Transing children & the myth of an unbiased medical establishment

This is part II of a series on radical feminism and transgenderism. The first, The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism’ is available here.

 

I have many concerns about the current push to medically transition children because of sex-based stereotyping as I outlined here in the case of a child whose mother was terrified he was gay – on the say so homophobic relatives. As a radical feminist, I view gender as socially constructed upon the material reality of female and male bodies. It is also, in the words of Claire Heuchan, a “hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women’. Gender, as a theoretical concept, is inherently harmful. As a ‘reality’, it is responsible for the oppression of women globally through FGM, domestic and sexual violence and abuse, pornography, prostitution, and femicide. Women are not oppressed because they identify as female; women are oppressed because men construct women’s biological sex as ‘inferior’ and women themselves as possessions. As Marina Strinkovsky writes,

if gender is real and biological sex a social construct, if sex is not a “real” and meaningful political or economic category, on what basis did the parents of the hundreds of millions of women and girls lost to femicide know who to kill?”

This question seems perfectly reasonable: how do we decide which foetuses should be aborted and what humans to pay less if not through the material reality of biological sex. Yet, this question is considered ‘transphoic’. Any questioning of gender theory is met with abuse and threats. Suggesting children might not be capable of deciding about medical care is met with derision in cases of transgender children, but not children undergoing treatment for diseases such as cancer. There is a double standard here that needs to be explored more fully and we absolutely need more research into the way in which mental health diagnoses or suicide risks are defined within the transgender movement. However, in this essay I want to focus specifically on gender identity and the theory of an unbiased medical establishment.

Personally, I find the idea that a child born with a penis *must* be a girl if he plays with a doll or wears sparkly shoes and that a child born with a vagina must be a boy if she plays with toy cars completely insane. A 2 year old plays with toys. They have no idea what is a ‘boy’s toy’ or a ‘girl’s toy’ is without being told by their parents, extended family or peers. It is utterly ridiculous that we have now arrived at a point where a 2 year old is deemed competent to define their own ‘gender’ when we don’t allow them to operate heavy machinery, vote, or decide whether or not they are going to wear pants outside when its -20 degrees. There is simply not enough adequate or unbiased research in neurobiology and gender identity to consider a 2 year old or a 12 year old to have gillock competence over their mental health and future reproductive choices. Even if research around gender identity and gillock competence was well-established, I am extremely concerned that we are allowing children to take drugs to prevent puberty on the say so of a supposedly unbiased medical establishment and without rigorous long-term studies that assess patients according to the medical and mental health, particularly looking at how trauma harms child brain development.*

Frankly, even the research into gender dysphoria, which is real, is questionable when we remove sex based stereotypes and children who present as ‘trans’ who grow up to be homosexual. It’s not surprising that surgery to ‘transition’ an adult is considered more acceptable than being homosexual in deeply conservative countries like the US and Iran, where the penalty for being gay is death.

Since any discussion of the potential consequences of puberty blockers or gender dysphoria in general is met with cries of ‘transphobia’, pharmaceutical companies and various medical professionals  have been given carte blanche to claim puberty blockers are safe with no real research into the long-term effects of these drugs on children.

Perhaps it is my natural cynicism but I find the faith in an unbiased medical establishment deeply bizarre. This is not to say that gender dysphoria is not real. It is fairly clear that dysphoria exists and causes severe distress to many people. However, the huge growth in young people presenting with dysphoria who are given medical interventions without investigating how they came to believe they were trans is concerning.

Even if we ignore the recent scandals involving transvaginal meshes, the links between baby powder and ovarian cancer, the profit before people policies as seen in the recent price gouging in the sale of epi-pens and AIDS drugs, the well documented racist and sexist history of birth control, and the use of lobotomies to treat mental illness, it is completely unethical to push a medical ‘cure’ when there is very little research on the long term consequences of that ‘cure’ when delaying puberty or promoting chest binding in girls.

The clear history of the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex in prioritising profit over people should have us questing the motivations of all involved – mostly how much money they will make claiming 10 year olds need puberty blockers and that surgery is necessary to decrease the rate of suicide in transgender people when it appears that the rate of suicide attempts and death remain the same both pre and post-surgery.** In the context of the US, where many people have no health insurance, and the number of people in the UK who travel to Thailand and other jurisdictions that have less over sight of the medical establishment, it is absolutely essential to follow the money.

