Monday, October 22, 2007

Unclear on the construct



This is coming off an offblog conversation, but let's just say someone was trying to figure out what the hell people meant by "gender is a construct" or "race is a construct," looked up definitions like this,

The central concept of Berger and Luckmann's Social Construction of Reality was that actors interacting together form, over time, typifications or mental representations of each other's actions, and that these typifications eventually become habitualised into reciprocal roles played by the actors in relation to each other. When these reciprocal roles become routinized, the typified reciprocal interactions are said to be institutionalised. In the process of this institutionalisation, meaning is embedded and institutionalised into individuals and society - knowledge and people's conception of (and therefore belief regarding) what reality 'is' becomes embedded into the institutional fabric and structure of society, and social reality is therefore said to be socially constructed.


...and went, *blink* *blink* "...right, I'm gonna go have a beer and then maybe it'll make more sense."

Basically, to me, it's like this:

The problem is that people have this idea that either something is "real" or it's not. And "construct" seems to suggest that it's not. It's in our heads; we made it up; therefore, it doesn't exist! Poof! What the hell are we talking about, then?

All "construct" means that it's not fixed and fated and outside human control in the way that say your eventual death is, but that doesn't make it any less "real" for a that and a that.

I mean, look at it this way: a building is a "construct." Humans created it. If no person had had the idea for a large rectangular thingie, if no group of people had drawn up plans and built it, it wouldn't exist. Does that mean it doesn't actually exist?

The key point here is that it's a -social- construction: race, gender, whatever. That means, "large group of people of which you are only one member has collectively designed and built this thing out of whatever materials were already lying around." You can have -input- on the construct, sure, same as anyone else (give or take some influence). That awning's got to go; maybe with some effort you and some likeminded pals can pull it down. Maybe add some shutters instead. Or, you can talk about trying to blow the whole edifice to kingdom come, I suppose. Many have tried. It's big, the edifice, see, and pretty solid. Also it's not really clear what would go there instead, if anything. Nature abhors a vacuum; society abhors vacant lots. Something like that.

So, anyway, back to "reality:" sometimes, you'll get an individual who declares something like, "Hey! This is only a construct! Just because a bunch of other people painted it this particular color and call it "fuschia" doesn't mean I have to BELIEVE in it! I SEE NO COLOR!"

Which is all very well, or could be, depending on where you're situated.

On the other hand, well, now say you're in a (human-made, hence not real) car, headed toward the nonexistent nongendered colorless construct at 70 miles an hour.

And now you know why, in certain kinds of discussions that take a particular turn, you get that "screeeeee SPLAT" effect.

38 comments:

kactus said...

Ah, I see.

So a skyscraper is a construct, but a mountain is not. Unless you believe in a god who created it, in which case it is a construct, just of a higher sort.

Rebecca said...

beautifully put.

Lisa Harney said...

Thanks for posting this. Now I'm going to complain a bit about the problem I have with the idea of gender being a construct:

I've often had problems with the argument that gender is a social construct specifically because - as a trans woman - this theory is commonly used to argue that I don't exist (or better yet, argue that my existence is so offensive as to cause actual trauma, as was stated on the MWMF forum a couple weeks ago) as I say I do.

I agree with the premise, but I think many of the people who say it have don't have the same perspective on gender as I do. I had to reconcile the fact that I knew I should've been a girl, but was instead, somehow, frustratingly, a boy. I had to explain this to myself at 5 years of age, when I attended kindergarten and discovered that wishing to be the other sex was not normal for everyone. I had to keep explaining this to myself over and over again, because the cognitive dissonance grew stronger as I grew older, until my only option (at 18) was to transition. If I could have transitioned earlier, I would have.

I do not at all find the premise that gender's trappings are a social construct to be troubling at all. After all, I am aware that gendered clothing is arbitarily assigned based on your sex. I am aware that makeup is something that many cultures expect from women now, but that some cultures at times have expected from men. I know that the idea that the woman should stay home and raise children while the man has a career was an unfortunate product of society at the time, not anything that was genetically or biologically determined, and that itself gave second wave feminism a boost into activism.

But I'm still left with people - feminists - who believe that my existence as a trans woman has any bearing on this theory, when I am almost 100% certain (and evidence points this way) that gender identity as defined as "What sex your brain expects your body to be") is biologically determined, and that the vast majority of people have brain and body in accordance, and thus never have to deal with contrasting brain and body differences.

