To be different from other girls: on misogyny, inside and out

I am not like other girls.

Perhaps you are here because you are not, either.  Some variation on the words “I’m different from normal girls” is one of the top reasons people come to this website from searching online.

*     *     *

I am different from other girls.  For years, in my teens and early twenties, I said and believed this.  Now that I am older, and have met more people–particularly more people from many ages and walks of life–I realize what was really happening.  Believing myself to be different from other girls was the first step toward internalizing and then externalizing misogyny that took years to purge from my system.

The process by which woman is turned against woman is seductive, elegant.  Would you like to know more?

*     *     *

I’m not like other women.  You begin by telling this lie that feels like a truth to a thousand people–some women, yes, but mostly men.  Of course, this does not stop people from treating you, frustratingly, “like a woman.”  Men talking over you–bringing up an idea you’d just articulated and crediting it to the man who spoke it second–being relegated to second-class status in relationships–these were the things you wanted desperately to escape.  The pink-patterned walls of femininity, the interests confined to the superficial and the domestic, looked like a prison to you.

Of course, just declaring oneself to be different was not enough.  Even having genuine, longstanding interests dominated by men was not enough.  There was always a new shibboleth, a new way that men could decide you were a garbage person after all.  And “garbage person” meant woman, first and foremost–whether you hung out with the jocks who liked their garbage people on the sidelines at the game, or the nerds who liked their garbage people on the sidelines watching them play video games.

*     *     *

I’m not a typical woman.  I’m more like “one of the boys.”  In fact, other women bore me to death.  If you wanted to hear what was really going on, what was going on in the world of men, not the people forced to their periphery, you had to go undercover.

But men wouldn’t just believe you.  Did you think it would be that easy?  You’re going to have to say something about women when you join in with a group of men.  Something bad.  Something that doesn’t just separate you from them explicitly, but makes it clear that you don’t really think they’re worthy of attention, respect, or possibly full human status.

So you try out a few easy pieces of misogyny.  They don’t have to be sophisticated.  A cruise ship comedian’s material should do the trick.  After a few, something changes in the men’s faces. The relaxation of these groups, all at once, as if a signal has been given, will come to look after a few years like a sign as distinctive as the soft click of a key fitting into a lock.

You are in.

*     *     *

Women are such a pain in the ass.  Men start telling the stories soon after you start hanging out with the group.  Stories of misogyny, usually subtle at first.  You quickly learn that the men react best when you respond with a story about a woman in your own life who is “crazy” or “a bitch.”

You come prepared with these stories.  They are armor, proof that men can say whatever they want around you.  No censorship.  Nothing off-limits.

And as you wait long enough, they’ll start.

*     *     *

No, it’s okay, I can’t stand women, either, and I’m one of them!  It doesn’t take long to realize they don’t just want a place with no censorship.  They want to tell you the stories.

The stories of the worst acts men have done to women will start to come out if you express virulent enough misogyny in front of them.  Amy Schumer has used this phenomenon to great effect in her comedy show.  After this has happened to you several times, in several different groups, you will start to ask yourself why it is happening.  Then you will realize:

The “one of the guys” woman is there for one key purpose: absolving masculinity of its responsibility for misogyny.

They tell you these stories not because you are actually welcomed as equal to men in their group, but because you are a woman, and because they believe on some level that only a woman can tell them that their actions are not so bad after all.

*     *     *

I can’t stand other women.  Catty and superficial, every one.  You start to realize the role you are playing, and you start testing new responses, trying to see if you can undo the damage you now feel you’ve inflicted on yourself and other women.  You start to try rolling your eyes at the most sexist jokes, or clearing your throat and uncomfortably walking away when someone talks about that time they had sex with a developmentally disabled prostitute.

It only takes a few times before you’re called a bitch.  You used to be funny, the men tell you.  You used to be cool.  What’s up?  On your period?  Maybe one of those feminists got to you.  Don’t go all feminist on us.  Promise us you won’t go all feminist.

*     *     *

Bitches, am I right?  After a while, you know they’re misogynists.  You even realize you’re perpetuating it yourself, but you can’t stop.

You see, you’ve discovered something vital: When you act like a misogynist, men will behave at their true, underlying level of misogyny.  You will have, for instance, discovered several men of your acquaintance who have committed rape and justified it, and you will have guarded yourself against being in rooms alone with them afterward.  These are men who, had you only associated with them in groups considered “mixed company,” with girls who weren’t “one of the guys” there, you’d have thought were personable and normal.  Behind the man door, they view women as inhuman.

The information you get behind the scenes becomes important to judging these men as potential dangers.  One of the reasons rape and sexual assault survivors often engage in this kind of misogyny is as a way of filtering out the most dangerous men by allowing them room in which to discuss their actual levels of violence and woman-hatred rather than the level they deem socially appropriate in mixed-sex settings.

*     *     *

I’m not like most other girls.  But there is a way out.  It has to do with undoing the notion that you, unlike other women, have a full and complete inner life and a rational mind.

