Feminism & Gender

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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.

 

 

Feminism & Gender

International Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV

Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV

The last day of Women’s History Month, the day before April Fool’s, is the International Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV), 31 March. Since 2009, it has sought to celebrate transgender positivity in contrast to the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events around 20 November that draw attention to the high levels of violence and murder that trans people suffer in some countries. Even where murder is less likely, bullying, harassment, and discrimination can be part of the transphobic package that can add to the likelihood of suicide, which some 40% of trans people attempt, and twice that number, consider.

TDOV is an opportunity to portray positive role models, to let the many trans just coming out know that “it gets better“. I’ve spent ten plus years ‘out’ and it’s been a rocky road, with the almost requisite marriage break-up, suicide attempts, looks in the street, and transphobic abuse online. But that need not be everyone’s experience and for many, it is getting easier, with better support and a more accepting society.

SuperTrans Coming Out Transgender Visibility
SuperTrans ‘Coming Out’

Ironically, many trans people don’t want to be visible, they’d rather not be noticed, hopefully passing as fellow human beings in a crowd. Inevitably, some of us stand out more than others, some by choice, some by fate. Don’t always assume a trans person wants to be recognised or feted as one, many would rather be seen as your common or garden variety man or woman. I’m of the louder and more visual variety, who’ll probably die still not conforming to gender stereotypes and expectations.

Non-Binary leads to inevitable visibility

I’ve found, indeed, that being non-binary is a better fit for me than the discrete categories of man or woman, male or female, boy or girl. I, personally, don’t mind whether anyone sees me as a “real woman” or not, I know basic biology, although mine is more complex and many people exist that makes one think again about binary sex default and gender constructs.

I am, however, also not a “real man”, that too is fine! Perhaps, as one of my godchildren once cheekily remarked to me upon opening the door, saying, “Half-ladies first”, I am a “Shim”, also his delightful invention. Other people should be respected, however they prefer to be addressed.

Beyond He or She Gender Time Magazine cover
Beyond He or She Gender Time Magazine cover, March 2017

Whilst 2014 has been regarded as the “Transgender tipping point”, 2016-17 seems to be the year of Non-Binary Genderqueer and Genderfluid. In January, National Geographic ran a “Gender Revolution” special issue, and this March, TIME Magazine ran with “Beyond He or She”. 

Half of young people now see gender as a spectrum and identify their own sexuality between gay and straight. Most now know someone who is trans and/or non-binary, and they are broadly accepting, the best it has ever been, teaching older adults the way to be around identity and expression. Whilst traditional feminists regard gender as a construct, it is young women who are most likely to see it as a spectrum, blurring the lines between gender and sex. Some 22% of young women identify as other than 100% female.

New Gender Honorific Titles on Bank Cards

Just this week, HSBC announced 10 new non-binary honorifics besides the usual Mr, Mrs, Ms etc,. Metro Bank and RBS NatWest already allowed Mx (as I have) or no title. HSBC customers can now choose from:

  • Ind (individual)
  • M
  • Mx (pron. “mix” or “mux”)
  • Misc (miscellaneous)
  • Mre (mystery)
  • Msr (mix of miss/sir)
  • Myr
  • Pr (pron. “per”, for person)
  • Sai (pron. “sigh”)
  • Ser (pron. “sair”)

A Most Reluctant Transsexual

To be honest, I haven’t had it too hard, people have been accepting, and although gender dysphoric, at times I’ve been euphoric to finally be myself. Even with some trials and tribulations, it has been worth it.

Katy Went Transgender Voices NHS NSFT photoshoot
Katy Went “Transgender Voices” NHS NSFT magazine photoshoot

My ten-year journey as Norfolk’s “most reluctant transsexual” – as my psychiatrist once called me, has recently closed one chapter and turned the page to another. After nearly 6 years on hormones my resistance towards surgery shattered and I went ahead with a version of GRS that suited my identity and needs. It has made me a happier, healthier person, with no regrets. Rather surprisingly, to myself at least, it has improved my other mental health condition, bipolar, for now at least, with just pockets of extreme downs, rarer hypomanic highs, and many more days of productivity and calm.

