March 23, 2007

Phallocentric Feminist Friday

by PG

Blogger "Heart" found my post about why transgendered women may have less power and privilege than women-born-women, and therefore WBWs have an obligation not to discriminate invidiously against them. Unfortunately, what I thought was a reasonably well-thought-out analysis, which included comparisons to racism to illustrate why less-empowered minorities within a larger set ought to be both included in that set and allowed to have their own spaces in that set, got reduced in Heart's mind to "a creative, though idiotic, defense of transwomen being in woman-only space: that feminists should admit transwomen into female-only space because they have nobly sacrificed their penises for the anti-patriarchal Cause, either by having them surgically removed or pretending they donít exist."

I cannot find any mention of "sacrificing a penis" in my post, though the phrase does remind me of a high school paper I wrote about castration in Jane Eyre. I think feminists should admit transwomen into female-only space because transwomen are women (scroll to the comments beginning in March 2007). There are some situations where I would not count transwomen among women: say, if I needed to tally up the number of women born in California in 1980, and I were relying on birth certificates -- though this method would cause me to include transmen. But the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is not such a situation. Heart fails to engage the actual content of the post, and gives no answer to the question of whether white-women-only spaces are morally acceptable to feminists. After all, there are plenty of spaces that welcome all women, as well as ones that welcome only women of color, or even smaller subgroups -- shouldn't white women have their own space too? Because white women dominate most all-women spaces, many people find such a suggestion ludicrous and ignoring the actual reality of race in order to put up a false claim for equality. Similarly, women-born-women dominate spaces that welcome all women, so why does there need to be a space only for WBWs?

We have events like the MWMF because within the larger society, the dominant group is male. Not "people who were born with a penis," but "people who claim the privileges of masculinity and enact harm on others through those privileges." Women empower themselves and one another through a brief time of stepping out of that patriarchal mainstream to communicate and celebrate. Transwomen don't threaten that; they are not trying to bring patriarchal culture into the MWMF. Rather, they too need time away from threats to their bodies and psyches. Transgendered people also get harassed, abused, assaulted, raped -- possibly at even higher rates than WBWs, because trans folk pose such a threat to those who need to maintain rigid boundaries of sex and gender. Transwomen also have had to spend their lives "under the rule of men." To assume that because someone ever has been identified as male by others, that she has not had part of the women's experience, is a narrow-minded belief that does a disservice to feminism.

March 23, 2007 06:15 PM | TrackBack

As always, PG, I adore your logic and clarity of thought and expression. Do not be over-offended by Heart's reaction. She has her agenda and will brook no disagreement or consider other views that contradict it. She is, generally, a thoughtful and intelligent writer; she simply has a blind spot wrt to this issue.

Posted by: Denise at March 25, 2007 08:34 AM

:-) Thanks Denise, and also for your attempt to get Heart to engage with my critique instead of with her strawman version of my critique.

Posted by: PG at March 25, 2007 07:01 PM

Heart has said on her blog, "I am holding a couple of comments in the moderation queue, one from PG and one from someone defending PG, because they are gigantically long and seem to want to cover and re-cover ground that has been covered forevermore, ad nauseum here on Womenís Space, in threads I linked to in my first post."

Therefore I am posting my comment here, and I hope that whoever also has had his/her comment held in the moderation queue (something that didn't happen when one of the commenters was declaring that she "hated" me and was certain despite statements to the contrary that I was a transwoman) will post that comment here as well.

Regarding Heart's latest reply -- which I have to acknowledge is very well written, even though I disagree with it:

Vogel is not talking here about transwomen. She is talking here about females under male heterosupremacy.

I refer you to the text below "Is the Festival transphobic?" in the Vogel press release posted on your own blog. That is where I got the quote, and there is not a single reference in those two paragraphs to male heterosupremacy.

The point she is making is that there is nothing inherently phobic or exclusive about marginalized groups, affinity groups, creating their own spaces.

The argument, as I understand it, is that if a group is marginalized in one context, then it's morally OK for it to exclude some subgroup in another context. Under this theory, because women of color are marginalized in the larger white dominated society, it's morally OK for a group labeling itself as "women of color" to exclude a certain subgroup like Asian women. The Asian women may *think* they're women of color, but having failed to have a particular experience as a woman of color (e.g., not having people assume they would be low academic achievers, b/c different stereotypes are applied to Asians as opposed to some other ethnicities -- even if a particular Asian woman has had this experience (for example, in areas like Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Hmong are negatively stereotyped) they are not *really* WOC and therefore it's OK to tell them they are not WOC and exclude them.

As a minority within a minority within a minority (woman of color, Asian, South Asian), I'm afraid that self-interest keeps me from buying this.

And LOTS of het white men do indeed take great interest in whether transwomen are allowed into MWMF; there is substantial opposition, on the part of men, to female-only space, wherever it exists and no matter why it exists because it hinders male access to females.