It has to do with realizing that every woman in the world is a human being, and that the trappings of femininity aren’t about women wanting to live in the pink prison–they’re about finding yourself in a prison, then told the only thing you’re allowed to do to make your stay more pleasant is decorate the bars.  After time, the decorations would inspire pride in their makers, as they’d spent time and energy on them, but they’d still be only aesthetic improvements on the very structure keeping you incarcerated.  Some might even help to prop up the prison as a structure.

Many–even most–women may be more invested in the trappings of femininity than you are.  But that doesn’t make you any less of a female, or less of a woman.

The way out of the pink prison isn’t to try to plan a solo midnight escape to the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking land of blue that lies beyond.  If you travel that path, you will find yourself again in service to men–to the absolution of their misogyny, to servicing their egos.  Instead, you must try to find the other women who are dying to get out, band together with them, and kick against the prison walls until they fall down.

Keep in mind that the women who’ve devoted their lives to decorating the bars aren’t trying to work against you.  Many just didn’t know that kicking was an option.  Instead of fighting them, help them to find their legs.

*     *     *

I’m not like other girls.  But I am like other girls.  When it comes to the groups of women you once found alienating and hard to talk to, they may stay alienating and hard to talk to.  But you will find points of commonality, and you will find shared humanity.  The types and groups of women you once thought incomprehensible will begin to make sense to you, and you’ll begin to figure out new ways of identifying dangerous men (to start with, the ones who get angry when you call them out on misogyny).

Take the first step.  You’re like other girls, at least some other girls.  Some other women are like you, even if you’re a six-foot-two, or a heart surgeon, or annoyed as hell by women’s fashion.  Understand that separating yourself from the rest of women isn’t making a wider gender spectrum–it’s narrowing the definition of what “woman” means.

If you’re a female, you are like other women.  And that’s something that’s just fine to be.

Prevalence II: On Prison Placement

One of the issues on which trans activists and feminist activists most vehemently clash is that of transgender and transsexual prisoners.  According to trans activists, these prisoners must be housed according to self-declared gender identity as soon as possible.  In the past, when feminist activists have expressed alarm and outrage that prisoners born with penises would be allowed into spaces containing some of the most vulnerable women in society (2/3 of whom have not committed a crime of violence), they have been told that their alarm is misplaced.

Besides, only .3% of the population is trans, and even if a person occasionally abused the system, they’d be so far removed from one another, very unlikely to even be at the same prison, making any abuses easy to spot and hard to organize a coverup of.  The most powerful prison gangs, which can often shield particular members from scrutiny or serving additional time for jail mishaps, need a population of 3-4% of prisoners (total incarcerated men with gang affiliations are around 16% in prisons, less in jails).

Of course, like with so many arguments from the transgender activist side of the debate, this one is based on feelings, not rigor, logic, or mathematics.  Where are the skeptics?  Well, there is one here, and we will explore the math today together.  You see, the transgender prisoner issue is actually a pretty big one.  Bigger than you probably thought, even if you already knew it was a problem.

Allow me to clarify for a moment here.  All it takes is one raping man to be too many. There are already stories of men who have used self-castration and gender identity as a way to access and then sexually abuse women in the prison system.  What I aim to show, however, is that the problem of simply opening prisons to self-identification is a much bigger problem than it seems at first glance.

In order to quantify the likely number of males who would enter women’s prisons, we must examine two distinct groups: people with genuine histories of gender dysphoric thoughts (who we can assess the number of via transgender prevalence rates), and people with no genuine histories of transgender thoughts who desire to be placed with women (either for sexual access to women or due to safety threats in men’s prison).  We can call the first population A, the second B.

Let’s first take a look at population A.  Given studies that have shown the criminality of MTF individuals remains, on average, the same as males, let’s assume that they are represented proportionally in the prison population.

But wait.  Since 75-80% of transgender people are MTF, not FTM, we can assume the prevalence among males is more like .6%.  Still doesn’t seem like much … until you factor in something huge: the vast differential between the number of male and female prisoners.

Check out these statistics.  What we see is that while there are 1,225,900 male inmates total, there are only 89,000 female inmates–nearly 14 times as many men as women.  That same six-tenths of a percent of the male population that seems relatively insignificant represents a total number of 7,355 inmates.  Yes, that’s right.  Just six-tenths of a percent of male inmates self-identifying as transgender and opting into women’s prisons would represent an increase to the women’s prison population of over eight percent.  About three-quarters of these, assuming the prevalences stayed stable versus the rest of the population, would be male-born people who prefer women sexually.

Eight percent!  At that rate, overcrowding becomes a bigger problem than ever, making conditions cramped for female-born people for the benefit of male-born people.  And that’s, of course, before we consider population B.

Ah, population B.  The terrifying thing about you is that we don’t really know how many of you there are.  But we can take some interesting guesses.

Here are some things we know because of the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  There are nearly twice as many males whose most serious conviction is murder (157,000) and males whose most serious conviction is rape (159,000) in state prison as there are total female prisoners incarcerated for any crime.  Once again, much as with the locker room issue, we must ask ourselves: how likely is it that one rapist in a hundred, one murderer in a hundred, would decide to use this strategy to gain access to women?

If one in a hundred of those rapists utilized this strategy, they’d constitute 1,570 people — or nearly two percent of the total number of female prisoners.  If one in a hundred murderers did the same, they’d constitute another two percent.

