I’m a bit turned-around on a rather major point of public discourse, dear reader, and am hoping you might walk me through it.
First we were told that butch lesbians like Rachel Maddow are every bit as ‘womanly’ as Marilyn Monroe because femininity is a ‘performance’ or a patriarchal ‘construct’. Sure, fine. I don’t agree, but I follow the logic.
Yet drag quee— um, trans people were always accepted as being basically women because they dressed like women… even though we’d just established that woman-ness has nothing to do with outward appearances. Now trans feminists are up in arms about ‘genital-based feminism’, rejecting any link between having a vagina and being a woman whatsoever.
This is probably a remedial point, and admittedly I might know the answer to it if I was a more faithful reader of I Blame the Patriarchy. But could any of you femsplain to me just what the hell ‘womanhood’ actually means? If it’s not growing your hair long, wearing pretty dresses and high heels, having breasts and a vagina, and/or producing oestrogen, what’s left?
I can’t help but recall last year’s hubbub when Alex Fitton declared himself transgender in order to be eligible for an executive position on Usyd’s SRC that’s reserved for women. Why not? The fact that he plays AFL, wears RM Williams, produces testosterone, has a penis (presumably – I didn’t go to college), has sex with women (again, I can only assume), and has no intention to modify his lifestyle shouldn’t have mattered. None of those things would, by the standards of modern feminism, disqualify one from attaining the ranks of the Sisterhood.
Which, when you think about it, is pretty messed up. Feminists have so degraded womanhood that even a blokey bloke like Alex qualifies – simply because he ‘identifies’ as a female. That is the sole, single criterion.
One would think feminists, who see the entire world through the lens of their gender, would at least be able to give a working definition of what that gender is. If women have been persecuted by manly men like Mr Fitton for millennia, and yet Mr Fitton can completely shed his male privilege simply by declaring himself a woman, the feminists’ entire narrative of historical oppression falls apart. Male-ness and female-ness are so fluid as to be effectively meaningless. And, besides, gender is a spectrum or something.
But more than that, I’d like to think that those who place womanhood at the centre of their worldview would have enough regard for womanhood itself not to let every Tom, Dick, and Harry rock up for a slice. Surely the fairer sex is much too fair to contain old mate Alex.
Further to the point, I suppose, that feminism is no longer about raising women up so much as it is tearing men down. The only thing this deconstruction of female-ness achieves is broadening the list of people who can claim to be victims of the patriarchy. And at this point I think the patriarchy has been reduced to Trump, Putin, and the staff of The Spectator Australia.
One last note: since I’m sure you’re all dying for me to mansplain femininity to you, I shall.
Mental health professionals deal with a whole range of dysphorias. Some patients think themselves pigeons, and spend their lives cooing and pecking at the floor. We regard such people as mentally ill because their perception of reality doesn’t accord with objective reality. It’s been the maxim of psychologists and psychiatrists since Freud that, when the mind and the body disagree, the body is right and the mind is wrong.
This should – and, until recently, did – go for gender, too. To say that a man who identifies as a pigeon is insane, but a man who identifies as a woman is a protected class who must be celebrated, is hypocritical and absurd. And it’s been proved to every reasonable, compassionate person’s satisfaction that sex reassignment surgery does far more harm than good. Transgender people are profoundly sick individuals who should be regarded with sympathy, and their dysphoria should be treated with counselling. We shouldn’t mutilate their bodies; we should heal their minds.
The rest is just common sense. Gender is not a construct or a performance. With very few exceptions, and despite some local variations, gender roles have been consistent across cultural lines. Sure, there’s a performative aspect to it. Just look at how prevalent codpieces are in history. Men have always been obsessed with making their willies look gigantic, because women like that. And women in Japan crush their feet because men like women to be dainty, just as women in Africa use those horrible rings to stretch out their necks because men like women to be lithe.
But just because we have to use a little ingenuity to make ourselves appealing to the opposite sex* doesn’t mean sex is a social construct. The point isn’t that men have to put effort into being optimally manly, or women into being optimally womanly. The point is simply that we all do put in the effort, and always have done. And we should continue to do so. If we have to go about this whole ghastly business of reproducing the species, we should at least make it as enjoyable for each other as possible.
Viva le patriarcat!
* I should say, I don’t find feet-crushing or neck rings arousing in the slightest. Nor does my codpiece see much use these days.
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