Category: theory

5. A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) – Essential Feminist Reader

By , May 23, 2013 4:24 pm

I recently picked up The Essential Feminist Reader (which I’ll be shortening to TEFR) a collection of 64 essays and excerpts on feminist from the last six hundred years. Because they’re all delightfully short (an average of about seven pages each) it seems like an approachable way to dive into what I hope will be a much larger self-directed course of study around feminism. My goal is to read at least one essay a week from TEFR and respond to each one over the course of the coming months. I expect the responses to be varied  a summary and commentary (like today), a free-writing process, a poem, whatever  feels right at the time. All of these posts will be under the tag TEFR.

I know, it’s been months since my last TEFR posting. No excuses, just an acknowledgment that my original goal of one of these posts a week seems laughable now. But better late than never! #5 in TEFR is a selection from A Vindication on the Rights of Women (which I’ll shorten to Vindication) by Mary Wollstonecraft. Here’s the Wikipedia article on the essay and and here’s the essay itself.

Vindication is the first essay in TEFR that seems modern and relatable, with relatively few occasions where I was forced to stop and say, “Now, remember, she was just a product of her time.” In contrast to the first four essays, Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary Shelly, of Frankenstein fame) speaks primarily to culture and society and less of God and religion:

…either nature has made a great difference between man and man [sic – at this point she’s talking broadly about everyone], or the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been very partial… women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion [that women are naturally lesser than men] Continue reading '5. A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) – Essential Feminist Reader'»

Everyone wants to talk about MichFest

By , May 2, 2013 4:08 pm

TheMichfest PosterMichigan Women’s Music Festival (often called Michfest) describes itself thusly:

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if women ran the world? We think about it, but how often do we get to experience it? Imagine a town conceived, planned, structured and operated entirely by womyn.

First conceived in the hot feminist politics of the mid-70s, consciously developed through four decades of female ingenuity, feminist process, queer sensibility and dyke vision, the Festival has become an enduring and beloved incarnation of women’s imagination and spirit.

Michfest is known throughout queer, feminist, and women-empowered spaces as THE women’s-only cultural event. It’s almost 40 years old (founded in 1976 by Lisa Vogel, who still runs it today) and the Fest comes out of a culture of feminism, anti-racism, diversity, collectivism, and community experience. It’s certainly not an exclusively lesbian space, but (not surprisingly) it has a large lesbian culture and is often seen as part and parcel of the larger US lesbian experience or community. Sounds awesome, right? I’m a huge fan of intentional communities, and of coming together for artistic expression.

Oh, they also specifically forbid trans women from attending. Continue reading 'Everyone wants to talk about MichFest'»

Blending versus Passing

By , April 15, 2013 1:49 pm

I’ve been listening to the first two episodes of the trans-focused podcast Sugar and Spice, hosted by Jen Richards of (among other things) We Happy Trans and the Trans 100, and Bailey Jay of being fucking awesome (and also awesome fucking, NSFW). In the first episode, they interviewed Namoli Brennet,  wonderful trans singer/songwriter. At one point, someone (I think Namoli, but I could be wrong) talked about the idea of blending into a crowd. This is something a lot of trans people desire: the ability to be perceived as no different than anyone else. I know I hate feeling like I stand out, because that usually means I feel like I’m standing out in a negative way.

Her comment got me thinking, though, about the idea of passing, and replacing that with the idea of blending. I don’t like the phrase “passing” because of its implications: if you don’t pass, you fail. Likewise, it places the responsibility of passing on the trans person: you didn’t pass. I think the more accurate phrase is “being perceived as the gender which one is presenting,” but that’s a bit of a mouthful. Even though I don’t like it, the idea of passing is conceptually useful when discussing things like “passing privilege.” That is, the ability for a trans person to be perceived as cis, and move through cis spaces without (much) risk or danger. (For the record, I absolutely have passing privilege in my day to day life. I can walk down the street and reasonably assume I won’t be “clocked,” or read as trans.)