We need more research into the rise in gender identity and gender dysphoria before assuming that pharmaceutical companies and doctors *always* have the best interests of their patients at heart. We need to investigate who gets rich through research and through medical practise. We need more research into why so many children are transitioning – and how this is impacted by homophobia from family and peers. We need more research around the links between child sexual abuse, trauma and transition. We need more research why some people regret transition, particularly those post-surgery, a question that is currently deemed ‘transphobic’.***

I have very little faith in the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex to commit to research that does not make them rich. And, right now, the industry is making a whole lot of money off people with simply not enough evidence to support the first commandment of doctors: do no harm. This is without discussing the homophobia inherent in insisting that 2 year old boys who play with dresses have to be a girl and not a) a normal child; or b) gay  (as though we could guess sexuality on a child who has no idea what sex or relationships are). Children should not be used as medical experiments outside of strictly controlled trials – like the ones used to investigate how to manage pain in premature babies of the effectiveness of certain treatments for diseases – and never by your local GP.

People who have gender dysphoria have the right to access safe medical and pharmaceutical support. At this point, we don’t have enough evidence that ‘safe’ exists and is monitored appropriately. Call me cynical, but companies who sell drugs at hugely over-inflated prices aren’t going to be the ones who will do such research without a financial incentive.

Follow the money to unravel the myths is as true in research into pornography and prostitution, as it is in medical transition. We simply aren’t doing this.

 

*A number of high profile male to female trans women have spoken publicly about their experiences of child sexual abuse.

** This article published by The Conversation is worth reading: “FactCheck Q&A: was Lyle Shelton right about transgender people and a higher suicide risk after surgery?”.

***I would also like to see more long term studies on the rates and types of violence perpetrated by male to female trans and its relation to men who do not have dysphoria. The only real research at this point is a Swedish study that suggests trans women have the exact same rate of violence as men.

 

Bibliography

Deborah Cameron, A brief history of ‘gender’, (2016)

Delilah Campbell, Who owns gender , (2015)

Catherine Drury, ‘Gender dysphoria in children’,  (Fair Play for Women, 2017)

Jeni Harvey, The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘Sex, Gender, and the New Essentialism, ‘  Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist‘, Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a HierarchySister Outrider, (2017)

Jane Clare Jones, You are killing me: On hate speech and feminist silencing, (2015)

Nymeses, Being Told You Have Gender Dysphoria as a Lesbian, (2016)

Thain Parnell, ‘Transition is no casual matter, and we need to talk about those who regret it’,  (Feminist Current, 2017)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘Trans issues and gender identity’, (Sex & Gender: A Beginner’s Guide, 2015)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘The idea that gender is a spectrum is a new gender prison’, (Aeon, 2016)

RootVeg, ‘Gender is socially constructed upon a material reality’ , (2015)

Victoria Smith, ‘Anorexia, breast binding and the legitimisation of body hatred’ (New Statesman, 2016)

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ femaleand the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

Le féminisme radical et l’accusation d’essentialisme.

My article Radical Feminism and the Accusation of Gender Essentialism has been translated into French. Thank you to TradFem for the translation.

(Première version d’un article qui a été publié dans la revue Feminist Times en avril 2014)

La critique la plus courante adressée à la théorie féministe radicale veut que nous soyons « essentialistes » parce que nous croyons que l’oppression des femmes, en tant que classe, se fonde sur les réalités biologiques de nos corps. L’hypothèse selon laquelle les féministes radicales seraient essentialistes est basée sur une incompréhension de la théorie féministe radicale, issue de la définition du mot « radicale » lui-même. Le terme « radicale » désigne la racine ou l’origine. Notre féminisme est radical dans la mesure où il situe la racine de l’oppression des femmes dans les réalités biologiques de nos corps (le sexe) et vise à libérer les femmes en éradiquant les structures sociales, les pratiques culturelles et les lois basées sur l’infériorité des femmes aux hommes. Le féminisme radical conteste toutes les relations de pouvoir qui existent dans le patriarcat, y compris le capitalisme, l’impérialisme, le racisme, l’oppression de classe, l’homophobie et même l’institution de la mode et de la beauté.

