The World Won’t Listen

Posted: July 2, 2010 in Feminism, Identity

For Stephen and Mark and Doris and Me.

Tomorrow is London Pride. The queers, the dykes, the trans women, the fags, the homos, the leather men, the queens and the fairy bois will be on the march, blowing their whistles and dancing the samba in the streets. I am glad they are out there, celebrating the diversity of our sexualities in the 21st century. I won’t be joining my GLBTQ brothers and sisters, however. My Fauxmos ambivalence prevails, in all matters of sex, gender, identity and nipple tassles.

And anyway I am a bit preoccupied at the moment. I am still reeling from the news about research being carried out at Florida International University. Basically it is looking at hormones in pregnant women, and finding that certain deficiencies can lead to their as yet to be born daughters, not displaying adequately ‘normal’ feminine characteristics, including genitalia.

This is the medicalisation of sexuality discourse that Foucault told us about a long time ago. Alas it seems to be back with a vengeance, and now, nature is being given some assistance to ‘correct’ the ‘abnormality’ of children who don’t conform to gender and sexuality stereotypes.  Of the two articles above, the Stranger focusses on the sexuality aspect of the intervention, whilst the Feministing piece states the intervention is more to do with gender identity, and an attempt to eradicate the obvious  outward appearances of intersex children.  Whatever the motive for this medical engineering of pregnant women and their unborn children,  Mark Simpson’s comment is apt: ”the problem with nature is it’s just not natural enough’.

You might have thought that feminists would be up in arms about this news. Only yesterday I was involved in heated and passionate debate with feminists from across the UK, over feminists’ opposition to strip clubs gaining licenses in British cities. They were up in arms then, about how the sex industry ‘objectifies’ women, and normalises harassment and violence against women, encouraging a culture of fear for women who live in urban areas. Today, the feminists have gone eerily quiet. If doctors and scientists intervening in women’s pregnancy to ensure their children fit the heteronormative stereotype of what little girls and little boys should be, is not encouraging a culture of fear for women who are not perfect little housewives, and does not serve to justify transphobia, homophobia and violence, I don’t know what does.

While the feminists are putting on their pyjamas to patrol the aisles of Tescos, and protest against the nasty lads mags and their depictions of women’s bodies, and the gays are putting on their glitter and getting their maraccas out of the toy box. Whilst young women about town are vajazzling and Brazilianing themselves, whilst young men are shaving their bollocks, and building their smooth muscled torsos. Whilst everyone is looking in the mirror instead of out the window, our sexuality and gender identity is being policed within an inch of its life. The Backlash Redux  is here and part of its success is due to the fact that it has allowed us to create a society where we are all too busy preening and grooming ourselves, or arguing about the evils of preening and grooming to see the real atrocities that are being committed under the name of gender, sex, medicine and ‘normality’.

I am screaming as loud as I can. I have gathered my tiny band of tired and ragged troops. We are crawling over the battlefield, ready to storm the castle. We are making as much noise as is possible, with such limited resources. But the world won’t listen. I suppose the world never did.

  1. Anastasia says:

    I’ve been reading everything you’ve been linking to on this topic in a state of horror: some of it, particularly the “science,” sounds like something out of another era or a scary movie script. I’m with you: why is this even possible? Why isn’t it at the forefront of today’s conversations?

  2. Hi Anastasia.
    I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about it. @DrPetra on twitter has been raising the issue: but she has been quite cautious about how she has framed the discussion. She works with science/health professionals so I think she is trying not to alienate them and to learn more about the background and context of that study.

    But I have been my usual brazen self and hardly anyone has picked up on my ranting! I am afraid it is to do with what I have written above: feminists are preoccupied with issues of body image and sex work/sex stereotyping. The complex discourses of gender/transgender/sexuality/medical intervention are a bit beyond most feminists’ remit!

    Interesting though that feminists did pick up on the story about clitoral cutting under clinical conditions at Cornell University a few weeks ago.

    We will see how the discussions develop.

  3. Mark says:

    I should say that I don’t know anything about nature. And I don’t think nature knows much about me, either.

    It is a very alarming business though. Or one that should be causing more alarm than it appears to be. The cynical part of me (which is admittedly the larger part) wonders whether most feminists aren’t very interested in this issue because it doesn’t present another opportunity to shame men and tut at their filthy habits.

    Now back to shaving my bollocks….

  4. Hi Mark, thanks for your comment.

    The people who have taken up this story most seriously are health/sexual health professionals and academics. They see the worrying implications in terms of medical interventions, and the ‘normalised’ version of sex/gender these interventions seem to support.

    I think feminists are scared of anything that raises difficult questions about gender identity. Its like they fall on the side of social construction of gender when it suits them but revert to ‘natural’ binaries when they want to slag off ‘men’. An issue such as this forces us to examine analytically what gender/sex/sexuality is, and I don’t think on the whole that contemporary feminists are up to that task.

  5. my own view, as a perennial victim of these feminists insults about those who promote the sex industry, goes the other direction. i don’t think they are so much afraid of _this_ particular question as obsessed to the point of blindness by the other. they’ve decided that sex-and-money are the devil and made that their campaign and nothing will sway them from their goal of eradication. i’ve been studying them for 15 years as an extremist segment of what i call the Rescue Industry.

    • I feel for you Laura, 15 years is a long time to be studying those stupid people. I hope you will feel you can come here anytime and have a good old rant! Respect to you and your campaigns!!

