Posts Tagged ‘sexism’
Getting out of bed this morning and stretching my kinked back [the joys of sofa beds] sent a run of cracks and pops up my spine and into my brain where they dislodged an old joke the boys told in high school:
Why do women yawn in the morning?
They don’t have any balls to scratch!
I grimaced remembering this joke and not because after hearing it for the first time I made sure to yawn in the mornings. Rather, I recoiled from realising how problematic jokes like this are and how representative they are of American culture. This joke is both cissexist and transmisogynistic and it disturbs me how early on our culture indoctrinates children.
The joke promotes trans erasure by assuming all women have vaginas and all men have penises. By validating this limited understanding of gender it disregards the existence and experiences of thousands of trans* people. It is true that some trans* individuals undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) but this is not the majority of us. Most trans* individuals either cannot afford or do not want SRS (non-op trans*). These identities are often erased (read: invalidated and ignored) by the cis public because they are not binary normative. The “official” trans* life story is recognise who they are by age five, live in fear and isolation until their mid-forties, have a mid-life crisis, and “mutilate” genitals. Cis people like this version because it affirms the binary, makes for delicious gossip, and can be used to invalidate trans* identity (“You aren’t a real woman/man. Just look at everything you had to do to become one.”) The cost of these surgeries, however, is enormous; a trans* person is looking at $17,000 dollars or more depending on whether you are just looking for the plumbing or if you want the electricity to work too. If the price tag alone is not prohibitive, and for most it is, add these facts in: there are only a handful of surgeons qualified and willing to perform these surgeries and almost no insurance provider will cover them.
The trans* individual is left to pay for this surgery on their own. A hard enough task for anyone, but made all the more difficult by the additional road blocks society puts in front of trans* people, with psychological and employment discrimination being the worst. Trans* psychology is considered deviant and trans* people are required to go through years of expensive psychotherapy before they can even be considered a candidate for HRT and SRS. Also, trans* people (particularly trans women and of them most particularly trans women of colour) face legal employment discrimination in all but seven states. Not only is it okay to not hire someone because of their trans* status, but employers can also fire them if they come out as trans* while in the company’s employ. Many educated trans* people have menial jobs or are forced into sex work because no other industry will hire them (again particularly true for trans women of colour). Of the trans women who are not outright fired, the majority of them take a pay cut which drops their salaries to below what the average woman of colour makes, on the grounds the employer is just honouring the person’s gender “choice.” So, how do you save up for the surgery if you do not have enough to pay rent without roommates?
In this regard trans men have it a bit easier than trans women. Note I said a bit this is not a dismissal of the prejudice and difficulties trans men experience, but it is easier for trans men to be read as their gender than trans women. Because of this and because of the more dramatic secondary sex characteristics trans men gain from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) they do not spend as much on transitioning as trans women do and can save money for surgery faster. [It is important to add at this juncture that not all trans* individuals chose to go on HRT. It is a personal decision and some do not feel it is a necessary step in their journey.] Many, if not most, trans* women require a number of additional procedures to be consistently read as female and to increase their safety while in public. These procedures are not cheap. The primary one is electrolysis. Electrolysis averages at $100 an hour and by the time I have completed this treatment I will have logged three hundred (300) hours under the electrified tweezers. In total, it will cost me $30,000 to have the hair burned off my face. Other procedures that a trans woman might need are facial feminisation surgery (FFS), trachea shave, breast implants (for those whose breast growth is not significantly affected by the HRT), and wigs/hair plugs/forehead reduction. It is possible for her to have to spend over $100,000 on procedures all before considering saving for SRS. Further, the more of these procedures she needs the easier it is to out her and for employers to discriminate against her.
When examined from a trans* perspective it is easy to see why any suggestion that all women have vaginas and all men have penises comes across as offensive and invalidating.
On another level, this joke is damning toward trans women. It is an example of transmisogyny. Misogyny is, basic Psych 101, a hatred or extreme prejudice against women; transmisogyny is the intersection of transphobia and misogyny experienced by trans women and is often linked with effemimania [cf. Julia Serano, Whipping Girl] Examples of transmisogyny are constantly in the news and it is the driving force behind the beatings and murders of trans women. CoCo Williams, Paige Clay, and Brandi Williams were all murdered in a three-week period of April 2012. CeCe McDonald is being held for trial after she defend herself against a savage beating that lacerated her face, for which she was denied appropriate and timely medical services by the Hennipen County Police, all because she is a trans woman of colour.
