Or another gender

Judith Butler explains that being a woman is optional.

In the last few years, protests in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere have objected to an “ideology of gender”. Elections in France, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Brazil have pivoted on a candidate’s account of gender roles. In the US, both Catholics and evangelicals have opposed a host of political positions linked elsewhere with “gender theory” or “gender ideology”: the rights of trans people in the military, the rights to abortion, lesbian, gay and trans rights, gay marriage, feminism, and other movements in favor of gender equality and sexual freedom.

That’s a lot of disparate concepts thrown into the blender and served up as “gender equality.” It also puts feminism last, which is odd when you remember that women are half (or slightly more than half) of all people, except in places where selective abortion has slashed their numbers. I don’t consider feminism a minor part of a grab bag movement for gender equality and sexual freedom; I consider feminism a stand alone movement for an end to the patriarchal subordination of women.

Arguably, this backlash against “gender ideology” took shape in 2004 when the Pontifical Council on the Family wrote a letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church signaling the potential of “gender” to destroy feminine values important to the Church; to foster conflict between the sexes; and to contest the natural, hierarchical distinction between male and female upon which family values and social life are based.

What, because until 2004 the Catholic church was all for feminism? Don’t be ridiculous. Popes and their councils have been cranking out blather about the proper role of women since forever.

In The Second Sex (1949), the existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote: “One is not born a woman but becomes one.” This claim created space for the idea that sex is not the same as gender. And in the simplest formulation of this notion, sex is seen as a biological given, gender the cultural interpretation of sex. One may be born as female in the biological sense, but then one has to navigate a series of social norms and figure out how to live as a woman – or another gender – in one’s cultural situation.

So gently she slips that “or another gender” in there, between two dashes as if it were just an aside. Relax, honey, it will only hurt for a second. But it’s not just an aside, it’s a fucking reversal. Living “as a” woman while resisting the rules for women is feminism; living as “another gender” i.e. a man is the opposite of feminism, it’s a god damn cop out. People can see this with no trouble when it comes to race, but somehow now with “gender” it’s the hip thing to do. Imagine the reaction to “One may be born as black in the biological sense, but then one has to navigate a series of social norms and figure out how to live as a black – or another race – in one’s cultural situation.” What does “or another race” mean in that sentence? That one perfectly legit and healthy way to escape the “social norms” of living as black, to wit racism, is to transfer to the privileged aka dominant race. What does that say? It says a viable alternative to combating racism is just to stop being the despised race you are and become the race of the despisers. That leaves racism untouched but simply pretends it’s voluntary, because people can always simply announce that they are white and bam, they are freed from racist oppression.

It’s obviously both ludicrous and insulting, not to mention regressive, but it’s what Butler is saying to and about women.

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