Justin Trudeau is not a Feminist Superhero: Part II

French President Emmanuel Macron has fulfilled an election pledge for gender parity in his cabinet. Obviously, this is a good thing. Unless you read the Huffington Post who credit Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, with the phrase ‘pulls a Trudeau’ in the headline. Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 13.33.49

Because no one ever thought about gender parity before Justin Trudeau. Who is now a God among men: what with his constant photo ops with pandas and taking his kid to work. Obviously, Trudeau clearly spent the entire day balancing childcare and being Prime Minister. And, had no help whatsoever from anyone.

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The Huffington Post cleverly forgets to mention that the previous French President, Francois Hollande, also had a cabinet that was 50% women.* Or, the years of feminist activism and policy development on the importance of gender parity. Because only men count.

The constant referencing of Justin Trudeau as a feminist superhero is so beyond tedious that I can’t quite understand how many people believe this. For the record, having gender parity in your cabinet does not make you a feminist; nor does taking your kid to work when you are the boss in a building full of staff capable of caring for your kid.

Before you start banging on about how feminist Trudeau is, it’s worth checking out his environmental record. After all, Trudeau wouldn’t have joined the protestors at Standing Rock, he’d be with Trump signing off on yet another environmental disaster that is destroying the lands of Indigenous Peoples.

Using Trudeau’s name as a signifier for feminism erases the real work of women globally to end the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It ignores his sale of arms to the Saudi government and his full support of pipelines and the Tar Sands. Trudeau is a hypocrite. Not a feminist.

*  Clearly, I always knew this. And, did not come across this information in a comment on twitter.

 

Part One is here.

#womenwrites: on disability, gender, and women writers

Black British writing: a tribute to Buchi Emecheta by Eashani Chavda 

… Whilst black writing had soared overseas in conjunction with the civil rights movement in America, its progress in Britain was much more gradual and largely lead by men. Despite this, Buchi Emecheta is up there with Samuel Selvon, Stuart Hall, Joan Riley (to name just a few) as a great pioneer of black British writing. While male writers covered topics of class and racism in mid-20th Century Britain, Buchi highlighted the plight of black women in Britain and the double-colonisation they faced. While intersectionality has become a buzzword for feminists today, Buchi approached the topic of misogynoir back in the 1970s. The struggle of black migrant women following the Windrush era, and the layers of oppression they faced were fluently articulated in Buchi’s writing. The social realities she depicted in her novels were felt by a large community of women, who being isolated in their own homes, workplaces and on the bleak streets of London, could finally feel some relief in knowing that they were not alone. Not only did she expose the racial, gendered and classist discrimination of 20th Century Britain, Buchi defied patriarchal structures within the Nigerian community, all whilst taking great pride in her culture and her blackness. …

Why I’m raising my kids to know their sex, not their gender by J.J Barnes  via @FeministCurrent

In January 2017, the BBC aired a controversial documentary called, “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” which explored the doctrine that children know best when it comes to their “gender identity,” and that we should accept their beliefs without question. Following the airing of this documentary, the BBC came under fire from trans activists, who claimed the documentary would spark prejudice and lead to the social rejection of “trans kids.”

As the mother of a four-year-old girl and a 10-month-old girl, and step-mother to a four-year-old boy, I find the limited discourse around “trans kids” troubling. As I watch my children growing, learning, changing, and exploring, the idea of allowing them to make such a life-changing choice, so young, without question, is abhorrent. …

I’m just a girl, standing in front of a high-street shop, asking it to dress her by @salihughes

Dear British high-street retailers,

I am a 42-year-old woman with an upcoming awards ceremony, three weddings (one my own), several important work engagements, a holiday in the unreliable British climate and some pottering about, doing bugger all. I have spent weeks browsing your wares, both online and in your bricks-and-mortar stores. My question for you is this: where, in the past five years, have all the clothes gone?

Let’s begin with sleeves, for these cast a shadow over my entire shopping experience. Despite your apparent belief that my life is one long high-school prom, I would always like to cover my arms, at least to just beyond the elbow. I would not like capped sleeves to highlight the fact that I’ve lifted one kettlebell in my life, nor a bandeau top that precludes me from wearing a bra. I don’t want to pick up any more nice-seeming dresses, only to find the entire back of it missing. …

How I Got My Agent & Why You Should Never Give Up The Dream  via @Sabina_Writer

It’s been over a year since I last posted and what a year it’s been. There have been moments of despair, but more importantly there have been triumphs and those have made all the other stuff seem insignificant.

