GUEST POST: Rethinking Gender Abolition by Pogoniptrail

Rethinking Gender Abolition

by Pogoniptrail

The goal of eradicating gender has become axiomatic for radical feminists over the past several years. Not only the debased role of woman but gender itself–the very concept–has been framed as the root of all women’s oppression. It is my position that gender abolition is neither necessary for women’s liberation nor a worthy goal. I base this conclusion on the following points:

1) Gender abolition is a reactionary position that has gained traction as a result of the assault on women’s autonomy vis-a-vis transactivists and gender identity theorists.

2) It is a disembodied view that emphasizes minds and brains over women’s entire physical being.

3) It is an abstract solution imposed on an existing order rather than an organic theory arising out of women’s experiences.

4) It does not allow for sex-based diversity in religious and ethnic subcultures.

5) It frames autonomous women’s spaces and organizations in negative rather than positive terms.

I am using the word “woman” here to mean “adult human female” and “man” to mean “adult human male,” exclusive of transgendered individuals. Where my analysis refers to transwomen or transmen, I use those terms specifically. I use “masculine” in the sense of “referring to the male” and “feminine” as “referring to the female.” I use “male” and “female” according to their biological meanings. My definition of gender will become clear as the essay progresses.

Gender is understood in different ways by liberals, conservatives, academics, transactivists, and even radical feminists, though these differences are seldom acknowledged, let alone defined.

Radical feminism has challenged the idea that biological differences automatically result in certain gender roles, with man’s dominion the natural and inevitable result. Most feminists today see gender as a social construct that does not naturally or inevitably flow from sex differences. Many would go further and say that biology has absolutely no relation to gender.

The most conventional definition of gender as a social construct puts characteristics of girl/woman and boy/man in a pair of boxes that are socially defined. In theory the individual either accepts the box that conforms to social expectations, rebels and adopts the opposite box, or mixes and matches from both boxes. In practice, most people mix and match to some degree, but what is interesting is how much consensus there is on what goes in the pink versus the blue box. There is much variation among cultures, but within the culture socialization around gender is so complete that everyone understands the two discrete categories. Feminists point out that the two boxes are not equal: the blue one has better stuff. Better paying jobs, more comfortable clothes, higher social/political status. Gender abolition in the box definition would put all the things in the blue and pink box in a third (perhaps purple) gender-neutral box that applies to everyone.

Gender can also be defined in conceptual rather than concrete terms. The definition of gender as dominance and submission would be one example of this. According to this definition, as described by Christine Delphy(1), the desire to dominate creates social/political divisions which are only coincidentally based on sex. Without the desire to dominate, there would be no delineations between humans along sexual lines. Gender abolition would mean attacking dominance/submission and thus freeing women from subordination. Conversely, the theory says that if women were to become empowered, gender would automatically cease to exist.

Yet another way of defining gender is by socialization, another conceptual definition. Men and women are different because they have specific social experiences. This explains the differences in gender across cultural lines. Gender abolition here would mean the elimination of differing experiences based on sex.

These ways of understanding gender as social construct are not all mutually exclusive, but neither are they necessarily inclusive. The idea that dominance/submission motivates differing socializations that result in the yucky pink and coveted blue boxes aligns all three theories. Yet in practical terms, there are problems describing gender differences entirely using any of these approaches, let alone all three together. It takes a lot of theorizing. For example, pink is actually a more dominant color than blue, more easily catching the eye and holding the attention.

Confusion results when feminists use different definitions when talking about gender. Further confusing the issue is whether we are talking about gender as a collection of individual choices or gender as traits that describe a group. If we’re talking about individual choices, gender abolition might mean being able to choose to look like Dolly Parton, or to wear nail polish and have sculpted muscles while working as a backhoe operator. If we’re talking about group definitions, gender abolition means no general descriptions about men and women would be possible except in terms of reproduction and obvious secondary sex characteristics.

I view gender as the result of differences in socialization between women and men. That this socialization is practiced in ways that are extremely harmful to women I do not dispute. I look at gender in general rather than individual terms, seeing it as a social construct that should be informed (not defined) by biology. I am not a gender abolitionist. My views on gender are informed not only by my sex and my socialization as a woman, but by my studies in feminism since the early 1980s, my participation in women’s spirituality, my affinity with feminist art and culture, the many years I spent living on “women’s land,” and my experience and training as a child psychotherapist.

