The Place of Female Chauvinism in Feminist and Women’s Movements

This is something I’ve been struggling with. So, I’m a female chauvinist. And I’m not really sorry.

Well, sort of. You know I’m sorry about everything, except for being sorry about everything. I should be clear about what I mean. Because I don’t hate men, at least not in the sense that you think of that term in the context of feminism (slash basically no feminists really do*). Sometimes I think I’m better than them (okay, kind of a lot, you guys make it too easy) and sometimes I think they’re better than me (okay, only occasionally). But saying I love being a person wouldn’t cover it – I love being a woman. And that’s on the short list of things for which I’m not at all sorry. I’m thankful to have been born born all kinds of other things – fast, smart, trans, pretty, occasionally funny but not when I tell dirty jokes** – but particularly, I’m thankful to have been born female.

So, chauvinist but not exactly a chauvinist pig.

Truth be told, calling people pigs has always sort of ... I don't like that. It really bothers me, for some reason. Source: Wikimedia

Truth be told, calling people pigs has always sort of … I don’t like that. It really bothers me, for some reason. Source: Wikimedia

And I think there is room for restorative pride in the feminine experience, pride in womanhood, pride in girlhood, that recaptures the imbalance in society’s objectified, distorted, and sexist ways of patterning everyone’s thoughts about us (including us). The idea that pride is restorative is really bedrock to this. Pride in womanhood is fundamentally different than pride in manhood because of the hierarchical sexism inherent in our society that places manhood above womanhood. Pride in femininity is fundamentally different than pride in masculinity because of the hierarchical sexism inherent in our society that places the masculine above the feminine.

Seriously, so note how much makeup the inpatient in a hospital is wearing for her review with her attending. In an article about how sexism hurts women's health, for the love of all that is good and holy! (Source: Role Reboot)

Seriously, so note how much makeup the inpatient in a hospital is wearing for her review with her attending. In an article about how sexism hurts women’s health, for the love of all that is good and holy! (Source: Role Reboot)

In this way, talking about pride in being a woman – female chauvinism – is not only a good and radical thing, but it is analogous to other pride in the context of other kinds of struggles. So white folk get uncomfortable at the idea of #BlackLivesMatter, wait wait wait, uh, you mean all lives matter, don’t you? And please don’t mug me – I listen to Beyoncé! And straight people can’t understand why gay people need a pride. Why don’t I get a flag? And when they do have a flag, they have distorted reasons about what it means within a system of oppression from which they benefit. 

But, while “good feminists” embrace the idea of black pride, they reject the idea of female pride. And I’m saying they shouldn’t.

I believe these phenomena arise from a really interesting side-effect of marginalization, which I want to be the focus of this piece. In many ways, the mechanism of marginalization – of all these isms – tends to attribute all the diversity to the dominant group. So we pay lots of attention to differences in hair color and eye color, because they vary a lot in white people, but we ignore all the things that are different about the billions of us black haired, brown eyed peoples. Guys are individual, identity-laden agents of change, but women are interchangeable hoes***. And there are a million and one straight love stories, every one of them different, but society-killing, Christ-denouncing, global-warming-causing same sex marriage can be simplified into a unitary construct, as if there’s no diversity among LGBT love stories.

We should be proud in our womanhood like Bree Newsome is proud of her blackness (incidentally, you go, sister!) Source: Inform!

We should be proud in our womanhood like Bree Newsome is proud of her blackness (incidentally, you go, sister!) Source: Inform!

Now you’re really going to think I’m crazy, but what I’m going to do here is say that the dominant culture – the white guys – also have a point. Don’t worry – it’s not the point they think they have. The interesting phenomenon is that, simultaneously, dominant group mechanics, while seemingly attributing all the diversity to the dominant group, actually whitewashes**** much of the really meaningful diversity in the dominant group. You can see this in white folk who cling to the 1/64th of their ancestry that is Chippewa or Cherokee – because they recognize that being “white” does not confer them a really meaningful racial/ethnic identity in the way that being Indian-American does me. This is why every white person wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s day. You can see it in how all the clothes all the straight guys wear looks exactly the same, but it’s really important to them to be distinctive by having those shoes in just that shade of brown – again, the process of marginalization makes the world all about men, but it whitewashes men in some special and perhaps hard to realize ways. And they don’t want to be whitewashed (and I’m glad of it!).