This may be over-thinking things (it probably is) but I like the idea of blending as opposed to passing, because it places a trans person within a larger society. I blend for the exact same reasons I pass, but I wouldn’t blend in a community of color, having nothing to do with my status as trans. Passing is also used to talk about “passing as straight,” or “passing as white,” but there I think blending is even more apt: Is this person – possibly through no fault or credit of their own – able to blend into this larger group? (Cis-ness, straight-ness, white-ness, whatever.)

I don’t expect blending to replace passing any time soon (or, y’know, ever) but it’s an interesting way to distinguish who holds the responsibility for trans-otherness. (Hint: that responsibility sure as hell isn’t on trans people.) It also is something less wordy than “being perceived as the gender which one is presenting,” while still being relatively clear. Just food for thought.

Essential Feminist Reader numbers 3 and 4

By , February 21, 2013 4:09 pm

I recently picked up The Essential Feminist Reader (which I’ll be shortening to TEFR) a collection of 64 essays and excerpts on feminist from the last six hundred years. Because they’re all delightfully short (an average of about seven pages each) it seems like an approachable way to dive into what I hope will be a much larger self-directed course of study around feminism. My goal is to read at least one essay a week from TEFR and respond to each one over the course of the coming months. I expect the responses to be varied  a summary and commentary (like today), a free-writing process, a poem, whatever  feels right at the time. All of these posts will be under the tag TEFR.

 Been under the weather, so bad at posting. Sorry! Today, I’m going to combine my responses to the third and fourth pieces in TEFR, The Reply to Sor Philotea by Juana Inés de la Cruz, and A Serious Proposal to the Ladies by Mary Astell. I’m lumping them together because they’re both very much about religion (Christianity, specifically) and women’s place in the world. My quick response to both pieces is as follows: The Bible can be used to support just about anything, from total equality of the sexes to the utter subjugation of women. 

Continue reading 'Essential Feminist Reader numbers 3 and 4'»

2. On the Equality of the Two Sexes (1673) – Essential Feminist Reader

By , February 7, 2013 3:20 pm

I recently picked up The Essential Feminist Reader (which I’ll be shortening to TEFR) a collection of 64 essays and excerpts on feminist from the last six hundred years. Because they’re all delightfully short (an average of about seven pages each) it seems like an approachable way to dive into what I hope will be a much larger self-directed course of study around feminism. My goal is to read at least one essay a week from TEFR and respond to each one over the course of the coming months. I expect the responses to be varied  a summary and commentary (like today), a free-writing process, a poem, whatever  feels right at the time. All of these posts will be under the tag TEFR.

The second piece in TEFR is by François Poulain de la Barre, an excerpt from On the Equality of the Two Sexes. It’s a really interesting piece, due in large part to the contradictions therein. Specifically, de la Barre speaks simultaneously  of not pre-judging women as lesser than men while also speaking repeatedly about how we can pre-judge people on their physical makeup. For example:

Indeed, all of us, men or women, have an equal right to truth since the minds of both are equally able to apprehend it, and since we both react in the same way to objects that make an impression upon our bodies.

I’d completely agree with that statement. de la Barre also discusses the problems of using “effeminate” as an insult, noting that there’s a cyclical nature to how men perceive women: language encourages behavior which encourages language.  Continue reading '2. On the Equality of the Two Sexes (1673) – Essential Feminist Reader'»

1. The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) – Essential Feminist Reader

By , January 30, 2013 2:32 pm

NOTE: As I was looking at grad school this past year, I realized part of my goals – to be more well-versed in feminist history and theory – didn’t require actually going to school; it just required more reading and thinking. As such, I picked up The Essential Feminist Reader (which I’ll be shortening to TEFR) a collection of 64 essays and excerpts on feminist from the last six hundred years. Because they’re all delightfully short (an average of about seven pages each) it seems like an approachable way to dive into what I hope will be a much larger self-directed course of study. My goal is to read at least one essay a week from TEFR and respond to each one over the course of the coming months. I expect the responses to be varied  a summary and commentary (like today), a free-writing process, a poem, whatever  feels right at the time.

