Who counts as a woman? Is there some set of core experiences distinctive of womanhood, some shared set of adventures and exploits that every woman will encounter on her journey from diapers to the grave? The recent debates over the experiences of trans women gives us new reason to return to a question feminists have been grappling with for decades.
Ever since Simone de Beauvoir quipped in 1949 that one is not born a woman, but becomes one, feminists have been discussing the implications of understanding gender as a cultural construct. But more recently, this approach to gender has come under scrutiny. After all, it’s all well and good to say that gender is a cultural construct, but it’s a mistake to then pretend that cultures construct gender the same way for all people. Let’s just say that the sisterhood hasn’t always been great about attending equally to the experiences of all sisters.
But thanks to the past 40 years of work from intersectionalist feminists, we’re finally paying attention to what women of color have been saying since at least the days when Sojourner Truth had to ask if she, too, got to count as a woman: that what it’s like to be a woman varies drastically across social lines of race, socioeconomic class, disability and so on, and that if we try to pretend otherwise, we usually just end up pretending that the experiences of the wealthy, white, straight, able-bodied women who already have more than their fair share of social privilege are the experiences of all women.
You might think we just need to get over the thought that there’s anything like the female experience, that the search for a shared female experience is dicey at best, fraught with way too many historical examples of feminists getting it wrong and making things worse for less-privileged women along the way. At the limit, these concerns result in the view that the category of “womanhood” itself is fundamentally confused and thus better abandoned entirely. This is the route taken by feminists like Judith Butler in her iconic 1990 book “Gender Trouble.”
There’s a reason that after describing gender as fundamentally a performance, Butler counsels people to revel in messing with its scripts, to treat gender as nothing more than an ironic parody. Gender categories need to be taken down a notch, she thinks, but not only because they harm people in all the ways feminism spends so much time criticizing. Butler charges that in their focus on spelling out the harms of gendered socialization, feminists unwittingly entrenched the very things they claimed to be criticizing. By demarcating feminism’s subject matter — by articulating a concrete category of harms that deserved feminist attention — feminists inadvertently defined womanhood in a manner that implies that there are right and wrong ways to be a woman. “Identity categories are never merely descriptive,” she insists in “Gender Trouble,” “but always normative, and as such, exclusionary.”
Any attempt to catalog the commonalities among women, in other words, has the inescapable result that there is some correct way to be a woman. This will inevitably encourage and legitimize certain experiences of gender and discourage and delegitimize others, subtly reinforcing and entrenching precisely those forces of socialization of which feminists claim to be critical. And what’s worse, it will inevitably leave some people out. It will mean that there are “real” women whom feminism should be concerned about and that there are impostors who do not qualify for feminist political representation.
The women who are accused of being impostors these days are often trans women. You might think that a shared suspicion of conventional understandings of sex and gender would make feminists and trans activists natural bedfellows. You’d be wrong. It all started with Janice Raymond’s controversial book, “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male,” published in 1979. Reissued in 1994, the book continues to inspire “gender-critical” or “trans-exclusionary” radical feminists — TERFs, for short. (For the record, while some consider the acronym derogatory, it is a widely accepted shorthand for a literal description of the views these feminists hold; also for the record, many of us who are critics of TERFs consider Raymond’s book to be hate speech.)
Feminists who deny “real woman” status to trans women seem to rely on a false assumption — that all trans women have lived in the world unproblematically as men at some point — and claim the importance of affirming the identity and experiences of those who’ve spent entire lives in women’s shoes. Even the feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has echoed this, claiming in a 2017 interview, “It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
TERFs also sometimes complain that the performances of femininity enacted by trans women are chiefly retrograde stereotypes, caricatures of a femininity designed primarily for the pleasure of men. When Caitlyn Jenner says that she has always felt like a woman, for example, what she seems to mean by this is that she wants to be an airheaded piece of arm candy all dolled up for delights of the male gaze. “The hardest part of being a woman,” she infamously quipped, “is figuring out what to wear.”
It’s nonsense like this that motivated Germaine Greer to call Glamour magazine “misogynist” for honoring Jenner at its Women of the Year ceremony, claiming that the move was tantamount to affirming that with enough plastic surgery someone who is assigned male at birth can “be a better woman” than someone “who is just born a woman.”
