Femininity is not a fun game women play because we were born to enjoy dress-up.
The gender binary is a means of organizing social relations and distributing power. Power is gendered. Males and masculinity are systematically privileged over females and femininity. Feminine subordination manifests in wide-ranging social practices from intellectual dismissals of women’s ideas to the pervasive sexualization of female bodies– a phenomenon that begins at shockingly young ages. Being coercively assigned the feminine gender at birth, as all female-born people are, is not a privilege.
The notion of “cis privilege,” however, which is often used as an insult and/or to discredit the speaker, falsely posits a feminine gender assignment as socially equivalent to a masculine gender assignment. The near universal institutional oppression of females– the process by which male authority is ensured– clearly demonstrates that lumping all non-trans individuals into the same group is a gross oversimplification of how the gender binary operates. Non-trans females and non-trans males are not similarly situated persons in regard to gender.
So, for example, when someone says DIE CIS SCUM, they are charging non-trans females with (at least) 50% of the responsibility for gender-normativity-as-oppression. It arrogantly assumes that all non-trans females are comfortable with, and benefit from, the current gender arrangement. This is simply not true. The concept of “cis privilege” simultaneously denies the experiences of millions of females who ideologically reject femininity as female destiny, and completely erases the reality of butch females as if they never existed.
It is victim-blaming and woman hating to suggest that those in the subordinate position of this powerful gender binary are responsible for withholding self-identified trans* people’s liberation from them. Females are not responsible for this situation. Non-trans feminists have worked very hard to oppose compulsory female femininity by deconstructing and conceptually disentangling sex from gender.
If circumstances were otherwise, I’d find the idea of “cis privilege” amusing when finally viewed from this feminist perspective: males benefit from their coercive gender assignment, females do not. Anyone who wants to discuss “gender” and oppression should evince a basic understanding how and why the gender binary operates in the first place.
I don’t know how many times I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Lesbians are just lesbians. There is nothing inherently feminist about them. If you’ve never had the misfortune of meeting a male-identified lesbian, allow Ariel Levy to introduce you to the woman-hating attitudes of some lesbians in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs. Lesbian is not a synonym for feminist. Lesbian is not even synonymous with actually loving women.
Still, there is a long history of lesbian feminist literature encouraging heterosexual women to declare themselves as lesbians. One of the most famous is a pamphlet entitled Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism. It’s essentially a political statement encouraging Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) women to cease participation in heterosexual relationships. This is followed by letters of response.
Love Your Enemy? boldly asserts:
We do think that all feminists can and should be political lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.
Surely, no woman is obliged to engage in any sexual activity, but what is specifically lesbian about a woman’s political rejection of heterosexuality??
Framing woman-identified feminism as “political lesbianism” misappropriates lesbian experience by modifying the concept of “lesbian” such that the fundamental characteristic of lesbianism— eroticism between women– is no longer required. I am sorry to say that it feels very much like tacking “trans” onto the front of “woman” and insisting that the meaning of “woman” is not altered. As illustration, the mantra “trans women ARE women” falsely posits “trans” as an adjective that describes an additional characteristic of “women” who simultaneously possess the qualifications necessary for membership in the larger group. An adjective is used to provide more information about an existing noun, not less. “Trans,” however, is not an adjective but a modifier that actually serves to eliminate an axiomatic characteristic of the host word “woman.” The effect of adding “trans” to “woman” is to intentionally erase the relevancy of girlhood socialization on “women.” Similarly, the effect of adding “political” to “lesbian,” is to negate sexual connection between women from the meaning of “lesbian.”
“Political lesbians” are not lesbians at all. They are simply women who reject heterosexuality on a political basis. Lesbians also reject heterosexuality, but our motivations for doing so are not primarily political in nature, they are sexual.
Lesbian and feminist are not synonyms.
Feminism is not a lifestyle. Feminism is not an I-dentity.
Feminism is not about personal self-assessments of empowerment wherein individual women learn to feel good about themselves–while women as a class are substantially deprived of intellectual authority and socio-political influence.
Feminism is not about formal equality with men, such that women emulate male behavior and strive for male-defined “success.”
Feminism is not about the infinite inclusion of social causes within our purview.
Feminism is not about fantasies of revolution, mysticism, or the divine feminine.
Feminism is political. Feminism’s subject is the class:women.
Feminist analysis is directed at political structures, institutions, and principles of social organization.
Feminism deconstructs, with ultimate the purpose of destroying, artificial power relations between the sexes.
Feminist action aims to improve the status and lives of women as a class by confronting the social structures that support male supremacy.