When you deconstruct all the social things that surround gender, you're left with biological sex. It is not essentialism to acknowledge that approximately half the population is biologically female, and half is biologically male. It is not essentialism to argue that there are biological and physiological differences between males and females. It is not essentialism to propose that brains, like the rest of the body, can have a sex. And if these things are not essentialism, it is also not essentialism to argue that sometimes a brain can be wired one way while the body develops another.

This has nothing to do with the social aspects of gender.

Sorry, Belle, I've been carrying that rant around for awhile, and your post crystalized it enough for me to put it into words. Maybe I should work on a blog of my own. :)

R. Mildred said...

Gender is constructed in the sense that actions we define as "male" and/or "female" become unthinkingly accepted as "male" and/or "female", and hence creates a socio-normal idea of "male" and "female" that by definition now encompasses not just a person's sex, but also requires and reinforces an idea of socio-normal behavioral gender, which can, through the power of putting a man in a skirt or a woman in slacks, magically transform a person's socially perceived sex, and can even cause that person to lose their socially aquired cisgender privelage*.

And the reason we don't call it "behavioral gender" instead of "constructed gender" is because *slaps dissenters with a fish* Shut-Up.

* cisgender privelage is said not to exist according to the transphobic feminists who usually whip out "constructed gender" (like they whip out dworkin, i.e. they genreally don't use it properly and don't seem to have any idea what they're actually saying) even though without cisgender privelage alot of the whole constructed gender theory ceases to make a lick of sense, and requires pretentious waffles to explain what can be explained just by saying "here's what cisgender means, here's what privelage means, constructed gender is what cisgender privelage enforces, any questions?"

CrackerLilo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CrackerLilo said...

CrackerLilo said...
I still like the great philosophers Big and Rich's take on the subject of race, from the song Love Train, best: "The whole color thing never made sense to me/who gives a hoot if you're red yellow purple or pink?/we're all mixed up anyway/we might as well give each other a break!"

We can't pretend that we don't look different and have different bodies, and we can't pretend there haven't been (and still are) restrictions and rewards doled out because of these differences. History sucks. The present and future can be better. So we need to remember, and see what we can do to create a better future and not make such a big screaming deal out of physical differences. The "construct" people only seem to make things worse to me, like too damn much thinking and effort almost always does. Be nice, acknowledge difference, and don't let it freak you out. What's the problem?

I don't think I'll get it, and I don't think I really want to, either. *sigh*

A.W. said...

Mirriam-Webster, second and third definitions;
2 : a philosophical theory ascribing ultimate reality to essence embodied in a thing perceptible to the senses — compare nominalism
3 : the practice of regarding something (as a presumed human trait) as having innate existence or universal validity rather than as being a social, ideological, or intellectual construct

My gender identity (sex identity would be more apt) doesn't fit under social construction, but it doesn't really fit its opposite, essentialism, either. It seems to be missing a key point to be considered that way, according to the above definitions, someone has to argue that all people, without exception, have to have experience with a gendered body to a gendered brain formation, but there always seems to be exceptions of one kind or another, so I doubt everyone, without fail, would experience that. (Brain're fucking complicated, imo) The problem I find with the definitions is that they all include some ultimate reality that everyone is supposed to have, instead of individual realities or realities that could be felt by a majority of people, but not all. Since there's bound to be exceptions, neither construction theory nor essentialism leaves much wriggle room for whether people accept and relate to their sex. Blasted definitions are frustrating, there's no median, just two extremes. Other than that, I'm quite fond of constructionist theory, and very interested in how it interacts with people's minds.

A.W. said...

"The "construct" people only seem to make things worse to me, like too damn much thinking and effort almost always does. Be nice, acknowledge difference, and don't let it freak you out. What's the problem?"

Because acknowledging the differences almost always leads to people tacking on presumed qualities to a group that are labeled different. And once someone has declared a quality/characteristic to equal a group that has a difference, people get fucked over, because people, by and large, don't seem to appreciate difference, and will make great excuses to get away from it into a more familiar surrounding. Now, if people think "Hey, cues, behavior and actions are learned", (ie, construction theory - simplified) they'll (hopefully) acknowledge that anyone can pick them up, and they're not relegated to a specific group with a difference.

belledame222 said...