Les féministes radicales ne croient pas en l’existence de caractéristiques qui soient exclusivement masculines ou exclusivement féminines. Les femmes ne sont pas naturellement plus nourrissantes que les hommes, et eux ne sont pas meilleurs en mathématiques. Le genre n’est pas fonction de notre biologie. C’est une construction sociale créée pour maintenir des hiérarchies de pouvoir inégal. L’amalgame entre le sexe et le genre est un autre malentendu commun au sujet de la théorie féministe radicale. Le sexe est la réalité de votre corps sans qu’y soient liées des caractéristiques négatives ou positives. Le genre est une construction sociale qui privilégie les hommes/la masculinité en regard des femmes/de la féminité. Le féminisme radical est accusé d’essentialisme parce que nous reconnaissons ces hiérarchies de pouvoir et cherchons à les détruire. Nous ne croyons pas, comme on le suggère souvent, que ces hiérarchies sont naturelles. Il faut voir là une tactique de censure à notre égard. …

 

You can find the full text in French here. 

#WomenWrites – an archive for women’s writing (August/15)

https://storify.com/LeStewpot/womenwrites-august-16

Violence against women, domestic violence and the problem of gender identity

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Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Sisters Uncut are a great example of grassroots feminist activism. Their protest at the premier of the film Suffrage helped raise awareness of the consequences of the decimation of specialist support services for women. However, their campaign is specifically about the importance of specialist domestic violence services, which is why I was disappointed to read a piece in the Independent by a member which uses the term domestic violence and violence against women interchangeably.

* See Michael P Johnson’s Typology of Domestic Violence

** The report into this was recently released and I have not yet had a chance to read it.

Radical Feminism and the Accusation of Gender Essentialism

(This is an early draft of an article that was published in the Feminist Times)

 

The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. The assumption that radical feminists are essentialist is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, which starts from the definition of “radical” itself. The term “radical” refers to the root or the origin. It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men. Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex.

Radical feminists do not believe that there are characteristics that are uniquely male or uniquely female. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at math. Gender is not a function of our biology. It is a social construct created to maintain unequal power hierarchies. The conflation of sex with gender is another common misunderstanding of radical feminist theory. Sex is the reality of your body with no negative or positive characteristics attached to it. Gender is a social construct that privileges men/ masculinity above women/ femininity. Radical feminism is accused of gender essentialism because we recognise these power hierarchies and seek to destroy them. We do not, as frequently suggested, believe these are natural. It is a silencing tactic.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. Gender is created to grant men control over women’s reproductive and sexual labour in order for men to profit from this labour: whether this be unpaid labour within the house, in public spaces and childbearing/ rearing. Or, in the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour, there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy.

When radical feminists use this language of reproductive and sexual capability, we are derided for failing to include women who cannot get pregnant or who do/ do not experience sexual violence. Radical feminism is not about the individual but rather the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape is used as a weapon to silence women as a class. It does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employment.

There are countless studies that discuss men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years despite not knowing whether or not that individual woman can conceive or carry a foetus to term (or the fact that it’s illegal to discriminate against women for pregnancy in the first place). It is the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Just this week, New Hampshire state Rep. Will Infantine (R) has stated that women deserve to be paid less than men because men work harder. The Equal Pay has existed since 1970 and yet women are still consistently paid less than men based on gendered assumptions about the value of women’s work. This is without investigating the intersections of racism, classism and misogyny, which result in women of colour being paid substantially less than white women for similar work.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as otherHarrods requires women staff members to wear make-up – a fact that became public when former employee Melanie Starkcomplained to the press about being hounded out of her job. British Airways requires all new recruits to wear skirts because women cannot be expected to look professional whilst handing out meals and pillows in trousers. High heels are frequently required as part of a ‘professional’appearance for women despite the fact that they cause permanent damage to women’s feet and lower limbs.

Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing that accentuates external markers of sex, particularly their breasts. On the other hand, breasts displayed for the purpose of feeding an infant are considered a disgrace to basic human decency. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

In the UK, two women a week are murdered by former or current partners. Male violence is a major cause of substance misuse, self-harm, and homelessness in women. We know that women are the vast majority of victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. And, we know that men are the majority of perpetrators, yet we talk about “gender-based violence” as if men and women were equally perpetrators and victims. Radical feminist theory requires naming the perpetrator because it requires understanding and challenging hyper-masculinity within our culture which results in violence against women, children and other men.

If radical feminists were truly gender essentialists, we would believe that women deserve to be paid less than men. We would support hiring policies that privilege men. We would believe that women’s value is based entirely on their fuckability and childbearing/rearing. If radical feminists were gender essentialists, we would believe that men commit violence because they are born that way. Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes us a target of accusations like gender essentialism, which have no bearing in reality.

