Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What makes a woman?

Most readers will be aware that there has been a scuffle on the left between some of the older radical feminists and the transsexual movement - with the transsexuals winning hands down.

Elinor Burkett recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times defending the older feminist position. It's interesting how closely she follows typical liberal ideas in her argument.

The basic liberal idea is that society should be based on a principle of "equal freedom," meaning that the individual is to be equally free to choose for themselves who they are and what they do. This means that unchosen, predetermined qualities, such as our biological sex or our race, are thought of in negative terms as oppressive restrictions from which the individual is to be liberated.

This explains Elinor Burkett's first argument. She observes that when a transsexual man says that he has a female brain that many on the left applaud him, even though this suggests that there are real, hardwired differences between men and women that aren't self-determined:
Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side — people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination — are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us.

That’s the kind of nonsense that was used to repress women for centuries.

...By defining womanhood the way he did to Ms. Sawyer, Mr. Jenner and the many advocates for transgender rights who take a similar tack...undermine almost a century of hard-fought arguments that the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us.

Elinor Burkett fears that if our biological sex - the fact of being male or female - is found to matter in some way, that there will be a limitation on how we as individuals chart our own individual destiny. It might mean, for instance, that a woman might not become a combat fighter in the army, because she was born a woman and not a man - something she cannot determine for herself.

It is difficult, though, to live by the liberal principle consistently. Our sex is important to our identity: it's not easy to see yourself as an "it". And it is clearly the case that being a woman does still matter for Elinor Burkett, no matter how feminist she is. And so her second argument is that transsexual men are undermining female identity.

She makes a good argument that this is so, and I will quote her on this shortly. But the point to be made here is that it is this very fact, that transsexualism undermines female identity, which makes it such a radically liberal force and which explains why it has so much traction in a liberal society. So this may not have been the best argument for Elinor Burkett to focus on if she wishes to win support from a liberal establishment.

How does transsexualism undermine a female identity? Well, if a man in his fifties is suddenly considered to be a woman, then all the things that women uniquely experience in life don't matter so much when it comes to what it means to be a woman:
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...

Elinor Burkett is running a fine line argument here. She is arguing that it is bad for women to be defined by hard-wired biological characteristics, such as differences between the male and female brain, but good for women to be defined collectively by shared life experiences, both negative and positive (on the positive side she writes that she has "relished certain courtesies" that she has received due to her sex). Again, I can't see this as being persuasive within a liberal framework when the liberal goal is to sever the connection between our biological sex and what happens in our life.

Elinor Burkett then lists a series of very strange outcomes of supporting transsexualism. They are strange to me and perhaps to older feminists, but no doubt they seem radically chic to younger liberals and will become part of the liberal mainstream over time.

For instance, if men can be considered women, then it becomes non-inclusive to link womanhood to having a vagina. Therefore, this:
In January 2014, the actress Martha Plimpton, an abortion-rights advocate, sent out a tweet about a benefit for Texas abortion funding called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas.” Suddenly, she was swamped by criticism for using the word “vagina.” “Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” responded @DrJaneChi.

WHEN Ms. Plimpton explained that she would continue to say “vagina” — and why shouldn’t she, given that without a vagina, there is no pregnancy or abortion? — her feed overflowed anew with indignation, Michelle Goldberg reported in The Nation. “So you’re really committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary & harmful?” asked one blogger. Ms. Plimpton became, to use the new trans insult, a terf, which stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist.”

In January, Project: Theatre at Mount Holyoke College, a self-described liberal arts college for women, canceled a performance of Eve Ensler’s iconic feminist play “The Vagina Monologues” because it offered an “extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” explained Erin Murphy, the student group’s chairwoman.

Let me get this right: The word “vagina” is exclusionary and offers an extremely narrow perspective on womanhood, so the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas, along with the trans people who want them, should describe ours with the politically correct terminology trans activists are pushing on us: “front hole” or “internal genitalia”?

Similarly, there are transsexual women who identify as men but who still have functioning female genitalia. Therefore, to be inclusive means that abortion and contraceptive services can't be marketed to women alone:
Even the word “woman” has come under assault by some of the very people who claim the right to be considered women. The hashtags #StandWithTexasWomen, popularized after Wendy Davis, then a state senator, attempted to filibuster the Texas Legislature to prevent passage of a draconian anti-abortion law, and #WeTrustWomen, are also under attack since they, too, are exclusionary.

