All Your Gender Is Gender

Start from there, because it is true.

Your female body is not an identity.

Everything else is an identity and is socially constructed.

Feminism is a theory that puts Females (Women) at the center of the analysis.

Not Rich Women. Not Poor Women. Not Overweight Butch Dykes (I am trying to lose weight though, thanks for asking).

Women.

Not Women who identify as …

Your identity has “meaning” to you and to others because of society. And those meanings might not always “mean” the same thing to everyone in our society. And those meanings might “mean” something different 5 minutes from now.

Your body is not a social construct. Calling your Female body “something else” or naming it Butch or Dyke or Queer or Trans does not change your body.

Taking drugs to alter your chemistry does not change this.

Surgical interventions do not change this.

Your extremism does not change this.

Temper tantrums do not change this.

Demanding that Other Women recognize Certain Women as the True Representation of Women does not change this.

You are Female.

I am Female.

Women are Female.

What does Identity Politics do to liberate Women?

This is a serious question.

Identity politics does nothing to advance Women as a class.

If it makes you feel better to cling to your special identity, if it comforts you to make yourself feel like you are a better person because you are Working Class or Gay or Vegan or Butch, then you should do that. It’s not unreasonable to want comfort. It’s not unreasonable for you to be you.

You be you.

But your personal comfort does nothing to advance Women’s liberation. You being you is not a political strategy. You telling other Women they are not as good as you because you are X and they are Y is not politics; it’s “something else.”

You being you is you being you.

It’s also not unreasonable to want to affiliate with Women who are “like you.” But confusing your desire to affiliate with Lesbians or Vegan Women is not a liberatory strategy. You feeling “good about yourself” does not equal Women’s Liberation (although I think all Women – even “Man Daters” – should feel good about themselves). You advocating for the rights of a few Women and your right to be you does nothing for Women as a class. And your hurt feelings are also “not feminism.”

Your positioning of yourself amidst multiple identities won’t hide your body.

Female is not an identity.

Sorry about your feelings.

This isn’t “personal.” This isn’t about “your feelings.” It’s not even about “my feelings.”

You are not special (except to those who think you are). I, also, am not special. This is a class analysis.

And some Women might be bigger than others, but we are all Women.

Please don’t lose the plot because you think you are bigger than all of us.

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29 Responses to All Your Gender Is Gender

  1. doublevez says:

    “Identity politics does nothing to advance Women as a class.”

    Thank you.

  2. karmarad says:

    Glad to see this, Cathy, will read.

    This first 
    article brings up a question about definitions/language for me. I 
    have said elsewhere (with regard to trans issues) that a 
    distinction should always be made between “identity” and 
    “identification”. I had come to define identity as that 
    “essential” biological thing, woman, and “identification”, as what 
    trans people and others with BIID do. In other words, they “identify”
    with an “identity”, but as you say in the article, they can’t become the identity. 

    Also, in my way of looking at it, a woman with the “identity” of 
    female can “identify” with other subgroups such as “Latina women” 
    or “rape survivors”.

    Also, one may be “identified” involuntarily 
    with certain socially-constructed roles.

    So I have been using the 
    word “Identity” very differently from the way your article defines 
    it. In my reading I have seen the word “identity” used in so many 
    ways I had to find and settle on the most useful definition I 
    could think up. I realize my choice has been arbitrary.

    As I understand your use of “identity”, you have a very different 
    underlying definition. “Identity” seems to mean the socially-
    constructed roles and also the many specific subgroups women 
    identify with for various reasons. The Being, Woman, is the 
    essential ground. That’s fine, but if what I have called 
    “Identifications” are going to be called “Identities”, I need 
    vocabulary for that Essential Being. This leads directly into the 
    word Essentialism, which has been so bollixed up by Judith Butler 
    and Pomos that it’s now a dirty word. Nevertheless this seems to 
    me to be exactly what you’re describing when you talk about our 
    essential womanhood. 

    So while I agree with you strongly that there is an essential 
    womanhood, if you are doing this exploration in a new blog where 
    we can start over with clear premises, maybe the blog should begin 
    by wrangling out a basic vocabulary for 1) the ground 
    existential and universal biologically-based state of womanhood, 
    2) the socially-constructed roles we incorporate and perform, and 
    3) the theory that both men and women have a set of base 
    biological and universal attributes that influence their lives and 
    influence the construction of these social roles, mores, and 
    identifications.

    Good luck with your blog! And sorry about the formatting here.

    • loveangellove says:

      I’m really glad you said this Karma, I started a blog post about how we’ve stopped identifying *with* things and started identifying *as* things, which has caused all sorts of problems, but I never finished it. Might have to get back onto it.

  3. bugbrennan says:

    I would not use the word “essential womanhood,” but that’s just me. I would say Women as a class are the humans subject to impregnation. That’s all it is. This only becomes complicated in academia.

