Feminism & Gender

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Feminism & Gender

International Transgender Day of Visibility as the Political gets Personal

For Trans People, the Personal is getting very Political

If the personal is political, then being trans has certainly become overly politicised in the last few months. Most transgender people just want to get on with their lives, not poke their heads above the parapet and be overtly public each Transgender Day of Visibility (#TDOV). 2014 was called the  “transgender tipping point” and 2015 the year of transgender visibility, but 2017-18 is fast becoming the year of the war on women and trans.

Sex Wars and Gender Recognition

The Gender Recognition Act (2004) aided that for some but not for all since it was not relevant to many transitioning people being mainly a requirement for pre-Equal, well Same-Sex anyway, marriage legal innovation. It is now front and centre of the new battle within feminism(s), the so-called “War on Women”, discussion of who or what is a woman, access to single-sex spaces and support services, and updates to the GRA.

“United We Stand, Divided We Fall”

We divide and misrule at our peril. Surely, to stand on the right side of history is to be on the side of progress towards human rights for all, not resisting them. Fourth-wave feminism understands intersectionality and trans sisters far more inclusively than second-wave feminism. This unfortunate fight is as much a battle within feminisms as it is between genders. Interestingly, just 59% of Mumsnet users call themselves feminists yet many have joined the trans resistance, i.e., are resisting the extension of gender-identity rights.

That said, there are peaceful cooperative ways to discuss legal provisions among those that are affected by the laws. Though, to be honest, since the majority of trans people don’t even bother with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and have been accessing the most appropriate spaces and services to their gender or stage of transition for years, it hasn’t been a ‘problem’ until now. Equally, over half-a-dozen countries have introduced gender self-ID since 2012 to no known problems.

The UK seems to be unique in perceiving it as a massive attack upon the rights of and risks towards women. It is also tearing the Labour Party apart, much as the current discussion of alleged anti-semitism within it is. The vitriol of calling both trans activists and ‘TERF’s (see below) ‘Fascists’ is laughable since the majority of those fighting each other are Socialists, Marxists, and generally people on the Left of British politics, several of whom have been suspended or ejected from the Labour Party over this issue.

Who or What is a woman, BBC, 30 Jan 2018
BBC ‘Who, or what, defines you as a woman?’ Featuring Katy Jon Went and Linda Bellos

Visible Transgender History

One vocal opponent (aka ‘TERF’ or a Radical Feminist who opposes the inclusion of trans women in female spaces and a term considered a slur by them despite its reasonably accurate abbreviated description) said this week that “Transgenderism wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist 30 years ago.”

That is akin to the Australian MP, Bob Katter, who recently claimed that LGBTI people had only been around for 60 years.

The willful ignorance of the history of transgender, third gender, and gender non-conforming individuals, is astonishing here. Not to mention, the nearly 50-years-ago trans-washing of the Stonewall riots (1969) and the numerous trans women and transvestites involved in protesting police violence and state criminalisation of LGBT people. 

“people have been crossing gender boundaries for millennia and in all kinds of civilisations” – Christine Burns, History Today

All of these transgender people (a third of whom are trans men) and thousands more clearly existed 30 years ago and had surgeries more than 40 years ago:

Lili Elbe (1882-1931), Alan L. Hart (1890-1962), Michael Dillon (1915-1962), Roberta Cowell (1918-2011), Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989), Jan Morris (1926-), Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy aka Coccinelle (1931-2006), Renée Richards (1934-), April Ashley (1935-), Lou Sullivan (1951-91), Caroline Cossey (1954-), Stephen Whittle (1955-). 

Medical Research & Mutual Respect

“Respectful, calm debate is necessary. How society and medicine deal with gender requires critical review in terms of the potential for unintended harms, even if there are no easy answers.” – Dr Margaret McCartney: Medicine must do better on gender, BMJ

Ongoing research is clearly needed and continues to show a biological/nature more than social/nurture origin of gender identity without it being a question of respecting people’s self-identity, whether part of gender dysphoria or not – something I struggled with for years

“Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity. Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity. Although the specific mechanisms guiding the biological underpinnings of gender identity are not entirely understood, there is evolving consensus that being transgender is not a mental health disorder.” – Endocrine Society

We sorely need a message of mutual respect and inclusion not trans exclusion, but the way it is being discussed in a verbally violent polarised way is making it a debate about people’s identity, human rights, legal protections (I admit these go both ways within the EA, but not the GRA) and making it seem as if trans women don’t care about natal women’s rights to freedom from abuse.

We should be fighting abuse together

Violence towards women is something that should not be projected onto the vast majority of trans women as if it were some kind of demonising 1980s homosexual moral panic.

We need to fight and protect against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (DASV) together not apart.

The majority of the victims are indeed women (including trans women) and the majority of the perpetrators are men – 90% of whom are known to victims, so the idea of ‘stranger danger’ and men using female self-identity to access women’s safe spaces is an extreme rarity and not indicative of real trans lives. 

Transgender Day of Visibility TDOV
Transgender Day of Visibility TDOV, 31 March #TDOV2018
Feminism & Gender

Norwich Reclaim the Night – Fighting for Safer Streets not Infighting

The third Norwich Reclaim the Night took place on International Women’s Day 2018, spearheaded by UEA students and young intersectional and international feminists. It was inclusive of trans and non-binary people, as well as men, focusing on safety for all not gender. Sex worker freedom from violence, intimidation and harassment was also signposted. This was feminism for all without any infighting or exclusion.

Rallying talks and emotive poetry (all with content warnings) raised the issues of violence against women, of “Yellow Peril” racism on the streets, of domestic and sexual abuse, of hate crimes, and of the need to take back and create safe streets for all. The evening began with a talk about Leeway domestic violence and abuse services and also fundraised for the,.

“Many marches are women-only and sadly some groups have discriminated against trans participants… We came out to show that Norwich is no longer a place where you can be harmed or discriminated against for the colour of your skin, your faith, gender, sex, nationality or sexual orientation.” – UEA event organising group

March chants – and Poppy Rose was in good voice, included:

“Love, not hate
Makes Norwich great!”

and 

“Claim our bodies
Claim our right
Make a stand
Take back the night!”

Norwich Reclaim the Night marchers 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Norwich Reclaim the Night marchers 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went

The march of some 50-plus people was one of solidarity, safety, and sensitivity, looking after the welfare of everyone involved, several of whom spoke of surviving sexual abuse or other forms of harassment. 

Spanish feminist solidarity at Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Spanish feminist solidarity at Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went

A number of young Spanish feminists found the event on Facebook, and were surprised more wasn’t happening on International Women’s Day whilst reflecting with sadness that they weren’t home in Spain during its first nationwide feminist strike of some 5 million women.

During the march, some dozen men on the streets asked me what it was about – there was no mockery but positive approval. Women standing in the queue for nightclubs gave us whoop-whoops as we passed, a couple of times cars honked their horns in solidarity.

As an invited speaker, for the second year running, I was loathed to draw attention to the issues of trans people, particularly trans women, and especially on #IWD, but current media headlines necessitated it and it was a safe place to do so given how inclusive an event the organising team had made it.

Here’s what I had to say:

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018 speech

“Reclaim the night is an annual march … intended to reclaim bodily autonomy and space that is often stolen from us by gendered and sexual violence”
Or so says CUSU.
 
