Among some Guardian readers I am considered a man-hater. Nothing could be further from the truth. I only despise men who abuse women and children, or who allow that abuse to happen. I would not be a feminist if I did not think men have the potential to grow up as decent, non-violent individuals.
My type of feminism is that which proclaims that women are not inherently good or men biologically bad. If we had the chance to rear children in a world which was not dependent on maintaining polarised gender roles, and where men did not get away with rape and murder of women on a vast scale, we might all have a chance to live among each other in harmony and happiness.
I want to see an end to gender. It has no place in my world.
But to end this tyranny of learned masculinity and femininity, where boys and girls are taught that they should behave in ways befitting of their birthright, we need the oppressors – men – to be the ones who say “enough is enough”.
Like some radical white South Africans, wishing to see an end to apartheid, gave up their power for the benefit of humanity, so should men. You may find that, free of the constraints that masculinity brings, you can live as free human beings. And know at the same time you have contributed to the freedom of women.
It’s simple, really — simple enough that Bindel can state it succinctly and clearly in a comparatively few words. Gender is about subordination. Feminism has been, in large part, about ending the subordinating social process which results in what we have come to describe as “gender.” Ending gender would benefit all people, men and women, because gender hurts us all, but it hurts women most of all. So ending it is something feminists have historically fought for.
In response to the feminist critique of, and resistance to, gender, conservatives, fundamentalists, and the Religious Right, have intensified their defenses of gender, because they know their ideologies cannot exist without it. (For evidence of this, read the comments in response to Bindel’s post.)
Ignoring the feminist critique of, and resistance to, gender, others, including LBGT-, Queer-, and transgender-identified theorists and activists have attempted to revision or reimagine gender as neutral, as neither good or bad, as though it can exist “in a good way,” apart from dominance hierarchies. (For evidence of this, check out the progressive/leftist/feminist blogosphere.) Just as conservatives and fundamentalists do, this latter group seeks reimposition of gender, reinscription of gender, just in different ways, with different rules, then calls this revisioned notionof gender “liberating” and “transgressive” and “progressive.”
It cannot be. Gender is always already subordination. In the same way that a violent response to violence, or a coercive response to coercion cannot create a new world, neither can gender revisioned, reinvented, create a new world. Violence, coercion, and gender are of a piece. To build a new world, we have to begin the process of leaving all of these behind.
Gender is real in the world because male power makes it real, but it isn’t “true.” There is nothing “natural” or “essential” about it, whether this “natural” is the conservative/fundamentalist kind of “natural,” i.e., some “naturalness” which resides in notions of “natural law,” or some divine order, or the liberal/leftist/progressive view of “natural,” i.e., a “naturalness” residing in the genes, the DNA, the biology, the hormones, the spiritual realm, someone’s epistemology so-called, or someone’s “narrative.” All of the above — whether conservative, Religious Right, fundamentalist, transgender, Queer, postmodern, LBGT, progressive, leftist — are variations on what amount to gender essentialist positions.
There is only one position as to gender which is not essentialist, and that is the position Bindel has outlined above. There is also only one position as to gender, I believe, that has potential to adequately challenge and resist patriarchy, male heterosupremacy, in other words, sexism.
Men are not naturally born any kind of way at all. Neither are women. If we end gender, we end a powerful, worldwide, millennia-spanning dominance hierarchy and with it, sexism, lesbophobia, homophobia, transphobia and all the coercions of gender which are experienced by men and women alike. Absent gender, these phobias, and sexism, are meaningless. They cease to exist.
Challenging and resisting gender is difficult work for one reason: males have an interest in male supremacy and will fight to protect it, as will females who are attached to males, vested in the approval of males or who are somehow also vested in male supremacy. At the very least, it seems to me that self-identified progressives and leftists should see and identify this vestedness for what it is: sexism. When they refuse to see it for what it is, I have to call that what it is: sexism. We need feminism more than ever today because not only are conservatives, fundamentalists, and assorted right-wingers sexist, most liberals, progressives, leftists, and self-identified feminists are sexist as well– and they don’t even realize it.