Despite my constant resolutions to do the opposite, I’ve been MIA from here for another long while. It seems fitting that my first post after the dry spell should be me whining and wallowing in self-pity.
While I’m working on a post about sexual orientation, have another lazy link list!
First, another Ozy post, basically putting my thoughts about gendered socialization into words:
Burkett argues that “being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one.” She explicitly rejects a definition of womanhood grounded in breasts and vaginas (and, presumably, in uteruses and XX chromosomes) as reducing women to their bodies. However, her definition opens itself up to two criticisms.
First, exactly how many gendered experiences does Burkett have in common with a subsistence farmer in India? Did Burkett’s father have to pay her a dowry for her to get married? Did she have a sister who was aborted because she was a girl? Was she fed less than her brothers? Did her parents not send her to school because they wanted to protect her virginity? If the answer is “actually, Burkett doesn’t share many gendered experiences other than the purely biological with female subsistence farmers in India”– which I think is probably true– then by her own argument either she or female Indians subsistence farmers are not really women. This seems somewhat silly.
Even in our own culture, experience of womanhood is very diverse, as an intersectional perspective shows. A developmentally disabled woman may find that she is desexualized and degendered, as part of being treated as a child due to her disability; does her desexualization and degendering mean that she is, in reality, not a woman? A butch lesbian may never have experienced the courtesies associated with being read by straight men as an appropriate object of desire; does that mean she is not a woman?
Second, many transgender women do, in fact, accrue the experiences, endure the indignities, and relish the courtesies of being a woman in a culture that reacts to them as one. Any trans woman who passes does, as do non-passing trans women in trans-positive environments in which they are considered to be women. Even non-passing trans women in trans-negative environments are not read as men and given the privileges of men; they are read as weirdo freaks. Why is one’s past experience of gender– often an experience years or decades in the past– prioritized over one’s current lived experience?
Similarly, gender dysphoria impacts many trans people’s experience of gendered socialization. Society says “you are a woman, so you are like this and you should do these things.” Many cisgender girls feel dissonance when they don’t want to do what they are supposed to do or when they aren’t like what society says they are like. But many transgender men feel dissonance about the statement “you are a woman”– even long before they articulate their gender identity to themselves! They want to do the things men do, have the traits men have, cultivate the virtues men cultivate. Many young transgender men feel a sense of pride in how many sexual partners they have, or in their ability to lift heavy things, or other accouterments of masculinity which are stigmatized for women. Trans bros exist! Of course, that isn’t the same as growing up a cisgender man. But it is an experience which is in some ways more similar to growing up a cisgender man than growing up a cisgender woman.
Then another post about racism and dating by Alison – in her last one, she pessimistically predicted that someone would declare people with sexual preference for a certain gender/sex sexist, and then of course someone found a video of someone making precisely this point. What Alison wrote in response (well, her second response, her first one was mostly in caps) applies to other patterns (transphobia, ableism, etc.) as well, and is well worth a read. (I didn’t find a passage that worked well out of context, so just click through. Content note for mentions of rape.)
Because people often respond to mentions of non-binary people by pointing out that the vast majority of people fits the binary, here’s a little snack for thought on what it could mean for rare things to be ignored (and perhaps on what rarity in percentage points even means).
Next up: an account of gender and how it relates to nerd culture.
But we are also conscious that our participation in male-dominated activities tends to be at the leisure of the men involved, and that membership in the group could be revoked at any time. For example, if one of the men begins to pursue a woman in the group romantically and she doesn’t return his interest, her continued participation may be threatened. This becomes even riskier for women in male dominated professions like cybersecurity — my own field of expertise. In professional settings, the stakes raise dramatically. Rejection of a man’s advances can cost us more than our hobby, sometimes it can cost us our jobs. As long as this dynamic exists, we can never truly be “one of the guys.”
