Tag Archives: radical feminism

What Hillary Clinton means for feminism

Feminist Current has published a fantastic article by Marie Crosswell entitled Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of liberalism, not feminism. I urge you to read it. Everything from the title to the well-argued points are exactly what feminism needs right now. I wanted to add a few points of my own to bolster the great case that Crosswell has made and to put another much-needed article of dissent out there. Nothing I’m saying is original. This started out as a comment posted on the site in response to liberals but I decided it needed its own space.

 

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” – Hillary Clinton [source]

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

It’s the job of feminists to critique and analyze every supposed representative of our movement. Women haven’t died and made incalculable sacrifices so that modern feminists could make excuses and settle for half-assed solutions to the domination of our species by males. We need to carry these women’s work on our shoulders and prove that it wasn’t all in vain. Feminists are having to learn this lesson over and over and over again because the movement coddles people who can’t think beyond their knee-jerk denial.

The question simmering beneath the debate is simply this: Who are you here to defend; one woman or all women?

Patriarchy runs down to the core of this rotten society. It requires a radical solution. At what point do we realize we’re decorating a tree that needs to be taken down? We know the system has many tentacles that women often only have the time or energy to focus on individually. Hillary Clinton is not one of those people. She’s white, rich, and powerful. She’s smart. She could be a formidable force but she has chosen to mold her politics to a template that does not work, and I doubt very much that she doesn’t know that. She could have decided to extricate herself from a party that recently decided, extending the DOJ well beyond its legal mandate, that sex-based protections under Title IX mean nothing because some men have confused the stereotype of femininity with the material reality of womanhood itself. Whoever can’t see how damaging this is – that it is the erasure of females as a distinct class of people whose needs should be protected – needs to call whatever it is they’re doing something other than feminism.

The question of just how feminist Hillary Clinton is has been articulately laid out by many feminists, but some people don’t think they need to internalize that info because Clinton supports abortion. How many feminist-identified politicians are against it? When you’re done counting to zero, ask yourself whether you want to keep running on this hamster wheel. Liberals are never willing to face the ugly truth and stand up for real change – and that’s dangerous.

You might have good reasons for voting for Clinton and we can certainly appreciate the good things she’s said and done. I for one will be celebrating when (I hope) she kicks Trump’s ass and outshines her own philandering husband. But none of these things make her worthy of being the face of feminism. Can we finally admit Clinton’s limitations and instead set our focus on doing the work that we know only we are willing to do?

The world has seen a number of female leaders. Thatcher broke that glass ceiling a long time ago in the U.K. How much of a difference did that make for women? She wasn’t a feminist by any means, so it’s not an apt comparison on that level. But she was a neoliberal – a capitalist individualist – whose policies weren’t so different from those endorsed by Clinton all these years. A leader’s support for women shows not only in the comments they make explicitly about women but also in their policy, particularly as it concerns education and the economy, since these areas are key drivers of sex-based inequality under the current system. Being the most exposed and least valued, women are the first to suffer, forced into work that even the poorest men can avoid, along with the risk of unwanted pregnancy and their role (voluntary or not) as the primary carers of children and other family members.

Stopping at reproductive rights leaves a huge gap that fails to address the cause of sexual violence (masculinity) or the ways in which women who are further marginalized because of their ethnic backgrounds, disability, civic status, etc. are coerced into making impossible ‘choices’. As quoted above, she’s said that she doesn’t even understand why all of this is happening. I too want to believe her heart is in the right place but the depth of her ignorance is disappointing and her contradictions form a clear pattern.

An impressive list of countries including India, Guyana, Mali, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Argentina, Indonesia, Liberia, Philippines, Malawi, and Brazil have elected female heads of state. I think it’s important to ask how the lives of women and girls have changed as a result. For instance, what has Angela Merkel in Germany done for female victims of violence, not only at the hands of immigrant gangs but also at the hands of white German men who prey on poor women who are often trafficked from economically depressed regions, in mega brothels? One of the fascinating bits of history revealed in the Ascent of Woman BBC series is that women have taken power many times throughout human history, some of whom used that power to help their sisters while others didn’t or couldn’t. Worse yet, neither Canada nor the U.S. have managed to elect a woman as prime minister or president. So I absolutely want to see that happen.

Ultimately, it’s a trademark liberal strategy to fool the optimistic ranks into believing that a token woman in a powerful position is a sign of fundamental change. Does it make anything more than a little dent in patriarchy? It sure does enrage MRAs to think of a woman representing a state that they believe should be protecting their own privileges. And it gives many women and girls hope. Leaving aside the question of the degree to which a U.S. president is a true leader rather than a figurehead, having a woman in that role means something. The problem is that the liberal elite are very good at exploiting this something, blowing it out of proportion, and hoping that women will be content with it because they didn’t get stuck with an openly fascist president whose hatred of women is part of his appeal.

