must be critiqued.[iv] This critique does not grant feminists license to prescribe certain kinds of sexual behavior, identities, or desires as more “feminist” than others.

Patriarchy manipulates women’s sexuality towards men and heteronormativity. “Political lesbianism” does something similar in the reverse. Here’s how: the theory of “political lesbianism” asserts that sexuality is entirely socially constructed. This framing renders women who are not lesbians—in name or deed, it doesn’t matter seem to matter—as being male-identified. Similarly, the statement “any women can be lesbian” posits lesbianism as a state of being that women should aspire to as a form of feminist consciousness. “Political lesbianism” thereby casts lesbianism as aspirational, not neutral or incidental.

The very definition of hierarchy is “a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority.”[v] It is therefore inevitable that a hierarchy is created when one form of sexual expression is viewed as better, more enlightened, or more politically effective than another. Through the establishment of this hierarchy, pressure to alter ones sexual identity is generated regardless of whether the pressure is intended or not. The positive suggestion of change is inherent to the idea that lesbianism is a (politically) superior or preferred way of being.

Glorifying lesbianism through the lens of feminist politics projects a fantasy onto those women who are “lesbians” regardless of their political views. It abstracts women’s experiences of loving women as if all lesbians were feminists.[vi] This is not fair to the lesbians who bear the burden of the unrealistic expectations of this “political” theory. It is also a demonstrably false assessment of lesbianism in the real world. There are endless examples of lesbians who prioritize men over women, who are abusive to other women, or who do not understand women as oppressed people. I’m not sure that “political lesbians” appreciate the sometimes unpleasant realities of lesbian community, presently and historically. Further, in some areas of the world it is now possible for lesbians to become almost completely assimilated into social norms. As a married lesbian in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I can’t remember the last time someone bristled at our public displays of affection. No one cares that I am a lesbian. It is clearly not a threat to their heterosexuality or anything else they hold dear.

Leveraging a “lesbian” identity for the purpose of political warfare against patriarchy effectively turns some women’s desire into other women’s attempts at retaliation. The classic feminist text Woman Identified Woman states, “A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.”[vii] This definition uses “lesbian” as a message directed at men, an insult. It is the absolute opposite of how I feel about my lesbian partner. Adopting the identity “political lesbian” in reaction to patriarchy is not an expression of love or desire, nor is it even about women. It is fundamentally about men; it uses an identity to “radically” transgress social norms of heterosexuality. We cannot use a social identity to effectuate “liberation” any more than we can gender-fuck ourselves out of patriarchy’s power dynamics. We need to change the system itself, not our individual behavior or identities within this system.

“Political lesbianism” has a long and distinguished feminist history. Some theorists continue to argue that it deserves a place at the “radical feminist” table. But this appeal to tradition does not persuade me. Identity-as-social-performance is not politically effective because it is an individualist approach to a systemic problem. “Political lesbianism” instructs us to view lesbianism from the perspective of an external observer: it is essentially a social I-dentity through which we can and should subvert the dominant paradigm of heterosexuality. Those who support “political lesbianism” as effective feminist political action have allowed identity politics to infect their ideology.

I identify as an anti-political-lesbian lesbian.

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[i] See “I Say It, Therefore It Is” regarding performative verbs here: http://rootveg.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/i-say-it-therefore-it-is-so/

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief_code

[iii] More on identity as politics here: http://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/socialization-matters-why-identity-libertarianism-is-failed-politics/

[iv] Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience, by Adrienne Rich http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500compulsoryhet.htm

[v] Google for “hierarchy.”

[vi] See previous entry “Lesbian and feminist are not synonyms, expanded” at http://revolutionarycombustion.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/lesbian-and-feminist-are-not-synonyms-expanded/

[vii] Woman Identified Woman by Radicalesbians: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/womid/

Radical feminism or not, 5 years later

It’s been almost five years since I opened my first blog, Undercover Punk, in February of 2009. I have always written about feminism, but in the beginning, I didn’t even know that “radical feminism” was a thing. I just knew that my feminism was more “radical” than, like, everyone else’s. I was stumbling along, throwing half-baked rants at the wall, trying to make sense of men’s destructive behavior and the gender backlash. The process of sharing your thoughts with the world is not an easy one, even if done anonymously. In the past five years, some of my most deeply held beliefs have been shaken to the core, some ideas discarded, others adopted. I’ve made both friends and enemies…and maybe even a few frenemies. No joke. I have been applauded and maligned. I’ve been written about by other people; you can google me– the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s been a wild ride and then some, that’s for sure.