So a skyscraper is a construct, but a mountain is not. Unless you believe in a god who created it, in which case it is a construct, just of a higher sort.

exactly.

if a human didn't clearly make it, it's "natural." if a human or a group of humans did make it, it's "artificial" (and possibly "against nature.") if you were born with it, it's "hardwired" and thus unchangeable. if you acquired it after birth somehow, it's "environmental" and thus can (and quite possibly should) be changed.

note: i do not actually buy this, but this would appear to be the overall consensus.

belledame222 said...

Lisa: definitely do start a blog, and let us know if/when you do

A.W. said...

"if you were born with it, it's "hardwired" and thus unchangeable. if you acquired it after birth somehow, it's "environmental" and thus can (and quite possibly should) be changed."

There's like, no nuance. I'd figure 'hardwire' and 'enviroment' would interact and temper each other. Why don't people combine 'em? Seriously, I'm curious. It's rare I see someone that isn't 'voting' for one or the other. As for the enviromental and 'can' be changed, I'd like to ask whomever says that's always an option to umix me some cake batter. Or! Why are the eggs, flour, water n'all those other ingredients inherently better than the cake in all circumstances.

On a different topic, it's pouring out, wanted to go for a walk & I lost my shoes. =(

CrackerLilo said...

I'd figure 'hardwire' and 'enviroment' would interact and temper each other. Why don't people combine 'em? Seriously, I'm curious. It's rare I see someone that isn't 'voting' for one or the other.

Well, count me as someone who agrees with that.

Thank you too for the simplistic explanation on construction, a. m. I'm a marketing major who's turned to interior decorating (can you tell without my help? :-), and I have no patience for excess layers of theory. Maybe my real problems are just with overcomplication and self-delusion.

CrackerLilo said...

Sorry! I mean "a. w.", not "a. m."! I'm not natural-born stupid; I just have a headache and wish to play around online anyway.

Lisa Harney said...

r. mildred,

Thank you. You've made my thinking clearer on this.

a.w.,

That is a great explanation, and describes exactly what I feel happens to trans women when certain transphobic radical feminists start revving the gender construct engine.

belle,

I'm gonna. Soon. :)

cicely said...

I've often had problems with the argument that gender is a social construct specifically because - as a trans woman - this theory is commonly used to argue that I don't exist (or better yet, argue that my existence is so offensive as to cause actual trauma, as was stated on the MWMF forum a couple weeks ago) as I say I do.

A couple of days, weeks, months, years ago on the MWMF forums, Lisa :-( Those that do just go on and on and bloody on.

These stubborn ones who - in the face of overwhelming evidence and articulate personal testimony to the contrary - continue to believe and argue that transexuality is *all* about socially constructed gender performance actually fit my dictionary definition of bigots.

Bigot: person unreasonably convinced of rightness of a particular opinion, practice etc.

I once asked such a person on the MWMF board if she had a plan B. I asked knowing she didn't because although she'd agreed that she couldn't prove the rightness of her opinion, she would not participate in formulating or in any way encouraging any alternative feminist path - you know for the actual living of lives in this world - which would incorporate even the possibility that she might be mistaken. I try not to waste my time with people like that anymore. I'd rather address myself to whatever open-minded folks are apparently still listening to them for whatever reason, and hopefully get *them* to see sense.

A sensible woman on the michfest board (they do exist) once quoted someone else who'd said that the essentialist/constructivist arguement from either point of view (where there's no middle ground) is as ridiculous as suggesting you can create a rectangle without either the ends or the sides. That makes sense to me.

Deoridhe said...

The "construct" people only seem to make things worse to me, like too damn much thinking and effort almost always does.

I naturally "think too much". I'm an abstract thinker who deals with the world via symbol, not prctical nuts and bolts. There are dozens of ways to categorize me in dozens of systems, but roughly put one 'truth' stands out - people are not the same, which means we approach and process the world differently and need different things in order to be content/happy and functional.

I don't know if I'm actually helpful, but I do know I become miserable, fretful, and non-functional if asked to "not think" for too long. Too long usually being around fifteen minutes.

Please, if you're going to invision a world, leave room for people like me, too.

if you were born with it, it's "hardwired" and thus unchangeable. if you acquired it after birth somehow, it's "environmental" and thus can (and quite possibly should) be changed.

This is where I depart from, seemingly, mainstream post-modernists.

I believe humans are hardwired to develop language and culture, and that an absence of both in community (with several other humans) is impossible. I got the language part from studies of deep language through linguistics and psychology (the study of pigions and creoles is fascinating).

