Friday, February 11, 2011

Who Gets To Define "Women-Only Space"? People WITH male privilege, or people WITHOUT male privilege?

image of book cover is from here
[Slightly revised on 2/17/2016.]

That non-trans people, and liberals generally, cannot see the importance or value of women raised as girls choosing to be in (FAAB) women-only spaces is about as male supremacist as it gets. It's right up there, ideologically, with demanding that girls and women be sexually available visually and physically, for and with men. It's right up there, politically, with demanding that girls and women who are not trans be forced to do ANYTHING AT ALL, to accommodate, accept, acquiesce to, show adoration for, show deference to, submit to, subordinate oneself to people who are not women-raised-as-girls and who never, ever, had institutionalised, socially recognised male supremacist privileges and entitlements. Such privileges and entitlements are not "chosen" and handed back; they are given, embedded, and held onto including when one doesn't wish to express and enact them: just ask ANY pro-feminist man who seeks to be in respectful partnership with women, but finds himself behaving "like a man with male privileges" much to his own dismay. These entitlements and forms of gendered power are acted out unconsciously and consciously both. They are not cast off just because, for example, gay men decide to dress up in misogynistic ways and call this action "dressing up like a woman" for a drag ball. We all know (I hope) what that appropriation of womanhood is called: men's misogyny, the gay version.

There are two groups of people who currently identify as Women: one group has no choice about whether they do so (this would be most of the world's women--most of the world's people). They can call themselves anything that want, in whatever language that borrows from the white male supremacist worldview on sex and gender, and men will still target them for harassment and rape based on what men believe about who someone is and what they are for. That group of women has been marked as female, or as girls, since birth (whether or not they were; some may be intersex), they were raised as girls (or the non-English term that is comparable), and they have been socially positioned, structurally, institutionally and interpersonally, as women relative to (read: beneath; read: for) men. I realise that different cultures define these terms and enforce these categories differently, and I do not assume that how we do this in North America is how it is done everywhere else. I know that there are differences even within white-dominated/white-majority countries that use English (whether as a first, second, third, fourth, or fifth-plus language) about what it meant by "gender". But the political group, globalised, called (in English) women-not-men is disproportionately sexually subordinated globally, if not universally. This is accomplished in the home where girls far more than boys (at least twice as often) are incested by male family members who think girls exist for men's sexually violative and exploitive pleasure (read: child molestation and rape). That group is supposed to be socially subordinated from day one until one's last day. Independently of what gender or sex they feel like inside. And that sexual abuse, and so many other factors, shape how we experience gender in ourselves.

Then there's another group, relatively new on the scene, historically/herstorically speaking: trans women. This group has had some male privileges, are raised to be boys, are socially interacted with and treated (or mistreated) as boys; all of that happens independently of what the children felt like inside, or, even, whether they were male: some are intersex. They are categorised they way they were socially positioned in patriarchy to be categorised.

Some girls got more gender-related abuse than others. Some boys get more abuse than other boys, of course. Males without race and class privileges have had a different experience and less social power and privilege overall than those with race and class privileges. And girls without race and class privilege have had it even tougher. This is structural political reality. The fact that "some women" have more privileges than "some men" doesn't make that structural reality non-existent; men are positioned and trained to subordinate women the women of their ethnic and economic group. And beyond.

That rich white women in the West have more of some forms of power and privilege than poor Brown and Black men in many poor countries is obvious. And any man, if given the opportunity, can still rape any woman, regardless of her race, class, or region. Those who rape who are white and rich will likely never be charged or prosecuted; they will rarely to never see time in jail. Men who rape white women, if they are not white, are far more likely to be incarcerated; this is true of Black and Brown people across gender--incarceration is a form of gross racist social control. But this doesn't make men's rape of women not terroristic across race and class. I have known women of all colors battered by white men and battered by men of color. Battery is a key form of gendered dominance and destruction; the fact that gay and lesbian couples also practice this abuse doesn't make it "not male supremacist". It doesn't make it "just human and ungendered".

So what's going on now is that people--mostly gender liberals and gender conservatives, mostly NON-trans people, are rushing the gates of women raised as girls' [lack of] rights to define, defend, protect, and empower themselves. The gate-rushers (is there even a gate?) do so to defend the rights of those who have had or still have male privilege. These pro-male voices are flooding liberal spaces DEMANDING that women raised as girls MUST ACCOMMODATE AND ACCEPT some or all male-privileged people as only women in WOMEN-ONLY SPACES. Do women raised as girls get to be treated as ONLY HUMAN ever (and not as gendered at all)? Do women raised as girls have the social privileges, entitlements, and power to tell everyone else "who I am REALLY"? No. Not so much. But some Western radical feminists, often but not always lesbian-identified would like to think that might be possible to both define and defend such spaces, now that male supremacy and male domination of women has been challenged in the West for at least forty years. Ah, but never put it past liberal and conservative forces to fight back, hard.