Radical feminism does not believe there are male/ female brains or that there are characteristics and behaviours that are innately male/ female. We believe that socialisation creates gender with the express purpose of maintaining current power structures. And, this is why radical feminism is so dangerous to the Capitalist-Patriarchy: we seek to destroy rather fiddle with the margins.

 

The problem is the capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employmentand men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/the-problem-is-capitalist-patriarchy-socialising-boys-to-be-aggressive-not-radical-feminism/#sthash.dTFaIOjm.dpuf

The Incompatibility of Radical Feminism and Capitalism

I am a radical feminist. Radical feminism fights for the liberation of all women from male domination and oppression. The term radical refers to the root of women’s oppression which lies in the creation of patriarchy. Or, as Debbie Cameron and Joan Scanlon write:

radical feminism is radical because it challenges all relationships of power, including extreme forms such as male violence and the sex industry … Instead of tinkering around the edges of the question of gender, radical feminism addresses the structural problem which underlies it.

We do not use the term patriarchy to refer to the rule of the father but rather the systemic oppression and subordination of women rooted in the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity” which, as Gerda Lerner states predates the formation of a class society and the concept of private property but it is nonetheless now inseparable from capitalism. Control of women’s potential capacity for reproduction and sex(uality) has been commidified and politicised with the creation of the state

When radical feminists use the term sex, we are referring to the biological realities of female, male and intersex bodies. We use gender to refer to the social constructions and stereotypes placed on bodies which are culturally and historically contextualised. Gender is a harmful social construct that operates as a system of oppression through the unequal power relationship between men and women: and within the categories of male/female when referencing race, sexuality, class, faith etc. Gender is harmful because it takes the simple biological reality of women’s potential reproductive capabilities to deny women access to public spaces and, therefore, power. Gender creates categories of masculinity and femininity and claims them as real despite the fact that they vary widely in definition across cultures and history. It also eroticises the power differential between men and women rendering women as a “sex class”.

The patriarchy predates capitalism but they are now intertwined so that we cannot dismantle the patriarchy without fundamentally deconstructing capitalism, or, more simply, eradicating it completely. As such, radical feminism and capitalism are inherently incompatible. After all, when the stock phrase “equality under the law” is used, radical feminists ask: equal to whom? What group of men do women want to be equal to when wealth and power are located within a very small group of mostly white men.  This power is maintained through the threat of and the actuality of violence whether this is violence within the home or sanctioned by the state. When

What we don’t do is adequately contextualise male violence within the broader framework of control of women’s reproductive and sexual capacity. The media occasionally covers the mass rape of women in the Congo yet consistently fails to mention that the war in the Congo is caused by capitalism and consumerism.[4] We artificially separate the economic reasons for war from the human cost of those wars.

Human trafficking, for sexual, domestic and labour slavery, is one of the largest industries in the world and is intimately tied in with trafficking of illegal substances and arms.  We allow children to work in sweatshops earning less than a subsistence wage so we can change our wardrobe every 3 months and have a new mobile phone every 12 months. We simply fail to discuss the reality that capitalism requires poverty, racism, misogyny and classism to exist. This is antithetical to radical feminism.

The Equal Pay Act has existed since 1970 and women still earn 15% less than men.  Women of colour continue to be paid less than white women for similar work. Women still do the majority of unpaid work including childcare, housework, caring for elderly relatives or those with disabilities, and the organising of family life. This work is not counted when we assess women’s economic output despite the fact that the unpaid labour of women is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. This is male economic violence against women: both within the family and by the state. It maintains women’s oppression through poverty.

We all know the statistics on domestic and sexual violence: we know that 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence from a male partner during their life. We know that 2 women a week are murdered by their current or former partner, yet we don’t talk about the consequences of male economic violence against women and children which starts with women’s unpaid labour.

Women’s Aid states that the financial cost of domestic violence in the UK, in which women are the majority of victims, is 23 billion dollars. According to the charity Gingerbread, only 38% of single parents receive child maintenance. Despite the fact that children in single parent households are twice as likely to live in poverty, the government has seen fit to dismantle the Child Support Agency, which was hardly fit for purpose to start with, and replace it with an agency that will charge people to use it.