Socialization is commonly used to refer to social experiences in childhood and adolescence. Certainly these early years are important in human development; however, socialization, with its attendant influences, actually occurs throughout the lifetime. I use the word socialization in its broadest sense, encompassing childhood and adult experiences.

So here is a further explanation of why I am not sold on the idea of gender abolition.

1) Gender abolition is a reactionary position that has gained traction as a result of the assault on women’s autonomy vis-a-vis transactivists and gender identity theorists. In the early eighties the focus for radical feminism–as I and my friends understood it–was on defining womanhood. We were not redefining it, because we maintained that it had never been allowed the free expression to define itself. Nor could any woman herself define “woman”: the discovery had to be explored and nurtured in a group environment. A society where women have full participation and both men and women have qualities considered masculine and feminine certainly did not go far enough. Women needed to participate in society as women defined by women. That is a rather gendered concept. That this position is over twenty years old might mean it needs to be re-defended on those grounds alone, if not for feminism as a whole becoming so regressive. I think the emergence (really re-emergence) of the idea of gender abolition is a reaction to gender identity theory, which elevates gender stereotypes and seeks to wrest women’s right to self-definition by divorcing gender from sex and then erasing acknowledgement of any female sex class. Gender abolition has the benefit of rejecting not only gender identity, but patriarchy, which means resistance to the gender identity theory promoted by transactivists can be framed as rejection of patriarchy. But this is still a reactionary position, one that seeks to protect us from patriarchy and its trans mutation, but does not actively define what we want and what is best for us.

2) Gender abolition is a disembodied view that emphasizes minds and brains over women’s entire physical being. There is a lot of attention paid to the supposed difference in brain chemistry or wiring between the sexes. Given that we know that personal experience, especially trauma, along with drugs and hormone exposure can change physical brain wiring, the search for meaningful and conclusive evidence of male and female brain wiring has been elusive.  If there are such differences, they are subtle. But why such emphasis on the brain? Men have decided that intelligence–or a certain type of intelligence–is the most important part of existence and that this intelligence is seated wholly in the brain. Also, that the mind and body are separate spheres. Transwomen have emphatically embraced this worldview. According to transwoman Valerie Keefe(2), “…we transition to bring our body sufficiently in line with our sex, our neurological sex, which in a sapient species is the only legitimate metric of sex…” Let that sink in a minute. She is saying that sexual dimorphism in the mind exists in fact not speculation, that the body is separate from the mind, that the body does not inform mind, and that the body is irrelevant even to sex. Keefe’s analysis reflects a thoroughly male socialization, yet it is not that different from that of gender abolitionists. One view says there is substantial sexual dimorphism in the brain and therefore people know their gender through their brain; the other says there is no difference between the male and female brain and therefore there should be no gender. Yet if bodies are important and the the body is inseparable from the mind, the differences between men and women are no longer subtle; they are striking. To create an identical (or even very similar) socialization between boys and girls, if it is even possible, would be to relegate the body, along with the formation and growth of the species, to a place of unimportance while affirming that it is the brain that is essentially the only salient part of life. (As an aside, given the amount of interest and funding for studies into male/female brain dichotomy, it is only a matter of time before there is a large body of solid evidence of some inherent differences between male and female brains. No doubt the patriarchal news spinners will attach tremendous importance to this, as they do now with more equivocal research. Another reason, strategically, not to base arguments for liberation in the gray matter.)

3) Gender abolition is an abstract solution imposed on an existing order rather than an organic theory arising out of women’s experience. There is a penchant in Western thinking, established by male thinkers, to impose–or attempt to impose–order from the mind: to conceive of an idea in the unpolluted realm of thought and manifest that idea in the word. It is the deductive form of reasoning, based on accepted or unassailable premises–points that have been scrubbed and sanitized–that creates the most celebrated theories. Part of the appeal of deductive reasoning is that it requires familiarity with prior theory, thus making it less accessible to the uneducated. The inductive form of reasoning, which looks at a real life example, forms a hypothesis, and examines evidence for generalization, is messier and poorly regarded, harder to defend and producing hypotheses that are often wrong. It is, however, rooted in the word outside the mind and therefore more likely to have practical applications. Gender abolition is a theory that “should work,” that is based on no real life examples. In fact, it has become a blinder to recognizing situations where women enjoy relatively more autonomy and learning from them. These examples–from indigenous cultures, history, archeology, ethnic subcultures–are dismissed by many radical feminists because they “involve gender.” So entrenched is this condition of a genderless society, that only a gendered society where women enjoyed complete liberation could possibly shake the theory enough to allow more real world evidence. Yet our feminist theories are not unpolluted; they are doubtless steeped in patriarchal premises that we are unaware of. Only from a place of greater autonomy can we formulate a vision that is truly liberating.