Student-organised Reclaim the Nights tend to be women and non-binary, and male allies and victims inclusive – many don’t even mention trans inclusivity as it’s taken for granted that trans women would be included in women.
 
Meanwhile, “London Reclaim The Night is a women-only march.” and and some groups within the London Feminist Network have actively organised against trans or sex worker inclusivity.
 
Manchester, Brighton, and happily Norwich etc are all trans inclusive.
 
“All genders welcome. This is a sex-worker inclusive event, and we actively advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work. This is also an explicitly trans inclusive march. Given the chequered history of Reclaim the Night elsewhere in the country, we consider this vital to state clearly, and to do all we can to challenge the worrying rise of so-called radical feminism” – Brighton
The UEA-led Norwich Reclaim the Night proclaims “let’s make Norwich safe for everyone” 
 
Trans people are no safer on the streets than cis gender women, creating safe spaces on our streets, at our workplaces, in our homes (where 90% of DASV occurs among people we know, ie not stranger violence) is about protecting the vulnerable and policing the aggressors, not stereotyping and dividing down overly-simplistic/reductionist gendered lines. 
 
Solidarity, inclusivity, and intersectionality should be with all victims of violence and gender-based oppression. 
 
We should be fighting oppression, arm-in-arm, not fighting each other.
 
Artist and friend, Katherine Gilmartin, says:
 
“Boss babes see one another fighting for not with other women and systems.”
One Billion Rising, International Women’s Day and Reclaim the Night are all occasions when I prefer to emphasise women and girls and not draw attention to trans specific issues, but the current heat on trans women makes it unavoidable.
 
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Reclaim the Night. Photo by Helen Burrows
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Reclaim the Night. Photo by Helen Burrows

It is claimed that trans women mark the same level of risk to cisgender women as cisgender men do when in fact they are themselves at a higher risk of some types of abuse and attack (and ironically trans women as perpetrators of extreme violence pose a greater risk to men rather than women!)

 
This debate has not moved on in a year and trans women remain under fire for “Not being real women”. It’s time for all women, all minorities and/or oppressed to stand together for equality, human rights and mutual respect. It’s #PressforProgress not regress.
 
Reclaim the Night and Take Back the Night began in the late 1970s, a time when women and LGBT people had been standing side by side to advance gay rights and women’s rights. 1970s American lesbian radical feminists embraced their trans sisters until the 1979 publication of Janice Raymond’s Transexual Empire and attacks on Sandy Stone. Now it appears some women and media muck-rakers are trying to take us back to the 70s! 
 
It’s an age-old war fast becoming an old age war. It is dividing feminists of one generation from feminists of the next. It is defeating our common aims of reducing violence and oppression because we are divided against ourselves. 
 
Today has been used by a number of feminists as an opportunity to leave the Labour Party en masse for its defence and inclusion of trans women (in accordance with equality laws).

Transgender activists and the real war on women, Judith Green, The Spectator, 8 March 2018

The first attack, I mean “free speech debate”, that I saw in the media was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day and was by Judith Green of A Women’s Place UK calling it “transgender activists and the real war on women“.

I would have thought that the real war on women was from Boko Haram, Saudi Arabia, FGM, everyday sexism and stereotyping, Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and
 
TimesUp, Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
TimesUp, Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went

Not from a handful of trans people who in almost equal numbers now are traversing the gender divide and leaving biological birth essentialist determinism behind thus showing that neither the gender construct nor birth lottery need define you. Surely, that IS feminism?

We are stronger together than tearing each other apart. I am proud and pleased that the April WOW festival in Norwich, like Reclaim the Night, is trans and non-binary inclusive, male allies and victims of abuse and gender role oppression also.
 
It is time we stood together, 
it is time we rise up together, and
it is time we marched together, 
 
to reclaim the media high ground, 
to reclaim our study and workplaces, and
to reclaim the day and the night as sisters diverse but not divided!
 
For united we stand, divided we fall. 
Safe streets for women, trans and all!
 

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Norwich Reclaim the Night 2018. Photo © Katy Jon Went
Feminism & Gender

One Billion Rising, Norwich rises up to say Time’s Up on VAWG & DASV

[There are no apologies for what follows, on a day such as this, these things need to be called out, trigger warnings of statistics of abuse but no details of abuse]

Norwich Rising (EDP report), in its sixth year, is a part of One Billion Rising, founded by Eve Ensler in 2012 and celebrated usually on 14 February to combat and end violence against women and girls. In 1998, the V-day (Victory, Valentine & Vagina) movement grew out of her Vagina Monologues performances and a campaign to support domestic violence shelters and agencies. Art and activism come together to support female victims of abuse.

What follows is the text of my speech at the event. As someone born male, but now transitioned, and having been in both some amazing relationships and some abusive ones, I am always both honoured and ashamed to be invited to speak at these events. Honoured to be included, ashamed of what (mostly) men have done to women.

That these ‘Rising’ events take place on Valentine’s Day serves to remind us that not all love is loving; that on this day some people would be better off leaving rather than staying in their relationships, and that so much ‘romanticism’ can be coercive control especially when used with ill intent to prey upon the vulnerable.

Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Rising. Photo by Ann Nicholls
Katy Jon Went speaking at Norwich Rising. Photo by Ann Nicholls

Text of Speech

Just walking up to the Norwich Rising event I overheard two guys describing a woman as a fat pussy. When we reduce people to their body parts, we dehumanise them and make abuse easier.
 
This last year has been the year of Donald Trump and pussy hat women’s marches, the year of the #MeToo movement against abuse in the movies and media industry and the likes Harvey Weinstein, the year of the Presidents Club charity dinner for sexist dinosaurs, and just this week the boasting of the Philippine President of how he ordered the shooting of female rebels in the vagina because without one, women are useless. 
 
It’s also been the week of ongoing revelations in the charity sector, of Oxfam’s workers sexual exploitation in Haiti and other humanitarian agencies admitting similar; up to 10% of female workers abroad had been sexually assaulted or witnessed abuse. Even at home, there a 6 allegations a year of abuse in Oxfam shops. 
 
Every year we have events like this, we get asked “What about the men?” Yes they get abused, raped and killed too, but not nearly in the same quantity or severity. Of course we want to end violence and abuse against all people, by people of all genders. The reality, though, is that 3x as many women as men are killed in domestic situations. A third of the men are also killed by men and another third by women who had been abused by men. 15x more men than women are convicted of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is massive, over a million women a year, 10% of all recorded crime, but only 10% are prosecuted, fewer still convicted. Half of women in prison are themselves the victims of domestic violence.
 
People aren’t born abusers, they witness, repeat, and learn sexism from media stereotypes and scenes of graphic sexual exploitation and violence. We need to educate now not later in life. Consent and respect classes for pupils reduced rape offending rates by half in Kenya.
 
The UK government just closed its consultation on the sex education – whilst the opt out is all but gone the way it is taught remains a grey area. It should be compulsory and standardised in all schools. It should not have taken till now to be teaching better attitudes to all, without exception.
 
It may be Valentine’s Day but 75% of femicide murders are committed by current and former heterosexual partners, 75% in their own home and 90% by someone they knew. “Stranger danger” is rare. Nationally, nearly 200 domestic abuse victims are turned away from refuges each day. It’s time to fund services not cut them.
 
