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August 8, 2014

Et tu, Caroline Criado-Perez?

By M.A.Melby
@mamelby

 

At first, I wasn’t going to write a response piece to Caroline Criado-Perez (CCP) article concerning the term “cis”, because many of her ideas were similar to those in Sarah Ditum’s post I recently responded to.

Then I realized those similarities should be pointed out. There are patterns emerging where otherwise respected feminists are injecting thinly veiled transmisogynist bigotry within self-congratulatory “bravery” narratives, as well as, patronizing pro-trans-sounding platitudes.  So, when trans activists respond to their seemingly conciliatory knives-in-the-back with anger, the pre-poisoned well of viewing trans activists as “anti-feminist…haters” activates in full force.

CCP is currently selling the situation as her causing “something of a stir”. (If you were wondering, the change in her last name is referring to a fellow feminist.)

ccpastir

And the criticism she has received as coming from “misogynistic men”.

ccpmen

And in the most perversely insidious spin, her supporters are claiming that her attack on trans identity is “standing up to bullying”.

jbbullying

The first thing CCP does in her post is explain that she is “cross” and dives into an inexplicably passive-aggressive introductory paragraph implying that she’s angry about something but is instead going to discuss something else she’s been meaning to say. So, what has CCP been bottling up inside? Well, it seems that long ago she googled “cis” and eventually figured out what it meant (sort of) and supposed that “cis” was a word that described her because she isn’t transgender.

True enough.

She also explains why the term exists and how it can be a powerful way to linguistically avoid having an adjective that describes transgender women but none that describes [word does not exist] women.

Moreover, as a woman, I understood the importance for an oppressed group to fight against the designation of them as other, counter to an unmarked default normal.

However, that was then and this is now.  She now rejects the term “cis”.

Why?

Well, you see – she’s seen things (uncited, unreferenced, vague things).  Do these things involve the definition of “cis”?

No, not really.

She claims:

I saw women being told that cis privilege entailed wanting to wear the clothes that were created for their gender.

Then she goes on an odd jag about how she can’t be bothered to find a pair of jeans with decent pockets and some women’s shoes are uncomfortable.  She claims that clothes marketed to women are “impractical, uncomfortable clothes” with the notable exception of summer dresses. Summer dresses are awesome and everyone should wear them, according to CCP.

How does this relate to the term “cis”? She calls wearing clothing marketed to women as “this cis clothing thing”.  However, that seems strange since trans women also tend to wear clothes marketed to women.

Within the same paragraph however, perhaps unwittingly, CCP specifically alludes to oppressive social norms that lead to trans women being violently marginalized. “For [someone perceived as] a man to trade down, well, that’s unthinkable.” She also alludes to oppressive social norms that lead to trans men being violently marginalized. “We [people perceived as women] are trading up and that is OK within reason, so long as we don’t get too manly…”

She all but explicitly describes a commonly articulated aspect of cis privilege within the radical feminist framework of patriarchy, but that is NOT what she claims is said to be “cisgender privilege”.

No.

The premise was that unnamed people were insisting that “cis privilege” involved “…wanting to wear the clothes that were created for their gender.”  When CCP was asked to explain who had said such an odd thing, CCP tweeted a screen cap of a google search of “clothes” and “cis privilege”.  In the screen shots you can see these phrases: “to not be fired”, “more likely to allow me”, and “without being refused service/mocked by staff”.

TERF-tw

So, she did not produce a single quote or an article or even an anecdote of someone saying that wanting to wear certain clothes was inherent in cis privilege.  Even if she were to dig through all of the internet and find such a thing, her claim is that this attitude is so pervasive that the very definition of “cis” is affected.

That’s seems unlikely, but no worries, she provides one more specific example and alludes to “other things” existing.

I saw other things. I saw women being told that their female bodies were a mark of their cis privilege.

As Zoe Kirk-Robinson points out in her reaction to CCP’s article, “Having a female body is not a mark of cisgender privilege. If it was, cis men would not be able to be cisgender.” CCP explains in detail how her “female body” is perceived by society and that it causes her to be treated poorly. She mentions later in her article that trans women experience much of that same treatment, but fails to make the connection. The bulk of what CCP describes is not cis privilege, but the lack of male privilege.

The only thing she mentions that is typical of women assigned female at birth and not women assigned male at birth is her periods. Setting aside the hurtful notion that not potentially having the ability to birth children is a privilege, how could having periods possibly be “cis privilege” when transgender people assigned female at birth also tend to have those parts? I would certainly like to know who is telling cis women “their female bodies [are] a mark of their cis privilege.”  Perhaps I’ll tweet CCP and ask so she can google “female bodies” and “cis privilege” for me; but really, I think it’s not too much to ask that she do her research before publishing her work and not only after she is challenged.

And yet again, CCP isn’t just claiming that someone somewhere said this once on a tumblr or a tweet, but that the sentiment is so pervasive that it has irredeemably changed the term “cis” in such a way that she now has a duty, as a feminist, to reject it.

So, what is this brand new meaning of the term “cis” that is causing her to be “cross”?

