Is Gender Really A Hierarchy?

I’ve stumbled across the same line several times in radical feminist spaces: Gender is a hierarchy.

Sex is a hierarchy: male above female, man above woman, boy above girl. But gender, which even WHO, the World Health Organization, defines as masculinity or femininity, is a patriarchal construct much more complex than a simple hierarchy — gender is a system by which patriarchy rewards conformity. Framing gender as a hierarchy too easily leads to men being categorized as more oppressed than women. That’s my thesis here, so please pay attention to this line: Framing gender as a hierarchy too easily leads to men being categorized as more oppressed than women.

Radical feminism takes the stance — inherently — that gender is fake, a construct of patriarchy by and for the benefit of men; gender is invalid. For this reason alone it would seem that framing gender as a hierarchy is a waste of time. But even more, the concept of gender is so complex, and flexible in meanings, that it becomes more than a waste of time — gender reinforces anti-feminism. I’m picky on language. If you know me, you know that. But it’s for one reason alone — political expediency. If we don’t hone our definitions, they get used against us and weaken our movement. We have too few with too much to accomplish. Save energy: Get the definitions of the words we need to work for us, not against us.

Sex and ‘gender’ do overlap. Males are required to be masculine and females feminine: masculine men and feminine women conform to patriarchy’s “gender.” They are BOTH rewarded, even as the hierarchy of sex places men above women. This is an integral part of my thesis — Patriarchy is invested in seeing masculinity as an integral part of being male and femininity of being female, because if these things appear innate and sex-linked then patriarchy’s hand in the definitions remains invisible; it’s just the way it is. I accept here that patriarchy has the power to define words, and unless we have a great deal of energy to spare (we don’t), it’s probably best to use their definitions so long as they don’t damage our movement. In this case they don’t. Masculinity is expected of men, and femininity of women. Gender equals mandated sex roles.

And so what of ‘feminine men’ and ‘masculine women’? They. Don’t. Exist. Neither does “cis,” which is supposed to mean the sex that an individual feels they are, on the inside, conforms to what the culture around them believes them to be. Generally sex gets conflated with gender, so that it’s a matter of one’s “gender identity” being consistent or not, within that artificial “cis.” “Femininity identity” would be a stretch were it that clearly spelled out, and I suspect this is why the sex/gender identity obfuscation is so common — it hides the phoniness of “cis.”

Where individuals don’t conform to the assigned sex roles (a.k.a. ‘gender’), for example M2Ts (male-to-‘transgender’ persons), they may appear to be more oppressed by ‘femininity’ than are those for whom ‘femininity’ is REQUIRED, women. To transgenderists, the hierarchy, based on gender, looks something like this:

The Transgenderist Hierarchy:
MASCULINE men (CIS-gendered)
FEMININE women (CIS-gendered)
MASCULINE women (not-CIS)
FEMININE men (not-CIS)

As soon as you allow for “masculine women,” you give credibility to “gender.” Even more, you’re giving credibility to “feminine men” being MORE oppressed than women.

Nowhere else — except in the appropriation of First Nations identity — have people accepted that a person can “feel” their way into being something they clearly aren’t. Why this generosity only comes up with respect to sex — and to a very marginalized, much-genocided race — is telling. Women (of all races) and People Shoved Onto Reservations are not seen as valid beings, their oppressions not believed to be legitimate or important.

Some feminists have been so generous as to allow ‘woman’ to become a “gender” word, shared with M2Ts; they say “transwomen” for t-cult men. I think it’s due to a misinterpretation of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” At any rate, these generous feminists are giving away our ability to name ourselves. We need a word that means adult human female — SEX, not gender — and ‘woman’ is that word.

Remember that gender is a patriarchal construct created for the benefit and maintenance of male power. So to be comfortable with one’s gender, to be this “cis,” means that a person is either a doormat, if female, or a brick wall, if male. What’s really missing with the emphasis on the imaginary “cis” is that there is no comfort for anyone in gender. There is comfort for men in being the superior sex. To translate: this means that there is no hierarchy of gender, it doesn’t work for gender — gender is imaginary, and even within this imaginary framing it is far too complex to be a simple hierarchy; there is a sex hierarchy, and men are on top. The sex hierarchy looks exactly like this:

