Feminist Disavowal Of Cissexism

04Aug10

This post has been crossposted at The Spectrum Cafe

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that feminism as a movement (and sometimes even as an ideology) has some troubles.

A movement plagued by prescriptive nonsense on a fairly regular basis, it has been guilty of body policing, life choice policing and attacking those women who choose options or exhibit traits that it deems to be part of the sexism aligned axis of kyriarchy. Thin women are attacked with body policing with catchphrases like, “real women have curves” and “eat a sandwich”. Women who choose to work in porn or in sex work are attacked in some really awful ways, as their self determination is stripped from them by the women who claim to protect the self determination of us all.

Feminism is also well known for truly abhorrent cissexism and transphobia from its second wave and radical feminism zones (trigger warning on the comments) and hasn’t exactly solved the problem of cissexism in the third wave either. This can include treating trans men like “men lite” (something that is endemic all over feminism) and especially shows itself in degendering and even levying misogynistic attacks on trans women. Often with the claim that since we transitioned, we deserve it because we “chose to be women” (a pretty foolish conclusion built on a lack of comprehension and willful ignorance).

And it has certainly been utterly awful to women of color and women with disabilities as well. The fact that womanism was built specifically to escape the racism of feminism and the fact that an entire community blog (FWD) tore away from all the major feminist blogs due to their ableism, should be indicator enough that there’s some serious problems here.

So with feminism’s issues being so distinct and so serious, one would think that feminist “allies” would quickly acknowledge and work to fix the problems. Right? As it turns out, no, not really. (You’ll notice she deleted the post in question after a long and drawn out argument about it. Another waste of my day to try to educate cis feminists)

Feminists have this really bad habit of disavowing anything in their movement that makes it look bad. Whether it be racism, ableism, cissexism or another -ism; body policing, prescriptivism, or other attacks on self determination, the fact remains that a significant number of feminists’ response to their movement being called out for these things is, “NOT ALL OF US ARE LIKE THAT, IT’S NOT MY FEMINISM/TRUE FEMINISM/ACTUAL FEMINISM/REAL FEMINISM”. What this comes down to, in the end, is reputation. Something a professed ally should not be prioritizing under any circumstances.

Since I’m tired of dealing with this argument every time I talk about feminism’s issues, I’m going to make this post address all of them so I can link bomb instead of wasting my life on these people.

1: Dissociating Reputation Save: “But not all of us are like that!”

I hate this one the most because it is a giant fallacious load of garbage to even say it. Of course not all of you are like that. I never said all of you were. If it isn’t about your actions, don’t make it about you. No, it isn’t my job to reassure you that you are an ally of repute. The fact that you couldn’t even put the effort into thinking about what I said really shows how concerned you are with fixing the problems in your movement. The fact that you immediately made it about how you look really shows what your priorities are.

2: Unique Snowflake Feminism: “But that’s not MY feminism.”

Funny story: feminism is a movement, a group, a united common ideology fueled alliance of women. Not a fingerprint, snowflake, particle trail, personal taste in pizza toppings or individual viewpoint about modern art. I thought this was common knowledge, that feminists are part of a group and movement called feminism and not an army of one. You might as well call it Carrie-ism, Stephanie-ism, Zoe-ism, etcetera instead of feminism if it’s just your personal philosophy, taken totally apart from any other feminist out there. This once again comes down to reputation. Only this time it is not just the reputation of the individual feminist at stake, it is the reputation of the Voltron combination of feminism and one single very upset feminist who very much dislikes how us mean minority type people dare to claim her symbiotic companion (and by proxy, herself) could dare to have anything wrong with them. This one is more silly than irritating and I have to admit, I laugh when I hear it. At least in the beginning, before this argument goes on for hours and makes me want to claw my eyes out.