It does not take many men–men already proven to be violent, men already proven to have no respect for the boundaries of other human beings–to lie about gender identity to make prison a living hell for women.

Trans activists need to understand that for this to be an issue for women does not require “transphobia.”  This is a legitimate issue.  The class of people born female will experience a material detriment.  Admitting population A into women’s prisons, even if literally zero of those people had bad intentions, would cause significant overcrowding at the expense of female-born people for the comfort and benefit of male-born people.  Admitting population B into women’s prisons is unavoidable if population A is admitted.  Due to the vastly larger starting number of male inmates, population B could create an outsize presence in women’s prisons even if only a relative handful of the worst and most violent inmates used gender identity to leave male prison.

Feminists are often treated like we are being the irrational ones in these debates, like we do not understand science or mathematics.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If trans activists looked at the actual problem of prevalence, they’d understand exactly the issue women have with gender identity classifying prison inmates instead of sex.  Transwomen of my acquaintance (hello there, Aoife!) who do understand these issues and have taken an honest look at them would NEVER subject women prisoners to forced housing with male-born people.

On Footbinding; Or, the Privileges of Womanhood

For a woman in China in most of the second millenium C.E., the bound foot–in several different styles varying with time, but most enduringly the tiniest and most injurious “golden lotus” foot–was the price of entry to upper-class womanhood, and a possible ticket to social mobility for the lower classes.  With the exception of the Manchu, who forbade the practice, the idea spread and became more and more de rigeur for Chinese women to inflict on their daughters, typically in the name of ensuring better marriage matches.

A woman with unbound feet, by the 19th century, was unlikely to thrive in court society, or even to be a successful dancer or performer.  She had greater freedom to walk, yes, but society constrained her role to that of a servant, a laborer.  To leave a daughter’s feet unbound was perceived as an act not of mercy, but of short-sightedness, letting sentimentalism get in the way of practicality.

Half the women in China walked with great pain on lotus feet by 1800.  Thus, there were two groups, of about equal number: women with bound feet, and women with unbound feet.  The prevalence of footbinding among the upper class Han women approached 100 percent.

Because the practice did not die out until the Communist Revolution in China, first-person accounts of what it was like to have one’s toes crushed by the footbinding process are still coming out in interviews today.  In 1995, Pamela Cooper interviewed a Mrs. Huang, who told this story of her own binding:

I remember the day the footbinding began. My mother told me that I could not be beautiful if I did not have bound feet. Ugly girls couldn’t marry. The binding of my feet began when I was five years old. I hated it. I cried. It was so very, very painful. No matter how much I cried or begged, my mother never relented. If I loosened the bandages at night, my mother would beat me in the morning and bind the feet even tighter. So, what could I do? Nothing. So, my feet were bound. I remember the first time my mother unwrapped them. They were rotting. They smelled very bad and were full of pus.

At the same time, the women in Cooper’s first-person accounts are quick to reflect on the fact that in many ways, their status was changed for the better by the destruction and warping of their young metatarsals, the rotted toenails.

It hurt so badly, I cried, and there was nothing to do for the pain. If I didn’t bind my feet, I would have to go to work in the fields, and that would have been hard. So, footbinding was better than that.

Another woman reflects on the same labor bargain:

It was an honor to have bound feet. All you could do was sit all day and make bound feet shoes. Servants did everything for you.

The unbinding of feet in the twentieth century undid the labor bargain:

I was happy to unbind my feet. My husband was happy too because I could work more in the fields. Prior to the unbinding I stayed at home and sewed, cooked, took care of the children and did housework.

One of the things these first-person accounts have in common is that the women involved say very little discussion of the practice of footbinding ever occurred, except between mothers and daughters.  This deeply traumatic event, shared by millions of women, was considered so private that it was rarely, if ever, talked about–even with spouses or the most intimate friends.

But what if the women of China had begun to discuss the practice centuries ago?  Moreover–since we’re already in the land of hypotheticals–what if they had done so through the lens of “privilege” discourse?

Well, it would be easy for the women with unbound feet to conclude, from the narratives above, that women whose feet were bound experienced what could be described as “bound-foot privilege.”  After all, women with lotus feet did significantly less manual labor and were often waited upon by servants.  They secured better marriage matches.  They were elevated above the common woman.

However, the women with bound feet–who had little or no say in whether they were bound, and whose say would have meant nothing anyhow because they were little children when the process began–could as easily have discussed the privilege of being born with unbound feet.  To be able to walk free, to be able to leave one’s home or relationship by simply walking away, was beyond the woman with bound feet.  She was hobbled, forced to inhabit a tiny world close to home.  She was in pain when she walked even a short distance, and prone to all the ailments an enforced lack of exercise can lead to.

Which, then, of these groups could be said to be privileged over the other?

The answer should be immediately obvious, but if it is not:

Neither of them.

These groups of women are divided by a destructive beauty practice that was created to eroticize the female body while hobbling it, for the benefit not of other women, but of men.  Neither side of the divide enjoys privileges, because the divide was created by an outside oppressor group in order to create pressures on women of either footbinding status.

