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!

MRAs Attacking Radical Feminists (Yet Again)

There have been a number of screenshots captured by self-proclaimed Men’s Rights Advocates (more like Male Reactionary A-holes, or Men-as Rapists Advocates, but anyway …) infiltrating private feminist spaces.  We need to get some serious … stuff … clear from the get-go.

Women ARE OPPRESSED.  Men, in relation to women who are otherwise similar — who are of the same class or caste, or race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or what-the-hell-ever — are NOT oppressed BY WOMEN.  They might be oppressed by other men; so take it up with the men.  Yes, there are subtleties and nuances and the fact that the True Elite can play less-privileged men and any women or woman against one another; it’s a perk of elite power.  Of course.  But we sure seem to be talking white men here, so let’s keep it on the real:  men oppress women; white men oppress women of all races, and may add white supremacy to the oppression mix, and often do.

What women say in venting situations, where they believe they are talking to allies in private, and not to spies who are Men Raping-women Advocates who gleefully go public, is going to be at least somewhat different than what gets advocated by such women in public, for real.  All oppressions breed resentment, and the fact that resentment rages into unkind postulations should not be a surprise to the oppressors, in this case men.  Oppressions also foster feelings of powerlessness, and to some extent, say the extent that Male Reactionary Abusers work to demonstrate for women, to women, that kind of powerlessness, it does appear relatively real.  Tough to fight.  And with women so divided by coerced loyalties to the oppressor caste (men who do often hold very real powers of life, death, working, eating, and any continued comforts), it’s quite the uphill struggle.

Trust me:  privately we who speak up say in hushed tones, or bellows of rage, much worse than anything so far in print.  And if you are offended, then stop oppressing.  More on this later.

One of the topics broached by a feminist in private was initiating sex selection for female offspring by diminishing the capacity for Y-chromosomes to compete. Via tilting the food acid/alkaline balance in favor of X-chromosomed sperm, for example.  Or possibly via the competing Y’s destruction, again with a food or chemical source (remember this was a private fantasy-speculation, not a planning session).  This speculating has been decried as “eugenics.”  Fine; it’s still NOTHING like the forced sterilization — the surgical slicing up of the reproductive organs, the internal violation — of so terribly many Black and Native American women, in the US, and others here and elsewhere, at the hands of demented, white-supremacist, male-supremacist doctors.  And it’s still NOTHING compared to the killing of infant girls the world over, specifically because they are girlchildren, and not the desired males.  Girls killed outright though they are alive, viable and already breathing on their own.

Every man needs to take a stand — to stand with feminists, as a person who opposes every oppression of females, or he needs to out himself as The Enemy, an MRA, a painted target.  *This* needs to stop being about radical feminists and start being about men either standing up for, or proving themselves too dangerous to live alongside, women.  Derrick Jensen writes over and again about men giving their unconditional loyalty to women, of men making “their allegiance to women absolute”*; it’s just not that difficult to do.

I happen to be one of the ones who has faith in men, more faith than many of them do, themselves — that rape is not inherent to maleness, that maleness does not pose an ever-present threat to females.  But I have a long memory, and a deep well of fury when my trust and my faith are broken.

I do not advocate harming existing men — except as punishment for their harming existing females.  But we know that an overabundance of male humans IS a problem:  we know from cultures which have experienced it that it does lead to greater warrishness and violence.

This might be a painful discussion, but the questions arising from it are real.  Given how terribly males, who are in power virtually the world over, and most certainly in power in westernized nations, have harmed the planet and all beings on it, they are valid questions about the future of the planet, and the future of our species provided the planet does survive.  MRAs are abusive, gleeful oppressors, not neutral reporters of this kind of story — they are the abusers, the violators, within this very context.  And if women’s reactions appall men, it is men who have the power to stop those abuses and violations.  We women do not, and for now we may speculate in our private spaces about fantasy solutions to end our oppressions — for now.  The responsibility for the next step belongs to men.  How will men give up their power over women, and, really, how will men reverse the destruction of the very planet on which all beings’ survival resides?  How will men make their allegiance to women absolute, as Derrick asks?  Or will the MRAs be allowed to continue to speak for the elite, the western male’s view of women’s radical feminism?

(*URL used January 22, 2012:  http://deepgreenresistance.org/faq/protection/ )

But Which Females First?

An article, linked below, was sent as a reply to one of my posts.  I don’t think it fits, so I’ve discarded it as a response.  But the article itself is interesting, and possibly a space for establishing common ground.  I invite the author, Cathy Brennan, to engage with me here.

The article.

An excerpt:

The last thing Females want to be called is “Feminist” – because that might mean “Man Hating.” That’s bad for Straight Ladies, because then someone might think them Lesbian. Even though Lesbians don’t want to couple with Males, Lesbians are “supposed” to be socially available to them and not “Man Haters.” (I know I‘ve been called “Man Hater” before!) So heaven forfend if you’re Feminist!

Yes, heaven forfend!  I certainly agree that there is a great deal of feminist-baiting — and -hating! — in this culture.  And, yes, Lesbians not willing to avail themselves to every man must be “man haters” in that same-old view.  I love the old Lesbian duo comedy skit where some guy in the audience heckles them for being ‘man-haters.’  One of the duo stops, looks shocked then skeptical, and asks, “So *you’re* the alternative?”  I love it, not because I see Lesbians as alternatives-to-the-norm, but because it bolsters the framing of Lesbianism as a logical, sensible choice.  Hate?  Maybe, but not always, because even that level of energy and attention to men puts other women last.  Nope; ignoring the fools, and then shaming them if necessary to back them off is fine.  Or, if you need a stand-in man-hater, send me.  I volunteer.

