Gender vs Biological Essentialism

“I will never understand how you square biological essentialism with gender is a social construct. “

I’ve seen this statement tweeted out a few times today and, frankly, it  boggles that people don’t understand it. Human biology is an actual thing. Humans compromise of two sexes: male and female. It is not pretend or made up or whatever postmodern drivel people are spouting to defend the idea that it doesn’t exist.

Human reproduction is based in the reality of male and female bodies. Human babies have, for millennia, been produced via male sperm inserted into female bodies. It is not “biological essentialism” to point out that male sperm and a female egg are required in order to produce a human baby. Yes, technology has exploded in the past few decades allowing for the conception of babies via IVF (which has a low success rate), surrogacy (which comes with a whole host of issues surrounding the colonisation of women’s bodies), and we all know that it is technically possible to create a human baby using only women’s eggs (although clearly not accepted practise since it makes men irrelevant and they hate that).

All this technology has proved is that human reproduction still basically requires male sperm and a female egg (because, let’s be honest here, babies made from two women will never be acceptable whilst we live in a patriarchy even if we do technically have the science to do so).

Biology is an actual scientifically verifiable thing. Humans are compromised of two sexes with a very small number of people who are classed as intersex.

Sex is a real category.

Gender is not real. It is a harmful social construct that has been deliberately created in order to ensure male control over property, which includes women. What we perceive as “gendered” traits are human traits imposed on male or female bodies. This is patently obvious if one takes ten minutes to google what traits are considered male/female across the world. Many cultures have very different understanding of what male/ female traits are and these have certainly not been static throughout history. To assume that there are specific traits which are identifiably male or female is to ignore the entirety of human history and to assume that Western White Supremacist Patriarchal culture is the only culture which is relevant.

Gender is harmful and destructive.

It is gender which dictates that masculinity requires men to be aggressive and violent.

It is gender which prohibits women from positions of political and economic power.

It is gender which assumes that women only have two purposes in life: bearing children and sexual slavery. This is biological essentialism.

Radical feminism is not based on “biological essentialism”. It is yet another harmful myth created to rubbish radical feminist theory. Radical feminism argues that biological essentialism is the source of women’s oppression.  Radical feminism argues that gender, and gender identity, are based entirely in biological essentialism. Gender only exists in order to maintain current political, social and cultural systems in order to keep power and money in the hands of a select few white men.

 Sex is a biological category.

Gender is a social construct.

Sex becomes a problem when gender is applied to sex categories with a view to controlling and oppressing one sex at the expense of another.

We need to eradicate gender.

Why shouldn’t feminists be angry?

I don’t want to be one of those angry feminists.

I hear this a lot. It’s inevitably followed by “I don’t want to be one of those man-hating feminists.”

Heck, I’ve said it myself on numerous occasions. As Glosswitch so eloquently wrote, online feminism has become a frightening place. Any deviation from what is considered “acceptable” results in abuse; any questions deemed inappropriate result in threats.

We preface our statements with “I’m not one of those” as a desperate attempt to prevent ourselves from being targeted for abuse from women who claim to be feminists; from being attacked, harassed and violated by violent men. We hide our anger and we hide our fear lest we be the next target.

Glosswitch wrote about a feminism free of fear: the ability to change our minds, to question, to debate without worrying about the response from abusers.

I want a feminism where we don’t have to apologise for our anger.

I want a feminism where we are proud of anger.

A feminism where we can stand up and shout.

A feminism where rage  is considered a gift.

We live in a world where 1 in 5 women between the ages of 16 – 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

Where 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence.

Where street harassment is a daily experience for women.

Where rape jokes are considered normal.

Where 2 women a week are murdered by their current or former partners.

We live in a world where our girls aren’t safe in school from male violence perpetrated by their classmates and their teachers.

We live in a world where women get thousands of rape and death threats for believing that the Bank of England should be held accountable to government legislation.

We live in a world where harassment and stalking is considered “activism” for women who don’t toe the party line.

I’m proud to be an Angry Feminist.

I’m proud to be an Angry Feminist who knows the difference between righteous anger and personal attacks.

Because this is the problem: far too many confuse personal attacks with righteous anger which frightens others into keeping silent and hiding their anger.

Anger can be a truly beautiful thing when directed at the right target.

