TW: I was totes misgendered at a restaurant the other day, so this post is really long because I’m still not myself.
When I was a baby English Lit major in college, I really, really, really enjoyed engaging in Deconstructionist Theory. I used this genus of literary criticism on everyone from Bronte to Oates. I couldn’t get enough of the idea that “the word may mean one thing, but it could also mean another and another and another . . .” I was also stoned a lot in undergrad, and had far too many people telling me how smart I was.
So, basically, for my non-English major peeps, Deconstructionism is a way of creating or positing or illuminating a conflict between what a text “says” (literally) and what it “does” (based on pretty much any fucking thing you think it’s doing). And then you take all those words and phrases that are printed on the page and you assert some new meaning for them. So, like, Hemingway’s Nick Adams could be building a fire – as in, the text says, “Nick built a fire” — but really what he’s doing is . . . I don’t know . . . contemplating killing his father or some shit. (I’m rusty, but this is the idea.) It’s not simple interpretation, it’s not about subtext, it’s about creating new meaning out of what’s actually on the page, new meaning that is rooted in what YOU and your FANCY SPECIAL IDEAS believe the meaning to be.
And with a Deconstructionist eye, you can make anything mean anything. The possibilities are endless. (Not so long ago, I ran across a handful of my papers from undergrad – they were laughable and puzzling, but all stamped with A’s.) The crazy-fascinating thing about literary theory, particularly Deconstructionism, is that when you get good at writing it, all your crazy bullshit sounds so PERFECTLY REASONABLE, because you have nailed the lexicon, because you have convinced yourself that Nick Adams isn’t merely building a fire . . .
And this is a super fun pursuit if you live in the hallowed halls of academia and have nothing but time to wonder what some esoteric piece of existential poetry is doing versus what it is saying. Academics and language geeks (like myself) really enjoy this sort of thing.
Over time, academics – Judith Butler, for one – got sloppy drunk on Deconstructionism and started applying the technique to other fields, like sociology, psychology, anthropology. (Scientists, you’ll note, have not jumped on the Deconstruction train because their discipline is, thankfully, rooted in that which can be verified by logic and reason.)
Queer Theory, which has hijacked every Women’s Studies program (as far as I’m aware) in the U.S., is nothing but Deconstructionist Literary Theory applied to human beings – the “science” of “because I say so.”
The other day, California Magazine, published a piece by a gay male academic/Deconstructionist who took some time to, not surprisingly, celebrate the eradication of Women’s Studies programs in favor of those that center around male needs, and to chastise mean ladies who question the assertion that their bodies, their lived realities are interchangeable with male bodies, and males’ lived realities. This man, not unlike so many of his contemporaries, has firmly embraced the notion that woman is a theory, is a text, is whatever men say it is.
One of the first things he does is celebrate that gender discussions in the academy no longer prioritize yucky issues like “male hegemony”:
Today’s hot zone of gender talk has moved militantly past the male/female binarism and its critique of male hegemony. The T in LGBTQ has now taken center stage. Its aim, largely speaking, is to explode the notion that any of us is exclusively masculine or feminine—culturally, neurologically, or biologically. Rather, we are all of us complex, shifting blends of “masculine” and “feminine” traits—depending upon how those traits are viewed across the passage of time.
And I mean, thank god, really that Women’s Studies has gotten away from women and from examining male hegemonic dominance. I mean, we’ve totally solved the problem of women’s subjugation and it’s high time we talk about new topics – like WHAT ABOUT MALES WHO FEEL LIKE LADIES?! What about PRONOUNS?! What about YOU HURT MY FEELS WHEN YOU CALLED ME ‘SIR’?! Queer theory in the university has allowed males to wrest women-centered academic discourse away from women’s lives, and position male feelings/ideology front and center into the discourse. Such wonderful progress!
The author then harkens back to the bad old days:
In Women’s Studies circles, the focus has been largely on women’s subordination to men in public policy and the workplace, not to mention rape and household abuse, with less attention given to either gay or lesbian concerns.