The dismantling of the welfare state in the UK has disproportionately affected women pushing more women and their children into poverty. According to the Fawcett society:

(w)omen are more likely to be employed in low paid, part-time work, more likely to head a single parent household, likely to have less financial assets and more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

Women are more dependent on state benefits than men. In their roles as carers, women are more likely to be impacted by cuts to the NHS, education and social services, particularly if they or their children are disabled.

If we look globally, more than 780 million people live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation. In the US, 1 in 3 women live in poverty. The UN estimates that 80% of female workers in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are in vulnerable employment.

These are the consequences of capitalism that is predicated on racism, poverty and misogyny. We cannot liberate women from male domination as long as our economic and political power requires many women to live in poverty without access to education, clean water, health care, and nutrition. This is why radical feminism and capitalism are incompatible.

Below are links to research into poverty and women’s rights.

Prostitution, Sexual Slavery and the Sex Industry:

Radical feminism opposes the legalisation of prostitution and seeks to end what is commonly referred to as the “sex industry”. The global sex industry uses women’s poverty and institutionalises and normalises violence against women, racism, and the colonisation of women’s bodies. Aboriginal women in Canada and the US are disproportionately represented in prostitution, poverty and prison. Women involved in the sex industry, from prostitution to lap dancing clubs, have higher rates of PTSD than other groups of women as well as higher rates of substance misuse and histories of sexual violence.

Prostitution, trafficking for sexual slavery and the legal forms of the global sex industry is worth billions of dollars and the vast majority of this money rests in the hands of men. Men control the trade in the bodies of women and childre, profit from the trade and abuse women’s bodies for their personal gratification. As long as women are forced to live in poverty, women will be forced to work in the sex industry.

Beauty Industry :

The beauty industry is a billion dollar industry that prescribes women’s behaviour and appearance. Women are deemed unfuckable unless they meet very narrow guidelines of beauty: tall, thin, and white. Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth shows how the industry keeps women materially and psychologically poor.

The cost of being “beautiful” (and therefore worthy of humanity) includes the billion dollar cosmetic industry, plastic surgery for implants and liposuction as well as designer vaginas. The fashion industry, with it’s obsession with clothes which do not fit adult women and shoes which maim, is also worth billions:  money which women are forced to pay to deemed worthy of employment and life.

International economics controlled by multinational corporations and poverty:

Water Facts from the UN

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
  • 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.
  • Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planets Earth would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050.
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth (WHO/UNICEF, 2010).
  • With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% (70% by 2050) (Bruinsma, 2009), while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60% (WWAP, 2009). These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions. Yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention.
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for ~70% of global freshwater withdrawals (up to 90% in some fast-growing economies).

Domestic Violence Statistics (taken from Women’s Aid):

  • 1 in 8/ 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • 45% of women experience one form of interpersonal violence during their life.
  • There are 13 million separate acts of physical violence or threats of physical  violence each year against women by current or former partners
  • 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence
  • women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.

What is the cost of domestic violence?  (Women’s Aid)

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby 2004). The estimated total cost is based on the following:

  • The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).
  • The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence, (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of total NHS budget.
  • The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is £176,000,000.
  • The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.
  • Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.
  • The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion.

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to children (including moving schools and the impact this has on their education), and it excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.

The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.

Information on Child maintenance from Gingerbread:

  • Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  • For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)
  • The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)
  • Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)
  • Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

 

Signs of Violent and Controlling Behaviour from Women’s Aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening.
  • Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you; checking up on you; opening your mail; repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you; embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex; any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abusive behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

[1] Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (Sage Pub. 2001)

[2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press: 1986)

[3] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press: 1986) p.8

[4] Million Women Rise coalition at UK Feminista Summer School. 2011

Language does matter: menstruation is not “transphobic”

UCLA student Zoey Freedman weighed in on the global debate around taxing tampons. Normally, I’m a huge supporter of any publication willing to print this: 

Aside from some forms of birth control or medical complications, nothing will stop a woman’s period. It’s a natural part of having a uterus that just can’t be helped.

Health care currently covers services such as sexually transmitted infection testing, birth control, abortion and even access to erectile dysfunction treatments such as penile implants.

Although erectile dysfunction is a problem, it is not one that all men are inherently born with. Menstruation, on the other hand, is something almost every woman deals with at some point in her life. It’s a bit ridiculous that surgeries for sexual needs are covered before everyday feminine hygiene products.

