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Why Feminism and Feminist Study Should Be Gender-Inclusive
Clark A. Pomerleau
As recent print media and film document the existence of transpeople, troublesome questions arise about transpeople’s feminist loyalties. On the first page of a “Transgender 101” section in Curve, executive editor Diane Anderson-Minshall admits that lesbians sometimes feel at odds with transgender people; we demand male-to-female transsexuals prove themselves worthy of entry to our club, and endlessly question just how feminist female-to-male transsexuals can be if they’ve rejected female-hood.1 Likewise, in Boy I Am, a 2006 movie about transmen from the lesbian community and feminism, nontrans feminist women ask why the transmen are giving up the feminist fight.2 Even the New York Times reproduces lesbian perspectives on transmen. Paul Vitello’s lead article in the “Fashion and Style” section treats transition as a fad overlapping with “The L Word” television show and quotes a former Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival producer opining, “There are many people who look at what these young women are doing, and say to themselves, ‘Hey, by turning yourselves into men, don’t you realize you’re going over to the other side?’”3 Questions about who can be feminist are more enduring than current popular culture. They entered feminism early and persist in feminist studies programs when self-identified feminist women ask men how they can be feminist, marginalize men in Women’s Studies courses, and perpetuate transphobia by questioning trans and genderqueer feminists’ assertions of their gender identities and
Curve devoted fifteen articles to explaining “Transgender 101” (52-62). Diane Anderson-Minshall, “Gender 101,” Curve: The Best-selling Lesbian Magazine 16.7 (September 2006): 52. 2 Sam Feder and Julie Hollar, Boy I Am (film, 2006). Transmen is one term for female-to-male transsexual men or men labeled female at birth regardless of their use of medical technologies like surgery and hormones. 3 Paul Vitello, “The Trouble When Jane Becomes Jack,” The New York Times, Fashion & Style (Sunday, August 20, 2006): 1. Part of the problem with all of these representations is that lesbians stand in as experts on feminism and appropriate opinions about transition. The current representations of transmen portray them as formerly lesbian and so young that they might casually succumb to faddish pressure. This plays on fears that butch lesbians will cease to exist despite a resurgence of butch identification among younger lesbians since the late 1980s and the fact that
their commitment to feminism. Given stereotypes of trans as potentially anti-feminist and feminism as anti-male, there is a need to reevaluate who and what are the subjects of feminism.4 Resistance to male-identified people and narrow definitions of “woman” seem to continue due to ways ideologies get passed along within feminism. Anti-male sentiment and transphobia against self-identified feminists shows limited understanding of feminism by selecting early experience-based, essentialist, separatist concepts at the expense of more productive constructionist views and coalition work. Such a position not only harms feminists who do not fit narrow definitions of “woman,” it weakens feminist activism and scholarship as a whole. This essay explains the development of gender-inclusive and exclusive strains of feminism, the contribution of poststructuralism/postmodernism, addresses some anti-male, anti-trans remarks feminist women-born-labeled-female pose, and ends with ways the term Women’s Studies leaves academic feminists vulnerable. It may seem strange that anyone today who professes to be seriously committed to and knowledgeable about feminism would assert that only women can be feminists and that only women should dedicate themselves to the feminist study at the heart of Women’s Studies programs. After all, the upsurge in U.S. feminism commonly called the Second Wave was predicated on the idea that biology is not destiny and that members of a materially and institutionally oppressed gender identity labeled “woman” should not be confined to subordinating social roles. In 1966 both women and men founded the largest and most enduring U.S. feminist organization, National Organization for Women, which initially focused on feminist action rather than personal experience as women.5 During the late
people are transitioning across a range of ages and sexual orientations. There is little productive discussion in popular culture about the diversity of transmen’s sexual orientations, communities of origin, and gender identities. 4 Thanks to Ben Woodard for this phrase. 5 “We, men and women who hereby constitute ourselves as the National Organization for Women, believe that the time has come for a new movement toward true equality for all women in America, and toward a full equal partnership of the sexes, as part of the world-wide revolution of human rights now taking place within and beyond our national borders.” “NOW Statement of Purpose” reproduced in Robert Griffith and Paula Baker, eds., Major Problems in American History Since 1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001), 371-373. NOW officers initially fought adopting (woman-only) group analysis based on experience called consciousness-raising because leaders
1960s through 1980s feminists had to expand their social justice movement’s focus from working “for women” to a more complex understanding of how identities combine to subject people to multiple oppressions. Early white Second Wave feminists often had experience working in Civil Rights activism, President Johnson’s Great Society programs to fight poverty and racism, and—in fewer but vocal numbers—Gay and Lesbian Liberation. Feminists of color, poor feminists, and Gay Lib. leaders with feminist positions challenged white, middle-class, heterosexual, feminist women. Black feminists and Chicana feminists created autonomous movements from the late 1960s on and recognized simultaneity of oppressions based on their racial/ethnic communities’ experiences with racial and economic discrimination.6 Poor women like Johnnie Tillmon integrated their work for welfare reform with feminism.7 Some Gay Lib. advocates incorporated feminism into their censure of heteropatriarchy.8 The most productively intricate feminist critiques of society analyze varied ways patriarchy harms all people of different genders, highlighting everyone’s stake in creating a gender-equitable society. At its inception the white-dominated Second Wave movement held conflicting theories about gender. Feminists sought to break free from confining gender roles by asserting that there was nothing inherently female or male and nothing biologically inferior about being born labeled female.