This whole Western assault on women/wimmin-only space by people who are behaving in the most GLARINGLY pro-patriarchal ways is, in the view of this blogger, socially conservative and oppressive and controlling to women raised as girls. I see it that way based on what women/wimmin tell me. And based on what I see happening to radical feminism, lesbian feminism, and wimmin-only spaces in the last fifteen years. They are under social assault, as they always have been. But now there's a new contingent of people (liberals who are pro-trans), who are making liberal arguments for why it is women raised as girls ought not have spaces that are only for women raised as girls.

How ISN'T that male domination at work? In what ways isn't that a function and expression of  male domination? Does radical feminism, lesbian feminism, and women's liberation get supported in spaces where men and male-privileged people are allowed in to? Not in my experience, with few exceptions. Male supremacy and male dominance never take a holiday, unlike the super-privileged men who possess the social power to name other people's realities.

This erosion of wimmin-only space is, far more often than not, in my view, a man-infestation of male supremacy. I radically support women's autonomy and independence from men, interpersonally; I stand with women and wimmin who desire and demand wimmin-only spaces and community. Anyone who defends men's power and privileges to encroach on women's and girls' lives is behaving in an anti-woman way, in my view. More power to any woman raised as a girl who wants to create woman/wimmin-only spaces that are exclusively for women raised as girls--or for "women" as she defines the terms--not as male-privileged people define them. More power to radical lesbian feminists who want or demand radical lesbian feminist-only spaces, as the radical lesbian-feminists define their terms. This is not an oppressor-group, anywhere in the world. Male privileged people rule globally, if not universally. And people raised as boys were raised with male privileges; some boys, in growing into adulthood, have lost some of those privileges, or never acquired some of them, because they were socially perceived as a girl, "acting like a girl", or because they are perceived as being a woman. But males, of whatever gender identity, can and do learn male privileges and practice male entitlements without feeling either like a boy or like a man. I've seen woman-identified trans people use male privilege and entitlements, and power, over and against lesbian feminists. And I stand with women raised as girls who are lesbian and feminist when this happens.

This message has been brought to you by someone who is TRANS and INTERgender-identified. By someone who was marked as a boy, raised to be a boy, never felt like a boy, resisted the training, and guess what? I got lots of male privileges and entitlements just the same that my female family members didn't get. Now, how many of those gender conservatives and gender liberals will come to defend MY position on this? I'm male-privileged, so surely that means my point of view matters more than any woman raised as a girl, right? (Wrong.) Surely because I'm trans, academic queer circles will listen to and respect me more than any radical lesbian feminist, right? I'd put money on it.

I'll add that I have not been to Twisty's blog recently nor have I read what she's written on this subject. I support her organising her blog however she wishes to. The views expressed below by me are my own. They have been deeply shaped and informed by my commitment to women-raised-as-girls in their efforts to radically transform (eradicate) patriarchy--in all its manifestations (liberal and otherwise). On with the revolution for women's and girls' liberation from men, male supremacy, and male domination!

To anyone who wishes to comment HERE: patriarchally conservative to liberal arguments about how people with male privilege should have the power to determine who women may congregate with (over and against the expressed wishes and demands of women raised as girls) are not likely to be published. This is a radical profeminist blog, as the title rather blatantly infers. Take your liberalism and conservatism practically everywhere else on Earth, online and offline. I'm sure you'll find plenty of patriarchs and misogynists to support your perspective and politics. And plenty of liberal queer folks and non-queer folks too. This is what we will see, and this is what we have been seeing: a systematic assault against woman-only spaces, where "woman" means someone raised as a girl for the purposes of existing as a woman for men to exploit,  dominate, and terrorise.

From Feministe:

Twisty nails it on “women-only” spaces

by Jill on 2.10.2011 · 61 comments

in Feminism,Gender,Misogyny,Trans

I do think there’s something to be said for creating women-only spaces, under certain circumstances and for certain purposes. Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy has decided to make her blog all-woman all the time, and received some immediate push-back in the vein of “But what about trans women?” To which I would reply, “Did you see the part where we said this is a women-only space? By definition that includes trans women.” And yet there still seems to be some debate about this? (I use the term “debate” loosely here, because that term implies some sort of actual good-faith argument from two or more sides, and that’s not really what’s happening here). Twisty takes on said “debate,” and it is a thing of beauty. You should read it. I’m a little iffy on the Dworkin bit at the end (Point 3 in particular), but overall it is an excellent post. Just don’t read the comments.