      • also I have just realised the extent of their lunacy and plan of eradication, after I had an altercation with Cruella. See my post: Cruella and me. What nasty pieces of work some of these ‘feminists’ are.

  6. Mark says:

    That’s a much more grown up interpretation than mine, Elly. Yes, ultimately, for all the complaints about girls being forced into a submissive role by cultural prejudice, many if not most feminists’ worldview seems to be based on an essentialist/fundamentalist view of ‘Woman’. If only to place all the ills of the world at men’s feet (or on their cocks).

    So all that transgender stuff (which is not exactly unproblematic anyway) is complete anathema. Men can’t appropriate our oppression! (Or use our toilets.) Women can’t become ‘rapists’!

  7. Yes Mark, and then the transgender ‘lobby’ also adopts essentialist views of gender, creating a binary between ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ women to add more conflict and misunderstandings to the mix.

    I find it all very depressing. Especially as we have done the intellectual work previously, which could have avoided some of these intransigent positions and fights.

    Meanwhile the doctors are happily earning extra cash from ‘operations’ and ‘drugs’ and ‘interventions’ so the ‘gender industry’ is booming and the feminists are turning a blind eye.

    There is something a bit sci-fi about it all.

  8. Kim says:

    I’m listening & I agree with much of what has been said about both the horrendous-ness of this manipulation of nature to fit perceived norms and (in my mind) the unethicalness of it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t feel I know enough to write much on the topic…and I was a little slow picking up your post!

  9. at least Kim, you admit to not knowing about stuff and strive to educate yourself. Unlike some *cough* feminists I know…

  10. Kim says:

    Well I see no point admitting it, really. I mean how are we as a society or as individuals ever going to learn or advance if we don’t admit to not understanding or not knowing.

  11. I agree. But some people seem to think they own certain areas of knowledge/experience. It is alien to me but I know this arrogance when I encounter it! I have been told so many times for example, that I can’t speak about rape because I have never been raped. Or I am not an ‘expert’ in transgender issues therefore I should defer to those who are…

    • Helen G says:

      “Arrogance”, pfft. Frankly, if you’re going to make erroneous assertions like “the transgender ‘lobby’ also adopts essentialist views of gender, creating a binary between ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ women to add more conflict and misunderstandings to the mix” then you should expect that you’re going to put people’s backs up.

      Maybe it’s not just a question of “deferring” to those who have a clearer understanding so much as doing the groundwork, the learning – and examining your glaringly obvious cis privilege.

      Perhaps in the process you’ll understand how and why comments like yours seem to be the “arrogant” ones.

  12. I don’t support the gender binary of trans v cis so simply as it is presented Helen.

    I accept there is cis privilege and this leads to transphobia and violence against trans women and men.

    But the binary opposition doesn’t help anybody I believe. and that conclusion I have reached through years of research.

  13. impeus says:

    I’m in support of Elly’s dislike of the trans/cis binary here. In accepting trans at all, you accept that gender is “just not as simple” as male/female. Well, I assert its not as simple as trans/cis either. You can’t reject one short-sighted binary in favour of yet another one, surely?

  14. Thanks impeus. That is how I see it too. There are issues of how we identify cissexism and cismisogyny without referring to that binary, but I think by being more sensitive to language use and terms and how we position people in society we could be much clearer and less antagonistic in our language.

  15. I accept I am going to put people’s backs up too, Helen. but the fact is I put people’s backs up just by existing and being who I am. I get so much shit from feminists for being open about my sexuality and for challenging dominant discourse in feminism. I am not going to tip toe around everyone who says they feel upset by what I say.

    I think that is not arrogant or patronising but actually treats us all as adults who have a right to speak on all the issues that concern us. The one that concerns me at the moment the most is these doctors finding drugs to treat pregnant women to make their unborn children ‘normal’ in gender identity terms.

  16. I don’t understand the problem with the cis-trans binary. Trans covers a huge range of gender identity and expression, and there’s room within cis for people who do not meet various “norms” but who nonetheless experience the priviledge of having a gender identity which aligns with that assigned to them at birth and on a regular basis with all social and official encounters.

    Binaries can always be a little blurred, but still basically be binaries. What we’re talking about here isn’t like the gender binary (which is largely mythical) but more like the binary you get between an oppressed group and their oppressors – which is always going to be stark. That’s the point. We’re not really talking about internal gender identity and how cis or trans that is, but about the societal side of things – because that’s what hurts trans people.

    I’m sorry Elly, but Helen’s right. Your cis priviledge is glaring. When you put people’s backs up by talking about kink and being sex-positive, that’s one thing but it’s a whole other matter when you’re talking about trans issues.

  17. ‘What we’re talking about here isn’t like the gender binary (which is largely mythical) but more like the binary you get between an oppressed group and their oppressors – which is always going to be stark.’

    I totally disagree. In my view the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’ are not at all clear in terms of cis/trans, anymore than in terms of male/female. I find binaries themselves oppressive. Unavoidable maybe, but oppressive all the same.

  18. also I would like to make a case for the act of writing. An important part of my thinking and activism is centred around writing. These issues are very complex, and difficult to make sense of and to write about and express clearly. I do read other people’s writing on this subject but for me, to really understand something I find it helps to write about it. None of my writings are intended to be ‘the final word’ on any given subject.

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