I have two good friends who are mums with small boys who like wearing nail polish and dresses, as much as they like playing with toy bulldozers and aeroplanes. One is three years old, one five. They identify with girl cartoon and Disney characters as much as boy ones. The three-year-old really wants to be Elsa from Frozen.
He’s connected some dots lately, too, asking his mum, “Mama, do you have a pee-pee?” Mama says Nope – she has a vagina. “A jina?”
Hmmm. Well, mama looks more like Elsa, so Elsa must have a jina. I want to be Elsa, so… I have a jina! This little boy is now announcing to strangers that he has a “jina”. Sometimes he also tells them that he is a dragon, and sometimes he goes up to his dad and says, “pow pow!” and pretends he’s fired a gun at his dad. It’s called magical thinking, which is a normal part of childhood.
Yet today, these mums are under pressure to consider that their boys might now or at some later point need genital tuckers, transition care, hormones and perhaps sex reassignment surgery. If they’re not open to taking “I have a jina” seriously – it might be because they are ‘transphobic’, which is kind of like being a fascist.
That’s odd: all these mums are doing is responsibly refusing to reinforce the idea that “playing with dolls is an indication that you must be a girl, or that liking football and having short hair is proof that you are a boy”. Second wave feminism alerted us to the problems of socialising children according to gender norms from earliest childhood – so many parents now either consciously avoid this, or simply see a little boy wanting to wear a dress as unremarkable.
One source of the current pressure on parents of schoolchildren comes from well-intended organisations like Rainbow Youth. I recently to went to a Wellington community education class in which a conversation sparked between a group of women about their teenagers. One woman discussed how her 14-year-old daughter has started saying she might be a boy. Her ex-boyfriend recently transitioned, and now goes by a female name. They’d been involved with Rainbow Youth, an organisation that runs gender education programmes in schools.
What is gender?
That idea is fantastic. I wish I had learned more about gender, throughout the pressure-cooker of high school, and I’m glad for what I’ve since learned. Looking at Rainbow Youth’s website though, is troubling: they teach young people that gender is an identity, a spectrum, and an internal state. That flies in the face of neuroscience, which says there is no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain. It flies in the face of feminist teaching, which has long said the same. Sarah Grimké wrote back in 1837:
Intellect is not sexed;… strength of mind is not sexed… our views about the duties of men and the duties of women, the sphere of man and the sphere of woman, are mere arbitrary opinions, differing in different ages and countries, and dependent solely on the will and judgment of erring mortals.
Yet the Rainbow Youth site says that gender identity is the gender a person feels themselves to be.
Gender refers to how you identify, someone can identify as male, female, in between, both, or neither. Gender identity can be influenced by culture, feelings, thoughts, clothing, people around us, and more. It can be helpful to think of gender as a continuum, with male and female at either end. Our ideas, and social constructs influence what male and female at either end of the spectrum look like, and you can identify any where in between.
As Rebecca Reilly-Cooper writes in a must-read essay, the question of gender “cuts to the very heart of feminist theory and practice”. According to feminists, gender does not stem from “inside” us.
Gender refers to the externally imposed set of norms that prescribe and proscribe desirable behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary characteristics.
Not only are these norms external to the individual and coercively imposed, but they also represent a binary caste system or hierarchy, a value system with two positions: maleness above femaleness, manhood above womanhood, masculinity above femininity. Individuals are born with the potential to perform one of two reproductive roles, determined at birth, or even before, by the external genitals that the infant possesses. From then on, they will be inculcated into one of two classes in the hierarchy: the superior class if their genitals are convex, the inferior one if their genitals are concave.
From birth, and the identification of sex-class membership that happens at that moment, most female people are raised to be passive, submissive, weak and nurturing, while most male people are raised to be active, dominant, strong and aggressive.
So gender is a social construct, and a hierarchical binary. According to Andrea Dworkin, this hierarchy is damaging because it sanctions rape, as it suggests “that women were put on this earth for the use, pleasure, and sexual gratification of men”.
That holds up. Feminist historian Gerda Lerner shows how women were in fact the first form of private property. Patriarchy was created when men began to treat women’s bodies that way, through rape, trade and enslavement. Still today, women actually do two thirds of the world’s work – yet part of the reason why women own only 1% of the world’s wealth, why poverty is gendered, why there are pay gaps – is because the world we live in deems women to be sex objects.