We need to be proud of anger but we also need to stop confusing harassment and abuse with anger.

Sex, Gender, Harassment and Being a Radical Feminist

I haven’t written about the sex/gender debate for a while because I am simply horrified by the amount of abuse that it generates.  What chance do we have in dismantling the patriarchy if self-defining feminists think it’s acceptable to insult, denigrate, and harass other women because of difference? This is without addressing the issue of threats of violence up to -and including- suggesting other women should die in a fire.

This isn’t a feminism I want to be part of and I struggle to understand how women think this counts as feminist activism. Trawling the timeline of someone who has blocked you isn’t activism. It’s stalking and we need to stop pretending that it’s acceptable. Digital Stalking lists a series of behaviours which constitute stalking. Look how many are applicable to so-called “feminist activism” on twitter:

The most common tactics for stalkers and bullies include:

    • Monitoring you and friends- looking at what you post, photos, where you go, who you go with etc.
    • Spyware – putting spy software on your phone or computer
    • Sending text, messages – sending hurtful or threatening messages to you over and over again
    • Account takeovers/hacking – accessing your online accounts
    • Denigration – send, post, or publish cruel rumors and untrue statements to damage your reputation
    • Distribute photos or videos – distributing photos or videos to embarrass you
    • Exclusion – contacting or inviting everyone but you
    • Flaming – posting an abusive response so everyone can see it
    • Outing – telling people something embarrassing about you
    • Threats and Dissemination – they threaten you and then tell everyone
    • Confidence tricks- getting you to reveal information about themselves and then using against them
    • Impersonation – pretending to be the victim either online or via email etc.
    • Spaming- signing the victim up for junk email
    • Trolling – say something online to get you to provoke you into responding
    • Bullying by proxy – getting others to join in

It’s been about 6 months since I was last targeted with many of the behaviours above for labelling myself a radical feminist. When I say 6 months, I mean a sustained attack. I still get abusive tweets, bullying by-proxy and flaming on a daily basis from a group of women and men who label themselves feminists.

When I’ve written about this before, particularly in relation to being called “a hypocritical cunt“, I’ve always asked how this can be considered feminism. How can feminism have arrived at a point where calling women hypocritical cunts or suggesting women die in a fire is considered activism?

It wasn’t until I recently read Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today, which is somewhat unfortunately titled since it is actually about defining feminism, that I realised what I was failing to understand. Thompson argues that much of the problem is that self-defining feminists are working from radically different definitions of the term and that much of our disagreements stem from a fundamental inability to define terms: feminism, patriarchy, sex and gender.

A very basic misunderstanding of terms is seen with “radical feminism” which defines radical to mean root or origin. It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies and seeks drastic political, economic, and social reforms.

As a radical feminist, my definition of feminism is similar to that of Thompson: feminism is the liberation of women from male domination. This domination does not exist simply in violence but rather encompasses the mundane social structures which result in the oppression of women even if we do not perceive them as such – the debate over “gendered” toys being a case in point.

Radical feminism, as outlined by Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriachy, also posits women’s oppression in two issues: women’s  sexuality and women’s reproductive potential. Women’s oppression is because of our biological sex. Terms like feminism, patriarchy and gender are non-sensical if they do not reference biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. We cannot liberate women from the oppressive social structures in which we live if we do not recognise that biology has been our destiny for several millennia.

This recognition of the oppression of women as a class because of biology is what results in the vast majority of abuse directed at radical feminists. We have arrived at a point where the reality of women’s bodies are being erased: we can not talk of abortion or menstruation without being labelled transphobic. We cannot discuss the reality of pregnancy, infertility, ovarian cancer or fibroids. These are issues which affect women every single day but we are no longer allowed to discuss them as women’s issues.

Yet, women’s reproductive capabilities are at the centre of our oppression. If we don’t recognise this reality, then why on earth do people think women are oppressed? Because, I genuinely don’t understand how we can discuss feminism without discussing the reasons women have been oppressed and these reasons are all rooted in basic human biology. This is why radical feminism seeks to eliminate gender because it fails to address basic biology whilst simultaneously reinforcing behaviours which are deemed appropriate to man/woman and, as such, mandate women’s oppression based on their biology. The rigamarole required to get to this position is ridiculous.