Women can’t afford to fall for the spectacle. The good news is that feminism is not one woman, and it remains up to all of us, as it always has, to overcome male power.

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Male violence and the problem with masculinity

Increasingly, people are talking about reforming masculinity in an effort to share this world with more kind, caring, balanced males who are better capable of managing their emotions and responding civilly to difficult situations. Implicit in this is the recognition that male violence is real and that it’s at least partly socially constructed through the negative aspects of masculinity. But you wouldn’t get this idea from reading the daily news. The media still portrays instances of male violence as the sole cause of some other factor – passion, heartbreak or mental illness. It’s still not socially acceptable to name male violence and male violence against women and girls is rarely described as the hate crime that it is. Women who simply point out the phenomenon – without threatening any violence themselves – are quickly punished.

 

 

Even when we do discuss the blatant reality that almost all violence is committed by males, however, a few notable things typically happen:

  1. The source of male violence is not adequately explored
  2. Masculinity is usually only critiqued in terms of extreme expressions e.g. violence
  3. The proposed solution is to reform masculinity, thus effectively maintaining it

In this article, I’m going to explore male violence and its root in masculinity, and then I’m going to take it a step further. If masculinity as we know it is toxic, what about it is toxic exactly, how do we change it, and ultimately, why would we want to maintain it at all?

Why does male violence happen?

Naming the problem of male violence is one thing. Understanding why it happens is another. Growing up as children, we’re often told, “boys will be boys”. What would otherwise be interpreted as abusive and inappropriate when a boy harasses a girl is passed off as a simple crush. Time and again we see that girls must be ladylike while boys are allowed to exhibit all kinds of obnoxiousness. They can’t help it, apparently. They’re wired that way.

If males are programmed to destroy, wreak havoc, harm, rape and kill, what’s the rationale for having laws against these actions if we believe men aren’t responsible for their actions? What would be the point of telling boys to be considerate and respectful? Either they’re slaves to biology or they’re not. If we believe that they have an innate propensity for violence and selfishness, then we need to start having a very different conversation about what to do about the male sex. If they’re not, then we need to stop making excuses for unacceptable behaviour and critically examine why women don’t seem to be interested in doing these things while men do. And why despite that, do we talk about these two groups the way we do?

 

 

Is some degree of male violence influenced by biological factors? What would this mean? Is it true that testosterone really does predetermine aggression and violence and that males are born with a gene that makes it harder for them to respond calmly to stressful situations? If that’s the case, then we’re left to conclude once again that violence is inevitable and that men – but more so women and children – must accept that they’re the unfortunate sacrifices of male biology.

Biological determinism raises other unsettling questions: if male biology is so flawed, so prone to irrational, violent behaviour, why are men allowed to occupy positions of power? Why are they allowed to be police officers? Teachers? Spiritual leaders? Politicians? Judges? Doctors? Fathers? If we believe that men can be trusted with these roles, then we can’t logically claim that male violence is a defect of male biology. And if male violence is inevitable, then we’re certainly not doing much to mitigate it.

It’s impossible to observe male behaviour in a non-socialized environment, so there’s no way we can cleanly parse out dispositions as either biologically or socially-driven. But we do know that our current social environment ascribes particular roles and attributes to males which are labeled masculine. If males aren’t all born with the same personality template, is it so far fetched to attribute behavioural patterns to social programming? Could it be that the persistence of male entitlement that boys and men display towards females is learned and excused?

A man who expects his wife to cook for him and clean up after him shares an attitude of entitlement with a man who sexually assaults a woman as she’s jogging in a public park. Though such conduct may be expressed at different intensities and in different ways, it bears the hallmark of masculinity and coexists on the same spectrum: enough men feel they have the right to violate women’s boundaries that it creates a climate of fear among women and girls. It’s why females have separate spaces set aside for them for intimate purposes outside of the home, they’re wary of being in isolated or dark places alone, have their own crisis shelters, and make so many unconscious decisions every day in order to avoid male violence.

We’re supposed to accept this as normal? Even if brain scans showed a significant difference between the brains of females and males – and they don’t – that still wouldn’t explain the difference. In the feminist theory of gender (gender being masculinity and femininity), we have an explanatory model that demonstrates a clear link between male socialization and violence.

Some people will say that men who are violent and abusive toward women are outliers; they conjure the image a monster, a rogue archetype. When men do these things to women but don’t fit this profile, the media and courts feign ignorance about whether the guy can possibly have done it on purpose. Contrary to popular discourse, these activities aren’t being spearheaded by exceptionally idiotic, socially maladjusted men.