“Abortion rights and reproductive justice is not a women’s issue,” wrote Emmett Stoffer, one of many self-described transgender persons to blog on the topic. It is “a uterus owner’s issue.” Mr. Stoffer was referring to the possibility that a woman who is taking hormones or undergoing surgery to become a man, or who does not identify as a woman, can still have a uterus, become pregnant and need an abortion.

Accordingly, abortion rights groups are under pressure to modify their mission statements to omit the word woman, as Katha Pollitt recently reported in The Nation. Those who have given in, like the New York Abortion Access Fund, now offer their services to “people” and to “callers.” Fund Texas Women, which covers the travel and hotel expenses of abortion seekers with no nearby clinic, recently changed its name to Fund Texas Choice. “With a name like Fund Texas Women, we were publicly excluding trans people who needed to get an abortion but were not women,” the group explains on its website.

And what about those who are legally women but who consider themselves men? They can use female services but they don't want to be referred to as women:
Women’s colleges are contorting themselves into knots to accommodate female students who consider themselves men, but usually not men who are living as women. Now these institutions, whose core mission is to cultivate female leaders, have student government and dormitory presidents who identify as males.

As Ruth Padawer reported in The New York Times Magazine last fall, Wellesley students are increasingly replacing the word “sisterhood” with “siblinghood,” and faculty members are confronted with complaints from trans students about their universal use of the pronoun she — although Wellesley rightly brags about its long history as the “world’s pre-eminent college for women.”

Elinor Burkett shares the same underlying liberal theory as the transsexuals, but she is facing some unexpected loss of control in how the theory is played out. She liked the old way in which she got to be part of a movement in which women were defined as an oppressed group smashing apart oppressive social constructs to live liberated lives, in which women like herself could keep older privileges of womanhood but also have access to things they wanted in a more androgynous social setting.

But the theory has now reached a more radical moment, so that there is no longer a comfortable "women's movement," not when the notion of womanhood itself is in such flux. What now does it mean to be a woman? In our liberal society a woman's body doesn't make a woman, nor her distinct life experiences. Transsexuals reach back to traditional markers of femininity to make their womanhood distinct, but this isn't acceptable to feminists. Can you have a women's movement when there is confusion about what actually makes a woman?


  1. The very notion of a "women's movement" is of course fundamentally sexist. Femaleness is merely a social construct. Having a "women's movement" simply reinforces patriarchal oppression. In fact the notion of "feminism" is sexist since it assumes that such a thing as femaleness exists. The women's movement needs to be replaced by the person's movement, and feminism needs to be replaced by personism.

    I am shocked to discover that in Australia we have a Minister for Women - more reinforcing of outmoded patriarchal labeling! We should have a Minister for Persons.

    I'm more and more convinced that the modern world is actually a Monty Python movie.

  2. Well, feminism is masculinism so the end of women qua women seems pretty appropriate.

  3. To generate legitimacy for their lifestyles both the transgenderists and homosexuals are using biological and liberal arugments (albiet very selectively) and this hybrid approach is working pretty well for them. In particular, it doesn't pose a threat to big business, or even traditional family formation on a large scale.

    In contrast the old-school feminists are pretty much totally reliant on liberal autonomy theory and refuse to accept biological explanations for differences in human behaviour and social outcomes.

    The feminists could of course follow suit and argue that they are a unique group - relatively masculine women who interests are different from traditional, feminine women and masculine men. As the increasing popularity of biological explanations for human behaviours makes itself popular in the universities its highly likely that some feminists will fall back on such a position.

    1. The feminists could of course follow suit and argue that they are a unique group - relatively masculine women who interests are different from traditional, feminine women and masculine men. As the increasing popularity of biological explanations for human behaviours makes itself popular in the universities its highly likely that some feminists will fall back on such a position.

      That would certainly be an interesting strategy. One side-effect would be to make it obvious (or rather to make it even more obvious) that feminists despise women and aspire to be men.

      Feminists, or at least heterosexual feminists, are going to have to consider some change in strategy - they are now very close to the absolute bottom of the victim totem pole. If they're unfortunate enough to be white they really are absolutely at the bottom. The identity politics thing is not working terribly well for them.