    I don’t disagree that it is sometimes useful to organize around “identities.” I have organized around “identities” much of my adult life in my political work. I am not suggesting Women shouldn’t do that. But if we are talking about Women’s Liberation, Women need to be able to see and connect with one another – as Women, along that which connects all of us. We need to be able to say this OUT LOUD.

    There have been far to many derails about “oh noes, I am infertile, guess that makes me a man” from third wave feminists. That, of course, is horseshit. The socialization of “female” into “womanhood” begins the minute the Pregnant Person (A WOMAN) learns of the baby’s sex (not gender). And if that person who is born to the Woman has Female-appearing organs, they go in the Female box and get the Feminine Gender socialization. There’s no special “this is the socialization we give girl babies who grow up to be infertile,” any more than there’s any “this is the socialization we give to girls who grow up to be Lesbians.”

    No worries about formatting.

  4. karmarad says:

    Sounds good, but I would like to look more at what women’s essential identity is, or as you say, what the class of women consists of, in a non-academic way of course (I can’t help noticing that radical feminists tend to avoid academia). I prefer medicine and research science. So if we start with the agreement that the class of women is the class that is impregnated, good. No one can object to that.

    How about: the class of women is the class with, generally, two XX chromosomes?

    How about adding: the class of women includes those who generally lactate? Impregnation has crucial consequances; so does lactation, and the fact that human milk is better for infants.

    Before I go any further, I think we come to the first area of confusion, which you have already brought up. That is that it is proper to refer to the GENERAL biological equipment of women. A specific woman may not ever be pregnant, but this does not remove her from the class. As you say, some third-wave women are confused about this. Maybe we should talk about that some more?

    Also, one more clarification seems to be required here: though we are specifying the class of women, we are clear that there is also a class of men, and their essential nature could be discussed at another time.

  5. Tired says:

    I would go further and say that there is biological sex, and there is one’s awareness of one’s biological sex. Awareness of a biological fact is not an identity. A woman is a biological female. As such, it is not an identity, but merely a fact. One cannot choose biological sex. Nor can one choose an identity inconsistent with biological sex and expect to be taken seriously. We don’t do this with other kinds of knowledge. One’s level of mathematical knowledge doesn’t become an identity, although it absolutely affects one’s functioning in society (limiting career choices, for example), and has at least small effects on the physical development of the brain. But we don’t go around proclaiming ourselves members of a group based on the highest level of math we studied. It would be meaningless. Math achievement is not an identity. It’s not a “thing.”

    There is no such thing as gender (except in the older, standard meaning of that word as a synonym for “sex”), and separating sex from gender is actually harming women. What is actually happening when we separate the concepts of biological sex and “gender” is that we are conceding that there is an alternative path to “femaleness” that doesn’t depend on objective reality. This is absurd. Social expectations of masculine and feminine behavior (sex roles) are also not entities, not identities, and not naturally related to biological sex. One’s awareness of them and compliance with or rejection of them are not entities or identities, either. Gender as something distinct from biological reality has turned out to be worse than useless and we need to discard the concept.

  6. Kathleen Barry says:

    Cathy this is brilliant and should be basic feminism 101 – you have a truly amazing way of cutting through all the crap which is what radical feminism has to do to get to the root of the oppression of women. Thank you for all you are doing to make this clear and for holding your/our ground. Someday we’ll get to discuss this together, I hope

    • bugbrennan says:

      Thanks. I hope so too. Your work has really inspired me. If we can’t say these basic facts without apology, we are screwed forever. I don’t want us to be screwed forever.

  7. karmarad says:

    Hi, Tired,

    Just trying to get on the same page, and I found your comment thought-provoking, thanks.

    I simply can’t move as fast as you on these points, sorry. I can’t move into the issue of “gender” yet, and I understand that the discussion may move on without me, it’s not my blog, that’s fine.

    You define what identity is not. It is not being a woman, or being a mathematician ( I agree that a mathematician is not an identity; I think of it as an identification.) You say it is a “fact”. That seems very indefinite to me. I need some agreed-on term like “identity” or “biological class” that allows me to compare women and men as the discussion goes on.

    Maybe “identity” should be dropped from radical feminist discourse as a term that has become impossibly bastardized and confusing. I went to an online dictionary for the definition, and what I found were two definitions that appear to completely contradict each other, Here they are:

    “Definition of IDENTITY

    1
    a : sameness of essential or generic character in different instances
    b : sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing : oneness
    2
    a : the distinguishing character or personality of an individual : individuality
    b : the relation established by psychological identification”

    Definition 1 is the definition I have been using, i.e., the essential samenesses of women everywhere, that which is generic about women, things that constitute our oneness. I would add that of course we are not the same in every respect. Again, I come back to the word “essential” to say “our essential samenesses”. There is a concept, “Qualia” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia). That concept seems to me to be raised by you when you talk about a mind-body connection. You say: ” I would go further and say that there is biological sex, and there is one’s awareness of one’s biological sex. Awareness of a biological fact is not an identity.” If I’m understanding you, you’re saying that women are never strictly biological beings, in the sense of our physical parts, since part of our biology is our consciousness. Is that right? I agree if so. But you say that the combination of belonging to a well-defined biological class and being consciously aware of it does not add up to feeling that one has an “identity” – why?

