Saturday, May 2, 2009

Genderism: a definition

[image is from here, a great source for lots of other wonderful buttons]

I define "genderism" as a politic, a social order, a philosophy, and an ideology which seeks, in its human manifestations and expressions, to distort and demean humanity in profound and destructive ways in order to create and maintain the gynocidal/genocidal/ecocidal reality of male supremacist societies and their cultures.

Western liberal societies often refer to "gender"* as synonymous with a person's "sex"--with what is assumed to be a fully natural phenomenon (whatever that means) in which the human species is neatly and discretely "made" in two distinct forms: female and male. Popularly, in many societies, these "two" genders are posed as opposites, as compliments, or as two parts of an otherwise incomplete whole. (This post is not about "sex" in that sense. Nor is it about "sex" as that term is used to refer to interpersonal sexual behavior.)

[*not all white-dominant and Western liberal societies use that term as the U.S. does; in Sweden, for example, I've heard from a Swedish friend that the term for "gender" is used primarily in academic circles, and is not as popularly used a term outside the academy as it is in the U.S.]

As polar opposites, "female" and "male" are understood and treated as essentially different, fundamentally not alike, in bodies, in character, in brains. What one gender is, the other is not. So if males are "strong", women are weak. If men are logical and reasonable, women are irrational. In Christianity, if men are close in spirit and temperament to a god in the sky, women are equated with the dirt and the devil.

As compliments, female and male while substantively different, are not necessarily understood as "in opposition". In this view, often, women and men may be seen to offer different gifts: women are seen as intuitive, knowing from the body, nurturing, emotional, peaceful; men are seen as cerebral, knowing from the mind, dominating, rational, war-prone.

As two parts of an otherwise incomplete whole, this view also allows for the possibility that women might be valued by men, but likely does not conclude "woman" is ever spiritually whole unto herself. As someone who once wore "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" t-shirt--for years until it wore out, I reject this view personally. As a gay male and as a profeminist it is, for me, an intrinsically heterosexist/anti-lesbian view, if not also more generally misogynistic. This view too often fuels absurd and harmful expectations of what in the West is termed "romantic love".

Often these three views are braided together, so that opposites attract, are meant to be together, and, if fortunate, also be soul mates. Romance novelists, soap opera screen writers, "great" white male supremacist novelists, and pornographers all work to keep these ideas alive.

As I understand them, radical feminist theorists and activists, during my lifetime and before, have sought to expose each of these views as dangerous to women and girls, to humanity as a whole, and to the Earth and all its inhabitants. Liberalism, feminist or not, has often sought to make what is seen to be "the best deal" for women and girls with some unquestioned assumptions about genderism. For a good discussion on these distinctions and the protections to male supremacy built into these unchallenged assumptions, see, for example, Catharine A. MacKinnon, in both Feminism Unmodified and Toward a Feminist Theory of the State--the latter book in some ways a more formal and theoretically refined version of the former. Using the index to look up her discussion of the work of Carol Gilligan in each books will bring the reader to the chapters in which this is explicitly discussed in terms of liberal feminists' work and theories. It should go without say that anti-feminist liberal writers and other social citizens pose far more misogynistic views of women and girls. 

"Liberalism" here, I use as a term that defines a perspective, a philosophy, a politic, that is popular if not always prevalent in white male supremacist societies.

In non-industrialised, non-Western societies, gender is a far more fluid construct and reality. In some societies, for example, there are as many as eleven genders. Using Western English terms--which has its own problems, in all societies there are babies both intersex, which is to say their genital formation is or later changes to become not identifiably just female or only male. In many societies, some variation of transgendered people have existed and exist. In white male supremacist ("WMS") societies, intersex, and transgendered people are often viewed by non-intersex and non-trans people as "a problem" in some regard that "gendered" people are not. This is akin to how heterosexist societies often view "homosexuality" as either "problematic" or "sinful" in ways that heterosexuality [allegedly] is not.

Intersex and transgendered people are, in WMS societies, commonly discriminated against, harassed, ostracised, alienated, and otherwise mistreated.