I also believe that since humans are hardwire (See what I did there? View the grandeur of my construct with awe!!!) to develop language and culture that it is integral and only with extreme difficulty over-written (And, in most cases, over-writing really isn't necessary unless a given language/culture is diseased and harmful for much of it's population.). Someone may chose to do so, to change their worldview in essence, but others cannot (should not?) chose it for them.

I also recognize this is only one way of approaching the same data - but constructs give meaning (Another construct!) and I believe humans are meaning-seeking creatures (based on observation of myself and others) and so will seek meaning either consciously or unconscously. I prefer, for myself, to seek meaning conscously because sometimes I'm an asshole, and I like to stop too much assholicness from getting into my constructs/worldview.

In other words - constructs ar very, very, very real, and sometimes immutable.

For the record, I don't believe TS/TG as a whole is a construct, but I do think it is constellated (like cisgender) by constructs. A culture which has the concept of third and forth genders will react very differently to the same individual than one with one or two genders. What is pathological in one culture is highly desirable in another.

Lisa Harney said...

cicely - I meant that someone had said that to me, specifically. She was trying to make me feel ashamed about who I am, as many of the women do. I agree that they're bigots, but they're why I'm suspicious of the "gender as a social construct" theories.

Deoridhe,

For the record, I don't believe TS/TG as a whole is a construct, but I do think it is constellated (like cisgender) by constructs. A culture which has the concept of third and forth genders will react very differently to the same individual than one with one or two genders. What is pathological in one culture is highly desirable in another.

Just to check here - are you placing transsexual people under "third and fourth genders" as something desirable? I know many cultures have in the past defined trans people as thirdgendered in some way, but I don't think it's necessarily a desirable way to do things, especially with the availability of hormonal and surgical intervention.

I can't say regarding transgender people, who have different motivations and goals than I do (including defining themselves as a third or more gender).

Deoridhe said...

Just to check here - are you placing transsexual people under "third and fourth genders" as something desirable?

I am saying that we've seen cultures in which certain people who might be called TS or TG within the current USian worldview/set-of-constructs were considered a second, third, or forth gender, yes. That's not quite the same as saying what we currently map to TS or TG does or should map to what another culture would call something else, nor am I saying TS or TG is necessarily a third or fourth gender.

The current context is of two genders (after millenia of one gender, so that's nice) where many TS or TG people place themselves within a different half of the binary than 'society' (however that's being described/understood) did or would. Other TS or TG people, or even some who might be term cisgendered, are seeking a better fit; examples of this would be individuals going for biological or social androgyny because it feels more natural to them, and the umbrella I've heard used called "genderqueer" which includes 'butch' and 'femme' as possible gender constructs.

I don't know if any, much less most, people rejecting the gender binary in this culture would frame it within the context of a third or fourth gender, or whether they are attempting to reject the construct of gender altogether, or some other nuance; I certainly have no say in what's going on in that area, though, nor much of a view beyond what I am allowed as an outsider.

Yes, that's a lot of words, but I chose them carefully. Trying to compare different worldviews is an exercise in attempting to exist in two worlds at once and translate between while honoring what is untranslatable. I'm doing this while also translating between the symbolic understandings of these two worldviews which are very obvious to ME while incomprehensible to many others, so feel free to ask for more clarification if I'm not coming across clearly.

I know many cultures have in the past defined trans people as thirdgendered in some way, but I don't think it's necessarily a desirable way to do things, especially with the availability of hormonal and surgical intervention.

Well, yes, and some of the places where horonal and surgical intervention is being used in th conext of genderqueer is fascinatingly wonderful. I always look forward to reading or hearing more about the nuances and rainbow defractions of meaning against the backdrop of USian (and other cultures, but my native one is USian so I tend to start and baseline there) urban cultural constructs.

However, I think construction gender as 'you have two choices; pick and have the necessary surguries' is not necessarily a desirable thing outside of the ease to which it fits those-who-are-different to a given cultural worldview. Much as I object to 'female as inferior version of male' which was the norm in many Europeam countries and came to the US with said Europeans, I think there will always be people who are neither one or the other in any given construct of any given thing of any given culture.

