Sara Lynn Michener has a (mostly) solid article on Medium called SJW Behaviors that Hurt Social Justice and I have very few problems with it. CSJW means “Counter-Productive Social Justice Warrior”, for the record.
But, there’s this:
There was a short-lived thinkpiece that circulated among CSJWs surrounding the mixed criticism of the Women’s March on Washington. Its thesis was that some trans people felt excluded from the march because there was so much emphasis on genitalia (pussy hat, use of the words describing female genitalia to be empowering, etc).
Nowhere in the piece did its author even mention the literal elephant in the gynecology office; the GOP’s relentless, decades-long policing of actual vaginas, the shame, stigma, and creepy control issues associated with female genitalia by patriarchal religious groups, and that Women’s Health, including affordable cervical cancer screenings, contraception access, and abortion legality, are perpetually at risk. The presence of genitalia at the march was a clear response to all of these specific and huge issues.
Do women need to do more to be welcoming to trans women? Absolutely, but not at the expense of silencing other equally valid issues. If you felt excluded by the emphasis on genitalia at the march, spend more time reading about those issues until you are as angry at the poor treatment of women with vaginas as you are of women without them. We are here to support and amplify each other’s lived experiences. Intersectionality goes both ways.
My response was this:
First off: There’s no such thing as “female” genitalia and that way of wording only reinforces the lack of inclusion that transwomen and non-binary folks (it wasn’t just transwomen who found this march isolating FYI) felt.
Second: The GOP’s “relentless…” etc. also harms transwomen and trans people more generally. If intersectionality goes both ways then why not mention that as well? Would it take many more resources? If so, why?
Third: The march was a response to *specific* issues but those *specific* issues don’t *only* harm cis women. And acting like they do through “pussy hats” and centering cis women’s experiences is a really poor way to get your message across.
Fourth: Is opening the floor up more to transwomen and non-binary folks necessarily closing off the floor for cis women? That seems unlikely, especially given their relative population sizes. It seems like a trivial thing to me to open it up for both parties. Where’s the problem?
Fifth: Your “spend more time” remark presumes ignorance on the part of anyone criticizing the march which seems pretty uncharitable to me. While it may be the case that some folks didn’t read everything there was about the march (I certainly didn’t) some of us saw enough news, conversations and popular symbology to feel excluded from a discourse we knew we weren’t meant to be included in from the start.
Lastly: If we’re here to “support and amplify each other’s lived experiences” and it “goes both ways” then the march utterly failed at that in some basic ways.
I thought this was a fairly solid response and a few of my friends agreed (confirmation bias, yay!). It accurately tackles and counters some of the language and framing that Michener chose to use while being, on the whole, friendly.
But Michener, didn’t think so:
You said “There’s no such thing as “female” genitalia and that way of wording only reinforces the lack of inclusion that transwomen and non-binary folks felt.” but language isn’t by itself a function of judgement, but of the rational utility of describing one thing vs another. So when you come up with a term that means “woman who has a vagina” let me know and I will happily use that. I *did* specify “women with vagina” vs “woman without vagina” I did not, at any time, even imply, that a woman who doesn’t have a vagina is not a woman. Nor would I ever say that.
As to the Women’s March, yes, I followed allllll the march criticism (and then some) in the couple of months leading up to it. I have a vast collection of SJW friends, 90% of whom are the ones “doing the lord’s work” so I saw all of it. I agreed with roughly half of it and disagreed with roughly half of it. For instance, I agreed that the organizers erred originally in how they approached various intersectionality issues, however I liked that they quickly corrected this wherever possible. What I disagreed with, was the decision by some to not attend the march because of its perceived faults, even though I agreed with the presence of many of those faults.
I also disagreed with those who asked for more than an apology once that apology had been issued. However, the pussy hats, etc, are not remotely one of those faults. Happy to agree to disagree with you on that. I then flew three thousand miles to attend that march. It turned out to be the most diverse (genderwise and racialwise) I had ever attended and I agreed with every single social justice issue represented there, from Black Lives Matter and inclusive bathroom laws, to “White Feminist” issues like Equal Pay.