feared feminist energies would be diverted away from action. Flora Davis, Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America since 1960 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991) 87. 6 Benita Roth, Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America’s Second Wave (New York: Cambridge UP, 2004). Winifred Breines, The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement (New York: Oxford U.P., 2006). 7 Tillmon identified herself as a victim of what would later be called simultaneous oppression and drew specific connections between misogyny and state treatment of welfare mothers. Johnnie Tillmon is discussed in Felicia Kornbluh, “A Human Right to Welfare?: Social Protest among Women Welfare Recipients after World War II,” in Linda K. Kerber and Jane Sherron De Hart, eds., Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 523-531. Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999), 212-256. Premilla Nadasen, Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2005). 8 Carl Whitman is an early example of a gay liberationist who integrated feminist principles. He characterized maledominated society as having “warped both men and women” and called on gay men “to purge male chauvinism, both in behavior and in thought among us.” Whitman claimed common cause with women’s liberation in a shared challenge to “the roles, the exploitation of minorities by capitalism, the arrogant smugness of straight white male middle-class Amerika.” Carl Whitman, “A Gay Manifesto” 1969-1970 reprinted along with other feminist Gay and
Two seminal books serve as examples: Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Millet argued that the elimination of patriarchy “would produce...an assimilation by both sides of previously segregated human experience. A related event here would be the reexamination of the traits categorized as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine,’ with a reassessment of their human desirability....”9 She recognized that dividing behaviors and mindsets into “masculine” and “feminine” cuts people off from expressing valuable traits. Later theorists would expand on the idea that traits deemed masculine can belong to people regardless of their birth-sex label.10 Firestone proposed “not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences would no longer matter culturally.”11 Firestone shifts us from preserving two sex labels while eliminating gender-specific roles to destroying the meanings attached to the biological sex labels imposed on us at birth. She represents a formative position, articulating what academics have come to call radical social constructionism. Her position builds on Simone de Beauvoir’s proposition, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” and also foreshadows postructural and postmodern destabilization of identities.12 So how did we get from common cause against gender norms to “us versus them”? Alice Echols’s seminal work on the rise and fall of radical feminism attempted an answer by trying to differentiate radical from cultural feminism: Most fundamentally, radical feminism was a political movement dedicated to eliminating the sex-class system, whereas cultural feminism was a countercultural movement aimed at reversing the cultural valuation of the male and the devaluation of the female. In the terminology of today, radical feminists were typically social constructionists who wanted to
Lesbian Lib. essays in Karla Jay and Allen Young, eds., Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation (New York: Jove/HBJ, 1977 ), 330-342, 332. 9 Kate Millet, Sexual Politics (New York: Avon Books, 1969), 62. 10 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 122-123. Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998). 11 Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 11. 12 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Vintage Books, 1989 ), 267 [Book II, Part IV, first line]. Beauvoir continued, “No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.”