3: No True Scotsman. “That’s not REAL feminism”

Circular logic can make an argument go on for days. And there’s nothing more circular than claiming that feminists, who are part of the movement, engage in activism, follow the base ideology of feminism (gender equality) as they interpret it aren’t actually feminists when they do something that establishes that feminism has people who do bigoted things. As shitty as it is, transphobia, racism, ableism, body policing and etc were all parts of feminism since its early days. Many of the greats of feminism, like Mary Daly, were transphobic as shit (and likely racist and ableist too) and these elements were hard coded into second wave. Third wave still hasn’t recovered from that damage. You can claim that the feminists who do that stuff are bad feminists, are doing it wrong, are failing at the spirit of the philosophy of feminism, but claiming that what they follow isn’t feminism? No. That’s just silly. They’ve got the base philosophy, which they do follow, based on their interpretation. That’s the problem with simple philosophies. Interpretation leaves holes for bigotry. Might be wise to be mindful of that.

It’s tiring dealing with this shit.

But the really funny part is since you’re spending your time trying to protect your reputation as an ally or prove feminism doesn’t have bigotry and bullshit instead of actually fighting the issues, you’re actually proving that you’re a bad ally and that you’re part of feminism’s problem. It’s a bit counterproductive for everyone. And really ironic.



27 Responses to “Feminist Disavowal Of Cissexism”

  1. 1 Anji

    I have been guilty of all three of these. I’m only just now learning how bloody unhelpful they are. Thanks for this post, for reiterating it.

  2. Thanks for this. It’s an important reminder of why folks with privilege need to get our heads out of the sand and look at our movements and stop making excuses for ourselves and the people we choose to associate with philosophically.

  3. 3 chartreuseflamethrower

    Oh my god. AVEN (THE asexuality movement) learned everything it needs to know from feminism. No wonder trying to fix these problems is like banging my head into a wall repeatedly. And I realize this isn’t directly related to your post, but I’ve been banging my head into a wall repeatedly with AVEN these past few days and this was just a shining epiphany that fully puts into words my “There is no hope”.

    Also, to “But not all of us are like that!”, I found something that’s actually about feminism to men, but it applies here as well. I think it’s a good point. (from genderqueer on tumblr from… wherever):

    “Do you not think that the problem might come from the very fact that you are angry at us for complaining, rather than angry at your fellow boys and men for this enduring misogyny? Instead of being furious that we point out that many men do act this way – including men these women trust completely – be angry that there are men that will treat your mother, sister, daughter, friend, girlfriend badly purely because they are female. Not only that but they are giving you a bad name, not us.”

    Replace men-related stuff with “feminists”, “misogyny” with “bigotry”, and women-related stuff with “[marginalized group]” and it’s the same thing as this.

  4. Oh yeah definitely. That’s a perfect quote for it.

  5. I’ve been guilty of saying ‘but it’s not REAL’ feminism’ before, until I a) because disillusioned with feminism and b) realised what a hypocritical jerkoff I was being. Hopefully this post will help a few more of us ‘see the light’.

  6. You wanna hear something that’s gonna make you wanna rip yer own tits off?

    Apparently Sarah Palin is the face of modern third wave feminism.

    Yea.

    YEA.

    http://theamericano.com/2009/11/24/sarah-palin-redefining-femenism/

    I’d laugh but I’m not sure the hysterical edge could be convincingly hidden at all.

  7. o_o

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

  8. If she’s the modern face of feminism, Glenn Beck is the modern face of Atheism.

  9. Yes, all of this post.

    I’m not able to be all insightful or anything, but this is really good. Thank you for writing it.

  10. 10 nakedfaery

    I’ve done all these, reading this has given me a lot to think about. Thank you for posting it.

  11. Guilty as charged for #2. As with all movements, it’s shocking that deep seated prejudice comes from people who are supposed to be the progressive ones. Thanks for writing this!

  12. I’ve never thought about #2 before. Very interesting.

  13. 13 Demosthenes XXI

    Genderbitch…you are my heroine!

    The very things you pointed are a large number of the things in the reigning feminist philosophy with which I have a problem. I have screamed this at the top of my proverbial internet lungs at those feminists who make statements 1&2 every time somebody points out a problem:

    “If this is not your feminism, then take back your movement from those who don’t represent you!”

