Here we have a highly technical explanation of how gender abolition is colonization, by Lola Phoenix.
When mentioning that I don’t identify as a woman, I end up in a lot of debates with people who believe in abolishing gender. Recently, I’ve comprised an explanation of why arguing for the abolition of gender is a form of colonisation.
I think LP means “composed,” not “comprised,” but anyway.
You probably have heard of the philosophy that gender is a social construct. What that means is that, while there may be biological and bodily markers of what we refer to as “gender” (or “sex” as it is just as much a social construction as “gender”), the concept of gender is something constructed by our culture. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, as some may take the connotation of “social construction” as, but rather that cultures define it.
Sex is is just as much a social construction as “gender” – ok, so then what word do we use to name the two kinds of sexually dimorphic human bodies?
Leaving that for a later day, so we have gender and sex, which culture defines. Ok.
But I want to go further than that. Gender is not just a social construct, but it is an epistemology. What’s an epistemology? Simply put, it’s gained knowledge.
No, it isn’t. That’s not what the word means.
But LP says it is, and that gender is no different. That looks like a non sequitur to me, but ok.
I feel making a distinction between an epistemology and a social construct is important, especially when we’re approaching gender through an intersectional lens.
Well…yeah, because epistemology is not the same thing as a social construct at all. What approaching gender through an intersectional lens has to do with that I have no idea – could it be that LP just likes using fancy-sounding words?
Gender is not just performance, it is a process that we come to know ourselves and others. It something that we have placed importance on, categorised, and developed over centuries. The problem with “social construction” is that it paints a stagnant picture. We don’t just construct gender and then we’re done. It’s not like a building that’s made up that we all live in. But it’s something that we do constantly, that we change, that we mould, and shape, and it’s something that we’ve been doing for centuries.
That sounds like art, or architecture, or city planning, or fashion, or music, or an array of cultural creations. It doesn’t sound like gender at all. Is LP perhaps just trying to say that ideas about gender have changed over the years? Even while many core ideas remain annoyingly immutable? Possibly, but it’s really hard to tell.
Then LP says gender isn’t like a house that we can tear down, so we can’t tear it down. Then LP says it’s not realistic to try to abolish gender, and that doing so is like trying to sieve the baby out of the bathwater. Then, suddenly, and one might think rather late in the game, LP decides to define gender.
Gender is an epistemology, and it’s an epistemology that’s constructed through the lenses of other intersections. Most of the dialogue that I’ve seen that suggests abolishing gender comes from a usually white perspective. They have their own perception and concept of what “gender” entails. The problem when you take that outside of a white-centric perspective is that not only is it far more complex, but the process of applying white gender epistemologies to other gender epistemologies becomes a colonising process.
Now here we hit a stumbling block, because I have no idea what that means. Literally none. It just looks like word soup to me.
LP gives an example: it’s not right to call hijras trans, because that’s an oppressive and colonizing act.
Ok. I’m good with that. I won’t call hijras trans.
The same goes for two spirit people. Ok.
In this situation, not only are we pushing a white epistemological concept of “gender” onto other cultures, but if we go forth with abolishing it, how can we expect people for whom their gender interacts so closely with their race, their religion, their cultural background, to divorce or even to recognise the bits and pieces of gender that are independent of their culture to destroy? Or, if gender is an epistemology, is race and other intersectional factors part and parcel of gender in such a way that one cannot simply abolish it alone? And if we attempt to do that, it leads to the next big problem I have: that the abolition of gender may be, especially stemming from a white feminist bases, a colonising force.
Here’s the stumbling block again. I can’t make any sense of that. Word soup. I have no idea what LP is trying to say there.
Is this because I’m so very cis? Or is it because LP doesn’t know how to write clearly? Maybe.
Quite often anthologists and others attempting to classify and and give names to other cultures have created problematic systems that are oppressive. In fact, you see this with the concept referenced above, “two spirit”. “Two spirit” as a name has become more popular where previously the term “berdache” was used, based on the French bard ache implying a male prostitute or catamite and originating from an Arabic word meaning “captive, captured.”
I hate it when anthologists do that, don’t you? So colonialist, collecting all those poems or stories and imprisoning them in one single Eurocentric anthology. Bastards.
It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there is a society which has no word for “gender”, where the concept of “gender” does not exist. While there may be behaviours that certain people do or don’t do that are gendered within a white epistemological framework, if a culture has no concept of it within itself, then how exactly do we abolish it?
Point pretty comprehensively missed there, I think. If a culture has no concept of gender then even the most ardent abolitionist wouldn’t feel a need to abolish it, because there would be no “it” to abolish. Besides which, the feminists I know who would like to get rid of gender stereotypes don’t particularly want to go messing around with cultures they don’t understand, they want to get rid of gender stereotypes here, where we live and have to deal with them.
Do we simply put our Eurocentric epistemology of gender toward the culture and abolish whatever does and doesn’t fit our definition? And what if, despite not having a concept of gender, the culture is still oppressive towards one sect of the population which has a biological difference that we would judge as a sex characteristic (e.g. for example, what if that culture saw being square jawed as a sign of power and men just so happened to be the predominantly square jawed people in power)? Do we reframe it under gender? How do we approach it? It all becomes incredibly complicated.
Ok, that’s enough now. Poor LP is thoroughly confused, so there’s no further point in giving examples of the confusion. But I think it’s indicative of something that this kind of thing gets written. It’s more like an attempted invocation of spirits than anything resembling an argument or explanation.