4) Gender abolition does not allow for sex-based diversity in religious and ethnic subcultures. Cultural and religious tolerance is invoked to excuse all kinds of horrific abuse of women and children. Feminists are correct in criticizing the bondage and isolation of women and girls in religious subcultures such as the Quiverfull. Yet while the dominant/submissive analysis describes the dynamics of the Quiverfull rather neatly, applying it to every religion in every circumstance does not work so well. What about cultures in which the worship of the Virgin Mary is paramount and Jesus is regarded merely as her child? What about positive gendered depictions of both male and female deities in polytheistic religions? Some feminists would characterize these examples as smokescreens to hide the dominance of a male priesthood, but cannot the positive images and symbolism of woman in these religions be conserved? Women are the conservators of culture and of subculture in particular. Women have always been our connection to the past–of family, of religion, of ethnicity, of the parts of history that do not make it into the official version. How much of tradition do we break from? There is a tendency in any group which has endured a prolonged traumatic experience to attempt to erase that event from its identity. This is seen in pagans who try to recreate an “authentic” paganism untouched by Christianity or Native Americans who search for a pre-Columbian tribal understanding. Certainly not all pagans or Native Americans do this, but the attraction is there. Why claim a part of yourself that has been formed under horrible conditions you would not have chosen? Are feminists seeking a clean break with our oppressive history through “gender abolition”? Patriarchy is not a bad dream from which we will one day awaken. It is an experience that has shaped all of us, women and men, making us who are today and tomorrow.

5) Gender abolition frames autonomous women’s spaces and organizations in negative rather than positive terms. The 1972 manifesto of the (Dianic) Susan B. Anthony Coven #1 said in part(3), “We are opposed to teaching our magic and our craft to men until the equality of the sexes is a reality.” (Emphasis mine.) At the time women-only spirituality groups were forming, feminist art collectives, publications and intentional communities also arose with the goal of furthering liberation by creating space away from men (and anti-feminist women) in order to refine feminist politics and establish a vision for a truly egalitarian society, as opposed to equal roles under patriarchy. For many feminist theorists, the right to “female-only” space is still based upon oppression. Sheila Jeffreys(4) has said, “Feminist commitment to women-only space is based upon a definition of ‘woman’ as a political category created through oppression.” Yet for many of us with long term exposure to autonomous women’s space, the motivation is no longer to get away from men or patriarchy, but to be with others of our sex. On the surface, this sounds like the same thing, but in practice it is a very different mindset. For participants in women-centered spirituality, women-only space is now viewed as a fundamental spiritual right, not to be rescinded for any reason, even the end of patriarchy. We do not see ourselves fighting patriarchy with our women-only spaces (although we are). We are fighting patriarchy for our women-only spaces. I would go further and say that the amount and quality of autonomous women’s space is a measure of our liberation, not a strategy along the way. This position on women-only space does not threaten the idea of gender, since socialization establishes and maintains gender, but it is far removed from the individualism of identity politics. (On a practical note, it is better not to justify women-only space as a reaction to oppression, since doing so assures that we will be defending it for the entire patriarchy. I believe it was in 1968 that The New York Times first declared that feminism had achieved its goals and could disband. At the moment, with contraception under attack, few are saying this, but with the next high court ruling assuring us the status quo, the media consensus will be: We’ve won! No more feminism needed.)

To devise a workable organic blueprint for women’s liberation, we need more women’s autonomous space–defined as space for women governed by women, in some cases inclusive only of women. This would include girls’ schools; girls’ extra-curricular activities; colleges for women where instructors, trustees and administrators are women; feminist political organizations governed by women; women’s health organizations with female professionals; women-only communities, religious groups, media organizations and artistic collectives. This means no men or transwomen in positions of authority in organizations primarily serving women.

