Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Feminism

Once again, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.  I thought it would be a good idea to post this here because there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding on this point, much of which is in my own head.  Before I launch upon this possibly alienating diatribe though, I want to say a couple of things to frame it.  Firstly, some form of feminism is simply an accurate view of the world and a recommendation for action which is ethical - i.e., feminism of some kind is clearly both morally and descriptively good.  Secondly, there is no parallel reflection of feminism in the form of "masculinism" because although feminism is primarily concerned about the liberation of women, it also carries with it the side-effect of liberating men.  Nor has it swung too far the other way, clearly, in a world where there is still judicial execution for rape victims and female genital mutilation.

Probably the best approach to this is to tell my life story skewed in such a way that it seems to be about sexual politics.  My dominant understanding of who I was had long been that I was at the absolute pinnacle of privilege:  human, male-assigned, white, able-bodied, Anglophone, you name it, I was on the privilege side of the inequation.  This apparent fact made my life easy and the idea also made my life easy because it just meant that on any occasion, anything I did or was that was "good" would be tainted by the fact that it was done or been by someone who was inherently oppressive to others, so why bother?  What would be the point?  OK, so I might be a good parent or a successful herbalist, have a few higher degrees, whatever, but in the end all of these things were failures because they simply made the enormous mountain of power and privilege that was mine higher without filling in the pits of disadvantage around me by a single millimetre.  Nor was it up to me to fill those pits as that would be both patronising and in terms I understood rather than terms which were engendered by those against which there is prejudice.  That all left me rather stuck.  Clearly suicide was an option but not one I was terribly keen on.  That would just be motivated by white male patriarchal middle class guilt anyway, and in any case the scum I perceived myself to be didn't deserve the sweet release of death.

Since it isn't always possible to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, as their experience may be unimaginably unlike my own, I tended to opt by default for the position which was least sympathetic to my own as a way of compensating.  I had no evidence, no experience, just the claim that all that was a black box to me, so I would tend to doubt myself and my views as motivated by that privilege if they betrayed even an iota of giving me an advantage, conceptually or otherwise.  It was a question of checking my privilege at every waking moment, which tended to lead to inaction, and probably also failed to acknowledge real privilege whereof I could partake but was unconscious.

The most relevant and prominent of these was of course feminism, and since I believed that the most extreme position was the best one, I opted for lesbian separatist feminism.  More specifically, the idea that men were ineradicably the enemy without any possibility of redemption, that heterosexual sex is always rape, that there is never any justification for marriage or even a heterosexual relationship and so forth.  However, since I had no access to a female brain, or so I thought, it wasn't my place to intervene in or criticise women who entered into heterosexual relationships.  They had their own reasons and it was up to themselves and possibly other women to address them.  If I addressed them, it would simply be another example of male patriarchal oppression and sexism.  I presumed they had their reasons for doing so which made sense to them, which I couldn't understand because my thinking was impaired and inferior because it was going on in a male brain.  Not essentially for that reason but nonetheless a male brain twisted by patriarchy into a pure rape machine.  It wasn't something I could escape from except through death, which I refused myself as a selfish luxury.

Liberal feminism did not hit the spot.  Liberal feminism was just about rearranging deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic .  Also, it let me off the hook to some extent.  Incidentally, I do realise those two are not the only options.

This was a very comfortable position.  It enabled me to hate myself nicely, something I immensely enjoyed doing, and in fact I still find I can easily trot out these arguments when I'm feeling particularly depressed and all the self-loathing is still there waiting to get in if I can get it.  I'm not unusual in that respect because I've found that people do in fact very often prefer a sense of certainty to being happy, and I'm no exception.  This kind of thing gives one a nice, simple prescription of what to do in a given situation and because it's nice and simple, it masks subtlety and complexity, and, as significantly, blinds you to the harm such a position may be doing to others as much as oneself.  It doesn't necessarily even help the people you are trying to be fair to and it may in fact do the exact opposite.

Then along came this in the works:

More precisely, the one pointing to the top left, which apparently has different names according to pond side.  The catastrophe struck and I found that there was a possibility that my position might not be quite as privileged as I'd always assumed.

Now I'm going to be completely honest with you.  I do not know what to do with this.  I'm aware that there's such a thing as feminism which includes transwomen, or at least it's called feminism.  At the same time I am still very convinced by the argument that the social conditioning leading to gender stereotyping leads to (self-)oppressive behaviour on all sides, but particularly on the side whose individuals are assigned as male.  I'm also aware that many women feel threatened and invaded by transwomen, which is of course why I didn't do any of this before.  Having said that, I also know that a lot of transwomen commit suicide, are more at threat of violence and intimidation than many other groups and I only have to look at my own life to see the insidious damage the interaction of being trans in a society which has a problem with it has done to me, meaning that I'm letting other people down by not wading in there and participating.

The trouble is that being hated is just so cosy.  Last week, I was sitting in a women's poetry event because Sarada had neglected to tell me that's what it was and once she had of course I got the hell out of there as soon as was polite to her.  As it happens, it was open to men, for better or worse.  When I think about such situations, which are coming up ever more often as it happens, I feel like whatever I do is going to be wrong.  If I sit there surrounded by "proper" women, I feel like an intruder who will distort relationships and pollute the atmosphere with male energy and interaction, but if I don't go I feel equally that I'm letting other transwomen down.  To be honest I just want to opt out of the whole thing and go live in a cave sometimes because I have no idea what to do.  None.

I'm aware that this is not very universal, so where can I go with this which makes it more meaningful to people other than those in my tiny minority?  Well, I don't know but I can make this observation.  All this TERF stuff, for me, is my version of denial and has precious little to do with the needs of real women.  This is my version of joining the marines.  For instance, I'm sure Sarada would have preferred me to think marriage and sex through for myself in the context of an intimate relationship rather than allowing my version of sexual politics to dictate that her female brain was automatically superior to my male brain and therefore bound to be right and to be obeyed without question, particularly when it turns out that this "male" brain is actually female, albeit influenced heavily by male conditioning.

What I can glean from all this, I suppose, is that you simply cannot just live your life for others because you'll end up letting them down anyway if you make that your modus operandi.  Deep down, this had nothing to do with women's liberation for me.  It was just a way of beating myself up and pretending to be something I wasn't, that I hated, because I was in denial about what I really was, although admittedly in quite an original and creative way.  The TERF agenda was just a convenient way to do that, so I used it.  Why bother to design a self-hatred factory when other people have already done that for you?

I don't know where this leaves me with abortion either.  I'm just going to close by making a list of bullet points without saying anything about whether I think they're true or not (except that I do think some of them are) and ask you what you think:

  • All men are rapists
  • No uterus, no opinion
  • All men benefit from the effects of rape culture
  • Abortion should be on demand
  • A man cannot be a feminist
  • Rape metaphors are overused
  • There are as many feminisms as there are feminists
  • Men are the enemy
  • M2F transition reinforces gender boundaries and is anti-feminist
That'll do for now I think.