It’s also been a year of challenge to trans women and whether they present a risk to women’s safe spaces. Of 4 support services I’ve spoken to in this region they are all trans supportive but also risk assess all service users and workers.
 
Yes, 12 transgender spectrum people committed murders over the last decade, 7 victims were male, 4 female, and 1 was a trans on trans killing. Men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of transgender perpetrators of serious violence. Trans people are disproportionately likely to be victims. 
 
We can all twist statistics, and these figures mask different degrees of abuse, but 1 in 5 men face abuse within relationships, 1 in 4 LGB, 1 in 3 women, 1 in 2 trans people (mostly female-identified), but every one is one too many. Hashtag #TimesUp.
 
It is time to stop violence against women and girls be it domestic, sexual coercion and violence, or ritualistic FGM. Misogyny, molestation, mutilation and murder of women and girls must stop. 
 
Don’t send a card for Valentine’s, send a message – NO MORE violence or abuse.
 
I’ll end by quoting just two verses from the intersectional poem against sexism and racism by Maya Angelou:
 
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Hugs by Ann Nicholls
‘Shared hugs’ by Ann Nicholls

 

 

Feminism & Gender

Gender, LGBTQ, BME, Disability – MPs Diversity in General Election 2017

Representation in UK Parliament

Just how representative of the UK population as a whole were prospective parliamentary candidates and elected MPs in terms of gender, sexuality, disability, religion and colour/race/ethnicity? 97 new MPs joined the house, and Ken Clarke MP was re-elected as its oldest member and Father of the House. It is well known that, hitherto, the UK had the most LGB ‘out’ Parliament in the world, but not the most gender balanced, how has that changed after Theresa May‘s snap general election?

Gender | LGBT+ | BAME | Disability | Religion | Education | Summary

Gender: Female MPs compared to Male MPs

2017 sees 208 female Members of Parliament, up from 191 in 2015 (196 after by-elections). There were many seats where both the main candidates standing were female. 29% of candidates were women, 32% of those elected were – both records for the UK but not the world.

We were 46th in the world tables, we are now 39th. Guess who is first? Rwanda with 61% women, second is Bolivia with 53%. All others are less than 50%. Sweden (#6), Finland (#9), and Norway (#12=) are the top European nations, all Scandinavian. The first Western European nation is Spain at 14th and Belgium at 19th. Germany is 22nd but France 63rd! At this rate, 2062 would see gender balance in the UK Parliament. 

Labour fielded 40% women, the Green Party 35% (statistically, of course, 100% of their MPs are female!), UKIP had 13%. Of those elected, there is wide variation among the political parties. Labour have 45% (119) and their leader in Scotland but never England (except as caretaker). Meanwhile, there are just 21% (67) among Conservative MPs despite a history of two Prime Ministers and their leader in Scotland. 

Interesting that the DUP, the Conservatives in Scotland, and the Tories in England and Wales are all led by right-wing women, one of whom is anti-gay, another is gay, and another shifted to same-sex equality (through persuasion by a female LibDem MP) after a prior voting and campaigning record against it. Being a woman, it seems, is little impediment to political power in the UK. Indeed, add in Plaid Cymru, SNP, and for two weeks, even UKIP, only Labour (England and Wales) and LibDems haven’t been led by a woman.

Being female is no guarantee that one will hold pro-equality, pro-LGBT views. We now have a triumvirate of female-led parties forming a “confidence and supply” alliance to keep the Tories in power that may be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

LGBTIQ Sexuality & Gender Identity

With 45 openly LGB MPs (19 Tory, 19 Labour, 7 SNP) that’s also a record and 6 up from 2015 – at 6.9% that’s close to the supposed 6% openly LGB numbers in the population (much higher among young people, of course). None among the 12 LibDems, though their female MPs balance at 4 out of 12 is somewhat restored.

Seven Trans and two Non-Binary candidates stood (just 4 in 2015, so, more than doubling) but none were elected, several have stood in council elections before. Eddie Izzard continues to hint that he may stand as an MP.

UK LGB MPs are the highest proportion anywhere in the world. We have the most rainbow Parliament – quite an affront to the homophobic DUP with whom 19 LGB Tory MPs may now have to do electoral business with.

Since 4.5% of the people standing for election (147/3304) were openly LGBTQ, it means that LGB candidates are up to 1.5x more likely to win. Tories and Labour had 7% LGBT candidates, SNP 17% and 20% of their elected MPs, despite reduced numbers. Surprisingly, only 2% of Greens (same as UKIP!) and 4% of LibDems were. White gay men outweigh any other LGBTQ demographic 5x and are the most likely to be elected. Curiously almost zero LGBT candidates stood in Greater East Anglia! There’s an opening for me yet 😉

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic MPs

Of the 147 LGBTQ candidates, just one was BME, in 2015 that was two – both shamefully low, though we don’t know the number of non-out candidates. However, 51 BME MPs were elected on 8 June – an increase of 10. At 7.8% this is just over half of the 14% general population representation.

Britain also elected its first MP of Palestinian heritage as Layla Moran for the LibDems “overturned a Conservative majority of almost 10,000 votes to win the Oxford West and Abingdon. Moran won the closely contested election by only 816, gaining 26,252 votes.”

Disability Representation

Just four openly physically disabled MPs were elected, 0.6% of Parliament, compared with 16% of the UK. Mental health is so stigmatised, one wonders if it were possible for someone to be ‘out’ with a diagnosed long term condition and an MP, other than depression and anxiety that affect 1-in-4 of us, and undoubtedly affect MPs similarly. It would be great to see a bipolar MP, to show it is possible to manage a bipolar life.

Religion

The new Parliament sees the UK’s first female Sikh MP, Preet Gill and its first turbaned male Sikh, Tanmanjeet Dhesi. Both are Labour MPs. In the past we’ve had 5 Sikh MPs in the last 15 years but never wearing a turban in the House of Commons. 

In the wake of the Manchester concert bombing, it is perhaps significant that the city elected its first Muslim MP, Afzal Khan – who was also ten years ago their youngest and first British Pakistani and Muslim, Mayor of Manchester.

Education

It shouldn’t matter, but it is interesting nonetheless with accusations that the Tories were run by the Eton and Bullingdon Club set, and even many who stood as Labour leader being Oxbridge educated.

The Sutton Trust believes that 51% of MPs were educated in comprehensive schools, and just 29% at public schools (ie privately educated). It is still disproportionately biased to private education, therefore. 

Summary

In conclusion, our LGB representation continues to be the highest in the world, across the three largest parties – but not elsewhere, and close to the assumed proportion of the general population. Several Trans, Non-Binary and similar, stood but at 9 out of 3300, they are about 10x underrepresented in standing, and to date unelectable; are they being stood as no-risk candidates in unelectable areas, that’s an analysis I’ve not done yet. On gender, we are getting there slowly, but ranking 39th in the world is a poor result, albeit an improved one. Realistically with parenting issues, 45% of Parliament would be a good showing for women, rather than the 32% we have. BME and disability remain woefully underrepresented. How a Tory deal with the DUP, who are anti-diversity on just about every count, can be squared with Parliament and the electorate’s ever-progressive diversity, remains to be seen.

