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)

 

#womenwrites – on feminism, male violence, the Women’s March and abortion rights

How Michelle Obama expanded the definition of a first lady by Margo Jefferson

Hollywood must realise that Passengers flopped because of its creepy male protagonist BY Amy Jones

New Year’s femicide in Brazil reminds us what feminism is fighting for by Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Star Wars: Rogue One places Asian heroes at the core of its revolution  by @KellyKanayama

A man who didn’t talk to his wife would not be funny. He would be an abuser | Lola Okolosie

The Black Woman’s “Women’s March” Problem: It Ain’t Just White Folks by Ree Walker

Our cynicism will not build a movement. Collaboration will. by Alicia Garza

I’m so glad to spoil this film for you | Victoria Coren Mitchell

The unbearable whiteness of history by @JENDELLA  via @WritersofColour

You Not ‘Bout No Life: The Logical Fallacy of the Anti-Abortion Conservative & The Reason Trump and His Cronies Can Go Choke on a Communion Wafer  via @writermrsmith

#womenwrites

UK judges change court rules on child contact for violent fathers by Sandra Saville

Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform? by Amanda Merger

Babette Cole, anarchic creator of Princess Smartypants, dies at 66 by Danuta Kean

First Class Racism by Jamelia

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’  via @LucyAllenFWR

Generation treat yo’ self: the problem with ‘self-care’ by Arwa Mahdawi

Response to ‘Transgender Kids:Who Knows Best‘  via @fairplaywomen

TRIGGER WARNING by @extreme_crochet http://buff.ly/2jFtCBH

The Importance of Recognizing the Murder of Women as a Hate Crime  by Zoe Holman via @broadly

Me and my accent(s) by Sara Salem

Liberal feminists ushered Ivanka Trump into the White House by by RAQUEL ROSARIO SANCHEZ  via @FeministCurrent

#womenwrites: on gender, identity politics and VAWG

All politics is “identity politics” by @MayaGoodfellow
via @WritersofColour

Charlotte Bronte did NOT repair her mourning shoes with her dead sister’s hair! by @KatharineEdgar

‘Impunity has consequences’: the women lost to Mexico’s drug war by Nina Lakhani in Jalapa

Princesses Are Terrifying. So Is Ivanka Trump via @ElleMagazine

Maybe We Do Need White History Month or Millennials Don’t Know Shit About Slavery or Picking Appropriate Essay Topics or Being a Black English Adjunct Sucks Sometimes– via @writermrsmith

I’m Tired by @RowenaMonde  via @RoomOfOurOwn

A brief history of ‘gender’  via @wordspinster

On Optimism and Despair by Zadie Smith

National Geographic’s ‘gender revolution’ cover fails women via @FeministCurrent

#womenwrites

We cannot allow the courts to judge rape by sexual history | Vera Baird

The Trump revelations show how much women are expected to ignore by @EvaWiseman

Justice should never be done like it was in the Ched Evans rape trial by @h0llyb4xter

Ched Evans trial is a masterclass in why women don’t report rape by Laura Bates

The Ched Evans case puts rape reform back 30 years by Sandy Brindley & Michele Burman

The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret via @broadly

Giving anonymity to sexual crime suspects won’t bring justice by Laura Bates

In Praise of Older Women: A Love Letter to My Big Sisters by @ClaireShrugged

The migrant led strikes of the past can inform our present and future  via @WritersofColour

Racist Schools and Drastic Measures by JENEDLLA via @WritersofColour

Black Wednesday: A feminism that centers ending male violence against women  by Raquel Rosario Sanchez via @FeministCurrent

The Inri Letters – Part 1: Mother’s lament  at She means well

Refugees and Cindy Crawford’s daughter: an age-old problem for the tabloids by Marina Hyde

 

img_6566And, most importantly, a short story on sexism by my young daughter: Alex’s Dream

 