In going ahead with surgery I found my mind changed as much as my body. It really was life-changing, even saving, surgery. Whilst I had near constant doubts leading up to it, I’ve had none since that no-going-back day of 6 February 2016, and felt as much lighter between the ears as between the legs. I feel like a psycho-emotional brain tumour has been removed, I have more space in my head, in my thoughts and feelings, no longer obsessed and disturbed by gender identity. I feel no more female, just less encumbered and more myself. Oddly, I feel just as non-binary, non-conformist as ever, and, if anything, less gendered, though more comfortable in my body.

NSFT NHS Insight Magazine
NSFT NHS Insight Magazine

Prevalence of transgender people

I am but one of millions of trans people worldwide, more than a million in the USA alone, perhaps 300-600,000 in the UK or more. The NHS used to say that there were around 1-in-30,000 people born male (AMAB) transitioning to female (MTF) and 1-in-100,000 people born female (AFAB) transitioning to male (FTM). Those serious underestimates are reflected in the huge waiting lists of 1000s of people to access the handful of UK Gender Identity Clinics (GICs).

Given that the incidence of trans people seeking NHS help is now around 7,000 new referrals p.a., figures over an adult working lifetime would suggest a prevalence of 300,000-600,000 adults, around 0.5%-1% of the population, 1-in-200 or 1-in-100 people, perhaps more. In addition, For every trans person not seeking HRT or surgery there are four or five feeling and presenting as gender questioning or non-conforming. Recent surveys suggest 2.5% may identify as non-binary, 1.75% may be born intersex, and 2% may identify as trans or genderfluid. Overlap between these populations may suggest around 5% total, 1-in-20 people. This isn’t to conflate intersex with trans, just that some can be both, and it shows the degree of sex and/or gender atypicality in the population as a whole.

National Geographic, Gender Revolution
National Geographic, Gender Revolution, January 2017

Visible Trans Persons

In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian, actor and now marathon-addict, Eddie Izzard. Other trans comedians include Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill. Then there’s the arts writer and ceramicist, Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry. In the world of journalism, there’s LGBT Pink List-topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, along with several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, and Roz Kaveney. In the field of law and diversity, Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester – Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns, formerly of Press for Change, Rachel Reese of the University of Law, law partner Clare Fielding, and barrister, Caroline Harrison, QC.

In sport, there’s recently-out boxing promoter, Kellie Maloney, and MMA fighter Roxeanne/Alex Reid. In business, there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. Musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. In politics, there are several trans people who have stood as councillors or for election, across the political spectrum. On television, there are actors and a spate of reality TV stars. Among people who came out in the 1960s and 70s, there’s models April Ashley and Caroline Cossey, and writer, Jan Morris –  all well known British women with open transgender histories. I could go on as I know of hundreds of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life, here in the UK alone.

Time Magazine Transgender Tipping Point Laverne Cox
Time Magazine “The Transgender Tipping Point” Laverne Cox

In the USA, Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves, creating a tipping point of trans visibility, perhaps leading to the timing of former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.

Also, recently, we’ve seen big names like Lana and Lilly Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams. Nor are “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein or Jennifer Boylan to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.

The names above are just a sprinkling of the probably tens of millions of trans and gender-variant people million worldwide.

For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.

 

Feminism & Gender

International Women’s Day 2016, another 100 years wait for gender equality?