UndercoverPunk_header

The subtitle to Undercover Punk was “Got AGENCY? Create. New. Values.” Sounds like a motto for #chooseychoice feminism, right? That sentiment no longer holds any feminist meaning for me. Not in terms of politics anyway. I think it’s all very nice and important for people to use their agency to express their values whenever possible. The proverbial Golden Rule is one of my favorites. But I cringe reading my old posts because I no longer think personal choices are politically interesting or relevant. Focusing on the “choices” women make necessarily undermines power analysis; power analysis that is fundamental to all class-based political theory including feminism.^1

I started writing criticism of political lesbianism on this blog a couple of years ago after I heard rumblings of the idea’s resurgence. I have been studying feminism for years, so it wasn’t my first exposure to the theory. In fact, when I initially encountered “lesbian feminism,”^2 it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. I even embraced it for a while and argued that rejection of males in one’s intimate life was a liberatory act. But this is a lifestyle-based argument, not a political one. No one can escape their own oppression, or effectively challenge the oppression of others, merely by making “better choices.” I know that now.^3

I don’t think “Leaning In” to corporate America (nor to a certain kind of sexuality: political lesbianism) is going to revolutionize the social status of women any more than Barack Obama’s presidency has revolutionized the social status of black people in America. We need a lot more than a few successful tokens demonstrating their sweet agency. We need strong structural analysis that will help us understand, articulate, and ultimately deconstruct the complexities of women’s oppression.

People ask me all the time if I’m a “radical feminist.” Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. I don’t know, if I ever did, what being a “radical feminist” requires. I am both pigeon-holed as a “radical feminist” by people who disagree with my gender criticism, and denied the same political identity by women who find my ideas too accommodating to males. I can be and not be a “radical feminist” on the same day to different people. Talk about making your head spin! Fortunately, being a “radical feminist” is not something I care about fighting over. Suit yourself, really.

When people ask me whether I’m a “radical feminist,” I am certain that don’t want to be associated with the term as a kind of (internet?) political I-dentity warfare. Because I am also certain that being a “radical feminist” does not require ignoring or denying the diversity of thought expressed by the foremothers of the “radical feminist” tradition. An increasing reliance on a “radical feminist” identity results in oversimplifying the ideology we claim to represent, but worse, it buries conflicts and silences criticism. The gist is that you can only be a Real Radical Feminist if you agree with the specific ideas currently in vogue. For example, male essentialism is very popular among women identifying as “radical feminists” on the internet. That’s fine, but it is intellectually dishonest to present this as The One True Radical Feminist Way. Andrea Dworkin wrote a scathing critique of biological superiority in feminist thought.^4 If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend taking the time to do so. Even her preamble is interesting. But presenting certain conclusions as foregone– such as the biological inevitability of male dominance, or that all heterosexual sex is rape– when these ideas were not universally accepted in the first place is historical revisionism. And nobody likes that except The Man.

In addition to being comforting, I think many people find political identities such as “radical feminist” so useful because they are discussion shortcuts and thought stoppers. If you are on the defense, you can hide behind the political identity, throwing it down as an explanation for your views: “I think xyz because I’m a radical feminist!” No more questions!^5 On the other hand, the careful introduction of a political identity question can force a conversational redirection while participants confirm, deny, or debate the political identity; effectively derailing the issue under examination. Another thought-stopper tactic is to leverage your opponent’s political identity to demand an explanation for an unrelated person’s behavior or statements. Now, instead of debating the issue, something entirely new is put on the table– just because the two parties share a political identity. Using political identities as discussion shortcuts may be convenient, but it is also counter productive to intellectual development and political understanding.

I sincerely do not care if other people consider me a “radical feminist”… as long as they don’t try to make me responsible for all “radical feminist” I-dentified people everywhere. Five years after I typed up my first post as anonymous blogger, I write almost exclusively about power analysis of gender and breaking down the double-speak of identity politics. What I write today wouldn’t make any sense in a different era– cis wasn’t a term used to explain gendered oppression and “gender identity” wasn’t a legally protected characteristic. Is my writing in the tradition of “radical feminism?” It doesn’t matter. It just needs to be done.