Many people who admit there’s a problem do this funny thing that makes you wonder if they really mean it when they say they care about women. They revert to biological determinism when particular aspects of male behaviour are inconveniently questioned – especially when it’s of a sexual nature. Male batterers and mass shooters are exhibiting some sort of extreme masculinity, something gone terribly wrong or taken too far, whereas men who engage in all manner of predatory and exploitative activities are just guys being guys. Some people will go so far as to say that men need a release valve; if you don’t allow them to get their aggression out or indulge in their sexual fantasies – no matter how depraved or harmful – they’ll become so frustrated they’ll have no choice but to take it out on those who are vulnerable or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We hear the tired old arguments that men are just naturally more visual and have greater sexual interest. Few people question whether this is actually true. The moment you evoke biology as a reason for a man’s choices, male violence and privilege are protected and reinforced.

Is it enough to just tweak masculinity?

Change is not necessarily improvement and not everyone who says they want to change masculinity for the better means the same thing. Pro-rape men’s rights activist Roosh V has coined the term neomasculinity in the hopes of ‘rescuing’ masculinity and ‘restoring’ men to their rightful place. His vision is a gendered version of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric: just the title of his Return of Kings website makes it clear who he thinks should rule in this new masculine landscape.

What about calls to reform ‘toxic masculinity’, then? Tom Hardy, for example, urges men to “be masculine, not macho”. In this article, The Red Bulletin anoints Hardy as a Real Man, which insofar as the piece is concerned appears to just mean being a good person while having a penis. Hardy says that men can and should be caring, considerate, patient, and respectful. This is encouraging. Here’s a male celebrity who’s a great actor and role model for young men saying that masculinity as it’s been practiced for a very long time isn’t so great after all. Maybe this does represent a shift in societal attitudes about gender. And why wouldn’t we want to encourage males to be more of these things we’ve traditionally associated with femininity?

Why do we need gender anyway?

The concepts of masculinity and femininity aren’t accidental or neutral. They define appropriate behaviour for males and females which orders them into a hierarchy, such that whatever characteristics make men dominant are deemed masculine and therefore encouraged in males, and whatever characteristics make females submissive are deemed feminine and therefore encouraged in females. To ensure this social hierarchy is well understood by all, supposedly masculine characteristics are valued as superior to supposedly feminine characteristics. Many people recognize the existence of sex-based inequality but are unable to explain its origin or dynamics. The sexual and reproductive exploitation of female bodies is enabled and sanctioned through this social engineering – an entrenched and seemingly natural and inevitable ideology of misogyny.

The problem isn’t that traits are bad in and of themselves. Aggression or violence might be required in survival situations or where personal safety is threatened, for example. But why aren’t particular behaviours expected from people on the basis of need or context rather than because they’re assumed to be inherent or natural to, or appropriate for, males or females only? Why would we associate the traits ‘caring, considerate, patient, and respectful’ with either masculinity or femininity if we want both sexes to exhibit them? If we believe everyone should do the things that good people do, then there’s no need for the categories of masculine and feminine where mannerisms are concerned.

It only makes sense to speak of masculinity and femininity in terms of the biological attributes specific to male and female sexed bodies, for instance, as they relate to the different healthcare needs of males and females. No matter what biological differences exist between the sexes, sex should not determine how people are expected to think, feel and act, and the only way to challenge these expectations is by doing away with gender – the social categories of masculinity and femininity – altogether.

 

 

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How men are using gender identity to deny male privilege

Anyone who has delved into the topic of gender identity has likely heard about the diverging understandings of gender according to queer theory (gender is an arbitrary, personal, unqualifiable feeling) and radical feminism (gender is a social construct with well-defined parameters). This disagreement comes down to how womanhood and manhood are defined (although for reasons obvious to feminists, the nature of womanhood is much more frequently debated) and what we’re ultimately supposed to do about sex/gender stereotypes.

For centuries, women have struggled to break away from the expectations regarding how we’re supposed to look, act, think, and feel. While debates rage on about what it means to be a woman or a man – or a proper lady or a real man – there are people who want to identify as something other than what they were born as or how they’re expected to be. While it’s often said that the reason for this varies from person to person as it’s a purely personal choice, this individualistic approach fails to take into account the inequality between the sexes. This is critical to understanding what’s happening and why because a system whose goal is the dominance of males over females will necessarily seek to define womanhood and manhood, femininity and masculinity, in such a way as to perpetuate that supremacy. It attempts to do this at every opportunity and within every social movement, arguably most aggressively when done under the guise of progressive politics. Once a theory regarding gender is adopted by those who identify as social justice advocates it becomes nearly impossible to question a doctrine already presumed to be revolutionary.