render gender irrelevant, while cultural feminists were generally essentialists who sought to celebrate femaleness.13 In reality, radical feminism overlapped with cultural feminism based on a founding principle. While radical feminists like Millet and Firestone sought “to render gender irrelevant,” the distinction between radical and cultural feminism became indistinct. Feminists called women a “sex-caste,”14 claimed that all women should be unified through their common experience of oppression at the hands of men,15 and then sought to combat misogynistic stereotypes against women by reversing the value of traits deemed masculine and feminine. In order to define women as collectively oppressed, feminists conceived of “woman” as a universal category. They frequently attributed women’s status as a sex-class to experience in a defective society, but over time this concept became biologically deterministic. Judith Grant explains the allure of “woman,” The idea of experience was necessary because of the need for some kind of evidence that women were oppressed. That is, it was necessary to prove that the category Woman existed because if women did not have something in common, the full analytic value of the major foundational category of feminist theory would disappear.16 Attempts to unify women in a common “sisterhood” based on experience as women were fatally flawed in that they glossed over the serious divisions among women based on race/ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. Feminists of color, poor feminists, and feminist lesbians knew the long history in the United States of white, propertied-class, married and/or heterosexual women
Alice Echols, Daring To Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 6. 14 Casey Hayden and Mary King, “Sex and Caste” from 1965, reprinted in Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 235-238. Hayden and King attributed men’s subordination of women to social mores rather than biological difference, but they began a problematic comparison between white-black racial hierarchy and male-female status. A number of Second Wave feminists continued both the constructionism and the analogy. See, for example, John Lennon’s song “Woman is the nigger of the world” (1972) reproduced in Michael S. Kimmel and Thomas E. Mosmiller, eds., Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the United States, 1776-1990: A Documentary History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 378. Also Naomi Weisstein, “Woman As Nigger,” in Leslie B. Tanner, ed., Voices from Women’s Liberation (New York: Signet, 1970 ), 296-303. 15 Betty Friedan called this common oppression “the problem that has no name” or “the feminine mystique” in her The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1963), 11ff. 16 Judith Grant, Fundamental Feminism: Contesting the Core Concepts of Feminist Theory (New York: Routledge, 1993), 31 cited in Patrick D. Hopkins, “How Feminism Made a Man Out of Me,” in Tom Digby ed., Men Doing Feminism, Thinking Gender series (New York: Routledge, 1998), 48.
contributing to oppression by upholding racism, classism, and homophobia. Since the Second Wave, theorists have added to these initial criticisms of experience as a subjective basis for feminism. Joan Scott, for example, notes that using experience both naturalizes difference and fixes agency in individuals. “The evidence of experience then becomes evidence for the fact of difference, rather than a way of exploring how difference is established, how it operates, how and in what ways it constitutes subjects who see and act in the world.”17 Postmodern theorists in the 1980s would take up the ways language and history enable constructed subjects to experience as they do. In the late 1980s, Chandra Mohanty would make an important transnational contribution to U.S. feminists of color who criticized a universal category of “woman.” Mohanty questioned western feminists’ role in determining what issues women worldwide were to address and western feminists’ portrayal of “Third World Women” as a monolithic category.18 Many Second Wave white feminists of the 1960s and 1970s, however, forged ahead and imitated the Black Power movement assertion that “black is beautiful” and the tactic of separating from white allies and oppressors for autonomy. Affirming that “women are wonderful” led to the adoption of “women-only” spaces. This tactic fulfilled a need for validation, safety, and places to formulate ways to advance feminist goals. Single-gender meetings and separate space empowered women as women but solidified feminism in their minds as based on their gender identity rather than a political stance anyone could espouse.19 Women-only spaces could be temporary precursors to addressing systemic material inequalities by protecting women from men’s sexism as the women formulated political ways to intervene in society. Even socialist feminists who were continually engaged with creating change in society had separated from the real and debilitating misogyny of New Left men. Feminist separatism
Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Henry Abelove et al., eds., The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader New York: Routledge, 1993), 399-400. 18 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” Feminist Review 30 (Autumn 1988): 61-88. 19 Tom Digby, “Introduction,” in Tom Digby ed., Men Doing Feminism, Thinking Gender series (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1.