Why, lo and behold, the meaning of the word “cis” has magically changed to the definition that TERFs use.

Why?

How?

Well, for reasons that CCP essentially just pulled out of the air. So, according to CCP, what does it mean for someone assigned female at birth to be “cis”?

But I will not say that I identify with the womanhood that has been enforced on me since the day I was born.

So, there you have it, the common cognitive obstacle that I see over-and-over-and-over again among fellow cisgender feminists.  Fundamentally, it’s not the word “cis” they have a problem with but the phrase “gender identity”.  Having used the term “gender” to refer to a culturally constructed class for so long, that definition simply refuses to be refined.

ccpheirarchy

To CCP, having a “gender identity” of “woman” doesn’t simply mean literally identifying yourself as a woman:

I do not identify as cis. I am not cis. I am a woman…

Instead she equates identifying as a woman with identifying with the social construction of “womanhood”.

To her, this is the womanhood she refuses to identify with:

ccpidentify

So, what are the implications of a trans woman who is a woman, and is described as  “identifying as a woman”?  What CCP has done is set up a dichotomy where she is a woman and trans women simply “identify” as women; something that she says she will never do because of what a horrible, anti-feminist, thing that is.

I doubt she thought that through, her “ducks weren’t in a row” so to speak.  She is promising follow-up posts, so I’d like to make a request.

Dear Caroline Criado-Perez:

Please clarify if you think that being a woman who identifies herself a woman, means she has accepted or supports that list of horrors; because that is a very direct logical consequence of what you have written.

You also state:

Woman as defined by society is not my gender identity.

No CCP, it isn’t.  “Woman” is.

The title of your article asked a question.  It’s a question that you did not seem to put a lot of effort into answering.  I suspect if you did, your blog post would be much shorter.

CCPweek

You do not name.

You do not quote.

You do not link.

You treat transgender people as some monolithic faceless thing, to be talked about but not listened to or engaged with.

Why?  Well, it’s simple.  Here’s where you explain it:

Now, to return to trans women, I am not for one second denying that they suffer greatly from the same male violence that has made me who I am today. I am also not for one second telling them how to live their lives. I could not care less what another person decides to do with their body, how they choose to express themselves. I don’t care, up until the moment where they start telling me that their identity depends on me defining myself in a certain way.

You are in a social position where you are able to sanctimoniously give other human beings a license to survive as their authentic selves under the condition that they ask nothing of you.

You know what you call that?

Privilege.

I suggest you check it.


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12 Comments

  1. M. A. Melby says:

    Pretend is really real.
    07
    Monday
    Sep 2015

    Posted by M. A. Melby in Bigotry, Debate, Feminism, Gender, Media, Politics, Pseudoscience

    ≈ Leave a comment

    TagsFactual Lies

    This tactic is essentially an extreme straw argument so pervasive that it distorts public opinion of a group. It involves making mostly completely reasonable statements and destroying the credibility of the opposition through implying that they disagree with those reasonable statements WHEN THEY DO NOT, or when those “reasonable statements” are only unreasonable on very close inspection. Cause, why would you even argue that an obvious thing is true if nobody is opposing it? It’s a subtle means of committing mass character assassination through repeating “common sense”.
    It takes the form:
    I believe the sky is blue.
    Don’t listen to anyone who thinks the sky is not blue.
    The sky is blue and tangerine.
    Don’t let them tell you different because they think the sky is not blue.
    This is used extensively by climate deniers.
    The world is not going to end tomorrow. This is ridiculous! Look outside? Do you see fire and brimstone coming from the sky? Did you know that someone lost their job for standing up to these fear mongers? The east-coast is not going to fall into the sea. We have nothing to fear from continuing to use our planet’s resources. These climate change frauds are just trying to scare us. They have no real credibility.
    The way you can tell that someone is using this tactic or has fallen into it’s spell is that they will NOT cite actual, living, breathing, people and the real arguments those people are making. Ever. They can’t. The arguments they are fighting against are imaginary. Instead they cite ONE ANOTHER or rail against the undefined THEM. Occasionally they quote mine without attribution or citation; or cite an anonymous person (or worse yet a vulnerable young person) from the ass-end of the internet.
    What’s really horrible about this tactic is that it also poisons the well. Trying to have a conversation with someone who thinks they already know your stance and are completely wrong, is irritating. Many times I’ve lost my temper and just asked, flat-out, “Who the hell are you talking to, cause it’s not me?!”
    A certain portion of the anti-feminist crew revel in fighting against their own elaborate straw feminists, occasionally attempting to legitimize their obvious distortions by claiming they are only talking about the “radical” ones or the “feminazis” and not the REAL FEMINISTS. Well, no shit you aren’t arguing against REAL feminists, because real feminists aren’t sacrificing babies to Goddess Sophia or actually plotting to kill all men.
    To top it off, there are false flags literally playing theater in this collective farse. An extreme example was the #endfathersday twitter prank. I have to give them credit where credit is due: They get an E for Effort.
    Because, sorry boys, I’m grading on a curve. While the anti-feminists are wallowing around on 4chan and Return of Kings raging against their own fears and calling it “feminism”, the TERF crew is getting paid to play pretend by writing op-ed pieces in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
    And no, I’m not going to talk about the whole “trans cabal silences gender-crit feminists” thing, the redefinition of “cis”, or other straw arguments I’ve written about recently. They don’t quite rise to the level of accusing your political opponents of wanting to kill all men or believing the world will end tomorrow.
    This does.
    This can best be described as a massive elaborate live action role-playing game for the intellectual elite.