I am by no means advocating strict segregation of the sexes. That would create another rigid system of gender and leave no room for gender non-conforming individuals. But the option of women’s and girls’ autonomous space should be made available in a wide variety of circumstances. As long as we have differences in socialization between men and women, we will, in a general way, have different ideas about what it means to be a man versus a woman. This means the pink and blue boxes will not go away, although hopefully they will contain different things, their differences will be less stark, and individuals will have flexibility in the ways they conform or don’t conform.

I hate to address the topic “what about the men” because it’s so ubiquitous in any discussion about women, but I suppose in this case it’s relevant, along with its corollary “what about the transwomen.” Feminists have been saying to men ever since they began knocking at the doors of our women’s communities: go form your own groups, your own spaces. But many men complain that men-only groups are competitive and hostile, and groups of the Iron John persuasion have perpetuated misogyny and harmful male stereotypes. Besides, we already have a tradition of men getting together in autonomous groups to explore what it means to be a man: it’s called Western civilization. For men to have a nurturing socialization in all-male groups, one that does not exploit women, they will need to have the educational benefit of experiencing full participation of women in society as a whole. In other words, the patriarchy will need to end.

As for transwomen, they have male bodies and male socialization, and so their presence in women-only space is wholly inappropriate. Some transwomen are quietly defining their own gender or living their lives in non-sex-segregated spaces. Those who attempt to rule and redefine women and violate our segregated spaces must be taught to honor boundaries. Ditto for transmen invading the space of gay males.

It is possible to be trans-critical and to reject patriarchy without advocating gender abolition. We need to weigh whether gender abolition is what we really want, since it would involve sacrifices for women as well as men. Possibly there are some women who advocate for gender abolition who have similar views to my own. One of my purposes in writing this has been to encourage feminists who advocate for gender abolition to become clearer about exactly what they mean. I believe what we need is gender autonomy, not gender abolition: the freedom to collectively determine our socialization around our sex.

Notes

(1)      Christine Delphy, “Rethinking Sex and Gender,” in Sex in Question: French Materialist Feminism, Diana Leonard and Lisa Adkins, ed. 1996.

(2)      Valerie Keefe, comment on World Crunch, January 13, 2012.

(3)      Susan B. Anthony Coven #1 Manifesto. Reprinted in Zsuzsanna Budapest, The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries. Berkeley, California: Wingbow Press, 1989.

(4)      Sheila Jeffreys, “Transgender Activism: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective,” in Journal of Lesbian Studies, May 2010.

29 comments

  1. i like me some “transwomen have male socialization” tawk as much as the next gal, but this article is a straw-radfem piece isnt it? the premise is that radfems advocate for androgyny, yes? and that its a major concern for us to boot. since when?

    i think the point is that “gender” as a “feeling inside” is anti-feminist, not that there will definitely not be or definitely should not be somewhat differing SEX-ROLES post-patriarchy. biology has a lot to do with this actually. for example, some radfems are open to the idea that male biology predisposes them to violence, and that this will not be remedied. the obvious solution to that would be for women to take care of children, not men, because of what men are known to do to children (and to everyone). and relying on the male medical machine for artificial wombs and things that will remove womens biology from the equation entirely, well thats entirely patriarchal. this will not be the way to achieve “androgyny” that exists outside of patriarchy, it will only create a patriarchal sort of androgyny.

    again, it is not the radfem party line to remove biology from the equation, or to not concede that SEX will dictate SEX-ROLES (not GENDER-ROLES) somewhat. removing biology from the equation is the libfem party line, if anything. take this up with them.

  2. When I think about “post patriarchy” and what *I* would see that looking like, I must confess I have a hard time seeing that WITHOUT abolishing “gender.” Sex would still exist, presumably, so long as humans existed, because reproduction is how humans are made. This fact does not DEFINE “who a human is.”

    I think a lot about St. Anselm’s God definition as a being “than which no greater can be conceived”. http://www.unc.edu/~theis/phil32/ontological.html – mostly because I think neither God nor post patriarchy can exist.

    1. curiouserandcuriouser · ·

      Agreed.

  3. […] stop losing the plot, people.  its never been about “gender”.  gender has always been one very big, very […]

  4. I’d like to like this posting, but the position set up in the first paragraph is inaccurate. This isn’t radical feminism’s position at all IMHO. I would certainly need to see some recent full quotations from radfems proposing androgeny to feel the rest of the article had any content, and I don’t mean Shulamith Firestone 50 years ago.