Would it have benefited either group–the bound, or the unbound–to call the other group “privileged” for their footbinding status?  Would fighting each other for who had it worst, whose plight was harder, be likely to improve their conditions?  Or would they have been better off trying to attack the root of the problem: a male culture that eroticized hobbled, deformed women, leaving them a choice between deformity and poverty?

*      *      *

So it goes with motherhood.  In recent weeks, some feminist discourse online has revolved around whether such a thing as “motherhood privilege” exists.  Some say yes, others say no, others say “NO” more vehemently, even claiming that if anything, there is privilege in not being a mother–lower domestic violence victimization rates and higher salaries, for instance.

This is footbinding privilege.  This is a failure to see the overarching system dividing and conquering.

Motherhood’s supposed “privileges,” as well as non-motherhood’s, are determined not by women, but by men.  What woman would devise the system in place now, wherein all the caretaking labor and time required to grow a human being into some semblance of self-sufficiency is considered outside of the economic sphere?  It is not the group of women who bear children who controls the fact that men often won’t consider a childfree partner for dating.  It is not the group of women who do not bear children who controls the fact that men commit more violence against mothers.

These groups of women are both oppressed by a common oppressor.  The “privilege” conferred by motherhood is similar to the “privilege” conferred by beauty: decided at the whim of men and easily taken away to suit other divisive political goals.  Black mothers, for instance, don’t get a lot of the sympathy and apple-pie Americana benefits a lot of feminists in these discussions associated with motherhood.  They often get side-eye and people looking really close at what they’re paying with when they go to the grocery store.  No matter what your race, one day, your features can be considered beautiful, but the next, standards change and your type isn’t “in” any more.  Aging out of the beauty pool is, as many women have noted, a mixed blessing–invisibility has both benefits and drawbacks when visibility is synonymous with harassment.

We did not make the world the way that it is.  But we must see it the way that it is, if we are to take it back.

There is only such a thing as motherhood privilege if there is such a thing as footbinding privilege–or, for that matter, female genital mutilation privilege (also a practice performed to secure economically advantageous marriages).  Women did not create these divides.  Women did not decide that mothers should make less, or that non-mothers should be viewed as less desirable or as “incomplete” women in any way.

This is how patriarchy works: by telling you that you really must do certain things to fit in, to be good enough, to be worthwhile, to gain the best benefits society has to offer.  But in order to do them, you must risk injury or even death.  Whether we’re talking about motherhood, footbinding, maintaining underweight physiques, or plastic surgery, risking lethality seems to be a necessary component for women to reap supposed “benefits” out of patriarchy.  You can have the finest crumbs from the master’s table, but only if you hurt yourself for his amusement first–and do so better than all the other women vying for the same few crumbs.

I implore my feminist friends: Stop fighting for scraps when the whole table stands above you.  Stop wielding privilege rhetoric against other women without asking the question: where is the oppression coming from, and who decided that your group of women should be treated in the way that they are? You’ll be surprised how rarely the answer to these questions is actually “other women in that other group.”

If the answer is “men,” don’t we have better things we could be doing?

Language and the lie of “erasure”

Originally posted on Hypotaxis:

I was thinking the other day about a class I taught some years ago, in which, as part of the curriculum, I was to cover Aristotle’s Nichomean Ethics. Part of Aristotle’s aim, in this text, is to provide a formula for how to “live the best life” (a rather arrogant endeavor, if you ask me), and so I started teaching the text by asking my students, freshmen, Millenials, what it meant to “live a good life”: What does a good life look like? What does a good life entail? How can we define this?

My students were, as so many of their generation, reticent to answer any of these questions, for to do so would be to take a position and possibly “invalidate” the perspective of another classmate. Each pupil had been raised in a culture of such impossible relativism that each believed to take a stance, to offer forth…

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“Cisgender”? Cui Bono?

 

If you read a single post here at CBG, make it this one.

Let’s talk about “cis.”  Some feminists think this word is harmful because it reflects an agreement with gender roles.

I think it’s actually more harmful when it simply means “non-trans,” particularly in the context of the sentence “Cisgender people are a privileged class.”

I’m going to start, as I often do, with an analogy.

Let’s say we had a word that meant “not Black.”  Black people have definitely faced historical oppressions that did not have easy equivalencies in other races, and let’s say that there was an idea that the proper way to fight oppression in the Black community was by defining themselves in this way.  So from now on, you have, say, people who are “melano-racial” (Black), and people who are “leuko-racial” (non-Black).

It would be very justified to say, in this context, that “melano-racial” people are oppressed people.  But it would be a mistake to say “melano-racial people are oppressed by leuko-racial people,” or that leuko-racial people were the oppressor class.

Why?  Because overwhelmingly, violence directed toward Black people, the oppressed class, has not come from simply “non-Black” people.  It has come from white people.  The oppression is not “non-Black supremacy,” but white supremacy.

Why does it matter?  Well, if programs originally designed to help, say, Latinos, or American Indians, were told that they had to also accommodate Black people, using the same budget and facilities, it would matter.  If white people—the actual perpetrators of the huge majority of offenses against Black people—used their institutional power to ensure that they were the group of “leuko-racials” that had to change the least and sacrifice the least in order to achieve equality, it would matter.