Donald Trump, Male Violence and Misogyny

Despite a clear history of misogyny, racismclassism, homophobia and being the poster boy for toxic hyper-masculinity and male entitlement in a rape culture, a large segment of people seem somewhat shocked by the release of a video from 2005 in which Donald Trump brags about committing sexualised violence. Even more people seem shocked that the Washington Post, and other mainstream publications, refer to this as a “lewd conversation”. Our only response to this “shock” is: have you ever read mainstream media? It is full of misogyny and racism and homophobia and classism. It is full of victim blaming and the erasure of perpetrators from their own crimes. If perpetrators are named, as with family annihilators, it is solely to paint them as ‘good fathers’ driven by jealousy and rage. It’s just a ‘domestic incident” and, therefore, not really a problem. They have “mental health problems” (and no one ever mentions that women who experience mental illnesses are very, very unlikely to commit violence against other people. If they do, it’s not because they are mentally ill. Or that the men who actually live with mental illnesses are more likely to injure themselves than anyone else). Their victims are erased. Their crimes deemed less important than their careers.

We’ve collected some of the best articles and blogs we’ve read on Donald Trump this weekend. Unfortunately, a lot of MSM which purports to be critical of Trump’s language simply failed to engage in a meaningful way with rape culture and systemic misogyny, rather they focused on “not all men” as though offending men were more problematic than holding Trump, and the millions of men who believe they are entitled to perpetrate violence against women and girls, accountable for their language and their crimes. #Notallmen is a useful way to derail conversations about the ubiquity of male violence against women and girls. It ignores the power differential between men and women as a class and the specific experiences of individual women within the white supremacist capitalist-patriarchy.

Trump’s comments, which have been dismissed as ‘banter’ are not an anomaly. We see similar comments submitted to this website. We’ve heard similar comments in pubs, restaurants and bus stops. We’ve see these men every single day in media coverage of male violence – in mainstream media articles desperate to mitigate men’s responsibility for violence. We hear it in discussions amongst politicians about the welfare system, reproductive justice, and immigration (which fail to address the intersection of race and sex for Black women). What Donald Trump has been caught saying on video might be considered an outlier by some but it is no different than much of the language used to define women in pornography; as one of the largest and most commercially successful industries in the world, it’s fairly obvious that millions of men watch it.

The lessons from responses to Donald Trump is that still far too many people believe this level of misogyny is an aberration rather than reality for the majority of women. Men standing up to denounce Trump in this specific incident but nothing else are still part of the problem. Saying Trump ‘crossed a line’, as former presidential candidate John McCain has suggested, misses the point. The misogyny of Trump is institutionalised, systemic and ubiquitous. And, it is certainly not limited to the US when the British media is giving Nigel Farage a platform to defend Trump’s history of sexualised violence (like they do in giving Farage a platform in which to espouse racism. Daily.).

We need to stop talking about being ‘shocked’ by Trump’s language (and Billy Bush encouraging him) and start talking about how normal it is. Only that will lead to a real change.

Why Donald Trump and Billy Bush’s leaked conversation is so awful by Alexandra Petri

… A repellent, but remarkably unexamined, idea that we carry around in society with us is the notion that somehow this is okay. That this is just boys being boys. That we must give boys a safe, unpolluted, secret space where they can stop the exhausting charade of acting as though women contain the same internal worlds that they do themselves.

This is what it gets back to: the idea that men are people, and women are just women.

Of course what Donald Trump said is awful. But, as Kelly Oxford noted on Twitter, it’s the fact that Billy Bush just nodded along that gives us rape culture.

It’s the idea that boys will be boys, and it does not matter what you leave in your wake, because you are the protagonist of this story, and the girl is just … an appealing body, to be discussed and dissected at leisure when you are back in one of the myriad locker rooms of daily life. If that.