In WMS societies, women and girls (and some boys and men who do not fit with the gendered standards of the era and region), are frequently mistreated and discriminated against as well. What is particularly grievous is that whether girls and women fit or do not fit, it doesn't make them immune or safe from the violence against women and girls that is endemic in and foundational to WMS society. To draw on two examples of womanness, both "butch" women and "femme" women are harassed, for example, and may be raped precisely because they are females who at least one man feels entitled to degrade or violate.

Women of color face discrimination and violence from at least three groups of people: white men, men of color, and white women.

For the purposes of this post, I here define "sexism" as the oppressive, subordinating, systemic, systematic mistreatment of women and girls by men and boys. It is unavoidably harmful in a Western gendered social hierarchy. "A level playing field" does not exist in WMS societies, racially or sexually, therefore "sexism" can't go "both ways". The same is true of racism: there is no level playing field between whites and people of color. The ways that sexism manifests in women is in how women buy into and practice male supremacy, to the detriment of womankind. Racism manifests in people of color in ways that strengthen or do not challenge harm people of color thereby strengthening white supremacy. But in politically, structurally meaningful (reality-based) ways, women cannot be sexist to men; nor can people of color be racist to whites. They don't have the structural or institutional support. For a visual, imagine white people atop a hill and PoC at the bottom, with success being defined as being on top. Boys have to maintain space; PoC have to work just to approach the space, and then contend with those defending it. And laws define the top space as rightfully and appropriately white-dominated.

Heterosexism is the belief and practice of making whatever current version there is of heterosexuality appear natural, unaltered by era or region, normal, and healthy--a social good, and all other ways of being "odd" or "harmful to society"--a social evil. Racism, sexism, and heterosexism are each tied to specifically dehumanising and harmful assumptions of meaningful differences in "value" or "personhood", as assigned and enforced by systems and structures of white heterosexual male supremacy (WHMS).

I am not using the term "genderism" here as a synonym for "sexism". For me, this is the distinction: Sexism is the political practice of subordinating and otherwise oppressing and degrading women and girls as such (by men and boys), already defined as women, men, girls, and boys--in whatever language a particular dual gender system/society employs. "Genderism" in other words, must pre-exist sexism, socially, for sexism to exist. Genderism is a belief that "gender" is a social imperative or a natural inevitability.

A critique of gender among radical feminists, as I have understood such critiques, includes a belief that for women to be liberated from male supremacy, not only must male supremacy be uprooted and completely transformed or eradicated. Unlike some philosophies which have argued that females or males are "naturally evil" or "no good" no matter how they are raised, the radical feminisms I have held to firmly and absolutely reject this. In 1977, Andrea Dworkin addressed the danger of women supporting a view of men as somehow "naturally oppressive" in her speech, Biological Superiority: The World's Most Deadly and Dangerous Idea.

In the last ten to fifteen years particularly, I have witnessed tensions and hostilities develop between some non-transgendered feminists and some transgendered people who do not identify as feminist.

Whenever two oppressed groups are engaged in serious conflict, it is my opinion that their oppressors always win. This is to say, if women make the primary fight for liberation against other women, if trans people and nontrans women campaign against each other, if lesbians and gay men are embattled, WHMS is strengthened. The possibility of  radical transformation opens when all our struggles are geared toward identifying, challenging, and working to eradicate gender, race, and sex as social-political hierarchies. We must keep in mind that race, gender, and sex are enforced ideas and ideologies, backed in the real world with great violence and other coercive pressures. We live inside the ideas of others; and those ideas, when institutionalised, can be deadly.

There are, of course, feminist trans people who have publicly stated that if hierarchical dual gender systems were eradicated, or if they'd never existed, "transgenderism" wouldn't either. It goes without say that "genderism" wouldn't either. But "genderism" and gender are not synonyms. As noted, many societies have beliefs that there are far more than two genders, and that each has value, and belongs in the community as a social good.

There may still be at least a few women who argue that once male supremacy is wiped clean off the Earth then the current political meaning and ideological existence of "woman" will be radically removed as well, and may also disappear. This doesn't mean that "women", as liberated people, disappear. Ungendering patriarchal societies at the root level liberates us, it doesn't annihilate us.