The first selection from TEFR is by Christine de Pizan (1365-1430), an excerpt from one of her books, The Book of the City of Ladies (1405). It was striking in thar – up until the very end – the piece seemed incredibly contemporary. Undoubtedly, part of that is due to the translation and part due to the selection of excerpts (an entire book boiled into six pages). Still, take this quote:

I could hardly find a book on morals where, even before I had read it in its entirety  I did not find several chapters or certain sections attacking women, no matter who the author was. This reason alone, in short, made me conclude that, although my intellect did not perceive my own great faults and, likewise, those of other women because of its simpleness and ignorance, it was however truly fitting that such was the case. And so I relied more on the judgement of others than on what I myself felt and knew. (Emphasis added)

That final line resonantes strongly with me. It is certainly true that women have a better place in society than they did in 1405. No argument there. And yet, if someone wrote the above paragraph today, they might be accused of exaggeration or hyperbole, but their point would still be well understood.  Continue reading '1. The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) – Essential Feminist Reader'»

Ba(r/t) Mitzvah

By , June 15, 2010 12:08 am

Hello again! I’m back from Minneapolis, and done (for the moment) with posting ridiculous photos from my trip. Last week, before I left, I participated in a panel discussion organized by the National Council of Jewish Women, as part of their Chicago chapter’s effort to build bridges between Jewish and LGBT communities. I was speaking as a “transgender activist,” which sort of amused me, and spoke alongside Lisa, a  representative from the Center on Halsted and the Rabbi of Or Chadash.

Jewish Star on rainbow pride backgroundThe conversation was really interesting, and I’ll get to the meat of it later in this post. First, I want to talk about an interesting and thorny topic that came up during the discussion section of the evening. I claimed that, to truly integrate and embrace the LGBT community, Judaism needs to move away from inherently gendered ceremonies such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. That, even if the ceremonies are ‘equal’ (which is effectively true in liberal Judaism today, even if that wasn’t always the case) the idea of ‘separate but equal’ for boys and girls is a bad precedent to set at the threshold to adulthood.

I know this is going to be a tough pill to swallow for many Jews, and I said as much at the panel discussion. The idea of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is ingrained in the idea of those ceremonies. But it’s flawed, problematic, and oppressive, particularly for trans Jews.

Continue reading 'Ba(r/t) Mitzvah'»

Vector Identity Theory

By , May 25, 2010 9:21 pm

Hi all! This guest post is from Violet, a regular commenter at The Thang Blog and all-around awesome gal. Enjoy!

Hi. I’m Violet. Rebecca has been kind enough to let me have some of her blog space for a guest post, and let me dip my toe carefully into the world of writing for a wider internet audience. Identity-wise, I am a twenty-something white currently-abled trans-female-spectrum genderqueer and sexuality-queer tomboy geek engineer. Except to the extent I’m not. But this post is about identity labels, so bear with me. Rebecca has previously posted about identity labels as keywords here, which I think is awesome, and I wanted to add another different (and geeky) way of looking at them to the discussion. This post is adapted from something I wrote more personally last year.

By “identity labels”, what I mean are nouns and adjectives that you use to describe people — “woman”, “man”, “goth”, “punk”, “masculine”, “feminine”, “trans”, “queer”. These things are useful for communication. Labels can function as a shorthand to tell people about what your life is like. They allow people with attributes in common to find each other and compare notes. I use them a lot.

The problem is that they’re wrong. Or, rather, not quite right. Any time you have an identity, it comes with a pile of stereotyped behaviors that any given claimant of the identity might or might not share, and it tends to reduce the perception of the claimant down to those stereotypes. Oops. (Rebecca, in her keyword post, also got into the possible confining nature of labels imposed by others.)

