Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sex War?

and then I was faced with some other lip service
putting me in my place
that vagina should not be liberator
but dictator


- Alix Olsen

Well, it's been pretty quiet here over at Grandma Was A Suffragette of late. Hopefully this will change - my schedule has been hectic, but once my dissertation is out of the way I'm taking a year out between my Masters and my PhD to earn some money and focus on my writing. I also want to get more involved with a lot of the activism going on in London right now, and for the first time I can do it without worrying about it affecting my schoolwork. So without further ado, here is my latest rant. Happy reading.


The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival has always had a strict policy of only admitting what they call 'women born women' - by their definition, this is people who were born with the genitalia we associate with womanhood. At the time of the festival, there is an accompanying, non-affiliated group called Camp Trans who protest its exclusionary policies. Yesterday, a press release was posted on their website claiming that "The Michigan Women's Music Festival began admitting openly
trans (transgender/transsexual) women last week, bringing success to a
longstanding struggle by trans activists both inside and outside the
festival." This has since been disputed, although not officially by anyone as far as I can tell.

In the article, a woman was quoted expressing her delight that this rule has been overturned. From the message boards on the official festival website though, she appears to be in the minority. I haven't felt this ashamed to be female since the last time the bar I was in got overrun by a bride-to-be and her hen party (bachelorette party to the non-Brits among you). But it isn't just the bigoted, misogynistic bile being spewed there that bothers me, it's the fact that there were women attending, spending hard-earned cash - more on that in a moment - on an event that they admitted was offensive and discriminatory. I have way more respect for bands like Bitch and Animal, who have consistantly refused to play the festival in protest.

Don't exclude someone because they once had a penis. Don't tell someone who has known their entire life exactly what gender they are that she was not "born female".
Our trans brothers and sisters put up with the same oppression we do, and more. We can learn from their strength. We should be welcoming them, not turning them away!

For all six days of the festival, a ticket can cost up to $400, however they do make a point of saying on the website that they "welcome womyn to apply for a rate reduction if they are economically unable to attend without assistance." Now, I'm not arguing that we as women don't put up with a great deal of shit in this boy's world. I just think that $400 is a lot to pay for an experience whose policy undercuts everything they're selling. I agree that sometimes you need a safe space, somewhere to heal and to talk about experiences you might not be comfortable discussing in a mixed-gender environment. But bitch, please. No-one is being violated here, and to imply that they are is to belittle the real abuse, the real oppression, the real fucking violation that goes on every day. The crap that transwomen have to deal with isn't, as a rule, because they're men. It's because they're women, and some people in this Y-chromosome-worshipping world can't understand that, given what they see is the "choice", someone would rather be female. As feminists, we demand the right to identify with our gender the way we see fit, we demand the right to wear the clothes we want to wear, act the way we choose to, sleep with whomsoever we desire. But the moment you use the term "women born women" in order to exclude someone who has the goddess-given right to be at your festival, you have stopped being a feminist. Congratulations, you just bought into the bullshit you spent several hundred bucks trying to escape from.


Related Links:

http://www.michfest.com
http://camptrans.squarespace.com

12 Comments:

At 8:18 AM, Blogger hyperjoy7 said...

Actually, a press release by Lisa Vogel (of Michfest) in which she DOES dispute Camp Trans's claims has just come out and is available for perusal on the boards (and soon, one imagines, in the same newspapers that carried the Camp Trans press release).

Also, though Bitch & Animal are no longer together as a band, both performers do play Michfest. Bitch was there this year, and I believe Animal attended as a worker.

For the record and for what it's worth, I totally disagree with your take on this whole issue. A lot of people who have expressed opinions similar to yours seem to assume that those of us who think differently, who support Michfest and WBW space, are uneducated or are being "unfeminist," without giving a lot of consideration to the fact that there have been and are different schools or strains of feminist thought. Liberal feminism -- the feminism out of which you seem to be speaking in this post, as far as I can tell -- is only ONE way of approaching things. In other words, your take isn't the only one that's "feminist."

Radical Feminism. I don't know how familiar you are with the term, so forgive me if I tell you a bunch of things with which you're already familiar.

Within Radical Feminism, "gender" isn't a "feeling" that someone has. Being a woman isn't about "feeling like a woman" (whatever the heck that would mean, anyway). The very category "woman" is considered to be the result of the socialization process that begins when one is born with female genitalia. If one is born sexed male, a different socialization process takes place.

