Been a while. Too much to do, too many blogs to maintain. In the mean time here’s an awesome video about sexism!
I’m reading an excellent book at the moment on the science of sex difference. The book is written by Rebecca Jordan-Young, and is titled “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Difference”. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the subject. You can check out her website and buy her book here.
There’s so much interesting material to discuss, but I wanted to take a look at the assumptions in much of the early research about sexuality. Jordan-Young splits it up in time windows as what is considered “masculine” and “feminine” sexuality has changes so dramatically over the last 7-8 decades that the completely opposite conclusion is often drawn from the exact same data. Not a very good indication of rigorous and objective science to put it mildly.
Figure 6.2 summarizes how characteristics of sexuality were interpreted as either masculine or feminine in studies of human brain organization through about 1980. Qualities that could be quantified were put on scales with masculine at one end and feminine at the other: libido, number of partners, and number of sexual positions enjoyed. Which end of the scale is which? Brain organization researchers almost always treated this issue as though it goes without saying, and the simple rule was “male is more.” More libido, more partners, more “versatility” in terms of actual positions, and more ways to be aroused were all a part of scientists’ ideal for masculine sexuality. In contrast, there was scarcely any conceptual space for autonomous feminine sexuality in these studies. Given that scientists consistently interpreted behaviors such as initiating sex, expressing intense physical desire, or masturbation as masculine, it is scarcely an overstatement to suggest that sexuality itself was seen as a masculine trait. Female sexuality—if not an outright oxymoron—was nonetheless thought to be decidedly responsive rather than autonomous, requiring a masculine sexual partner to move it from mere possibility to expression.
I get the very clear impression from reading the definitions used and considering the fact that the majority, or at least leading, researchers are all male, that the research is incredibly male-centred. It took quite some time before women’s sexuality even “existed”, let alone lesbians, or for that matter trans men (i.e. men assigned a female gender and sex at birth).
Jordan-Young goes on to discuss the paradigm shift that happened in the late sixties and early seventies when what was considered “female” sexuality and “male” sexuality did almost a complete 180. It is quite astonishing, as she notes, that one trait that was considered masculine at one point, could be considered as clearly feminine just a few years later, even by the same research team! The worst part is that nobody seemed to notice this.
In addition the way scientists looked at masculinity and femininity changed.
Most scientists no longer worked from a behavioral paradigm that looked at sexuality as one-dimensional, in which masculinity and femininity occupy opposite poles of a single continuum. Another way of thinking gained currency in the 1970s and is now (at least officially) more favored than the idea that masculinity and femininity are trade-offs. It had long been known that normal female animals routinely display both “male-typical” and “female-typical” behaviors (and the same is true of male animals), but this observation fit poorly with mid-twentieth-century theories about human sexuality and gender, which assumed that “normal” and healthy development involved either consistent masculinity or consistent femininity. In 1974, psychologist Sandra Bem (1974) proposed the “orthogonal” model, suggesting that masculinity and femininity are two separate domains of personality and behavior. According to the orthogonal model, any individual may be more or less masculine and, independently of their masculinity, more or less feminine.
In my experience people who take on an exclusively masculine, or to an extent a feminine, expression, seem incredibly caught up in these alleged differences, and also often incredibly insecure. Psychology has recognised for a long time that masculinity and femininity isn’t polar opposites, though sometimes it is still presented like that, especially in outdated approaches to trans* health care like we have here in Norway. I believe that a fluidity in gender expression and a freedom to express yourself in the way that feels most “right” (or comfortable) to you, makes you a much better and more well-functioning individual. Not just for transgender people, but also for cis people. I don’t believe there is a a trans/cis binary either. It is an as artificial a binary distinction as male/female is. Reality is much more fluid and the so called binary labels are just poles in a landscape, not two areas separated by a ravine.
Jordan-Young elaborates on the research by Bem:
Bern’s model specifically departed from the traditional psychological “assumption that it is the sex-typed individual who typifies mental health” and suggested that “in a society where rigid sex-role differentiation has already outlived its utility, perhaps the androgynous person will come to define a more human standard of psychological health” (1974, 162). Research has tended to support this view, indicating that androgynous people are better able to engage in “situationally effective behavior without regard for its stereotype as more appropriate for one sex or the other” (Stake 2000; Shifren, Furnham, and Bauserman 2003; Lefkowitz and Zeldow 2006; Hunt et al. 2007).
