Which Stereotypes of a Woman are Acceptable?

In the New York Times on Sunday, a feminist writer worried that we trans women stake our “…claim to dignity as transgender people by trampling on [hers] as a woman.” She is worried that trans women and some men are redefining women by putting them “into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes.” She goes on to discuss what are apparently the essential differences between women and men thusly:

Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.

Oh. Okay, so her stereotypes are somehow less hoary (meaning ‘old and trite’ and not ‘grey and white’)? So while being a woman in the world, to this writer, should not be reduced to definitions regarding “our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods,” it should be reduced to definitions regarding workplace struggles (regarding our bodies), sexual worries (still bodies), menstruation (bodies again), and the potential dangers of being raped (bodies bodies bodies).

So just to be clear, while I have not had to deal with the birth control thing nor menstruation issues, I have dealt with men talking to my breasts (made worse by my height, which places them at eye level or above for most), being thought less of at work (pay only an issue in that the teaching profession is traditionally a career chosen by women and, thus devalued and underpaid as a whole when the salaries of similarly educated professionals are taken into account). Most trans women, having given up their male lives, travel through the world as women, experience the world as women, fear rape as other women do – perhaps more (6’2″ women get raped as well and trans women are often murdered after the rape if they are discovered to be trans).

She takes great pains to state that she supports trans women, but doesn’t want us to be defined as women because our apparent “disregard for the fact that being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one.”

Now I have been living as a woman full time since 2011. I have accrued 4 years of experiences, indignities and courtesies. Is that enough for me to be a woman now? Can we add the additional indignities of being a trans woman to my score sheet? How many years does one need in the game to earn the title? She says, “the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us.” But she has defined it and I find her definitions to be equally guilty of subordination of the female experience.

Worse, she breaks out the tired argument that being trans, suffering being trans, can be compared to a white person who thinks they were born black. She does this because she does not accept structural differences in the brains of males and females, even those these things are documented. She tries to make an argument that if cab drivers and musicians have aspects of their brain structure enhanced by lived experience, it is proof of nurture over nature. Having no experience with dysphoria, she simply negates it.

What she really wants to do in this article is make an argument that only cis women can be called women and that trans women should refrain because we don’t have the right kind of experiences. She brings up a few other points about her dissatisfaction with trans activists whilst ignoring that many of the arguments being made are being made by and for trans men or gender queer folks. It’s easy to leave them out of these kinds of articles. They are inconvenient to feminists such as this author, just as they are to to those making bathroom arguments.

What this is really a response to is Caitlyn Jenner’s pretty cover photo and the false argument that trans women reinforce gender stereotypes regarding expected appearance and behavior. It fails to acknowledge that for trans women, if we wish to blend in and not be clocked, attacked, or mocked, we have to pay extra attention to gender indicators such as hair, clothes, make-up. Yesterday at my theatre, a trans person came to see the play who, to me, was not making an attempt to blend and I had that little judgey voice in the back of my head criticizing that I had to quiet. It’s not my place to judge. Just because I want to exist in the world a certain way or be treated a certain way, it doesn’t make my truth or experience the essential one, just as this writer’s experience with birth control panic does not make her experience essential.

The fact is, she does not know what kinds of pressure are on Caitlyn Jenner to appear as she does or embrace very femme stereotypes. She does not live in that spotlight of judgement. Nor do I (thankfully!). It’s also easy to blame Jenner and trans woman in general for reinforcing femme stereotypes, but I notice that at no time at all does she take any cis woman to task for doing the exact same thing. There are many more cis women on magazine covers and in photo spreads who talk about and present aspects of being very femme that are often unattainable to anyone. While I am sure this author has aimed her feminist gaze at these women as well, in this article, she is presenting an indictment of trans women as being in league with Men to subordinate women. It is entirely unfair and does not even begin to take into account our lived experience as women and how we are at best a sub-class of women, treated far worse and subordinated to a much greater degree. She and her fellow feminists that she speaks of can shake their hoary heads (meaning ‘grey and white’ and not ‘old and trite’ – I assume she does not dye the grey from her head to satisfy the societal expectation of women to remain youthful in appearance for as long as possible) at Jenner’s remarks about nail polish, but they do not get the metaphor that being able to wear it until it chips away is a signifier for not having to hide being a woman anymore, not having to constantly put the male costume back on.

What she can never understand or experience is what it is to have to fight for her right to be accepted as a woman.