This isn’t just a case of the grass is greener, of all the straight haired girls want curly and all the curly girls want straight. This is a fundamental characteristic of that asymmetrical relationship.

To me, the solution to this is radical, and it comes from chauvinism. I actually think that straight people should have a Pride. It’s just that it’s the LGBT Pride we’ve already got. As we become a cultural force with which to reckon (oh, we will / we are), I think it’s right to think about making the centerpiece of Pride be about gender and sexual diversity, but to emphasize that not only LGBT people are diverse with their gender and sexuality. Of course, our diversity is the most obvious, but straight people are diverse, too. I’ve taken to pointing this out, every time I talk about the concept of gender expression. You take 100 straight girls who work in the same industry, and some of them don’t even own pants, and some of them wouldn’t be caught dead in a skirt. Some of them don’t wear makeup to interviews, and some of them wouldn’t be caught without false eyelashes at the gym. That’s diversity of gender expression. And you don’t even need to understand LGBT people to get that it exists. And if you really celebrate it, to me, you’re welcome at Pride, not as an ally, but as a full blooded sibling. Even if you’re straight.

So, my answer, radical as it is, is to not only embrace chauvinism in my womanhood (and the idea that I can be proud of being a woman but that pride does not bind me to a course of being sexist), but to embrace the idea that you can be proud of who you are. Even if you’re a straight white dude! But you’re going to need to re-capture who you are. Because you’ve been defined in this sexist way that makes you everything and makes us nothing, and surprisingly and unintentionally, also makes you nothing and makes us everything

This is a big part of the reason I really nudge Teri and his friends along in this idea of developing a robust, future-compatible concept of manhood, not just for themselves, but as a gift to all men. Sure, I benefit, because if men weren’t tools, feminist movement would be so much easier. Obvi. But the truth is I benefit directly, because Teri is a man, and moreover, he’s my fiancé, and the better man he is, the better my life will be – not because I need a man anymore than a fish needs a bicycle, but because my life and his are wound together. Just as the better woman I am, the better his life will be. That’s the shared destiny of our selecting each other as mates, and it’s the consequence of the commitment we make to each other, the one we will consecrate someday soon in marriage.

And finally, yes, I glossed over it so I could pack in a not very funny joke, but I did say born female. As a trans woman, I take some relatively strong views. One of them is that I am biologically female, irrespective of the sex to which I was designated, irrespective of anything, period. I don’t know what my karyotype is – I haven’t and don’t need genetic testing to know who I am. Moreover, that very concept is backwards – my genes have the potential to explain the diversity of sex, because they probably aren’t typical female genes, but they’re carried by a woman (me). I’m a woman irrespective of how they look – and I know this from years of trying to deny this simple truth. In embracing authenticity, I’m not living “as a” woman or or somehow changing to my gender identity – I’m simply accepting reality*****. For this reason, I reject terminology****** like male-to-female or female-to-male, for myself, anyways.

This is a karyotype. Not mine. Some guy's. Seriously, if you want to have a conversation about the biology of sex and you don't know the word karyotype... Source: fineartamerica

This is a karyotype. Not mine. Some guy’s. Seriously, if you want to have a conversation about the biology of sex and you don’t know the word karyotype… Source: fineartamerica

The relevance of this strong view is that I reject the idea that I was a man, or even a boy. Which is important, because it allows me to be unabashedly a woman – I think everyone who knows me knows I don’t identify as anything, and I don’t prefer things, either.

So I’m proud to have been born female. And I’m proud to be a woman. And I’m not sorry. And I want you to be proud, too. I just want you to be proud in your identity, and I’m willing to help you find your identity. Because you can’t be proud in your privilege.