Which isn't to say constructs and cultures are bad, nor that not fitting a construct or culture is bad. I'm currently opperating outside of the good/bad/good/evil dichotomies which tend to be so influential in contemporary USian worldviews. What I'm saying is, no matter if you have 1 size fits all or 100,000 sizes fit all, there will be a deviation form the standard. Standards, by their very nature, invite deviations.

From this worldview, what becomes central to me is not how to rid ourselves of deviations or somehow cover every possible angle when the angles being covered sometimes actively reject their being covered, but rather how one copes with deviations both systemially and emotionally.

...that's really, really, really abstract.

Practically speaking, the result of the abstract conceptualization above that I currently carry is that of open curiosity and delight in people who are different than me, and a deep seated desire to understand who they are, why they are, what context they live in, and how that's different from who/why/what I am. The behavior this has caused is me seeking ever broader circles of aquaintance while eschewing or avoiding placing judgement on any of the things I encounter. The 'not judging' has flaws, of course - significant ones imo, but that gives the general flavor of the abstract conceptualiaion into practical application.

Lisa Harney said...

However, I think construction gender as 'you have two choices; pick and have the necessary surguries' is not necessarily a desirable thing outside of the ease to which it fits those-who-are-different to a given cultural worldview. Much as I object to 'female as inferior version of male' which was the norm in many Europeam countries and came to the US with said Europeans, I think there will always be people who are neither one or the other in any given construct of any given thing of any given culture.

Thank you for the clarification, and great post.

In response to this paragraph, I wasn't trying to say that there should only be two choices, just that for trans men and women, the choice to simply be men and women should be available to us. I mention that because I have seen the argument elsewhere that trans men and trans women should be defined as third and fourth genders.

I believe that we should have the freedom to define ourselves physically and socially, and that "male" and "female" as the only two available options cuts too deeply across people who are comfortable with neither, with mixing, or with finding new expressions that may not be specific to either.

Deoridhe said...

I definitely agree that in the case of people outside of any given cultural construct of a physical reality, those people should be able to define themselves both within and without any given construct.

This gets messy when one brings morality and ethics back into the equation, but life is messy - so at least the abstract and the phsical coincide. ;)

cicely said...

cicely - I meant that someone had said that to me, specifically. She was trying to make me feel ashamed about who I am, as many of the women do. I agree that they're bigots, but they're why I'm suspicious of the "gender as a social construct" theories.

Lisa - my apologies if what I wrote came off as passing over the personal attack on you. That's the thing I'm actually most acutely aware of in the ghastly comments I'm referring to. And, as belledame says about the ENDA thing - often from lesbians who've walked and still walk the road of having others determine their meaning and worth who should know better.

I've seen the 'be a 3rd and 4th sex' arguement too - also on the michfest board - and even one transwoman being advised that if she can accept the rightness of the 'gender as a social construct' theory she has the option of transitioning back to male and just being 'himself'! This was offered as a feminist thing to do. Seems pretty healthy to me for you to be suspicious of 'gender as a social construct' theories when you see where they can lead.

Lisa Harney said...

First, sorry. I didn't mean to turn this into a trans woman discussion. :) This is why I need to make my own blog.

I didn't think you were attacking me. I just wanted to be clear I was speaking of a specific incident. I know they've been like this forever.

I actually stopped posting on the forum after Heart turned a discussion into "whether hormone pills can really be estrogen" and another poster suggested that trans women just take testosterone to want to be male.

I pointed out that Nazis tried that in the concentration camps, and then I left. I also found myself getting sucked into discussions that I didn't really feel served the point I was trying to make, which put me off the place.

I really admire Bint Alshamsa's willingness to engage them directly, even when they're ignorant enough to think that "bint" means "whore," without bothering to discover that it's Arabic for "daughter."

It's not the first time I got into the MWMF argument, but it is the first time I got into it on the MWMF forum.

To me, the most offensive thing that the MWMF posters (and certain self-defined radical "feminists" specifically) do is create their own transsexual narratives to apply to us. They invent motivations, histories, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and project them onto us while at the same time whining that we're "colonizing," "redefining," and "appropriating" womanhood. When we say "No, this is what my life is like. This is who I am" they say that trans people cannot be trusted to explain ourselves and should never be believed. They confuse their frustration with growing up as girls with gender identity, and project that onto us as well.

It's all bigotry - transphobia, transmisogyny. When you point this out, they insist that as women, they're oppressed and can't possibly oppress anyone else...especially "men," (as if being male-bodied people who transition to female-bodied people does not bring any bigotry upon us).