Gender is not a performance nor is it based in a science. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies which does nothing more than a reinforce a binary of man/woman which is really that of human/subhuman. Gender only exists in order to reinforce the White Supremacist Patriarchy. It actively harms women because it is based in the belief that women are not human.

In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and it has to recognise male supremacy and domination and the biological realities of women’s bodies. Women’s oppression rests in our sexuality and our reproductive capabilities for a reason; there is a reason that rape is a common weapon to control and punish women [and the men that own those women’s bodies] and that raping women to get them pregnant was (is) a tool of most armies across the millennia. It is because of our biology.

Men took control over women’s (reproductive) labour, in order to grant themselves economic and political power. Or, in the words of Gerda Lerner, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society.

Women are oppressed as a class because of our sexual and reproductive labours (from the existence of concubines to the rearing of children to women’s labours being the foundation of a family’s income). To ignore this, is to make feminism irrelevant.

Women are oppressed because of our biology.

And, I am officially done with being silenced by men and women who resort to threats of violence and harassment any time a woman points out that abortion is a woman’s issue because it is about the control of women’s reproductive capabilities. If we can’t talk about the state’s interference within our own bodies as women, how on earth are we supposed to break free of the systemic oppression of us as women?

Women are oppressed because of our biology. Violence, and threats therein, are just patriarchal silencing techniques which have oppressed and harmed women throughout history. Anyone who claims that they are engaged in feminist activism when making such threats is mistaken. All they are doing is helping the violent abusive men who rape, torture and violate women continue to harm women. It isn’t feminism.

And, this should go without saying, but deliberately targeting women who have spoken publicly about their mental health for abuse makes you a shitty, nasty excuse for a human being.


Nick Kristoff: Just Another White Saviour.

Last night, I read Dylan Farrow’s open letter to Woody Allen’s fans with a broken heart: another child ignored and labelled a liar because her abuser is a powerful man.  The excuses made for powerful men never end. Woody Allen, like Roman Polanski, profits from the theory that “art” is more important than the bodily integrity of women and children. For men who make “art”, it doesn’t matter how many women and children they harm. Their “art” is all that counts; for some, like Terry Richardson and Richard Kern, actively harming women and children is their art.

We make excuses and we ignore their victims.  We speak over them. We give their abusers awards and standing ovations and pretend we never heard of their victims. And, it works.

Yesterday, Dylan Farrow spoke out about her sexual abuse at the hands of her father Woody Allen. Every single person needs to read her open letter to Woody Allen’s fans.  This is Dylan’s life we are discussing; it is her experience of child sexual violence. No one has the right to speak for her or over her.

This is why I was so disappointed with Kristoff’s opening statement. He manages to take Dylan’s letter and make it all about him. This is precisely what Kristoff did with Half the Sky. He is a “White Saviour”.  He truly believes he has the right to speak over victims of child sexual abuse.

And, anyone who can write this about child sexual abuse clearly doesn’t have the experience or the training to be writing about child sexual violence.

These are extremely tough issues, and certainty isn’t available. But hundreds of thousands of boys and girls are abused each year, and they deserve support and sensitivity. When evidence is ambiguous, do we really need to leap to our feet and lionize an alleged molester?

The evidence isn’t “ambiguous”. A woman has made a disclosure about her experience of child sexual abuse, whether or not Allen would be convicted in a court of law is an entirely different matter. However, Dylan’s words are not “ambiguous”. They are clear description of child sexual abuse and we need to start from the point that she is telling the truth.

And, let’s be completely honest here. Even if this were taken to trial, does anyone genuinely believe a famous white director would be found guilty? Do we really believe courts have the best interests of victims at heart? Do we really believe that juries and judges are capable of making real judgements on guilt or innocent in a culture where rape myths are treated as fact and trauma responses used to discredit victims? Do we really believe that the courts have the interest of “justice” at heart? Or, that they even know what justice really means? Courts do not have the best interests of victims of sexual violence at heart.

Kristoff  is supposedly a journalist. He could have reported this without making himself the centre of the story. But, he didn’t. Instead, he did exactly what Dylan was writing against: others speaking for her.

The full transcript of Dylan’s letter is available on Kristoff’s blog. Please read that.