On Being a Woman
It is somewhat hard for me to write about being a woman and my history since the most significant thing that I was made aware of about myself was the colour of my skin. As a child, I took it as a given that boys were privileged and girls were not. It was not until I became a lesbian feminist that I finally recognised sex discrimination. I think this arose because I started questioning why I had not recognised the possibility of loving women earlier than being 29 years old? Then it struck me that there might be/was propaganda reinforcing heterosexuality.
And the more I thought through this possibility the clearer it becomes that most women, at least in those days, were indoctrinated into believing that women love men and men loved women and that was not merely the norm but the reality for all people. Men did certain things that were seen as more important and significant. As a child, I learned that man’s actions were superior to women’s and that is how it was. As I got older I did question and challenge the gendered World in which I had grown up, especially as I learned to play football and cricket and could see no reason why girls should not play either game. But the division of labour based upon gender was not questioned in most of the cultural activities I was aware of.
At school, especially in my teens I wanted to be an architect but was informed that I would need to have an O’ Level in technical drawing and, of course, my Girls school did not teach this ‘boy’s’ subject. Besides which my Secondary Mod did not expect any of us to join the professions.
I grew up expecting to marry and have children, as most women and men did at that time and I knew I wanted to be a mother from my teenage years. I am immensely pleased that these days in the UK girls are not so rigidly policed and those gender roles are no longer reinforced. But it is disappointing to see in the year 2017 girls and boys being persuaded by toy manufacturers to play with gendered products in a way that 10 or 15 years ago they were not. In the meantime, Britain and other European and Asian and African Countries have had female Prime Ministers, but the rules still seem to be made by chaps, not all chaps, of course, just the ‘ruling class’ ones.
Other things have happened around gender that is noteworthy and for me a little confusing, which are the developments around ‘Trans’ gender status. I am aware that in the past some men have taken on the outward characteristics of women and have lived and presented as women, and since the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 they, and women who transition to become men may legally adopt the gender of their choice.
The newer phenomenon is of young people, in particular, identifying as Trans in order to avoid being associated with the rigid biological definitions of gender which seem to determine power and status in society. Call me old-fashioned but having grown up with a somewhat traditional view of the physical differences between men and women does not cause me to want to change the bodies of either but does make me want to change the power attributed to each gender.
I was invited to speak at a Cambridge College recently and was aware that there had been some occasions at which feminists like myself had been disinvited or excluded when it became known that we had a critique of gender. Personally, I had no desire to use my time and money to travel to Cambridge only to be excluded. Ironically the withdrawal of the invitation to me gave more publicity for my views than would have been the case had I been able to discuss the subject with the students. I have taken a consistent view about censorship for the last 40 or so years which I sum up with the phrase ‘better out than in’ when it comes to thoughts and ideas.
For my own part, I have very much softened my hostility to trans women over recent decades. Having talked with a number of Trans women who had previously been designated male I have heard of significant and real damage done to them by their allocated gender of maleness and can recognise and respect their choice. And in any event, the UK law requires us to treat Trans people in accordance with law, whatever our personal views. This also applies to those who do not, for racist reasons like Black people. They and I can think what we like but we may not act in contravention to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. What has happened over the summer/ Autumn of 2017 has been not only a polarisation of many feminists it has been confusion for libertarians.
What I recognise is a new politics of gender which, it adherents insist, is a new political platform. I did recognise that some people feel so uneasy about their physical gender appearance and undertaken surgery or ‘cross-dressing’. And since that has been a part of gay male culture I learned to accept it. But it seems to me that cross-dressing has taken on a whole new purpose, that of seeking to create the notion of gender as a progressive and changeable category.
And the reason I don’t like the idea of gender is the reason I don’t like the idea of races both were created to stratify society. Created by some men of the ruling class. Admittedly men have tried to justify their superior status on the grounds of physical strength and fighting each other. They also came up with the idea that human skin that could not easily deal with the sun’s rays was ‘superior’ to human skin that could. They then developed this ludicrous notion to extend to other categories of humanity so that there are allegedly 5 human types of people with the White ones on top and the Black ones at the bottom. At a similar time, the great White men came up with some amazing theories as to why the female of the species was inferior to the male, except of course if she was ‘lower class’ when she could be also raped, starved and generally exploited.
I learned all kinds of things about British history as a child in British schools. And the one thing that came across was not only how men were superior to women but also how White people were superior to Black people. It is not funny to have realised that my teachers were racist but what I did not do and most children still don’t do is consider the concept of gender being as ludicrous and dangerous as the concept of races. They are both man made, supported sometimes by some women. Biologically men and women have a few different chromosomes these affect the human reproductive process. That is all they affect, but some men and clearly quite a few women feel that they should act upon the ideology of gender which attributes power to certain anatomical parts, which if removed or exchanged will have a profound impact upon society.
I have accepted that some people have been certain that they need to change their gender because they could no longer tolerate acting the part that gender has imposed on them. I understand this but it is surely the wrong solution, yours becomes a personal and private solution whilst ours is a societal and political one. I keep referring to races and racism. There are no races except the human race. Like the rest of nature, humans have males and females with different reproductive roles.
That is all that is different, except the power that most men have invested in the idea of their superior status, and the privileged that culturally they have tended to imbue their status. Men and boys have been privileged in most human societies and most active women have resisted these notions of male superiority. As feminists and particularly as lesbian feminists, we have put our heads above the parapet and are arguing with those Trans activists who seek to reinforce notions of gender.
We want to destroy gender just as I wish to destroy ‘race’ as a concept that divides people and allocates power to some and excludes it from most others. Race, Gender and Social class were invented by the same category of chaps who have had power and wish to pass it on. I do not include Trans women who were previously male here but I am certain that your preferred solution will not hasten the end of oppression for yourselves and it will make matters considerably worse for those of us born and remaining girls and women.
Race, Class, Gender are socially constructed categories for organising society and power over others. I have not seen them as intertwined before, maybe it is because of my age. After 60 of my 67 years, I am seeing the relationship of power and dominance that I had not seen as clearly before or at least I did not see the historic connection before. But the ways that this trans politics has exploded make me see it not as a personal individual journey for a small number of people but instead a way of viewing the World that tries to universalise the confusion of some men and women about gender.
This is a rather hard thing to say about the current political argument. But it has the logic of justifying other forms of oppression such as racism. I doubt that most of the people who support this new gender politics would wish to associate themselves with racism. But that is what they do, by promoting the notions of gender being real. Let me say it again - gender is the man-made creation of those who want to see power differences between women and men, just as racism see differences between White and Black and institutionalise them rather than tear them down.