    The author appears confused as she pursues her argument. Social reality, which includes the structure of gendered roles, arises from biology, all right; from men’s biology, specifically. The whole social construct is structured to benefit male, especially elite or leader male, priorities. Masculine gendered roles are relatively accurately correlated to what men desire and need, and have been since ancient times because of male domination and the subjugation of women. This doesn’t mean human societies aren’t going to continue having gendered roles, of course we will, we’re societies, we’re not just human animals wandering about, we’re a dimorphic species that lives in groups. It means that if women are ever to live in society as actual full-citizen “humans”, the domination built into these gendered roles has to be eradicated, and the gendered roles women “play” must reflect much more accurately women’s needs,convenience, biology, and priorities. One big issue in women’s liberation is how is to discover and nurture and restructure to include these long-buried needs and priorities, in a global society which actively and effectively suppresses such exploration.

    Though I disagree with the main premise that radfems support an eradication of gendered roles, which indeed is a strawman premise, and though it has to be said that most of the argument in between seems simplistic and ill-thought out, I agree with one thing in the last paragraph; it is time to have another radfem discussion about this confusing and manipulated concept “gender”, and the whole nature vs. nurture issue as part of the process of analyzing the System (the social reality construct we live in globally). So I do appreciate that the author has made this attempt to frame some important theoretical issues. And of course the author’s general position, that androgeny is not a viable concept, is something I agree with.

  5. “The goal of eradicating gender has become axiomatic for radical feminists over the past several years. Not only the debased role of woman but gender itself–the very concept–has been framed as the root of all women’s oppression.”

    Gender is the cultural expression of women’s oppression, the root of which is male violence.

    “..the desire to dominate creates social/political divisions which are only coincidentally based on sex. Without the desire to dominate, there would be no delineations between humans along sexual lines. Gender abolition would mean attacking dominance/submission and thus freeing women from subordination.”

    The desire to dominate arises from sex: namely, the inability of half of the human population (males) to reproduce and create offspring – the labor force required to amass and defend capital from other humans competing for those same resources. Gender is the social expression of compliance to male domination. Only abolition of male violence will free women from male domination.

    “Conversely, the theory says that if women were to become empowered, gender would automatically cease to exist.”

    This is certainly true.

    “Yet another way of defining gender is by socialization…”

    Socialization as the means by which gender is inculcated is not in opposition or conflict with the previous definition you offered.

    “The idea that dominance/submission motivates differing socializations that result in the yucky pink and coveted blue boxes aligns all three theories. Yet in practical terms, there are problems describing gender differences entirely using any of these approaches, let alone all three together. It takes a lot of theorizing. For example, pink is actually a more dominant color than blue, more easily catching the eye and holding the attention.”

    I fail to see how the arbitrary nature underpinning the assignation of some conventions of social gender traditions leads you to conclude that the theory is problematic. The important point is that the sexes are assigned separate colors. The specific colors used for this visual social division are irrelevant.

    “Further confusing the issue is whether we are talking about gender as a collection of individual choices or gender as traits that describe a group. If we’re talking about individual choices, gender abolition might mean being able to choose to look like Dolly Parton, or to wear nail polish and have sculpted muscles while working as a backhoe operator. If we’re talking about group definitions, gender abolition means no general descriptions about men and women would be possible except in terms of reproduction and obvious secondary sex characteristics.”

    I see no contradiction or confusion between these two descriptions you offer (individual vs group).

    “I look at gender in general rather than individual terms, seeing it as a social construct that should be informed (not defined) by biology. I am not a gender abolitionist.”

    Expression of what specific traits would you like to see culturally imposed on females based on our biology?

    “Gender abolition is a reactionary position that has gained traction as a result of the assault on women’s autonomy vis-a-vis transactivists and gender identity theorists.”

    Gender is a reaction to male violence.
    Women’s freedom from performing (under threat of violence) obedience to male supremacy is a revolutionary act. Revolution is not possible if social expression of rebellion is violently suppressed. Gender Identity was invented to inhibit the female cultural expression of rebellion against male violence.

    “But this is still a reactionary position, one that seeks to protect us from patriarchy and its trans mutation, but does not actively define what we want and what is best for us.”