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http://revolutionarycombustion.wordpress.com/feminism-is/

2 The possibility of “lesbian feminism” and “political lesbianism” being different trains has occurred to me, but I don’t think that distinction matters here.

3 Socialization Matters: Why Identity Libertarianism is Failed Politics http://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/socialization-matters-why-identity-libertarianism-is-failed-politics/

4 Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIID.html

5 Wait. Wait a minute! Are you, like, a “Mary Daly” radical feminist? Or are you more of a “Catharine MacKinnon” radical feminist? Or maybe a “Sheila Jeffreys” radfem? Can you please clarify?

The past, the future.

Googling myself is not something I enjoy doing. This is not because I hate the things I, personally, have written on the internet. Quite the opposite, I generally agree with myself. Haha. Which is not to say that I’ve never changed my mind about something–oh, I have!– but I’m very secure in my political positions. I’ve done a lot of thinking and researching and debating; I know why I believe what I do. I’m happy to support my positions when challenged. The reason I do not enjoy googling myself is because of what other people say about me. It’s very frustrating to read misrepresentations about me and/or my writing, knowing that I have no recourse. I simply have no control over what other people say about me. It’s an occupational hazard of sharing your ideas with the internet.

So, the top google hit on “Bess Hungerford” is a review of a blog post I wrote over a year and half ago, just before I closed my now-private blog called Undercover Punk and started this one. It’s kind of a funny read because the hyperbole is so thick and the critic clearly misunderstands what he’s read.

Here is a complete re-post of the post in question for your edification. The post foreshadowed this blog–especially the title, Revolutionary Combustion– so this is an equally appropriate venue for its publication. I will probably expand on these ideas in the future, but let me clearly summarize: violent elimination of *anything*–institution, individual, or class of people– is not a viable solution to patriarchy. If that’s what it takes to be “radical” or to be a “radical feminist,” then I am neither.

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Radical feminism and the future

JANUARY 24, 2012

It is common to say that something is good in theory but not in practice. I always want to say, then it is not such a good theory, is it?

Catharine A. MacKinnon

I have reservations about framing “revolution” as the natural or inevitable conclusion of radical feminist theorizing. It seems generally accepted that “revolution” will cause the total destruction of all existing social institutions because revolution is only means of eliminating the “root” of female oppression. Thoughts which support revolution are therefore “radical;” everything short of that is not-radical. Not-radical thinking has no place in “radical” feminism. I’ve been turning these assumptions over and over in my mind. The belief that female liberation through “revolution” is even possible leaves many unanswered questions for me.

For example, how do feminists propose that we destroy all social institutions? With physical force? I think violence is counter-productive to feminism, but let’s pretend that women can use violence as a means to a greater end without harming ourselves in the process. I will suspend disbelief and take as given that women have also been successful in destroying all the buildings and physical infrastructure men have ever built; that we have effectively destroyed all the historical records and organizational documents of patriarchy (and that no one is secretly harboring any of them).

This is not yet a clean slate.

Patriarchal institutions are largely ideological. You can’t physically destroy ideas. Ideas exist in human minds. Many of them stubbornly persist despite our attempts to forget them. Gendered expectations of appropriate behavior, just for example(!), are deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. No matter how we struggle to deprogram ourselves, we have each internalized the mind warping effects of gendered social conditioning. So, how would women eliminate these residual subconscious biases? This is my primary reservation about revolution as liberation: human minds cannot be wiped clean of patriarchal ideas. Freeing women from the tangible constraints of patriarchal institutions is a noble cause, but revolutionary results will require us to transform ideology as well.

Further, is “revolution” merely an end? And then what? It’s not a suicide mission, is it? What would a post-patriarchal world look like? Now, I have some really sweet ideas. But so does everyone else. We may find ourselves in serious conflict about how to proceed. In fact, I think we should plan on having some disagreements. How would women prevent patriarchal values and hierarchies from re-establishing themselves in this dreamy post-revolutionary feminist utopia? How would we solve problems and distribute resources? I simply don’t have faith in human (read: female) “nature” to magically work-it-out. This will be especially problematic if we acknowledge that post-revolutionary minds will not be clean slates. We should prepare ourselves to preempt foreseeable challenges. I want a better plan and a clearer vision. How will the post-revolutionary future be better than the patriarchal past?