showed many women for the first time that women really could do everything involved in writing and publishing, producing concerts, creating communities, doing agricultural work, skills they could take into the world. But, as Echols summarized, unlike socialist feminism, cultural feminism concentrated heavily on escaping society by withdrawing to countercultural women-only spaces. Today, among some Second Wave feminists and younger feminists struggling against backlash there is nostalgia for the glory days when feminism peaked. In their exhilaration at being among women, however, cultural feminists cemented a division between the category of “woman” and a uniform, demonized oppressor group “men” rather than inviting all people to adopt a political stance working for gender equality. Robin Morgan was key in blurring the boundaries between radical and cultural feminism. She sought to sever people she saw as not women from participation in her “sisterhood is powerful” brand of feminism. During her keynote addressed to the 1973 Lesbian Conference at UCLA, Morgan stirred up hostility against Beth Elliot, a transwoman (male-to-female woman) who had been an active feminist, a Daughters of Bilitis member working for lesbian rights, and part of the original group who created the conference. Referring to Elliot, Morgan charged, Where the Man is concerned, we must not be separate fingers but one fist… I charge him as an infiltrator, and a destroyer—with the mentality of a rapist. And you know who he is. Now. You can let him into your workshops—or you can deal with him.20 Given Elliot’s record of feminist work, if she was “an infiltrator, and a destroyer,” she certainly was delaying her calculated blow to feminism. Morgan’s insistence on denying Elliot’s self-identification as a woman (through the label “the Man” and use of male pronouns) indicates a belief that the male sex label imposed at birth is an indelible mark of enemy status. After the majority of the feminists present refused to support Elliot’s participation in her own conference, another conference organizer,
Robin Morgan, “Keynote Address,” Lesbian Tide: Lesbian Conference Commemorative (May/June 1973), 30-4, here 33, 32.
Barbara McLean, lamented, “Anatomy is NOT destiny.”21 Morgan painted all men and transwomen as the enemy (transmen were not yet on her radar) six years before the publication of Janice Raymond’s classic anti-trans text, and her position has been upheld by some feminists to continue the exclusion of feminist men and feminist transpeople.22 When feminists retain experience-based and essentialist notions of women’s uniqueness through an undifferentiated “sisterhood” based on sex-labeling and gynocentrist reversal that values “feminine” traits and devalues “masculine” ones, they betray the earliest calls to destroy the very categories that have confined women, men, and those excluded from the two-sex model. They limit women to unchanging characteristics, gloss over differences among women, threaten women with exclusion from the group of women for behavior labeled “male-identified” or “male energy,” and divide them from other feminist allies. A boon for gender-inclusive feminism developed in the mid-1980s outside of the separate spaces. Feminist scholars questioned identity politics by developing theories, which disrupted the coherence of identity categories, including “woman.” This body of work tends to shift focus from material bases of women’s oppression to discourse, language, and subjectivity.23 Building on American calls for females to reject both “womanhood” and biologizing,24 postmodernist and
Barbara McLean, “Diary of a Mad Organizer,” Lesbian Tide: Lesbian Conference Commemorative (May/June 1973), 35-41, here 36. 22 Janice Raymond is the most famous proponent of trans-exclusion from feminism, but her book was published after six years of discussion among feminists. Her fifteenth anniversary reissued edition adds nothing to the debate and simply perpetuates misinformation, including the continued assertion that transmen are not a significant phenomenon. Janice G. Raymond, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male (New York: Teachers College Press, 1994 ). 23 Bonnie Zimmerman, “Beyond Dualisms: Some Thoughts about the Future of Women’s Studies,” in Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Agatha Beins, eds., Women’s Studies for the Future: Foundations, Interrogations, Politics (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2005), 32, 33. I concur with Zimmerman that feminist postmodern theory should and does continue to contribute to feminist studies and activism rather than being “compelled to go elsewhere” as Zimmerman cites Wendy Brown lamenting in Wendy Brown, “The Impossibility of Women’s Studies” differences 9.3 (1997): 79-101. 24 Ironically Radicalesbians’ “The Woman-Identified Woman,” from which came the concept of women’s “primal commitment” to each other, also argued that females must reject being women for the sake of everyone’s autonomy. “As long as we cling to the idea of ‘being a woman,’ we will sense some conflict with that incipient self, that sense of I, that sense of a whole person. …With that real self, with that consciousness, we begin a revolution to end the imposition of all coercive identifications, and to achieve maximum autonomy in human expression.” Radicalesbians,
