Friday, January 23, 2009

Ain't Feeling Feminism

Feminism, according to a popular bumper sticker is the radical notion that women are people, too. Many feminists have forgotten over the years that the word 'people' also includes their Black, Latina, Asian and native sisters as well as their transgender ones.

While I wholeheartedly agree and support as a transwoman equality for women, I also noted the gulf between the predominately white feminist movement and women of color. I noted how they loudly and zealously rallied to the defense of Hillary Clinton for perceived sexist comments during last year's primary, but were deafeningly silent when Michelle Obama was attacked.

I also remembered the radical feminist anti-transgender BS from their patron saints Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer and follow on books by transphobe feminists Mary Daly, Catherine MacKinnon, Robin Morgan and Sheila Jeffreys.

Raymond once stated that 'transsexuality must be morally mandated out of existence' and it didn't get much better in her 1979 book The Transsexual Empire-The Making of The She-Male.

"All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves .... Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive." (Raymond, 1979)

In fact, Janice Raymond for transwomen that transitioned during the 70s and 80's along with the ones who grew up in my era was the most hated person in the transgender community until HRC's Elizabeth Birch took away her title in the late 90's with her anti-transgender inclusion rhetoric.

Germaine Greer isn't liked by some transwomen either, and cosigned with Raymond when she made this comment comparing transwomen to the character Norman Bates in the movie Psycho:

The transsexual is identified as such solely on his/her own script, which can be as learned as any sex-typed behaviour and as editorialized as autobiographies usually are. The lack of insight that MTF transsexuals usually show about the extent of their acceptance as females should be an indication that their behaviour is less rational than it seems. There is a witness to the transsexual’s script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual’s body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual’s worst enemy, his/her mother.

Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her. His intentions are no more honourable than any female impersonator’s; his achievement is to gag all those who would call his bluff. When he forces his way into the few private spaces women may enjoy and shouts down their objections, and bombards the women who will not accept him with threats and hate mail, he does as rapists have always done.”

The injection of transphobic hatred and the logic defying justifications of it across the first and second waves of feminist thought was passed on to the new school of feminists who continue to eagerly drink the 'hate on transwomen' Kool Aid.

While we transwomen have had a contentious thirty-six years of drama with the feminist community, it pales in comparison with the ongoing parallel struggle that women of color have with them. They have fought the ongoing silencing of their voices in the feminist movement, got tired of being dissed, ignored and being accused of or being labeled as 'crazy' or 'racist' anytime they critiqued their treatment.

Black women finally said to hell with them and began calling themselves womanists, a term which was coined by author Alice Walker and comes from her 1983 book In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. Womanists focus on issues that are broader based that what feminism focuses on, and include issues of race and class that feminism shies away from.

Over the last few years I've gotten to know a few womanists, become friends with them and discovered to my great pleasure that they are light years more enlightened on transgender issues and are serious about supporting their transsisters.

So if you wonder why myself and some transwomen aren't feeling feminism or have a detached ambivalence to it, now you know.


Renee said...

The problem is that mainstream feminism has always privileged the voices of white women of the upper to middle class. It has always been there wants and needs that have been actively pushed for while black women have been relegated to support staff roles. To this day feminism continues on with this practice. It is my firm belief as a self identified womanist that all WOC need to work together because if we wait on the feminists our great great grand kids won't know the taste of freedom. You see the one thing that white feminists refuse to admit is that many do not want equality with WOC, they want the same power of men of their own class and race to oppress bodies of color. It is about the pursuit of power and therefore hierarchy is a necessary element. You cannot have hierarchy without bodies to oppress and therefore bodies of color continue to be second class citizens.

Monica Roberts said...

It is my firm belief as a self identified womanist that all WOC need to work together because if we wait on the feminists our great great grand kids won't know the taste of freedom.

Renee, that's the conclusion I and increasingly other WOC, transgender and non transgender are coming to as well.

whatsername said...

You would have enjoyed the day we discussed Raymond as part of my "Lesbian, Queer and Transgender Identities" class last semester. Her absurd chapter from that horrible book was ripped apart by about 25 students in their 20's and 30's. It was good times.

Tera said...

So, a feminist knows how a group of people really are because slasher films portray them?!

Lord, I think my brain just exploded.

Go Go Jo Jo said...

The response to the term/movement of feminism by women of color is always interesting to me. For me, feminism has always been synonymous with the work of women of color. I remember thinking in high school that the women's movement is what white women did in the 19th century and feminism is what Black and brown women did to change the world. While I had a pretty strong grasp of the theoretical framework of feminism to me it all sounded super Black. Even though at the same time I was frustrated with the Black women in my family who seemed to espouse the total opposite of what I thought feminism to be. Even as I expanded my definitions of what feminism could/should mean its always been the work and writing of Black and Latin@ that has shaped what I feel is *true* about feminism.

So, instead of thread jacking with a long comment, I have made my own post about this subject at my *own* journal. I am learning new things.

Go Go Jo Jo said...

Damn it I can't help it!:

I can recognize having a strong reaction to feminism as a transwoman. In my mind, feminism as it stands is more implicitly excluding of women of color whereas transwomen are more explicitly...harassed/demonized are the words coming to mind.

I didn't understand this to be an issue with feminism until college when I started learning the history of white mainstream feminism--not to say that all women of color are good with trans issues...I am looking at you bell hooks. For my understanding of feminism then (and now) trans inclusion was an implicit part of what the movement should be about.