While the rhetoric used by those in the trans-exclusionary camp is frequently inexcusable, you might think that some of their frustration is understandable. Feminists who’ve spent the better part of their lives fighting against a status quo that uncritically affirms gender stereotypes might be forgiven for getting a little resentful when women like Jenner seem to suggest that these stereotypes tell us what it’s “really like” to be a woman. On the other hand, it’s worth asking why the full brunt of the most extreme TERFs’ ire is so often directed at individual trans women who are just trying to get by like the rest of us, rather than on the fact that the media insists on focusing so single-mindedly on trans performances of gender that endorse a regressive, man-pleasing version of femininity to the exclusion of the many diverse others.
For the most part, Greer and Raymond and others who share their view are outliers in contemporary feminism, particularly in North America. Adichie, for instance, could not accurately be called a TERF: She thinks trans women’s oppression is not the same as the oppression experienced by women who are assigned female at birth, yet recognizes that trans women are undoubtedly oppressed and should be “part of feminism.” Most feminists these days go even further, however, fully rejecting trans-exclusionary rhetoric and agreeing that trans women are women, full stop.
Thankfully, feminists have finally started to realize that the varied experiences of trans women have a thing or two to teach us, if only we’re willing to actually listen. All the way back in 1974, Andrea Dworkin launched an early salvo in what would become the “TERF wars,” remarking, “It is commonly and wrongly said that male transvestites through the use of makeup and costuming caricature the women they would become, but any real knowledge of the romantic ethos makes clear that these men have penetrated to the core experience of being a woman, a romanticized construct.” (There are some important objections that should be made about her terminology here — “transvestite” is no longer the preferred nomenclature, and she doesn’t distinguish between male drag queens and trans women — but it would be anachronistic to get too fussed about it.)
Instead of complaining that trans women like Jenner are cartoons of reality, Dworkin would have us be honest with ourselves about the absurd amount of time and energy cis women are expected to invest in our performances of femininity. If cis women were honest about this, we’d admit that if some trans women occasionally camp up their femininity a little more than TERFs might like, they’re not doing anything we’re not just as guilty of. If we don’t like what we see when trans women turn the mirror of femininity toward us, we have only ourselves to blame.
Further driving home the importance of not throwing stones when you live in glass houses, Lori Watson, a professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego, points out that when cis women live as cis, they too are affirming a world of binary gender identifications, a world of gender stereotypes, a world with a limited number of acceptable ways to be a woman, just as much as any trans woman does.
When I, a cis woman, perform my not terribly original rendition of conventional femininity, I am in part saying that this is what women should be like. “In fashioning myself, I fashion Man,” Jean-Paul Sartre said. I might not always like it, but when I present myself in ways that I know that others around me will read as female, I’m not only going along with but actually affirming their conventional beliefs about what women are like. (This, in part, is the power of Butler’s advice to mess with our performances of gender: doing so unsettles people’s unthinking preconceptions.)
But if I’m as guilty of entrenching regressive gender stereotypes as anyone else, why do TERFs think it’s trans women who are specially culpable for shoring up gender essentialism? Why aren’t they going after cis women like me, too? We might all agree that the goal is to get to a world free of the shackles of conventional gender ascriptions, but that is not the world we currently live in. “The criticism of trans women as failing to act in ways that are consistent with an ideal of liberation from sex and gender,” Watson cracks, “is a little like criticizing any of us for making a decent living under capitalism, or investing our retirement funds in the stock market, if the aim of liberation is the destruction of capitalism as a social, political, and economic system. Even Karl Marx had to eat in the here and now.”
Talia Mae Bettcher, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles, demonstrates how trans people are caught in a double bind. If a trans person successfully passes as cis and is later discovered to be trans, they’re seen as an “evil deceiver” who has lied about who they really are. Trans people who are open about being trans, on the other hand, are seen as “make-believers” — cheap counterfeits, pathetically attempting to be something they couldn’t possibly actually be. The problem with this view of trans people as either deceptive or pathetic frauds is that it presupposes that there’s a real thing that trans women are failing to be. And this sounds an awful lot like the biological essentialism that almost all feminists reject.