Are we willing to consider that some of the ideas promulgated by such groups could in fact reinforce structures of power rather than challenge them? Is it possible that gender identity is one such example?

The first clue is the prevailing assumption that gender identity exists in a sociopolitical vacuum. We see that where there are males and females, males are able, by virtue of their simply being male, to exert greater physical, sexual, economic, and political power. We see that they enjoy this privilege even when they’re not trying to wield it and are unaware that they have this advantage. The fact that some males feel uncomfortable about this privilege doesn’t undo that privilege. The fact that some males don’t feel comfortable with masculinity and are punished when they don’t conform to it doesn’t change the fact that relative to women, they are still constructed as the dominant class. It is not possible in a patriarchal system for men to be both the oppressors and oppressed relative to women. Please note that I’m not addressing transsexual or transgender people in this post; my focus here is men who don’t have dysphoria, who aren’t trans in any honest sense of the word, who are obscuring the fact that they possess privilege by adopting the language and theory of gender identity.

Here we have a person who in no way whatsoever presents as female or feminine demanding we agree that he is not something he clearly is. Furthermore, he claims that to question this is violence, making it impossible to be on the right side of history in his estimation without denying reality. He insists we ignore the fact that we can accurately predict what any random person would perceive him to be and that this perception, and not his feelings, is what determines how he is treated: as a man, in contrast to how he would be treated if he were a woman.

But of course, he’s not saying he’s a man and he’s not saying he’s a woman. He’s just refusing to say which he is because he’s special, unlike all the “cisgender” people who we’re to believe are walking stereotypes perfectly accepting of the expectations that gender foists upon them. What’s more, “ciswomen” are told that we actually identify with femininity – you know, that collection of traits that have latched themselves onto females and just happen to be deemed inferior to masculine traits? Those supposedly inherent female characteristics meant to engineer our servitude and submission? Gender identity claims that gender is a binary (or a spectrum – gender defenders can’t seem to get this straight), slamming the door on the critical feminist discovery that gender is in fact a hierarchy.

It’s all well and good to recognize that sexist attitudes and bias exist, but how do we explain how they arise and how they continue to be so insidious? The answer is gender: gender is the mechanism by which patriarchy is reproduced. But Kappel doesn’t want to hear about that because he’s too busy figuratively manspreading his way into women’s spaces under the guise of being an oppressed non-male. If you thought this regressive ‘non-male’ bullshit is too ridiculous to gain any traction in feminism these days, think again. People like Aaron Kappel and Sam Escobar avoid the actual violence they would encounter from people men who attack gender non-conforming (GNC) people while demanding access to all of the grievances of visibly GNC people.

This is the trick of the non-binary/agender label when harnessed by men: it’s a way of denying one’s own privilege by neutralizing sex and gender. Reality is overridden by an identity which is activated by mere thought and utterance. That identity is then sanctified and protected. Those who do not comply are policed and shamed. Quite simply, men like Kappel know they’ll be exposed if they dispute the existence of male privilege so they’ve finally found a way around it: male privilege exists but it doesn’t apply to them because they’re different. Presto! A get out of male free card. It may be hard to believe people are falling for it but they are, including women who consider themselves to be feminists.

A common practice in gender identity politics is to single out and vilify women while being careful not to criticize them as women per se because that would make the misogyny all too blatant. Instead, women are criticized as feminists – or a certain type of feminist – because the goal is to validate the idea that there are good feminists and bad feminists and the feminists who accommodate non-binary dudes are the only acceptable ones. All of this works out just fine in a patriarchal context because uncompromising feminists are already presumed to be angry [insert sexist slur here]. So if you were expecting pseudo-feminist organizations to give a platform to men who write whiny, self-validating pieces about how they’re being victimized by terrible women, you’d be justified.

Because that’s exactly what Aaron Kappel did. It’s a common feature of mainstream feminist media like The Establishment, which describes itself as a multimedia site run and funded by women. The site published Trans-Exclusionary Feminists Cannot Exclude My Humanity, in which Kappel says he’s a non-binary (trans) person because he doesn’t embrace stereotypically masculine things. He claims to have felt like the girls he socialized with, although how he could know how these girls actually felt, he doesn’t explain. His language is hyperbolic from the outset: anyone who believes he’s a man is somehow saying he’s not human, that he doesn’t exist, he doesn’t have rights like everybody else, etc. He seamlessly transitions from telling us how sensitive and tortured he is to talking down to women (I’m sorry – certain feminists) he claims are violently excluding him because their struggle for liberation from men like him won’t bend over backwards for his feelings. Feelings he believes can’t possibly be the natural feelings of men. Feelings that make him a not-man. What makes you a man, apparently, is thinking and feeling a particular way – but don’t ask what this means. We’re told it’s up to each person to decide, even though we all know exactly how masculinity and femininity are characterized. When it all gets too complicated, we can just pretend we’re something other than the thing we want to avoid being associated with.