Feminism & Gender

IDAHOBIT Day needs further evolution to combat Non-Binary enbyphobia

IDAHO has become IDAHOBIT Day

Happy IDAHO – IDAHOT – IDAHOBIT Day, perhaps now IDAHOBNoBIT Day! For the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, needs further evolution to embrace the increasingly prevalent eNByphobia (Non-Binary).

In the last few months, I both started a non-binary meetup and discussion group and also witnessed increased enbyphobia – mainly online. That it is coming from people whom you would otherwise expect to be intersectional and LGBT+ allies is worrying.

It has come from the same feminists and others who oppose transgender women (mainly) but also trans men (erasing butch lesbians, apparently), as well as from some 50-something gay men and women, and even trans women in the public eye such as India Willoughby.

Piers Morgan

Good Morning Britain‘s Piers Morgan seems to be the go-to bigot/Kelvin Mackenzie on all things offensive these days, despite saying he accepts trans people and their rights – so long as they’re not non-binary. Last week, he mocked Emma Watson after she accepted MTV’s first ‘gender neutral’ acting Award. This week it’s non-binary trans persons Fox Fisher and Owl Stefania who he argued were just talking gobbledygook and he could just declare himself a black woman or an elephant and demand elephant rights to be given a room at the zoo.

Piers took to mockery, yesterday, too:

“It’s an all girls’ school in this country and in one year, there are now eight non-binary students who do not identify as girl,” he said. “I think that’s dangerous. It’s creeping and it’s creeping fast. I don’t think that’s right.” – Piers Morgan, describing his friend’s daughter’s school

Non-Binary “not a thing”

The irony that some feminists who oppose gender roles and see it as a social construct would turn round and say that non-binary doesn’t exist, “it’s not a thing”, there are only two sexes and gender is social, seems somewhat biologically essentialist and reductive. Not to mention, only true to a limited extent. Yes, most babies take 2 differently sexed parents to be conceived, although 3-parent babies are now possible. 

Some people can also be intersexed, as many as 1.75% of people. These can include dozens of chromosome and endocrine variations producing differences in primary and secondary characteristics. Genetic sex chromosomes are far from limited to X and Y, since around 20 viable combinations from XO to XXXXY and XYYYY can occur.  Perhaps, the ‘I’ in IDAHOBiT should be for Interphobia and not Biphobia?

I’ve done a lecture at SOAS and UEA universities titled “Around the World in 80 Genders” looking at non-Western interpretations of “third gender” identities. Afterwards, I often get asked, “just how many genders are there?” My usual reply is, “around 7 billion”. Gender, and even sex, is more dissimilar than it is stereotypically binary. 

Non-binary people don’t know their sexuality

Just this week, I’ve been told that as I’m non-binary or even wrongly misunderstood to be genderfluid, there’s a small chance that I may be heterosexual, either all the time or some of the time. As a result, I should not be invited to speak at LGBT events. The same surely applies to trans people – who can be non-binary too. 

Surely, our issue is a common oppression, not an identical gender or sexuality identity? We are intersectionally united by not being a part of cis heteronormativity and the freedoms and rights that brings but which those who are different may not enjoy to the same extent.

When it comes from binary LGBT folk it is especially galling that our brothers and sisters are engaging in intra-community division and discrimination.

International Day Against Homophobia

The annual, since 2005, IDAHO Day celebrates the 1990 removal of homosexuality from the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That it took 17 years from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) initial tentative removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) demonstrates how long change in these areas can take. Aspects of gender dysphoria including autogynephilia (sexual arousal by thoughts, images of self as a female), autoandrophilia, and transvestic disorder, “unwanted” same-sex attraction, and even asexuality remain in the DSM and ICD.

May 17 was first known as the “International Day against Homophobia” and mainstreamed through its acronym “I.DA.HO”.

In 2009, Transphobia was added explicitly in the title of the name, in the recognition of the very different issues at stake between sexual orientation and gender expression. “IDAHOT” became another popular acronym used alongside the initial one.

Since 2015, biphobia is added to the title, to acknowledge the specific issues faced by bisexual people. A new acronym, IDAHOBIT, has started to be used by groups in Australia and the UK mostly. To acknowledge this diversity, we use increasingly all three acronyms in our communications.

Wherever we can only use one acronym, we favor the acronym IDAHOT, as being the one most in use at global level*

To ensure even more inclusion and reflect the diversity of sexual and gender minorities, we have created at global level the baseline “A global celebration of sexual and gender diversities”. This is probably the only “solution” to the issue of inclusion and reflection of other diversities, such as Queer, Asexual, Pansexual and regional identities such as Hijras, Weres, Two-Spirit, etc. – IDAHO

Read more about IDAHO day: 2015 | 2014

Feminism & Gender

State sanctioned sexism & murder in High Heels to continue

Ban on sexist forced workplace dress codes abandoned

High Heels padlockThe Government has backed down from enforcing a review of the law regarding workplace dress codes where they discriminate on gendered lines, such as requiring makeup, skirts and high heels for women but only clean shaven, suits and flats for men. 

“Forcing women to wear high heels at work is medieval – and no better than calling us witches” – The Daily Telegraph

Instead, the Government says that existing equality legislation is sufficient to the task so long as men are required to dress to an “equivalent level of smartness“.

Equivalent level of smartness

A Government spokesperson said:

“No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. Dress codes must include equivalent requirements for both men and women.”

Men in High HeelsEquivalent? What would that look like in reality if applied in the workplace or tested legally? Men in ballet pumps, cramping their feet and allowing them to stand en pointe to reach the tallest shelves at work? No baggy suits, only tailored ones to every pectoral muscle, firm behind or indeed bulge, looking like someone from the Chippendales before the striptease music begins? Perhaps, the phraseology should be an “equivalent level of sexualisation”.

Nicola Thorp, PwC and Piers Morgan

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) briefly employed Nicola Thorp as a front facing receptionist temp, but sent her home when she came to work in flats not heels. It set off a petition attracting 150k signatures. When it came to her being interviewed by Piers Morgan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain she acquitted herself brilliantly against the sexist Piers Morgan who said:

“If you’re the gatekeeper to meetings and you’re taking very important clients with besuited guys (oh and er women and whatever)…is it actually sexist for the company to say ‘we’d like you to look fantastic as well and to look glamorous and wear heels and set a kind of whoah'”.

“Certain jobs, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them (the employers) to say we don’t want you in flats showing visitors around.”

Thorp replied “High heels are designed to make women look sexier not more professional. Piers was rightly slammed by viewers after his sexist suggestions.

Piers donned a pair of silver high heels for an appearance on Loose Women afterwards, to which Twitter responded again:

High Heels Healthy?

Almodovar “Life can be murder in high heels”
Almodovar “Life can be murder in high heels”

Health and Safety alone would ban High Heels in continued usage, as indeed the NHS does. Evidence suggests that wearing them can lead to osteoarthritis.

“Wearing high heels when you go out in the evening is unlikely to be harmful. However, wearing them all week at work may damage your feet, particularly if your job involves a lot of walking or standing.” – NHS Preventing Heel Pain

“High heels aren’t glamorous, they are physically damaging and requiring women to wear them is sick” – The Daily Telegraph

Theresa May’s Kitten Heels

Theresa May’s footwear has long been noticed, and she is no kitten as her predatory early election calling has shown. 

