Feminism’s Gender Identity Crisis

Okay, so this article or whatever it is pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with the current direction the mainstream discourse on feminism has taken, and so I felt a need to comment on it. A lot. And I apologize in advance if I come off like a smartass, especially should the author of the piece be reading this. It’s nothing personal.

In case you have too little time to hear in detail what my problem with this piece on feminism is, I’ll just give you the TL;DR right now: it’s not feminism.

Buckle up, this is rough stuff.

“Feminism has come a long way — it has absolutely revolutionized the way gender shapes our lives. The restrictions placed on my mother’s generation have little bearing on mine.”

I don’t know what sort of world this person lives in, but I have to assume it’s not one in which the words ‘absolutely revolutionized’ hold the same meaning as in mine. Actually, this seems to be the kind of ‘revolutionized’ that, say, the latest toxic concoction by Procter & Gamble promises to do to the world of shampoo and your hair, meaning it’s a completely gross misuse of a word that shouldn’t be thrown around for the hell of it.

So far, so wrong. Because last time I checked, women are still fighting for the right not to be enslaved incubators to their rapists; girls can’t walk down the street without fear of being called slut or whore or being otherwise harassed or attacked; women and girls are being trafficked and bought and sold, abused, harassed, humiliated, molested, mutilated, raped, tortured, prostituted, groped, groomed, coerced, stalked, bullied, forcibly sterilized or impregnated, killed, dehumanized, objectified, pornified, infantilized, robbed of their childhood, victim-blamed. Women don’t earn as much as men for the same work, while still having to do most of the unpaid work in addition, and women own barely any of the material property around the world. The majority of the world’s poor is female. The world is rife with sex-based danger and injustice against girls and women, from female genital mutilation, ‘honor killings’, executions, and other forms of femicide right down to the countless microagressions and instances of blatant sexism in our everyday lives.

Recently I’ve read of an acid attack and honor killings in Germany, a refusal to recognize marital rape as a crime in India, ‘personhood’ legislation in the US, rampant misogyny among Australian politicians, and wave after wave of information on pedophile rings in the UK. We’ve had the terrible rape-murders of Jyoti Singh Pandey and Anene Booysen, and the grossly sensationalized murder of Reeva Steenkamp. The bad news just won’t stop.

And how exactly has anything been revolutionized since my mother was my age? Oh right, merciless high-speed, high-def Internet porn on airplanes, in classrooms, and on the unsupervised phones of barely pubescent boys.

“But sexism hasn’t disappeared, it’s simply adapted to the successes of feminism. Sexism today is often more subtle, less in your face, but still a very real part of our daily lives.”

Sexism has adapted? The weirdly impersonal and abstract language here is kind of jarring. Like, we won’t ever actually read about any kind of oppression that male elements of society perpetrate against female elements of society. It wouldn’t be proper to write it that way; someone might feel offended, you see.

And I call bullshit on sexism being ‘more subtle’. Or maybe that’s just me after the Oscars celebrated seeing women’s breasts in rape scenes and someone thought it was cool to call a 9-year-old black girl the c-word, and the biggest stationery retailer in the UK sells valentines that say “my goal is your hole” and “suck my dick”. I just really fail to see what’s so subtle about any of the passionate woman-hating I have to see every day.

It may be that we are expected to make less of a fuss than women were some decades ago, because we are now supposed to believe the fiction of a post-patriarchal society and ‘ironic’ and ‘satirical’ misogyny and racism (or, alternatively, just “choosing to be above it”, through some kind of mystical empowerment mojo).

Even feminists are running around claiming we beat patriarchy! If you find sexism nowadays subtle, I suggest you consider the other possibility: that perhaps you’re just pretty desensitized to it. (During the writing of this I’ve become aware of Amazon’s large selection of rape and violence-against-women themed t-shirts. Well done proving my point, world.)

“Instead of being shut out of the board room, women are welcomed in, but when they don’t see the same success as their male counterparts, they’re told (often by other successful women) that it’s because they aren’t aggressive enough, don’t lean in to their careers, are too family focused.”

Yes, exactly, women are being told those things, and we’re being told those things as reasons why we aren’t making it into the boardrooms even though plenty of us get degrees and want boardroom jobs. Why would there be any need for this stupid victim-blaming lie if we had actually ‘arrived’ in the boardrooms of the world? No, we are still on the outside looking in, and being told we have ourselves to blame. If by ‘welcomed in’ you mean ‘not chased out with torches and pitchforks’ then, I guess, yeah—though I’m sure I could find instances of something akin to that if I had the energy. (Please note how the above paragraph also never mentions who is doing this to women, until it actually names *other women* as the agents of all this. Interesting, huh.)

