A very simple analogy
I’ve seen more than a few people trying to subvert criticisms of ‘biological essentialism’ and shoehorn them into trans ideology, and pretend that this somehow makes it compatible with radical feminism. Somehow, ‘your genitals should not dictate how you get treated by society’ has been mutated into ‘your genitals don’t determine whether you’re a man or a woman’, and this eventually becomes ‘you’re obsessed with genitals’, usually in the context of men of varying genders trying to guilt lesbians into having sex with them. Thus gender gets detached from sex, loses its connotation as a hierarchy which naturalises the oppression of females, and allows males to identify as women; and saying that sex exists and has political importance is now supposedly oppressive.
This is sexist drivel, as a simple analogy makes very clear. Sorry, but radical feminists aren’t that stupid.
Black people are justifiably tired of having race used as the analogy for other forms of oppression, so I apologise in advance for doing it yet again; unfortunately women’s oppression is still seen as normal in society, and sometimes comparing it to something we all recognise as oppression is the only way to get the point across.
So here goes with my analogy, which is, of course, imperfect, but nevertheless illustrates the principle very well.
White people used to enslave black people and put them in chains (other peoples have been involved, but this is the most egregious and familiar example in the West).
So although the colour of their skin said nothing about their value as human beings, it was the locus of the black people’s oppression, the thing that white people used as an excuse to mark them as inferior and enslave them.
Second-wave radical feminists fought for the equivalent of the abolition of slavery. Strike off the chains, free the slaves, embrace both black and white as fully deserving of humanity. They never tried to pretend that black and white didn’t exist, simply that it should not determine how people were treated by society. The goal was not a society in which no-one was recognisably black or white, it was a society in which the colour of your skin did not affect your freedoms, status, opportunities and social acceptance.
Late capitalist transactivism, with its ‘trans women are women, or else’ mantra, is the equivalent of:
- leaving the slaves in their chains
- ‘amelioratively’ redefining the word slave to mean: anyone who wears chains/identifies as a slave
- letting the whites dress up in chains too, because they fetishise the oppression of the slaves. They don’t do any of the shit labour, but boy, do they wear those chains well.
- demanding that whites who identify as slaves have access to the slave huts, the one place where slaves were previously able to escape their masters for a while
- claiming that the chains, and not their skin colour, is the locus of the slaves’ oppression, even though the slaves can’t identify out of being slaves
- accusing the slaves of being cis-slaves who oppress the trans-slaves
- refusing to tolerate any discussion of skin colour because it ‘others’ the trans-slaves
So the slaves are still slaves, but now they can’t name the locus of their oppression (the colour of their skin), or organise against their oppressors (the whites).
In the same way, if you go down the transactivist rabbit hole, women are still women and still oppressed for being female, but now we can’t name our biology as the locus of our oppression, can’t organise separately from men, and can’t even retain the word ‘woman’ as a descriptor of ourselves as a sex class. We have been linguistically and socially obliterated.
From the excellent Not a Zero-Sum Game blog:
Sex exists. Gender – a hierarchy of the fully human and the merely animalistic, the properly intellectual and the merely emotional, the realised individual and the objectified Other – instrumentalises it. It does not depend on it. It is not directly – ontologically or otherwise – driven by it. But it is an inescapable fact of gender that its organising principle, its plausible cause of oppression, its fig leaf of necessity, is sex.
To theorise sex out of existence is to deny that sexism can exist. It is to refuse to accept that a class of human beings exist who have been economically exploited, raped, murdered, forcibly impregnated, exchanged as chattel, denied a history, a language and a right to their bodies since (literally) time immemorial. If we deny these people an identity based on the root of their oppression we are saying they, as a class, do not exist. Have no shared history. No conceivable political mission. No right to recourse. No community. No grievance. No hope.
A more obscene act of woman hatred than to simply refuse to admit that women exist is hard to imagine. Tidier and cheaper than wholesale extermination, more economically self serving than foregoing the reproductive labour extracted from them, the profound hatred of women qua women such an argument betrays is breath-taking. That it is an attitude espoused sometimes by women themselves is no counter-argument, but a – relatively minor – entry in the ledger of the brutalising effects of patriarchal oppression.
And that is why postmodernism and in particular queer theory are justifiably criticised as tools of patriarchy rather than in any way antagonistic to it. Making gender out to be performative rather than hierarchical obscures the axis of male/female oppression and makes it unsayable, rather than confronting it head-on. It erases women as a sex class and prevents us from organising to end our oppression. It deprives us of our most basic protections against male violence. It should be no surprise that under this backwards and regressive ideology, trans-racialism and trans-ableism are gaining support, or that a rich, conservative white male who identifies as a woman is elected to give a speech on ‘diversity’.
Radical feminism seeks to create a society in which sex does not determine your freedoms, status, opportunities and social acceptance. It does not seek to obliterate sex or pretend that male and female don’t exist (this would be a level of science denial which makes climate deniers look positively rational!)
Saying that your reproductive sex is what makes you a woman does not reduce you to your reproductive sex. It says you are a human being who happens to be female, and that the latter characteristic makes you a woman. Taking away the word from the sex class reduces us to menstruators, uterus-havers, chest-feeders; a random collection of body parts in a world in which those body parts are increasingly for sale. Now that’s dehumanising.
None of this says that we should not be deeply sympathetic to people with dysphoria, or seek to help them and ensure that they have access to facilities and healthcare. But they’ve been hijacked by a viciously misogynistic ideology. (Unsurprisingly, transsexuals are starting to object to this, but that’s another story).
As The New Backlash says:
I am a woman and a feminist. I fully support the human rights of transsexual people. (I fully support the human rights of all humans!) However, “transgender” identity politics are not about the human rights of transsexual people. Transgender identity politics are about men weaponizing the suffering of transsexual people in order to destroy women’s boundaries and undermine basic feminist analysis.
Hope that helps.