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Science Projects and the Problems with Believing

For the record, I’m an atheistic humanist who holds that science will someday work everything out, including the “spirit world,” which may or may not be the result of quantum entanglements and residual energy (my current unproven/untested theory of choice). I’m not a Bright. But I get them.They make a lot more sense to me than theists.

And also for the record, I generally have no issue with theists. When they pray for me or mine, I thank them. It is a positive thought action and I’d rather the world be full of positive thought actions than negative ones.

Where I do have issues is this:

I am supposed to accept that their beliefs are as valid as my reality. I do not accept the Bible as anything other than a collection of words written by a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons, many of them synchronically political, and finally compiled by a collection of clerics to reinforce their primacy in a regressive society. Anytime anyone tells me that they believe it is infallible or the literal “Word of God,” I know who I am dealing with and act accordingly. More often than not, to disengage from conversations about religion, which are dodgy at best and mostly belligerent because even Atheists fight over what it means to not believe in a deity (see the Brights).

I am supposed to accept that they can believe I am some sort of science project or my existence as a woman in negated because their deity is infallible and made men men and women women (and we won’t ask these folks to think too long on intersex people or any other non-binary, non-image-of-deity way in which people are born). I am supposed to accept their beliefs about me and other Trans folk because they are allowed to believe what they believe and I am supposed to smile and continue to have them in my life in any manner when their belief is a fundamental denial of who I am based on nothing more than their intractable position that someone who read an old book told them the old book said something that they should believe.

Sorry. You don’t get to be in my life. I accept that you have beliefs, but I don’t have to accept you in my life.

I accept that people have superstitions and need the comfort of religion. And I love many folks who are believers in deities and it may seem like I am being a judgemental ass or that I feel that I am superior having achieved a deity-free enlightenment (for the record: I am a judgemental ass and do feel that I am superior, but not because of my lack of deity-dependencies…just because I’m particularly awesome), but I can love them and have them in my life because they do not use their beliefs as an excuse to negate my pain and what I have had to do to live as authentically as I can. I also don’t talk about religion with them. It not my job to convert people to humanistic atheism (although if you are interested, message me and I will share the good word) and as long as it is not their job to try to make me believe in whatever they do, I can enjoy their company and friendship. It’s what I love about humanity at its best.

Now let’s speak for a moment about science projects.

Is my current state of being the product of scientific advances in medicine and body modification?

Yes.

You know someone who has had chemo and then a tumor removed?

Them too.

Cataracts replaced by IOLs?

Science!

Root Canal?

Yup.

The point being that medicine is the product of scientific advances that often require body modification to achieve the desired effects of a longer, healthier, happier life.

There’s a silly meme about a rapper bringing solar power to poor folks in Africa being more newsworthy than the very public transition of a formerly feted Olympian and reality show star whose primary occupation for the last decade has been to be the subject of media attention. In that meme, Jenner is referred to as a “science project” and people were offended. I was also offended, but more because a friend of mine shared the meme (he has since taken it down). The point was that there are more important things to focus on in the world than Caitlyn’s clothing choices and hair style. We should instead focus on famous people are acting more in the service of others.

Yeah. Okay. But seriously. We live in a tabloid world that revels in distractions…where people are killed because of paparazzi and those who invited paparazzi into their lives in their quest for the benefits of fame trying to escape from those people who make a living helping the famous make theirs (don’t try to make a living from fame if you’re not willing to accept that fame comes with camera-wielding lampreys who make their living from you).

I wish we lived in a world where people were more concerned with what is actually happening than what the media is doing to distract them from what is actually happening. If the media circus bothers you… If the inconsequential lives of the famous (although to be perfectly fair, for Trans folk, the coming out of a major personality is a big deal for the non-famous among us because it brings us that much further in from the fringe and more likely to be accepted without worrying about troubling legislation…baby steps). I’d rather people focus on the very terrible lives of most Trans people, especially those without privilege…heck, the pretty awful lives of most people without privilege, Trans or Cis.

If you’re truly upset that Caitlyn Jenner is pulling pop media focus from another famous person who, in an action apparently out of character for famous people, did something altruistic, then you are spending too much time looking at pop media. And, yeah, it shows up on your FB feed, but so do adds for cars or shoes or whatever else it was you were looking at and accidentally moused over a tracking pixel. You can take the click-bait or ignore it. You live in this social media world. To paraphrase Rush:

You can choose a ready guide in some commercial voice.

If you choose not to engage, you still have made a choice.

Choose free will.