The crucial thing to note here is that while gender identity adherents talk a lot about feelings, in the grand scheme of things it’s not really about feelings. It’s about power, which Kappel reveals here:

Feminism was a direct response to oppression, and oppression lives within us all.

What does it mean to say that oppression lives within all of us? That we all experience oppression? Oppression is characterized by inequality; if everyone experiences it then there is no inequality and there is no oppression. The term is rendered meaningless when feelings are equated with oppression and are given precedence over political movements that seek liberation from social hierarchy.

There’s a lot of talk about intersectional feminism going on right now as a feminism that must validate queer theory and gender identity. Intersectionality provides the critical insight that there are simultaneous axes of power which compound marginalization and shape how specific groups experience oppression (e.g. white women experience sexism but not misogynoir). The problem is that along with that insight, other ideas, which are anything but feminist, slipped in through the back door. A new generation of feminists has been weaned on a stealthy vocabulary of terms and phrases that functions as a kind of script, but unless they have a road map that shows them how these ideas are connected and where they come from, how do they know if they’re going in the right direction?

Take the concept of heteronormativity, for instance. It’s often discussed as a standalone problem, but it’s actually a fundamental element of patriarchy because it dictates how males and females are supposed to behave relative to their biological sex. More specifically, this entails marriage with men being the head of the household and women being assigned the role of wife and mother. Effeminate gay men and other GNC males are victims of discrimination (typically in the form of violence by males – a derivative of masculinity) insofar as they violate the rules of masculinity. Why is this seen as a bad thing? Because a male who doesn’t exude aggression, strength, and power is viewed as a wuss. A sissy. A pussy. A bitch. This behaviour implies femininity and anything associated with females is inferior.

Of all the things GNC men experience, including those who convincingly pass as women, their male socialization inculcates them with negative views toward women and instills in them a sense of entitlement. Gay men still make more money than women and they enjoy the gamut of male privileges. They’re not threatened with corrective rape the way lesbians are. They don’t have to worry about unwanted pregnancy or a lack of reproductive care or justice. They don’t experience femicide, female genital mutilation or breast ironing. They don’t grow up being made to feel ashamed of their breasts, vaginas, and the painful, exhausting, and messy process of menstruation. Their bodies aren’t mined as sexual commodities to any comparable extent (transwomen are certainly an exception) and they’re not exploited as surrogate mothers. The bodies of women are the source of reproduction of the species and hence the source of all labour. In short, the oppression of females is both social and biological in nature. Who else but a misogynist would deliberately erase this fact? There’s also no distinct axis of oppression in the form of hetero or cis supremacy; what is termed ‘cishetsexism’ is an explication of patriarchy. Nowhere within the framework of sexism do women, feminist or not, oppress men, GNC or not.

Zoom out and the picture is clear: taking into account white supremacy and economic class, at the top of the hierarchy we find rich white men and at the bottom we find poor women of colour (and in a colonial context I think indigenous women deserve a special mention here too). This is a simplified representation, of course, with many ethnicities, nationalities, and other social groups organized within this system. There’s a lot of overlap. But intersectionality is not supposed to be a weapon for men to use against women. It does not mean feminists have to save everyone who thinks they’re oppressed. Feminism was not a direct response to oppression, full stop, as Kappel claims. It was and is a direct response to male supremacy. While radical feminism ultimately aims to dismantle all forms of hierarchy and domination and anti-racism must be an integral part of its politics, feminist politics that do not centre females are not feminist by definition. Now why would men like Kappel fail to mention this? Male privilege, perhaps? Misogyny? Here we have yet another man bulldozing through the incriminating truth to remind feminists that we’re supposed to be here for him. He gets to set the agenda – via a platform created and funded by women, no less. Women, know your place.

humpty

No matter how females identify, our being visibly female marks us as targets. No amount of eschewing certain pronouns, titles, or identities insulates us from this. And just as you can’t identify your way out of being oppressed, you can’t identify your way out of being a member of an oppressor class. Agender and non-binary men would do well to remember this.