Thanks, Lauren, for the link.
 What follows is my comment, posted to Feministe.

 Julian Real 2.11.2011 at 9:58 am (this has been revised and added to since being posted at Feministe)
As a trans/intergender person, I fully support Twisty’s right, and, if she sees it this way, her political obligation, to set up her own blog space as a place that is only for people raised as girls who have grown up and are living their adult lives as women. And as a space that is only for people who, from day one, had their bodies marked as “a member of a class of people who exist for men’s rape”. And, as a space only for people who have never, ever had male privileges, who have never been socialised to be males, boys, or men. Ever. (Regardless of whether they, like me, EVER felt like a boy or a man: I have not.) I would word it that way, if I were going to put such a boundary out on my blog. All the people here who adamantly declare things like “trans women ARE women, and trans men ARE men” are not doing us trans people any favors, and if you’re not trans I am asking you to stop doing so. You are buying into a dangerous binary that makes people one or the other only. Many of us are not: we are trans, we are intergender, we are intersex and some of us choose NOT to identify as women or as men. That goes for many genderqueers too. Stop policing us, please. And, especially STOP speaking for us. We can speak for ourselves!
Many of us are neither, and many of us are TRANS-identifed. Would you deny us that identity by forcing us into the “it’s one of the other” camps? Dean Spade is an excellent example of a human being who rejects the binary, who is committed to a non-misogynistic and non-male supremacist politic that is anti-racist, anti-prison, anti-poverty. He self-identifies as TRANS, not as a trans MAN.

In spaces--the few, the very, very few--for people raised as girls who are now woman-identified, he would likely not be welcomed. Such is life. I don't imagine this cuts way down on the spaces he can do his excellent work in. Dean Spade, when born, was identified as female and was raised as a girl. His viewpoint and his politics AS A TRANS PERSON, makes political and social sense to me.

We must keep in mind that many women raised as girls are not accepted into women-only spaces. Audre Lorde has written about this, in Sister Outsider. And it's curious to me how there are people ready to defend male-privileged people's right of access into the spaces of women raised as girls who do not take up that issue.
 The views by many of the commenters on Feministe are so oppressively conservative when it comes to gender; they’re not even liberal. And the idea that some people who grew up with male privileges now get to tell women raised as girls who they can and cannot socialise with is called one thing: same ol’ male domination, all over again. It's the same ol' politic: women, you must accommodate the needs, the wills, the wishes, the demands, of those who were not raised to be subordinated by men from day one.

*          *          *

P.S. I just added another comment at Feministe:

Hi Jill,
Here’s my new post on this subject. I welcome respectful engagement by people who, if not trans, don’t pretend to speak for trans people. And from anyone who is deeply respectful of women raised as girls.
Who Gets To Define “Women-Only Space”? People WITH male privilege, or people WITHOUT male privilege?  


  1. Julian, I was going to respond to your first comment at Feministe but the thread was closed before I managed to hit post.

    I fully support Twisty’s right, and, if she sees it this way, her political obligation, to set up her own blog space as a place that is only for people raised as girls who have grown up and are living their adult lives as women.

    I just wanted to point out that Twisty is not doing this. In the post Jill was responding to, Twisty explicitly says that trans women are more than welcome at her blog.

  2. Hi bike groggette,

    I have since posting my comment read over some of Twisty's post.

    I am, needless to say, supportive of whatever decisions she wishes to make for her own blog. It's her space, after all.

    I also do support non-male personed only spaces; spaces for girls only; spaces for women raised as girls only. Because patriarchy and male supremacists in the West will likely demand that such spaces be open to some males and men.

    I'm supportive also of lesbian-only bars and clubs.

    I don't think women raised as girls ought to be obligated to accommodate or give access to anyone else. Period. If any given woman chooses to, that's her decision.

  3. And if trans people wish to create trans-only spaces, I'm all for that too.

  4. I have a question. I have heard of some transgendered children in recent times who have open-minded parents, and start transitioning before pres-school. They start hormones young and never go through puberty of the gender they don't want to be. How would a trans woman in this circumstance not be a woman raised as a girl?

    I am a cisgendered woman, and I have a hard time believing trans women, at least after transitioning, have privilege over me (at least on gender). And to emphasize and clarify, I am talking here about trans people who identify as women, though I am aware that trans people and others identify as many things that do not fit the gender binary, but for now I'm just talking about trans women in women-only spaces. You said that you've seen trans women use male privilege and entitlements over cis women. What happened and how did they take male privilege?