Gee, whiz. That really was fucking awful when Women’s Studies concerned itself with women’s subordination to men in “public policy” and the “workplace.” I mean, what a drag that those programs had to subject their students to discussions of rape and household abuse because WHAT ABOUT GAYS?
Here’s the thing, I minored in Women’s Studies in the early/mid 1990s. I took all manner of classes to fulfill my minor, and very few of them centered on lesbians. Fewer still on identity politics. Most of the issues we dealt with concerned women who lived with men/were heterosexual and had more dealings with men than I did or cared to. Most courses rested on the (correct) notion that women’s suffering, women’s subjugation came as the result of living in societies designed by and for males. Even though I was a dyke, I could accept that I lived in that world, too.
Women’s Studies wasn’t about “my special unique human identity” – it was about women and girls.
Gender, too, was a part of the Women’s Studies curriculum. Gender, the courses (rightly) argued, was a scaffolding built by men in order to oppress women. It was simple. It was easy to see. And never once, in my father’s flannel shirts, with my buzz cut (I was THAT Women’s Studies student), did I wave my hand wildly and say, “Uh, why are we not talking about women like me? I don’t present in a way that is typically affiliated with female gender stereotypes? What about meeeee?!”
1) I did not do this because I am female, and I don’t expect all things to center around me; and 2) even as a young woman, I knew that it was my upper-middle class, white girl privilege that allowed me to haunt the halls of my expensive liberal arts college as some kind of “gender renegade.” Shit, I even understood that my ability to sit in those classes reading Marilyn Frye was a privilege few are ever afforded.
I was fine with my Women’s Studies coursework prioritizing women, straight women, poor women, women of color – I didn’t need to always have my individual experience taken into account. I understood that analysis required some degree of generalization. I didn’t expect everything I learned to validate, or even acknowledge, my inherent specialness. (This is a problem in all areas of education today – learning must always “feel good.” If you wonder why America is getting dumber by the day, there’s one reason.)
Naturally, it doesn’t take the author of the California Magazine piece long to bring up radical feminists. Here, he’s discussing how female colleagues – nice women who wouldn’t dare call themselves radical feminists — sometimes question trans/queer politics:
Indeed, the radical feminist rhetoric of the sort articulated by Cathy Brennan and the leaders of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival mimics the same sentiment: We—the real women—don’t know and can’t trust what and who they are.
First of all “of the sort articulated by Cathy Brennan and the leaders of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival” – uh, do these males know that Cathy Brennan and the “leaders” of MichFest aren’t the only women who question bullshit trans/queer rhetoric? Do they know that the number of women who believe females are more than “a feeling in a man’s head” is quite large? Or is this part of the trans/queer delusion, pretending that only, like, five women hold these beliefs? Anyway . . .
What he’s getting at here, is that women should not be able to acknowledge a difference between themselves and males who “feel like women.” Women should not be able to have space away from males who “feel like women.” Nor should women be able to question the politics of “trans/queer.”
Note that this writer, and not a one who holds his opinion, ever argues that gay men need to embrace or “work harder” to validate their gay transman brothers. Or that straight men need to “work harder” to be inclusive of transmen. Where is the concern for transmen’s feelings? Huh?
Oh, right, the trans/queer movement only cares about transmen insofar as they (females) validate the mythologies created by transwomen (males). Got it. (In fact, in this entire article, transmen are only acknowledged ONCE.)
This next line was a personal favorite:
One selling point of queer theory was that it sought to bring sexuality into the conversation alongside race, gender, and class.
Allow me, if you will, to engage in a little Deconstruction of my own with this brief moment in the author’s text:
“Selling point” – this is telling, and true. Queer theory is “sexy,” it’s a great academic commodity – much more so than icky, boring, snooze-inducing talk about women’s subjugation. I mean who wants to talk about misogyny and abuse and the glass ceiling when we could talk about sex! Who wants to sit in a lecture hall listening to some bitch drone on about “the objectification of women” when we could talk about porn and deliberate to what degree the penis is actually a male sex organ.