International Women’s Day 2016 Theme

United States Woman Suffrage
United States: Calls for Women’s Suffrage

The theme for the still necessary International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality“, or more simply, gender parity. An IWD was called for as long ago as 1910 by Clara Zetkin and 100 women from 17 countries at a conference in Denmark. It was celebrated for the first time in 1911 and by 1913 it was recognised in many places, including Russia, the same year it moved to its current date of 8 March. In 1908, 15,000 women demonstrated in New York for equal rights, and in 1909 held the first National Woman’s Day. Yet after more than a century, by some accounts, we are still at least a 100 years away from equality:

“The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.” – International Women’s Day

8 March 2005 International Womens Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra - Photo by Soman, Wiki
8 March 2005 International Womens Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra – Photo by Soman, Wiki

Recalling last year’s theme of “Make it Happen” and this year’s “Pledge for Parity” it seems we are still struggling to accelerate progress and in some instances we are slowing down.

Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argued in a statement on IWD for positivity because of past change:

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Great, but progress is still slow, hardly “sweeping away”, and those campaigning for change don’t want to wait another 100 years for parity in education, employment, democracy, legal rights, sport, representation in the media etc.

Women in Education

A timeline of women’s history – or rather some choice and interesting examples, as it does little justice to many forgotten women – includes Mexico’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who in 1691 fought for women’s education, saying:

“one can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”

Malala Yousafzai Bring Back Our Girls
Malala Yousafzai #BringBackOurGirls

We wouldn’t even accept that comment now, 400 years later, regarding it as sexist to assume that she should be the one to be cooking the supper. Yet education parity hasn’t arrived either with 50% more boys than girls in school in sub-Saharan Africa and the well-publicised situation in NW Pakistan brought to the fore by the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012. Men are twice as likely to be literate as women in Pakistan and there are three times as many schools for boys as those for girls with twice as many male places.

Money Talks

Frida Kahlo and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz on Mexican currency notes
Frida Kahlo and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz on Mexican currency notes

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz ended up on Mexico’s currency, as does Frida Kahlo on another peso note, and we all know that money talks, yet barely a dozen nations have historical female figures on their national printed currency.

Even Syria, much in the news, has third century Queen Zenobia on a high value note. The Ukrainian 200 Hryvnia note features women’s rights activist Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka (Lesya Ukrainka), a writer and poet who died in 1913. Israel and Turkey also have female figures on current or planned notes, whilst Argentina has Eva Perón.

The UK has its female head of state on the front of every note and on the reverse of others Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, and soon, Jane Austen will be added to their number. The United States will only have a woman on its banknotes in 2020.

Unpaid and Low Paid Working Women

The UN 2015 Human Development Report which monitors the gender-related aspects of empowerment (GEM) and development (GDI) says that whilst 47% of women are in paid employment and 72% of men, they nonetheless contribute 52% of global hours worked to men’s 42%, indicating high rates of unpaid labour. Socio-cultural reasons for this and expectation within marriage and motherhood, explain some of this, but women are still often expected to do more for less.

UNDP Infographic Progress in gender equality
UNDP Infographic Progress in gender equality

A UNDP infographic shows how we are approaching parity in education, but that workforce equality and executive jobs are lagging behind, and whilst female representation in parliaments is growing, ministerial positions for women are still rare. The blue polygon represents the aims of parity on 5 axes. The green is where we are at, and the orange where we were two decades ago in 1995. Even in the UK there are more male MPs now than the total number of female MPs ever.

Sexual Violence

Far from ending sexual violence after more than a century of IWD activism, in some places it seems to be on the rise. In areas controlled by Islamic State (ISIL) and similar groups like Boko Haram or Al Shabaab, sex-based violence is used as part of military control and conquest. Forced marriage, gang rape, mutilations and punishments are all carried out in the name of jihadist terror.

No such thing as a Safe Space for Women?

A far cry from Africa and the Middle East lie the streets of Britain on an average Friday night or even the office workplace, on any given day. Sexism at work, inappropriate banter or touching, still occur – 30% of British men admit to being sexist. The risk of being groped by a stranger in public for a young woman is nearly 1-in-2 with a majority wishing members of the public had intervened to stop it happening. The End Violence Against Women campaign report that 85% of women-under-25 had received unwanted sexualised attention and 45% sexual touching, in public. Nine times out of ten, nobody helps.