Unfortunately, the editors felt the need to include this statement:

This blog post refers to individuals who menstruate as women because the author wanted to highlight gender inequality in health care. We acknowledge that not all individuals who menstruate identify as women and that not all individuals who identify as women menstruate, but feel this generalization is appropriate considering the gendered nature of most health care policies.

It used to be that we couldn’t talk about women’s biology because it grossed men out. Now, we can no longer talk about women’s biology because it’s transphobic. Menstruation, FGM, vulvas, breasts, birthing a child, breastfeeding, infertility, menopause, and hysterectomies have all become banned topics for fear we cause transwomen ‘violence’. Oddly, I’ve never seen viagra, something widely available on health insurance in the US whilst birth control remains controversial, deemed ‘transphobic’. Vulva cupcakes, on the other hand, constitute ‘violence’.

Women have been fighting for hundreds of years to end real gender essentialism that is predicated on a hierarchical construction of sex. Now, we’re seeing a resurgence of reifying gender through an obsession with labelling brains ‘male’ or ‘female’. Recognising that a uterus exists only in a female body makes you transphobic and guilty of the murder of transwomen (despite the fact that it’s pretty clear that men are responsible for the physical violence that results in the murder of transwomen – not women’s words).

Women have been actually dying for thousands of years because of the denial of the reality of our bodies. Childbirth remains one of the biggest killers of women worldwide. Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, but we aren’t allowed to point that infections pass more easily during penis-in-vagina sex or that the vast majority of urinary tract infections are caused by a penis that isn’t clean. Instead, young girls are denied an education because menstruation is considered ‘unclean’.

Viagra is a medical necessity to ensure erect penises aren’t denied sexual pleasure, including ‘female’ penises. Tampons are classed as a luxury despite menstruation being a biological necessity.

The liberation of women from male violence and other causes and consequences of the white supremacist capitalist-patriarchy will not happen whilst we are banned from talking about the biological realities of women’s bodies. Discussing menstruation is not transphobic and it will not cause the death of transwomen.

Jezebel shames a 3 year old for having a natural human reaction to bears breaking her stuff

Jezebel* has surpassed itself with it’s policy on shitting on people for no reason whatsoever. This time their target is a three year old who gets distressed whilst a family of 6 bears take over her backyard and break some of her toys. Being three, the natural reaction was to be upset. Hell, the father is upset and Jezebel doesn’t insult him for winding up his three year old. Nope, Jezebel has to go for the whole publicly shaming a three year old. And, yes, the child is identifiable to all of their neighbours, extended family and anyone else watching the video:

Five years from now, the little girl featured in this video will watch this and realize just how flagrantly youth is wasted on the young. That’s because, at eight years old, she’ll realize what she didn’t at three: Bears chilling on your swingset isn’t a cause for tears but a cause for celebration! (Just like when a bird poops on you for good luck, but less gross.)

And at 8 the child will be able to read and learn that Jezebel has invited the internet to trash her for being a three old. With emotions. Because nothing says cause for celebration being publicly shamed by a major media outlet.

We’re also supposed to be okay with the bears causing damage because a swing set only costs $300 at Target:

Bro Bible reports that the scene you’re witnessing happened in New Jersey, and correctly chastises this entire family for not just stopping for a second and recognizing how cool it is that six bears (a mother and her five cubs) are ripping up your backyard amenities. A swingset costs $300 at Target, but a story about a bear cub just chewing the hell out of your floatie while his brother tries to use your slide? That’s priceless!

This assumes that the family has $300 to spare to replace the pool and the swing set. The commentary in the video implies they might be but circumstances change and that pool may never be replaced. It’s okay to be disgruntled and annoyed at your stuff being broke. Granted, the father winding up the small child isn’t exactly a vision of excellent parenting, but he’s still allowed to be upset at the bears damaging their possessions.

The rest of the article is also twaddle:

And it’s all on video, so no one can even say shit when the toddler featured here tells everyone about it at school. “You think I’m joking about them ripping up my Eddie Bauer licensed pool float?” she’ll ask her teacher, after being gently accused of having a very vivid imagination. “Well, why don’t we just roll the goddamn tape, Sharon?”

Plus, you know that this is just an excuse for a bigger, better pool, right? Everyone wins!

Unless of course they can’t afford to buy another pool. Or, the bears keep coming back and some over officious police officer shoots them for causing a public menace. Or they get killed by a hunter. Or hit by a car. Or a million other things that can go wrong when bears enter human spaces.

Jezebel seriously needs to dump the label feminist when publishing shit.

* clean link