Whatever your views on gender identity, it can’t hurt to look a little more closely at a concept that remains a mystery to most people but is shaping legislation around the world. In the following talk, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Teaching Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Warwick, deconstructs gender identity and clarifies the aspects and implications of this doctrine:

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Children don’t need to change – gender stereotypes need to go

Folks who see equality as a good thing readily agree that gender roles are discriminatory and oppressive. Despite this, it appears that many people have difficulty applying this knowledge to everyday situations. Perhaps this is because it’s far easier to agree with concepts when they’re presented as straightforward and conciliatory rather than as confrontational or requiring critical analysis. Acknowledging the harm caused by gender roles often incites derision and dismissal, which speaks to the reality that these tropes are status quo. They’re so ingrained in our culture that overcoming them is a constant struggle.

Gender roles stretch across the globe and dictate not only how females should behave but also how males should behave. The key difference, however, is that whereas males are punished for non-conforming, females are both punished for non-conforming and made to be subordinate when we conform through a host of expectations designed to make us passive and submissive. No matter what we do we’re set up to fail because not only are we never dominant like males are, but we’re never even equal in the gender hierarchy.

Patriarchy is the most oppressive system in the world. Save for whatever minute percentage of people who might live in matriarchal or equal circumstances, patriarchy controls everyone, impacts everyone negatively, and subordinates half of the world’s population. When we throw in the additional trauma of discrimination based on race, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and every other form of oppression, it’s a miracle that people who are marginalized and oppressed multiple times over are so resilient.

kinder
Children have a tough time trying to make sense of this when they realize that the things they’re supposed to like and do don’t always match up to their own interests and personalities. They don’t yet have the experience or analytical tools to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with them and that the source of this cognitive dissonance is a system that was deliberately concocted well before they were born. This is mass psychological torture. It’s not up to kids to figure this out. It’s up to parents, teachers, relatives, and other adults. This is not a personal problem, a family dispute, or an identity crisis first and foremost. It’s a social issue. A moral issue.

Yesterday, it was reported in the news that a seven-year-old child was banned from using the girls’ washroom at a Catholic school in Edmonton, Alberta. The child identifies as a transgender girl.

The parents say they knew from the beginning that something was different about their child…

“As soon as she could speak, she would articulate that she is a female and would gravitate towards feminine objects,” the mother said.

“I just told my mom I felt like a girl,” the seven-year-old recalled.

That’s when her parents say they knew their child wasn’t “a boy who liked girl toys — she was a girl who had a penis.”

This is where I have to call a time out. What exactly is meant by feminine objects? Females have specific sex characteristics, so it makes sense to describe females and their unique physiology as feminine; but how are inanimate objects feminine? What about them is in any way female – or male, for that matter? For example, in an episode of Food Network’s Southern at Heart, Damaris Phillips describes her coconut lavender macaroons as feminine. On its face this statement doesn’t make any sense but the viewer understands what’s implied; something about these cookies reminds her of abstract qualities she associates with the female sex. This is the essence of gender and it’s where the problem starts.

It seems highly tenuous that an individual at the age of seven is at a stage in their life where they can elucidate the difference between being a boy who likes “girl toys” and actually being a girl. Children as young as four years old are now being asked to declare their gender identity. So what does it mean to think or feel like a boy or a girl, exactly? How does a boy who is learning to speak know enough about language – about anything – to know that they’re in fact a girl? Surely we should approach cases of potential gender dysphoria in children with extreme caution given their lack of maturity. I don’t know that anyone should be comfortable trusting the judgement of a child on a subject so complex it makes the heads of educated adults spin.

I’ve thought about what I would do if this were my child. Here’s what I’m thinking. A boy who likes stereotypically “feminine” things or has stereotypical “feminine” qualities is simply a boy who doesn’t conform to how society has decided boys are supposed to be. That doesn’t make him female. Associating traits like sensitivity or vivaciousness and an interest in dresses, pretty things, dance, soft colours, dolls, etc. with being female does nothing except reinforce gender stereotypes. There is absolutely no logical basis for associating the things our society identifies as feminine to the condition of being female.

Being female means being a member of the female sex and no doctor will deny that being a member of the female sex means having a female anatomy, which necessarily involves primary and secondary female sex characteristics, and absolutely includes a vagina. Whether any given female can become pregnant is irrelevant; a properly functioning reproductive system is required for pregnancy and gestation and any human being who’s ever been born was given birth to by a female. Being female cannot mean having a penis.

Of course, no one is disputing that the child is of the male sex, so what we’re left with is the question of what their gender is. While sex and gender are often conflated, they are separate concepts.