This is egregious, but it is not isolated. It’s every time the Serious Concern is that a young man’s life might theoretically be ruined — by the act of punishing him for what he did to ruin someone else’s life. It’s every time someone talks about how awful something would be if it happened to your wife or your daughter or your mother — instead of just to you, to a person. Every time women’s existence is limited to their relationship to men. Every time women are treated merely as gatekeepers of sex, a resource that is somehow obtainable without the enthusiastic participation of another person who might have opinions on the matter. Every time men don’t read books by women, every time boys can’t find it in themselves to identify with a female protagonist. Every time people look at a movie with one woman in it and nine men and say “yes, this seems fine.” Every time we say to little girls in countless ways that what matters is how you look, not what you think. …

Donald and Billy on the Bus by Lindy West

… Mr. Trump is rape culture’s blathering id, and Sunday night Hillary Clinton (who, no doubt, has just as many man-made scars as the rest of us) has to stand next to him on a stage, and remain unflappable as she’s held to an astronomically higher standard, and pretend that he is her equal while his followers persist in howling that sexism is a feminist myth. While Mr. Trump boasts about sexual assault and vows to suppress disobedient media, cable news pundits spend their time taking a protractor to Mrs. Clinton’s smile — a constant, churning, microanalysis of nothing. …

Meanwhile, right-wing lawmakers are scrambling, sanctimonious and pathetic, to distance themselves from their own hideous progeny, clearly hoping to salvage some personal credibility and perhaps even save their party. But here is the thing, the big thing, that Paul D. Ryan and Reince Priebus and Mike Pence and all the spineless Billy Bushes of the world (and plenty of progressive men too, for that matter) don’t understand: Most of you are no better than Mr. Trump; you are just more subtle.

If you have spent your career brutalizing and dehumanizing women legislatively rather than personally, you are no better. If you were happy to overlook months of violent racism, xenophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia from the Trump campaign, but now you’re mad that he used a bad word and tried to sleep with another man’s wife, you are no better. If you have derided and stigmatized identity politics in an effort to keep the marginalized from organizing, you are no better. If you snicker or say nothing while your fellow men behave like Donald Trump, you are no better. …

We grew up with this by @sianushka 

 … So while desperate Republicans are trying to persuade us they care about women because they have female relatives, other commentators are trying to tell us that grabbing women by the vulva isn’t sexual assault at all. 

And that’s rape culture too, right? 

To say that violating a woman’s personal boundaries is a clumsy attempt at seduction. To say the comments are lewd – as if speaking the word pussy is beyond the pale but sticking your hand on one is a-ok. Let’s pretend it’s not sexual assault, it’s just what guys do. Boys will be boys. Top bantz.

Women know this. We know what it’s like to be told not to complain. To keep quiet. Not to make a big deal out of it. We wouldn’t want to upset him, after all. We wouldn’t want to get him into trouble over just a bit of sexual assault. We wouldn’t want to make a fuss. It’s just a slap on the ass, a pinch of your tits, a hand on your thigh, a hand up your skirt. He didn’t mean it. He didn’t mean it. It was just a joke. It was just a clumsy attempt at seduction. What, are you going to criminalise flirting now? …

So Trump has crossed a line? His views are as old as misogyny itself by Suzanne Moore

… His campaign is an anxiety performance. Machismo by its nature is always an exaggeration, an overcompensation. It works for losers precisely because it covers loss. Look, he says to the disempowered, white male, look at me and my phallic boasting. I will make you hard again.

His hatred of women, his refusal of their bodily autonomy, whether over sex or reproductive rights, is not suddenly being revealed. This is his lifestyle. Now he has crossed a line apparently. Well, the line is a moveable feast when you can hint at assassinating your opponent, at the black vote being rigged, at interviewers menstruating. Multiple choice offence is his USP. Suck it up, bitches. …

Trump’s latest comments about women are rape culture in a nutshell by Emma Gray

… In Trump’s world, women are objects ― objects that only hold a value based on how physically attractive he personally finds them to be. And if women are objects, rather than whole human beings, it follows that Trump must deserve them. Women are things. And when he wants them, he wants them.

As he says to Bush: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

This is what rape culture looks like.  …

Rape culture is why victims of rape and sexual assault feel unsafe reporting their assaults to law enforcement.

