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Women taking space

We’re not allowed. To take space, that is. I was just talking with a friend of mine. We’ve known each other for nearly twenty years now, I think. Worked in “front line” women’s services at the same time, sometimes the same place. She’s been an advocate for impoverished women for a long time. It’s hard work. You know that. Women are under attack. Not least of all because we are women, because men are taught they are entitled to our bodies, our sexual organs, our labour, our ideas, our emotional support. And now they want into our drop-in centres, transition houses, bathrooms, sports teams, support groups – everywhere. She told me that, unlike when we were co-workers, and the males had to make some effort to fit in as women (more than we do, for sure), now the place she works allows men to come into this (previously) women’s space to have a meal, get advocacy help, and rifle through the donation clothes closet. Men who say they are women when they come to where she works, but then also go to services for men. Men who don’t even bother to apply some of the markers of femininity, or constrain themselves in stupid shoes. And now, there are also women working in these places — shelters and drop-in centres and so on, who are wearing binders, and “identifying” as anything-but-women.  So why take a job in a women-serving organization? i don’t get that…I DO get hating the stereotypes, of course I do. and hating the victimization we experience at the hands of men (in service to the patriarchy). I get that. But wearing a binder, pitching your voice lower, taking testosterone, whatever — that won’t change anything about our society, it won’t aid other women, it won’t get any of us any closer to freedom.

it’s obvious that feminists all agree that people who identify as trans deserve the right to live free from harassment and violence, just as anyone else. They need housing, jobs, family and friends, like everyone else.

What they do not need is unfettered access to female-only spaces. Really, c’mon. Women have worked really hard to develop rape crisis centres and transition houses for battered women and their children, and have worked really hard to carve out spaces where we can talk to each other about how it is to be a woman in world that discredits, diminishes, marginalizes and threatens us because of our sex. Sex. Not Gender. Gender is one of the ways in which we are threatened, diminished, dispossessed, marginalized…because of our sex.  If those fellows want to set up “trans-inclusive” spaces, transition houses, centres, etc — go to it!

But they won’t because theirs is an individualistic and libertarian ideology — not based on any structural analysis of oppression and not centred on achieving shared liberation. Rather they seek widespread public recognition of their idea of ‘legitimate’ womanhood. They don’t want to change gender, or abolish it — they want to reinforce it.

I got into a little twitter fight with a former friend a while back. It started with her reply to me about something I said along the lines of the above – that feminist organizations ought to determine with whom to organize, and whom to serve — “most feminist organizations include trans folks” she said, and “[A local feminist anti-violence organization] doesn’t speak for all feminists.” Another woman asked her, “and you do?” or something along those lines. My former friend’s response was kind of self-righteous, I thought (I should know, I can do self-righteous like nobody’s business!).  She said, “I’ve been working for 25 years for feminists, trans and gender-variant people” I’m pretty sure she listed a whole bunch of labels, not one of them “women”. but i could be wrong, maybe she said “women” in there somewhere. Anyway. I chimed in to say that it’s anti-feminist to insist that women’s groups should not determine their own mandate or membership. She reasserted that she “proudly” stands beside all the trans and gender-variant people. And feminists. I invited her to just get out of the way, and stop trying to undermine the work of radical feminists. We can’t be all things to all people, I said, (meeting her self-righteous tone, I’m afraid) “feminists stand with women” I said. Of course my former friend couldn’t let that go — she said, “Erin, we Disagree! I’m proud to stand beside ALL women including transwomen (etc)”. Then she blocked me.

So I can never say to her that it’s okay to disagree. For now. I can never say to her that we have to find a way to navigate this whole ‘rights and diversity’ mess. We all want freedom, we just don’t have the same understanding of what it is and for whom. If you’re advocating for the ‘rights’ of people who are male*, to live in women’s shelters, play on women’s teams, change in women’s changerooms, organize feminist events, participate in women’s conferences, enroll in women’s schools, and so forth, you are obstructing women’s rights. That’s what I think. I disagree with my former friend, she’s right about that, (who, by the way, has not done FIVE minutes of voluntary, unpaid work on behalf of women, or of feminism — all of her experience has been either as a paid transition house worker, or as an academic), and while I think she’s wrong, even that she is doing harm, I think it’s important to explore the disagreement. What does she mean by ‘gender-variant’ for example? Especially given that she is a lesbian herself. What does she mean by “standing beside”, or “in alliance”?