Feminist reliance on an inevitable, yet indeterminate, notion of “revolution” is not, from my perspective, effectively contributing to the alleviation of women’s collective oppression in the here and now. I don’t think this mythical “revolution,” as currently conceived of, is a viable end goal for our thoughts about how to liberate ourselves or how to improve women’s lives as a class. It’s an underdeveloped pipe dream that gives us permission to avoid the incomplete and unsatisfying– but urgently necessary– work of institutional reform/attack. We are wasting time. We can do better.

If this disqualifies me from be-ing a “radical feminist,” so be it. I must think more practically about the purpose of my engagement with radical feminist theorizing.

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Femininity, revisited

Perhaps the greatest challenge to thinking women is the challenge to move from the desire for safety and approval to the most “unfeminine” quality of all — that of intellectual arrogance, the supreme hubris which asserts to itself the right to reorder the world.

— Gerda Lerner

What we ought to see in the agonies of puberty is the result of the conditioning that maims the female personality in creating the feminine.

— Germaine Greer

On my old blog, I had a series of posts entitled “In defense of femininity.” This was my round-about way of saying that it’s not sinful or necessarily anti-feminist to express certain forms of socially defined ‘femininity.’ It’s undeniably true that the constructs of femininity as a whole are central to female oppression.  I understand that it’s painful to think about the social roles and costumes used to constrain women’s behavior and define ‘woman’ as a particular kind of social actor. It may be easier to dismiss the whole mess and declare yourself radical. But this emotional short cut is not helpful to women. Total renunciation of all feminine characteristics is an oversimplification of a very complex phenomenon. It is theoretically lazy, but moreover, it is politically ineffective because it doesn’t offer women practical, real-life instruction.

Feminism should give us analytical tools that we can apply to own lives. In order to do this, we cannot treat femininity as a monolithic concept, experience, or alleged choice. Being a ‘woman’ is the cumulative effects and embodied experience of being molded by an entire lifetime of feminine social conditioning. It saturates every aspect of life under patriarchy. Expectations of feminine behavior and appearance taint every relationship, every social interaction, every professional opportunity, every fear, and every desire of humans socialized as girls from birth. It’s in our speech patterns, our hand writing, our laughter, our mannerisms and movements. It’s emotionally difficult to unpack. But this is a challenge we cannot turn away from. The extent to which female humans are conditioned to embody and internalize various forms of ‘femininity’ is exactly how seriously we must take feminist analysis of these practices. It will require much more than dismissing women for wearing mascara and leggings or for wanting to be nice and resolve conflict. Feminism should provide women with criteria that we can use to evaluate, form judgments, and make decisions about the potential value of ‘feminine’ conduct. One of feminism’s tasks is to interrogate the unique harms and benefits flowing from each and every different manifestation of ‘femininity.’

For example, it is undeniable that high heeled shoes are both uncomfortable and the direct cause of many wearers’ physical deformities. High heels should be avoided and criticized accordingly. It is objectively provable that certain “beauty” products contain dangerous carcinogens– especially when applied directly to our skin, lips, eyes, and scalp day after day, month after month, year after year. It is appropriate to criticize and resist the social coercion placed on women to wear make-up because it comes at our great personal expense. Sheila Jeffrey’s 2005 book Beauty and Misogyny offers an incisive critique of many practices associated with the “beauty” industry, from lipstick to labioplpasty. I highly recommend it.

By comparison, the color pink is objectively harmless. It is not pink itself, but the cultural association with women and femininity, that is dangerous because it marks the wearer as weak and, therefore, as a potential target for sexual harassment or attack. Women are also pressured to identify with the color pink. We are strongly encouraged to wrap ourselves in pink with everything from our underwear to our technological devices. But it doesn’t make pink bad; it is the judgment that is incorrect. Similarly, wearing long hair is no more or less healthy than short hair, but within our deeply gendered context, long hair is associated with people who are fussy, soft, dramatic, and emotional. In other words, it is associated with women. But we should not give this specious association very much importance for we know it is unsupported by reason and because it attaches to things with alternate, objective benefits.