    Seems to me the word “identity” would be appropriate, if it wasn’t hopelessly misused by now. Maybe that’s the overriding reason not to use that word. I quoted two definitions of “identity” above, Definition 2a, in total contrast to Definition 1, defines it as individuality, an individual’s distinguishing characteristics. Definition 2b equates it with “psychological identification”. Without going into detail, we are now told “identity” means “identification”, which is utterly subjective, and that it does not mean sameness, but difference.

    There appear to be two directly contradictory definitions of “identity” in current usage. No wonder we’re having this discussion over and over again on radfem blogs!

    What should we say we are, then, when we are talking about our universal, biologically-based samenesses? I’m willing to drop “identity” and use “class” as Cathy does. What do you think?

    K.

  8. bugbrennan says:

    The word is Female.

  9. karmarad says:

    What word? What does Occam’s Razor have to do with any of this? How about some discussion?

  10. karmarad says:

    Sorry, this is sounding unduly mysterious to me…Female does not equate with “identity”.

  11. bugbrennan says:

    Sorry, Karmarad – You said “What should we say we are, then, when we are talking about our universal, biologically-based samenesses?”

    The word for that is Female.

  12. karmarad says:

    Sorry, not catching what that means. Happy to talk about ‘female” and “woman” as concepts, but I can only plod along here and maybe not contribute much. Doesn’t seem to follow from a discussion about “identity”, at least to me. So, good luck.

  13. wildwomyn says:

    I also think that what we are discussing is female and I, for one, do not care to “…compare women and men as the discussion goes on.” because this is about all things female and men get discussed ad nauseum everywhere else.

    karmarad, you may want to compare women and men but I do not, not here.

  14. karmarad says:

    OK, female equals woman equals a biological class (not an identity), which is subject, based on that class, to global subjugation. The biological class itself cannot change (though biology can be modified in some degree, the class does not change), but the existence and manifestations of the global subjugation can change. The subjugated statuses, roles, and functions women perform or exist in, in all global societies, vary. Reformist feminism seeks to ameliorate the manifestations of the subjugation; radical feminism seeks to abolish the subjugation entirely.

    So now I would like to ask Tired and you about this statement from Tired’s comment above: “What is actually happening when we separate the concepts of biological sex and “gender” is that we are conceding that there is an alternative path to “femaleness” that doesn’t depend on objective reality. This is absurd.”

    I have found the separation of biological class (sex) from the myriad manifestations of our subjugation (gender roles) to be useful in thinking about processes of liberation. I need some way of talking about artifically-imposed and enforced societal sex roles. They do exist and they’re very important to discuss in trying to separate out the many threads of our subjugation.

    But there is a problem as Tired points out. The concept of “gender roles” has been co-opted and misused in transactivist theorizing. Transactivists have had considerable success in persuading society (at least here in the U.S.) that performing female gender roles is equivalent to belonging to the biological, subjugated class (some of them even assert that there is no definable biological class, but that’s another topic). So Tired seems to say (and I apologize if I’m saying this incorrectly), we should not concede that gender roles are in any way separatable from biological class, because if we do, we get the argument that men can be women (and women can be men, but again, that’s a different topic) simply by performing those roles and perhaps having cosmetic surgery performed and perhaps changing their endocrinology, none of which efforts result, of course, in a permanent change to the biological class of woman. This is highly destructive to feminist theory as, if men can be women and vice versa, there is no subjugated class. It’s the very antithesis of basic feminist theory.

    While this transactivist argument is absurd on its face, absurdity hasn’t been enough to stop its progress into being embedded into human rights legislation. The reasons for this are complex and include societal confusion and desire to protect this group from violence and discrimination, postmodernist academics’ support of such absurdities, and the assertiveness of the transactivist lobby. Even reformist feminists have not recognized the absurdity of these politics. Only radical feminists (and religious and other conservatives, who are not alliable with because they simultaneously support the subjugation of women), are pointing this out.

    So I agree that there must not be any implied concession from us, when we discuss artificially-imposed subjugating gender roles, that these add up to being female. But I feel we must continue the analysis of these existing gender roles for other purposes. Maybe the word “gender” is so compromised we need to stop using it, but we will need a useful replacement, IMHO.

  15. Reblogged this on Women of the Patriarchy and commented:
    No words.

  16. Excellent post!

    About transjackivists and their “twanzphobia” strawman: http://clarissasblog.com/2013/03/04/what-makes-people-transphobic/

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