You know, the more I think about it, the more I read and see — the more I think that “trans rights” are just another way to ‘disappear’ women. Of course other women have been saying this for a long time. Ruth Barrett just put together an impressive anthology of writing by all kinds of women called Female Erasure. I think more women (and men!) are thinking about how dangerous and harmful this gender ideology has become.

I started this post long before I posted the most recent one (the one that starts with a description of the hike up the BCMC trail), and before I attended WoLF Fest. Before I taught my summer courses, even, i think. I haven’t yet paid a great price for my critique of gender ideology — but it’s starting. This summer, my little gang of sober women has splintered along this line. We have been meeting together every fall and winter to help each other with this whole not drinking business for a long time.  Some of the women who’ve joined us over the years have responded to the sexism they face by claiming an identity of “trans” or “non-binary” or something. Some of them have told me, “I don’t really qualify for this group because I don’t identify as a woman”.  I remember one conversation I had with one of these women. I said, “you’re female, you ‘qualify’.” But she won’t come because she doesn’t think she’s female anymore. She thinks she can change her sex. And because I say, “I don’t care how you identify, other than as someone who wants to stop drinking. Just so long as you were born female, raised as a girl, you belong here”, I am not allowing them to tell the truth about their lives. So they won’t come to the group — And they don’t want to go to a men’s group, some of them. Some of the women in my group are going to meet on a different night, and make it a “women and trans group”. I don’t know who all will do that, and I wish them well, but I’m pretty sad that we’re divided from each other about this. I love them. We’ve been through a lot together. Now there is this between us. And now i’m a bit paranoid that the other women in the group see me as the problem. One of my friends told me that at different times, I’d not used the preferred pronouns. It’s a women’s group, fer cryin’ out loud. They must know that they need the support of other women if they’re attending a women’s group, how can calling other females “she” be harmful?

(plus, I really can’t stomach the whole trend to refer to individuals as “they” — if someone’s in front of me, I’ll use her name. If she’s not, she’ll not hear me refer to her as ‘she’ so she can’t get all bent out of shape, can she?).

Anyhow, it’s easy enough to avoid the pronoun business altogether in the group itself. But other women in the group have found it troubling that I refer to the members of the group as “she”, I guess. Anyway, I’m sad that we can’t agree that being female means something — that being women means something, and has specific implications about our drinking and our sobriety.  I’m also sad that there is this between us, this patriarchy, this new version of identity politics. And I’m afraid that when we start up again in the fall no one will come. Mind you, now there will be two groups on different nights, so more possibilities for women who want to stop drinking. That can’t be bad.

And then there’s the work meeting coming up next week. I am trying to not think about it. I’m pretty sure lowly sessional instructors are not called in for meetings with the boss people when their students are happy with everything, or when they’ve done a great job teaching.  I’ll let you know.

But now i will do something with all these apricots, work on the syllabus for my course, and maybe get to work on our banner for the (pathetic, liberal, in-desperate-need-of-feminist-leadership/intervention) dyke march this weekend. And fling some kettlebells around, even if it’s too hot and smoky to move much. I’m afraid for everyone in the interior of BC.

No. Wait. I’m afraid, period. For all of us. The last couple of nights, the setting sun has been a deep red. Apocalyptic.

  • of course, by “male” I am referring to the dominant sex class — the people born with penises, testes, prostates, and all that. Here’s a good post that takes apart the ideological concept of gender and ‘mis-gendering’

 

 

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About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, under-employed, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. I play accordion better than I did, and i'm learning the concertina. Slowly.

19 responses »

  1. you are still the forceful breath of fresh air I first met in the gym in the late 80’s, ever the powerlifter and example and sister…x

    Reply
  2. I wanna take classes that you are teaching!!

    Reply
  3. “Ruth Barrett just put together an impressive anthology of writing by all kinds of women called Female Erasure. “

    About halfway through Female Erasure. A necessary but troubling read (coffee and savoury snacks recommended).

    I’m glad to see another ‘not the fun kind’ of feminist writing for the world. 🙂

    Cheers.