So, I want to share the journey that brought me here, mainly because I found some much-needed encouragement in reading about the journeys of others and I hope that someone might find that same kind of hope from reading about mine. …

Fleshing Out a Narrative of Illness: Notes on the Flesh  by Shahd Alshammari

… As someone who was struggled with Multiple Sclerosis for more than a decade, l chose to take up the task of writing the illness narrative. This began with my introduction to the works of Nancy Mairs and Audre Lorde. Mairs gave me a beacon of hope. She had written about her transition from English professor to a writer dealing with Multiple Sclerosis. She had George, though, her partner, who remained witness to her journey with Multiple Sclerosis. I was alone. I realised that being alone in the face of a brutal illness is not where I wanted to be. I picked up Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals. I read her work and found myself dwelling in her insistence on intersectionality, and on writing the effects of race, gender, sexuality, and disability in one (or even multiple) voices. Writing Notes on the Flesh proved to be a daunting task. I was writing based on my imagination, but also on and through my own bodily experiences. The distinction between fiction and nonfiction, real or imagined, past and present, no longer phased me. What I wanted was a collection of voices that expressed what it was like to be ill, in love, and vulnerable. …

Gender Hurts by Sheila Jeffreys

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.39.53Whilst there is much to commend this book in addressing the political implications and regressive policies surrounding the social construction of transgenderism, it suffers from poor writing technique, such as the unnecessary use of the word conclusion at the end of chapters and a constant repetition of statements made in the introduction in various chapters – sometimes every chapter. Each chapter was sub-divided into sections that are constructed as mini-essays and divided by headings. Frequently, these mini-sections end in a sentence repeated immediately in the first sentence of the next part. This is simply poor editing, as seen elsewhere in the repetition of phrases:

“ The men who engage in upskirting are a varied group, including male tennis fans at the Australian Open …, male school students who uploaded film of a teacher onto the Internet …, and even a male urologist. In a case in New York in August 2012, a respected urologist extended his professional interest into a new direction, and was arrested for filming up a woman’s skirt on a station platform” (p. 154-155)

As a one-off this sentence would not have bothered me, however this level of repetition did get tedious in a 200 page book. It’s not like there’s a dearth of research into the trend of ‘upskirting’ and the types of men who commit this criminal act (which can be reduced to all men are capable of doing so regardless of class, race, faith, access to education etc).

Another issue is the failure to engage with a wider variety of primary sources, academic research and media coverage. There is simply far too much evidence and theory dependent on Jeffreys own work. This would be acceptable if she were the only person engaged in this type of research, but she isn’t and hasn’t been for several decades. That the work of other women into the impact of transgenderism on women’s rights has been silenced by academic publications and a media obsessed with being ‘right’ as opposed to being truthful is something that Jeffreys could have challenged by referencing all of these works. Instead, there are places that resemble a university reading list by male academics with tenure that list only themselves in the ‘required reading’ section. Perhaps this is unfair, but I do expect more from feminist writers and activists.

When Jeffreys does engage critically with sources, especially whilst reading ‘pro-trans’ testimonies, her insight is excellent. It is unfortunate that more of the text was not given over to such analysis. As it is, careful editing would have knocked the text down to 120-140 pages rather than a 190 giving space for more direct evidence and critical engagement. Chapter 4 – ‘A gravy stain on the table’: women in the lives of men who transgender – written with Lorene Gottschalk is the strongest section in the book as it involves a close reading of supposedly positive testimonies of the lives of women whose male partner are transgender. It is very clear from these testimonies that the emotional, psychological, and financial impact on women is dismissed or erased by academics and writers.

Chapter three entitled ‘Doing transgender: really hurting’, also written with Lorene Gottschalk, and chapter 6 ‘Gender eugenics: the transgendering of children” are equally powerful. I am always shocked by people who ascribe the medical and pharmaceutical industries with concern for the health of transgender people without any discussion of the motive of profit. Or, the theory that the medical establishment is somehow truly honest in their approach to treatments, such as puberty blockers in children, despite the lack of long-term research on the effects or their well-documented history of prioritizing profit over people (development of birth control being a case in point!). I wish Jeffreys had gone further in deconstructing the lack of evidence-based research into treatment, the statistics on suicide post-transition, and the histories of those researchers and scientists pushing transition of children.

There is quite important research and theory in Gender Hurts. It’s unfortunate that Jeffreys spent more time congratulating herself rather than on the research itself. In this poorly written text, there are some incredibly important discussions and questions that simply did not get the space they deserved.

#womenwrites: on feminism, gender, sexism, and women’s health

If this is feminism… by Kelly Oliver

Bill C-16 misunderstands what gender is and how it harms women under patriarchy via @FeministCurrent

Women in Labor Stop Pushing, See Amazing Results by Kama Lee Jackson

A very British sexism  by @wordspinster

Grasping Things at the Root: On Young Women & Radical Feminism  via @ClaireShrugged (French translation here. )

Women Are Dying Because Doctors Treat Us Like Men by 

You aren’t imagining it, #WonderWoman really isn’t being well promoted by Donna Dickens  via @UPROXX

 

My article Radical Feminism and the Accusation of Gender Essentialism has been translated into French. Thank you to TradFem for the translation.

And, my daughter’s art on her blog Generation Why (named for the first book of the new Ms Marvel featuring Kamila Khan).

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Le féminisme radical et l’accusation d’essentialisme.

My article Radical Feminism and the Accusation of Gender Essentialism has been translated into French. Thank you to TradFem for the translation.