The current debates over trans women bring us back to the question of what set of core experiences supposedly make someone who was assigned female at birth a “real” woman. Is it menstruation or childbirth? Nope — lots of women don’t experience those, either by fate or by choice. What about being subject to sexual violence and harassment? Trans women face as much if not more sexual violence than cis women. How about simply a lifetime of unwanted objectifying male sexual attention? There are plenty of women who don’t meet the standards of superficial sexual attractiveness who do not get such attention, and some of them even long for it. And surely we don’t want to go back to the days of defining women by their hormones or even their chromosomes — if for no other reason than we’d leave out the estimated 1.7 percent of women who are intersex.
When a cis woman complains that trans women haven’t had the same experiences as “real” women-born-women, then, what she’s really saying is, “Trans women haven’t had the same experiences as women like me.” If 30-plus years of intersectional feminism has taught us anything, it’s that this is precisely the move that feminists need to stop making.
Carol Hay is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and the author of the forthcoming book, “Quite Contrary: A Feminist Survival Guide.”
Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
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三码免费中特“【队】【长】，【炙】【心】【正】【在】【靠】【近】【那】【只】【三】【角】【体】【的】【进】【化】【身】【体】，【双】【方】【之】【间】【距】【离】2400【米】，【未】【发】【现】【异】【常】。” “2000【米】，【未】【发】【现】【异】【常】。” “800【米】，【未】【发】【现】【异】【常】。” “300【米】，【未】……【等】【等】，【快】【停】【下】！” 【突】【然】，【负】【责】【监】【测】【炙】【心】【数】【据】【的】【天】【使】【大】【喊】【道】。 “【怎】【么】【回】【事】？”【凌】【霄】【立】【刻】【就】【紧】【张】【了】【起】【来】，【背】【后】【的】【双】【翼】【立】【时】
“【怎】【么】，【我】【看】【书】【招】【惹】【到】【你】【了】？”【叶】【清】【音】【见】【他】【别】【过】【了】【头】，【身】【上】【的】【气】【息】【很】【不】【对】【劲】，【面】【上】【更】【是】【像】【声】【道】。 “【你】【干】【什】【么】【与】【一】【本】【王】【无】【关】，【不】【要】【太】【自】【作】【多】【情】。”【楚】【逸】【泽】【冷】【笑】，【双】【眸】【深】【邃】【冷】【冽】，【令】【人】【不】【敢】【直】【视】。 【叶】【清】【音】【闻】【个】【白】【眼】，【心】【道】：【那】【之】【前】【的】【眼】【神】【什】【么】【意】【思】？ “【砰】”【的】【一】【声】，【叶】【放】【下】【书】，【伸】【手】【按】【了】【按】【有】【些】【疲】【倦】【的】【眉】【头】。