Rape culture is why even when these crimes are reported and prosecuted, the perpetrators rarely see the inside of a jail cell.

Rape culture is why the vast majority of women have experienced street harassment.

Rape culture is why many female victims of sexual violence are still asked what they were wearing and drinking when the assaults occurred.

Rape culture is what allows famous men like Bill Cosby to remain untarnished in the public eye until more than 50 women publicly accused him of sexual assault.  …

The Violence of Donald Trump by @bridgettedunlap

… As Harry Hurt III reported in his 1993 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, Ivana Trump, the real estate tycoon’s first wife, testified in a sworn deposition during their divorce proceedings that Trump was angry with her for recommending a plastic surgeon he believed had “ruined” him with a painful scalp reduction surgery to remove a bald spot. Ivana testified that Trump held back her arms and pulled out fistfuls of her hair from her scalp before forcibly penetrating her. Trump denies that the attack or the surgery ever happened.

Trump was never tried or sued, so we’ll never know if he is guilty of raping his wife. But the way Trump and his legal team reacted to the allegations tells us they do not believe the law applies to him.

Prior to Hurt’s book being published, Trump and his lawyers got a statement from Ivana saying she felt “violated” by the events of that night but that she didn’t mean that she’d been raped “in a literal or criminal sense” – even though what she described in her deposition amounted to rape as a legal matter. She’s since said the story of Trump raping her is “without merit.” …

Trump’s leaked comments aren’t just “lewd.” They describe sexual assault. by @emilycrockett

… Whether or not Trump is bragging for effect or machismo, he is saying that he thinks it’s no big deal to grab or kiss a woman in a sexual manner — either by moving too fast for her to consent or resist or by exploiting his power until “they let you do it.”

It is sexual assault to “just start kissing” a woman, much less “grab” her “pussy,” and not “even wait” — in other words, to act without warning or consent.

It is sexual assault to exploit your power over a woman for the purpose of sexual favors.

This isn’t a joke. This isn’t even just a much worse version of the usual sleaze or insults that we’re used to on Trump and women. This is serious.

It’s serious because this kind of cavalier treatment of sexual assault is the definition of rape culture. When men see sexual assault as a punchline, or even something to brag about, they take it less seriously when they see or hear about it happening, and they take women less seriously who talk about it. …

This post was originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming.

#DickheadDetox: Clint Eastwood for whitesplaining racism

Clint Eastwood has a very nice spread in Esquire with his son Scott in which he pontificates on being too important to raise his son and claiming that people who call out racism belong to the ‘pussy generation’.

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Have to say, I assumed Eastwood was dead what with being rather old. He’s certainly not lying about most things being deemed unracist when he grew up but that’s because he was born when segregation was legal. He was 34 when the Civil Rights Act came into effect in 1964. I’m not entirely certain that you can claim that the Jim Crow laws were a ‘big hoodoo’. Or that the implementation of the Civil Rights Act was worse than people calling out racism. Or, that people should just ‘get over’ racism.

But, hey, Eastwood is descended from a dude who arrived in the US on the Mayflower. So he can totally support Donald Trump because Eastwood is one of the ‘good immigrants’. And not one of those people fleeing civil war, terrorism and poverty who thinks that the message written on the Statue of Liberty still constitutes American law:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The only thing going for him in the interview is that he doesn’t trash talk the mother of one of his children, which is something I suppose. He’s certainly not all that concerned about casual misogyny either.

So, life lessons from Clint Eastwood on being a ‘good’ man include not bothering to raise your children, racism is acceptable, people who believe in social justice need to get over themselves, and anyone who doesn’t agree with him is a pussy.

 

Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Second Shift is a seminal text in women’s studies on the gendered differentiations of responsibility for wifework in families where both parents work outside the home. What The Second Shift demonstrates is the damage that compromise does to women’s emotional and physical health because it is always women who are required to ‘compromise’. Women’s work increases whilst men’s does not. Very little has changed in the lives of women since The Second Shift was published in 1989. Women are still responsible for the majority of wifework and childcare to the detriment of our health.

