Women have never been allowed to define what it means to be a woman, and even now we can’t or are not defining it ourselves. I recently read an old NY Times article about all women colleges that aren’t really all women anymore. Tons of professors and students and other people who love talking perhaps more than doing were interviewed, and the only ones who wanted to keep anonymous were female students in favor of keeping the all women colleges all women colleges. I’m pretty sure they did this for two reasons:
(I) When touchy subjects like this come up, people get very “us and them” about it, and often accuse anybody who isn’t 100% in favor of *whatever it is* of being 100% against it. This can have serious social, financial, and professional costs. Who wants to risk that just for the sake of free speech or intellectual curiosity?
(II) They’re women, born and raised, and women are trained not to offend people by speaking their minds, and to think first of the suffering of those worse off than themselves. In this case, women are putting transgender people first.
Now considering that no one (except maybe CPE) reads this blog, and that even if they did, no one would listen to my opinion–both because I’m a female and because it’s perhaps unpopular–why should I even bother explaining the problem here? Honestly.
I understand that transgender people suffer. I get it. But that’s actually not a logical argument for converting women-only spaces to whoever-considers-herself-a-woman-only spaces. It goes back to defining womanhood. As for me, I have no problem treating a transwoman as a woman, using her preferred name and pronouns, etc. But I don’t think transwomen get to decide what constitutes being a woman. Men throughout the ages have defined a woman to be someone with a female body, and have treated us accordingly. Someone who was born and socialized as a man shouldn’t have more say about what “woman” means than someone who was born and socialized as a woman. Things might be different if the sexes had much history of being treated and valued equally, but they do not–therefore it is still more important to me what someone’s sex is than what gender they identify with.
So how to define “woman,” then? Well, again, until the sexes are treated and valued equally, I would have “woman” defined primarily if not exclusively as “someone of the female sex.” First can’t we convince the world that both sexes are equal–then proceed with whatever evidence exists that there are multiple sexes?
As for gender identity, this is also problematic for women. Does a person born male who decides to present as a women harm women? No. What harms women is gender roles, however, and I’m not the only woman—I am not a radical feminist either—who is perceiving that people are confused as shit about the difference between “gender identity” and “gender roles.” Tell me again about how ever since you were a little boy you wanted to wear pink dresses and stay at home cooking and cleaning? From reading online, I know there are a few trans folks, though they seem to be in the minority, who understand that this is so disgusting to ciswomen. Tell me again how being a woman is about wearing pink dresses and staying and home cooking and cleaning! Then there are those Caitlyn Jenner’s who debut as women by posing in lingerie on a magazine cover–because ah yes, that’s what womanhood is about: looking good. No.
I’m tired of this issue already, though I realize it is only just entering the public eye. Gender roles are bad for everybody. What if we just quit teaching children that certain colors, behaviors, tastes, and manners of dress are only for one sex? My mother did that actually. Once when I was a little girl I got some sort of toy or something on the basis that it was “the girl color,” though I didn’t really like it. When this came up in conversation with Mother, she nipped that gender bullshit flower right in the bud. If you like blue, you like blue. If you don’t want to wear makeup, then don’t. Men and woman and boys and girls are all equal, and we can all be astronauts and presidents and teachers and scientists.
It almost makes me laugh because even though I’m a regular ol’ ciswoman (I usually just say woman, or heck, even “person”), by some definitions I’ve read online, I could be a transman or genderqueer or some other label I have no use for. Is this all the result of this weird need people seem to have to want to categorize the shit out of everyone and everything? I’m not being flippant. Is it the same thing that makes us want to lump all of our beliefs together under whatever words seem to fit best, like “Democrat” or “Southern Baptist” or even “Chemistry Major specializing in Synthesis”?
Gender roles are bad, but a problem that is as bad is how little logical debate there is. There are the discussions rife with with ad hominems, emotional appeals, and red herrings, of course. The worst is that people are afraid to put their names to their opinions and questions lest they be hastily labeled a bigot. People are blaming more and more woes unfairly on feminism. Does it help transgender people? My answer is that this sort of “debate” helps no one, and yes, it takes away from women.
I support equality and anti-discrimination laws for transgender people. I think it’s great when places have unisex bathrooms. But I want women-only spaces. I want to have one room to go into without interacting with men or being seen by them. If you have or have had a penis, that probably includes you. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask. I know there are complexities to this issue, particularly when it comes to public bathrooms. What I believe is most important is to change our culture, not our laws, and not even our definitions of sex or gender. We all need to make it safer for a transwoman to walk into a men’s restroom, for example. We need to teach kids not to be cruel to the little boy who “dresses like a girl,” or the little girl who goes by a male name and male pronouns. We need to make society more accepting of transpeople, rather than trying to lump them into one of the sexes of which they really are not a part.
All that said, I know transgender people are probably all just doing their best, trying to “pass,” and trying to stay safe. I can definitely understand why transwomen wouldn’t want to use a male restroom, for example, but I do think it’s a pretty typically male attitude, disregarding of women’s feelings, to claim authority or rights to women-only spaces and institutions. Women still have to fight for safety, for equal pay, literally to just have our voices heard and not talked over at work! For all I know, men would really like to have a retreat from women, too, and maybe they are insecure about female-sexed individuals seeing them washing up at the gym. It’s not all about “bigotry” and “hate.” Increasingly, cis people will try to understand you; please try to understand us too.