Woman in Sport

A Women in Football survey of women working in the sport reported that 2-in-3 women were the butt of sexist jokes and comments, 1-in-4 were bullied and 1-in-6 experienced actual sexual harassment. These figures are a rise on the last survey, 2 years ago. Perhaps, this could be accounted for by improved reporting and confidence to complain, or it could actually be getting worse.

Feminism is for all Women

Women attacking women is not unknown either, whether workplace bullying, school gangs, or policing each other’s feminism. Feminisms, rather, for a great range of feminist labels and ideologies now exist and needlessly attack each other rather than the societal systems that oppress them. Some avoid the term feminist altogether in protest, but when asked what they believe in, the basic principles of feminism are still held up. Namely, equal economic, personal, political, and social rights for women.

Feminism is for Men too

Whether you’re a feminist or an egalitarian, equality is what matters. Indeed, there is also an International Men’s Day, on 19 November during ‘Movember’ month. Joining in bringing disadvantaged women up to the opportunities, levels and ceilings, currently experienced by most men, brings equality and benefit for all. That is why we need International Women’s Day and campaigns against gender disparity in places where the scales of power are tipped in favour of patriarchal and often religious, political and economic establishment privilege. Men’s Day is a time to focus on their health and other disadvantages, but today in Women’s History Month is a day to focus on girls and women.

Feminism & Gender

Time Magazine list of top 100 most-read female writers in college

Top 100 Female writers in college

TIME Magazine 100 Most Read Female Authors on Campus
TIME Magazine 100 Most Read Female Authors on Campus

Today Time reported on the top 100 most-read female writers on college syllabi drawn from the Open Syllabus Project‘s collection of over 1.1 million course syllabi referencing 933,635 texts. Unfortunately, Time fell foul of a schoolboy error, thinking that the creator of Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, was a woman. Akin to thinking George Eliot was a man, she was in fact one Mary Ann Evans. Whilst they soon changed it to another undoubtedly female author they could not stop the error-spotting pedants’ scoop circulating on social media.

Historically, over the last 15 years, some 20,214 syllabi have featured William Shakespeare. Plato, Marx and Freud, and 13 other male writers precede the first female author on the list: A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian. The current course texts list includes at #5 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ahead of Aristotle’s Ethics, and Turabian’s work at #13.

Evelyn Waugh, He-Evelyn or She-Evelyn?

So, not a female writer then! But also, not an uncommon mistake as Waugh himself pointed out:

“I was christened Arthur Evelyn St John: the first name after my father, the second from a whim of my mother’s. I have never liked the name. In America it is used only of girls and from time to time even in England it has caused confusion as to my sex.” – Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography

Following TIME magazine‘s gendered mistake, the Independent in its ante-penultimate weekend issue seem to have made the same error:

“When Evelyn Waugh was listed recently among Time magazine’s top 100 female writers, it made me wonder how Evelyn’s books would be reviewed and marketed if she had written them now. In 1928, Decline and Fall was lauded as a viciously funny social satire; but would the same novel by Mrs Waugh be read as semi-autobiographical flimflam about a wedding? A Handful of Dust: a condemnation of the futility of humanist philosophy, or a thinly disguised roman à clef? Vile Bodies was a dark view of a decadent, doomed generation, but today’s Evelyn would have had her novel forced into pink covers, renamed Pretty Young Things and marketed as a romcom.”

Waugh, not a fan of punctuality, considered it a virtue only for the bored – much like Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps he had a similar attitude to accuracy! Certainly, he thought gendered division by sex “absurd”:

“Instead of this absurd division into sexes they ought to class people as static and dynamic.” – Evelyn Waugh

In 1927 Waugh got engaged to one Evelyn Gardner, yes another Evelyn, and they were affectionately known as He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn, though the marriage only lasted a year owing to She-Evelyn’s unfaithfulness with a mutual friend rather more simply named John. During the decline and fall of their marriage, Waugh’s first book and social satire, Decline and Fall, became successful. The first edition bore a note from the author:

“Please bear in mind throughout that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY.”