I'm unclear on why this would be an interest peculiar to white men, given that men of color (in my experience) also seek male access to females. Also, the interest of het men in transwomen's being allowed into MWMF doesn't seem very helpful to the goal of their own access to females; if A is a het male trying to access females, shouldn't he campaign for het males' admittance to MWMF? Or are you assuming a longterm slippery slope campaign that will start with the wedge of women-born-men and end with the MBMs?

The Festival is a lesbian festival, lesbian run, lesbian owned, herstorically lesbian. Het women and bi women attend as guests at the invitation of lesbians.

OK, I just was not aware of this. I had not seen it mentioned on the MWMF website, and my friend who has attended MWMF multiple times is not strictly lesbian, so I assumed that the festival actually was open to all women. I did notice that among the supremacist tendencies listed as ones that MWMF attendees seek to unlearn -- racism, classism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism and internalized oppression and misogyny -- transphobia was not included.

I think I see how my post gave you the impression that I thought transwomen were "sacrificing their penises." Where I wrote,

The womyn-born-womyn go on about the male privilege that Male-to-Females have had, while ignoring that MTFs' refusals of male identity frequently mean that they can access the privileges of neither sex. (Yes, women do get some gender privileges, though theyíre mostly ones I donít want.) The refusal of these alleged feminists to recognize that having a penis can be a bad thing sometimes strikes me as the biggest threat to the feminist movement's continued viability

you seem to have read

"MTFs' refusals of male identity [...] recognize that having a penis can be a bad thing ..."

I did not say that "those born male can 'refuse' male identity, presumably via the recognition that 'a penis can be a bad thing.'" Instead, I pointed out that those who do not acknowledge the harms that were visited upon transwomen (who would have been more socially accepted had they presented similarly when born women, but like people born women who don't present within feminine cliches, are assaulted in a dozen different ways for how they present when born male), are failing to recognize that having a penis can be a bad thing. That is, one should not assume that because someone had a penis, that it necessarily granted him more social acceptance than would have occurred if he hadn't had it.

As a mostly-traditionally-presenting female, I can look at my own life experience and, excluding incidents of racism and religious bigotry, acknowledge that I have been more socially accepted than many people born male who have not presented in traditionally male ways. I am quite thankful that with the personality I seem to have, that I was not born male and do not have to fight social expectations every moment. I have had power and privilege because in many respects, the way I am is the way people wanted me to be. In any situation, meeting social expectations is rewarded; disappointing them is punished. The only people I can think of who would have preferred me to be male are my father's family. (I try to console them with the reminder that in the U.S., no dowry has to be paid on me, but it's not much help when they think of the bounties they could have gotten marrying off a healthy, well-educated boy.)

I agree that in an ideal society, we all could present however we wanted, and there would be no constructs that identified us as "male" or "female," or for that matter as "white" or "black." I would not be a girl or a woman or a person of color -- I would just be PG. Given the society we actually have, however, I find exclusion of transwomen from what is supposed to be "womensspace" to be an arbitrary distinction piled atop society's arbitrary distinctions.

Finally, I fear what this insistence that to be male is always to be privileged -- this refusal to see the depradations gender norms have made on people not born female -- will do to feminism's ability to join hands with all oppressed people. I think that feminist WBWs have common cause with people born male who have been harmed by gender norms, just as white women had common cause with black men when both were denied the vote. We who have studied hetero sexual assault have something valuable to offer regarding same-sexual assault, and I worry that we will be dismissed on the assumption that we have nothing to offer because "feminists only care about what men do to women." I am afraid of the divides that will be made within all of us who should be fighting subordination together, if we tell Asians that they are not people of color; if we tell bisexuals that they are not queer; if we tell transwomen that they are not women.

Uppity Biscuit,
I'm sorry that you think "invidious discrimination" is a phrase I'm using in order to make myself sound smart. I was writing on a legal blog, therefore I used phrases typical of the legal field. The few readers I usually have are fellow law geeks: lawyers, professors, law students or wannabe law students. Within that group, I assume that people know what the phrase "invidious discrimination" means -- it's one learned almost as soon as you enter a constitutional law class. I assure you that it's not one I dreamed up (hence my citation to a Supreme Court case). Similarly, a person writing on cooking blog probably would not stop to explain exactly how to boil an egg (something I didn't know and had to call my mom to tell me how to do when I moved away from home). Although I'm delighted to have new people with different perspectives read De Novo, I don't expect to have to footnote common legal phrases.
Again, if this feels like an attempt at superiority to you, rather than simply a person working in a different field with its associated lingo, I apologize. If you have a substitute phrase that will be more easily understood by non-geeks and means precisely the same thing (because I was deliberately referencing the legal understanding of the phrase), I would be happy to use it instead.

Now, PG, tell me when or if you think that those of us born female ever have a right to gather without a person born male present. Just to hedge a word problem, please be careful to not confuse gender with sex.