Often, we deal with this fundamental outsiderness by creating secret spaces where we can pursue feminine interests on our own terms, where being “one of the guys” is no longer the only key for entry. When I reintegrated into my old hobbies post-transition, I found that there were entire subcultures built by the women of the group, for the women of the group. These small, isolated, and distinctive societies that women created were completely invisible to me before I transitioned, but when I returned to nerd culture I found myself added to secret chat rooms and invited to events just for the girls.
It was like finding a secret room in a house I lived in for decades. In these women-centered spaces, topics of feminine interest could be discussed openly and out of view of the men in the group. We were shielding them from being grossed out or bored — periods, eew! Fashion, ugh! — but more than that, we were shielding ourselves from having to openly remind anyone that we were women and thus inherently different. We feared that if they noticed, our passageway into acceptance might close.
And last but not least, a post about testosterone: which resounded with me (even though I personally never had big fears about testosterone – a healthy dose of skepticism for any kind of essentialism made my default belief that testosterone would not affect my personality or behavior much at all):
I was afraid of losing the part of myself that cries at Pixar movies and gathers my friends into huge hugs and composes love letters to my beloveds and really, really listens to my people when they’re hurting. I was afraid of embodying toxic masculinity. I was afraid of becoming (even more of) a stranger to myself. […]
Life as a testosterone-based human is in some ways indistinguishable from the pre-T years, except that at every turn I seem to be discovering more and more of myself. It’s as if I’d been living my life in the front hallway of a home that I am only now realizing has more and more rooms, cozy and brightly lit and familiar and mine. Life has a new quality of spaciousness now. […]
Trans people have a unique opportunity to strip back the veneer of patriarchal masculinity, of biological essentialism, of binary notions of sex and gender, and say, “There’s a different way to do this.” It’s up to you to decide what trying HRT means about your identity and place in the world.
And that’s all for today. See you next time!
Confession time: I’m not quite sure what people mean when they call emotions, preferences, choices or identities valid.
I know what it means for conclusions: a conclusion is valid if it follows logically from the premises. “Socrates is mortal” is a valid conclusion to draw from the premises “all men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man”: it correctly combines the premises and makes no assumptions not given in the premises.
Do you ever consider writing about a particular topic, only to discover that your position has already been summed up perfectly by someone else? I get that all the time. So instead of writing my own posts, I’ll just share a few other people’s today.
I share a lot of values with Ozy from Thing of Things, so it’s no surprise that I frequently agree with their writings. Today, I clicked through to their post on the gender wage gap and found my position on choice reflected perfectly:
The feminist position is that these choices are not made in a vacuum. Of course, any individual woman can choose to become a nurse or a stay-at-home mother if she so pleases; neither I nor Barry nor the National Organization for Women has any interest in forcing women into careers they have no desire to pursue. But we don’t view the fact that this is the product of a choice to mean that there is no injustice, simply that the injustice is probably located somewhere else.
To pick an extreme example, consider a slight variant on the trolley problem. A runaway trolley is going to hit five people on the trolley tracks, and you have the ability to switch it so that it hits you instead. You do so. Would it make sense to say “there’s nothing unjust about this situation! It would have been unjust if someone had deliberately switched a trolley so that you would be hit by it, but you made the free and independent decision to be hit by the trolley yourself, so there is nothing morally wrong about this situation.” That would be silly. It is true that you have not experienced the injustice of a person deliberately hitting you with a trolley. But you may have experienced the injustice of poor trolley safety practices, or a philosophy-themed supervillain going about tying people to tracks in order to set up moral dilemmas, or similar. Your free choice in a situation does not mean the situation itself was okay.
Over on tumblr, Alison left a strongly-worded comment on a video about racism in the gay community. I’d quote the best party, but I’d just end up quoting all of it. Go read it.
And in a reblog chain spawned by a blog post on monogamy and polyamory, wayward-sidekick writes about preferences promoted and influenced by culture, again in an unquotable but very readable way (the relevant part starts at “Not everyone”; it’s not necessary to read the rest of the reblog chain to understand her post, although if you’re interested in the topic, of course you should feel free to do so).