I don't even understand why the concept that it's not okay for someone who [i]used to[/i] benefit from male privilege is not okay at the Fest, but it's fine for white women, who still benefit from white privilege, are welcome to experience that privilege (which they cannot surrender) in front of women of color, or able-bodied women can benefit from that in front of women with disabilities.

There's just so much hypocrisy, and they tie themselves into pretzels trying to maintain it rather than examine their privilege - racial, able-bodied, cisgender (and "cisgender" is considered a [i]slur[/i] on the MichFest forum) and do anything about it.

Wow, I don't sound bitter, do I?

belledame222 said...

I actually stopped posting on the forum after Heart turned a discussion into "whether hormone pills can really be estrogen" and another poster suggested that trans women just take testosterone to want to be male.

*head straight through desk*

belledame222 said...

"cisgender" is a slur in about the same way that "straight" is a slur.

can't some people fucking get over themselves? jesus.

belledame222 said...

btw, LH, do you have a contact address? drop me a line: bel4 AT earthlink DOT net.

Lisa Harney said...

Line dropped.

Did I mention that the Nazis did the testosterone thing in the concentration camps?

Alon said...

Maybe I'm clueless, but why is MWMF so important? I can understand when you talk of gentrifiers who try to clear neighborhoods of trans people, or when you talk of gay rights organizations that don't fight for including gender identity in anti-discrimination laws. But how can one radical feminist event have that kind of power over you?

Lisa Harney said...

If MWMF were isolated from influencing feminist and lesbian ideas of "woman-only space", then it wouldn't be important at all.

Unfortunately, it does and we still have woman-only space that excludes trans women for arbitrarily defined reasons. It reinforces the idea that trans women are not women.

It's culturally important to women, but trans women are excluded.

I personally wish people would just stop attending. You support that trans women are women? Don't go. You're a trans woman? Don't go. Don't give MWMF a cent of your money as long as it supports and reinforces the discriminatory idea that trans women aren't women.

Attend a better, less bigoted fest instead.

Lisa Harney said...

Just to add to the above:

I am also all for protesting the trans-exclusion via Camp Trans and other means (such as getting Bitch's performances canceled) to send the message that bigotry is not okay.

I do realize that some women will make this out to be "women attacking women" and try to hide the context under a veil of outrage, but the truth is that if you're reinforcing a discriminatory policy, it's completely valid to call you on reinforcing that policy. If performing at MichFest puts pressure on the performers (and I hope to see more than what's happened with Bitch in Boston and Lynnee in San Francisco) that's just another way to send the message.

cicely said...

Maybe I'm clueless, but why is MWMF so important.

It's pretty difficult to convey the cultural importance of michfest, Alon, but to give you an idea - it's an internationally iconic event - most particularly for lesbians - as I've always understood it. I'm from New Zealand - now living in Oz - and I've been hearing about it from 30 years ago - when it first began. I attended smaller such festivals at home - which regarded michfest as the 'mother' festival, if you like. So it's a beacon of sorts.

The festival wasn't always only welcoming to WBW and in fact transwomen have always attended both prior to the oft called 'don't ask, don't tell' policy and afterwards. Michfest owner Lisa Vogel didn't 'invent' the WBW concept, but she's firmly upholding it - and unfortunately the concept doesn't end at one week in the woods in michigan either. The Lesbian Space Project in Sydney involved fund-raising in the community to buy a building to house lesbian only groups and events. The building was actually bought, but the decade long debate over whether or not it should be WBW space only so polarised the community that ultimately the project collapsed and the building had to be sold. There are other situations around the world too - like the court case brought by the Vancouver Rape Relief Centre defending it's right to fire a transwoman who wanted to work as a counsellor. Should transwomen be held in male or female prisons?, be allowed to use women's toilets? and so on and so on. If not, why not? Because they're not really women, but some'thing' else?

Peer influence is very strong, and I'm not ashamed to say, because it would serve no useful purpose, that as recently as 2004 I was supporting the WBW concept at michfest (though not at any permanent place), and I was doing this while genuinely trying not to offend transwomen. I'd bought the line (and felt I was supporting my sisters who wanted WBW space - though I didn't personally) that being born, brought up and currently living as a female in this world was a different enough experience from the transexual one that it warranted its own boundary - for healing, empowerment and celebration. I feel there are still many so called WBW who aren't transphobic, or don't see themselves as such, arguing for their space at michfest for these reasons. And because, as they say, women have never had the right to say 'no' to men, or to people who have ever been men, and the opposition to WBW space is a continuance of that denial.