Still now, the state, the military, police force, finance, industry and technology are all dominated by men, while 98% of sex trafficking victims are women; 80% of people used in prostitution are women. Sex trafficking generates men U.S.$32 billion a year; pornography about US$97.06 billion, which is more than the combined revenue of the top 10 web technology companies combined. An average of 15 million girls each year are forced into marriage. In New Zealand, 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, while only 13% of cases reported to the justice system designed and dominated by men, result in a conviction.
That’s all a result of the binary gender hierarchy that grants men entitlement to women’s bodies. To say that gender is in fact a matter of individual, personal identification – is individualism, neoliberalism on speed. As Aoife Assumpta Hart, a 41-year-old trans woman critical of transgender ideology, says: “You can’t identify your way out of your body. Genderism is a myth that suggests that’s possible.”
Children as young as three years old are being assessed for gender dysphoria by anxious parents at the growing number of transgender youth clinics around the Western world.
Children as young as five are being affirmed as the opposite sex and fully socially transitioned into the identity of the opposite sex.
Children as young as 6 are being provided with genitalia tuckers for natal boys and penis prostheses for natal girls, reinforcing the child’s dissociation with their own body from a very early age.
In Britain, there is interest growing in allowing people to legally define their own gender. This in a climate of extreme censorship on the part of trans activism:
reinforced by threats, doxxing, accusations of bigotry, accusations of murder, and smear campaigns affecting any medical professional, mental health professional, journalist, parent, or educator that would dare to question these practices.
This despite the fact that the movement is both an ideological and a medical experiment.
Tanveer Mann has reported that in the U.K., more and more girls “are being abused through the horrific practice of breast ironing,” which stunts breast growth using hot pressing irons – large heated stones, hammers or spatulas. Wealthier families use a belt to stunt growth.
At the same time, one brave mum has published an open letter to her daughter on The Guardian. The American College of Pediatricians has issued an important statement about the ways in which gender ideology harms children. After all, preaching that gender is an internal experience can actually “work to set in stone for the child a sense of identity which is split off from the body, to condition the child into a mind-body disconnect which is an indicator for mental ill-health”. A Princeton professor has stated that transgenderism, the idea “that a woman can be trapped inside a man’s body” is actually a “superstitious belief”, with no basis in medical fact.
The ideology is also counterproductive to feminism’s fight for women’s liberation. Though many who subscribe to transgender ideology say they hate the gender binary, many also invest in it heavily – literally spending thousands of hours and dollars to better align with its norms. Julie Bindel asks:
Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?
The trauma of gender ideals
Thankfully, it’s okay these days to question the habitual prescription of pharmaceuticals to children when they suffer from what are really societal ills. Ken Robinson has delivered a fantastic talk in which he challenges the legitimacy of diagnoses like ADHD in the context of a clearly broken education system.
Don’t mistake me, I don’t mean to say there is no such thing as ADHD… it’s still a matter of debate. What I do know for a fact, is it’s not an epidemic. These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out, and on the same whimsical basis and for the same reason: medical fashion… it’s a fictitious epidemic.
Depression, anxiety and “affluenza” are also routinely medicated while analysed as stemming from capitalism, and these social analyses are important. They help us face social ills at the root, and stop us from reacting to them by simply medicating ourselves, ushering in the Brave New World. They give us real hope, encourage social change, and discourage self-blame. After all, as Jiddu Krishnamurti says, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.
As one writer asks,
If I chose to ignore the expectations and limitations that patriarchy has socially constructed for me because of my body, I have to ask myself if this makes me no longer female… does it mean I am in the wrong body? Or does it mean that patriarchy is wrong about what a female person can be, look like, act like, take interest in?
We already know about many ways the gender system harms the inner life of young people. Young women are increasingly pressured to do things like study pornography, to keep up with the expectations placed on them. There is even research suggesting that while boys and men watch pornography more than women do, women are more likely to watch violent pornography like gang rape. They get there by trying to understand and stay at the “cutting edge” of what’s expected of them as a social class. Anxiety, self-harm, bulimia and anorexia are very common female responses to this kind of gender socialisation.
Moira Fleming is a long time anorexia sufferer, who asks the pertinent question: why is transgender an identity, but anorexia a disorder? Fleming says they share a basis in arising as a response to gender norms. She says:
The contradictory desire in transgenderism is similar in hopelessness as the desire in anorexia. The goal is to be thin, and one is never thin enough until one is dead. The goal is to be a sex other than one’s biological makeup, and one cannot alter one’s chromosomes and genetic makeup.