What has changed is the feminist movement. Rather than focusing on women’s liberation from patriarchal structures and male violence, increasingly the feminist movement is being required to put men’s feelings first. We are being asked to compromise on our goals and our beliefs in order to stop making men feel left out. Feminists who use terms like male violence to acknowledge the reality of domestic and sexual abuse are accused of ‘man-hating’. Feminists are consistently told that they should be campaigning about ‘something’ more important – a will-o-wisp term for something which can never be labeled or achieved. It is, simply, a derailing tactic.

Compromise is simply not possible as a feminist policy. Discussion and debate within the feminist movement are necessary but there must be basic tenets which feminism cannot compromise on. After all, compromise did not get rape crisis centres built or the funding for refuges. Compromise did not result in rape in marriage being made illegal. These were hard-fought battles won by second wave feminists who never compromised. Instead, feminists squatted in abandoned buildings to force the government to turn them over to be used for refuges. Feminists campaigned for the vote, for equal pay and for rape to be recognized as a crime against women, not a crime against men’s property, without compromise. Many times they had to be practical, as seen in the history of the suffrage movement, but this did not mean that feminists compromised.

Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women evidenced exactly how the patriarchy responded to feminist activism. We are experiencing a new backlash to feminist activism: one where sexuality is defined as the route to women’s ‘empowerment’ (but not liberation) and where compromise is demanded by men and women. If we don’t compromise and remain sexually available to men we are labeled man-haters. Now feminists believe that we cannot engage in activism for fear of being labeled man-haters. At least, this seems to be the crux of Natasha Devon’s article, demanding feminists compromise: we must compromise our goals and refrain from publicly being angry.

What Devon doesn’t ask is: who are we expected to compromise with – those who profit from the abuse and torture of women’s bodies? Those who profit from women’s unpaid labour in the home and in the infamous “Big Society”? Those whose profits run into the billions selling women products to make them visible (and therefore fuckable)? Because women who do not pass the patriarchal fuckability test aren’t allowed to exist. We cannot compromise with these industries without causing irreparable harm to women and the feminist movement itself.

It is possible for feminists to wear make-up and be entirely critical of what Sandra Lee Bartky labels the fashion-beauty complex. Feminists do understand that women are punished for not “fitting” the prescribed role for women; one only has to look at the abuse directed at Mary Beard to see evidence of this. Or examine Veet’s new campaign, which labels women with body hair ‘men’. The control of the physical acceptability of women’s bodies in the media is part of the patriarchal control of women that allows domestic violence and female genital mutilation to remain. These are not separate issues but rather inter-connected as feminists can, and do, campaign on more than one issue at a time.

Equally, many women feel safer wearing make-up and ‘dressing up’. I know I do, and this is despite knowing what the fashion-beauty complex does to the mental health of women who can afford their products, and the physical consequences to the bodies of women who are forced to produce these products at subsistence wages and in inhumane conditions in factories. This isn’t compromise. It’s a practical response to a culture, which, fundamentally, hates women.

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign is because they have refused to compromise the goals of their campaign. Changing from ending page 3 to encouraging a wider variety of women’s bodies doesn’t engage at all with the issue that NMP3 is fighting: the normalisation of the objectification of women’s bodies in the media. I support the goal of No More Page 3 whilst simultaneously being critical of their stance on pornography. There is more than enough room in feminism for us to discuss our differences on the wider issue of pornography without either of us compromising our feminism.

This is the problem with discussions over feminism as a ‘dirty word’ – it assumes that debate is inherently negative as opposed to a wider process of change. The success of NMP3 has allowed space for more feminist debates on the pornification of society. This is a positive step forward, regardless of whether or not I personally agree with their stance on pornography.