I was shocked at the resistance (read bigotry and ignorance) that many of my fellow students had towards the inclusion either of transmen (who transitioned during their matriculation) or transwomen. I consider my school to provide one of the premier feminist educations possible EXCEPT for this HUGE failure on our parts. (end long diatribe about my school)

Go Go Jo Jo said...

**and that was supposed to say that I was surprised at their resistance to the inclusion of either transmen or women at the school.

(And side note b/c I don't know if I've said it before--I went to a "women's" college. Though one with a 'visible'--what does that mean?--transmen population.)

Flrarginergarivb said...

Because being an activist simply means you are being active about something. Doesn't mean that it has to be something good for most or all people.

Polar said...

I gave up being any sort of "ist", and believing in any sort of "ism", with the exception of pragmatism and pragmatist, many years ago.

The whole radical feminism,etc, business always seemed like navel gazing to me. What ever happened to judging people only by their character, skills, personality, and intellect? Or is that waaayyyyy too simple? Maybe it's time for the world to adopt simple again.

Monica Roberts said...


That would have been an enjoyable sight, and it continues to validate the faith that I have in you younglings to clean up the mess your elders made.

Like I stated in the post, there have been, and continue to be some bizarre and mind bending contortions made by rad fems to justify their hate on transsexuals mentality.

Girl, who knows? Maybe it's because transpinays have had some success standing up for yourselves lately and made serious progress.

But that what being and activist should mean. You should be working for the greater good of society.

There's an idea, the KISS method applied to activism, working and playing well with others, and treating your fellow human beings with dignity and respect.

Monica Roberts said...

Jo Jo
My sister Texan, wanna put that comment together in a guest post?

Go Go Jo Jo said...

But of course I would love to write a guest post. Thank you! I am out of town this weekend but hit me up via email (should be in my profile) with the details of you're parameters and what not.

genevieve said...

I'm reading 'Transgender History' for the second time because there's so much to glean. Like the feminist movement, many glbt organizations are white and middle class. People of color are haardly in leadership positions making decisions.

It was transgender women,drag queens, and people of color who got the the gay liberation front on the move. Almost immediately the organizations were hijacked by white middle class gay men. Transgender people were relegated to the side.

I read Raymond's assertation about transgender people and it makes my blood boil.

I have a lot to say about this but I'll post on my blogsite.

Oliver A. FP said...

I have a question...

There's a lot of discussion about whether men can call themselves feminists. Do you think that we can call ourselves womanist?

More importantly, can white people call ourselves womanist? Because it could smack of unpleasant appropriation. I'd like to use it to describe myself, to make the statement that I'm a "feminist" man but really not keen on racism and classism...

Do you think it's acceptable for me to use the term? Obviously I'm not expecting you to speak for every womanist in the universe, but you'll know plenty better than me!

Monica Roberts said...

Oliver, that's a question I'm going to have to defer to the womanists on.

Flrarginergarivb said...

"But that what being and activist should mean. You should be working for the greater good of society."

I agree with your statement, and I think that most if not all "Activists" would agree with it as well. However, I don't think that the "greater good of society" in everyone's mind is the same thing as "good for most or all people." I'm pretty sure that racist activists think they are bettering the society with their work, same with anti-GLBT people.

This may just be my personal interpretation of the word, and I usually try to modify it's meaning through context or another descriptor for that reason. It sucks, but to me it's just part of a world where so many people work at cross purposes instead of acceptance and love for all. :(

Birdseed said...

I think feminist thought has gotten a lot better in this regard. Starting in the eighties, a lot of the stuff you describe has systematically been weeded out, though you'll still hear this kind of thought with a lot of the older generation, liberal feminists and some of the separatists.

In particular, the writings of Judith Butler on queer theory, Heidi Hartmann on class and sex and Patricia Hill Collins on intersectionality has given younger feminists a lot of insight into surrounding systems of power. It's the case now, I think, that younger feminism is the only serious attempt to forge a unified theory of power systems and their interaction, which makes feminism a good starting point for understanding the world. At least for me.

Monica Roberts said...

It hasn't gotten better. There are still transphobes in the feminist movement.

Last summer when a tire blew on a shuttle van for MichFest, they blamed the accident on I kid you not, 'transgender terrorists trying to sabotage the festival'

As the womanists can tell you, they are still hostile to any power sharing, criticism or even listening to women of color.

Brownfemipower was attacked so viciously for critiquing them that she temporarily stopped blogging.

So no, new century, same old problems.

Birdseed said...

Oh I'm sure you're right. Just as there are homophobes within the black power movement, misogynists within the LGBTQ movement, racists within the worker's movement, etc. It just goes to show that being the victim of one type of oppression doesn't preclude you from engaging in oppression of others, in our desperately hierarchical world.

But if we're ever going to build a unified movement to deal with this shit it has to come from somewhere, and I think the most reasonable starting point is feminism. Because, precisely, it's the one that's concentrated on building intersectional theories and attempted to bring it all together. It's also under the feminist banner that difference-based models of democracy (like Anne Phillips's) have appeared.

I don't see why we need to sow discontent between the groups instead of attempting to approach each other.

Monica Roberts said...

It may be too late for that. Feminism refuses to address the problems that are causing the discontent in POC circles.

So as we've done time and time again in our history, when the power structure refuses to let us into the club, we form our organizations and come up with our way of dealing with it.