This is where what is considered controversial to some people is simple for others. If you believe that there is in fact no basis for thinking that being male must involve expressing a prescribed masculinity and being female must involve expressing a prescribed femininity, then you are gender critical. While gender criticism is often described as a central element of radical feminism (radical feminists are gender abolitionists, to be more precise), it’s also key to feminism at large because it’s impossible to challenge sexism without challenging gender stereotypes.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that discrimination against females exists but in order to challenge this discrimination we need to understand how and why it manages to organize different cultures, geographies, classes, and generations. In order for an ideology to endure so many barriers of time and space it must consist of a subliminal and self-perpetuating set of beliefs. Every oppressive system assigns unequal value to different groups of people. This requires that we develop a set of attitudes and assumptions about them that serve to make them unworthy relative to another group. At the same time, these people, should they use their voice or exercise any degree of autonomy or power, are seen as a threat and are summarily ignored, silenced, threatened, harmed, and murdered. How else can we explain white American police officers killing black women and men in cold blood and in plain view time and time again? How else can we explain the alarming number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, which Stephen Harper shrugged off as not “really high on our radar”, the blame for which indigenous men are expected to shoulder all on their own with no consideration of the effects of colonial patriarchy?

How else can we explain why discrimination persists despite the fact that many people who discriminate do so unintentionally and unknowingly? Patriarchy, like white supremacy, only requires that people with privilege go about their daily lives. That’s why even those who are aware of these systems and try to avoid contributing to them end up making mistakes. This is what it means for oppression to be systemic. To be systemic is to be effective.

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Growing up, I was very close to my older brother and was surrounded by boys more so than girls. This influenced my taste in music, my language, my sense of physicality, etc. I did all sorts of “masculine” things as well as “feminine” things and it never once crossed mine or my parents’ mind that this called into question my identity as a girl or a female. I have no doubt that the males who surrounded me rubbed off on me but they weren’t the way they were because of something innate. It was because they were raised to be that way from infancy as a result of the school curriculum, teachers, spiritual leaders, parents, friends’ parents, advertizing, books, movies, etc. It’s telling that this process actually hedged the female socialization that I was simultaneously subjected to. I also have a mother who exhibited femininity in many ways, but not consistently – and this didn’t escape my notice. My mom could be fairly tough with me and I saw that she was brave, outspoken, and did the same hard labour as her male co-workers. She told me about some of the misogynistic things they would say and do. It’s no wonder we’ve always shared a love of Bette Davis movies. Overall, the message was clear: never let people push you around and never let a man tell you that you’re inferior. I wouldn’t be the strong, independent woman I am today if I hadn’t had her example to follow.

Not long ago, I was taking a walk with my aunt, her 10 year old daughter, and two male cousins of around the same age. As she watched them my aunt said to me, “Boys and girls are so different.” I responded, “That’s because we tell them they are.” Silence followed. Later that evening I was teasing her husband and my brother for comparing their scars, which they seemed to think were badges of honour. To me, they just looked like reminders of stupidity. I remarked that they were lucky they didn’t have to go through the shit women do, neither through stupidity nor by choice, simply for being born with a reproductive system destined to hemorrhage every month unless it was transformed (usually accidentally) into an incubator that would eject a baby way too big for the hole it’s supposed to come out of. Whatever the method of delivery, I added, a woman gets ripped open, leaving a scar that will rival anything they can dream of bragging about. At this point my younger cousin – bless her heart – added that girls have to suffer the job of doing their hair and make-up too. “That’s your choice!” my brother countered. And therein lies the difference between sex and gender.

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Femininity and masculinity are arbitrary social constructs. Each of us should be free to express whatever traits come naturally to us without having to worry about how they supposedly relate to our anatomy. If we’re really concerned about equality and the well-being of children who will become adults who make important decisions, this is what we need to teach them.

Going back to the article about the transgender child:

The family has found an ally in Catholic school trustee Patricia Grell, who has publicly criticized the administration’s decision.

“I’m really worried about the impact of this stance we’ve taken on that child,” Grell said. “I’m very worried about that child’s mental health and wellbeing.”

I’m worried too. I’m worried that adults can’t seem to let children like what they like and act how they act regardless of their sex and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with these kids. They don’t need to change. Our society does.

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When Workaholics exposes the contradictions of pop feminism, you know something’s gone horribly wrong

Workaholics is not the sort of thing I watch when I want to put my thinking cap on. It’s also one of the last TV shows I’d expect to dutifully analyze gender dynamics or present a feminist perspective, so you can imagine my surprise when the show inadvertently made a very interesting point about pornography and agency.

Every good sitcom needs an ethically compromised character to drive the plot to places where it would otherwise never go. This would be Adam DeMamp. Adam is a sex-crazed narcissist with sociopathic tendencies. While he’s perfectly happy being reduced to his vices, however, he manages to be incredibly astute in his attempts to feed them.