Gender roles are restrictive. In 2013 they may not feel as restrictive as they once were, and they will never feel equally restrictive to everyone, but just because you as a person don’t encounter these restrictions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. This, I feel, is a point frequently missed by women who think feminism is overrated and unnecessary in today’s society. Some will feel that way because they have adapted to a state of fighting the system, but that itself indicates that there’s a problem. Why should you have to fight to be yourself or to express yourself?
We should be very careful when dismissing the huge influence gender roles and gender stereotypes have on both society and scientific research. It is quite disheartening to see how often research done on sex difference confirms gender or sex stereotypes. Not because it’s an inconvenient truth, but because the results stem from badly constructed research that produce results that only reflect the definitions used in the input data. That’s not science, that’s confirmation bias.
Secular Woman recently released a petition for the Southern Poverty Law Center to start tracking the hate site “Gender Identity Watch”. I am one of the original signatories of the petition and statement. I have explained why these people need to be watched before. Cathy Brennan and her collaborators are responsible for a long list of hate sites where they target trans women, their favourite target.
In a counter statement (if you can call it that) on their infamous blog they label us Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). That alone is just plain absurd seeing that Secular Woman as an organisation, as well as original signatories of this petition, have been a target of hate speech from MRAs for quite some time. If there’s anyone here that resembles the MRAs in any way it is Gender Identity Watch and their associates whose tactic it is to publicly name and shame anyone who disagrees with their message, putting people in real danger of hate crimes by publishing personal information online.
They write in response:
Calling political speech that does not toe the liberal line “hate speech” is a common tactic of Queer and Liberal organizations. Rather than free and open debate, such MRAs want you to embrace thought-terminating cliches like ”Transwomen are Women.” These MRAs – who are invariably White Males who “identify” as Women or heterosexual “Queer” Women who have no investment in Lesbian community – continually harass the Southern Poverty Law Center, which actually has its hands full tracking racist hate groups across the country.
I understand this is a conservative group that despises “liberals” and “queers”. That much is obvious. Adhering to pre-feminist gender segregation ideology is of course something you’re free to do, but it generally doesn’t fly in modern progressive society. This type of groups have been banned from public venues before because of this, just like patriarchal fundamentalist religious groups have.
I am sorry that statements like “transwomen are women” are thought-terminating to you. That is of course always a problem with conservative thinking. Going beyond the established dogma is difficult to comprehend, but if you’re prepared to open your mind just a little it isn’t actually that difficult. Feminists have been doing this for a couple of centuries now, and feminists are continuing to do so today.
Of course to justify their position they need to classify trans women as “men”. Usually they will assume only trans women support such a petition, but they have realised that most people with a healthy open mind and a minimum of social consciousness will oppose their bigotry, so they’ve added “heterosexual women” too. Since they usually claim that being supportive of trans women is also homophobic, for some absurd reason, they need to deny cis lesbians their identity as lesbians if they were to support trans inclusion. Hence the reference to “queers” in quotation marks, and to “heterosexuals”.
This is quite an absurd mind-bending argument of the “no true Scotsman fallacy“-type. There are plenty of cis lesbians who see trans women as women and as potential partners in the same way they do other women. That doesn’t make them any less lesbian. It is also perfectly reasonable to have preferences regarding anatomy without being transphobic. Choice of sexual partner is a personal one, and not to be dictated by anyone – especially not Cathy Brennan.
In addition they chose to add “white” to the above list just for good measure. Presumably because the people behind this statement are all white. I know for a fact that people of colour, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, pansexuals, trans and cis men and women – pretty much every identity on the race, gender and sexuality spectra – have signed this petition. Undoubtedly a very inconvenient fact. The “white” argument is especially appalling since the group of trans women most at risk from hate crimes are trans women of colour. The list of trans* people murdered each year contains a large proportion of trans* people of colour. If there is anyone from our group that is especially vulnerable to these hate groups’ tactics it is them.
But sure, if you want to debate bigoted ideologies amongst yourselves, feel free. It’s your right, and no one is denying you that right. We have the right to publicly disagree with you though. The problem is that you are exposing trans* people to danger by publicly outing us, stalking us and harassing us. You expose us to dangerous situations, risk of losing our jobs, homes and community, in the name of what? Traditional gender segregation, othering and bigotry. That is why you’re a hate group. And calling yourself “Gender Identity Watch”? Can you be more pretentious? You better tuck in your privilege. It’s showing.