(Première version d’un article qui a été publié dans la revue Feminist Times en avril 2014)

La critique la plus courante adressée à la théorie féministe radicale veut que nous soyons « essentialistes » parce que nous croyons que l’oppression des femmes, en tant que classe, se fonde sur les réalités biologiques de nos corps. L’hypothèse selon laquelle les féministes radicales seraient essentialistes est basée sur une incompréhension de la théorie féministe radicale, issue de la définition du mot « radicale » lui-même. Le terme « radicale » désigne la racine ou l’origine. Notre féminisme est radical dans la mesure où il situe la racine de l’oppression des femmes dans les réalités biologiques de nos corps (le sexe) et vise à libérer les femmes en éradiquant les structures sociales, les pratiques culturelles et les lois basées sur l’infériorité des femmes aux hommes. Le féminisme radical conteste toutes les relations de pouvoir qui existent dans le patriarcat, y compris le capitalisme, l’impérialisme, le racisme, l’oppression de classe, l’homophobie et même l’institution de la mode et de la beauté.

Les féministes radicales ne croient pas en l’existence de caractéristiques qui soient exclusivement masculines ou exclusivement féminines. Les femmes ne sont pas naturellement plus nourrissantes que les hommes, et eux ne sont pas meilleurs en mathématiques. Le genre n’est pas fonction de notre biologie. C’est une construction sociale créée pour maintenir des hiérarchies de pouvoir inégal. L’amalgame entre le sexe et le genre est un autre malentendu commun au sujet de la théorie féministe radicale. Le sexe est la réalité de votre corps sans qu’y soient liées des caractéristiques négatives ou positives. Le genre est une construction sociale qui privilégie les hommes/la masculinité en regard des femmes/de la féminité. Le féminisme radical est accusé d’essentialisme parce que nous reconnaissons ces hiérarchies de pouvoir et cherchons à les détruire. Nous ne croyons pas, comme on le suggère souvent, que ces hiérarchies sont naturelles. Il faut voir là une tactique de censure à notre égard. …

 

You can find the full text in French here. 

Edinburgh Evening News: When a Perpetrators’ Career is more important than Sexual Assault

This article was first published by Everyday Victim Blaming. 

Sebastian Trotter was pled guilty to sexual assault and was placed on the sex register for six months, given a six-month offender’s supervision order, and ordered to pay the victim £500. The Edinburgh Evening News used this headline: “Newly-wed accountant’s career in ruins after sex attack”. Following complaints on twitter, the article heading was switched to “man on sex offenders register after groping women in nightclub”. You will note that Edinburgh Evening News chose to change the term “Sex attack” for “groping” – a word that is frequently used to minimise the criminal act of sexual assault. Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 11.02.10

This is still the subheading:

 A CHARTERED accountant’s career is in ruins after he was placed on the sex offenders register.

This suggests that the perpetrator’s career is more important than his criminal convictions for sexual assault.

Our campaign focuses on victim blaming within the criminal justice system and the media. We believe that mandatory specialist training, from outside organisations, is a basic requirement for police, judges, juries and journalists. This article, written by Alexander Lawrie, demonstrates all the failures of the media in reporting violence against women and girls. It has focused on the perpetrator’s career rather than his criminal act. It has minimised the criminal act. It has also published this statement by the defence attorney:

This lady had her night ruined but I don’t think there has been any lasting damage, if I can put it that way.

Quite frankly, the defence attorney needs a new job. There is no need to use such offensive language. Equally, it is utterly irresponsible of the Edinburgh Evening News to publish such a statement without comment. Rather than covering the hearings of a man who pled guilty to sexual assault accurately, the Edinburgh Evening News have simply published a defence for all men: “your career is more important than any criminal act, it wasn’t that bad and the victim is whining if she suggests otherwise”. This is what rape culture looks like: a man guilty of sexual assault having his hand held by a local newspaper as though he were a small child getting a vaccination. This is what bad journalism looks like.

Zero Tolerance, an organisation based in Scotland, have created an easy-to-read media guide on accurate reporting of violence against women and girls. The National Union of Journalists have a very short document on how media should report these crimes.That mainstream media continue with inaccurate, misleading and victim blaming coverage of male violence against women and girls is not through a lack of awareness. The research on the impact of inappropriate media coverage is well-evidenced. The negative impact on victims abilities to access justice is clear. The excuses for male violence so obvious. Yet, mainstream media continue to publish such reprehensible articles regardless of their impact.

#womenwrites

The Sex Delusion by Jeni Harvey  (@GappyTales

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ offers a terrifying warning, but the hijacking of feminism is just as dangerous  by Gail Dines

The Overlooked Black Women Who Altered the Course of Feminist Art by Yelena Keller  via @artsy

When Motherhood Wasn’t in the Cards  by Stephanie Gates

Police told to ‘stop pushing responsibility’ for domestic violence prosecutions onto victims by Harriet Agerholm

Grasping Things at the Root: On Young Women & Radical Feminism  via @ClaireShrugged

News media still protect powerful men accused of sexual misconduct by Lindsey Bluebell  via @ConversationUK

Let’s not kid ourselves that ‘stealthing’ is a trend. It is rape by Vonny Moyes

Media reporting and violence against women: why we need to talk about the Navy  via @WritetoENDVAW

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ female and the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)