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WARNING: contains spoilers! One of the storylines in ‘Dorm Daze’ (S5 E1 – you can view the full ep here) involves Adam’s obsession with an amateur porn webseries. He’s thrilled to discover that the college where he’s been assigned to recruit workers is in fact the same one where the movies were filmed. As he desperately searches for the dorm where these greasy escapades take place he stumbles into a gender studies class and is grilled by what we can only assume are supposed to be “feminazis”. He’s placed in front of the class and asked to describe what he likes about porn (in part, “all the gagging”). But at the same time the professor is explaining to him how women are exploited and plied in various ways, we’re shown exactly this happening to his socially awkward friend Blake, who has been lured onto the porn set under false pretenses. Adam eventually snaps and agrees that the objectification of women in porn is bad (moms shouldn’t go home after doing porn and make ham sammiches for their kids) and they all set off to liberate the female porn actors.

Of course, instead of finding a vulnerable woman he finds his friend freaking out because he can’t bring himself to perform. When Adam turns to the actress and tells her she’s been brainwashed, she informs him that she’s actually a producer and part owner. Adam asks her if it’s really true that some girls enjoy doing porn and matter-of-factly, she says, “Yeah!”.

And then, with a strained look on her face, the feminist prof chimes in: “That’s right, Adam. No man has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. Even if she’s being sexually exploited.”

“I knew you were an idiot!” Adam exclaims. If you’re familiar with Workaholics, you knew this was coming.

This is the impossible position that women are in today thanks to pop feminism. Certainly, there’s a valid point to be made that men, who possess male privilege, should be very careful not to be paternalistic. That doesn’t mean men shouldn’t step in and call out sexism. They might get pushback for it but taking one for the team is what it means to be an ally. One example that comes to mind is when Benedict Cumberbatch said he didn’t like the term ‘Cumberbitches’:

I just went: ‘Ladies, this is wonderful. I’m very flattered, but has this not set feminism back a little bit? Empower yourselves if you’re going to get silly about a guy with maybe a little bit more of a sort of, you know, a high-regard, self-regarding name!’

Imagine this! A man knowing better than women what sexism is and actually having to explain to them why they should stop doing it. This is alarming. If we’re at all interested in ending patriarchy, how does it make sense for any of us, male or female, to let these things slide? How can we possibly expect males to take the idea that they’re responsible for ending sexism seriously if they’re being actively discouraged from doing so?

We’ve gotten to a point where it’s assumed that women are incapable of perpetuating sexism. Feminists are frequently admonished for critiquing such behaviour because according to liberal feminism, we’re all just individuals and anything we do that we’re not blatantly forced to do is necessarily empowering and off limits to comment. In trying to protect the concept of agency at all costs, many people who consider themselves to be feminists often end up obscuring the harm that internalized misogyny causes to women individually and collectively. Being silent isn’t an option when women argue that men are the new second class citizens and try to hijack discussions of #EverydaySexism.

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Most feminists feel comfortable calling this sort of thing out because it’s typical conservative tripe but conservative females aren’t the only ones making mistakes. I know I’ve made my share only to look back and think, What the hell was I thinking? The primary focus should be on male behaviour because it’s male privilege that creates gender inequality. The problem we have now, however, is that women are frequently admonished – usually by other women – for suggesting that men not sexualize and objectify women because apparently this is an affront to female agency. I’ve been part of many conversations about common depictions of women in porn and how it shapes attitudes about gender, sex, and power. Without fail, there are always women who skip over this analysis and go straight to defending women’s right to perform for men. Questioning this approach will invariably get you labelled as a jealous prude who wants to police women’s sexuality even though most heterosexual porn is produced for the male gaze. More importantly, males are exposed from a young age to a version of sexuality that is violent and devoid of any sense of human connection. Although females might legitimately enjoy nudity and depictions of sex, we’re also groomed to think that it’s all a natural, realistic expression of sexuality and we’re pressured to conform to what males have come to expect from us.

Why is it that when the word ‘radical’ appears in other anti-oppression scenarios it’s cool, but it’s bad when it’s articulated through a feminist lens? Colonialism endures in part because it teaches oppressed people to self-sabotage. The bottom line is this: when chauvinists are happy with your feminism because it allows them to rationalize their behaviour, your feminism isn’t feminism.

We know that people who have been affected by the addictions of others usually need to undergo treatment themselves in order to break the cycle of codependency. The analogy applies here. Yes, men need to smarten up, but that won’t happen if we keep enabling them.

Many things are so normalized in our imagination that we’ve never had the chance to look at them objectively and ask what they really mean. Until we have an honest conversation about pornography not just as a social phenomenon but as an industry designed to generate profit and fuel exponential demand, we won’t fully understand the impact it has on our society. Gail Dines has been researching this topic for decades and makes some very solid points in this talk. Check it out:

If you’re a fan of Noam Chomsky, you might also be interested to hear what he has to say about pornography here:

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