What I've come to realise is that it's not possible to exclude a minority group of women from what is regarded as an important and wonderful women's event without offending them - or most of them. (Not all transwomen are anti-WBW space.) And then of course, there are the anti-trans feminist politics which the WBW concept legitimises and grants permission for the horrible reductionist and ignorant commments that are directed at transwomen, and which I first came across on the michfest discussion forums. These are what ultimately changed my mind. I now feel that unless the vast majority of transwomen were happy to live with the WBW concept - meaning exclude themselves from WBW spaces - I can't support it, even if I felt there was a place for it for those who want it. And I do ask myself why we (*they* now) place such value on the vast experience of being perceived as women - lifelong - on its own, when there are also vast differences in the *ways* women experience being women due to class, race, sexual orientation, gender presentation - whatever. What are they holding onto - and why? A transwoman has another different experience of being a woman. That is all. In fact I think sharing our experiences has great potential for broadening our understanding of how sex and gender issues operate and how to further liberate ourselves. This will eventually happen I believe, but the sooner the better. So, I would now not attend any event that advertised itself as being intended for WBW only. I want to see the concept die from lack of interest, but that would take too long, so I do see the need for protest etc.

To get back to where I started then...If the policy were to be abandoned at michfest, the fact would reverberate around the world, probably in a matter of minutes. There is no other place on earth where the impact would be as great. This is true no matter how much the WBW boundary supporters like to try and claim that 'this is just one week in the woods in michigan, for chrissake!!!' It's just not.

Lisa Harney said...

Cicely said it so well. :)

I'd add that the idea that this has anything to do with "women aren't allowed to say no to men" is based in disrespecting trans women as women, and emphasizing the essentialist belief that genitalia at birth, or chromosomes, determines your identity until you the day you die.

There is entitlement tied up in the policy, but it's cisgendered entitlement. That is, cisgendered and cissexual people do not have to worry about their gender being invalidated at another's whim, not normally. A trans person has to live with the fact that at any time, someone might decide to inform us (verbally, or sometimes violently) that our genders are invalid.

The WBW policy at MichFest is a big sign that says "Your gender is invalid."

bluwhisper said...

I'd figure 'hardwire' and 'enviroment' would interact and temper each other. Why don't people combine 'em? Seriously, I'm curious.

There are scholars trying to address this concern, but their work is not very accessible nor mainstream (even within academia). I think that part of the reason is that people have trouble understanding discussions that try to avoid using concepts like "nature" versus "culture", which have a very long history and very dominant contemporary influence as the key terms for understanding how we become who we are.

Some places to look for these discussions would be in STS (Science and Technology Studies).

Discussions of concepts like "actor-network theory" try to explain the relationships between humans and objects. It's sort of a "when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail" discussion. People create objects to fit into an environment, and that environment changes around those objects, and humans change how they interact with the objects and their environment.

Another problem with nature/nurture debates is that they begin discussing humans developmentally, starting with infancy as the moment of origin for humans (the place where there could be a "natural"). Babies won't survive without humans and objects mobilized around them to support them. A baby requires caregivers, food production and distribution networks, and social organization that would create buildings, clothing, and other types of shelter, etc. Furthermore, much had to happen socially and materially to bring together the DNA (whether in the form of "parents" meeting and conceiving or in the creation of institutions supporting the scientific research that can practice IVF) that will create the baby. So, human biology (hardwire), too, is to some degree a human construct. The possibilities for human life are already socially and environmentally specific, even before the baby begins interacting with the social world. While it's all a construct, it's also all "real", in the sense that the material (biological, material, social) is an inheritance that creates and constrains what we are able to do with it.

As you can see, these discussions become very complex very quickly.

Deoridhe said...

I'd figure 'hardwire' and 'enviroment' would interact and temper each other. Why don't people combine 'em? Seriously, I'm curious.

Personally, as a scientist, a psychologist-in-training, and a mystic, I try to do so.

The rpoblem is figuring out where "hard-wire" ends and "environment" begins. However, it's a pretty basic question brought into psychology, at least, very early.

Anonymous said...
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brain injury said...

its good to see those little lego men wearing helmets and setting a good example to youngsters that anybody can suffer a serious head injury in a freak accident at work

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