So, from that viewpoint, the notion of one "feeling like" a woman is nonsensical. A person born male who doesn't fit the gender role assigned him (man) isn't therefore a woman. He's a man who's understandably chafing against the narrow boundaries of a gender role.

One way offered to solve the problem is transsexualism (AKA "if one gender role doesn't fit, the other gender role will!"). Radical Feminism sees that as simply trading one gender role for another. Even were this possible -- even if one could somehow "be" a woman without being born female and socialized accordingly -- what would be the point of that? It only sures up the gender binary. It promotes this idea that some few people "don't fit" in their gender roles and must "switch" to the other, where they do fit...rather than, as Radical Feminism promotes, pointing out THE PROBLEM WITH GENDER ROLES/THE GENDER BINARY, PERIOD.

Ultimately, what I think it comes down to is WHERE one locates the problem. As a radical feminist, I see the problem located in society (individual doesn't fit gender role -- gender roles suck and society needs to change). Advocating transitioning and transsexualism clearly seems, at least to me, to locate the problem within the INDIVIDUAL (individual doesn't fit gender role -- individual needs to change).

And, ultimately, I don't think the individual CAN "switch" gender roles, or be born male but somehow be a "woman," for reasons I hope I've adequately explained above. So, to me, "transwomen" are men. They don't "fit" within their assigned gender role of "man" because gender roles suck and are restrictive. That doesn't make them women, and they don't belong at a women-only festival.

This probably isn't too clear, as it's 3am and the issue is a complex one. I just figured I'd offer a different take, anyway.

hj7

 
At 8:19 AM, Blogger hyperjoy7 said...

Oh yeah -- and I like your blog title. lol.

hj7

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger Jen said...

hyperjoy7, you said: "Advocating transitioning and transsexualism clearly seems, at least to me, to locate the problem within the INDIVIDUAL (individual doesn't fit gender role -- individual needs to change)."

OK, granted that there needs to be larger societal redefinition of gender, but 1) people still need to live in this world with its narrow definitions of gender, and if transitioning can make that easier, what's the problem? and 2) the very idea that gender boundaries are permeable helps to deconstruct the idea of gender as binary.

And thanks, MM, for the chance to talk about this. I think you're right on.

 
At 6:26 PM, Blogger Jen said...

Shoot, I meant Kaite, not MM. Sorry. :)

 
At 9:53 AM, Blogger Sarah Louise Parry said...

I'm really liking your blog and agree with you about taking a year out to get involved in stuff, you are in London, capital of everything going on and I bet there is loadsa feminist stuff/activist rallys going on there in 'the big smoke'! I'm really envious here - down South!

Another thing I observed is that since running my blog a lot of individuals attempt to put feminists into a box, define what one is and I feel over time and digestion of many a woman/man's philosophy: that feminism has individual interpretation. Different people label feminists differently obviously, some people almost carry mental checklists online and tick you off on their own set of conventions, but not being funny here: who are they to be almightily defining whether another is worthy of the 'feminist' label y'know?

 
At 10:59 PM, Blogger Erika said...

Great blog, great title, great subjects!

 
At 1:39 AM, Blogger witchy-woo said...

Poking my nose in, possibly, but... "Don't exclude someone because they once had a penis.

How does any woman at Michfest know that that penis was used with respect and consideration for women when it belonged to a man? How does any woman - in that, so rare, women only space - know that the person who previously was a man didn't rape a women with the now removed penis?

"Our trans brothers and sisters put up with the same oppression we do, and more."

Like hyperjoy7, I dispute this. Gender is a social construction and to substitute one gender for another because the first one "didn't feel right" simply perpetuates patriarchal definitions of how people should be/feel/whatever.

A male who decides to surgically 'become' female has still been socialised within the paradigm of male privilege and women born women need a few spaces - only a few - where they don't have to take male privilege into account. Michfest is one of them.

And if transfolk and supporting bands have an issue with this why don't they just organise their own festival?

I don't think anyone has the "godess given right" to intrude on anyone elses happy times.

 
At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Rhi said...

Scanning back issues...

As I recall from my activism at Smith, we were going to boycott Bitch and Animal's performance in Northampton at one point because they did play Michfest on a regular basis.

 
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At 2:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kaite,

Right on!

Have you noticed how some of the people here are talking about trans experience WITHOUT having lived it?

You know who you are.

 
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