Cari, a 22-year-old woman who previously identified as a trans man, would agree. While in transition care, she experienced some trauma-related sex dysphoria that her therapist did not explore. She consistently felt that her options were either: “transition now, transition later, or live your life unhappy/commit suicide”. She now thinks she was mislead, and that there should be significant attempts to eliminate other conditions involved in dysphoria before assisting people to transition, saying “there needs to be a standard of care that includes ruling out less invasive forms of treatment”. While for a small group of people sex reassignment has a positive impact, Cari has now found that there have been other ways for her to come to terms with her body and its memory of trauma, that transitioning didn’t provide.
Another post on Destroy Your Binder examines the transitioning of women as a form of self-harm, like anorexia.
Through my attempts at masculinization I literally harmed myself. Physically, I bound my breasts, and I policed and minimized my eating… I restricted my natural movements and behaviors, I attempted to amputate my own emotions, I cut myself off from sexual and romantic relationships, I damaged my relationships to other women.
I thought I was becoming more like a man. I thought I was expressing my real self.
But I get it now. The inner truth that I needed others to see wasn’t a male brain, wasn’t a male identity, wasn’t some essential male soul. The truth I needed others to see was that being female in this society fucking hurts.
Studies also show alarming correlations between transgenderism, homophobia and gay eugenics, which presumes homosexuality to be a sign that a person requires corrective medical intervention. Reports show that “Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks.” Homosexuals are already forced into sex reassignment surgery in Iran. (This article is a must read on this topic).
Socialisation and privilege
42-year-old Helen Highwater is a trans woman who still celebrates the day she began taking hormones as her birthday. Yet she has become critical of the idea that “trans women are women“, calling it a “vicious lie“, saying it primes trans women for failure, disappointment, and cognitive dissonance. She says:
I lived 40 years trying to live as a bloke. I’ve not experienced the things women have experienced. I’ve not been brought up that way. So why on earth would I want to claim that I’m a woman as much as any other woman? To me, it no longer makes any sense. What seems to be a much more honest approach is: ‘I am an adult human male who has suffered with a level of sex dysphoria for whatever reason for decades, and have now got to the point where I’ve had to make a social transition.’
What Highwater is pointing out is that socialisation is what makes men and women think differently. There is much research on the effect of gender socialisation on the mind and behaviour, including on how repeated practices like porn-watching affect the brain like a drug. So the suggestion has also been made that there could be something quintessentially male – because of how men are socialised – about claiming the right to women’s identity. This comes from a woman who was married to a man who transitioned:
To decide that you can have anything you want, and to just take it, even if it’s very the identity of a set of people with whom you cannot, by definition, identify with, is a very masculine idea. It’s an idea that male privilege absolutely primes one for.
…To decide to wear a bra, when you aren’t on hormones and don’t have breasts, is a very masculine idea. As if women wear bras to make us feel like women, and not because we have breasts that gravity is taking its toll on… Only men have this interest in bras.
…To refuse to listen to or empathize with women (about a topic on which they are the sole experts, no less) is a very masculine behaviour.
…To threaten suicide if you don’t get your way is a very masculine idea. Ask any woman who has experienced the aftermath of leaving an insecure man, fending off a stalker or seeking a restraining order.
To colonize spaces where you aren’t welcome is a very masculine idea. Women don’t want to do this. Women can’t do this.
Jesse, a man who once claimed to be a woman, would agree with this. Like Cari, he also found that transitioning did not meet expectations. Jesse concedes that “I’m never going to truly know what it’s like to be a woman”. He bravely states,
It’s bending biological facts out of recognition if you try to make ‘female’ into some flexible category that anyone can fit into, just ’cause they feel that way inside. It’s also truly insulting. If you do that, you’re saying the oppression of women isn’t a thing at all, because anyone can be a woman; anyone can opt in and out.
He also talks about the women he met while identifying as one himself.
They were great people. They were generous, and kind, and accepting. But you know why? Because women have been told they have to be that way, ever since they were little girls and someone tells them to share, and to not be unladylike, and to be polite and not be loud or difficult.
He then advises boys and men considering transition:
You want to act like a woman? Start by being a decent human. Respect people’s boundaries. Respect their need for space and their experience of oppression, which you will never truly understand. Yes, trans people are an oppressed minority, and yes, the prejudice you’ve experienced overlaps in some ways with the way our culture treats women, but it is not the same, and please get it out of your head that it’s worse.