Feminism won’t become a dirty word because feminists won’t compromise. Feminism has always been a dirty word to those who support the capitalist-patriarchy unquestioningly. We don’t need to concern ourselves with those who think feminism is a dirty word. Instead, we need to focus on the feminist movement and the debates within it. Each of us, individually and collectively, has to define the issues that we will not compromise on and understand why others don’t agree with us. We can disagree on some issues, engage in practical steps on others, but feminism as a movement cannot compromise on issues that affect the liberation of women.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/feminism-cannot-compromise-on-the-liberation-of-women/#sthash.1ewI5Br5.dpuf

The problem is the capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employmentand men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/the-problem-is-capitalist-patriarchy-socialising-boys-to-be-aggressive-not-radical-feminism/#sthash.dTFaIOjm.dpuf

The Incompatibility of Radical Feminism and Capitalism

I am a radical feminist. Radical feminism fights for the liberation of all women from male domination and oppression. The term radical refers to the root of women’s oppression which lies in the creation of patriarchy. Or, as Debbie Cameron and Joan Scanlon write:

radical feminism is radical because it challenges all relationships of power, including extreme forms such as male violence and the sex industry … Instead of tinkering around the edges of the question of gender, radical feminism addresses the structural problem which underlies it.

We do not use the term patriarchy to refer to the rule of the father but rather the systemic oppression and subordination of women rooted in the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity” which, as Gerda Lerner states predates the formation of a class society and the concept of private property but it is nonetheless now inseparable from capitalism. Control of women’s potential capacity for reproduction and sex(uality) has been commidified and politicised with the creation of the state

When radical feminists use the term sex, we are referring to the biological realities of female, male and intersex bodies. We use gender to refer to the social constructions and stereotypes placed on bodies which are culturally and historically contextualised. Gender is a harmful social construct that operates as a system of oppression through the unequal power relationship between men and women: and within the categories of male/female when referencing race, sexuality, class, faith etc. Gender is harmful because it takes the simple biological reality of women’s potential reproductive capabilities to deny women access to public spaces and, therefore, power. Gender creates categories of masculinity and femininity and claims them as real despite the fact that they vary widely in definition across cultures and history. It also eroticises the power differential between men and women rendering women as a “sex class”.

The patriarchy predates capitalism but they are now intertwined so that we cannot dismantle the patriarchy without fundamentally deconstructing capitalism, or, more simply, eradicating it completely. As such, radical feminism and capitalism are inherently incompatible. After all, when the stock phrase “equality under the law” is used, radical feminists ask: equal to whom? What group of men do women want to be equal to when wealth and power are located within a very small group of mostly white men.  This power is maintained through the threat of and the actuality of violence whether this is violence within the home or sanctioned by the state. When

What we don’t do is adequately contextualise male violence within the broader framework of control of women’s reproductive and sexual capacity. The media occasionally covers the mass rape of women in the Congo yet consistently fails to mention that the war in the Congo is caused by capitalism and consumerism.[4] We artificially separate the economic reasons for war from the human cost of those wars.

Human trafficking, for sexual, domestic and labour slavery, is one of the largest industries in the world and is intimately tied in with trafficking of illegal substances and arms.  We allow children to work in sweatshops earning less than a subsistence wage so we can change our wardrobe every 3 months and have a new mobile phone every 12 months. We simply fail to discuss the reality that capitalism requires poverty, racism, misogyny and classism to exist. This is antithetical to radical feminism.

The Equal Pay Act has existed since 1970 and women still earn 15% less than men.  Women of colour continue to be paid less than white women for similar work. Women still do the majority of unpaid work including childcare, housework, caring for elderly relatives or those with disabilities, and the organising of family life. This work is not counted when we assess women’s economic output despite the fact that the unpaid labour of women is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. This is male economic violence against women: both within the family and by the state. It maintains women’s oppression through poverty.

We all know the statistics on domestic and sexual violence: we know that 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence from a male partner during their life. We know that 2 women a week are murdered by their current or former partner, yet we don’t talk about the consequences of male economic violence against women and children which starts with women’s unpaid labour.

