Since the Women's March on Saturday, we've been hearing from people who want to be better feminists, but don't know what intersectional feminism even is. I'm here to help. Please send your questions to email@example.com. For more on why I'm doing this, scroll to the bottom of the post.
After the Women's March I saw an image online that said "Vagina-centric feminism is always going to be transmisogynistic!!!" I don't even know what this means. What is the main qualifier for being a woman if it's not having a vagina? Mixing binary and non-binary constructs gets confusing.
Help a male ally out,
Confused in California
Thanks for writing. I'm glad you're working on changing your perceptions of how gender works.
You appear to be male-identified, so let's start with this: What makes you a man? Is it your socially-mediated preferences for watching huge other men throw each other to the ground during the Super Bowl? Is it your nurturing behavior towards your nephews and nieces? Is it your dick?
None of these things make you a man. What makes you a man is your own identification with your assigned gender. It's not anatomy—if you were to get into a Lorena Bobbitt situation, you would still be male. It's not preferences—I watch football too (sometimes). It's not any of the deeply fucked-up, ingrained ways we tell boys that they should perform masculinity to their own detriment.
You're a man because that's how you identify. You were also born into that gender, so you are cisgender; that is, you identify with the gender that appears on your (un-amended) birth certificate. It has dick-all to do with dick.
Another way to think of it: I am a cisgender woman. But when I was 22, I had to have one of my ovaries removed because it was eaten by a huge, benign cyst. I only have one ovary. I now only have 2/3 of the ovary-uterus-ovary trifecta, so does that mean I am less of a woman than my two-ovaried sistren? Nope! Because my secondary sex characteristics aren't what make me a woman. I'm a woman because I identify as one. Because I was born into a body that fits my gender identity, I hold privilege that makes it easier for me to move through the world than my trans sisters, but the idea that enables that privilege—the idea that body parts = gender—is wrong and something it's time to unlearn.
Your dick doesn't make you man. Womanhood doesn't reside in ovaries. Pretty simple, really. We can still talk about vaginas (and we should! they're amazing!) but what we can't do is claim that all feminists are united by our anatomy. Because it just isn't true. When we associate feminism with vaginas—which not all women have—we exclude a whole bunch of feminists. We leave out transwomen, but we also leave out folks who may not identify with ANY gender that appears on official government documents. And if our feminism is to be truly intersectional, we need everybody to feel included and genuinely be included.
Besides, if the only thing bringing us together is what's in our pants, then we're not really feminists to begin with.
If you're still confused about this, I recommend taking a look at Judith Butler's famed text, Gender Trouble, which explains that gender is basically a performative, fluid concept.
Or as RuPaul puts it: "We're born naked, and the rest is drag."
With kindness and encouragement,
A note on why this column is written by a white/straight/cis person: I believe it is the responsibility of white, straight, cisgender people to "collect their friends" when they're being racist and/or exclusionary of trans, nonbinary, and LGBTQ-identifying people or are just generally being deeply clueless and need to have basic concepts explained to them. Attending to our own ignorance, white guilt, and white fragility should not be the responsibility of people of color, and if you think it is, we need to talk. So I'm offering up a space for you to get your shit together and pose whatever burning questions you have about intersectional feminism to a fellow ignorant white person with her own implicit bias who is trying to do better. I'll do my very best to answer them, or find someone else who can.
Are you already adequately riled? Check out our Resistance & Solidarity calendar.