To preface: This is my blog, I have posted about politics and philosophy on it before, and I will continue to do so. I welcome discussion in the comments, but I ask that you keep it civil. Misogyny and transphobia will be reported, even if it means that this blog post is taken down. If you put words in my mouth, you will be summarily ignored. This is a personal and important subject to me. Please respect that.
Today is International Women's Day.
I've always considered myself a feminist. I firmly believe that the same societal structures that are to blame for misogyny are also to blame for homophobia, transphobia, and the oppression of many other marginalised groups. You can call it the patriarchy if you like, but that word tends to rub some people the wrong way. You could also call it toxic masculinity, but that one just pisses people off. So I'm not going to call it either of those things.
I am simply going to call it culture.
We exist within a culture, a social framework, that teaches us certain established truths. I'll preface my argument by pointing out that individuals are not to blame for this. It's not the fault of straight, white men. It's not the fault of Donald Trump or Harvey Weinstein or Brett Kavanaugh. It is an insidious culture that has grown as the result of centuries of social norms. While the actions of individuals and groups continue to perpetuate it, these people are not to blame for the culture (though they should still be held responsible for their own actions, as should anyone).
Religion holds a great deal of responsibility for spreading this culture, Abrahamic religions in particular. Many older religions and cultures from around the world have no problem with homosexuality, operate with multiple genders, and have large degrees of gender equality. But even today, people use religion as an excuse for bigotry. It has been, and continues to be, a very effective form of social control. And countries where these bigotry based religions have grown strong roots, have spread the culture further via colonialism. India had no sodomy laws before the British arrived. Most African countries had no sodomy laws before the British arrived. Yet today, homophobia runs rampant in many of these countries.
A lot of homophobia is based on the premise that gay men are effeminate and therefore lesser. Some gay men internalise this and feel that if they were to bottom they would lose some of their masculinity. The submissive role is the 'female' role. Conversely, gay women and other women in same-sex relationships are often asked which one of them is the 'man' in the relationship. For some lesbians this is also internalised; many butch lesbians think less of lipstick lesbians, that is to say gay women who dress and act in a more traditionally feminine way.
How anyone can deny that these aspects of homophobia were born from sexism and misogyny is beyond me. Sexism and homophobia are steady bedfellows. They perpetuate one another in the culture.
I said I wasn't going to call it toxic masculinity, but toxic masculinity is a symptom of the culture. And again, it has nothing to do with individuals. Nor is it saying that masculinity in and of itself is toxic. It isn't. But there are certain conventions within the culture that are harmful to men and women alike, and toxic masculinity is one of them. Toxic masculinity is when people laugh at men who are sexually assaulted by women. Toxic masculinity is when a man feels ashamed because he cries. Toxic masculinity is when we say 'boys will be boys' when a child hurts another or when young men sexually harass. Toxic masculinity is when a man reacts to strong emotions with aggression instead of facing them head on. It's when a man takes up so much space that it infringes on the space of other people. Many women also perpetuate these ideas, by demanding that men be strong, and by teaching their sons different values than they teach their daughters. And all that is also a symptom of culture.
Another symptom is cis-sexism. This comes in many forms, and often from within the LGBTQ and women's movements. Many gay and straight people are downright rude, sometimes even violent, if they find out that a person has other genitalia than they expected. When I began my journey in earnest, one of my friends who's a lesbian said to me, 'I accept that this is who you are, but I don't get how wearing men's clothes makes you not a woman. I wear them all the time because they're comfortable and I like them.' Certain women's rights activists will use a similar argument. They'll say that girls think they're boys because they prefer dressing like them. Why do our daughters think they want to be men? And, conversely, they say of trans women that they're perpetuating stereotypes by conforming to traditional beauty standards and femininity. The truth is, in order to pass as the gender we are, we have to. I like pretty dresses and heels and make-up, but I don't feel comfortable wearing them right now because I would be immediately read as female. A friend of mine who's non-binary trans and on hormone replacement therapy, didn't dare cut their hair until they had facial feminisation surgery. Because they felt like they would have looked too masculine. Gender expression is a way to make our outward appearance match what's inside us.
These are all symptoms of culture. Of homophobia, sexism, and cis-sexism. And they go hand in hand.
Because we are taught from birth what we are supposed to be like, based on our genitalia. Girls are meant to like pink and play with dolls and like princesses and frilly dresses. Boys are meant to wear blue and play with soldiers and play war and like action movies. We are taught this to the point where it becomes hard-wired. We're not necessarily taught this by individuals, but by the culture that we live in. Many women experience internalised misogyny, where traditionally 'girly' things are shunned. How often don't we hear, 'Oh, I was always a tomboy, I preferred hanging out with boys, girls are just so much drama.' And there is value placed on that, on being less feminine, because being feminine is being lesser. Culture teaches us so, even if we don't realise it. Even if we don't believe it.