Women’s Aid states that the financial cost of domestic violence in the UK, in which women are the majority of victims, is 23 billion dollars. According to the charity Gingerbread, only 38% of single parents receive child maintenance. Despite the fact that children in single parent households are twice as likely to live in poverty, the government has seen fit to dismantle the Child Support Agency, which was hardly fit for purpose to start with, and replace it with an agency that will charge people to use it.

The dismantling of the welfare state in the UK has disproportionately affected women pushing more women and their children into poverty. According to the Fawcett society:

(w)omen are more likely to be employed in low paid, part-time work, more likely to head a single parent household, likely to have less financial assets and more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

Women are more dependent on state benefits than men. In their roles as carers, women are more likely to be impacted by cuts to the NHS, education and social services, particularly if they or their children are disabled.

If we look globally, more than 780 million people live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation. In the US, 1 in 3 women live in poverty. The UN estimates that 80% of female workers in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are in vulnerable employment.

These are the consequences of capitalism that is predicated on racism, poverty and misogyny. We cannot liberate women from male domination as long as our economic and political power requires many women to live in poverty without access to education, clean water, health care, and nutrition. This is why radical feminism and capitalism are incompatible.

Below are links to research into poverty and women’s rights.

Prostitution, Sexual Slavery and the Sex Industry:

Radical feminism opposes the legalisation of prostitution and seeks to end what is commonly referred to as the “sex industry”. The global sex industry uses women’s poverty and institutionalises and normalises violence against women, racism, and the colonisation of women’s bodies. Aboriginal women in Canada and the US are disproportionately represented in prostitution, poverty and prison. Women involved in the sex industry, from prostitution to lap dancing clubs, have higher rates of PTSD than other groups of women as well as higher rates of substance misuse and histories of sexual violence.

Prostitution, trafficking for sexual slavery and the legal forms of the global sex industry is worth billions of dollars and the vast majority of this money rests in the hands of men. Men control the trade in the bodies of women and childre, profit from the trade and abuse women’s bodies for their personal gratification. As long as women are forced to live in poverty, women will be forced to work in the sex industry.

Beauty Industry :

The beauty industry is a billion dollar industry that prescribes women’s behaviour and appearance. Women are deemed unfuckable unless they meet very narrow guidelines of beauty: tall, thin, and white. Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth shows how the industry keeps women materially and psychologically poor.

The cost of being “beautiful” (and therefore worthy of humanity) includes the billion dollar cosmetic industry, plastic surgery for implants and liposuction as well as designer vaginas. The fashion industry, with it’s obsession with clothes which do not fit adult women and shoes which maim, is also worth billions:  money which women are forced to pay to deemed worthy of employment and life.

International economics controlled by multinational corporations and poverty:

Water Facts from the UN

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
  • 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.
  • Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planets Earth would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050.
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth (WHO/UNICEF, 2010).
  • With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% (70% by 2050) (Bruinsma, 2009), while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60% (WWAP, 2009). These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions. Yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention.
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for ~70% of global freshwater withdrawals (up to 90% in some fast-growing economies).

Domestic Violence Statistics (taken from Women’s Aid):

  • 1 in 8/ 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • 45% of women experience one form of interpersonal violence during their life.
  • There are 13 million separate acts of physical violence or threats of physical  violence each year against women by current or former partners
  • 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence
  • women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.

What is the cost of domestic violence?  (Women’s Aid)

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby 2004). The estimated total cost is based on the following:

  • The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).
  • The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence, (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of total NHS budget.
  • The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is £176,000,000.
  • The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.
  • Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.
  • The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion.

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to children (including moving schools and the impact this has on their education), and it excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.

The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.

Information on Child maintenance from Gingerbread:

  • Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  • For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)
  • The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)
  • Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)
  • Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

 

Signs of Violent and Controlling Behaviour from Women’s Aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening.
  • Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you; checking up on you; opening your mail; repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you; embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex; any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abusive behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

[1] Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (Sage Pub. 2001)

[2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press: 1986)

[3] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press: 1986) p.8

[4] Million Women Rise coalition at UK Feminista Summer School. 2011