Everyone has a Different Gender Experience or Modern Feminism and Choice

March 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

Earlier I wrote about the difficulty that trans-people pose to the feminist movement. Basically the idea that gender, specifically the idea of being female, is a social norm that places females at the bottom of a power structure. For example Hilary Clinton being unable to break the ‘glass ceiling’ of US presidency, wives being expected to stay at home and only carry out domestic functions, and even tiny things like pencil-skirts-and-high-heels dress codes (which limit movement/mobility).

As a trans-female you may claim to adopt certain aspects of female identity (make-up, dresses etc.) but you have never experienced the disadvantages of being female all your life. In fact, your previous life experiences have been shaped by male privilege.

I wrote and later realised that all gender deviants are punished. Most likely, a trans-female would have been punished when she was a boy for being so girly, and barred from claiming any male privilege (even if she wanted to).

Everyone is punished for deviating from gender norms, how this fits in with the feminist movement is very interesting though.

As an ideological movement, feminism to me has always had a multi-faceted and confusing culture and history around it. I think part of the reason why feminism is so hard to get your head around (and why some people hesitate to commit to being a feminist) is because it is always changing and incorporating new ideas, making it hard to keep up with and hard to know what you actually mean when you claim to be a feminist.

First wave feminism was about attaining suffrage and concentrated on very concrete ideals of political rights. Second wave feminism started to tackle more elusive concepts i.e. a sexist power structure which, though more abstract than political rights, was more omnipresent in society (e.g. in education, in the workplace, in the family home etc.). Wikipedia suggests that third-wave feminism was about bringing inter-racial perspectives to the feminist movement and that fourth-wave feminism (probably the most nebulous of all) has something to do with technology. There is of course, also a criticism of the wave theory.

If the third-wave happened at all, it would’ve occurred when I was in primary school and probably too young to notice. But I feel I can fully reject fourth-wave feminism as something to do with technology. Race and technological perspectives may provide important insights to the movement but it doesn’t yet compel a normative direction for feminism (noting race is perhaps more useful than technology since feminism has progressed differently in different cultures, but technology is ultimately just a tool of society).

In my mind, we’re still in third-wave feminism which is about (among other things):

  • recognising that everyone has a different gender experience and that anyone who deviates from the binary structure of gender experiences punishment
  • moving beyond breaking down the sexist power structure that oppresses women (i.e. the cultural infrastructure and social systems) to becoming aware of, and changing, societal biases and gender stereotypes of not just women (i.e. tackling prejudice in the mind and systems that allow and don’t prevent that prejudice)
  • reconciling the group-ish foundation of feminism (i.e. a group composing of members who identify with the female struggle reminiscent of second-wave feminism) and current-day liberalism which aggressively champions individual rights and freedoms including:
    • rights and freedoms in relation to gender and sexual orientation,
    • rights and freedoms in relation to race and religion,*
    • rights and freedoms in relation to a consumer society,** and
    • rights and freedoms in relation to global and social mobility.

Because individual rights have become the rallying cry of the Left and liberal democracies have become increasingly (and perhaps exclusively) focused on individualism (and with it, the fracture of traditional institutions like Church and Family), it’s hard to find what can still unite people to a feminist movement which will always have (and keep re-contextualising) aspects of the first and second waves which were about belonging to and bettering a particular (more well-defined) group.

Current-day feminism, in addition to encompassing equality and rights for anyone who is experiencing gender differently, is also trying to balance and reconcile:

  • how it represents the collective aspirations of its members, and
  • the deeply individualistic idea that women should be given the choice to do whatever they want.

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*The kind of issues modern feminism will have to consider are, for example: whether there are feminist implications for wearing a burqa? And can a woman wear a burqa to identify with her religion yet denounce that it is a symbol of female oppression or ever was?

**Consider the second-wave feminist implications of, for example, buying and choosing to wear a revealing outfit. Modern feminism is also about empowering female consumer choice.

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