Women’s collective health and understanding of femininity-as-oppression requires that feminist analysis be able to differentiate between physical versus cultural harms, and inevitable harms from conditional ones.

We can make a similar evaluation of the behavioral characteristics associated with femininity. This dissection is even more complicated and difficult because so-called feminine “virtues” have been systematically leveraged against women; they have been used to guilt women into subsuming our own needs and desires in the service of others. Girls are groomed from birth to act in passive, supporting social roles as wives and mothers to men and children. Women have been shamed, manipulated, coerced, physically beaten, and even raped into feminine submission. We have been told that our capacity and willingness to comply is a direct reflection of our worth as human beings. We have been told that ‘femininity’ is as natural as our genitals; femininity is divinely ordered; it is what humans in female bodies are born to Do and Be. Hooray!

Indeed, this is precisely why feminism rejects gender essentialism. That gendered social roles are the primary basis of female oppression is foundational to feminist theory. Femininity is not female destiny. In the words of Robin Morgan, “Women are not inherently passive or peaceful. We’re not inherently anything but human.” At the same time, and without conceding anything to the falsification of femininity, I don’t see why feminism– radical or otherwise– requires us to reject every little thing that has been culturally coded ‘for women.’ Again, I think feminism’s task here is to carefully analyze the contextual harms versus the contextual benefits, using criteria that function as objectively as possible.

So, let’s ask precisely how and why feminine behavior serves to benefit third parties. For example, domestically care-taking a male (and his children) obviously benefits him in material, concrete ways. But what if a female is the intended beneficiary of that same ‘feminine’ nurturing and domestic care-taking? What if two women take turns caring for each other, domestically and emotionally, as partners? Does such a care-taking arrangement cease to count as ‘femininity’? Why or why not? Do all expressions of ‘femininity’ necessarily have a beneficiary? If so, are there rightful or noble beneficiaries versus fraudulent beneficiaries? And finally, what role if any does the female actor’s intent play in the execution of the so-perceived ‘feminine’ behavior?

Feminist analysis should further ask what harm is caused to women and what sacrifices are made by women who voluntarily express feminine characteristics as clocked by external observers. Do women lose time, energy, money, care, attention, respect, or something else? Are we spending limited or unlimited resources? How much is too much? Do we gain anything in return? If I sacrifice time, energy, and life force attending to other women’s problems, but seem to get nothing in return, should I stop? After how long? Should I ignore the emotional distress of other women because my desire/compulsion to attend to their feelings is–or might be– a result of my own feminine social conditioning from birth? Most importantly, what would happen to our relationships with other women if we refused to engage in any ‘feminine’ interactions with them? I shudder to think.

Women often have stronger, more fulfilling relationships with other women than they do with men– including husbands, sons, and fathers. Women have been conditioned to practice sympathetic emotionalism, sensitivity, nurturing, listening, and care-taking. I believe that women – both individually and collectively– can and do benefit from each others’ practice of certain forms of ‘femininity.’ By asserting this, I don’t intend to idealize all women or even to suggest that these feminine practices are always entirely conscious or voluntary. I am merely suggesting that some interpersonal skills coded as ‘feminine’ can and do help women build and sustain strong, mutually nourishing relationships with each other. These are relationships that we depend on for our personal survival in a patriarchal world. See Janice Raymond’s A Passion for Friends.

Further, behaviors-associated-with-women may also help us avoid the devastation of an anarchistic society where conditions are necessarily such that only the strongest survive. At the very least, some amount of care-taking– including the ability to nurture children– is critical to our survival as a species. Humans lack the claws, thick fur, and carnivorous fangs of many other mammals. Understanding this, humans must generate the skills to share resources and build community solidarity in order to sustain ourselves. This endeavor will require communication and cooperation with other humans over long periods of time (years). The social practices enabling dynamic, egalitarian communities should not be avoided or treated as less-than merely because they are associated with women, or with ‘femininity.’ We need these skills and these characteristics as much as we need some of the corresponding ‘masculine’-assigned characteristics such as independence, assertiveness, and rationality. These are human traits. We need all of them in different doses; their expression should not be restricted to certain kinds of people by virtue of  ‘gender’ or ‘sex.’ Nor should we evaluate them solely on that basis. Certain ‘feminine’ attributes– including sensitivity and diplomatic problem solving– hold value to us as humans despite our woman-hating, feminine-exploiting context.

