All radical analysis is by definition a systemic analysis. And systemic analysis heavily relies on the concept of social classes as a way to understand and articulate the effect of social policies, indoctrination, and moral principles. Some people associate the concept of social classes with Marxism, but everyone uses social classes as part of their argumentation, even right-wing fanatics (given how often they talk about the poor, immigrants, black people, and how they’re responsible for all sorts of social ills). So you’d think that arguments against the concept of social classes would be pretty self-defeating.
There are people, however, who have a vested interest in denying the existence of specific classes. The privileged always want to downplay their existence as a social class. Some take it a step further. Many transgender advocates have dedicated their energies to denying the existence of women as a class. This seems simply blind, as women are very clearly targeted by genderist policies, including anti-abortion policies, opposition to contraceptives, anti-social services policies, wage inequality, and the lack of prosecution of rape and battering, to name only those happening in Western countries. If we start piling on the various forms of gynocide that have been in operation for centuries (sati, witch-hunting, foot-binding, forced pregnancies, female genital mutilation), then the proposition that there is no such thing as women becomes ridiculously untenable.
The reason behind this denial is to eliminate the importance of being “born woman.” They believe rightly that the transgender movement can only succeed if it first exterminates any female resistance. As long as women believe that they are a social class with its own interests (even if they have a narrow view of what those interests are), they will resist the idea that a man who thinks he is a woman, or who had his penis cut off, must be considered a woman on the same level as any other woman.
In order to argue this, they have pushed two main lines of reasoning:
1. The sex binary does not exist, therefore one’s genitals can have nothing to do with whether one is a “woman” or not.
2. Female socialization does not exist, therefore one’s assigned gender can have nothing to do with whether one is a “woman” or not.
In order to make sense of this reasoning, however, we must first ask the question: what is a woman? FETAs are singularly unable to answer it except by appealing to the concept of innate gender, which is not only pseudo-scientific nonsense, but fails to answer the question. The concept “woman” is used in order to describe the targeted oppression I’ve described. Women are targeted by men because they were assigned as women and socialized as women. And they were assigned as women and socialized as women because of their genitals.
Therefore we see that the two lines of reasoning above attempt to deny the roots of gender oppression: biological sex and female socialization. As a matter of fact, FETAs widely argue against these two concepts. How can this be explained, except as a deliberate attempt at erasing gender oppression, opening the way for their new brand of Genderism Lite(tm)?
It is hard to imagine that anyone seriously argues against the concept of biological sex, but there are plenty of FETAs who do (I analyzed one of them here). Their sole argument is that male and female are not absolutely, totally, 100% separate concepts: not all males are XY, not all females are XX, not all males have the same level of testosterone, not all females have the same level of estrogen, not all females have large breasts, not all males have flat chests, therefore there is no sex binary. Often intersex people (who are approximately 0.2% of the population) are trotted out as proof that there is no sex binary (they don’t give a shit about how intersex people are treated, they just want to use their plight as an argument).
But this is a profoundly anti-intellectual way of arguing. We do not simply deny the existence of clusters of data points because there are also points outside of them. Obviously there are some individuals who do not fit the criteria for male or female 100%. We could say the same about living species, businesses, video games, music, furniture, clouds, or any other set of entities that we classify into complex categories. Any definition we use for a complex concept will be probabilistic in nature, not absolute: sure, this makes people uncomfortable, but it doesn’t make us deny the existence of anything complex. Denying the existence of the sex binary is just as pseudo-scientific as, for instance, rejecting the evolutionary timeline because some species fall slightly outside of it.
Now, granted, one can also go pseudo-scientific in the other direction, and posit the existence of clusters where there are none. For instance, Creationists classify all primate human ancestors as being either “like modern humans” or “not like modern humans at all.” A FETA might describe this as a situation where a “human binary” has been assumed, and is clearly wrong based on the science that we have. But quacks cannot take refuge in science: the sex binary is a scientific fact observed throughout the animal kingdom, and it has far-reaching consequences (see for example sexual dimorphism, of which there are many stunning and spectacular examples). In the case of our ancestors, however, we see a clear gradation (e.g. in head shapes and head volume) which does not leave much room for clusters.