MEN and BOYS
WOMEN and GIRLS

Onto the complexity. Within the reality claimed by patriarchy, which owns the arena in which gender plays out, Male = ‘masculine,’ or that male becomes an outcast; Female = ‘feminine,’ likewise. There are four categories still, but I’ve already pointed out that masculine women and feminine men don’t exist, can’t exist, within patriarchy’s definitions. Men are masculine or they’re just not real men; ditto for women and femininity. Nor is there ‘cis’; the nonconformists would simply outcasts, for need of a term. At first I thought the breakdown of the four categories would be more like this:

masculine-enough MEN
unmasculine MEN claiming to be feminine
— claiming female oppression and the right to infiltrate woman-only space
unmasculine MEN
feminine-enough WOMEN
unfeminine WOMEN

But this doesn’t work either! Those “unmasculine” men I listed? They are hyper-masculine in everything but the fetish wear. They grope women, they demand entry into women-only spaces, they accost, they act ever bit of the male entitlement they’ve always known. To quote a brilliant friend, “They play dress-up but they never lose their male power.” And even those symbols of supposed hyper-femininity, the fetishwear (and the breast implants and so forth) are not designed by women for women. They’re designed by men to create hyper-femininity, where femininity is the evidence of oppression. The symbolism of oppression.

Maybe the hierarchy could be more like this:

masculine-enough MEN
masculine MEN claiming to be feminine, fetishizing femininity
— AND claiming female oppression and the right to infiltrate woman-only space
less-masculine MEN (however marginally less so, they’re still potential sex-traitors)
feminine-enough WOMEN
unfeminine WOMEN

There are men who gain incredible amounts of feminist sympathy for being outcasts, who claim to cross gender and to own the word “woman”! These men adore femininity, and why not? It is symbolic of female oppression, which upholds male power and privilege. They are adamant, oppression-furthering conformists: Nothing reinforces patriarchy’s ‘femininity’ like equating breast implants, makeup, stiletto heels and skirts with ‘woman’!

Yet another problem with great magnitude in feminist circles, especially, is that we, as a sex-caste, never quite get past our coerced over-appreciation of men. Men in suits? Men in skirts? Doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps sometimes we’re flattered into thinking men really do want to be like us, and will appreciate our teaching them to be women. What we really find, if we’re honest with ourselves and one another, is that these men believe they are the better version of us. (I often step back when sisters insist that we should feel for the t-cultists, because, given a very short time, they inevitably find that these are men, with full-scale privilege overwritten in their brains, and they will out themselves as male-supremacists, even in skirts; they believe fully that they are superior to women.) At any rate, men, however ‘trans’gender they may claim to be, face unabashed adulation within feminist and even lesbian communities, all too often.

Sometimes this unabashed adulation happens within institutions. I’ve been sheltered enough so that when my sisters argued that t-culters, men in skirts, were getting backing within university settings, I was thinking Feminism, rather than institutionally-backed privilege. If t-culters, men in skirts, are sanctioned out in the mainstream masculinist world for failure to conform, they are revered within the elite institutions that make up our culture. Those with the institutions of the culture behind them are not oppressed — they’re actually privileged.

So then the hierarchy might go something like this:

MEN (including those in skirts)
MEN who are potential sex-traitors
Feminine-enough WOMEN
Unfeminine WOMEN

One problem for me is where to put F2Ts, women who claim masculinity (and often act with entitlement, however borrowed it might be). Too often they have ALSO claimed the right to infiltrate woman-only space! And another problem is that with a hierarchy as complicated as this, the places are not fixed, definite or set. Gay men (potential sex traitors) and heterosexual women of the same races and classes can be used one group against the other when patriarchy needs to quell a potential rebellion. Feminine women, as conformists to the sex-role mandate (to ‘gender’) are rewarded by patriarchy! And yet they’re still women, and oppressed as women. But this is another case where places on this hierarchy can change at the whim or discretion of the powerful. There are times when, at least briefly, the middle two locations on the list can flip. Women can be used to quell the uprisings of lesser men, or those lesser men can be used to stifle unity among women (think any of the myriad scenarios where Black women were left out as white women and Black men fought over first rights). Feminine women are certainly used against non-feminine women. And there are the hordes of genderqueers and bois and gays (but the women here are never lesbians, never comfortable with existence among women), who tag along in this po-mo parade of proclaimed gender traitors, too many to rank into a credible hierarchy.