postructuralist feminists drew on a range of theories. They used French existentialist concepts of embodiment from Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Merleau Ponty25 along with Monique Wittig’s critique of the heterosexual contract and assertion that lesbians refuse the role “woman.”26 Feminist reinterpretations of psychoanalysis27 and Jacques Derrida’s postructuralist view that language and culture’s symbolism are ambiguous, open, and limitlessly capable of being displaced rather than having stable meanings became ways to destabilize symbols while recognizing their cultural importance.28 Michel Foucault contributed to examining power and knowledge. This theoretical turn has given feminists productively complex ideas and has furthered the ability to address real-life problems of inequity. I agree with Bonnie Zimmerman that feminist study needs to concentrate both on postmodern ways of understanding and on material oppression. I add that bases of oppression must expand from “woman” to include other genders and axes of identity precisely because of the dangers inherent in preserving sole focus on a unified category of “woman.” When one takes seriously the view from Beauvoir through Butler that gender is socially constructed rather than identical to the biologically sexed body, it becomes possible for transwomen to be as committed to feminist equality as nontranswomen. So what stake do people who do not identify as women have in feminism? The history of men who have identified with feminist causes stretches back more than 200 years.29 Men have shifted from working for women’s equality based on
“The Woman-Identified Woman,” (1970) reprinted in Jay and Young, Out of the Closets, 176, 177. In the 1970s and 1980s feminists trained in biology and the history of science expanded critiques of biological determinism: Ruth Hubbard and Marian Lowe, Sandra Harding, Evelyn Fox-Keller, Donna Haraway, Anne Fausto-Sterling. 25 Drawing on embodiment, Judith Butler concludes, “Bodies cannot be said to have a signifiable existence prior to the mark of their gender; the question emerges: To what extent does the body come into being in and through the mark(s) of gender?” Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 8 and see note 15. 26 Monique Wittig, “One Is Not Born a Woman,” (1981), reprinted in The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 13. “Heterosexual contract” appears in this essay as well as “The Straight Mind” (1980), and “On the Social Contract” (1989). 27 Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and Judith Butler are three major thinkers who combine postructuralism with reformulations of Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, and other psychoanalytic theorists. 28 Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 40. 29 Consider the Marquis de Condorcet during the French Revolution, John Stuart Mill’s problematic liberal feminism in the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass and other men who worked to abolish American slavery and to support women’s rights.
a sense of justice founded on classical liberal individual rights theory to claiming women contributed superior morality to recognizing by the late 1800s that equality would liberate both acknowledged genders from limiting roles.30 Second Wave and contemporary feminist men did not and do not want to be part of maintaining gender inequality that hurts everyone.31 Initially they worked to decrease violence against women, workplace inequalities in pay and promotion, and sexism including pornography and sex trafficking, while trying to increase women’s reproductive, economic, and political rights. Such men did not want analysis of patriarchy’s oppression of men to overshadow work for women’s equality, but they recognized that normative masculinity—including hostility to gay men and effeminacy—limited them at the same time that it gave normative men power. Today, when a potentially growing minority of people identify as transgender or genderqueer, feminism must shift from asserting biologically-determined experience to debating the best plans of action for creating gender equality. Feminist transwomen and transmen who do not buy into solely biological hypotheses about the origins of transsexualism question biological bases for all gender and return us to the central feminist social constructionist critique of traditional gender roles.32 Remarks trans-ignorant feminists pose to trans and genderqueer feminists tend to demonstrate a nostalgia for the unified experience that never really was, latent essentialism, and sometimes an anti-theory bias even when the women have been trained to claim that they are constructionists and theory-savvy. Because at this moment the focus is on transmen and feminism, the answers below center on exposing problems experienced by feminists who were labeled female at birth but do not identify as women.
Michael S. Kimmel and Thomas E. Mosmiller, eds., Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the United States, 1776-1990: A Documentary History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 16. 31 For an overview of male feminist positions, see Peter F. Murphy, ed., Feminism & Masculinities, Oxford Readings in Feminism (New York: Oxford UP, 2004). 32 Trans and intersex feminists are asserting their right to feminist identity. See, for example, essays by Emi Koyama at http://eminism.org/readings/index.html ; Riki Anne Wilchins at http://www/annelawrence.com/tooradical.html ; “Trans Liberation & Feminism” at http://www.deadletters.biz/feminism.html ; Susan Forrest’s “Transfeminism” at http://www.girlphoria.com/nov2003/transgender.htm . Thanks to Stacy Marders for these references.
