Reading this excellent article ‘What Makes A Woman’ by Prof. Elinor Burkett on C Jenner and transgender activism in the US reminds me how the US radical Left is slowly self-imploding in it’s self-righteous, divisive, identity politics (which I also wrote about here). Seriously though, this was the first time I heard the words ‘vagina’ and ‘woman’ being described as ‘exclusionary’. How utterly ridiculous. Whatever next?
To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.
For Burchill, Moore, Germaine Greer, Elinor Burkett and many other women, any definition of woman that reduces a woman to her body parts of a uterus, breasts and vagina is to be resisted. In addition, any definition that perpetuates patriarchal and sexist ideas of ‘femininity are to be resisted. As Burkett says:
‘People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women, whether Ms. Jenner or Mr. Summers, shouldn’t get to define us. That’s something men have been doing for much too long. And as much as I recognize and endorse the right of men to throw off the mantle of maleness, they cannot stake their claim to dignity as transgender people by trampling on mine as a woman.
Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.
For me and many women, feminist and otherwise, one of the difficult parts of witnessing and wanting to rally behind the movement for transgender rights is the language that a growing number of trans individuals insist on, the notions of femininity that they’re articulating, and their disregard for the fact that being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one….
THE drip, drip, drip of Ms. Jenner’s experience included a hefty dose of male privilege few women could possibly imagine.’
Sadly even in Buddhist cultures, the Buddhist belief that sexual characteristics are fluid and not permanent, exists in ways that privilege the male view. As Serinity Young describes in Courtesans and Tantric Consorts (2004):
‘A primary Buddhist belief is that sexual characteristics are fluid, genitals can change in the next lifetime or even in this one. That the belief in sex change was enduring and widespread is shown by the surprising number of sex change stories that exist and by their incorporation not only into prominent Buddhist texts, but their presence within discussions of central Buddhist concepts such as karma, emptiness and illusion. The Buddhist creation myth that describes sexual characteristics as a decline from a primordial non-sexual state lends support to the belief that sexual characteristics, being secondary, can drift.
Most of the stories that follow are more expressive of male fears about losing masculinity than of female hopes of gaining it….In other words, even though the stories feature women, they reveal male concerns…. [and] represent male views, anxieties and fantasies. Although a few stories subvert the wholesale negation of women and challenge the basic notion of gender, overall they privilege maleness. Most tellingly, the vast majority of stories are about women becoming men…..As will be shown, gender is understood to be a reward or punishment, and many texts argue that achieving an advanced stage of awareness precludes one from being reborn as female.
We can support Ms Jenner’s wish and liberty to be seen as a ‘woman’ while at the same time resisting her (and others’) attempt to define what makes a woman. Is the same discussion and outrage being had by female-to-male transgender people? I haven’t heard of it. Which says it all…..male privilege still defining women.