Julie Burchill adds that:
In a world where millions of people, especially ‘cis-gendered’ women, are not free to choose who they marry, what they eat or whether or not their genitals are cut off and sewn up with barbed wire when they are still babies, “choosing your gender” is uniquely for the privileged.
The transgender movement is pressuring all women to call themselves “cis“, as a marker of privilege, based on its interpretation of what it means to be a woman. Are we allowing men to “mansplain” womanhood to us? As one feminist blogger reflects,
I saw women being told that cis privilege entailed wanting to wear the clothes that were created for their gender. I bristled at that – when did I ever say I wanted to wear impractical, uncomfortable clothes? Jeans with no bloody pockets big enough to fit more than a dainty ring in? Dresses with no pockets whatsoever. Uncomfortable underwear, shoes that are designed to make walking as uncomfortable and difficult as possible. Sorry, no dice. I consider the clothing I’m expected to wear a mark of my subjugation and oppression, not a privilege… How can it be feminist to say, moreover, that these clothes are natural to women, rather than a tool that is used to mark us out as the silly, trivial, appearance-obsessed, only here for decoration, creatures that we are?
Moira Fleming, who relates transgenderism to her struggle with anorexia, questions the language policing – like the insistence all women refer to themselves as “cis” – that is characteristic of the movement.
But language policing, the implication that by misusing a pronoun we are savaging a person’s very core, is untenable. Using “he” instead of “she” may very well hurt someone’s feelings, but that is a level of sensitivity on par with agoraphobia (fear of crowded or enclosed public spaces). The onus is on the person to find ways of coping. The world cannot be responsible for validating a confusing, opaque issue that has been too quickly transferred from “disorder” to “condition,” from irrational to heroic.
Emotional blackmail appears to be part and parcel of this political ideology (alongside extreme censorship), as well as being reported on an interpersonal basis. One article discusses how a sixteen-year-old girl was advised to buy women’s panties for her brother so that he wouldn’t steal hers, with the line “transgender people kill themselves for less”.
This article illustrates how transgenderism can be connected to autogynephilia, the condition that sees men aroused by wearing women’s clothing. It’s of course not the only reason why men might transition, but perhaps the oversexualisation of women in society “makes literally possessing womanhood the most intimate way of “getting inside” a woman, or purely embodying sex, as it were.”
This makes sense, as a condition arising from the gender system that deems women to be sex objects. It’s also consistent with how many – not all – transitoned men are performing womanhood. After Bruce Jenner transitioned to Caitlyn and won a woman of the year award for courage, he said that the hardest thing about being a woman was deciding what to wear each day. One article discusses how this “hypersexual trans movement hurts feminism”:
Vanity Fair set about showing us that Jenner is truly a woman. They did it by painting precisely the pinup we teach our daughters to reject as their central aspiration. The sexual objectification of trans women is used as proof of their womanness, but the sexual objectification of non-trans women is considered demeaning because it associates their primary worth in relation to male desire. Being oppressed by men is being oppressed by men, even if those men are wearing dresses.
…These carpet-baggers to womanhood are trying to prove to all of us that what it really means to be a woman is to pose in a playboy bunny outfit and make kissy faces at men. They reinforce this idea to teenage girls: go put on the miniskirt, honey, celebrate Jenner’s beauty, and try to exemplify it in your own life. Make sure the boys think you’re pretty. And also make sure to recognize and check your privilege as a person whose womanhood, unlike Jenner’s, is never questioned. You don’t even have to fight for it.
So while resistance to this movement and its lobbying is justified, Marlborough Girls’ College quickly responded to a petition requesting that boys who are trans be allowed to use female bathrooms, since a student expressed dissatisfaction using gender neutral bathrooms. A North Carolina newspaper told girls to attempt “overcoming discomfort” at the sight of “male genitalia” under transgender bathroom laws.
The trans lobby claims that women’s fear of abuse from transitioned men is irrational stigma – but it is not. There is nothing to suggest that men who claim a female identity are safer than any other man, and bathrooms are separated for safety. There are plenty of reports of the “bathroom bill” being abused, and, if gender is a feeling – doesn’t that mean that any man can use a women’s bathroom or changing room when he feels like it?
Female sexual assault victims have spoken out against the bathroom bills. One Washington woman was abused as a child inside a locker room, when her mother dropped her off for swimming classes. Another states:
I am not saying that transgender people are predators. Not by a long shot. What I am saying is that there are countless deviant men in this world who will pretend to be transgender as a means of gaining access to the people they want to exploit, namely women and children. It already happens.