The reference to “White Feminist” seems unnecessary given I never said a word about equal pay or what counts as “White Feminism” or what doesn’t. But regardless while I appreciated this response, I wasn’t impressed:
And here’s my last response before things get…well, you’ll see:
“…but language isn’t by itself a function of judgement, but of the rational utility of describing one thing vs another.”
I’m not sure how you’re coming up with the taxonomy here but either way the language you use is a function of the judgments that society has formed. And the language here is particularly narrow in its conception of who has a certain kind of genital organ and who does not.
“So when you come up with a term that means “woman who has a vagina” let me know and I will happily use that.”
I mean, you can just use the classic AFAB thing, right? I don’t see why we need to talk about genitals at all. It just unnecessarily drives the conversation towards irrelevant biological aspects of bodies which also unnecessarily discriminates (intentionally or not) against transwomen and NB folks. So I don’t even see it as necessary.
And AFAB still highlights all of the things the march was trying to address via abortions, etc.
“I *did* specify “women with vagina” vs “woman without vagina” I did not, at any time, even imply, that a woman who doesn’t have a vagina is not a woman. Nor would I ever say that.”
The language you used in that particular instance struck me as a poor way to frame it. I’m not accusing you of seeing transwomen as not real women, nor do I think you’d say something like that.
“What I disagreed with, was the decision by some to not attend the march because of its perceived faults, even though I agreed with the presence of many of those faults.”
For me it’d depend on their reasoning. If they feel alienated (and I think they have good reason to) then I don’t think they should feel obliged to go to a space they don’t feel welcomed in. The good can become the enemy of the perfect as much as the other way around.
“However, the pussy hats, etc, are not remotely one of those faults. Happy to agree to disagree with you on that.”
I don’t see how that’s true because it’s implicitly defining womanhood with your genitals. But OK, we can agree to disagree if you want.
“I then flew three thousand miles to attend that march. It turned out to be the most diverse (genderwise and racialwise) I had ever attended…”
I mean, that’s great and should be celebrated to some extent but I also don’t think it makes the other issues go away. (emphasis mine)
Now, I want it to be clear:
I do not think that we should never bring up genitals at all.
This is what Michener is about to misconstrue my argument as.
She’s about to take the specific constraints of the conversation (her particular essentialist language and the woman’s march and the way it centered cis women) to a general claim about conversations. Which, you know, is such a terrible misread of my argument, I’m not even sure where to start.
And I understand that I said “at all” explicitly but I thought it was clear I meant that from a linguistic standpoint with regards to her own wording and how the women’s march was conducted, not a critique of mentioning genitals per se’. That’s a much larger discussion and not one I was trying to have with Michener.
It’s also not one I was even thinking of. That concept never even popped into my head because it would be such a ridiculous statement that I wouldn’t ever take it seriously if that’s what I really knew someone was saying. But I’d want to make sure that this was what someone was saying before leaving the conversation…
Instead of that though, here’s what she says:
You said “I don’t see why we need to talk about genitals at all. It just unnecessarily drives the conversation towards irrelevant biological aspects of bodies which also unnecessarily discriminates (intentionally or not) against transwomen and NB folks. So I don’t even see it as necessary.”
Thank GOODNESS the trans women I know and love would never, ever say something like this. This is one of the most ignorant, privileged, and misogynistic things anyone has written in reply to any of my essays, ever. And the lack of reason on display so openly is as terrifying as what is coming out of the far right.
I would be very happy to live in the fantasy world you apparently live in where we don’t need to talk about vaginas. Half the population has one, yet needlessly suffer because vaginas are persecuted all over the world. Thus, vagina-havers suffer. Especially poor ones.
The GOP has been actively warring against the rights of people who happen to have vaginas for decades. I’d stay and explain that in detail, but 1. I would need to fill several books and 2. your reply has made me lose all respect and is not worthy of my time.