    How females and males define ourselves and what we want post-patriarchy is not a feminist concern. (Unless you are asserting the idea that visioning human culture absent patriarchy is a necessary component of successful revolt? Not clear.)

    “To create an identical (or even very similar) socialization between boys and girls, if it is even possible, would be to relegate the body, along with the formation and growth of the species, to a place of unimportance while affirming that it is the brain that is essentially the only salient part of life.”

    I don’t follow your conclusion. It seems you are proposing an “ethnicity of sex” independent of the violent sex hierarchy we live under. This may or may not be a desired status post-patriarchy, but either way it is still a social, cultural “brain” function imposed on physicality. The sun rises and sets regardless of whether we know the intricacies of Timex stock fluctuations. Removal of arbitrary cultural mores based on sex will not remove or de-prioritize human reproduction. Or corporeality.

  6. Lafaye · ·

    I was really confused reading this article. It wasn’t sitting right with me as I was reading it, but maybe it’s because I wasn’t “getting” some of the arguments. Is the author trying to say that some thing/behaviors/whatever are intrinsic based on sex? Biology cannot be wholly divorced from one’s lived reality, I agree. I also believe hormones and brain chemistry affect behaviors, moods, etc. (to an extent), but I completely reject the idea of gender roles in any context. I can only speak for myself but I’ve been a gender abolitionist before I was even aware of transmen/women. For me gender has nothing to do with trans and everything to do about the expectations placed on me and discrimination used against me because I have female biology.

    I would suggest the author has had a much different experience of her gender than I have had, and where she sees that some of gender could be preserved or salvaged, I do not see this at all.

    1. pogoniptrail · ·

      I’m not saying that there are necessarily intrinsic behaviors based on sex. Varying cultural expressions of gender speak against this, at least for the most part. If you see gender as the result of socialization concerning biological sex, which I do, then there are certain implications of gender abolition that need to be examined. By socialization I don’t just mean current socialization to accept a subordinate role under patriarchy, but any socialization at all based on sex. I’m using “socialization” in a broad sense in this article, meaning any shared characteristics arising through the social context. It sounds like you define gender as harmful “sex roles” imposed on women, which is something different. I think the problem is less how we collectively decide to define gender and more that feminists (as well as everyone else) are using the same word to describe different concepts.

      1. Lafaye · ·

        What’s a sex role vs. a gender role? Keeping your legs shut vs. taking up space? Pink vs. blue? Wanting/liking children vs. not wanting anything to do with them? Art/writing vs. math/science? Dresses vs. pants? Spirituality vs. mainstream religion? Anything that stereotypes or puts a code of behavior on a person is no good to me. I don’t see anything about gender as being good for women.

  7. Another person who imagines she has “choices” around her choices of which choice to choose around gender.

    Conflating then separating then conflating sex and gender, then choosing to imagine one has choices isn’t radical. It’s re-explaining what the “post-feminist” patriarchy has been peddling for decades now.

    And it’s hard to take an essay seriously that bases so much on claiming that the radical feminist interest in abolishing gender is “reactionary” — either you don’t know what the word means or you’ve heard it so much in academic-speak, you forgot what it actually means and prefer the use of it as a put-down for weak analysis. “[O]pposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative” does not accurately describe the radical feminist critique of gender. Using that word highlights the straw radical feminism at the heart of the impulse to demand that radical feminists be more like liberal feminists and “reconsider” gender.

    Gender — as lived every minute of every day by every female — is a multi-faceted reflection of the power relationships between the sexes institutionalized as and by the patriarchy. Believing that it can be rescued from this material reality is the stuff of fantasy and liberal feminism. No doubt there were women in decades past who wanted to rescue “womanhood” from the cesspool that the patriarchy reflected and it is tempting still for women to claim that there is an essential “womanhood” that can be held on high. Advancing in our thinking, however, has enabled us to get to the end of that train of thought.

    If there is an essential womanhood or essence that is “woman” who or what will be the gatekeeper to that inherently social construct? And if this leads to the idea that females are only worth rescuing because there is something considered essentially “woman” then we have not advanced beyond the end of a social leash held tightly by our peers.

    Radical feminists do not have to explain what a post-gender world would look like. We’re not futurists, we’re realists. And the gender construct is the clearest, most accurate frame for understanding how the patriarchy manipulates men and women, boys and girls. That manipulative power wouldn’t have made it this far if it didn’t have sophisticated methods for twisting language and for getting even women to claim to have control over its primary tool.

