To End Sexism, We May Need More Gender, Not Less

October 1, 2008 at 9:51 am (feminism, LGBT)

I have a new post up over at Revolutionary Act: A Just Gender Culture, Or, To End Sexism, We May Need More Gender, Not Less. Please do take a look if that’s in line with your interests. Here is a bit to get you started:

Since I started getting heavily involved in feminism, I’ve had many different takes on gender and sexism. I’ve felt, at different times and to varying degrees, that gender itself is the problem — that this whole business of differentiating between men and women, between femininity and masculinity, is, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, catastrophically damaging. I no longer feel this way. While sexism and oppression are poisons to human happiness, I’ve come to see gender as a critically important part of identity and culture.

I do not know anyone to whom her gender is not a significant, meaningful part of how she sees herself. What that gender is varies widely, from masculine men and feminine women, to masculine women and feminine men, to something in between, to something that changes, to something outside of that, and more. Regardless of what someone’s gender identity is, regardless of whether it conforms to the dominant culture or not, people seem to strongly identify with their own. Gender is a very significant part of most of our senses of self — even those of us who are feminists or otherwise anti-sexism, and/or who don’t fit well into the gender system.

If you’ve ever had someone misread your gender, you probably have a very strong sense of what I’m talking about here. I’m a lesbian, the kind people can spot, and, as a I recently explained here (and do read that post; it’s very much relevant to this one), I sometimes feel like I’m lost in a quagmire between typical feminine presentation and identity and butch presentation and identity. I’m not butch, but I often don’t feel like a “real” girl, and I’ve sometimes had people tell me as much. I’m very happy being female and being read as female, but my queer identity is also very important to me. This ambiguity makes for a lot of misreading, which seems to scatter about equally between people misreading me as butch and people misreading me as straight and/or (for lack of a better word) femme. (Apologies for conflating gender and sexual orientation… They are, of course, often intertwined.) When this happens, in either direction, my heart sinks: I feel like I’ve failed at gender presentation. If it happens intensely, I start to feel sick, and start experiencing something like dysphoria. I get dizzy and nauseated, and begin to panic, losing my grip on my sense of self. “Who am I? Where am I?”

It’s an awful, awful feeling to have someone misunderstand your gender. So, I think that people all over and outside of the gender spectrum need cultural acknowledgment of their genders — not just tolerance, but recognition and affirmation. With this in mind, it is my sense that we can make a bigger, better impact on sexism and gender-based oppression by proactively creating more options, more gender designations, and working to make those accepted, than we can by only trying to tear down gender as it currently exists. A truly just gender culture is not a culture without gender, but a culture with respectful and non-coercive gender.

So, what would a just gender culture look like? What would it mean to have gender without gender oppression?

Keep reading.

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