  5. Hi Ellen, and welcome.

    I'll approach your question by saying I don't believe people are born "a race" or "a gender" or, even, "a sex" if by "a sex" we mean anything social at all.

    The part about you not experiencing trans women as having privilege over you is not something I can or will argue with: that's your experience. So that's that. :)

    Regarding the first paragraph of your comment on parents getting hormone treatments to their young children, I've never heard of this before. Not one single case of it. I welcome you to send me links to such cases. I find it personally rather disturbing that parents would chemically interfere with their children's psyches and physiologies to that degree; I'd also oppose parents putting their sons on testosterone at any age. Or allowing teenage girls to have breast augmentation surgery if they feel "inadequate" having smaller breasts, or to have nose jobs if they feel their noses aren't "Western" enough. I see the medical establishment as one key site of coercive, exploitive, abusive, and oppressive power practiced "normally" against people, especially vulnerable people.

    I'm not a fan of children being given psychotropic drugs either. Or anti-depressants. The move in this culture towards treating people with pharmacology and psychiatry as if the medical establishment has solutions for spiritual-political-emotional-social crises and struggles is a disturbing and anti-radical trend, a very capitalist trend, a white supremacist trend, a patriarchal trend, that has been well in effect for many decades now, and longer. I see it as grossly anti-Indigenist, anti-holistic, and abusive and neglectful of children. Parents approving of it means little to me, given that parents also approve of every form of abuse and neglect children experience. Needless to say, I see children as an oppressed class deserving of human rights protections from adults, including from their own parents, if the parents are behaving in ways that are not in the best interests of the child/ren.

    So, to the extent it happens, I'm very opposed to it happening, but I hear you asking what is for me only a hypothetical question: if a child is raised as a girl, if they were identified male at birth, would they have male privileges? Probably not. The closest examples I know of this are some societies where some girls are raised as boys because boys are valued more, socially. But, and this is key, the children know they are not boys. They know they are girls and I honestly can't imagine the level of internalised misogyny that comes from knowing your sex is so socially devalued that you're better off being raised as if you're not a girl but are a boy.

    Does such a girl have male privilege? I don't know. I haven't met any such girls, and that culture isn't my own. I won't speculate.

    Does a male child have male privileges if he's given "female hormones" through childhood so he doesn't develop as an adolescent boy? I don't know. I haven't met any such children.

  6. I don't believe that all M2F trans people have male privileges--I wouldn't presume to know the experiences of everyone whose experience is being M2F. I think childhoods can be complex in terms of gendering and assignation of privileges. I don't think there's a simply formula, such as "experiencing this = having that privilege. I don't think social-spiritual-emotional-social experience is a form of mathematics.

    If Twisty, for example, is comfortable having people on her blog as commenters or co-bloggers as long as they don't express or display male privileges and entitlements as she perceives them, and chooses to not have anyone who identifies as a dude, a guy, a man, on her blog, that's her decision. It's her blog, after all.

    The non-trans women I know have such differing experiences of M2F trans people, or have none at all. And so I'd leave it to any woman, trans or not, to define what works for her, and to set and honor her own boundaries.

    You said that you've seen trans women use male privilege and entitlements over cis women. What happened and how did they take male privilege?

    What I've seen is a non-tran woman be triggered and threatened by a trans woman in ways that reminded her, and me, of the way some men behave, threateningly, aggressively, hostilely, to women who they see as things to be psychologically pushed around, if not also physically pushed around. I didn't see the trans woman own that some of what might be going on for her is a display of male privilege and entitlement--to approach a non-trans woman a certain way, and do things which were insulting and dehumanising to her. I can't say with certainty that the trans woman was behaving in a male supremacist way, but I accept the non-trans woman's experience as just as valid as anyone else's. She gets to name her experience, and that's that. I believe that was her experience. I believe the trans woman intimidated her, threatened her, and attempted to control her in a variety of ways that reminded me a lot of how men try and control and intimidate women.

    There are so many stories, of trans people being deeply offended and upset, hurt, slighted, and invisibilised by non-trans people. And there are many stories of non-trans women being harassed and threatened by trans people.

    The argument that one doesn't have to have male privilege to be intimidating and threatening is not relevant to me. The issue, here, is what does the woman experience? Her truth has to matter. It has to count as a human truth. Whatever the trans people have done to trigger or upset or threaten non-trans women, I'd hope they'd care that their behavior had that effect. I'd also hope that if non-trans people's behavior is insulting and degrading to trans people, the non-trans people would care, because trans people are, after all, full human beings. Just as fully human as non-trans women are.

    Let me know if that doesn't answer your question.