    2. dfordoom, I agree. A white heterosexual woman is at the bottom of the victim totem pole, and so has to genuflect to all the other "victim" groups. At the moment, most seem to be going along with it and kowtowing, but logically you'd think that some will eventually break from orthodox leftism - or try to refashion leftism. Or maybe they'll just be driven more into their own little community.

    3. At the moment the women who run the women's movement don't care because they're overwhelmingly wealthy middle-class women with cushy jobs in academia, the media or the bureaucracy. When they start losing those cushy jobs to trannies, blacks, Muslims and homosexuals they'll start to worry. It will be amusing when they start to be pushed out because of their White Privilege and Heteronormative Privilege. They'll be in the same boat as the Evil White Cishet Patriarchal men!

      It's also going to be interesting when Hilary Clinton becomes President of the US - she'll try to play the Women as Victim card for all she's worth and that's going to enrage the Black Lives Matter crowd and the trannies.

    4. Dfordoom, good comment. It's true that right now feminist women still believe it's a case of pushing men out, so they think of themselves as gaining rather than as losing out in terms of identity politics. But it won't feel the same to them when the tables are turned and it is thought that there are too many white women occupying the kinds of jobs you mention.

    5. Mark,
      This is not complicated. I don't understand why we participate in a scheme hell-bent on making it so.
      Man is the counterpart to woman. Without one, there in not the other. Male and female each stand alone as two sexes. A man is necessarily a male, but a male is not necessarily a man. Likewise with woman/female.
      Elinor Burkett routinely shifts between "he" and "she" and "Ms." and "Mr." She may have a strategy, but she's inconsistent. Few are.
      The only honest use of "gender" has been so bastardized and obscured as to be meaningless. It's wrong, and it should be corrected every time. That, I have long argued, is a critical part of "our" problem in confronting theirs. If we can't articulate the truth without lapsing into and adopting their tactical language - as they provide it to us - then any useful arguments that we might make, we push further and farther out of reach of ourselves. We're our own worst enemies.
      "Gender" is a grammatical term. It's an arbitrary designation for nouns and pronouns as masculine, feminine, or neuter. Gender has nothing to do with people. People are sexed male or female. People don't have a gender. (Every form and application that we must fill in, now asks our "gender", not our sex. Who writes masculine or feminine or neuter? Most often, we're forced to check male or female. This is insane, and it's the norm.)
      If I could magically change one thing, it would be that no one would ever again refer to born male as "she", "Ms.", "trans-anything", "female", "woman", etc., etc. It will always be a male or a man, depending on the context and social construction. No exceptions.
      Parse Ms. Burkett's article, as I have done with hundreds of others. Correct every misuse of "gender", "sex", "he/she", etc., correct every misused and misapplied noun and pronoun, and most of the confusion evaporates into reality, and most of the thinking is revealled as gibberish.
      Ms. Burkett seems to be conflicted. She somewhat aligns her "he and she" and "Ms. and Mr.", as she moves between Bruce and "Caitlyn", and back again. But, left on her own she clearly submits to the authority of modern liberalism, and gladly chooses to refer to him as "Ms. Jenner". As much as she may "wince", she's in "Caitlyn's" camp, as he shashays into hers.
      You can argue that what I'm advocating changes nothing, that the underlying issue is an actual, real-life dysfunction - which it obviously is - and that it's society's growing confusion, not ours. You could argue that our discussions make no difference, certainly not to them. What then is the point?