* I found this article while I was looking for another article, and it’s so amazing that I have to make sure I mention it, by creating a footnote to nothing (cue the bridge to nowhere hyperbole), and I’m going to have to figure out some way, before I publish this piece, to footnote something with this. Because this is amazing. The truth is that, although she uses aggressive language (very Dworkin-worthy), I pretty much actually agree with her. Except that I, unlike her, am kinda cutesy. Well, more than kinda. And I don’t fight, I play fight, and most likely, I don’t hate, I play hate. No, not player hate. Ahem. She explains by the end of the short piece (although apparently too long for the men’s rights folks to finish reading it) that she doesn’t actually hate men, which would also have been obvious from the rest of the piece if one were actually reading it (slash if one were a woman). Also, in solidarity with her, I hate refrigerator magnets. Ask Teri. Or better yet, ask me about the whole situation with having to clean rust off my stainless steal dishwasher that I hardly ever use because of the giant stupid refrigerator magnet someone put on it. Ahem. No, we’re cool, actually I totally love her, we’ve since become really good friends, that one and I.

** Okay, I told one dirty joke that was actually really, really funny, and totally on point. But it’s the only one I can think of. The punchline was “Let me introduce you to my Beaver Cleaver.” You kind of had to have been there. Erm.

*** Or, all too often, interchangeable holes. Oh, you thought I couldn’t be that radical? But seriously, this idea is rife in the “makeover” element of every movie where some mousey girl gets a makeover and looks like she came off the cover of a young woman’s magazine – it’s important, because the dominant culture messaging of men says that every woman could be that girl, if she just toed the line a little harder.

**** Only here to be funny to Teri: Well, that’s an unfortunate name.

***** Truth be told, I still use the term transition – the thing about having a reclaimed identity is not just that I didn’t make up the language, but that I must find a way to describe who I am in a language that wasn’t my choosing and that wasn’t designed to include me in the range of possibility. So, I still use transition, but I’m predicting that you’ll see it appear less and less, and although it’s been in many of my posts, and in this case, I’m relegating it to a footnote. Baby steps.

****** I kind of had a moment of annoyance at an event I did a few months ago – a local activist asked me to be on a panel to “speak about the transgender,” and she had an “MTF” and an “FTM” and a “non-binary” and anyways… I told her, sorry, I don’t do talks about the transgender, and I don’t share stages with MTFs or FTMs. Mostly being flippant, but I think, in the long term, you’ll like my language better, because you’ll like the identity-validating message underlying it. And also the simplicity. Because seriously, like, I can’t keep it straight, whether I’m an MTF or an FTM or an MTFTMTF. I’ve got a little pea-sized girl brain, give me a break.

A Visible Presence (My First Pride!!!)

First, I’m sorry the living of life has largely usurped the documenting and analysis thereof — I’ve missed encapsulating my thoughts, but I think I needed to have some experiences* to have much new to say.

I’ve blogged previously about the idea that there is a nuanced up and down to choosing a life of visibility, because it confers the opportunity for advocacy, and of stealth, because it confers the opportunity for normalcy. I admit sometimes I still work on what the balance is for me — I never feel obligated to share every detail of my story, much like I respect Laverne Cox’s decision not to talk about her body and surgeries and things like that. At Pride, a really sweet young straight ally who worked the information tent with me joined in a conversation with me and a trans man friend who came by to say hello to me. He was really intrigued and interested in the fact that my friend had transitioned and had a lot of (good) questions to ask. Later, he said to me, “So you’re, like, a lipstick lesbian?” Well, yes, basically**. What can I say? Welcome to Pride, one lesson at a time, knowing all the terminology is really not required or the point, and I guess every conversation need not be an opportunity for education (and, plus, the whole thing was funny). 

Back up a step. I should clarify that, last month, I attended my first Pride, as far as I know. It’s possible I stopped by a Pride somewhere (I remember kiss-ins on the Diag at university, but I don’t remember Pride itself). Anyway, even if I did attend a Pride briefly somewhere, I never did so as a queer-identified person, nor did I volunteer at one. Saturday, I was info tent girl, hostessing Pride for most of the time between 7AM and 7PM! So I didn’t just go to Pride, I rocked the Calder

(That was the actual theme)

My first Pride was a blast.  