Nobody lives in a vacuum. It's easy to think, oh no, I'm too smart to be affected by advertisement or TV or books or the news. You're not. You are affected, whether you're aware of it or not. The dominant culture in which you live will always affect your morals, your thought patterns, your feelings. The way we're raised affects us, and we're not solely raised by our parents. We are raised by culture. We can break free of that. We can learn to tell ourselves, this thing that I'm feeling or thinking right now, it's not true. But teaching yourself not to feel it at all is extremely difficult. I know I've never been able to, as aware as I am of why I feel that way. Anyone who's ever suffered from depression, for instance, can tell you how hard it is to unlearn internalised basic truths that we've learned about ourselves based on our experiences, truths that aren't true, but that's a topic for another day.
One of the ways of making yourself aware and ridding yourself those thoughts and feelings is to deconstruct. To ask why. 'It's just the way things are' is not an answer. Things that are 'just the way things are' are born out of centuries of building a social framework. They are agreed upon truths that we simply accept. Deconstruct them. Pull them apart and look at the individual parts of these structures. Try to understand them, and you'll find that they don't make much sense.
As a person who straddles the gender divide, I probably feel these things more strongly than most. I'm in a unique position to notice. I didn't make a choice not to conform; I innately don't. It's the same for other members of the LGBTQ community of course, but for trans people it's something we're reminded of daily, and something we are forced to be acutely aware of if we want to live as anything like who and what we are. And we need every tool in the toolbox to do so.
I was going to march today, but I have a very persistent cold and don't feel well enough for that, sadly. I usually march every year, with the sex workers and the trans lobby; the feminists the traditional women's movement don't want, because we break with their established truths; that being a woman is a fact of gender assigned at birth, and that anyone who sells services of a sexual nature is a victim (also a debate for another day, and one I don't want in my comments today, please). It's an odd contradiction, to first deconstruct the idea that women are inherently unable to do the things that men do—that they are innately nurturing and are supposed to give birth to and raise children, that they can't do what they want with their own bodies, and so on—only to turn around and perpetuate the idea that chromosomes is what makes a woman and to dictate what others do with their bodies. It also utterly erases the existence of intersex people.
In spite of this, I continue to consider myself a feminist, just as much as I consider myself an LGBTQ activist. I don't have to be a Woman™ in order to do that, and even though I'm not, I'm still a person with a vagina and many things that the women's movement stands for are important to me. My feminism is about deconstructing a culture that hurts women, men, intersex people, non-binary trans people, binary trans people, gay and bisexual people; in short, everyone. It's nobody's fault, but it is everyone's responsibility, so that we can all be free.
I kind of went off on a tangent I hadn't planned for this, and went way more philosophical than I had planned. Like I said, I welcome discussion if anyone has anything to say, but keep it civil, consider arguments put forth before you react, and don't put words in people's mouths. In short, don't be a dick. The more likely scenario is that no one will comment at all.
Happy International Women's Day.
PS: I wrote this little batch of poems a while back, and it seems apt to share it with you today. You can also read it here.
you said i hated men and i said
that would be weird
since i’m transmasculine
there was nothing masculine about me
that if i wanted to be a man i should
act like one
and i said
if being a man means being a dick, then i know few men
and went home
she said no
so he took a gun
and shot three people
for the crime of being women
who wouldn’t have sex with him
on the eighth of march
when is men’s day?
and the feminists said
it’s on the nineteenth of november
on the nineteenth of november
and went home
are trans women traps?
are traps gay?
is it wrong to be gay?
is it, though?
as the women aired their grievances
what about the men?
and the women said
let’s talk about the men
let’s talk about men’s rights
male birth control
domestic abuse against men
men who are sexually assaulted, by other men and by women
let’s talk about why men can’t wear dresses
about aggression and anger
let’s talk about why men get depressed
why men kill themselves
why men don’t report rape
why little boys don’t cry
let’s talk about why men are afraid to be vulnerable
let’s talk about masculinity
and which parts of it are toxic
and you said
and went home
what makes a man a man?
why am i not a man?
or am I?
it doesn’t matter
but it does
and sometimes i wonder
do i want to be?
when i know that most men
will not accept me as one of their own
not as long as i look like this
fix our problems
and lists were made
here, these are things you can do
to fix your problems and make your lives
here are your tools
like we have done
but you said
and went home