“Today’s sexism means that women aren’t the only ones who suffer. Sexism plays out in the narrow ways society uses gender to define who we are, who we can be and how we should be treated. This is something that we all experience no matter our gender.”

No. Just no. Sexism means that you are being discriminated against on the basis of your sex. It’s not this equal-opportunity thing. Discrimination is never an equal-opportunity thing, or it would not be discrimination. That long and non-exhaustive list of terrible things that are being done to girls and women based on their female sex? Pretty much all those things have male perpetrators and female victims. It doesn’t just happen to girls every now and then and other times to boys. This is a global system of violent oppression that goes in one direction, not a little bit here and a little bit there.

Dehumanization and objectification and all that, guess what, it causes men to treat us like objects, like shit, like property, like punching bags. Pornification and sexualization of little girls…that stuff destroys lives. It fuels sexualized violence and traumatization of a huge percentage of the population. It does not affect boys the same way. And it’s women who are getting less pay for the same work. It’s women who are being treated like shit by the media. It’s women who are being killed by their partners. It’s women who are still a tiny percentage of politicians. Sexism and racism aren’t things that just affect anybody, they are strict and evil hierarchies, and they have males and whites at the top and everyone else below, respectively. And the only people who ever claim otherwise are either male and/or white, or they have internalized the stuff they’re hearing, regurgitating the lie to suck up or to feel empowered.

To claim that everyone either randomly or uniformly suffers the effects of sexism is so incredibly obviously false that I have a hard time not calling it a lie, and a misogynist one at that.

“Feminism’s project moving forward? Constructing a tent big enough to hold a constituency beyond the confines of the women’s movement.”

The women’s movement isn’t ‘confined’, okay. What kind of a stupid statement is that in the first place? If you know anything about feminism, then you know that there are shitloads of people who don’t like feminists, who hate feminists, because women are hated. But women’s concerns aren’t some kind of exclusive, fringe political agenda. We are LITERALLY HALF OF THIS PLANET and we are very often the legal guardians of some of the members of the other half. That means that even if the women’s movement talks about only females all day, you can never call it ‘confined’ to anything simply for being about women only and for having females as a ‘target audience’ or focus.

So yeah, I have to write these long paragraphs for every sentence I read here, because this is some crap. This sentence just pisses me off, because it’s so dismissive of women working for women, of women concentrating on women, in fact of everyone concentrating on women, even though not only common sense but also regular old patriarchal research tell us that concentrating on women is the best and fastest way to make sure everyone benefits, while diverting some of that energy and those resources away from females usually results in pain and suffering for females.

Empower women and entire nations rise from terrible hardship. Empower men some more–always, of course, at the expense of women–and everything just goes further downhill.

“This work has already started, but it’s got a long way to go before we can claim a new direction for feminism. The LGBTQ movement, sometimes allied with feminism, has blown open new avenues for understanding gender identity in today’s world. Transgender, gender non-conforming and genderqueer people have more rights and recognition today than ever before, and this work is propelling the need for a feminism that understands how gender stereotypes and biological essentialism impact us all.”

This entire paragraph just kind of makes everyone forget what’s even going on down here on Planet Earth: men are oppressing women in a myriad of ways, are subjecting them to extreme cruelty and violence, and girls are being traumatized and crippled psychologically and physically. The minds of boys are of course also warped in patriarchy, but the male class is still the ruling class in the sex hierarchy and thus the side that mostly inflicts rather than endures.

All this talk of ‘gender identities’ and ‘genderqueer’ just obscures this and doesn’t help anybody. I’ll give you a synonym for what gender is: ‘sex-based stereotypes’. Now, let’s put this synonym for where it says gender:

“This work has already started, but it’s got a long way to go before we can claim a new direction for feminism. The LGBTQ movement, sometimes allied with feminism, has blown open new avenues for understanding [sex-based stereotype identity] in today’s world. [Trans-stereotyping, stereotype non-conforming and stereotypequeer people] have more rights and recognition today than ever before, and this work is propelling the need for a feminism that understands how [sex-based stereotype stereotypes] and biological essentialism impact us all.”