Today, November 20th, is the Transgender Day of Rememberance (TDoR). This is the 15th annual occurrence of this event, since 1998. As usual before this date, a list of victims of who have been murdered the last year has been published. For the last 12 months this number is 238, but only reported and confirmed cases are counted. Today is the day we talk about them and remember them. But we shouldn’t forget about the struggles of trans* people the other 364 days of the year.
You can find an overview of many of today’s events from all over the world on www.transgenderdor.org.
There’s also a facebook page available with links to many of these events.
The organisation GLAAD also has an overview of articles and blogposts related to TDoR.
I was very active with both trans activism and feminism on social media for a while. I got to know a lot of great trans* activists and trans and cis feminists during that period. The openness and inclusion I felt from the online feminist community that I encountered meant a lot to me, and still does. I have spent a lot of time since reading up on feminist theory, queer theory and the science of sex difference.
I first encountered the so-called Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) on Twitter. At first it was a bit of a shock to run into these people who were so resistant to any form of rational argument. I have spent a lot of time in the past debating with creationists and other forms of pseudo science, and I soon realised that the term “logical fallacy” and coherent arguments meant as little to these people as the religious fundamentalists that I had encountered in other fora.
The TERFs essentially take the patriarchy to entirely conspiratorial levels where trans women are seen as infiltrators. They will gladly reduce a human being to their genitals or to chromosomes or to whatever they find suits them at the moment. Neither of these are especially reliable biological markers of sex let alone gender. The science of sexual dimorphism is not that simple. The development of gender identity and sexual orientation are still very poorly understood aspects of the human brain.
Aside from the complete lack of understanding of human biology, they also claim to be an authority of what identities people are allowed to have. They conflate gender and sex with a few conveniently chosen aspects of biology, while ignoring those that do not fit their paradigm. Based on this they feel entitled to deny people both their gender identity and their sexual orientation. They will frequently deny cis lesbians who are trans allies the identity of lesbian. Reducing human beings to carefully selected biological properties is a basis of both oppression of women and of racism throughout human history. This is inherently anti-feminist.
Their argument also hinges on a stereotypical representation of trans women. They claim that trans women perpetuate the restrictive feminine gender role. Critique of femininity and the feminine gender role is an aspect of certain parts of feminist debate that I find problematic. Women and men alike should be able to display whatever level of femininity or masculinity they feel comfortable with. When trans women are criticised for their femininity it is important to remember that for most of the time medical transition has been accessible to transsexuals, restrictions have been in place to ensure only those who really differ from the defined norm have access to it. As a result transsexuals have been forced into the outer extremes of gender expressions. Often involuntary. Trans* people exist in as many variations as cis people do when it comes to gender expression. A trans woman should be allowed to be as butch as she wants to without having restrictions put on her access to medical transition. That particular form of criticism from the TERFs is directed at a problem created by normative society, not an intrinsic property of trans* people. It is a straw man argument.
The TERF position is dogmatic
Just as with many forms of pseudo sciences, the arguments the TERF use are not objective nor honest, but intended to defend and justify a predetermined and dogmatic position. Just like presenting human beings in certain ways have been used to justify racism, they use similar methods to defend transphobia and trans* exclusion. Many of their arguments are deeply misogynistic in nature, but they get around this by denying trans* women a female identity (not that misandry is any better). Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism isn’t feminism nor even radical feminism. It is pseudo feminism. Feminism abused as a foundation for bigotry.
The worst of these TERFs is Cathy Brennan. She takes the bigotry to entirely new levels by actively stalking trans women online and posting their personal details to her many websites in order to out them to their schools, employers or local community. This is reckless behaviour as being trans* can be very dangerous many places in the world. In fact there aren’t many places at all where it is completely safe to challenge gender roles whether you are a trans* person, or a gay or lesbian. Several hundred trans* people are murdered every year, and even more are victims of violent hate crimes. Brennan is knowingly exposing trans women to these dangers in her obsessive quest to make us go away. This is a serious human rights issue and it must stop.
I got into a brief discussion the other day with a fellow student in the break between two lectures. We were initially discussing the historical accuracy of ancient mythology when we digressed onto religion. I received an email from him tonight asking whether I was interested in discussing the subject of spirituality and, as far as I can figure out, some form of design argument that it seems he believes in. I explained to him that I no longer engage is such discussion and I actually wrote a long reply explaining why. I thought I’d add some more to that and share it here too.