I also agree that patriarchy socializes us to distrust one another.  And to devalue our own.  And so, yes, feminism is full of male-apologists.  (There’ve been times I wanted to propose that mixed-sex conferences ostensibly about feminism have dual name tags for het couples:  Her Name, and Her Name’s Nigel; I wondered if that’d get men to not dominate ‘feminist’ discussions quite so much.)  And son-enablers.  And men-firsters or patriarchal apologists (which is what the lines, ‘What about the men?” and “But women do it, too!” seem to mean).  I agree, as a het woman, partnered, that to give energy to males beyond what is received in return is too much.  Way too much.  We can do an even share in this human exchange of my participation — and know my extra energy goes to women and to female children.  In part because way too much extra energy is being demanded by boys and men.  Way too much is given.

Because of our socialization, Females resist coming together, or even identifying, as a class. Accordingly, Females are the most dissolved, invisible ingredient in the Great American Melting Pot. We hear of White, Gay, Black, or Poor People. When discussing Poor People, nobody asks whether they are Male or Females (even though – as a class – the Poor are Female and the Rich are Male). Only when discussing Females do concern trolls come calling to ensure you discuss Poor Females, Brown Females, Vegan Females, Gay Females, and (fill in the blank) Females. That’s no coincidence. Patriarchy places these filters in front of Females to prevent us from perceiving each other as members of the same oppressed class. These obstacles destroy the need for further derails by Patriarchy because Females don’t talk to each other as members of the same class. It divides Females.

I even agree that it is important for us as women to see ourselves as a class, the sex class ‘female.’  I simply disagree on how this vision is to come about.  I don’t believe that we can mandate that those we oppress just shush and join us, because we claim we’re all the same, we’re all just women.  Some of us are not just women.  Some of us are Lesbians, Radical Lesbians, even proud and honorable Lifetime Lesbians … and this complexity of womanness brings its own rich and textured history, its values and ideals, a depth of love for women that is boundless and without equal.  To lose this in the flattened het-washing of the dominant culture would be devastating.  Some of us are Latinas, with gorgeous, proud and colorful cultural traditions that we would never wish to lose, in the bland whitewashing of the dominant culture.  Some of us grew up working class or working poor, and before we’d shed our directness and plain speech, our integrity, our ability to laugh at the ironies around us, and our roots in the warmth of community, we would fight to retain these proud markers of this part of our identity.  To simply name us all women denies the rich tapestry of female existence we weave when we connect with one another as we are.

Actually none of us is ‘just a woman.’  We are women, individually, in a complex weave of privileges and dispriveges — lived oppressions and the lived ability to actively oppress other women.  And so I concur, then, that the poor we need most to concern ourselves with are the female poor.  There are poor men; there are oppressed men.  And yet in most cases it is the females of the group who are overlooked.  Females first:  here I do agree!

And yet, is this what divides females, really?  Obstacles of ‘difference’ thrown down by patriarchy?  Isn’t it actually done by other women — isn’t it the insistence that we ignore the characteristics that mark us as different from class-privileged, white, het, moneyed, college-educated, comfortably “normal” women?  Isn’t it the expectation that we will behave by their standards, speak and write and negotiate by their standards, and meet their standards in our appearance as well, when we are together?  Isn’t it the expectation that we wish to be like them, that we could, if only we tried appropriately hard, be just as awesome as they are?  And isn’t it the expectation that the issues of multiply-oppressed women are not really women’s issues, unless they also impact white, privileged women?

So why the need to demean us with the label “concern trolls”?  We are your sisters; we’re not trolls, and connection, building community, is a hallmark of women’s ways of being.  Concern is not a bad thing.

Cathy, I don’t feel arrogance from you in this writing.  But I would say that this is the cost to those parts of my identity not privileged, when I buy into this argument:  I find arrogance and entitlement and abuse, put-downs and dismissals.  I am not welcomed in as ‘female-and-whole’ but rather as ‘female — conditional (and please try to speak unemotionally, and please dress conservatively so as not to offend the more middle-of-the-road women we seek as members).’  I can be a movement workhorse, I can be passionate and full of activist joy; I can be persistent and persuasive.  What I cannot be is anything other than my whole, complicated self.  I’m not ‘female-but-‘ … as in ‘female-but-working-class.’  I am ‘female-AND-working-class,’ and in being so, I think I bring a depth to feminist perspectives that is lacking without this ‘difference.’  It is certainly lacking in welcome for women like me!  Ditto for feminists who are also Black, also Latina, also Lesbian, and so on:  we are oppressed as women, yes, but our oppression is not at all identical to women who are not-Black, or not-Latina, or not-Lesbian or any combination of these and others, legitimate others.

I don’t feel arrogance from you, but rather a longing for a strong sisterhood, a feminism united and moving forward.  I share this longing.  I agree that this is a noble goal.  I even agree that identity groups are more safety-ensuring than change-making.  In the long run.  But don’t we need to ask ourselves why women who are marginalized still form into identity groups first, and repeatedly?  Don’t we have an obligation toward creating safety before we demand coalition?  And it’s in the long run — forever forward — that I want radical feminism to endure, to thrive.  The only way I see to get to there is to build comfort enough here so that we can build that coalition, and move us — together, equal, and as we are, whole — forward.  We still retain our full identities — and we can work together within an atmosphere of acceptance of these differences.  I cannot see a future for feminism unless we honor each woman as the whole, wondrous being that she is.