Of course people born female have the right to gather without a person born male present -- that's a First Amendment right of free association. You also have the right to gather without homosexuals, or non-English speakers, or women of color present. If I choose to have a party in my home and refuse admittance to Latino lesbians, that is my right. *However*, if I maintain a public accommodation, such as a bathroom or a music festival, that is purportedly open to women, I am subject to the civil rights laws. At the moment, the federal laws do not cover sexual orientation nor gender expression rights. This makes the U.S. somewhat uncommon among G8 nations -- in much of the EU and in Japan, for example, there are constitutional "rights to personality" that are interpreted to mean that if someone is legally recognized as a woman, it is a denial of her rights and an insult to her human dignity to deny her the civil rights available to other women. In the few localities where the civil rights law does cover gender expression, I would consider denying admittance of any woman, including one who was deemed male at birth, to be a violation of her rights under the law. You, like the Supreme Court justices who said the Boy Scouts could exclude homosexuals, may think that the right of free association also extends to public accommodations; I do not.

Posted by: PG at March 28, 2007 01:27 AM

A post I made to follow up to Heart's announcement.

I'm sorry that you consider my comment and the comment of anyone who defends me to be spam, particularly given a comment policy that finds personally insulting and attacking comments like Mary Sunshine's and Uppity Biscuit's to be appropriate for publication. However, this is your blog, and as you have chosen to conduct the discussion here (as opposed to comments on my blog), you also can cut it off where you like. I don't want to gate-crash. I don't endorse literal gate-crashing by others, whether it's transwomen at MWMF or white naturalized citizens of Japan at communal baths. However, I do endorse minorities' using the forces of legal action and pleading for internal change in order to secure equal access.

in threads I linked to in my first post
The only thread linked in the post at the top of this page that has to with women-only space is the article about the airline employee who used a sleeping woman like some kind of live tissue for his ejaculation. Such an act is disgusting and dehumanizing, but given the unlikelihood of a transwoman -- particularly a post-operative one -- committing such an act, I don't see its relevance to the issue of including transwomen in women-only spaces. Similarly, the Jessica Lunsford thread extensively discusses how the majority of violence and abuse in our society is perpetrated by men, but does not point to transwomen as more likely than WBWs to behave in such a manner.

I read all of the posts linked in your comment of March 25th, 2007 at 2:36 pm. In the "Are Feminists Allowed" post, you allude to radfems apparently having negative experiences with transgendered people, yet never specify what those are. You say, "Some of us are so shell-shocked from our dealings with a few, really destructive, bent transwomen. We find it hard to open ourselves to the possibility that those destructive few are not representative." The only person who spoke of such transwomen was Harpy, and for her whether to exclude transwomen from women-only spaces appeared to be an open question. Indeed, she said that we should not judge a whole group based on a few bad individuals from that group.

If I were to demand that you go back through *my* blog before you decided what I think, you would see that we're actually in agreement that we all should work toward a future in which gender doesn't really exist, and that I have serious concerns about the ways in which the whole concept of "transgender" can impede that work. But if gender ceases to exist, so does the meaningfulness of MWMF and women only spaces generally. Once we are all people, not male-female-black-white, we no longer can use a status to oppress others because that status no longer means anything, and we no longer need spaces to be free of such oppression because it no longer occurs. Therefore, in this pre-utopian era when we have such spaces, it seems unfair and inconsistent to exclude those who declare a gender that is the same I declare for myself from such spaces. You say that transwomen have always been with feminists, yet they had to pretend not to be transwomen; if they were open about it, they were accused of gate-crashing, of making it all about themselves, of disrespect toward WBWs; if they didn't say they were trans, they're called liars. So where is the space for the transwomen whom you claim to have been attending MWMF without incident for years? They are no longer welcome, due to no fault of their own.

In the posts about the VRR, there is no answer to my question of why Ms. Nixon was acceptable as a client of the shelter, but not as a volunteer/ employee. You maintain basic positions with which I disagree, such as the belief that WBWs cannot discriminate against transwomen, because in your worldview women have no sex privilege. I disagree with this belief because I have the sex privilege of social approval for the match between my social gender and my physical genitalia. If I organize an activity for women -- say, a women's-only song in a revue-style coed performance -- and forbid transwomen to participate, I am discriminating against them. And there are many more WBWs than transwomen, so it's unlikely that the transwoman can respond by having a transwomen-only song in the show. In your long list of what makes a woman a woman, beginning with "female genital mutilation" and ending with "being restricted to your home," none have been part of my experience. I have experienced disrespect from men in the workplace; I have been sexually harassed on the street; I have had male judges express surprise to see me in competition with males. But I haven't experience anything on your list. Many transwomen, on the other hand, *have* had the experiences you list, as you note. Are they women who belong in women-only spaces? Am I?

Your assertions and Amy's that MWMF is for lesbian WBWs, with other WBWs there on sufferance and transwomen of any sexuality unwelcome, simply makes the name Michigan Womyn's Music Festival seem like a misnomer, unless "womyn" actually means "only lesbian WBWs." I object to using larger categories when it is advantageous and then suddenly narrowing when one fears the entrance of a member of that large category whom one had not anticipated; hence my comparisons to the Boy Scouts' exclusion of homosexuals, when they're not calling themselves the Heterosexual Boy Scouts but instead claiming to welcome all boys.

Posted by: PG at March 29, 2007 11:55 PM
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