I’m 36 years old and I have spent a lot of my life studying religion. I stopped being religious in my late 20s. I studied theological subjects at the bible college of one of the worlds largest churches when I was 24-25, The deeper I dug into the subject, the less substance I found to answer my own questions. Instead I had more unanswered questions than before. I have since spent a lot of time debating religion and its philosophical conflict with science. It isn’t really a topic that engage me much any more to be honest. The main reason I spent the time discussing it was because it is a good way to learn and test your position. Not that I claim to have found the complete truth now, I have just come to a point where these old questions no longer bother me. Learning something new about the world no longer causes a crisis of faith because I no longer need to fit the world into a religious context.
Beyond that point of realisation, I find most discussions on the topic to be fruitless because it always boils down to faith versus my disinterested in faith as a path to understanding. I have had these type of discussions literally a hundred times over, and my view of faith as largely redundant makes as little sense to believers as faith now does to me. I spent a couple of hours this Sunday afternoon discussing this exact point with two other women who deeply believe in a spiritual universe. In my opinion these views simply come from people projecting human attributes onto nature, which is something we have done throughout history. The only difference between older natural religions and modern ones, including modern spirituality, is that the modern ones are more sophisticated, but still without much substance. Why does the universe need purpose? Why do we assume there has to be a point to our own existence? Asking that counter-question seems to take a few believers by surprise. I don’t find the possibility of no purpose especially problematic, not after I’ve gotten used to the idea. I’m content with just being, until I run out of time. Being dead is no different from being not born. I’ve tried the latter, and I don’t feel it as especially traumatic.
As for subjects not covered by empirical science, I find much more insight in non-theistic philosophy, Hume, Spinoza, Hobbes, Russell, or modern humanist philosophy, than I ever found in religion. That is enough for me. Enough for a lifetime of reflection, and I no longer feel the need to debate these topics either with people as much as I used to. It doesn’t bother me that much that people have other beliefs either. Everyone needs to figure this out for themselves. To me the arguably creative concepts of modern spirituality is like drifting on a sea of imagination with no anchor-point in reality. These philosophies seem to be drift aimlessly on every new waves that constantly coms washing in. They may serve as temporary relief for some, but there is no certainty or lasting comfort.
As for religious spirituality, I do think people raised deeply religious are at a disadvantage. It took me a lot of time and worry to get passed that indoctrination. Many religious people are offended by such a statement, but all I am saying is that everyone should keep searching for the truth with an open mind, and don’t get caught up in dogmatic ideas. If you can’t make reality and your beliefs coexist, maybe it is the belief that is wrong? Assuming you even care much about the knowledge and understanding of nature. If you keep knowledge at an arms length, you may avoid the conflict of world views altogether, or maybe you always seek the supernatural explanation for things in favour of a more economical and rational one. If so, you should consider more objectively which one seems more logical. As good old Ockham used to say: among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Or at least he said something to that effect.
It’s a good rule. Especially if a hypothesis is redundant to explain the problem at hand. Take for instance the belief that evolution is guided by God (aka Intelligent Design). The theory of evolution through natural selection provides enough verifiable mechanisms to achieve this without the assistance of a God. God is redundant in this, and by Ockham’s principle should be cut away. Origin of life is not completely understood, not because the chemistry involved isn’t understood, and it is probably just chemistry, but the statistical probability of it happening by pure random chance is staggeringly low. But nature is full of guiding principles of chemistry that builds on more fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, and there are good hypotheses around that are completely within reach of both probability and within the limits of the laws of nature. So again, God is becoming redundant.
This is how we seek truth. Truth is never absolute or complete, it is preliminary and evaluated by its probability. Only religions claim they can provide truths, and that without giving probability, coherence and replicability much thought at all.
Trigger warning: This post discusses rape.
A 24 year old Norwegian woman staying in Dubai, Marte Deborah Dalelv, has been accused and convicted after reporting being raped to the police. The police’s initial response was to throw her in jail and take her money and passport. She was later released and has since appeared before a court in Dubai.
She has now been charged for having sex outside of marriage, for drinking alcohol and for bringing about false accusations of rape. She has been sentenced to 16 months in jail for this “crime” and is now wanted as she is not currently in their custody. She is in some form of hiding in Dubai unable to leave the country.