Even when paired with skirt suits and high cut tops, the Daily Mail‘s “Who won Legs-it” headline focus shows where the eye, the attention, and the comment goes…

Daily Mail LegsIt not Brexit
Daily Mail LegsIt not Brexit

Well heeled History

High heels were originally worn by men and women – of status, hence the expression “well-heeled” indicating wealth, and in Europe, at least, can be traced back to the 16th century. In the late 17th century “King Louis XIV of France decreed that only nobility could wear heels, and that only members of his specific court could wear red ones!” Christian Louboutin eat your heart out, or perhaps your ‘sole’.

Oppression or Empowerment?

High Heels bondageWhy are high heels such a simultaneous symbol of oppression, femininity, power and domination? Can high heels be reclaimed as empowerment, not oppression?

Like anything, it’s about choice. Feminism is about choice. Equality is about men and women having similar choices. Wearing high heels should be a choice – except on a hospital A&E ward or a building site. 

 

Feminism & Gender

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day, not Trans, not Intersex, and not Men

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day

On this day, each year, I usually write about current social issues worldwide that affect women disproportionately. I often quote my sheroes – Audre Lorde, Simone de Beauvoir, Malala Yousafzai, Muzoon Almellehan, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and so many more. Alternatively, I’d be railing against Islamic State (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, extreme sharia or tribal law sex-based violence used to oppress. Instead, it’s the voice of BBC Woman’s Hour, Dame Jenni Murray that is still ringing in my ears. 

Jenni Murray defining Women

On Sunday, Murray decided to wade into the “are trans women real women debate?” She prefaced her article in The Sunday Times with “I’m not a transphobe but…” along with “I’m not a radical feminist” either. 

“I am not transphobic or anti-trans. Not a Terf in other words. That’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to use one of the often-confusing expressions that have entered the language in this age of gender revolution. I’ll admit to feminist, but radical or separatist? No…” – Jenni Murray

The article was doomed from then, as that is how so many of the “I’m not a racist but…”, or “I’m not anti-gay but…” arguments begin. I bit my lip and pressed on, trying to remain open to rational argument. On the one hand, I actually agree with her – trans women do not experience life the same as “women born women” – or rather raised as girls and sometimes, as feminism argues, oppressed as women by the so-called patriarchy – some MRAs have challenged me to look at that term again, in the 21st century West, anyway. Perhaps it is now better seen as a kyriarchy, in the UK at least with its several queens and two female prime ministers.

On the other hand, neither do any two women have the same experiences. Birth, school, puberty, bullying, sexuality are near-universal human experiences and we all experience them differently.

“if womanhood is defined as the sum of everything that has ever happened to a woman because of her gender, then logically nobody born with male organs can ever quite attain it. It’s tantamount to saying that you can only be a woman if you’ve always been treated as one.” – Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian

Not all women experience oppression equally – wealth, class, and education, come into play as much as gender. To define ‘real’ women as only those who have experienced sexism or assault is ludicrous.

“Although a person’s sex as male or female stands as a biological fact that is identical in any culture, what that specific sex means in reference to a person’s gender role as a woman or a man in society varies cross culturally according to what things are considered to be masculine or feminine.” – Wikipedia definition

It is not automatic that a trans woman experiences life with “male privilege” before feeling gender dysphoria, bullying, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and internalised oppression – that, to date, psychological therapies have failed to cure, to the point where most psych associations now regard any attempt to as unethical.

If anything, it is the language of the article that is the problem. As soon as one starts defining a “real” woman, one has to question what characteristics make up that definition?

“Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” – WHO definition

Clearly, the answer is not someone resembling the impossibly proportioned Barbie or Sindy, but I’m not going to get into thin-waist, hourglass figure shaming – a shame cisgender girls and transfeminine teens alike will find nigh on impossible to emulate.

The debate about “real” women runs dangerously close to policing sex/gender and a form of CisAryanism as Jane Fae notes:

Not “am I a real woman?”, but “am I a pure one?” – Jane Fae

Sex and gender spectra -whether biological or psychological (still part of the body-mind/neurology entity, I’m not a Cartesian dualist) defy the possibility of a single archetype of default woman, and as soon as one does it creates the possibility of discrimination and judgement upon anyone not conforming, passing, meriting, having perfect reproductive systems, or preferring same-sex or childless relationships.

Indeed, as Jane Fae draws attention to, Jenni Murray seems to define herself as a non-TERF by pointing out her marriage to a man and raising of “two fine sons” as if that explains her moderate feminism and typical womanhood. On the other hand, Julie Bindel said in response to what does being a woman mean:

“I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t do gender. It is harmful and a total social construct that serves to reinforce patriarchy and women’s subordination to men. I wish to eradicate gender – that is the feminist goal…” – Julie Bindel, New Statesman

Simone de Beauvoir

“trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.” Helen Boyd, author My Husband Betty

Some have argued that Murray would have been better writing about “natal” or “natural” women. On the former, I might quote, out of context but not without relevance, Simone de Beauvoir, from The Second Sex, introduction (1949):

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” 

Or so many more of de Beauvoir’s thoughts:

One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…”

“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?”

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” 

“She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”

Othering Trans Women

The irony that the argument of feminism and women’s liberation that women should not be defined as ‘other’ in relation to men, but should be equal in their own right, seems lost.

Now, however, trans women are defined as “other”, as the “third sex”, as women and LGB people were before them. Then there are those whose bodies are ‘other’ yet forcibly conformed to binary male or female. Dividing the human race into very strict boxes of men and women and who can be in them is erasing of intersex people, third gender folk from dozens of cultures and traditions around the world. 

Denying trans women membership of the cisterhood, only perpetuates what had previously been done to women by men in power of old – or not so long ago. 

Intersectional Feminism

I’ve no personal problem with being othered, or with not belonging, I’ve accepted that in life, but I shouldn’t need to and will fight my feminist sisters for their inclusion and my trans sisters to show some respect and learn some history. Both groups have very different forms of privilege, since much privilege is relative, and we need to look inside ourselves and our experiences to recognise that.

“Trans women are men”

Writing to the Daily Telegraph Letters page, Una-Jane Winfield writes that a proposed change to recognise gender identity and not just gender transition would have:

“extremely damaging consequences, especially for women at work and in public spaces, forcing them to accept non‑native women in their midst.

Dame Jenni Murray is right to draw attention to the privileged claim of ‘trans women’, who are socialised lifelong men, not women.

The change is not wanted by the 50 per cent of the human race called women, and it is an ‘equalities law”’ too far.”

To me, Winfield and Murray’s arguments are summed up in their attempting to speak for all women, without a referendum!

Biological Essentialism & Determinism

Furthermore, they define women just as men used to do, by the presence of a womb, ovaries, ability to conceive, or by the experience of puberty, menstruation, menopause – the very biological essentialism and reproductive value that women’s liberation and feminism sought to overcome. Now, some feminists are resorting to those self-same arguments to define themselves in opposition to trans women (men in their eyes).

“woman means something. It means sexual biological woman.”- Comment on Independent article

I’ll reiterate Simone de Beauvoir here because I think Winfield and Murray need to read it again themselves:

“every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries?”