Pretty stupid, huh? ‘Gender’ ‘theory’ is just a bunch of self-affirming, circular reasoning that completely leaves out uncomfortable realities such as male supremacy, class society, and violent oppression and the trauma and conditioning it brings. The idea of ‘gender’ is just completely isolated from all political context. It just becomes a carnival of self-expression in which everyone is to have some kind of self-defined position (even though the carnival is entirely based around socially defined stereotypes).

We are to forget that two physically distinct types of humans exist, male and female, and that one controls the other based mainly on their anatomy, supported by an all-pervasive system that has existed for as long as recorded history. ‘Gender’ is nothing other than what patriarchal society expects people to be like based on their belonging to one sex class or the other.

Naturally, since this is patriarchy, this means that female humans are expected to be submissive and inferior and let themselves be dominated. If we don’t, there are consequences. That’s the system. That’s the feminine gender role. It’s meant to be oppressive. It’s what keeps us in our place. We don’t want these things to be at the focus of feminism because they are tools of the patriarchy, and they do exactly nothing when it comes to bringing us closer to liberation from male supremacy.

“Let’s welcome everyone who cares about eliminating gender-based oppression into our circle, and talk openly about how our roles in this movement should be shaped by the privileges we hold. The smaller our circle, the less our potential to change our world.”

This reads like your classic, ‘If we don’t include men in feminism, it’s totally pointless’ argument. This right here is what’s doing a lot to destroy feminism. Because you don’t just include people in a movement if their interests are possibly the exact opposite of what the movement is about, do you?

Well, if you get “everyone who cares about eliminating gender-based oppression” in on it, then you also get those who are convinced that there is now ‘gender-based’ oppression of men by women and not vice versa. You get those who, like the author of this piece, just paint ‘gender-based’ oppression (it’s actually sex-based) as some vague evil that befalls all of society, without perpetrators and only with victims who must all stand shoulder to shoulder–when that will actually result in victim standing with perpetrator and nobody who’s doing harm ever being held responsible or made to change.

“Let’s bust open the doors, invite everyone in, and start the hard work of envisioning a world where your gender doesn’t determine who you can be or how you will be treated.”

Did the author just wake up from a Futurama-style cryogenic sleep? I mean, not that I have actually been around all that long, but I actually just read the words “start the hard work of envisioning a world where your gender doesn’t determine who you can be.” First of all, this is still about sex, stop erasing the cause of our oppression! And second of all, how insulting to feminists can you get? Don’t you think women have imagined, dreamed of, yearned for, written about and envisioned such a world with all their might for ages now?

What do you think it is women want? More chivalry and kitchen appliances? We want to be humans. Not man’s helpmate, not servant, not fucktoy, not decoration, not prey, not scapegoat. “Let’s bust open doors and invite everyone in” sounds exactly like what a movement shouldn’t be doing when you’re trying to actually generate some kind of political momentum despite being literally in bed with the class enemy (this sounds belligerent to so many, but please just face the fact that it’s not a personal judgment of individual men to name the class of men as the oppressing agent and benefactor of female oppression).

I vote NO on just going, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, call yourself a feminist!” You get some people, like this person, talking like they’re feminists and then making it sound like women oppress themselves and men are just as much victims of patriarchy as women, if not more. I’d rather not have such people call themselves feminists, because what they’re saying is anti-feminist.

“Many fear that broadening feminism beyond a women’s movement will allow male privilege to run rampant in the movement. It’s true that sexism and gender-based oppression don’t impact us all to the same degree, and that’s a truth that goes beyond gender. Broadening the tent also means we have to better learn how to deal with privilege within our movement, a project that feminism has been struggling with for decades already around issues of race, class, ability and much more.”

These are weasel words. It starts off with some wording and tone that would suggest the author is about to explain why male privilege will not be a problem if this mythical tent-expansion is undertaken. But the only thing it actually says is, yes, privilege is an issue, but sex-based privilege isn’t the only issue. In other words, might as well include absolutely everyone under the feminist umbrella and then somehow try to make everyone happy. This is not feminism. This is called normal patriarchal society, and we already know that this oppresses women.


Image credit: humourisms.com

One of the first things anyone who is serious about anything should learn is the following:

It doesn’t matter what people think. If people think they are good people and would never hurt anyone, but they actually don’t even know half the shit that goes on in the world, then they have absolutely no way of knowing what’s good or bad, right or wrong, and what they’re even doing. And that’s true for all of us. We have to learn to look around and understand things. Just because you mean well doesn’t make everything well. Men don’t think of themselves as misogynists. But that doesn’t mean that they have women’s interests at heart. Or that they even see women as human. Don’t look at me like that, there is a lot of depressing scientific research, okay.