To be both relevant and effective, feminist analysis should make a closer examination of the many diverse harms and benefits of ‘femininity.’  A deeper and more nuanced evaluation could help us better negotiate conflicts and express the full range of human emotion. And maybe we could do this without dismissing other women as weak, attention-seeking, or as capitulating to men.

Expressions of femininity are not sinful or necessarily anti-feminist if they do not result in harm to the self or others; and especially if they allow us to create stronger, more sustainable community bonds and personal connections with other women.

Not hate, rational disagreement.

This is another throwback from August 2010, brought to you by special request.

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Look, you don’t have to believe me, but I do not hate transsexuals. I am not afraid of them. It’s not a fucking phobia. I believe firmly that transsexuals have the right to pursue life on their own terms and to be free from harassment, violence, and other forms of social terrorism. In fact, if we were IRL and someone started talking shit about all trans people, I’d put the liberal smack-down on their ass. I’d be all: the oppressive gender binary is whack and sex roles are for tools, fools, get yo’ mind right! Or something like that. But seriously, I’m not trying to be malicious and I do not like hate-speech on my blog.

When I criticize trans politics and ideologies, it’s not motivated by hate. It’s motivated by rational disagreement with the ideas, in no particular order:

  1. that there is NO difference between bio males and trans men or between bio females and trans women
  2. that anyone can transcend their gendered social conditioning, or ERASE internalization of their past conditioning
  3. that g/jender identity has a biological basis or is an otherwise essential trait of humanity
  4. that it is politically and socially unproblematic for individual people to voluntarily pass as members of lower social class (male to female, white to black, able-bodied as physically disabled)
  5. that individual solutions (sex reassignment surgery) can materially impact structural inequalities (coercive forces of gender normalization)

Thinking trans people are freaks or immoral or don’t deserve human rights etc. is NOT the same as believing that trans survival techniques (and the I-dentity movement) fall short of political and/or social progress.

Joelle Ruby Ryan DEMANDS OUR SILENCE!

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JRR is NOT JOKING, y’all! Not above and not below. But neither are we.

Attention: YOUR PUBLIC CONTENT IS FAIR GAME FOR ALL COMMENTARY AND CRITIQUE. Any academic worth half her salary knows this.

GT_what-it-looks-like-when-wordpress-com-hides-your-post

JUST THE FACTS.

From Gender Trender earlier this morning:

…………………………..

Here is a copy of the University of New Hampshire’s Dr. Ryan’s false DMCA claim [sic]:

Email Address: Joelle.Ryan@unh.edu
Location of copyrighted work (where your original material is located):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ7eeRCdX9k
First Name: Dr. Joelle Ruby
Last Name: Ryan
Company Name: Univesity of New Hampshire (UNH)
Address Line 1: 73 Main Street
Address Line 2: 203 Huddleston Hall
City: Durham
State/Region/Province: NH
Zip/Postal Code: 03820
Country: USA
Telephone Number: 603-862-0272
Copyright holder you represent (if other than yourself): Self and UNH
Please describe the copyrighted work so that it may be easily identified: The film itself is embedded without my or the university’s permission, along with a copyrighted still from the film, and both are placed on a vicious hate blog which has a long history of defamation, hate-mongering, bigotry and threats against members of the transgender and transsexual community. I would never give permission for my film or stills from said film to be used on a hate site. Please remove the blog entry immediately.
Location (URL) of the unauthorized material on a WordPress.com site (NOT simply the primary URL of the site – example.wordpress.com; you must provide the full and exact permalink of the post, page, or image where the content appears, one per line) :http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/transilience-hilar/
If the infringement described above is represented by a third-party link to a downloadable file (e.g. http://rapidshare.com/files/…), please provide the URL of the file (one per line):
I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.: Yes
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.: Yes
Signed on this date of (today’s date, MM/DD/YYYY): 03/09/2013
Signature (your digital signature is legally binding): Dr. Joelle Ruby Ryan

You will immediately note a few things.