“It was a shock. I thought it was a joke at first. It appeared no one had believed anything of what I had told them. My whole world fell apart,” she says in a comment published in the Norwegian media today.
Reporting a rape is apparently a crime in these parts of the world. It speaks of the challenges all women face in these countries and why not only should attention be given to this case and collective efforts be made to get the charges dropped and get her home, but likewise should this practice be looked into for all women in similar situations. I strongly doubt she is the only one suffering such injustice.
According to a Skype-interview available on NRK’s website (in Norwegian) she was prepared for her visit to Dubai and was aware of the rules of conduct she would be exposed to, but she was not prepared for this. According to an interview with her father she only did what she thought was right after she was raped, she went to the police to report the crime. She was then charged for making false accusation, towards whom isn’t specified in the articles. Presumably the rapist.
According to a representative of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs this is due to “different legal practices in different countries. Especially when it comes to violence towards women.” That is a bit of an understatement. He makes it sound like this is a trivial matter of cultural and legal difference. It is much more than that. It is the conviction and possible imprisonment of an innocent human being. It’s a human rights violation and should be treated as such.
This is not the first time this happens either. In a similar story from May this year an Australian woman was jailed for 8 months for having “sex outside marriage”. She was drugged and gang raped by her own colleagues at the hotel where she worked.
Because it will be run by kids like these. Unless they’re corrupted by all the bigotry in the meantime of course.
TERF is short for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism, a branch of feminism who seemingly have forgotten the purpose of feminism and taken man-hating to a new and highly conspiratorial level. Anything that is “tainted” by masculinity is highly toxic.
Take for instance this Facebook comment from a women’s liberation group that turned out to be anything but:
The first part of the sentence is a contradiction. Trans women are not men, otherwise they would be men, not trans women. There is clearly something that separates a person who identifies as a man and a person who have been assigned a male gender as a baby, but identifies as a girl as a child and/or a woman as an adult. The statement is nothing but the inverse of the heteronormative masculinist view that a man is an individual who qualify by a certain set of characteristics, and anyone who fails to live up to “man” is a second rate human being, or a “woman”, the “other sex”. These types of people do the reverse, they appropriate the identity “woman”, set up a list of criteria, and everyone else is a man. The group they despise.
The second part of the sentence is a non-sequitur, a logical fallacy that assumes that the first arguments follows from biology. It does not. No none is born a woman or a man. One becomes one or the other, or neither. What one becomes is a very complex issue as is well known by psychology. Biology does indeed exist, and biology produces a large variety of identities, both sexual and gender-wise. To argue that the first statement is correct due to biology is to assume that external genitalia is deterministic in dictating identity. There is no evidence for such a view in biology whatsoever. Of course, neither does biology always produce a distinctly male or female child genitalia-wise, chromosome-wise, or any other ‘wises.
Most people who enjoy a privilege tend to be blind to the existence of that privilege. So are these people blind to their own privilege, in this context cis privilege. Cis privilege is the privilege of having a gender identity that is consistent with their internal and external physical sexual characteristics, and therefore they do generally not have to face oppression for this particular kind of human variation. Since most people have limited access to evaluate these characteristics due to the general lack of public nudity, a lot of trans people also enjoy cis privilege. For the most part, so do I.
I’m not horribly invested in being a woman. The label is not that important to me. It is what I am labelled by people as I am a human being with female characteristics and a relatively feminine expression. All I do know is what I am not, the expression my eventual hormone levels dictated, and that I have now reversed medically. I do know though that I am transgender, and I may be intersex as my physical development was not distinctly male nor female until late puberty. It doesn’t really matter. What people see doesn’t bother me. How people treat me and others because of it does. Whether it is transphobia or misogyny.
In my feminism the arguments of the TERFs are fallacious. I do, as Judith Butler does, find strict adherence to the gender binary highly problematic and also view such a binary as being derived from a phallogocentric heteronormative world view. The very patriarchy they fear to such an extent that they see dicks everywhere.
I’m not sure when this happened, but I recently discovered that some of the videos from this year’s Women in Secularism conference have been published on CFI’s YouTube channel and on the Women in Secularism website. I’m embedding two of my favourites, but you should watch them all!
Susan Jacoby: “Why the Lost History of Secular Women Matters Today”
Katha Pollitt: “Sexism and Religion: Can the Knot be Untied?”