    1. pogoniptrail · ·

      “Reactionary” as in reacting to something: “of, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction.” You are totally misrepresenting what I said. Why? I did not mention choice except to say that this is an individual way of conceptualizing gender and my approach involves groups. The “essential womanhood” argument is also out of left field. This essay is not a “futuristic” imagining: it takes theoretical and conceptual approaches to gender and examines their implications. I doubt the “post-feminist patriarchy” has even read Christine Delphy, yet alone pondered the implications of what she said. By the way, “liberal feminism,” “libfem,” “choosing choices,” and other buzzwords on this thread are groupthink tactics designed to shut down discussion. Gender is not a clear construct, let alone one that is closed for discussion.

      1. group think? how about theory? jesus. and radical feminists are discussing gender, all over the place. we are discussing it in the context of radical feminism, which addresses the sources of male power, and the roots of womens oppression by men. your article not only fails to do that (and why would it, since you are not a radical feminist?) but your premises — about what radfems think — are wrong. we get that alot, and its very, very irritating.

      2. I, too, read your usage of “reactionary” as it is commonly used in today’s political discourse. It looks like you have taken the definition from dictionary.reference.com. However, the entire definition states “of, pertaining to, marked by, or favoring reaction, especially extreme conservatism or rightism in politics; opposing political or social change.” Perhaps a clearer term for your purpose would be “reactive”.

        Also, your third point about deductive and inductive reasoning is really weird. I don’t think they mean what you think they mean.

  8. doublevez · ·

    There’s an article on Delphy’s theories at Rancom.

    1. The Rancom piece is actually hyperlinked in this post.

  9. BadDyke · ·

    ” I believe what we need is gender autonomy, not gender abolition: the freedom to collectively determine our socialization around our sex.”

    Except this assumes, or at least implies, that ALL aspects of that socialisation should depend on sex, hence we end up with at best, a multiplicity of genders, but still divided on sex grounds.

    The problem here is that we’re taking what is an (almost totally) binary labelling of biology, and then expanding that definition out to areas where biology may not actually matter that much. I’m not saying that sex won’t matter (in terms of reproductive function, choice of sexual partners, healthcare concerns etc), but saying that we also have to acknowledge areas where it doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t matter. That we will have, as it were ONE fixed gender designation (even from a larger set), even if that isn’t based on sex, still takes what is the fullest range of human experience and propensities, and hammers it into rigid boxes. Many other aspects of personalities or behaviour just aren’t that discrete, although humans do seem to love dividing up into groups creating binary divisions even when things aren’t that simple. Arts versus sciences, religious believer versus non-believer, beer drinker as opposed to wine.

    But if we didn’t have expectations in one area based on choices or biological restrictions or propensities in a different area, then we’ve have no gender to not conform to!

    1. pogoniptrail · ·

      Well, I don’t mean to imply that socialization has to be in all areas. But woman-only and girl-only groups, or even girl-oriented groups, will create some difference. If you have different socialization in some respects, you will have differences in a broad sense. And I’m looking at gender as the product of socialization, which is not how everyone sees it. With different socialization, especially with same-sex groups, you will be able to make generalizations, although they will not always hold true for the individual. There shouldn’t be any penalty for non-compliance to a general norm, although patriarchy does exact strong penalties for non-compliance to a very narrow prescribed set of characteristics. I agree that human social traits are not discrete, even now. I would like to see men and women portrayed in less stark terms. But I don’t see gender as an individual choice. What holds for the group doesn’t necessarily hold for the individual.

      How much biology matters is not a question we can really answer right now. While socialized differences based on domination of men over women are clear, how much biology might constructively be used in socialization is unknown. For example, since girls mature faster than boys, more sex segregation in educational settings makes sense on a biological level. There are many reasons why we don’t do this so much any more, one of them being that girls’ schools in the past got fewer resources.

      I think the binary we most urgently need to get rid of is the mind/body binary–or really mind/body hierarchy. The body informs the mind and the mind informs the body, and the mind is part of the body whether it wants to be or not. Patriarchy teaches us to limit our understanding of our bodies.

      1. BadDyke · ·

        “For example, since girls mature faster than boys, more sex segregation in educational settings makes sense on a biological level.”