There are men who don’t conform rigidly to masculinity. These men, like ALL men it should be pointed out, still have tremendous MALE privilege and the accompanying sense of entitlement — they are not even close to any central location in between the dichotomous hierarchy of SEX. They can potentially be sex traitors, outcasts of ‘gender’ conformity, and still be allegiant to the hierarchy of sex. While they aren’t necessarily seen as “real” men, more as pawns or tokens, they may be called up to reinforce the hierarchy, when the elite want them to. Think leftist men who talk about feelings, but watch porn. (Or, simply, think leftist men.)

The punishments for sex-role non-conformity are reserved for unfeminine women, primarily, and men who are potential sex-traitors. Think lesbians and gay men, as the most obvious targets. These punishments are delivered by men, overwhelmingly — and for unfeminine women, also by women, handmaids of the patriarchy.

Unfortunately it is easier to pounce and pound upon the more-marginalized, and in the sex-role arena, death threats by transgenderists are legion (see GenderTrender). But these threats aren’t made against those with power — patriarchs. They are instead made against feminists. Women. The oppressed sex-caste. This only serves to undermine the credibility of the transgenderists. They do not want real change, they want easy targets, the more-marginalized, women.

Feminists still protest in earnest that the abuses of the trans are common and cruel. Are men in skirts, so thoroughly protected in the UK now, really seen as lesser when compared to men who opt to not conform to the privilege inherent in masculinity? Foremost, I’d say that the reason the laws protect men in skirts, t-cult members, is not that the culture has generous feelings toward these men (M2Ts), but rather that the whole t-cult line serves to shove women back, down the hierarchy, quite effectively. Elite men are protecting themselves against the real threat, the uprising of women should we ever see ourselves as a class in opposition to men/patriarchy. Gender is certainly not a neat, tidy hierarchy. It’s too complex to be so, and yet there is a solid case to be made that men in skirts who claim t-cult membership are elevated above men who simply don’t conform to the demands of masculinity — even as they are sometimes punished by sex-role enforcers out in the culture.

So why do our sisters, feminist or no, sell us out, seek appeasement and common ground with these appropriators? As in giving away the word, woman? As with using definitions of gender that cloud the fact it really is, simply, sex-roles divided into masculine/feminine? As with the focus on the occasional cultural hostility, and not the institutional adulation and reward? I can only see it as an intent toward kindness, a sort of a Good Girl conditioned reflex — so often I hear ‘inclusion’ and ‘reconciliation.’ As if these had never been tried!

I don’t see it as being so kind-hearted from men, and especially from leftist men. Think of the attacks on DGR for its radical feminist, trans-critical stance. It really looks like an opportunity to get one-up on women, and too many men seem to jump at the chance. I would dearly love to see the same level of indignation, of outrage, of adamance, when women and girls are attacked as I have seen in the past few days from men defending men (in skirts) against women.

If gender is as artificial as are class and race — and they are not innate, they are layered onto our identities — I do NOT wish to abolish class or race. While these may be viewed by much of the left as being as impermanent as gender, they still hold some of the discernability of sex. Sex is male or female (occasionally intersex, which is a different issue entirely). There are differences by sex, whether they are as biological as the ability to menstruate, or not, or as indefinable as in knowing which men will rape, given that it is overwhelmingly men who commit rape, and an astounding number of men who do so.

Class is more than poverty or lack thereof. Class, like race, involves a subculture with a worldview shared across at least regions if not entire similar classes. It’s more-frank speech, not the middle-class language of obfuscation; it’s ‘coarser’ words that represent the nature of working class lives: Greater danger in employment, shorter life expectancy because of it. (We call it plain speak, or plainly spoken, rather than ‘coarser.’ just so you know.) There are also beautiful traditions and visions that would be lost if we were to eschew class for the disprivileged. We who are marginalized ALWAYS have things to teach to those responsible for the world as it is, screwed up as it is. You know that “getting rid of class” would just mean we were expected to ‘rise’ to a class level that many of us would find boring and cold, deceptive and manipulative. Race is at least as replete with traditions and perceptions that have tremendous value to those who have been enriched by them — and which often would deeply benefit the planet! Genuine sustainability has many races, but none of them western-white. Diversity is not just a buzzword from a bygone era. It’s an important reality for those of us who are not among the privileged in all ways, or even in most ways.