Joelle Ruby Ryan identifies himself as University of New Hampshire representative

  1. Joelle Ruby Ryan identifies himself as a designated representative of the University of New Hampshire who is acting on authority of that institution.
  2. Ryan claims that using the “embed” function on YouTube videos is a form of copyright infringement. That is simply false. Not only false, but absurd. When University of New Hampshire Health (or anyone else) posts an embeddable public video: anyone, anywhere can embed that video on any site for any reason. You can read about that in an article titled “Court Rules That Embedding A Video Isn’t Copyright Violation” here:http://www.geekosystem.com/embedding-video-copyright-infringement/
  3. Dr. Ryan also claims that a still image from a public video, used for purposes of critique and discussion of that public media, is a form of copyright infringement. Again, an absurd claim that runs in opposition to all known First Amendment law. You can read about that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

You can also read YouTube’s standard terms of service which state:

http://www.youtube.com/static?gl=US&template=terms

Section 6 (C)

6. Your Content and Conduct

“You also hereby grant each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service.”

…………………………..

There is no copyright violation.

So here, again, is the video. Enjoy!

Privilege Blinders REPOST

Originally published DECEMBER 6, 2010 (edited slightly to remove tangential content).

____________________

I am going to talk briefly about what I call the “Privilege Blinders” method of discrediting other people’s arguments and opinions. It’s closely related to Oppression Olympics, where social I-dentities are vigilantly tracked for the purpose of evaluating the speaker’s perceived “qualifications” (by virtue of personal experience or I-dentity) to discuss particular topics. Both Oppression Olympics and Privilege Blinders fail to analyze the substance/content/meaning of the speaker’s words. Instead, legitimacy is determined by the speaker’s apparent location on the social hierarchy. These techniques are conversation stoppers. Which makes them very dangerous.

And yes, Privilege Blinders work just like beer goggles. When intoxicated with privilege, one cannot understand why she is sooooo Very Wrong about [insert contested socio-political issue here]. I am using the term BLINDERS in the cognitive sense; it (allegedly) prevents one from comprehending something important about social dynamics.

beer_goggles_2

BEER GOGGLES!!

Privilege Blinders is a persuasion technique often encountered in political discussions. It can be leveraged to discredit anyone who is positioned “above” you on any social hierarchy when you don’t like what they’re saying. Instead of identifying logical or reality-based inconsistencies in their assumptions, reasoning, or conclusion(s); you can simply accuse them of wearing Privilege Blinders and, viola!, you have  effectively discredited the other party’s entire argument. Because Privilege Blinders render the privileged person “blind” to a critical something (we’re usually not told exactly what–red flag!). This something is entirely obvious and/or self-evident from another, presumably “lower,” perspective on the social hierarchy. If not for Privilege Blinders, the other party would clearly agree with your Truth and submit to your righteousness. Further, alleging Privilege Blinders insinuates that the wearer is both insensitive and arrogant for not realizing that her assertions are flawed (because they are dependent on her specific hierarchical positioning).

You may notice that the Privilege Blinders defense is often used against women, who are more vulnerable (as a class) to accusations of emotional insensitivity than men are. Guilt tripping. Check out the second paragraph of Marilyn Frye’s Oppression essay. 

Privilege Blinders is, indeed, a favored technique of post-modern genderists. Their ideologies are completely unsustainable, but instead of confronting actual problems, they will greedily pounce on the opportunity to attack their detractors’ (personal characteristics). Trans sympathizers have a tendency to use the Privilege Blinders defense at every possible opportunity. They habitually instruct others to edumacate themselves on Trans 101 because cis-privilege is getting in the way. The suggestion is that if we simply took off those Privilege Blinders, we’d either suddenly comprehend their “logic” OR we’d just stop being so callously insensitive and start acting like Stereotypical Women™ who appropriately, femininely, STFU whenever someone’s precious feeeeelings are hurt! Either way, it’s a WIN!

See how that works? Yeah, it’s pretty effective. Unless you know what you’re dealing with. And I’m tired of it.

Stick to the issues, be specific, or go home. Thank you.