    6. If Bruce Jenner reads Burkett's article or this entry; he probably comes away no less confident. Mark himself writes: "She (Burkett) observes that when a transsexual man says that he has a female brain..." Mark isn't saying that he is saying that, but later, he writes of her argument: "And so her second argument is that transsexual men are undermining female identity." Burkett didn't refer to Jenner as a "transsexual man", Mark did.
      Why? In error, which is understandable? Or because he has casually adopted the relentless strategic language of this element of modern liberalism? It's inevitable. What is O'Sullivan First Law? "Any institution that is not explicitly right wing will become left wing over time." I argue that the same holds true for language. I don't need to explain the brilliant, globally successful tactic that decades ago proclaimed the fraudulant "gay" a civil right, a strategic nom de plume intended, as it so successfully did, to relagate the accurate, but "too clinical" "homosexual" to fading, outdated texts. Using "homosexual" in polite society is an obvious, hateful aggression.
      To get it "right", Jenner, in their world, is a "transgender woman", not a "transsexual man". If he self-mutilates in the future, he can adopt the "transsexual woman" label, though that now appears to be a tolerated choice, as it is somewhat outdated, which means offensive in some way to the "community".
      In my world, Bruce Jenner is a mentally ill, sexually dysfunctional male, who retains none of the vestiges of manhood. Whatever use his penis serves, it not an element of "her" manhood.
      We must stand our ground, as neglected and rutted as it is. Never adopt their language. Never refer to a male or a female as anything else. Only use "man" and "woman" when that is precisely what you mean. Gender applies to nouns and pronouns. Male and female are the two sexes.
      Stop using their language and much of what they say or write or argue will be made pointless and will fall of its own weight.
      Try it and see how easily and simply it reorders a disordered mind. Most will disagree and become irritated. They'll withdraw from the discussion or they'll turn ugly. Unless, of course, fitting in and going along to get along is what we really desire.

    7. Buck,

      First, I like your suggestion of using male and female to refer to biological sex and man and woman to refer to the qualities of manhood and womanhood. I will try to stick with this.

      However, I don't think we are going to win this thing linguistically. The state is a liberal one, in pursuit of liberal aims. That means that right now in every state school across the Western world students are being indoctrinated through special programmes to believe that our "gender" if fluid and has no necessary connection to our sex. Those who don't get with this programme can be subject to legal recriminations. In New York City, for instance, I believe that laws were recently passed applying fines of $250,000 to those who do not address a "transgender" person according to their preferred identity.

      We only win this if we establish communities where, first, the ruling principle is no longer the liberal one where human life is thought to get its dignity from a freedom to choose for ourselves our own being, and, second, where there is a return to a more traditional principle where there is thought to be a meaning embedded within reality toward which human life can be ordered and which gives human life dignity, meaning, purpose and fulfilment.

      I agree with you that Bruce Jenner is a sexually dysfunctional male, but under liberal principles he is a pioneering champion of a freedom to self-define.

  4. Thank you sir. It's good that you're posting again. Merry Christmas.

  5. The assignment of gender is simple and genetic. The male has the distinctive Y chromosome and the female has no Y chromosome. Human beings are the phenotypic expressions of their genes. Accordingly, a woman is a human without a Y chromosome. This can be determined by simple genetic testing. She will normally have the standard XX genotype or rarely XO (Turners Syndrome) or XXX genotype but the absence of the Y chromosome makes her female regardless of her psychological and subjective emotional states.

    Transgenderism is a psychological disorder which has no genetic basis hence the male who believes himself to be female is a male (XY Genotype) with a severe mental disorder which no amount of surgical and pharmaceutical manipulation can resolve.

  6. I'm good with Anonymous' genetic formulation of male and female, and that "transgenderism" being a psychological disorder. But, he or she (since I don't know which SEX) makes my case by first saying: "The assignment of gender is simple and genetic. That's both wrong and contradictory. Gender has nothing to do with persons; not with anyone's genes or sex. Gender applies to words, not people. Only nouns and pronouns can be assigned a gender; masculine, feminine or neuter. The correct statement is: "The assignment of sex is simple and genetic."

    1. In science and medicine, the words gender and sex are synonymous and used interchangeably. Gender (or Sex) are defined by genetic analysis.

    2. But that is a modern misuse of "gender", which should be corrected. That is my point. It's wrong for a host of reasons. The fact that educated people use it interchangeably with sex is wrong and is as dishonest as someone agreeing with Bruce Jenner's assertion that he is a woman. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this is not understood. This is "through the looking glass" unreal.

  7. Is this really as difficult a concept to grasp, as it seems? No one used "gender" to apply to people or to "sex" until the sick Dr. John (Frankenstein) Money, who had the testes cut off an innocent 2 yr old boy who lost his penis in a botched circumcision. David took his own young life after they tried to convince him that he was a girl. David knew that he was a boy. Everyone, even his own parents forced him to live as girl and they subjected him to sexual perversions. That was the late 1960s. Why Money wasn't charged, convicted and jailed is itself a crime. Instead, he became an academic star. The psychobabbling left had a new prophet and a whole new program of sexual dysfunction to propagate.