It’s likely that some of these “leuko-racial” Latinos and American Indians would accept Black people into their gatherings and spaces, for many of the same reasons that many women are accepting of both MTF and FTM trans people in their spaces—they’d recognize that the “melano-racial” people were facing serious, intense racial discrimination from white people that they empathized with to a strong degree, even though their racial oppressions weren’t exactly identical.

But what would happen if people started decrying “leuko-racial privilege,” and the principal targets of their anger were almost always Latino or American Indian?  What if a new term was invented for Latino people who objected to the new ways they were expected to share the spaces they’d carved out for themselves: MERL, for Melano-Exclusionary Radical Latino?  What if caricatures were made of what MERLs were like, caricatures that played with old stereotypes of Latinos that were hurtful and originally used to prop up white supremacy?  What if there was no similar simple acronym term for white people who continued their oppression, and Twitter filled with hashtags for not only #melanopride but also #killallmerls?

What if, when the MERLs themselves objected—both to the term and to how it was used—they were accused of being violent and melanophobic?  What if even attempting to say “this is a problem caused by white people, not ‘leuko-racial’ people” was met with scorn and derision, or an exhortation to “shut your mouth, MERL scum”?

You begin to see the problem.

“Cis” is a term that pretends to define an oppressor class, but instead works by lumping both the oppressors and many of the oppressed into a single, unified whole.  What this means, in practice, is that women—who are also an oppressed gender minority—are being treated like they are not only the oppressor class, but in fact the part of the oppressor class that needs to sacrifice the most, risk the most, and argue the least.

Terms that mean “non-x” can work to help identify oppression when they are being used to designate an oppressor class and people outside it.  That’s why “non-white” works, or “non-male.”  Anyone who is not in the class at the top gets shit on—to varying degrees, certainly, but iit’s all the same shit. Latino folks have not faced oppression in the same way as Black folks, but it’s the system of white supremacy that hurts both groups.

In other words, when there’s an oppressor class A, “non-A” works to define people experiencing oppression stemming from that oppressor class.  However, if you have oppressed class B, “non-B” can and often does include people of other oppressed classes facing oppression stemming from exactly the same place as class B.

Women and gender non-conforming people (including trans people, genderqueer people, genderfluid people, etc.) are all facing the same oppression: patriarchy and male supremacy.  So an honest and inquisitve person is forced to ask of the term “cisgender” a very important question: cui bono?

Who benefits from a term that groups the oppressor and parts of the oppressed group together?  The answer is easy to spot: the oppressor group does.  Since oppressed groups, by definition, have less institutional power than the oppressor group, the oppressor class will always minimize the impact “non-B” terms like “cis” or “leuko-racial” could have on themselves.  The burden, as much as possible, will be shifted to the shoulders of already-oppressed classes.

Male supremacy and patriarchy are the oppressions that hurt trans people, gender non-conformers, and all women.  In the words of the hashtag, yes—all women.  Terming “cis” the oppressor linguistically erases the oldest and most common form of oppression on the planet: male supremacy.  It allows members of one oppressed group to claim they are “punching up” while in fact hurting another group of oppressed people.  It allows a reversal by which other oppressed groups are viewed as the primary perpetrators of oppression.

“Cis” benefits men.  It can only benefit men, in the same way that redefining white supremacy as non-black supremacy can only benefit whites.  You can’t fight an oppressive system by redefining its victims as its aggressors.

 

A brief note on the topic of “erasure” and identity

Look how many people will say: “This argument makes sense, but I’m not going to listen to it because …”

Because tone.  Because women won’t use the right words for men.  Just call us what we want, do what we want, and we’ll start listening to you, feminists.  We promise.

 

Sure.

Let me be very clear: misgendering “erases” no one.  I have several people in my family whose primary “identity” group, as such, is Christians.  If I were to call one of them an atheist, or a Buddhist, or the man in the moon, I would not be “erasing” them.  If someone identified, primarily, as a very funny teller of jokes, it would not be invalidating their existence to tell them that they are not particularly funny after all.  It’s worth noting that they’re not erased *even if someone is telling lies*.

The only way, in fact, that denying an identity is “erasing” that identity is if the person doing the denial is telling the truth.  Then, the simple act of saying “I refuse to participate in your delusion” shatters the reality of the delusion.

 

Let me put this another way.  If I identify myself as an excellent writer and, say, a very bad fanfiction writer says to me: “You’re a terrible writer,” my identity remains entirely intact.  Why?  Because I have no reason to credit what they say, there is no reason to doubt my identification.  In the same way, if someone says about a novel I have written and am very proud of, “this is garbage, not worth reading,” my identity as a good novelist remains intact, because I really did believe I’d written it well.

If, on the other hand, a writer I respected and admired, or an editor I desperately wanted to approve my work, wrote back with comments amounting to “this is bad writing and I’m not sure why you’d think anyone would like this,” I would feel like my identity and sense of self had, in some way, been diminished.  In the same way, if I was unsure of a work’s quality and someone told me it was pure shit, I’d be much more inclined to feel deeply hurt, lashing out, and resentful about it.