7000 people there. Four or five protesters, and everybody else loving on each other and having a good time and celebrating how good it is to be alive. I made it through a 12 hour shift in low heels***. And was cheery***.5. And got hundreds of people to fill out surveys, one for the Network relating to LGBT healthcare/wellness experiences, and the other for a project of my girlfriend’s****, on trying to better characterize homelessness experiences of LGBT youth in West Michigan, and advocate for better services.

It was Grand Rapids Nice… there were, I think, at least four churches with booths, and one or two more roaming the Plaza and chatting people up without a booth (all on our side… God knows where the protesters come from).

Oh, there were protesters, as I said a couple of times. A handful of them. One of them got disrespectful with a megaphone (in violation of city code) and the police officers on parade duty shut him down. The others were … well, as nice as people, who have an awful and dehumanizing view of religion that spurs hatred and intolerance, can be. I (and a few others) went out and said hello to them, made sure they were doing all right (I told them I appreciated their taking the time to come out… why not? They don’t make me look bad), and offered water (but they came with). We kept sunscreen at the info tent, too, because we’re just lovey like that, us queer folk, who recognize that actually being queer is the thing we’re proud about, but keeping people healthy and saving the planet are really, really important, too. 

One of the local network affiliates did a kind of ridiculous piece on our Pride. About 6-8 sentences spent on the marshals (we had April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, an excellent choice), and then paragraphs about the four or five protesters. Okay, I can’t be too mean to these guys … the coverage stank, but they’ve been good to me, and most of the times I’ve had the opportunity to be on TV have been with them. It seems conspicuous, however, to write an article and not mention the 7000 people who came to Pride and had a great time (I met most of them, I should know). Or the organization that hosted Pride. Or the churches that came out, or the vendors, or, … how outside of the world of lawsuits and protesters and throwing slushies, we’re quietly becoming an integrated, deeply entrenched, economically powerful, and vibrant part of the community. And slowly, but surely, we’re advertising it.

It’s hard, though, and I think anyone who’s really gotten into Pride knows, to focus on the negative. And don’t let me do what the TV station did. It was an amazing, overwhelming day. I made friends and strengthened friendships and laughed and danced and hugged and loved and had some kind of pink lemonade shandy that was amazing-pants. I studiously avoided having to use the porta-potties, because even a homo can only do so much with those things, and the elephant ears, because, really, I’m not 8 anymore*****.  

If you Google Elephant Ears, you get a Wikipedia page for Fried Dough… and Type II Diabetes. Just right there on the spot. For serious.

We decided not to go out and party at the end of the night, although that was ramping up as we walked off. Teri and I came home (breeze in the convertible … heavenly after 12 hours on my feet), had a drink on the deck, I think made some nachos in the oven, and went to bed. And I cried in her arms. Happy, happy tears. Of pride. And … that’s what it’s like to know that I am loved, that my life, my love, and my gifts matter, and that I belong.

* There’s a lot going on! Of particular note things like name-change-court-date…. Also there’s a great quote from Their Eyes Were Watching God that’s something about having lived so much as to be content on memories alone, but I can never seem to find it again. Love, love that novel, by the way, a masterpiece.

** We’ve had it out over my orientation, but I’m femme, all the way. We did have a healthy debate, Teri (who is not femme) and I, on this business of femme vs. lipstick lesbian… then apparently there are chapstick lesbians, and SPF30 lesbians, and … gawd … Teri just makes me swoon and get mushy inside. Leave it at that.

*** Which, apparently, are some kind of environmentally friendly shoe… Timberland Earthkeepers. Who even knew Timberland made cute strappy sandals?

***.5 Seriously, I can be obnoxiously perky at times. 

**** Teri also made up with like three or four people following a long-running dispute, while totally outdoing the gay guys at bartending, because, seriously, never let a gay man do a lesbian’s job.

***** Speaking of letting a gay man do the job, I should admit that I just finished Wade Rouse’s At Least In The City, Someone Would Hear Me Scream for book club … I’m channeling a little bit of his snark here. I can only do snark in small quantities. Did I mention that, in the “Which OITNB character are you?” quiz, I’m Piper (if not, re-read note 3.5)? And Teri was Vause. Hmmm… She’s writing fiction on her laptop right next to me while I’m writing a blog post. Hmmm… and I swear, the chicken is real.