    Reply
  4. Really enjoying reading your thoughts, Erin. I don’t agree with everything you say – the pronoun thing doesn’t bother me. It’s a gender thing – but the discrediting of sex defined spaces to gender defined ones worries me especially because it seems to be disproportionately womens not mens spaces where this battle is playing out. Also as a butch who is happily woman, these are strange times for my identity, that’s for sure :).

    Reply
  5. Well said Erin. Echoes many of my own thoughts and feelings. I am worried that an element of the trans movement, which appears to be predominately male to trans, don’t want to do the work of creating spaces, but choose to appropriate women spaces – those safe spaces that we have fought long and hard to obtain.

    I am a woman, I don’t have a front hole, I have a vagina, and I am not ashamed to say it, I was amazed when I heard that students from the all-female liberal arts Mount Holyoke College took issue with The Vagina Monologues, though it had been performed there annually for a decade, saying “At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” Well, the play may be 20 years old but still very relevant. I loved what Ensler said in response (while at the same time supporting the students aims of fighting transphobia) “I think it’s important to know that I never intended to write a play about what it means to be a woman, that was not what the Vagina Monologues ever intended to be,” Ensler said. “It was a play about what it means to have a vagina“…”I think we have to create a space for the over 3 billion women who have vaginas to talk about our vaginas – the oppressions, and suffering and secrets and pleasures they have – without it being seen as dominance and transphobia,”

    Unfortunately, because women have been socialized to be accommodating, so many of us have bought into this anti-woman element that we are afraid to talk about our own bodies, and are having new labels thrust upon our own body parts. It seems to be more of the same old patriarchy – still telling us what to do, and policing what we think and say. There is very little discourse on the whole topic and if you try and have a discussion you are dismissed, labeled a terf or worse, threatened with violence. Thank you so much for making space to have this conversation here.

    Reply
  6. Well said Erin. Echoes many of my own thoughts and feelings. I am worried that an element of the trans movement, which appears to be predominately male to trans, don’t want to do the work of creating spaces, but choose to appropriate women spaces – those safe spaces that we have fought long and hard to obtain.

    I am a woman, I don’t have a front hole, I have a vagina, and I am not ashamed to say it, I was amazed when I heard that students from the all-female liberal arts Mount Holyoke College took issue with The Vagina Monologues, though it had been performed there annually for a decade, saying “At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” Well, the play may be 20 years old but still very relevant. I loved what Ensler said in response (while at the same time supporting the students aims of fighting transphobia) “I think it’s important to know that I never intended to write a play about what it means to be a woman, that was not what the Vagina Monologues ever intended to be,” Ensler said. “It was a play about what it means to have a vagina“…”I think we have to create a space for the over 3 billion women who have vaginas to talk about our vaginas – the oppressions, and suffering and secrets and pleasures they have – without it being seen as dominance and transphobia,”

    Unfortunately, because women have been socialized to be accommodating, so many of us have bought into this anti-woman element that we are afraid to talk about our own bodies, and are having new labels thrust upon our own body parts. It seems to be more of the same old patriarchy – still telling us what to do, and policing what we think and say. There is very little discourse on the whole topic and if you try and have a discussion you are dismissed, labeled a terf or worse, threatened with violence. Thank you so much for making space to have this conversation here.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Kat. I know what you mean. I have some disagreements with Ensler’s analysis and depictions of women (especially lesbians) in her work — but fer cryin’ out loud! We need to have those disagreements, and to have the space to argue and analyse, think and act together. As women. As feminists. and you’re totally right about the harmful effects of our socialization. I get all accomodating and smiley, too, sometimes. We need our own spaces where we can figure out how to identify and resist that training…
      well. There you go. I’m happy for your comments, and happy to continue the conversation, here and irl.
      love.

      Reply
  7. As you know, I’m pretty dreamy and fem, but when I was a little girl, I was passionately in love with the tomboy across the street. I haven’t changed. Does anybody really? On another note,
    I am noticing what is happening in feminist theology and how it is a possible source of strength for feminists. It is taking the dominant patriarchal myth and and saying it was always about
    feminism! The whole trans thing mystifies me. I’ve always just loved who I loved and they
    loved me. But I guess that’s pretty dreamy right?

    Reply
    • You’re pretty dreamy, alright! I am very interested in feminist theology and interpretations of various spiritual and religious traditions (I think women were behind the best of that stuff). Love you

      Reply

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