 

I believe the trans people who talk loudest about “erasure” when it comes to pronouns and statements like “was born a girl” are the ones who, deep down, are least settled in their own identities.  I certainly never feel that my identity as a feminist, or my reality as a woman, is somehow threatened when they have misgendered me or called me names or said I was transmisogynist.  Insecure people who know that they’re lying–on some level–are the only ones who feel that the very fabric of their being is threatened by a contradiction of their own internal narrative.

All The Things You Can’t Deny: Title IX, Trans Women, And the Reality of ‘Neutrality’

When it comes to the issue of identification versus biology, perhaps no place illustrates the discrepancies better than sports.

Athletes like Fallon Fox, who went from being a third-rate MMA fighter in the men’s division to winning all his bouts but one when he went in the ring with women, show that the body discrepancies between an XY and XX human are not simply due to hormones.

Now, many trans activists claim that the fact that Fox lost one of his bouts—and the fact that several sports authorities have agreed to accept men as women if they complete two years of hormone replacement therapy—proves that there is no difference between hormone-altered men and natal women.

This, of course, is based only on studies that show muscle percentages being similar.  How are bone density, the differences in body shape, and so on supposed to change?  No answer.

The problem becomes clearer when we apply it to an immediately visible aspect of human physiology: height.

No one (except, perhaps, the world’s most dedicated devil’s advocate) would disagree that when it comes to playing basketball, height is an important determining factor of ability, especially at elite levels.  Basketball players in NCAA, NBA, and WNBA teams have historically been much, much taller than the average person.

Enter Gabrielle Ludwig.  Gabrielle is 51 years old and plays for a college basketball team in Northern California.  He previously coached basketball for young people.  The young women sharing a team with him are 18-20 years old.

Ludwig stands six foot six (a height he claims he has after “losing height” because of his transition—apparently he claims he was six foot eight before).  While seeing photographs of Ludwig next to the far-shorter women he plays with make it obvious that this is an old man playing against young women, trans activists are not convinced.

Image

 

(above: nothing wrong with this picture, say trans activists!)

These activists maintain that because some women have been six foot six, and because trans women (like extremely tall women) are a very narrow subset of the population, no real dent could be made in women’s basketball by transgender players.

But is that true?  Let’s take a look.

At six foot six (198 cm) Gabrielle Ludwig would be a slightly shorter-than-average NBA player. If he entered the WNBA, on the other hand—which he couldn’t, because he doesn’t have the skills and is very, very old for a basketball player—he would be in its top ten or fifteen players of all time.

Ludwig’s height corresponds (based on http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/height-chart.shtml and http://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/9730/what-is-the-standard-deviation-of-adult-human-heights-within-sexes) to a z-score of 2.85, meaning that Ludwig 2.85 standard deviations above the average.  That’s quite tall even for a man—in fact, 99.8% of men in the United States are shorter than him.

Women, however, are shorter, with a slightly smaller standard deviation in their heights.  A height of six feet, six inches corresponds to a z-score of 5.67—nearly six standard deviations above the norm.

What kind of probability does that convert to?  Well, it’s tricky to say, because z-score tables usually cut out at around a score of 3.4.  However, according to wikipedia, a z-score of 5 means that only one in two million people would be expected to be over this range.

One in 500 for men—one in two million for women.  That’s a factor of 4000.  In other words, even if only one in 4000 male-born persons decided to transition, there would be as many trans women standing 6’6 as there are natal women.

And that’s just for a z-score of five (also known as five sigma).  If the calculation was for 5.67, we could expect that 4000 number to be even larger—perhaps as large as 6000 or so.

As it is, most estimates place the prevalence of transgenderism at roughly 1 in 200 people.

If those estimates are accurate, 6’6 MTFs outnumber 6’6 women by a factor of at least 20.

In basketball, height matters.  I expect to see people commenting right here on this post that height doesn’t matter, because it’s the internet and you can find someone advocating any contrarian position imaginable.  But if that’s your first impulse—to start saying height in basketball doesn’t matter—think about where your ideology has led you to.  At the point where you start denying these other basic realities in a rush to placate your own gnawing doubts or your political allies, you’ve crossed over into cultish, fundamentalist thinking.

There are many more tall (6’2 and above) trans women than natal women, even when you take into account the significantly lower proportion of trans women in the population.  Since basketball and many other sports confer a height advantage, it is likely that allowing MTF people into women’s sporting programs will lead to a slow but definite erosion of women’s opportunities for athletic scholarships and more.

I wonder what it will take for people to recognize this practice as harmful.  Given what some countries have done to ensure Olympic successes (puberty blockers, lies about birth certificates), and given that the IOC now will allow trans athletes to compete as their identified-with sex, rather than their biological sex, I suspect it will be only a matter of time before some nation fields a team of somewhat tall men as nearly impossibly tall women.

You can talk about muscle mass and estrogen all you want, but—once again—reality stares right back with objective, real physical differences that cannot be erased through verbal games and political doublethink.

As NCAA protections for women (you know, the ones who start as girls, discouraged to play sports) erode in favor of “gender-based” protections, remember who’s being protected … and who’s being left behind.