They speak unelected for all women, and stereotype all trans women as men in frocks, persisting in male criminality, wanting to forcibly invade women’s spaces etc. In their over-egged gender essentialist simplicity they ignore non-binary, assigned female at birth (AFAB) trans men, intersex people and folk like me who don’t give a fuck about labels and access to women’s spaces, unless I’m invited.

To paraphrase de Beauvoir,

“not every male human being is necessarily a man.”

I’m with Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, who upon transitioning declared she was “no longer a man, but not entirely female.” Like her, I identify as non-binary, recognise my male past (despite a brief designation of female at birth and an endocrine puberty disorder), but don’t wholly identify with being a woman, but many trans women do.

What Is this, the 1950s?

Their binary defensiveness is a going backwards, when we should be going forwards together as so many younger inclusive feminists are. That said, some trans women need a Feminism 101 history lesson to avoid their gender presentation and attitudes being interpreted as wanting to be subjugated women in twin sets and pearls, tied to the kitchen sink, actually enjoying ironing.

“presenting womanhood as being about little more than cute outfits and chasing boys” – Meghan Murphy, Feminist Current

Young trans people are now diversifying the range of trans and non-binary gender presentations, so that old accusations of female parody and imitation are no longer true.

Some of the comments on news articles about this feel like Daily Mail readers are now reading all the other papers too. In the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and we are back to determining which LGBTIQA+ people have rights, and it is some of the older Lesbians and Gays, as well as straight traditionalists who are opposing rights for trans and genderqueer people.

“Trans are not women. LBGT thing is a nonsense.” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

“Gender appropriation in action.” – Comment on Independent article

“the Trojan horse of transvestite men’s “rights” to steal biological women’s rights” – Comment on Independent article

In addition, I’ve had “gay eugenics” thrown up this week, the idea that trans people are erasing gays and lesbians, the erroneous idea that easily obtainable without medical ethics puberty blockers and hormones are forced upon teenagers to prevent them discovering their sexuality! Somewhat similar to the “butch erasure” touted by some lesbian feminists such as Sheila Jeffries, Julie Bindel et al, not respecting the feminist rights of their “assigned sisters at birth” who want to express their gender identity as male psyche and body now. Some have even created the term ftMysognist to describe those leaving the lesbian fold because of transition.

No Two Women…are the same

It’s not that trans women are the same as natal women, it’s that no two women are the same either. Then there are intersex variations, for example, from 1-in-1000 to as many as 1-in-100 births can be gender indeterminate at first sight during birth, many are then conformed by non-consensual (on the part of the child) surgery to a pseudo-sex binary. There are natal ‘girls’ raised as female who turn out to have XY chromosomes as part of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) or 5α-Reductase deficiency (5-ARD) and whose sex and gender identity is more often identified as young adults. See Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body or Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World for more on intersex prevalence and sex diversity.

“Man A: I have an XXY chromosome set with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, so that’s two elements of intersex in one body. I have one ovary, a uterus, and a vagina (via vaginaplasty and labiaplasty) behind my scrotum, but I also have a functional penis and one testicle. I have no body hair, female skeleton, and I menstruate. In the old days, they used to call people like me a “true hermaphrodite,” but that is not the modern term. So I play the role of male, knowing that I am biologically neither male nor female.” – Cosmopolitan

This person would confuse Jenni Murray’s simple categories of man, trans woman and real woman.

Natal, natural, nature, whatever you want to call it all create ‘real’ variations in human bodies and brains, in-utero and post-utero. Just read Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People by evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden.

“To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Trans are a small minority, why bother?

The number of comments on Jenni Murray’s and response articles suggesting that trans are a minority and therefore should not be accommodated reeks of “the tyranny of the majority”.

“Trying to fully accommodate and integrate the relatively very few transgender people into a society constructed around 2 distinct sexes is I think, almost impossible.” – Comment on The Times article

“why so much hot air is being expended on such a small part of the population” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

Actually, the number of trans, non-binary, and/or intersex people (these categories can overlap) exceeds the number of wheelchair users, yet we rightly make adjustments for them. Indeed, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in equality law, whatever anyone’s personal beliefs and reasonable adjustment, gender recognition, and the avoidance of discrimination are legal requirements. Are we not stronger together, even if we are different?

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde

Debate speech not hate speech

If you want to follow some of the discussion there’s debate, and not a little hate, on facebook here and here, as well as in the comments sections of some of the articles cited above in The Times, (and this one), Telegraph, GuardianIndependent, Feminist Current and Pink News.

Again, I actually have no problem with Jenni Murray having the discussion, although many do, I’m into respectful, fair and free speech, and debate not no-platforming (unless inciting hate and violence). As a result, I will challenge her argument (essentially that ovaries and oppression make a woman) and not attack her person as some have done, deplorably. This debate about who is a woman still raises heckles on all sides, that it does, shows we are not there yet. Roll back 50 or 150 years and people were questioning race, colour and sexuality, as not equal to white western heterosexual man. Let’s thrash this out but without attacking individuals. Science and society have moved on from these out of date views but airing them still shows how retrograde they are.

 
Feminism & Gender

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women #IDEVAW

End Violence Against Women & Girls

White Ribbon Day (#WhiteRibbonDay) and #OrangeTheWorld are both campaigns today, 25 November, marking the start of 16 days of activism against gender abuse on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).  Whilst people are more real than statistics, nonetheless, the stats are representations of the reality of some people’s lives, they make sobering reading. Sixteen days won’t end violence against women and girls, but it might be the beginning of the end, if we start to say ‘no’ every day and give women back control, power and agency over their bodies and lives. The 16-day-long campaign ends on Human Rights Day, 10 December, but shouldn’t stop there.

12 Facts about Violence towards Women

  • Violence against Women infographic2 women each week are killed by an ex or current partner (UK), 40-50% of all murders of women worldwide are by family or partners, but just 4-5% of men
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 transwomen experience domestic abuse, in some countries those figures are 2 in 3, up to 71% (Ethiopia)
  • Even Universities are not safe where 1 in 7 young women experience abuse or violence
  • Up to 30% (eg Bangladesh) of women experience their first sexual act as forced
  • Forced marriage and sex tourism often go hand-in-hand with low ages of consent e.g., 9 (Afghanistan), 12 (Philippines), 13 (Japan), regularly 14-15 in other Asian countries. Rural areas may allow marriage even younger with sex at puberty (age 9 or earlier). Among Sri Lanka’s Moor and Malay minorities under 12 is permitted with the permission of male leaders or relatives!
  • Over the last year 295 trans people were killed, mostly transwomen
  • Over 200 million girls alive worldwide now have undergone forced female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • 2-3,000 Honour Based Violence (HBV) reported incidences/year, with 1 person a month being killed (UK), 2000/year (Pakistan)
  • Girls are lured by ISIS (50+ last year from the UK alone) or abducted by Boko Haram & others as war brides and sex slaves
  • Sex slavery and forced prostitution accounts for over 20% of all forced labour of women (4.5m people)
  • In 32 countries men cannot be accused of raping their wives
  • Girls are aborted more than boys as part of sex selection abortion, not only in India, China and elsewhere but also in the UK, as many as 5000 girls are missing from census data.