Also, what’s awesome about Queer Theory, is that it makes everything relative and challenges ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about – to quote the writer –“male hegemony.” Everyone’s happy! No one’s feelings are hurt! Men can participate without ever feeling left out! Awe-some! And by “awesome” I mean TOTALLY FUCKING DEPRESSING AND USELESS.
To build on this, the author mentions Billy Curtis, a transman who made sure that Gender Studies programs did not in any way suggest that women were most harmed by gender:
Billy Curtis was part of the effort to bring T front and center to campus awareness, largely following student demand. “Gender still meant women,” he told me.
Listen, gender never “meant women.” If anything, gender “means men.”
Even in the early 90s, before Women’s Studies was hijacked by dudes, we acknowledged that gender was a construct that impacted both males and females, but that males, unlike females, were the beneficiaries of the construct as gender existed to keep females subordinate to men. It’s not rocket science.
Part of acknowledging that gender is a construct is that you can then, if you’re in a privileged enough position, fuck with it. Men can wear lipstick. Women can cut their hair short. Who fucking cares, it’s all a ruse! Do what you like, and like what you do!
Gender is malleable, because it is a pretense. It doesn’t really exist, but as a social construct that is DESIGNED TO OPPRESS WOMEN. And not all women have the luxury of sitting in a classroom debating the classification of genitals or wondering what pronoun they would prefer. Not all women can sit around naval gazing about all their special gender preferences or sexual preferences because they’re busy, um, surviving. And yet, even when they don’t have the kind of privilege afforded to me, or to this writer, or to Judith Butler, women still suffer because of gender and the bullshit belief systems promoted by gender.
Gender is only “fun” to those of us fiscally stable enough, white enough, or male enough to sit around and fucking think about it.
For the vast majority of the world’s female population, gender is a pernicious, toxic, life-threatening construct that benefits men.
And, call me old fashioned, or naïve, but I always thought theory and praxis belonged together. Women’s Studies programs, while theory driven, I thought, were ultimately about providing women (and men, I guess) the intellectual tools needed to challenge oppressive constructs – like gender – in order to affect real change, in order better the lives of women and girls.
In what way does “Gender Studies”/”Queer Theory” improve the lives of women? This is, after all, the discipline that has come to replace Women’s Studies, but how does it attempt to improve the lives of women? How is it anything more than a useless intellectual endeavor that makes delusional males feel better about themselves, and convinces females that their lived reality is utterly theoretical, that their lives, their bodies, their experience is just another text to be annotated, dissected, and redefined by males?
And statements like this, from the author, only serve to solidify my conviction that trans/queer theory is useless for women:
Trans in all these forms is at once a way of being and a performance. Increasingly, however, trans aims to suggest that all of us, if we are able to acknowledge it, are to some degree trans*. We all are traveling through lives that are less and less defined by language, style, presentation, or physical and hormonal capacities.
“We are all of us traveling through lives that are less and less defined by language . . .” – the “we” in this assertion is “males.” Males who “feel like” women, have (owing to their male privilege) been with break-neck speed, changing language, and gaining access to medical products and procedures (say nothing of gaining access to women’s spaces) that will validate their special identities.
Women, actually, are still defined by language, style, presentation, physical and hormonal capacities.
I mean, it’s super awesome that we’ve arrived at a time in history when men can do whatever they want . . . oh, wait. Men have ALWAYS been able to do whatever they want. What I meant to say was it’s super awesome that women have made such amazing strides that we no longer get raped, trafficked, paid less than our male counterparts, harassed on the street, threatened for having perspectives that run counter to the perspectives of men, or called bigots for not wanting to sleep with males. It’s super awesome that women don’t have to fight for reproductive rights, and that we are so well represented in the political sphere, and that males no longer control language. Phew. So glad all that’s over and that we shut those stupid Women’s Studies programs DOWN.