FETAs sometimes accuse their opponents of being obsessed with genitals. Actually, we’re not: we just point out the fact that genitals are what genderists use to assign gender on babies. It is therefore a tool of oppression, but it is necessary for genderism to operate in society because it classifies human beings in two categories, the oppressors and the oppressed. In a sane (non-genderist) society, genitals should have no more to do with who you are than your hair color, your skin tone, your height, or your favourite color. But the fact is that our genitals do have a huge impact on how we’re raised and who we’re seen to be. To ignore that fact is delusional.
To claim “not everyone who is born female can bear children therefore bearing children has nothing to do with being female” is rather like me arguing that because I was born with three nipples, any biology textbook which claims having two nipples is a feature of being human is making a random assertion rather than an obvious generalisation. And generalisations matter. To argue otherwise is not only to dismiss the history of discrimination but to perpetuate it.
Their rejection of female socialization is no less irrational. In fact, both arguments are very similar in nature. Remember that the argument against the sex binary is that either all individuals are unequivocally either male or female, or there is no sex binary at all. Their argument against female socialization is that either all females experience their socialization in the same exact way, or there’s no such thing as female socialization. The only difference is that they do not argue that there are people who had an unusual socialization, but that any difference at all disproves the existence of female socialization. As such, it’s an even more absurd claim. Here is an example of it:
TERFs willfully misuse the word ‘socialization’ to misgender trans women and treat us as malicious “men,” saying trans women are and have been perpetrators of male violence, because us trans women pre-coming out and pre-transition must experience malehood and therefore male privilege. They generally base this off how we are read when we are younger, meaning read as male and treated as such. While I understand why folks argue this, it relies on omitting a few things: a key aspect of socialization called response, what privilege actually is, and, naturally, the lived experiences of trans women… As Reed puts it, “There is no singular, universal woman’s narrative. There are as many stories and experiences as there are women.”
And she’s right. What experience of womanhood is experienced by all women? You probably don’t have to think very hard to see that this really is impossible, and for shared girlhood to be a thing, it needs to ignore that us women are multifaceted.
There are two parts to this argument. One is the myth that children can somehow decide how to respond to the socialization they receive, and therefore that children whose innate gender differs from their assigned gender will somehow not assimilate that socialization. Another is that, if all women do not have the exact same experiences, then there’s no such thing as womanhood.
So what is the argument for the belief that transgender individuals have not internalized their assigned gender’s socialization when they were younger? Most FETAs don’t even bother arguing that point, but we are presented with an argument here:
Nobody internalizes all messages sent to them the same way (which is, again, why there are so many different expressions of womanhood). In fact, some are outright rejected, and that’s because folks know a message is not about them. TERFs often act like folks have no agency within these structures, that people, particularly women in this case, are more stone tablets to have their identities engraved upon them. That sounds pretty darn misogynistic, doesn’t it? Seems to be a pattern in TERF rhetoric. Acting like women don’t have agency over their own experiences sounds exactly like what patriarchy says about women.
Those who read my blog will recognize this argument immediately. I analyzed it in my entry “You’re just trying to turn everyone into victims”: the bigot pretends to be on the side of the oppressed by stating that they are powerful enough, or have enough “agency,” to stand against oppression, and that anyone who says otherwise must therefore think that the oppressed are “weak” and unable to stand on their own two feet. In this case, the FETA bigot is arguing that women have the “agency” to reject messages given to them in their female socialization when they feel they’re “not about them.” People who argue against this must therefore think that women have “no agency” and are “misogynistic,” thus projecting the misogyny of FETA rhetoric onto actual feminists. Women are not victims of socialization, as they can reject any message they want, and those women who feel oppressed by their female socialization are just complainers.
There are a lot of things wrong with this logic. For one thing, there is no such thing as innate gender. A child raised to believe it is a boy will internalize messages issued at boys, regardless of how they will see themselves later in life. For another thing, no one has any “agency” to decide to reject a message they do not like. We are all indoctrinated to believe in the social constructs enforced by socialization. Unless they are introduced to alternatives, a three year old will not know that they can simply believe that “there’s no such thing as boys or girls” or “it doesn’t matter how smart someone is.” It’s useless to talk of “agency” when there are no possible alternatives.