We can barely even trust ourselves to have our own best interests at heart – in fact, that’s a hard struggle in itself. It’s really unlikely that the very people who a) have never experienced even for a day the oppression that we fight, and b) passively and/or actively benefit from our oppression, will be the ones to always follow what’s best for women. This big rallying cry for everyone who feels society has been oppressive to them and their ‘identity’ under the banner of feminism is not what we need.

We need people who recognize that females are the oppressed sex in a male supremacist world and who are passionate about changing this. You need to be seriously disconnected from reality to consider anything else the truth. (This is so BASIC! It is 2013 and we are trying to convince people that patriarchy is a thing, rather than fighting the damn thing! Think how far we could already have come if we didn’t have to start from scratch every decade.)

“Feminism, it’s time for a new approach. But let’s not forget why we’re here: because we’ve won. We’re here because feminism has transformed our society, and now it needs to transform itself for the next frontier: building a world where no one is limited, treated differently or discriminated against because of their gender identity.”

Okay, I’ll just translate this into really plain speech here, I think:

“Feminism is over. Regular old boring women have it really good now. They should stop complaining and think about everyone else.”

Again: No. Just no. Just keep your ‘gender identity’ along with the crisis that it brings, I want nothing to do with it. I don’t know whom you think it’s helping to put such emphasis on cherishing and respecting the gendered social image people project, but it doesn’t help women as a class. Frankly, it’s not helping anyone but the same old winners of patriarchy that everything non-revolutionary tends to benefit.

Understand that gender is sex-based stereotyping intended to keep females inferior and dependent on males and generally to keep everyone compliant with that system. ‘Gender’ is completely entwined with misogyny. You can’t have ‘gender’ without patriarchal ideas about people based on their bodies—the exact thing everyone should want to be getting rid of. Understand that we have not ‘won’, we have not ‘beat the system’, we are still very much in the middle of it.

A lot of what passes for feminism nowadays is really gender-affirming and helps to further the pornification of society. I also see a lot of fighting of symptoms of patriarchy without patriarchy actually being named as the problem. When a movement is so busy with things that are actually not the central objective, how is that objective (liberation for women) ever to be reached? If we could just end patriarchy and liberate ourselves (and the planet) from male supremacy, we would not have to worry about gender identities. If we could stop worrying about literally everything else under the sun, we could maybe get to saving some female lives and kicking the patriarchy’s ass.

I’d like to end this with two very fitting quotes by my friend @FeministRoar. The first one was her much more succinct critique of the article I have now discussed at length: “These people want to make feminism serve their own interests and in doing so make it meaningless.”

And secondly:

“So fed up of feminism being interpreted as whatever YOU want. It has a meaning folks. Get with it.”

Thank you, FeministRoar, I couldn’t agree more!


12 comments on “Feminism’s Gender Identity Crisis

  1. YOU ARE A SHERO. Thanks for this.

  2. This is an excellent reply to that stuff and a profoundly good explication of these issues. It could serve as a primer on *actual* feminist principles for anyone who spouts that nonsense. Thank you for this.

  3. Reblogged this on Guerrilla Feminism.

  4. Thanks. The men I work with in construction obviously don’t see women as human. In turn, I have a very hard time seeing them as human. Then I catch hell from some of my friends for that attitude, because it’s “sexist.” Worse, there are so many butch lesbians around me who are convinced that they are trans and should become men–WHY? Because rather than just embracing themselves as butch women, they’ve bought in completely, hook line and sinker, to the male supremacy models in society. They cut off their own breasts–how is that any different, really, than breast-implant surgery? That is the result of this “post-feminist” stuff. It’s not over. It’s everywhere. It’s in advertizements for make-up and beer, in the clothing available for our children to wear, it’s in the high percentage of movies and TV-shows on every single night with the central plot-point of “woman, raped and murdered.”

  5. They should name cities after you. Great work. ❤

  6. Gender essentialism is truly the suck. It leaves me, a straight genderqueer woman nowhere to go, especially since I like my body and have no desire to change it. But I can’t get a date because I’m too “masculine”. Ummm… I have tits, don’t I? Oh, wait, so do many men. Darn. And I’m only genderqueer because our society is so hung up on gender, which is NOT a biological fact. Men are NOT from Mars and Women are NOT from Venus!