There have also been multiple sex abuse cases involving men who are transgender, which is no surprise. The rate of violence against women committed by males is the same, whether those males identify as women or not. The violence is the same.
In South Carolina, Tennent Brown (known as Katheryn) is serving a life sentence for rape and murder and now seeking a taxpayer-funded sex change, saying given the chance, he would have “dressed in a cream coloured Chanel skirt-suit with a pair of 4 1/2-inch spike heel Jimmy Choos and make-up” for his trial.
I truly believe my outward appearance does not match or correspond with my inner self. But as a female I would be a complete and productive member of society because I would be comfortable in my own skin.
Other reports of sexual assault cases include Davina Ayrton being convicted of raping a teenager at Portsmouth Crown Court; Gina Owen of child sex abuse; Julie Fialkowski was charged with rape and strangulation of a minor in Virginia (a blogger has compiled a list of forty convicted individuals here).
The push for men to realise their “entitlement” to women’s identity and women’s spaces is seeing events like Bruce Jenner winning woman of the year, or mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox, a man who is transgender, regularly overpowering female opponents and making the battering women his profession. After suffering a concussion and a broken eye socket, one of Fox’s female opponents, Tamikka Brents, said,
I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because [he] was born a man or not, because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life, and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.
Pia de Solenni warns that we should “beware of ‘trans movement’ as patriarchy in disguise”. She says that
Rather than a civil rights issue, I would argue that the bathroom wars indicate that we’re entering an entirely new phase of patriarchy which declares victory every time it destroys a safe space for women, including bathrooms, fitting rooms, locker rooms, and so on.
One way that men who are transgender are insisting on entering women’s spaces is by undermining the distinctions between men and women biologically, to eliminate them legally. There is a drive towards de-gendering references to female genitalia, menstruation, pregnancy and abortion. This will ultimately legally erase women, which would not harm men, since law has always be written for and by men in their interest. It would harm the women already fighting for greater, not lesser, visibility.
A society in which biological sex is no longer recognized “would be a terrifying society for a lot of women and girls… they would have the experience of being exposed to and being essentially forced to expose themselves to biologically male individuals in settings that were previously separated by sex” like locker rooms. This could increase the risk of sexual assault and voyeurism… and also violate people’s sense of privacy.
This political movement already actively prevents women from gathering for safety, support or protest without prioritising the voices of men who say they have become women, because they say they are women and their oppression is worse.
The other problem for women caused by the concept of gender identity is that it becomes difficult or impossible to name biological sex as an axis of oppression when people can supposedly choose to be any sex they want to be.
Women are not oppressed based on our identities, we are oppressed on the basis of our female biology; for example, in situations where our fertility is controlled by men (in forced marriage, laws against abortion, etc) and in situations where we are sexually exploited (in human trafficking, rape and incest, etc).
What will challenge the gender system is feminist movement. Challenging pornography, challenging pimps, misogyny, child marriage, violence against women, rape culture. When pimps – like Wellington’s Chow brothers – can no longer operate their brothels, we will begin to see a reduction in trafficking, in the objectification of women, a humanisation of society’s perceptions of women, a greater recognition of women’s work, and an undermining of historic gender binaries.
Some final words from feminist blogger Week Woman.
I will not say that I identify with the womanhood that has been enforced on me since the day I was born.
I do not identify with being silent
I do not identify with being pink
I do not identify with being soft
I do not identify with being scared
I do not identify with being weak
I do not identify with being submissive
I do not identify with being irrational
I do not identify with being hysterical
I do not identify with being bad at maths
I do not identify with being unintelligent
I do not identify with being followed
I do not identify with being grabbed
I do not identify with being assaulted
I do not identify with being raped
I do not identify with being inferior
I do not identify with being a woman as society has created it.
I do not identify as cis. I am not cis. I am a woman trying to fight with every fibre of my being against everything that my “gender identity” tells me to be. Woman as defined by society is not my gender identity. My gender identity is fuck this oppressive bullshit, and let me be a human fucking being.
With thanks to Women’s Liberation Front.
Do Youth Transgender Diagnoses Put Would Be Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adults at Risk for Unnecessary Medical Intervention?
Libby Emmons and David Marcus, How the hypersexual trans movement hurts feminism
Jennifer Duncan, Why I won’t accept the politics of gender identity
Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, The idea that gender is a spectrum is a new gender prison