This joke is transmisogynistic because of its use of oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, and the implication that women with male bodied characteristics are not women. Oppositional sexism is defined by Serano as, “the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories.” If one is male there can be no feminine qualities associated with him and if one is female there can be no masculine qualities associated with her. Serano defines traditional sexism as, “the belief that maleness and masculinity are superior to femaleness and femininity.” In other words, men are naturally superior to women by the very nature of being male. The punchline of the joke is rooted in oppositional sexism: men have penises and women do not. [As explained in the section above this is not always the case.] The traditional sexism is inherent in the telling of the joke, men are superior to women in that they have a penises.
The punchline is mired in the oppositional idea that to be male is to possess and to be female is to lack; in other words, men are complete human beings and women are incomplete or inferior human beings. Genitals are often what this type of thinking comes down to. This type of logic is also used to define superior men over and against lesser men. The larger the dangly bit between his legs are the more masculine he is, the smaller the less masculine and less deserving of respect. Now, consider how the smaller male is not considered feminine but as lacking appropriate levels of masculinity, which means to possess a penis of any size is an immediate invalidation of all other feminine characteristics and is an erasure of trans feminine identity. The reverse, however, is not held true. The absence of a penis does not negate masculine qualities in women and trans men. Instead they are said to have a honourary set.” This bestowed on them due to emotional or secondary sex characteristics that are perceived as masculine and they trump the perceived female characteristic of a vagina. The sexism in this is loaded into our use of language. To “have balls” is a positive thing, a sign of courage and strength, whereas to be a “pussy” is a character flaw indicating weakness and over emotionality. Feminists have made combating this attitude, that male characteristics are superior and invalidate inferior female identity, a priority in the feminist movement.
The attitude is so ingrained in our culture that women will often use it against other women. If a woman shows an aptitude in sports, interest in sex, or enjoyment of gaming and comic books she is expressing stereotypically male behaviour and other women will use it as a justification to erase her identity as a “real” woman. This attitude has been taken to the extreme by radical feminists as a means of invalidating trans women’s identities. “Women born women living as women” is used to deny trans women access to appropriate medical care and female only spaces. If you allow a trans woman into a women’s shelter the theoretical presence of a penis is enough to potentially trigger a “real” woman’s fear of men. Despite the fact trans women are more likely to be beaten simply for being women and their cases are often ignored by the police is not enough to overcome the stigma of having male bodied genitalia. Trans women are often denied access to female restrooms and changing rooms because the theoretical presence of a penis means they will rape the first “real” woman they see. And the theoretical presence of a penis is used as an argument for the barring of trans women from events such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and RadFem 2012. By denying trans women access to these conferences they invalidate trans* identity and create an echo chamber in which only their biased thinking is expressed, amplifying itself in the absence of opposing viewpoints.
These attitudes, cissexism, transmisogyny, trans* erasure, and oppositional and traditional sexism, are so accepted in our culture that young men can tell jokes rooted in them and no one thinks a thing wrong with it. Until we begin a process of re-educating our youth to identify these thought patterns and disrupt them we will never see a culture where all women, trans* and cis, are accord equal status with men.
- The Media’s Sleazy Treatment of Trans Women (alternet.org)
- I Believe that Makes THREE Trans Women Murdered this April (tranarchism.wordpress.com)
- Definitions (nodesignations.wordpress.com)
My current bathtub book, so-called because I read it while soaking and it was cheap enough I will not feel bad if it gets wet, is Vigil by Robert Masello. The story centers on two major plots. The A plot is the discovery of a demon-like fossil in a submerged cave in Italy. The B plot is a Hebraic scholar translating a very old, very sacred text. Through the course of events both fossil and scholar end up in New York. The former is being analyzed by a pair of professors (one American and one Italian) the latter is doing his analyzing in the spare bedroom of his wealthy, influential father’s penthouse to the annoyance of the step-mother young enough to be his sister. I have enjoyed the story so far; the tale is well written. The problem I have, however, is the author’s view of the world.