    I have, at times, framed my anti-patriarchal arguments in a pro-male way, so that men can understand why patriarchy is bad. For one thing, the emotional harm done on little boys (when they come into the world more emotionally expressive than girl babies) is grievous and is partly why they grow up into oppressors and abusers of women. Men are assholes, not because they are inherently so, but because we RAISE THEM TO BE. A patriarchal man is a weak man because otherwise, why would he get his panties in a bunch when I speak back to him? But this isn’t the same thing as “Let’s include everyone in the tent to make feminism meaningless!”

    But we also can’t ignore the fact that women often play a role in their own victimization. The reason why most of my career mentors have been male is that (in my experience) they value competence. And if you can prove that you are just as good or better, AND can sling the shit they throw at you right back at them, they respect you for it if they are not out and out sexist. Whereas, certain women labor under the impression that there is only room for ONE woman at the top and instead of helping each other like the men do, actively compete against each other. I’ve been edged out of more jobs by breaking the Girl Code by openly displaying my competence. These women are also part of the generation of what I called “failed feminists”, who want all the privileges of feminism without any of the responsibility. I’m sorry, but if you are going to demand equal rights (as we all should), you can’t then turn around and demand that a man be responsible for all your financial needs. (Yes, Kardashians, Real Housewives, I’m looking at YOU!) If anything, it plays right into the patriarchal ideal because they not only are conforming to these ridiculous gender roles, it gives patriarchal louts a straw man to tout on how we women are oppressing men.

    Fortunately, these women are not ubiquitous, although outside of hour-long episodics, they are the entire female population of tv-land, PARTICULARLY reality television, but even daytime tv with their “advice” on how to land a man is pretty oppressive. And let’s not talk about all those books written by women which blame us for being unmarried because we’re too strong and won’t take a man’s lead. Fuck that. Women evolved because we HAD TO. Why can’t men evolve too? Why do we have to buy into the argument (put forth by patriarchy, which is why I think men do it ON PURPOSE) that men are hopelessly stupid so therefore we have to occupy all our energy and time into our relationships with them and expect to get nothing back. When you think about it, it’s just as demeaning to men as it is to women, though it allows men to sit back on their La-Z-Boys while we do the housework.

    This is why it seems that the feminist battle is not only Not Over, but that we’ve actually gone backward in time. For this sad state affairs, I feel that my generation (40s) should take responsibility. While *I* have never personally said this in my life, my generation was the one that started to say stuff like “I’m not a feminist, but…” My generation backpedalled so hard (unfortunately, the Riot Grrls was a blip in consciousness. waah!!) that no wonder the younger generation doesn’t have a clue. No wonder our entertainment has become so much more woman-hating than ever, more violent and demeaning towards women than ever. We’re supposed to take this humorously and ironicly, but how the hell can one be ironic when five-year-old girls think it’s ok to dress like porn stars (or worse, even if one doesn’t want to dress one’s child in sexually provocative clothing, children’s clothing that is not sexually provocative NO LONGER IS SOLD IN STORES!!!)?

    No wonder women are confused and these patriarchal Trojan Horses can write their “feminist screeds” without getting stoned to death.

    Fortunately, I have a posse of girlfriends who are just like me, who constantly break the Girl Code and wonder why the “girls” hate us. Well, I have the answer. They hate us because we escaped the brainwashing that made us girls, and became Women.

    • This is such a brilliant article and reply to it–thank you!

    • Dear Pamela,
      Thank you for this very articulate response. I have never been in search of an identifying label, but the one you self apply is the first one that has ever made any sense to me “straight genderqueer woman” and being genderqueer for the same reason. Everything you have written articulates for my perfectly my own experience. So thank you. It’s good to know that I am not completely mad or 1 in 7 billion.

  7. Outstanding! I am sick of the ‘soft-soap’ feminism that tries to not step on anyone’s toes. It sidelines the real atrocities happening every second of every day in favor of garnering a more ‘reasonable’ image.
    The liberation of women is literally the only thing I give half a shit about. I have dedicated my career and my life to that end.
    By nearly any modern interpretation the language used here would be classified as ‘militant’ and you know what? I’m all fucking for it.

    ~Dominant, Heterosexual Slavic Male

  8. Great writing. Great thinking. Thank you.

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