And speaking of how women are no longer threatened for expressing ideas that aren’t lockstep in line with the male zeitgeist (oh, by the bye, just because a lot of women have bought this bullshit, it doesn’t mean it isn’t male-focused):
Indeed, one of the dark sides of the new social media is how it has allowed bigots of all sorts to express their angry resentment against anyone who threatens established convention—be they racial minorities, feminists, or gender dissenters.
Since the author spent a good deal of time wagging his finger at radical feminists, I’m guessing here he’s inferring that MEAN LADIES are resentful of those who threaten “established conventions.” The thing is, it doesn’t take too close of an examination to see that trans/queer theory is anything but against “established conventions.” Trans/queer theory is simply a way of getting women to shut the fuck up and move over for the boys. (It’s no coincidence that in the academy trans/queer theory doesn’t merely exist alongside women’s studies, it’s REPLACED that discipline.) Trans/queer theory offers reparative therapy for gay and lesbian youth (this has had a devastating effect particularly in lesbian communities). Trans/queer theory promotes the ancient notion that woman is whatever a man defines it as. (Hey, if this guy says penis is female, then it is! Case closed.) Trans/queer theory argues that women don’t “have it so bad” because men who feel like ladies get misgendered. Trans/queer theory equates males hurt feelings with rape and murder (“Radical feminists have blood on their hands” – because they hurt males feelings). Trans/queer theory worries over whether or not males are being considered ENOUGH. (We can’t have Women’s Studies, or women only colleges or festivals, because those things don’t take into account males who say they’re women.)
Ill-spirited as Cathy Brennan and her sister-feminists may be toward a group of people who have manifestly suffered nastier slings and arrows than they have, there exists nonetheless a legitimate question: Once you have struggled for transgender recognition as its own way of being, is it reasonable to claim simultaneous identity as a woman? Is it possible to be both?
“Ill-spirited” – C’mon, broads. Lighten up! Get with the program! Stop being so ILL-SPIRITED. But what really gets me here is “people who have manifestly suffered nastier slings and arrows” – um, excuse me? This is the product of Trans/Queer Theory thinking. I’m not going to play Oppression Olympics, I’m not going to throw out stats about women’s suffering, but I’m going to hazard that the centuries of inequity, injustice, and abuse women and girls have (and still do) suffer at the hands of males trumps the hurt feelings of some dude who really wanted the Starbucks barrista to call him “ma’am” instead of “sir.”
Sorry. I know that makes me ill-spirited. But this is what trans/queer theory has gotten us – men who feel like women suffer so much more than females. This is a way of shutting down discourse around women’s oppression. Who benefits when parameters are placed around how women may discuss their realities? Who benefits when women cannot discuss their experience in honest terms? (Hint: men.)
This way of thinking, championed by males, has succeeded in erasing Women’s Studies programs, to say nothing of women’s spaces, in order to coddle and cater to the egos of males who are drunk on gender and want us to believe we are all the same – not as some attempt toward equity between the sexes, or to liberate women from oppressive gender roles, but rather, like everything else from football to pornography, to make males feel good. If science doesn’t make males feel good, then that science is wrong. If a line of questioning makes males experience discomfort, then that line of questioning is “ill-spirited.” If a woman argues she is not a theory, not a text, but an actual human being, and if this inconveniences males, then her argument is “bigoted” and “hateful.”
Males identities are super precious and important; their feelings around those identities are sacrosanct. Women’s feelings about their identities – say, as lesbian – women’s lived realities, once examined in the dark ages of Women’s Studies programs, are meaningless.
So of course Women’s Studies programs had to go. And for anyone who thinks academia isn’t a pit of dick-driven rhetoric and mansplaining, you are wrong. Academia, just like every other corner of the world, is just as chauvinist and male-centric as they come. Academia fucking invented the lesbophobic, woman-hating, porn-celebrating “queer culture” we’ve come to know and love – and not because academics are “smart” or “progressive” but because academia is, by and large, just a place where males congratulate each other and beat off to the sound of their own “genius.”
Oh, and sometimes, a cigar is a cigar, and Nick Adams is just building a fucking fire.