【神】【剑】【乃】【是】【剑】【域】【内】【域】【的】【历】【代】【域】【主】【代】【代】【相】【传】【之】【物】，【且】【本】【身】【就】【是】【一】【道】【真】【正】【的】【神】【器】，【怎】【么】【可】【能】【会】【有】【这】【些】【邪】【纹】？ 【秦】【凡】【心】【想】【着】，【当】【即】【一】【挥】【手】【便】【取】【出】【无】【字】【天】【碑】，【天】【碑】【之】【上】【玉】【光】【闪】【烁】，【器】【灵】【天】【碑】【老】【人】【显】【然】【对】【此】【也】【颇】【为】【动】【容】。 “【天】【碑】【前】【辈】，【这】，【这】【是】【怎】【么】【回】【事】？” 【天】【碑】【老】【人】【默】【默】【不】【语】，【过】【了】【好】【久】【方】【才】【低】【声】【道】：“【这】【神】【剑】【的】【剑】【灵】【已】
【现】【代】【快】【报】【讯】（【记】【者】 【朱】【鲸】【润】）【夜】【深】【人】【静】【时】【突】【然】【头】【疼】【脑】【热】【急】【需】【用】【药】，【但】【是】【在】【附】【近】【找】【不】【到】【药】【店】【和】【医】【院】，【这】【时】【候】【如】【何】【能】【方】【便】【地】【买】【到】【药】？【现】【代】【快】【报】【记】【者】【从】【无】【锡】【市】【市】【场】【监】【督】【管】【理】【局】【了】【解】【到】，【目】【前】【在】【市】【区】【范】【围】【内】【有】【近】20【台】24【小】【时】【非】【处】【方】【药】【的】【自】【助】【售】【药】【机】。三码免费中特- …… 【毕】【竟】，【也】【是】【高】【级】【生】【命】【体】，【具】【有】【思】【考】【和】【创】【造】【的】【能】【力】，【人】【类】【在】【这】【一】【方】【面】，【还】【是】【可】【以】【的】。 【而】……【要】【实】【现】【拯】【救】【人】【类】【于】【生】【死】【之】【际】【的】【这】【个】【人】，【现】【在】，【可】【就】【是】【洛】【言】【了】。 【虽】【然】【说】【洛】【言】“【不】【是】【人】”，【但】【是】，【他】【在】【某】【种】【生】【物】【学】【意】【义】【上】【来】【看】，【他】【的】【确】【算】【得】【上】【是】【再】【进】【化】【后】【的】【人】【类】，【可】【以】【称】【之】【为】【仙】，【也】【可】【以】【称】【之】【为】【超】【凡】【人】。
“【怎】【么】，【那】【小】【子】【有】【什】【么】【不】【对】【嘛】，【你】【们】【怎】【么】【这】【个】【反】【应】。” “【呃】，【老】【大】，【这】【个】，【这】【个】【怎】【么】【说】【呢】。” 【看】【着】【结】【结】【巴】【巴】【不】【同】【于】【往】【日】【时】【的】【滔】【滔】【不】【绝】，【柯】【历】【没】【好】【气】【的】【拍】【了】【拍】【他】【的】【肩】【膀】：“【行】【了】，【事】【有】【先】【后】，【你】【先】【说】【说】【那】【小】【子】【为】【什】【么】【冲】【那】【个】【刘】【北】【勇】【来】，【他】【和】【那】【个】【王】【家】【米】【铺】【背】【后】【的】【老】【板】【是】【什】【么】【关】【系】。” 【原】【本】【还】【不】【知】【道】【先】【说】【哪】【件】【事】
【狼】【啸】【等】【很】【多】【妖】【兽】，【在】【进】【阶】【成】【为】【妖】【兽】【后】，【根】【本】【就】【没】【有】【时】【间】【去】【巩】【固】，【直】【接】【就】【被】【昆】【仑】【妖】【兽】【派】【去】【和】【人】【类】【战】【斗】。 【那】【时】【别】【说】【是】【保】【证】【自】【己】【不】【受】【伤】【了】，【就】【连】【保】【证】【自】【己】【能】【活】【下】【来】【就】【很】【困】【难】。 “【可】【恨】【的】【昆】【仑】【妖】【兽】，【它】【们】【肯】【定】【也】【知】【道】【这】【一】【点】，【但】【它】【们】【还】【是】【让】【我】【们】【去】【和】【人】【类】【战】【斗】，【摆】【明】【了】【就】【从】【来】【没】【有】【把】【我】【们】【放】【在】【眼】【中】。” 【进】【阶】【成】【为】【妖】【兽】
【白】【玫】【前】【脚】【回】【到】【自】【己】【办】【公】【室】，【后】【脚】【萧】【墨】【昂】【的】【内】【线】【电】【话】【就】【打】【过】【来】【了】，【叫】【她】【马】【上】【过】【去】。 【不】【敢】【有】【丝】【毫】【怠】【慢】，【急】【急】【忙】【忙】【的】【就】【到】【了】【总】【裁】【办】【公】【室】。 【萧】【墨】【昂】【正】【负】【手】【站】【在】【窗】【前】，【不】【知】【道】【望】【着】【什】【么】【在】【出】【神】。 【小】【心】【翼】【翼】【的】【合】【上】【房】【门】，【打】【了】【一】【声】【招】【呼】：“【萧】【总】。” 【萧】【墨】【昂】【没】【有】【回】【应】，【依】【旧】【保】【持】【着】【原】【来】【的】【姿】【势】【一】【动】【不】【动】，【好】【像】【根】【本】【也】