Furthermore, socialization is about a lot more than “messages,” and to reduce it to that dimension means ignoring all the other ways we’re trained to be boys or girls:
They said trans women don’t identify with the messages about boys they hear because they know they are girls, so when they hear that girls are weak they understand it means they are weak. But that doesn’t make sense. Socialization is so much more than just people telling you boys are this and girls are that. It’s being catcalled when you’re only eight years old. It’s being laughed at and patronized when you say you want to be the President when you’re older, when the boys in your class get told that if they study hard it’s possible for them. It’s being talked over and told to shut up and never getting a reason why but slowly realizing it’s because you are a girl. Socialization isn’t always easily recognizable, so how could an eight year old transgender kid just automatically know and reject all of it?
FETAs want to imagine that socialization is only a parent telling their child gender stereotypes, like “boys play outside and climb trees, but you should stay inside and read,” and the child standing there thinking “hmmm… do I accept this message or not… I consider myself a girl, therefore…”, and so on. But that’s just one of the ways in which we’re socialized (and we certainly don’t spend our time accepting or rejecting these messages). Most socialization is implicit and exists in the narratives we tell, the ways we treat each other, the ways other people act.
As for the argument that women do not all have the same experiences, it is quite true, but does not prove the non-existence of female socialization. When we say “female socialization,” we’re not saying that all women have experienced the same messages, the same narratives, the same incentives. What we are saying is that all women have been socialized into a certain gender role, and that men have been socialized into a different gender role. While no individual may have been indoctrinated into their gender role completely and totally, the outcomes are predictable: men as a class are more violent, more pedophilic, more sexually entitled, more confident in their ability to reason, more athletic, less caring, less compassionate, less able to deal with unwanted emotions. This is what we mean by socialization.
This reasoning applies to all groups: no one has the exact same experiences, but we don’t use this as an excuse to deny the existence of that group, or of the fact that the members have been socialized or affected in a specific way. As culturallyboundgender points out, we can say the exact same thing about gay people, native people, black people, or rape victims:
There is no shared gay experience. A gay man in Uganda, a lesbian woman in Vancouver–these people have incredibly different experiences of what it means to experience same-sex attraction and love. This does not mean that there is no such thing as gay, or that gay people should be unwelcome to meet without straight people saying “but my parents don’t like my girlfriend and people sometimes called me anti-gay slurs, which is, you must admit, pretty similar to some things that have happened to some of you!”
There is no shared American Indian experience. Some people of American Indian descent grow up on reservations, some don’t. Among both groups, socioeconomic status can vary tremendously. Different American Indian and First Nations groups have very different cultural norms and policies about assimilating into a white-dominated society. It would be ridiculous for someone to say that American Indians should be forced to admit the American Indianhood of anyone who claimed it, simply because they claimed it and there is no universal experience of being an American Indian anyway.
There is no shared black experience. Black kids in the Portland ‘burbs from an upper middle class background and black kids in the Florida panhandle experience very different “black in America” narratives. No one says that a lack of “shared blackness” should make it so anyone who has felt oppressed about their racial role can simply declare themselves black, and thus avail themselves of affirmative action policies designed to redress ongoing racial bias and discrimination against black Americans.
There is no shared rape experience. Rape survivors are a diverse group, including people from every demographic. Some rape victims are infants, some are elderly. Some are violently beaten, others are drugged, others are emotionally coerced. That doesn’t mean that just anyone should be able to claim the status “rape victim,” or use the resources allotted for rape victims in our society.
We do not object to trans women using women’s bathrooms because we are bigoted or because we are transphobic. We object to it because trans women were socialized as men and have a man’s psychology. We do not object to trans women entering women-only spaces because they have insufficient “womanhood.” We object to it because women must be able to assemble and organize if they are to liberate themselves, and having men invade those spaces will inevitably render them useless (of course, that is the clear objective of those transgender advocates who are anti-feminists).
The denial of the existence of women as a class is an attempt at erasing women’s accomplishments and feminist ideals. Not just in the way that some FETAs have started claiming historical women as “genderqueer” or “trans men,” but in the way that they are setting themselves up as an alternative form of genderism, and therefore as an alternative way to justify the oppression of women. This is nothing new for women, whose contributions have been erased for thousands of years and continue to be erased in our modern times (just look, for instance, at all the female scientists whose works were stolen by men, the women whose domestic and reproductive labor doesn’t count as “real” work, the female artists whose work is ignored, belittled, or who have to become sex objects in order to succeed, to name only those). The fact that this new erasure is taking place with the enthusiastic support of so-called leftists is only slightly more troubling.