Now for the geeking out. Don’t worry — if you don’t speak math, I’ll give an example in pictures below.

I often view labels as vectors in some huge or infinite-dimensional vector space. Given a set of labels — say, {male, female} or {straight, queer} or {gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, questioning, ally} or whatever — finding out how you identify is a process akin to estimating the projection of your personal self-vector onto the subspace covered by the basis of labels in the set. Of course, that basis is never orthonormal; that would be too clean. It’s not orthogonal or normal at all. It’s just a mess of huge-dimensional vectors that you have to try to match yourself up against, throwing away all those components of yourself that aren’t in directions available to you in that basis. Worse, the self-vector is a function of time. The way you project on to a certain set of labels changes over the course of your life, sometimes even non-continuously. Even the identity labels change over time. Does being a goth mean the same thing now as it did fifteen years ago?

For an example of how my thinking about labels works, people sometimes ask me “are you male or female?” What they mean is usually something like this:

Continue reading 'Vector Identity Theory'»

Pro-choice Survey via the Abortioneers

By , April 25, 2010 3:04 pm

From Angry Feminist Doc, via The Abortioneers. Feel free to copy the questions to your own blog.

Do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements:

1. Every woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy. I’m conflicted, but I think my answer is ‘yes.’ If the baby could survive unassisted outside the womb, I feel uncomfortable about aborting the pregnancy. But, ultimately, that’s such a tricky thing to define I’d rather err on the side of the woman’s rights, not the baby’s.

2. Abortion should be allowed even beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy. Yes.

3. Parental consent should be required for any teen under the age of 18 requesting an abortion. No.

4. Women who have more than 5 abortions are irresponsible. Not inherently – everyone’s situation is different.

5. Women who have more than 10 abortions are irresponsible. Same as above.

6. Women should not use abortion as a form of birth control. I agree, but I don’t think there should be legislative actions or rules in place to push women in that direction.

7. I think reproductive health advocacy organizations should promote the use of emergency contraception in order to decrease the number of abortions in the US each year. Yes, but not because of reducing abortions is, in and of itself, a “good” goal. Rather, there are (to my limited understanding) a safer, less expensive way of preventing and aborting the pregnancy.

8. I feel uncomfortable if a woman has an abortion because of the gender of the pregnancy. I do. But (like number 6) I can’t imagine a legit way to legislate this out of existence that doesn’t cause more problems than it prevents.

9. Male partners should have the right to be a part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Erg. I think women (usually) have a moral imperative to bring the male partner into the discussion, but I don’t think that should be put into law.

10. I think a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is an absolute and inalienable right no matter what.

I mean, I can think of ridiculous situations where I’d say “no, it’s not a right.” If aliens came and impregnated a woman with their baby and said they’d destroy the world unless she carried the child to term, sure. Lets prevent her from aborting to save the human race. But I can’t think of any real-world scenarios where I don’t think abortion should be an absolute right.

The Labels and Keywords of our Identities

By , April 24, 2010 2:13 pm

What is the difference between a label and a keyword?

Recently, I spoke with some other trans women about the pros and cons of labels. I was saying that labels can be a very powerful force for personal identification: by labeling myself, and choosing what labels to apply and how, I can forge my own identity out of its many disparate parts. I choose the labels ‘woman,’ ‘trans,’ ‘Chicagoan,’ ‘Jewish,’ ‘geek,’ and so on, and I get to decide what those labels mean for me.

Another woman in the group countered, “But what about when someone else places a label on you?” She said part of her problem identifying as ‘trans’ is all of the negative baggage associated with the word. Her feelings of discomfort were exacerbated by a generational gap: I was probably half her age, and the labels ‘trans’ and ‘queer’ meant very different things to her than they do for me.

Our different ideas of the emotional weight of those labels got me thinking about the semantics of the word label, and what other words might better describe how we create our identities.

Continue reading 'The Labels and Keywords of our Identities'»

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