We Are All Winston Smith Now

“Trans women are women.”

 

Among the most important themes explored in Orwell’s 1984 is that of language and its relation to oppression.

One of the most compelling moments in that book describes the protagonist, Winston Smith, realizing that the most valuable freedom of all is the freedom to tell the truth.

Later on, he is tortured for the thought he had—the idea that freedom means the ability to tell the truth, to be able to say that two plus two equals four.  His torturer, hired by the state to break his will, seizes upon this idea:

 

“Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When  you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an  effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.’

He paused for a few moments, as though to allow what he had been saying to sink in.

‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘Four.’

‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’

‘Four.’

The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four.’

The needle went up to sixty.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’

– 1984, George Orwell

 

It’s a powerful scene. So powerful, in fact, that at least two science fiction television shows have used the same concept.

In the Babylon 5 episode, Intersections in Real Time, a government torturer works to destroy Captain Sheridan’s sense of time, but more than that, to get him to agree that time—one of the most measurable, readily perceived concepts available to human consciousness—is malleable to the will.

 

INTERROGATOR: This is really excellent corned beef. You have to get just the right mustard. The brown with the seeds, not the yellow kind. And not too much of it. If there’s too much, it irritates the corners of my mouth.

Oh, would–would you like some? I know they haven’t fed you since you got here. That’s at least two days. Besides, it’s lunchtime. Isn’t it? Isn’t it lunchtime? You just said it was morning. Well, you can’t have a corned-beef sandwich for breakfast. It would upset your stomach. Corned-beef sandwiches are for lunch. If it’s morning, you can’t have it. If it’s lunchtime you can. Is it lunchtime?

SHERIDAN: I’m sure it’s lunchtime somewhere.

INTERROGATOR: Excellent answer. Here. I ate half of that myself. Killing you does nobody any good. I told you, I’m here to ensure your cooperation. And I can’t do that if you’re dead, now can I? It does prove, though, how everything is a matter of perspective. You think you see daylight, and you assume it’s morning take it away, you think it’s night. Offer you a sandwich, if it’s convenient, you’ll think it’s midday. The truth is fluid. The truth is  subjective. Out there, it doesn’t matter what time it is. In here, it’s lunchtime if you and I decide that it is. The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be and other times what you decide it to be. My task is to make you decide to believe differently. And when that happens the world will remake itself before your very eyes.

— Babylon 5, “Intersections in Real Time”

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation borrows even more liberally from Orwell in its episode “Chain of Command: Part II,” even re-using the numbers four and five as the basis for the torture.  Picard’s captor insists there are five lights on a ceiling which, objectively, has only four.

Picard doesn’t yield to the torture—he’s rescued just in time.  Smith does, and is executed by the state once he truly loves Big Brother.  Lest anyone believe that starship captains are simply made from sterner stuff than a Winston Smith-style bureaucrat, the episode’s most poignant moment comes from its coda:

 

PICARD: One thing I didn’t put in my report… at the very end, he offered me a choice… between a life of comfort… or more torture… all I had to do was say there were five lights.

Troi regards him for a brief moment.

TROI: You didn’t say it…

PICARD: No… but I was going to. I was ready to tell him anything he wanted… anything at all. But more than that, I was beginning to believe there were five lights.

— Star Trek: The Next Generation (Chain of Command: Part II)

 

And therein lies the real lesson of all three works.  The goal of the torturers, in all cases, was not simply to urge the profession of belief.  The ideal party member, in Orwell’s 1984, is capable of a rather neat mental trick known as doublethink.

When a person doublethinks, they simultaneously believe something to be true and not true.  The government in 1984 tells its citizens, over and over, that “war is peace,” and “freedom is slavery.”  This enables editors like Winston to more readily change history, since people are more likely to accept being at war with a nation one day and at peace the next, for instance, if they believe that the two concepts aren’t really all that different.

Which brings us to a four-word statement:

 

“Trans women are women.”

 

I’d like to unpack this statement a little bit.

I’ve now asked a number of people making it to talk to me about what it means.  Specifically, I’ve asked them what “woman” means, in this sentence.  I’ve gotten the same answer repeatedly from trans advocates:

“A woman is a person who identifies as a woman.”

This is a statement that is literally devoid of content; a semantic nothing.  When one identifies “as a woman,” what is one identifying with?

When I have asked this question, the answers change drastically depending on the person I am speaking to.  Sometimes, I am told of boys who longed to have “the feeling of a hole between my thighs being filled” and who insist on surgery to correct their feelings of bodily wrongness (even when told that girls don’t feel a “hole” where their vaginas are), or who believed that a vagina, being cleft, would enable them to do the splits in a way their scrotum would not (just in case you’re reading this, V, splits are easier for girls because of their ligaments–not their vulvas).

Other times, I’ve heard of people feeling forced out by imposed sex roles.  “I always empathized more with women.”  “I have a softer side and abhor violence.” “I think I was supposed to be a dad, not a mom, because of the way I interact with my child.”  Many of these people profess to have little or no actual genital dysphoria, and are upset at the idea that such dysphoria is considered necessary to change sex on government forms and so forth.