We need a real dialog on sex and gender, and on the definitions we choose to use. I do understand that there are places where polite culture wishes to evade the use of the word ‘sex’ because of its cruder interpretations. We could opt to use ‘sex’ for male/female and sexuality for what two people do in intimacy (or one, or three). I hope this, re-edited on July 26th (and now 27th), is a better start. And I really hope to avoid, this time, accusations that I sound pro-trans, or trans apologetic. Seriously? I don’t think so!

7 thoughts on “Is Gender Really A Hierarchy?

  1. I don’t think this is about supporting anyone’s rights. Obviously abolishing gender identification requests from the legal system would enable everyone who is lacking them, as to basic civil rights, so why are all these people so angry about us?

    I think it’s about porn. Radfems and DGR both are anti-porn. Transgender people are easy and tempting for men to sexually fetishize. So basically they are getting used as a beard for what this really is, outrage at the male right to pornify being challenged. Ironically, the mentality is not all that different from the mentality that says it’s okay to assault transgender people.

    • I’m not quite following what you’re addressing. Where did rights come into it? Maybe you’re talking about transgenderists wholesale? I was trying to get at something that has been stated a lot lately, but which I think is faulty theory — causes us to cede ground that we don’t have to give up. To that end, my focus wasn’t on privileged men fetishizing other men, even men in dresses. It was on the the WORDS WE USE WHICH REINFORCE the claim that M2Ts are “more oppressed than” women. So I’m still kind of lost.

      Unless you’re talking generally about the outrage of this past week — which is kind of a different thing. Interesting that you think the mindset of the vocal, anti-DGR leftist males isn’t that different from the mindset of those who attack M2Ts! I wonder if they could even handle hearing that?

      • FGF: I think the issue of whether transwomen are more or less oppressed than XX women is kind of a trap. We are all oppressed, but that doesn’t make us members of the same class. Black men do not expect to be welcomed into women’s groups simply because they are oppressed too.

        With regards to the anti-DGR attacks, male privilege runs deep, and it’s clear that the DGR-radfem position of abolishing gender is enabling to all oppressed groups, if one considers what this means in a legal context. Here is where the common ground lies, not with all this carrying on about what gender or perceived gender entitles one to.

        I don’t mean to suggest that leftist men who attack DGR (and thus radfems) all secretly hate transgender people. I do think they haven’t thought this through adequately, and also that they’re being played. There are some really ugly men who have gotten attention via their involvement in the Occupy movement. These men do not care about transgender people any more than they care about women. We are all just pawns in their game, unless we choose not to be.

  2. But there are no “transgender” people. It’s a myth. There are men who fetishize and caricaturize women while claiming to be women. I have to object about “feminine” men being oppressed because I sure see them lauded, and well-represented with affection in the media. Whereas, women who absolutely refuse to obey any male rules about male-identified femininity, are completely missing from the media, including Lesbian media. We are not supposed to even exist. Yet jokes and comments are still made, and we are either said to not exist or are ridiculed and attacked in much of the “radical” (what I call “liberal”) feminist writings. We bring out all the internal and external Lesbian-hating and threaten patriarchy at its core.

    It’s like too many can’t think beyond “male” or “female,” “masculine” or “feminine,” yet they are the same thing really since both are male inventions. Women who refuse to be on that spectrum seem to terrify patriarchy and men, but also many women also.

    • I think I covered these in the rewrite. My focus here is still that the words we use to describe female oppression cede ground to the t-cult, and that is dangerous for radical feminism. Hope it makes more sense with the adds and explanations.

  3. “”There are men who gain incredible amounts of feminist sympathy for being outcasts, who claim to cross gender and to own the word “woman”! These men adore femininity, and why not? It is symbolic of female oppression, which upholds male power and privilege. They are adamant, oppression-furthering conformists: Nothing reinforces patriarchy’s ‘femininity’ like equating breast implants, makeup, stiletto heels and skirts with ‘woman’!”‘

    So true. We must beware of these men who fetishize femininity and have mostly female friends, but are deeply misogynists and would carelessly abuse women. I’ve had this experience.

  4. Interesting article. Indeed, the places in the hierarchy change depending on whom the elite wants to punish. Feminine women are used to police unfeminine women, but are they less oppressed? Subjecting themselves to high heels, breast implants and toxic make up, they inflict damage on themselves in exchange for safety from “corrective” rape, but not marital rape and date rape.

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