Graham Linehan asking this question on Twitter got me thinking about this, and I ended up thinking about a blog-post worth’s amount of stuff. I am a gender critical radical feminist – I believe that gender is an imposed hierarchy and not an inner identity. I believe in the complicated phenomenon of sex dysphoria, but can’t see how gender dysphoria is conceptually possible. My story’s nothing dramatic, but still, it’s an angle I don’t hear too often.
It began when I first started thinking, quietly and to myself, that there was conflict between the idea that your sex shouldn’t dictate anything about your personality, your hobbies, or the expectations of you etc, but also that there are these categories of ‘men’ and ‘women’ that people, deep down inside, actually belong to and are actually a part of, regardless of their bodies and genitals. I had completely embraced the idea that gender was nothing more than a performance enforced onto people and that we should fight to abolish it completely. And then, I was being told that some people were requiring surgery to ‘better match’ their body with their feelings, their ‘gender identity’, or in my eyes – their personality.
I’m newly 25, so kinda young, but also well and truly leaving adolescence, so I feel like I need to write this kind of thing now or never. I saw how this new kind of thinking played out in young people in university, not that long ago (I left in 2016). I noticed that mainstream feminism just wasn’t actually making young women any happier or secure in themselves. Cool-girl, choice feminism reigned, where it’s cool to be down with page 3, sex work, cam girls, make-up as a weapon etc. I literally heard in the feminism society that being concerned about page 3 was very ‘white feminism’ and therefore to be tutted at. But at the end of the day, none of this was helping women actually feel autonomous and respected in their day to day lives.
Pushing this difficult balancing act to its extreme but logical conclusion, led to the realisation that the coolest but also safest thing for a girl to be, was a boy. Or at least, not a girl, so maybe non-binary or something. A boy can be unintimidated and cool with all these things without having to actually deal with them himself. Being a boy allows you to be cool enough to be down with women being sexualised without it getting spilt onto yourself. When you object to certain treatment, you no longer have to navigate that difficult and confrontational situation as a woman sticking up for herself, and risk being seen as hysterical and crazy and insecure, but can more simply just correct someone for thinking that you are a woman when you, in fact, aren’t. (This does sometimes mean that only the individual is saved from sexism, rather than ending that sexist practice as a whole for everyone). The ‘cool-ness’ of being “gender variant” is something I will never pretend isn’t true, and when something is really cool you have to take a good look at it.
This may sound like crazy hard-hearted armchair conspiracy theory but I do believe that young girls are identifying as men for a plethora of deep, complicated reasons and that it’s not just selfish vanity. I think these gender identities are false prophets that we’ve been pushed into accepting in order to meet all the conflicting demands on us to be feminist but also cool, and not one of those prudish old-fashioned and hysterical-shrieking-women kind. I don’t think these women are solely being vain and superficial, and that all trans-identifying females just want to be ‘cool’. I think that to read these issues that young women are navigating and trying to escape, and to think they’re trivial, is underlied by the same kind of misogyny that underlies thinking that women’s concerns about dieting and periods are completely trivial. You just don’t care because you don’t care about women. If your body shape, sex history and even tone of voice affected how all the people you encounter throughout the day treated you, from waiters to potential romantic partners to job interviewers, you’d take it pretty seriously and try out some extreme methods of getting some control back too.
One of the things I utterly adore about radical feminism is that it is the only ‘ism’ that truly recognises and acknowledges the serious and lasting hellhole that female puberty and adolescence is. Girls are cutting, starving and even attempting to kill themselves. We are seeing unprecedented levels of graphic objectification of younger and younger versions of female bodies relentlessly buzzed into everyone’s eyeballs. Your eyeballs, your parents eyeballs, your boyfriend’s eyeballs. It’s painful, aching and tiring work navigating that every day, and crucially, mainstream feminism is no longer a critical sanctuary away from it. On top of that, the fact that men will make a fuss over women expressing a minimal preference of taller boyfriends tells me that they are completely unaware and unconcerned with this firestorm which women spend their most formative years in, and in which they wouldn’t last five minutes.
A similar mechanism can be applied to the alleged sexuality of being ‘asexual’. I think it’s a cover story for dealing with some very serious pressures and difficulties. While identifying as asexual, an unchosen and unchangeable aspect of your very being, you can be cool with the porn-infused hook-up culture, catcalling and abusive shitshow that is sexual relations across the sexes, without getting tangled up in it yourself – for completely blameless reasons. You have a label and a reason for this deep and unsettling discomfort with what’s going on in the world of sex, without looking like a crazy goes-too-far feminist, or a failing-to-be-cool-and-sexy lady, or facing the real but very depressing and cynical truth of the widespread hate and disrespect men have for women. Creating a label for this feeling and painting any push-back and questioning of it as bigoted and prejudiced, hides the workings of entire structure of female oppression through sex.
I feel like I’ve seen the very quick rise and fall of women cottoning on to just how fucked things are and just how much, in Greer’s words, men hate them, before being quickly hustled into understanding that they’ve got it all wrong. They’ve got the wrong end of the stick and they should just happily carry on doing sex work and being objectified if they could just have the right attitude about it. You chose it, and choice is empowering, right? Do you think women are too dumb to make choices? Don’t you respect women’s choices? WHAT oppressive and toxic context?! Crucially, men are not actually the least bit intimidated by a slight attitude adjustment behind these phenomena and it does not change any overarching status quo regarding attitudes towards women and their freedoms and rights, at all. Re-framing catcalling to be problematic because it mistakenly assumes someone’s gender to be ‘woman’, hides its inherently sexist nature. In fact, now, if a transwoman is catcalled they might appreciate the gender-affirming nature of it…
So I left university thinking, this is fucked. And that was the beginning. Then I learnt about the money being made and the paedophiles being protected despite girls’ and womens’ discomfort with boys and men in female-only spaces. I learnt about stereotypes fueling transition and the degrading sexualised notions of womanhood which men had and were now displaying in their ‘presentations’ as women. I learnt about the children and the gay people and the survivors of sexual abuse not receiving holistic and comprehensive care and evaluations before being offered the permanent medical route of hormones and surgery. And now I think women deserve much, much better than this. And I made a blog with a mysterious and vague title which refers to the individualistic and cosmetic nature of people’s identities not doing any superhero work at all.
At 25, it feels pretty easy now to look the world back in the face and say, fuck that, I see what you are doing, and I am so busy and preoccupied functioning everyday with my rage at the violence and hate in this patriarchy that I am way past caring what you think of me. This is so much bigger than me. But it is very, very hard to do that when you are 17.