        No it doesn’t, no on that evidence.

        Female and male are different, a simple binary a large percentage of the time (not forgetting intersex people). Hence sensible to separate out the going to be bleeding soon people from the rest, when we’re talking about where to find the tampon machines and the sanitary product bins. Or advising about contraception and how not to get pregnant.

        BUT, taking a statistical difference (maturing faster? How, physically, emotionally, intellectually?), and creating a separation out of that (girls classes and boys classes because all you boys are just so immature), is the repeated mistake at the heart of gendered thinking.

        BTW, I’m NOT saying that girls only classes AREN’T an advantage now within patriarchy — a all-girls school and girls only classes and female teachers were certainly an advantage for me when it came to realising that girls could do maths and physics.

  10. Delphy is staunchly, firmly, strongly against any consideration of biology. She maintains that anatomy is purely political and that were it not for patriarchy and division of work between sexes, there would be no sex roles or no implications deriving from sex differences in terms of human organization. I disagree with this, because it denies the obvious implications of birthing for human organisation and the fact that birthing cannot be shared equally between men and women.

    1. Agreed, witchwind. Delphy is way off.

  11. The problem is not sex roles per se but the fact that men occupy us, invade us, rape us, domesticate us and keep us captive so we make babies for them.

    Being oppressed is not a role, nor a performance or gender. Would we say that being annihilated in a concentration camp is an identity, or a socialisation?? Would we say of colonised people that the war against them is a role they play? Being subjected to violence is not something you can incarnate, because by definition it robs you of your subjectivity, of any possibility to express yourself or be the agent of your own actions. When we are subjected to violence, we do not have the capacity to identify to anything because our conscience is invaded, and all we are capable of doing is executing the will of our aggressor, out of terror.

    So gender only applies to men because as the dominant class because only they have the prerogative to have some form of subjectivity or identity. Even if it’s a perverted, pathological subjectivity, men are “constructed” as inalienable, impenetrable, as human. They share collective values and norms through which they can realise themselves as human beings. Under men’s rule, we women have no identity, because “femininity” is nothing but a set of practices to destroy our will, conscience, resistance and souls. By definition, we cannot “construct” ourselves on these, we cannot “socialise” with these practices, because their only effect and intent is to de-construct us, destroy us, fragment us, desocialise us, divide us…

    Socialisation is really a male-centric concern, something that we don’t even know what it feels like, or barely, through women’s movements. We have yet to build our own world and our own socialisation.

    1. pogoniptrail · ·

      Well said. Everything is always through the male lens. “We have yet to build our own world…”

    2. karmarad · ·

      Holy cow, witchwind, you speak the truth. All respect.

  12. pogoniptrail · ·

    Thank you. I wondered if she had changed her views.

  13. You’re welcome,

    As Daly and many others say, both fem. and masc. genders are male, because onnly men have defined them.
    Identity has to come from the expression of true self, which is the opposite of having something imposed externally. Which reinforces the point that identity & gender role are not relevant in defining our oppression.

    1. karmarad · ·

      Yes, and our truth, our real identity, is a mystery. How can we know who we are with this overlay of crap? It’s like we live in a landfill with thousands of tons of crap poured on us every day, a mountain of it. We are something no one has seen yet. And that is the most revolutionary statement I have ever made.

      1. I’m glad to be a testimony of this statement karma! Perfect metaphor of our reality!

  14. […] My musings on a recent post at You Think I Don’t Understand but I Just Don’t Believe You, called “Rethinking Gender Abolition”.https://bugbrennan.com/2012/07/03/guest-post-rethinking-gender-abolition-by-pogoniptrail/#comment-204… […]

  15. The Dispossessed (by Ursula LeGuin) presents an inspirational ideal of androgyny and contrasts it with an alternate version of Earth and its extreme femininity standards. I was very inspired by that book at many levels. I don’t think there’s any problem with androgyny as an ideal to look up to, by simply letting people… be themselves, without nonsense beauty standards. There is actually a tribe, I unfortunately don’t remember the name, where there is no known dimorphism.

    That being said, I think the commentators are right that the author is confusing gender identity with sex. She also needs to read Mary Daly re: the Virgin Mary, “authentic paganism,” and other male assaults on the Goddess myth.

    Gender is murder.

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