In other words, when someone says “trans women are women,” they may be saying one of several things.  It can be, for instance, a statement that means “trans women have female brains.”  In this instance, “trans women are women” is being used cover for a much more controversial statement, one that forces the person saying it to agree with the notion that there is “brain sex,” a badly outmoded and anti-feminist idea.

Other times, “trans women are women” means “trans women feel they fit in better with women’s social roles.”  Again, this uses a deceptively simple four-word sentence to cover a much more problematic truth.

“Trans women are women” is a statement that means a hundred different things to a hundred different people, and it all hinges on this question: what does it mean to identify as a woman?  Simply saying that there is only one answer to this question (no matter what that answer is) will yield accusations of transphobia and cause in-fighting.  So the only safe statement—since more clear and unambiguous statements will lead to disagreement and strife—is the four-word mantra, “trans women are women.”

Yet this simple statement has worked to serve another purpose, as well.

In 1984, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5, counterfactual statements are used to wield power.

“If it’s lunchtime, you can have a sandwich.” It isn’t, of course, but you haven’t eaten.  So you agree to the counterfactual, starved and not caring.  “If there are five lights, we’ll treat you well (and if you don’t, they’ll torture you).”  There aren’t, of course, but you’re so tired, and the lights are so blurry…two plus two might equal five, mightn’t it?  Of course, it doesn’t, but does that matter when simply saying so will make the difference between captivity and freedom, between contentedness and suffering?

Consider the statement “trans women are women” again. This time, think about how this statement is actually used in online activism circles, rather than how people explain its definition when pressed.

When women refuse to toe the line on the trans mantra, they are harassed, threatened, guilt-tripped.  Women—many of them abuse or sexual assault survivors—are told that any statement contrary to “trans women are women” is not simply rude or even untrue, but actually violent, because it could cause transgender people to feel suicidal.

Women are told that violence is unacceptable, time and time again.  When women are accused of violence because of “misgendering,” they often change their tone nearly immediately.  It doesn’t seem like it matters much whether there are four lights or five, after all.  What’s the difference?  And if it’ll stop me from getting accused of unfeminist behavior, if it’ll stop me being no-platformed, if it’ll stop all of this—if I can come back into the feminist fold—who’s to say two plus two hasn’t been five all along?

I used to use “she” to describe MTF trans people.  I used to use “he” to describe FTM trans people.  I will no longer engage in this practice, except for when directly speaking to trans people who could conceivably direct violence toward me.  Make no mistake, trans folks: many people outside your movement, even the ones who nod in agreement with the statement “trans women are women,” don’t really believe it.  When they are women, they have been trained to spare your feelings and to avoid potential conflict with males—especially those who are backed up by other males with violent tendencies.  I hope your pronouns feel like a hollow victory, wrested as they have been from the mouths of women who know the wrath they face for saying any other words but the ones you told them to say.

Remember this, when you’re told that misgendering is “violence”: “trans women are women” is a statement that is meaningless at best and is used a power exertion over women almost always, since they are not able to disagree or even clarify the speaker’s definition without being viciously attacked.

Do what you have to do, in order to get through your day.  But two plus two is never five.  There are always four lights.  And that corned beef sandwich he’s offering you is poison anyway (seriously, look it up).

 

[[A note to my readers: I expect my next post to be about the NCAA, Title IX, normal distributions, and exactly why “trans-inclusive” athletics policies fail.  I don’t know when I’ll have it out, but you can expect it to be sometime in the next couple of weeks.]]

“I’m not like those other girls.”

I haven’t updated in a long time. I was busy being depressed. So sue me.

Recently, I was watching the sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, which is often one of the most subversively feminist shows on television.  It was while watching the sketch I’m So Bad — which riffs on the way many women act as if eating high-calorie food were worse than actual immoral behavior — that I started to realize something.

Over and over, Inside Amy Schumer presents a vision of interpersonal relationships among women that is written by women.  And it shows.  It’s only after watching it, after seeing the observational detail that women can pull from their interactions with other women, that I began to understand what is wrong with even most of the media that passes the Bechdel Test.

I hear from women a lot that they feel alienated from other women.  Hell, I’ve felt alienated from other women.  I wonder, though, as I watch this show, how much of that alienation is actually an alienation from media representations of women.  The way “best friend” women talk in movies and television is poorly observed and poorly written, and many male comedians make ugly assumptions about women’s conversations with friends being shallow and cruel. Key & Peele, also with a standup/sketch hybrid show on Comedy Central, don drag and display massively misogynistic caricatures of women–women as envisioned by men.

I wonder how many of the women I hear who say that they don’t feel like they fit in the category “woman,” that they’re now “genderqueer” or “genderquestioning” or “agender” or “neutrois,” are really responding to the feeling that the conversations they see, the ways they see women interacting with each other, seem foreign and irrelevant to their lives.  “If that’s how women talk/act, then I must not be one.”

I wonder how many of “those women” that we all profess to be like are just shadows–shadows created in the minds of men.

 

I’ll be back with more content, hopefully before the week is out.  My next topic: language, and why I’ve changed my mind about the “pronoun issue.”