The author’s tone is quite clear and he is, unfortunately, a bit of a bigot. To begin we have our Hebraic scholar. He is the neurotic son of the “wealthy Jewish merchant.” His neuroses are crippling without the medicine prescribed by his psychiatrist and he comes across as an educated, unfunny Woody Allen type. Next we have the women in the book. each one, of course is stunning, with the anticipated exception of the “next door neighbor” type wife who is friends with the American professor’s wife. This character is average and is also in constant spats with her husband. Another stereotype. As for the gorgeous women, the first is beautiful and panicky and needs to be rescued. The second (the American’s wife) is stunning and knowledgeable of Renaissance artwork, but her clients are more interested in her body than the artwork. The third is a bright and beautiful young graduate student who is feisty and aggressive in her questions. And the fourth, is the young, sexy, conniving, gold-digging step-mother. If I did not know better, I would swear the misogynistic author was channeling Ian Fleming.
The story is well written and has enough suspense that I keep reading, in spite of the author’s clearly privileged, WASP-male perspective of the world. I would have to be an asshole to say Masello cannot write and even then it would be a lie. The action and pacing had caught me up and propelled me through the first third of the book, until I came to this paragraph on page 141:
He came around the side of the massive old building–yellow brick that had long since turned brown–and the mobs immediately thinned out. There were revelers, but they were bent on making their way back to the action. By the time he turned the corner and was crossing behind the loading area, there were just a few stragglers–and the ever-preset transvestite, a tall black man in a red suede coat, leaning into the rear window of an idling limousine. Working even on Halloween night, Russo thought; there was something laudable in that [emphasis mine].
The passage turned my stomach.
To begin, there is no reason for the inclusion of the transvestite prostitute. We had not encountered the character before and I doubt we will again. Notice that the author makes it a point to say the character is male when simply saying transvestite would have been sufficient as, according to the mental health community, only men can suffer transvestism; women who wear men’s clothes are expressing a natural though ineffective desire to better themselves. (Clearly, writers are not the only ones who can be sexist.) The only reason to include the statement the character is male is to heighten the falsity and deviance of the character’s existence and to enable “his” use as a prop to create a seedy, ominous, surrealistic feel. Next on my list of complaints, Masello made the transvestite a prostitute, aside from being incredibly offensive in its stereotyping, it is also a gigantic white-male writer cliché. “Oh, I need something creepy and clearly divergent and wrong, I know I’ll include a trans sex worker.” Adding further insult is the fact this is the novel’s only black character. A black, transvestite, sex worker in a dark alley catering the whims of a wealthy, sex-fiend in a limo. “Yep,” says the writer, “that should creep people out.” Finally, the only good quality the character has is a solid work ethic because it is Halloween night. Hence the description of the transvestite as “ever-present,” as in this is not a costume but how this person is everyday. Never mind the struggles, racism, cissexism, and general discrimination this character would clearly face as a marginalized member of society. The bravery to be oneself in spite of those odds is nothing, but to be working on Halloween, well that is “laudable.”
And what really pisses me off is the rest of the book is well written enough that I am going to finish reading it because I need to know what happens next.
Through out the day I have been receiving phone calls from a guy claiming to be from “Stream Link,” or perhaps “Streamlink” they have been asking to talk to A. I have told him repeatedly that there is no one here by that name. I have even told him my name, I have offered to take a message but he refuses to leave one. Each time he calls back in an hour. At one point the guy denied having called previously, called me a liar, and demanded I put A on the phone “right fucking now.” I hung up. He called back fifty-eight minutes later.
This last time I told him there was no one here by the name they were looking for and if they wanted to talk to someone they could talk to me or they could waste their time trying to find A. He relented and told me he works for a company that works with Amazon and his company could help me make money from home. I asked how much do you expect me to invest and he ignored the question and continued his pitch. I asked him if he could prove he worked for Amazon. To which he replied, not for them but with them. I told him I was not interested in a pyramid scheme. He said, how is Amazon a pyramid scheme? I reminded him he did not work for Amazon only with them. He offered to prove it and all I had to do was go to a website and enter some information. I told him I was not interested in being the victim of a phishing scam.
At this point he was becoming aggressive and I was interested only in a way to get him to stop calling. No matter what he said my reply was, I want you to remove this number from your list. He began yelling at me, called me a stupid woman, said women had no head for business, and made several demands to speak to the man of the house about this important opportunity. Each comment and demand was met with, I want you to remove this number from your list. He finally cussed me out as a stupid bitch and hung up.
That was thirty minutes ago. We’ll see if he calls back.