    The feminists who disenfranchise women of color, some lesbian women (who fall between the cracks), transwomen, men (gay and straight), and others who don’t fit within the clearly evident cisgendered white female brand of feminism, are the ones who are speaking the loudest and are the ones who come to mind when it comes to the overall visualization of third wave feminism.

    Thanks for calling those fair-weather feminists out. When feminism finally gets it’s “collective shit” together, then we’ll see some real progress toward an egalitarian society.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  14. 14 Ness

    Feminism has lost it’s meaning. In modern times it has bred more hatedred and bigotry and oppression especially within the queer community. It’s both sad and disgusting. Thankyou for this article.

  15. 15 Christi

    Here from TigerBeatdown. I agree that feminism is problematic, especially when it’s so invested in the idea of a gender binary. But I’m also annoyed by misogyny on a regular basis. I’m not sure what that means or how to fit it all together, though I appreciate this post.

  16. Feminism being problematic doesn’t mean you have to abandon it. Just fix it.

  17. Wow. Look how tiny the word trans is in the cloud. >.< Not surprising but always dismaying.

  18. 19 Amanda

    It does concern me that you say “Women who choose to work in porn or in sex work are attacked in some really awful ways, as their self determination is stripped from them by the women who claim to protect the self determination of us all.”

    I dispute the term “choose”. As you’d know a lot of women don’t actually choose this work. Maybe they’re not the women you mean though.

    Then there’s the high number of women – conservative estimates put it at around 60% but i wouldn’t be surprised if it was much higher – who work in the porn or sex industry who were sexually abused as children, and/or have since been sexually assaulted while in that industry. So you have a large proportion of women who perhaps don’t have the capacity to make the best choices for themselves in terms of sex (i will not go into detail here as to why this is – this should be obvious but if it isn’t please consult the abundance of research on this topic).

    Mix in the aggressive target marketing and way-too-early sexualisation of girls (and boys), the rise of raunch culture and many women feeling they have to live up to a mainstream (or worse) porn/stripper fantasy, the spread of increasingly violent porn which is accessible by young people and is no doubt further poisoning both young men and women’s ideas of what sex ‘is’ or ‘should be’, and you have a recipe for a lost, hypersexualised generation too far removed from earlier feminism to know just how bad things where for women for sooooooo long (i.e. up until the last 40 years or so). This is not freedom to epxress your own sexuality, this is being sold out, co-opted, coerced…

    Please be very careful when you use the word ‘choice’. For women who have a healthy self-awareness of their own sexuality and the broader social forces that shape our current attitudes to sex, and why and how the sex industry operates, and still choose to work in that industry, then your point is valid. I’d say such women do not make up the vast majority of workers and therefore you’d have to conclude that the whole industry is based on a very unhealthy notion of sexuality.

  19. @Amanda: By all means the porn industry is hella fucked up and a massive number of women are exploited.

    But you need to be unbelievably careful how you approach that because as soon as you start saying they don’t have the “capacity” to choose or that “they aren’t the best judges” of their own sexual decisions you are stripping them of their self determination and essentially saying someone should make their sexual decisions for them.

    Which is a quick way to rape and sexual repression.

    Don’t be that kind of feminist, Amanda.

  20. 21 Eirwyn

    I’m glad that I read this, because this is something I would have fallen into, had I the opportunity to have such a discussion.

    To be honest, feminism is what got me into other things. It got me into anti-racism and anti-transphobia because a feminist blogger I follow had those things on her blogroll.

    And most of the feminist writings I read tend to try to be inclusive of all types of women, and do talk about the problems that run rampant in feminism.

    If I had been introduced to feminism by other blogs, though, I think I would have been clueless or might have gone down the path to transphobia.

    And I’ve recently found myself being shocked by how WRONG people who identify as feminists could be. (Feminist at Sea is one of those things.) I shouldn’t be shocked, but I am, because I’m so new to this and haven’t seen it much before.

    But I know it exists. I’d really really not like to have any association with feminists who do those things, so it’s tempting to say ‘they’re not REAL feminists’. I don’t think I would have realized where I would be going wrong if I hadn’t read this, so thank you for writing this.


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