“How can you be a feminist if you use a masculine name and insist on male pronouns?” The transfeminists in question know that they are not women and are seeking that recognition from others. Especially if others fail to read them correctly as trans, genderqueer, or men, insistence on a traditionally masculine first name and/or male pronouns disrupts others’ unthoughtful labeling of people “women” or (rife with classist, heteronormative femininity baggage) “ladies” based on appearance and mannerisms. When identifying as feminist means adhering to political beliefs for furthering gender equality and disrupting society’s forms of oppression, the gender identity of the feminist is irrelevant. “If you’re going to support feminism, call yourselves “pro-feminist” or “anti-sexist” rather than taking over the term “feminist.” Since the Second Wave, there have been supportive men who call themselves anti-sexist or pro-feminist.33 Pro-feminist has gained some popularity compared to anti-sexist because pro-feminist affirms positive support for women’s struggles rather than being framed as an opposition to sexism. Certainly anyone is welcome to follow in a tradition that emphasizes a support role, eases women’s fears that men will usurp control of feminist discussion and action, and preserves women-only space and authority. However, those feminists who do not agree that feminism is based on having felt sexism as a girl and continuously a woman and who do not want to be shut out of or subordinated in a movement could choose the term feminist. “Why are you selling out by giving into society and passing as a man instead of remaining an untraditional woman?” or “Why can’t you be a different kind of woman?” or “Why are you giving up the fight?” Again, the transfeminists who know they are not women cannot be true to themselves by pretending to be untraditional women for the comfort of feminist women. Those who
An early book promoting anti-sexist practice was Jon Snodgrass, ed., A Book of Readings for Men Against Sexism (Abion, CA: Times Change Press, 1977). Kimmel and Mosmiller are among the strong proponents for the term profeminist. Michael S. Kimmel and Thomas E. Mosmiller, eds., Against the Tide: Pro-Feminist Men in the United States, 1776-1990: A Documentary History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992),
are men are not “passing” as men, but rather are men and want to be correctly read as men.34 When they come out after having never considered themselves women or after realizing that they were forced to identify with an incorrect label, they relinquish the label. They are only giving up the feminist fight if they also stop holding feminist beliefs and being interested in feminist action. Ironically, feminist transwomen can dedicate themselves to feminist struggle and be told that their womanhood is too untraditional or different to count. “So how are you enjoying your male privilege now?” When transfeminists consistently get recognized as men, they do gain the male privilege associated with their race, class, and other identities. They can obtain unearned power or prestige without wanting it, but, like nontrans men, they can use that power to intervene against sexism. People may also fear them as potential perpetrators of violence. Female-bodied people, however, also deal with the realistic fear that exposure as trans will result in anti-trans violence against them. For example, there may be a sense of terror every time they use a public restroom. If they do not or cannot completely hide being trans, they cannot control who outs them and may continually wonder whether problems they face stem from people’s transphobia. “Are you trying to become a man because you haven’t dealt with the body-image problems, to which this society subjects all girls and women?” Judith Halberstam notes that assuming transition is based on internalized loathing of the female body fails to disentangle women’s self-hatred from specific desire to be men, or, I would add, to be somewhere beyond the gender binary. Dean Spade adds that all people modify and gender their bodies and that all of this is political. Singling out forms of modification some trans and genderqueer people use mirrors the history of focusing on women
“Passing” is the common term to describe transpeople who get recognized by others as the gender the transpeople know themselves to be. Passing, however, strongly implies that one is pretending to be something one is not or deceiving others. I use “correctly read” or “misread”/“misrecognized” instead of passing to draw attention to the authenticity of transpeople’s assertion of their identities.