One imagines that is probably how he would see his name being on an all-female writers list!

St Julian of Norwich

The actual first woman to write a book in the English language, Revelations of Divine Love (1395), was an anchoress attached to the Church of St Julian in Norwich. She is even named ‘Julian’ from the church cell she occupied as her actual name is not known.

Gender bending Authors

The use of a cross-gender pen name has been around for centuries, in the main for female authors trying to get published or taken seriously in the predominantly male domain of publishing.

George Eliot

Whilst Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote as female, Mary Ann Evans chose to use the nom de plume of George Eliot to avoid Victorian romantic stereotyping of her writing. Instead, she wrote seven serious and substantial novels including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Middlemarch is currently #331 on the list of over 900,000 texts.

George Sand

TIME Magazine 100 Most Read Female Writers in CollegeAnother female author said that “My name is not Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Marquise of Dudevant, as several of my biographers have asserted, but Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin”, in fact, nineteenth century French novelist Aurore wrote under the more familiar name George Sand. Apart from novels and a memoir of an affair with Chopin, Sand wrote works of literary criticism, socialist political and feminist activism. At the outset of the 1848 French Revolution she founded a workers’ co-operative newspaper. The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev said of her:

“What a brave man she was, and what a good woman.”

She even began wearing male attire in public, claiming it was more practical and hardwearing. It also gave her access to places more typically dressed French noble women might have been barred from. It didn’t stop the criticism of her smoking in public, then frowned upon for women. Her most well known and most-translated work La Mare Au Diable (1846) “The Devil’s Pool” appears at #24,956 on the Open Syllabus list and has even been reinterpreted as a contrasexual queer novel once the author’s female gender is acknowledged.

Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell

Never heard of them? Well Ellis was in fact Emily Brontë, author of Wuthering Heights (1847) #680. Currer was Charlotte Brontë, the writer of Jane Eyre (1847) #406. Acton was Anne, author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) #27,436. All three Brontë sisters first published under their male pen names a volume of poetry, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846).

Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen or indeed Pierre Andrézel were in fact the Danish female author Karen Dinesen who became Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke. She is best known for two literary works that became films, Out of Africa (1937) #6,151 and Babette’s Feast (1958).

Harper Lee

Harper Lee the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) #255, who died last week, was born Nelle (Ellen spelled backwards, her grandmother’s name) but wrote under the gender ambiguous name Harper. Harper as a forename is derived from the Middle English surname for a harpist, and is most commonly a boy’s name but does feature in girl’s names lists, even as high as #89 in the UK (2014).

JK Rowling

The Harry Potter novels author, Joanne Rowling, has written as JK and as Robert Galbraith. It was her publishers who asked that she use use initials to aid appeal to the male young adult market. Her highest novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is ranked #4,599 by the Open Syllabus Explorer.

EL James & LS Hilton

Maestra, Lisa LS Hilton
Maestra, LS Hilton

Writing under gender-neutral initials rather than a gender-outing first name is becoming all too common. Following in JK Rowling’s footsteps, five years ago, Erika Leonard aka EL James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey. Now Lisa Hilton, writing as LS, breaks onto the erotic literary scene with her – or should that be an ‘unouted’ their, 2016 book in the now obligatory three parts. Maestra (published 10 March) is a sexy but classy romp in the art world, a far cry from her academic literary biographies written as Lisa.

Male to Female Pseudonyms

The eighteenth century American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin penned works under pseudonyms. He chose Richard Saunders but also Alice Addertongue, Polly Baker, Martha Careful, and Caelia Shortface. The 1747 Speech of Polly Baker by Franklin was an early woman’s rights protest against the way women were hounded and charged for having illegitimate children not the fathers. 250 years later societies are still trying to solve that injustice.

Even Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum, wrote books for a female audience using feminine pseudonyms: Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, and Suzanne Metcalf.