So, there’s Google: Read about rape victims who are not believed, and are then denied abortions, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas. Read about poor women who didn’t get cervical cancer screenings they needed because they could not afford them early on, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.
Read about the male chiropractors who invent a glue to keep period blood inside to fester because they don’t understand periods are healthy, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.
Read about little girls who are raised in religious patriarchies and taught their primary function is breeding, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.
Read about the depressingly high number of men who believe all women experience orgasm from penetration and then tell me we don’t have to talk about vaginas.
Read about politicians holding all-male panels to discuss women’s health, rape, abortion, cervical cancer, and then tell me we don’t need to talk about vaginas.
But for godsake, educate yourself. If that sounds patronizing, in your case? Good. Intended this time. (emphasis mine)
It’s hard to even conceive of how poorly my argument was just misconstrued.
And the idea that I need to be lectured to about rape culture, patriarchy, what trans people think (hi, I am a trans person and she isn’t!) is astonishing and patronizing to say the least.
I was under the impression that this author knew that we were narrowly talking about issues of overly gendered language in their post and the women’s march and its dumb hats but apparently I grossly overestimated that awareness on their part.
The most ironic part?
Instead of asking me, “Hey, did you mean X? Because if so, that’s really fucked up and I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
She just goes, “You mean X! I know you do! And so I’m gonna lecture you, block you from responding and insult you!”
…Doesn’t this sound a little CSJWish to you?
I understand that Michener doesn’t know me and maybe for all anyone could know in that situation, that is what I must have meant. But I don’t think so.
I think you’d have to drive a wedge pretty far between intellectual charity and lack thereof to come up with this. I think you’d have to disregard quite a few variables in the conversations which include: The specific quotes I was responding to, the particulars of the conversation, the language I’m using (which is trans-inclusive and also trying to be inclusive of cis women) and a lot more.
It also strikes me that for Michener to think this is a misogynistic statement (that we should never talk about genitals, e.g. vaginas) wouldn’t that require her to think that vaginas mean women? I’m not trying to be funny here, it really does seem like that’s what Michener would need to believe in order for that to be true.
But perhaps she could reason we’d moved to genitals more generally rather than vaginas in particular. And that sort of response would change the conversation in terms of what is or isn’t misogynist to more appropriate angles. Even if what’s “misogynist” shouldn’t be defined by genitals in general at least it’d make more sense than narrowing it to the field of vaginas…which is a phrase I just said.
I guess being the most misogynist, far-right sounding, privileged person is better than being a CSJW. Because unlike Michener, I don’t insult, block or patronize other people who disagree with me, or use the worst sort of intellectual charity.
Instead, I ask questions, explore alternatives and generally try to figure out what’s the most logical thing they are trying to say. And if it seems out of character for someone to say then I try to double back and check my premises (thanks Rand).
Michener decided to do one of the most SJW (CSJW?) things and dive right into righteous fury and indignation. No clarifying questions, no intellectual charity and nothing to speak of in the way of friendliness. Just stereotypical leftist insults, blocking me and telling me I’m a bad person for disagreeing.
If she had simply say: “Hey, do you mean A? Cause if you do, then I’m done here.” And I would’ve said, “What? Fuck no. I’m not saying that we should never talk about genitals in the general sense. I’m saying that we shouldn’t use them in the particular linguistic sense you are using and in the particular circumstantial sense that the women in the women’s march chose to.”
At this point I think I’ve made it clear what I meant and how this conversation went so terribly wrong for me. In the future I’ll try to think more about what my interlocutor could interpret my claims as if they stand out but otherwise, I think I did all I could here to try and have a nice conversation.
Damn CSJWs! Ruining our conversations!
Also, here’s a gem from my friend Mikayla:
White cis woman: I’m so down with intersectionality. I get it, I’m hip, I’m trendy.
Same white cis woman: My perspective is the most important. However I might act in a given situation is the way everyone should act. I have no idea how my comfort moving through the world affects my opinions. Stop bogging me down about privilege.