MRAs (Men's Rights Activists) and other white male supremacist activists have quite self-servingly and misogynistically promoted the least promoted views of very few feminist-identified women as emblematic of feminism generally. (These men also just make crap up and pretend the statements are truisms of feminism.) About a dozen or more "famous feminist quotes" make the rounds (around and around, to the point of inducing nausea) on various pro-WMHS websites, "proving" that feminism = man-hating, for example, in part by arguing that feminists call for "the eradication of men" when what virtually all of those feminists were describing was the necessity of eradicating male supremacy and "manhood" in its oppressive, hierarchical forms. (Again, as stated above about women, the men, as people, do not go "poof" when and if the mission is accomplished. There is no plan to exterminate men-as-people that I've ever heard of from any feminist; what I've repeatedly heard is a call to reveal, challenge, and (hopefully) end male supremacy in all its social-political-economic manifestations.

Some transgender activists make a similar claim: that the perspectives and agendas of some radical feminists will mean 'transgender' reality goes away. If your identity, as a man or as a trans person, is 'you', you may imagine that means you disappear. Careless or willful misunderstanding what radical feminists state is in service to the oppressive status quo.

For the raced gender that is alleged to manifest the greatest, most supreme levels of "intelligence", it is remarkable that these white men can be so completely and willfully ignorant about the meaning of some of the feminist quotes they pass around. It strikes me as absurd that they are unable to comprehend the political systems in which they are systemically and systematically privileged and esteemed, not the ones who are disadvantaged and degraded.

Andrea Dworkin was apparently quite optimistic about the possibility of radical feminism accomplishing its goals when she gave that speech in 1977. Now it is abundantly clear that any belief in the natural or Goddess-ordained superiority of women over men is nothing more than a rare idea among a few ostracised individuals.

Debasing nontrans women and defending nontrans men, together, remain the status quo. White heterosexual male supremacy remains one of several main sources of gross global human atrocity, more seriously and negatively impacting women and girls worldwide. Any proposed manifestation of "female supremacy" has never had mainstream status, established roots and branches, let alone ripened fruit offered in hand.

In primarily Western academic circles, Judith Butler is often quoted and misquoted, often in simplistic ways, for noting that gender is "performed". My response to that statement is this: to the degree it is performed, it is done so on a man-made stage, with male supremacist snipers in the audience and in the wings, ready to take out anyone who doesn't "perform" it correctly, according to WHMS gender standards. To assume there is a way to socially perform gender in a white male supremacist culture without facing that threat and violence, is to not grasp what genderism is and does.


xjm said...

I stumbled on this post looking for a word to mean "discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sex, sexuality, and/or sexual orientation" that was somewhat broader and more meaningful than "sexism" or "male chauvinism" or "homophobia" (all three of which, to my mind, are linked). "Genderism" was the best I could come up with...

It's an interesting post. I like a lot of your ideas; however, as a linguistics student, I have to pick at one thing. You say: "In some societies, for example, there are as many as eleven genders." What's your source for this? Are you sure you're not confusing linguistic gender with social gender?

In Ojibwe, for example, there are two linguistic genders: animate (people, animals, some plants) and inanimate (most plants, lifeless objects, etc.) I also remember briefly studying another language (I think from the southwest or perhaps California) that had some number of genders based on the shape of an object: whether it was round, long, flat, etc.

Clearly, these linguistic categories have little to do with human gender categories; the reason the word "gender" is used is that the categories function analogously to the 2-3 gender-based language genders that European languages typically have (he, she, it).

Now, this is a separate issue from social gender categories; I have read, as you probably have, that many non-Western cultures have traditional roles for people whose gender identities we today would put somewhere under the "LBGTQ" header.

Julian Real said...

Hi xjm.

I responded to your comment and questions in a new post, as my answer was getting so long it was getting ridiculous to have it as a "response to a comment"!!

See here for my reply.

Genderist said...

I have used the word genderism as well... But in a positive way:

The Genderist Movement is a non-exclusionary notion that challenges the male/female gender binary and promotes acceptance of all people regardless of biological sex, gender and sexual orientation.

This is not an extremist regime, it simply aims to act as a new definition which encompass' all aspects and qualities of the following gender related movements:

Feminist movement
Intersex movement
Homosexual movement
Bisexual movement
Transgender and
The Men’s movement


gen⋅der-ism Pronunciation [jen-der-ism]

1.the doctrine advocating social, political, economic and all other rights of all biological sexes, genders and sexualities.

2.Organized movement for the attainment of such rights for all biological sexes, genders and sexualities.