and queers without looking at others’ self-construction. Doing so serves to render the target group deviant while leaving the behavior of the dominant group unanalyzed and “normal.”35 “Why do you have to flaunt being trans/be aggressive about it/talk about it?”36 Members of dominant groups sometimes charge minorities who speak up against discrimination and ignorance with being too in-your-face. There is an asymmetry in discourse whereby the flood of ideas and beliefs considered “normal” goes unnoticed and uncritiqued while views deemed unusual stand out for criticism. Kenji Yoshino discusses the intense pressures to conform to this double standard when he argues that people who are tacitly given permission to be out nonetheless are expected to underplay or cover up their subordinated identities by acting as close to the norm as possible. When one is not normative, acting the norm includes self-censoring during conversations so as not to highlight differences in racial or ethnic culture, queer sexual experience and relationship status, lived class, experience with disability, practices expressing minority religious or spiritual beliefs, etc. Covering gender identity becomes a way of suppressing the discussions, which would illuminate the presence of differences and insist on education and enforcement against biased rules of behavior.37 This essay has charted shifts in consciousness away from the myth of unified experience and away from feminist studies belonging solely to women. Chronic problems stem from the initial naming of this field of study. Feminism has been a maligned term for decades, and feminists are rightly wary of calling their academic programs Feminist Studies from the standpoint of gaining students and funding. There has also been lively debate over renaming programs Women’s and Gender Studies because faculty do not want to see the feminism at the heart of this field watered down or abandoned. Ironically, “Women’s Studies” contains the same danger. The early decision to
Sam Feder and Julie Hollar, Boy I Am (film, 2006). An irony of this question is that the lesbian feminists I interviewed for my book manuscript also complained about receiving this query. White lesbian feminists grumbled that there was a double standard whereby straight women could talk endlessly about their heterosexual relationships and the men in their lives but balked if lesbians spoke similarly of their female partners. Feminists of color remained bitter twenty-five years later that white lesbian
call feminist studies Women’s Studies stemmed from identity-politics of the time and racial liberation models of incipient ethnic studies programs. Programs born of racial power movements were named after identities rather than being called “Race Studies” although they reevaluated whitesupremacist bias.38 Likewise, feminists initiated Women’s Studies during the growth of the Women’s Liberation movement to create feminist analyses and to address traditional scholarship’s sexist attention to or erasure of women. In the Second Wave, Women’s Studies was primarily focused on women’s oppression although programs integrated class and race analyses from their beginning. As such, “Women’s Studies” was not just a euphemism for feminist studies, but rather a stage in feminist development sometimes mired in the essentialist, separatist notions already critiqued. Members of the New Right like Phyllis Schlafly capitalized on the choice of name to try to purge feminism from Women’s Studies programs and promote “traditional women’s goals and values.” Schlafly claimed in 1982, The women’s studies program …was pawned off on an unsuspecting university as something to benefit all women. The female faculty, however, converted it to a program to promote radical feministlesbian women’s goals and values to the exclusion of traditional women’s goals and values.39 Women’s Studies never “converted” from traditional home economics to feminism, but the accusation remains. Arizona State Representative from Glendale, Jean McGrath, raised the issue again in 1999 by ignoring the discipline’s goal of feminist studies. She strongly implied that the only valuable study of women supports conservative concepts of womanhood and would not include
feminists first did a poor quality job of presenting anti-racism training, then asked women of color to teach them, and then claimed to be too scared to listen because the women of color were “too aggressive” or “angry.” 37 Kenji Yoshino, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Cultural Rights (New York: Random House, 2006). 38 The different ethnic studies, Black/African American/Africana Studies, Mexican American/Chicano Studies, American Indian/Native American Studies, Puerto Rican Studies, were also divided up to assure attention to the specificity of each racial or ethnic experience. 39 Phyllis Schlafly, “ACLU Leaps to the Defense of Lesbianism Course: It’s Time Taxpayers Find Out What Universities Are Doing”,” Oklahoma City Times (October 15, 1982): 42. Of course, feminists have felt like they represent the best interest of women even when some women have been anti-feminist. By applying the term “false consciousness” to anti-feminist women, feminists directly opposed a basis in experience and, instead, read women’s assertions that they were not oppressed “through a pre-established feminist lens.” Patrick D. Hopkins, “How
lesbians under the rubric “woman.” Also attacking a course with lesbian content, she took a page from Schlafly and claimed that University of Arizona’s Women’s Studies Department would be more accurately called “Lesbian Studies,” that such study was not worth public funding, and that therefore tax-payers should call for shutting down Women’s Studies programs.40 As long as feminists challenge neoliberal goals, the field of Women’s Studies remains vulnerable to this attack (including the lesbian-baiting) regardless of name, so it seems better to include as many supporters under the rubric of feminism as possible.
Feminism Made a Man Out of Me,” in Tom Digby ed., Men Doing Feminism, Thinking Gender series (New York: Routledge, 1998), 49. 40 Ryan Gabrielson, “State lawmaker tells regents co-ed dorms are immoral” Arizona Daily Wildcat (University of Arizona student newspaper) (September 24, 1999) reproduced at http://wc.arizona.edu/papers/93/24/01_3_m.html. Gabrielson noted that McGrath was among state legislators who, in spring 1999, “threatened to eliminate funding for the UA's women's studies program, based on homosexual content in reading materials used in one course.”