Changing Sex POV

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, Stephanie Meyer
Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, Stephanie Meyer

It is a common writing exercise and literary device to change the gendered Point of View (POV) of an author and have them write from the viewpoint of a main protagonist who is of a gender different to that of the author. A variation on this is what Twilight author Stephanie Meyer intends to do with the release of her gender-switched tenth anniversary rewrite of the novel. Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined features a male human Beau and female vampire Edythe, transposing the original roles, allegedly to prove the original intended no patronising damsel in distress stereotype.

Sex and Gender Bias

It’s been sadly proven that job applications, manuscript submissions are affected by gender bias. It is a very interesting psycho-social experiment to degender authorship and identity, to third-person neutral gender reference work colleagues by their job proficiency and not by their sex. Perhaps all authors should use initials? I often use just KJ so as not reveal my gender or even transgender by my fully spelled out name, Katy Jon.

Feminism & Gender

Gendered Uniform dress policy scrapped at top School to aid Trans pupils

Brighton College adopts trans-friendly Uniform policy

Brighton College is one of Britain’s top-ten schools, which puts student “welfare and happiness” as a number-one priority. Ranked as the leading co-educational school in England by The Sunday Times and described by The Week as “Britain’s most forward thinking school” it has lived up to this accolade by adopting a gender-neutral uniform policy. The educational establishment is:

“reacting to a changing society which recognises that some children have gender dysphoria and do not wish to lose their emotional gender identities at school.”

Trans Education & Tolerance Needed

Increased education of trans and gender variant issues needs to follow, especially in younger years where up to half of all schools are still ignorant of issues. Calls for the PSHE curriculum to teach about transgender and non-binary awareness are regularly sounded and it may be that after the recent evidence-based trans enquiry the Government is finally listening.

A conservative estimate of transgender prevalence would suggest that around 10 pupils or more at the 900-student school might identify as trans and potentially even more as non-binary. The number ‘out’ within the school would depend upon the age of ‘coming out’ and the safety to do so at school. Up to 48% of trans teens attempt to take their own lives, and around 80% consider suicide. Around 80 primary school pupils a year are taking gender transition further and seeking the help of NHS services such as the Tavistock and Portman Gender Clinic.

“People say that schools should be tolerant places but I think that we are more than that. We encourage everyone and anyone to be who they are or who they want to be. I am really proud that I have been educated in a school where there is no concept of the norm, of conformity and of the expected way to be. Everyone has supported this move and I think that there is a real sense of unity, from the headmaster to the youngest 3rd former, about this idea. I also know that students who are gender fluid or for any reason, decide to change the uniform that they wear, will be accepted, supported and encouraged by the whole school.” – Headmaster Richard Cairns

Abolishing Gender Distinctions

Whilst its headmaster would love to see “the notion of boys’ and girl’ schools abolished altogether” having a uniform policy that covers the needs and requirements of any pupil including transgender and gender-fluid is a major step forward in equality and diversity.

Pupils can now opt for a skirt and jacket or trouser and blazer combo, which is not explicitly tied to gender. At least one pupil has taken the college up on the offer and other families have expressed interest in the school’s new policy.

“It ties in with my strong personal belief that youngsters should be respected for who they are. If some boys and girls are happier identifying with a different gender from that in which they were born, then my job is to make sure that we accommodate that. My only interest as headmaster is their welfare and happiness.” – Headmaster Richard Cairns

Co-educational Advantage?

Whilst Head Master, Richard Cairns, was named “England’s Headmaster of the Year” by Tatler magazine in September 2012, he has recently come under fire for suggesting that single-sex education, particularly girls’ schools, puts them at a disadvantage and is “unrealistic”. He argues that co-educational environments benefit boys and girls providing a gentler, more tolerant, atmosphere. If tolerating a more flexible uniform policy increases the freedom of trans and genderqueer pupils to be themselves, then it is to everyone’s benefit. Indeed, for trans people being in a single-sex school is an additional layer of hell they have to endure, as social transition is nigh on impossible.