More facts about violence against women from WHO, UN Women.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced - Nujood Ali“I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no…I want a divorce!…You’ve sullied the reputation of our family! You have stained our honor!” Nujood Ali, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Change Men* and Society to Eliminate Causes of Violence

Violence and abuse are possible because of physical, social, religious and economic power imbalances. Men should not have power and control over women’s fortunes, choices, and bodies. This is manifested in legal, religious, cultural and political ways including victim shaming, reduced legal rights, and religious traditions. Women need human rights and agency over their bodies and lives, freedom to safely and economically exit abusive relationships, and for authorities to take seriously the claims of sexual and physical violence.
(*Men in the main, as they have the power, and are the main perpetrators, but this does not exlude women on women and girls violence)
 
Feminism & Gender

The Rise and Rule of the Wise Warrior Women of Game of Thrones Season 6

Game of Thrones Season 6 – Women Rule, their Rise and a few Falls

Game of Thrones season 6 watched, check. Hardly respite from Brexit daggers-in-the-back fallout and the decimation of the leadership of the Labour Party and Conservatives. So, no spoilers…but you just know somebody(ies) GoTta die!

What I have loved about this series has been the full-on characters, and willingness to “take them out”, often en masse. The “Red Wedding” episode has gone down in TV history as a lesson in killing the lead characters. Viewers are now stuck in a Nordic noir drama, namely Stockholm Syndrome, addicted to our abuser awaiting George RR Martin’s next, very literal, character assassination.

Game of Thrones Season 6 Women, Entertainment Weekly portraits
Game of Thrones Season 6 Women, Entertainment Weekly portraits

What’s not to like? Women on Top

Whilst some women have fallen, season 6 saw the downfall of more men, often at the direct or indirect hands of women. It’s hardly a confessional secret, but I love strong women, I am a kind of one – despite protestations from Germaine Greer.

And if you think women can’t do objectification, think again. Spend enough time in the company of bisexual and lesbian women, and you will hear just as many “phwoars”, just with less of the “show us your tits”. I call it objective appreciation as opposed to rarely-appreciated sexual objectification. I’ve been in a room full of lesbian feminists, only to witness one-half of the room ogling a Beyoncé and Shakira video and the other half, shaking their heads in shock.

A full 80% of the 420 followers of a Pinterest page on “Steampunk fashion, warrior women, cosplay armour and erotica” are women, just 84 are men.

Women with swords, women with daggers, women with fire, women with dragons, women with … what’s left, oh yeah, brains, breasts and ‘balls’! More clitzpah than chutzpah!

Game of Thrones Brienne of Tarth
Game of Thrones’ female knight, Brienne of Tarth

Medieval Reality or Fantasy Desire

George RR Martin paints a none-too-pleasant medieval reality for most women, except perhaps those on Dorne. Rape, violence, abuse, no inheritance, impractical dress sense etc. Whilst the books, and even more the HBO series, panders to male and some same-sex fantasies of women in tight leather bodices or much less, he also allows fantasy to break the lace and leather ceiling for some of his powerful women. They can rise to the top and take out the men, as well if not, better than the men fighting their way to the Iron Throne.

“It might appear, looking at Westeros and the medieval past from which so much of its inspiration is drawn, that the ladder is built for men. The wearing of skirts, not to mention the frequent necessity of taking them off, keeps women from competing in the climb…the women of Westeros with noble blood in their veins have choices that aren’t available to those at the bottom of the social pile. Sex sells, and what’s true for HBO’s ratings is true too for Westeros’s women who start with nothing…Unclothed female bodies offer a route up the ladder…History tends to record only the names of those who make it to the top – and what’s true for men is doubly so for women.” – The Guardian (2014, no current season spoilers)

The Art of War

It is the women in Game of Thrones who truly inject the ‘art’ into the art of war. Season 6 sees women have their military advice spurned and yet still save the men’s day. Their socio-political acumen is no more ably demonstrated than Daenerys, the socially reforming yet empire building Queen of Westeros, well just Essos, for now.

Speaking of art, here are some maps of Westeros and Essos, accurate, stylised, tube maps and suggestions that Westeros is a England and Wales, with an upside down Ireland beneath, and Scotland as north of the wall!

Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones map by KitKat Pecson kitkatpecson
Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones map by KitKat Pecson kitkatpecson

The Women of Westeros & Essos Awards

My top 5?

  1. Yara Greyjoy for wearing the trousers in her family and having a girl in every port like a good sailor
  2. Arya Stark for wanting to fight ‘like’ if not better than a boy and keeping Sean Bean’s memory alive, not to mention her cooking skills (spoiler)
  3. Daenerys Targaryen for liberating slaves and dragons
  4. Brienne of Tarth for loyalty and knight’s ethics
  5. Ygritte the Wildling redhead who held her own in a brutal environment and for appreciating Jon Snow’s potential
Arya Stark, Game of Thrones
Arya Stark, Game of Thrones

Best rising stars

Sansa Stark for stopping being a precious princess and learning to get what she wants not what men want of her.

Lady Lyanna Mormont for being 10 years old and telling the men what to do, and what loyalty and balls mean.

Best falling star

Margaery Tyrell for playing the long game and … [spoiler] getting through a number of men:

“Margaery…used her femininity as a smokescreen to mask her ambition and learnt how to beat the boys at their own game, telling her menfolk exactly what they wanted to hear. She accepted first husband Renly’s homosexuality, massaged second husband Joffrey’s ego, and boosted latest husband Tommen’s shaky confidence.” – Daily Telegraph (2016, contains season 6 spoilers)

My top threesome – no, not that kind!

The feisty fighting ‘Sand Snake‘ sisters, although their best verbal put down was by Lady Tyrell at the end of season 6 (no spoilers in the clip below).

Diana Rigg, playing Olenna Tyrell, at age 77, puts the younger women in their place with ease and disdain!

Dorne women Sand Snakes Obara Sand, Tyene Sand and Nymeria Sand
The Sand Snakes – Obara Sand, Tyene Sand and Nymeria Sand

Game of Thrones likes its bastards, even having a “Battle of the Bastards” episode this season. The Sand sisters are the eight bastard daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell, several of whom he trained in warrior arts. I’m guessing their mothers trained their trashy tongues! Ellaria Sand was mother to four of them.

Dishonourable matriarch honorable mentions

What they would do for family, and in Cersei’s case would even ‘do’ family!

  • Lady Olenna Tyrell – Avengers cool, calm, calculating
  • Cersei Lannister – Evil but good at it!

Very Dishonourable Mention

Melisandre, the Red Witch/Priestess of the doesn’t-live-up-to-his-name “god of light’, for sacrificing a child, not even redeemed by bringing back John Snow. Winter is coming for her! Season 7 of Game of Thrones will be just seven episodes, it will be both too short and long-awaited.

 

Feminism & Gender

Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, The Second Sex, Female, Femininity & The Other

Simone de Beauvoir, Sex-Positive Feminist, d.1986

Simone de Beauvoir, d.1986
Simone de Beauvoir, d.1986

It’s a generation since the death of author, feminist, and existentialist, Simone de Beauvoir on 14 April 1986. A lover of Sartre – in both senses of the word, she was a sexually liberated bisexual whose disregard for sexual convention – including age of consent laws, caused her to lose her right to teach in France. Her 1949 defining work on the oppression of women, Le Deuxième Sexe – The Second Sex, is widely considered a groundbreaking treatise on sex and gender for 20th-century feminism.