____________________

Feminists using misogynist insults toward other women

I have a problem with leveraging misogynist insults at other women. Yeah, I do. And I am especially disturbed when these insults come from the mouths (or fingers) of women who actually consider themselves feminists or who believe that they are engaged in feminist discourse, analysis, and/or commentary while doing so. That’s funny, amIright? Tragically ironic is more like it. So I want to quickly address:

…the rising problem of ‘radical feminists’ using misogynist methods to refer to feminists with whom they disagree. Especially that they think it’s ok to publicly declare that some women are ‘male-identified’ (because *they* identify them with males) and then, basically, punish them on the grounds of that characterisation, by calling them ‘dick-pleasers’ or something similar. ~liberationislife

Sexualized insults are expressions of misogyny. Referring to a woman’s sexual behavior, her sexuality, or her appearance as a way to discredit her political efforts or speech is the lowest kind of insult I can imagine. It has no place in the mind of any self-I-dentified feminist. First, it blames women for their relations to males as if there were no such thing as structural and compulsory heteronormativity. It also seems to ignore the unfortunate reality that power and material resources are concentrated in the hands of males who must be appealed to under certain circumstances (remember, isolationism justified by delusions of revolutionary combustion is not an effective political strategy for improving the lives of women as a class here and now). Next, these insults characterize relations to males as an unconditional source of personal corruption (as if women are not capable of maintaining their integrity in the presence of males). Finally, this trend frames women’s value and feminist credibility as dependent on our relations to males (or lack thereof).

What kind of lazy hypocrisy is this? I know we’re living under The Patriarchy where cognitive dissonance and reversals are a way of life, but come on already, this is a no-brainer! A woman’s political value is in her ideas, not in her personal relations to males or male-controlled institutions. These kinds of insults are obviously unacceptable in ‘feminist’ discourse.

I wish to specifically include use of the malicious term handmaiden in my complaint. A handmaiden is a female servant. She is specifically female. And she is in service to male authority. Even dikipedia knows that ‘handmaiden’ is a sexualized insult:

A man might use a handmaiden as a concubine to bear his child if his wife was infertile. For example, the biblical Rachel, the childless wife of Jacob, gave her handmaid Bilhah to her husband to produce children. Jacob’s first wife Leah later did the same.[2] The Virgin Mary referred to herself as “the handmaid of the Lord” in acceptance of becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit.[3]

Unless y’all think you’re reclaiming ‘handmaiden’ like some ‘feminists’ want to reclaim ‘slut,’ it is completely inappropriate in feminist discourse. Please stop.

I will be moderating comments like the tyrant that I am. My blog, my speech.

handmaiden

For further discussion of female-female dynamics, see Rainsinger’s recent review of Phyllis Chesler’s book, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, here.

Elizabeth Hungerford:

“Let’s do a thought experiment and imagine, for a moment, that reliable scientific evidence for, say, the biological origin of male violence emerges. Let’s assume that this evidence is completely incontrovertible and undeniably true. What will feminists do in response? Well, firstly, they might give up. I don’t think this is likely, though it would certainly be very disheartening to women (such as myself) who have based their entire philosophy on the assumption that social construction is all. Secondly, they might turn to science for a solution. This option is so ludicrous to me that I had never even considered it before yesterday, but I suppose we might as well have a bit of fun with it. So, even supposing that the technology exists to “correct” whatever biological thing it is that causes male violence,[4] how would it be implemented? How would feminists get control of the technology and convince everyone else to let them do it? Who would decide how to use it, and who to use it on? etc. etc. The very idea is farcical.[5]

In fact I think what would probably happen is that feminists, after the initial disappointment, would go back to doing what they were doing before the announcement: i.e., working to reduce the social and cultural factors that work to enforce women’s subordination (which, unlike biological factors, UNDENIABLY EXIST). Because even if there are biological factors involved, reducing social and cultural factors will make a real difference to women’s lives. This is what we can change, and what feminists have been changing for years, with some degree of success.[6] So in other words, caring about the science at all would have been a bit of a waste of time and energy.”

Originally posted on some of this must be true:

I have been part of a discussion elsewhere on the role of biology in causing men’s violence, and more broadly on biological essentialism in general. I have noticed that some radical feminist bloggers seem to be expressing a more or less grudging acceptance of the role of biology in determining men’s behaviour, especially when it comes to why they are so incredibly violent. However, I utterly reject this position, and I would like to explain why. I have been accused in the past of being too ideological over this, but my position is not ideological – rather, (I hope) it is based on a sound understanding of biology, the application of logic, and considerations of practicality. My position comes more from my knowledge of science (I have a bachelor’s degree in a biological field) than it does from my knowledge of feminism.

This is absolutely a debate that needs to…

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