We used to call them feminists

Glosswitch again says what needs saying.

She starts with a discussion, via the also wonderful Janet Radcliffe Richards, of “feminine” and “masculine” as part of

a system that places women and men under very different social pressures, the primary aim of which is “to ensure that women should be in the power and service of men”.

It’s not about inherent qualities, it’s about subordination. That’s basic feminism.

Fast-forward 36 years and it seems we’ve forgotten the basics.  It’s not that we no longer use gender to extract resources and labour from one class of people for the benefit of another. Men still own the vast majority of the world’s material resources. Women still struggle for safety, visibility, education, reproductive autonomy, freedom from abuse. But for some reason we’ve stopped bothering to analyse gender as a social hierarchy. Perhaps it got too hard, or maybe it just got boring. Either way, these days it’s every woman – or non-man – for her/theirself.

That’s exactly it, and exactly the problem. I’ve been stewing over it all morning. Identifying out is just trying to save yourself at the cost of abandoning everyone else. It’s the negation of the political and the embrace of the Me First Always.

In 2007’s Whipping Girl Julia Serano complains of “the scapegoating of femininity”:

Until feminists work to empower femininity and pry it away from the insipid, inferior meanings that plague it – weakness, helplessness, fragility, passivity, frivolity, and artificiality – those meanings will continue to haunt every person who is female and/or feminine.

Holy fuck that’s a clueless thing to say. “Femininity” is a euphemism for subordination. It’s incoherent to tell feminists to “empower” subordination. The fact that some people love Manolo Blahniks and eye shadow doesn’t change that one bit.

Like many female people encountering Serano’s work, my first thought was “but my problem isn’t femininity – with which I don’t particularly identify – but being seen and treated as a woman. I don’t feel like or identify as a woman, but that’s the class in which I’ve been placed, and the whole point of feminism is surely the liberation of this class.” In response to this I was told by well-meaning liberal feminists “you don’t notice that you feel like a woman because you’re cis. You only prioritise class over identity because you have cis privilege.” But how could other people be so sure I had cis privilege? “Oh,” I was told, “not knowing you have it means you have it. It’s like having white privilege.” But, I countered, I know I have white privilege even if I don’t always recognise when I’m benefiting from it. As a woman, on the other hand, I know I am disadvantaged and I certainly don’t identify with my subordinate position. “Well,” I was told, “if it bothered you that much you’d identify as trans or non-binary or agender. As it is you’re cis.”

And that’s where I feel my hands balling into fists. No no no no no. It does bother me that much and that’s why I’m a feminist. Trying to magic myself out of it by “identifying” as trans or non-binary or agender would be just a personal fix, and I don’t fucking want just a personal fix – I want the system to change. Telling women to identify out of being women in order to escape oppression is like telling slave labor to identify as slave owners. Even if that worked, it still wouldn’t solve the problem of slave labor. It’s good that Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery, but you’ll notice he didn’t content himself with that; he went on to be a prominent abolitionist.

This never felt quite right. Looking back, I can see it was gaslighting of the highest order. Female people are so privileged they don’t even know they’re privileged.  What kind of nonsense is that? And why was I being told that my only choice would be to identify my way out of womanhood? Sure, I could identify as non-binary. But what good would that do? I wasn’t sexually assaulted for being non-binary. I haven’t been asked about my pregnancies in job interviews for being non-binary. I’m not afraid of street harassment because it would mean someone had “mistaken” me for a cis woman. My primary problem is not that I am identified as a woman despite not feeling like one. My problem is that women are treated like shit.

Identifying out just leaves that intact.

Being misidentified is not our problem; being identified as feminine is not our problem; being identified as women and hence inferior and exploitable is our problem. Only we’re not allowed to say this. Today we must all pretend that the difference between, say, Richards and Serano is that Serano is “more inclusive”. We must pretend, as the Green Party are doing right now, that a class analysis of female oppression can coexist with an identity-based one, regardless of the fact that the latter contradicts the former.

And the identity-based one is individualistic and hence, frankly, selfish.

In what sense, if we are including “individuals of non-binary or no genders” in our group, are we assuming the remaining women to “have” gender?  Is it not conceivable that many women – we used to call them feminists – have no inner sense of “being a woman” but feel class solidarity with everyone who is treated as one? Where do these women – who, on a desert island, would surely be non-binary, but within a class hierarchy wish to stand up and be counted as members of the oppressed sex class “woman” – find themselves represented? Nowhere in this fragmented, messy non-category.

Emphasis added.

Margaret Thatcher famously said “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Now the Green Party – who would surely condemn such sentiments – is saying “there is no such thing as a class hierarchy. There are individual non-male identities, and there is gendered oppression.” In both cases we are dealing with individualistic bullshit, coupled with an absolute refusal to ask why things are unequal and who is benefiting from whom.

Women – who exist, regardless of whether they feel like the creatures men tell them they are – deserve better than this.

Yes we do. Not just the non-binary special women, but all women.

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