As to her sexual liberation, her “erotic liberty“, and open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, she saw any sexual categorisation as restrictive:

“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir Quotes

I recently quoted, knowingly totally out of context, this from de Beauvoir:

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”

I was quite promptly, and perhaps rightly, accused of ‘quote mining’. Contextomy or the unjustified use of an uprooted, and in this case anachronous, quote, to prove a point it was never intended to address, is a fair criticism.

My use of the quote was because it resonated with the idea that people can be born female, raised a girl, but become a woman. A woman is as much experience, as nature. I’m not jumping in and suggesting, for example, that post-operative trans women are thus women, the same as those who were born with a uterus and raised as girls. Indeed, is anyone any less of a woman after uterine cancer (affecting 8,500 women in the UK a year) and removal of the womb via hysterectomy? Similarly, women can have various difficulties in reproduction due to infertility, or any number of intersex medical differences that may cause an XX or indeed other chromosomal combination such as XXY etc to present a body that defies the defined binary female stereotype. Women should not be defined by their ability to procreate and bear children – that much I am sure de Beauvoir would agree with.

My question is, though, whether de Beauvoir would have condemned or supported the rights of some to pursue a gender trajectory that more matches their inner feelings and psyche than their binary-born bodies. In other words, transgender, non-binary and other forms of gender fluidity or transition.

Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, Femininity, the Other, and maybe a Third Sex

Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex, 1949
Simone de Beauvoir “The Second Sex” (1949)

So to add insult to injury, to compound my contextomy crime, here are some further Beauvoirisms that might shed light on what might have been her attitude to “The Third Sex”. A phrase which I use, advisedly, for the main purpose of echoing her “Second Sex”, rather than for the purpose of defining all trans and/or gender non-conforming people as a “Third Sex” even though that is a way which some, especially in Asian and Indian cultures, do define.

Does ‘Woman’ even exist?

Beauvoir existentially questioned whether woman would always exist, suggesting that ‘she’ is an ephemeral concept ,driven by culture and construct as much as conception:

“Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: ‘Even in Russia women still are women’; and other erudite persons – sometimes the very same – say with a sigh: ‘Woman is losing her way, woman is lost.’ One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

One can be female but not a woman

As to femininity, she saw it as something esoteric, and that female ≠ woman ≠ femininity:

“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

If female equals the “female of the species” reproductively, and feminine a cultural construct if not oppression, then woman need not be feminine and feminism a path to throwing off that oppression. But does ‘woman’ need to be female? If one can be female but not a woman, can one be woman but not a female?

What is woman?

If much previous philosophical, and biblical-theological enquiry, stemmed around “What is man?” and the nature of man, then de Beauvoir helpfully examines, what is woman:

If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?

Yet would it not be more helpful to discuss what it means to be human, or are we still stuck seeing woman as something less than a man, and hence neither equal nor fully human since, as in the Bible, Adam stands for man and humankind as the first point of reference?

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

On BBC Woman’s Hour today, British Army Captain Rosie Hamilton was interviewed about how female recruits are trained, but it was then made all about how many of them made the ‘male’ standard.

Woman as the ‘Other’

Beauvoir rebelled against the patriarchal concept that man is human and woman is defined only in relation to being man’s so-called opposite pole, that she is ‘othered’ in reference to him. Not that we have achieved gender parity yet, but I wonder how she would see trans, non-binary, intersex people now, as perhaps the new (however ancient a group of people they are) ‘other’?

“No subject will readily volunteer to become the object, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed as such by the One in defining himself as the One.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

Trans, Non-Binary and Intersex people are ‘othered’ by the default biologically and socially essentialist binary. In the same way, de Beauvoir saw woman as othered by man. Thus, gender non-conforming people, whether assigned male or female at birth, should have some solidarity with the feminist struggle to assert the equality of women with men, and their common core identity as human beings absolutely, not relatively. Sadly, that is not always the case and some folk do not see a common struggle between feminism and gender identity. As de Beauvoir said:

“Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

Some radical feminists, such as Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffries and others, are well known for exclusionary attitudes to trans people. Indeed, de Beauvoir others intersex people, formerly termed ‘hermaphrodite’, in her seeking to find an independent voice on ‘what is woman?’:

“What we need is an angel – neither man nor woman – but where shall we find one? Still, the angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem. With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

In a 1976 interview, when asked about excluding men from some aspects of the feminist struggle and female gatherings, she opined that sometimes it was necessary. So she may have argued against the full and unfettered access of some transwomen (e.g., pre-operative) to women-only safe spaces. She did also say, however:

“The battle of the sexes is not implicit in the anatomy of man and woman.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

Similarly, she spoke of some lesbian women, in particular, being male-exclusionary:

“There are other women who have become lesbian out of a sort of political commitment: that is, they feel that it is a political act to be lesbian, the equivalent somewhat within the sex struggle of the black power advocates within the racial struggle. And, true, these women tend to be more dogmatic about the exclusion of men from their struggle.” interview (1976)

Anyone, who is oppressed has the right to gather in safe spaces – whether other oppressed minorities should have rights of access to the safe spaces of other groups who have been ‘othered’ is another matter. That siad, shared oppression is sometimes more important than shared hormones.

“Woman is determined not by her hormones or by mysterious instincts, but by the manner in which her body and her relation to the world are modified through the action of others than herself.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

It was Audre Lorde that said, whilst “any woman is not free”, then “no woman is”. Being the one oppressed is sadly part of a common humanity, and a common responsibility:

“Each of us is responsible – to every human being.” – Simone de Beauvoir

In some matters, if not most – except the most basic biological differences, “men and women” and anyone that is defined or identified outside that binary need to” unequivocally affirm their brotherhood”, as de Beauvoir concluded in The Second Sex.

So, could every Human be a Woman?

“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.”

Beauvoir speaks of every human being, every human life, less of the categorisation that in a class-distinctive way oppresses all of us, even the men. For, in defining men and not women, as not soft or empathic, or similar stereotypes, we trap them in conventional masculinity, we oppress gay men, drag queens and transvestites who may still identify as male.

“…man, like woman, is flesh, therefore passive, the plaything of his hormones and of the species, the restless prey of his desires.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

We no longer accept feminism as the sole regard of women. True women’s liberation also liberates men from roles and rules of sex and gender.

“…the woman of today is [not] a creation of nature; it must be repeated once more that in human society nothing is natural and that woman, like much else, is a product elaborated by civilisation.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

If a feminist need not be a woman, and a female need not be a ‘woman’, and the ‘feminine’ just as possessable by males, then, perhaps too, a ‘woman’ need not be female, at least not assigned one at birth. In other words, is the very term ‘woman’ as much a social construct as gender itself, and the so-called masculine and feminine ideals?

“No single educator could fashion a female human being today who would be the exact homologue of the male human being; if she is brought up like a boy, the young girl feels she is an oddity and thereby she is given a new kind of sex specification.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

Only in an androgynous (but not uniform) utopia, where all human beings were raised without class or gender specificity, could true equality perhaps be found.