What's that, you say? You already knew that? Well, congratulations. You're not an overzealous feminist.
...yes, I do have problems with some feminists. And this is my number one problem with said feminists.
It's a mistake some people make in combating gender determinism, which is basically the idea that because, say, I have a vagina and breasts and my chromosomes are XX, I am a woman and that means I'm meant to do certain things and I'm only fit for certain roles in life. To feminists, this is plainly silly, but we have different ways of addressing this huge, society-wide misconception.
Most feminists I know, including myself, approach gender by saying that no matter what one's gender happens to be, that shouldn't determine how they express it nor what they should be allowed to do. A man can be a stay-at-home-dad and/or wear skirts; a woman can shave her head and/or be president.
Not all of us in the feminist fold, however, go this way. Some, who call themselves radical feminists but are usually differentiated from most radical feminists* by the term "radfems" approach gender with a weird combination of biological essentialism (term to be explained shortly) and massive denial.
Radfems are notorious in the social justice world for being transphobic. They're the ones who create "womyn-only spaces" that allow transmen but don't allow transwomen. They connect womanhood to body parts but then assert that gender is completely a social construct. Therefore, transmen are considered or even encouraged to get involved in "womyn-only events" while transwomen are excluded because they and their penises (whether actually there or not) will just get their stinky male privilege all over everything.
Because transwomen totally have privilege, right?
Well, maybe in some areas, but not as women. They get to deal with the double-whammy that is transmisogyny. Hatred for being trans (and going outside of the gender norm) along with hatred for being feminine (in the "identifies as a woman" sense, not any particular expression). It sucks.
Anyway, bringing this back to radfems and "social construct" hogwash.
"Biological essentialism" is, in essence, the belief that your body determines who and what you are, for all time. If you were born with XY chromosomes, biological essentialism says you're a man (and by extension you should only do certain things). This is what radfems espouse when they exclude transwomen from their events and spaces, but allow transmen. Strangely, radfems are also the ones who say that gender is a social construct, arguing that there is no such thing as an innate gender identity and that the only reason we identify with a gender at all is because of socialization, but even then they aren't consistent because you'll hear radfems argue that socialization is so strong that one of the reasons transwomen can't be trusted is because they were "socialized male".
I'm so incredibly frustrated with the assertion that gender is a social construct. It requires ignoring the existence of trans* people, or remaining deliberately ignorant of trans* issues, and it seems many radfems are all too happy to oblige. On the less offensive end of the spectrum are those who say "HONEST QUESTION: would trans people exist in a world without gender roles?" Anyone who knows a little bit about trans* issues knows that the answer to that question is "$@#% YES THERE WOULD BE"**.
Gender expression is socially influenced, absolutely. We have certain ideas about what men and women "act like" and we label certain things "masculine" and others "feminine". But that's all external. Whether I wear a men's button-up and shorts or a floral-print dress, that doesn't change the fact that I identify as a woman, and I can't choose my gender. (For more on gender identity vs. gender expression, see this post.)
I get it, it's hard to live in a world where society says that "boys do this" and "girls do that" as if they're absolutes which cannot and should not be questioned. But the solution is not to go to the opposite extreme and say that gender is completely socially constructed with no parts innate within us; that seems to lead to the weird biological essentialism when confronted with people who very much see their assigned gender and their body as wrong.
The solution is to fight for every person's right to know themselves and to express their identity how they choose.
It can't possibly be that hard to figure out.
|Apologies to relatives offended by swearing.|
*"Radical feminism," according to my Intro to Women's Studies professor, is at its heart about combating societal patriarchy and sexism. This is differentiated from "liberal feminism," where the focus is on changing laws (as opposed to the social forces that create the sexist laws in the first place).
**I'm starting to write like Michael Quevedo. You should check out his blog if you haven't, yet. It's like pop rocks.