    Acknowledging that most gender non-conforming children will not grow up trans is not denying trans people’s reality or denying them rights.
    — Alice Dreger (@AliceDreger) September 3, 2015

    @DrMLChivers @debra_soh Given settled science re: exec fn in youth why give kids/teens power to make perm med decisions re: “transition”? — 4thWaveNow (@4th_WaveNow) September 1, 2015

    @DrMLChivers @debra_soh And why not help kids expand what it means to be female/male vs. drugs and surgery to fit some outdated definition?
    — 4thWaveNow (@4th_WaveNow) September 2, 2015

    For anyone not in the know, all of this looks incredibly reasonable. I mean, the sky is blue, the world will not end tomorrow, killing all men is a bad idea, nobody should force gender non-conforming children into medical transition….all those really reasonable sounding things.
    But from the view point of reality, they might as well be running around with character sheets playing rock-paper-scissors with a narrator explaining, “You are brave heroins fighting against the forces of evil who will not stop until all tom boys are literally boys and every girl who ever said she wanted to be a boy THRICE! will magically grow a penis.”
    So, how to combat this one?
    Those tweets are related to an article written by Debra Soh. Natacha Kennedy from Uncommon Sense did a wonderful succint point-by-point take-down and shared it with Soh. Soh tweeted this several hours afterward:
    #4 – “Don’t get upset with […] cis-women who tell stories of having been gender nonconforming as children…” https://t.co/38xnClbbZ6 — Debra W. Soh (@debra_soh) September 7, 2015
    The tweet links to this bullshit. (Which deserves a post all it’s own.)
    Take-downs, however carefully written, are often met with more of the same. The opposition accuses them of making arguments or demands that they never made, or simply attacks their character.
    With climate deniers this involves accusing people of being shills, asserting their right to have an opinion (as if that is being questioned), or calling their opponents naive or brainwashed. It seldom involves actually engaging honestly with the points raised because the person they are engaging with is REAL and has REAL opinions, not outlandish cartoon versions of those opinions that are easily dismissed.

    This is seriously one of the hardest situations to counter.
    Here are two alternative approaches to engaging directly:
    Be accommodating and super nice (if that’s your thing):
    Concede all of the “sky in blue” points.
    Explain that you’ve never personally encountered anyone who didn’t believe that the sky was blue.
    Establish your common ground of blue-sky-ism, then earnestly express your concerns about those tangerine bits.
    For example:
    Of course you should be free to talk about your experiences as a gender non-conforming youth. I don’t personally know anyone who would deny you that and appreciate that you have shared your perspective. I do worry, however, that readers may universalize your experience too strongly and assume that their own children will not benefit from transition care when it is needed which is often the default assumption. I strongly disagree that children, as a rule, should be forced into an irreversible puberty and denied transition care regardless of their individual circumstances. If that is not the argument you were attempting to make, it simply wasn’t completely clear.
    Attack the unspoken assumptions head-on and call them out:
    Insist that they cite a source for “the sky is not blue”.
    Ask them for evidence of their base assumptions.
    Call out their misinformation and bad arguments.
    For example:
    Who is telling you that you can’t speak about your experiences? Who is confusing gender-non-conformity with trans identity besides you right now? Do you have a link to their comments? In what jurisdiction are minors allowed to take prescription medication legally without consultation of medical professionals? Where are KIDS being provided surgeries? At what age are surgeries generally considered an option? Do you even know? Do you really think that parents and medical professionals are pushing trans identities on gender non-conforming children? Do you even know what the standard practices of care are? On what planet do you reside? Because on planet earth trans kids are routinely being denied social transition, denied medical treatment, and have to fight their schools just to go to the bathroom – not pushed into transition on a lark. That’s asinine and your implication that since transition isn’t right for everyone that it isn’t completely necessarily for anyone is harmful. Putting your credentials behind your ill-informed article is professionally irresponsible.
    Well, the second approach won’t make you friends – but it will get a little more frustration out. The danger with the second approach is that your reaction will undoubtedly be used as “evidence” of the existence of the raging anti-blue-sky cult.
    But often, especially in this circumstance, you aren’t trying to convince the person you’re talking to but other people reading the conversation or who might read your article setting the record straight. That will, hopefully, eventually lead to the public having access to a more real reality.

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    About M. A. Melby
    Writer, physics instructor, feminist, arguer, atheist; Secular Woman Board Member, Block Bot admin, Transadvocate contributor; she, cis; opinions my own

    View all posts by M. A. Melby »

  2. FWAKKING TERRRRRRFS sigh. Wish I had anything useful to say about this.

  3. timberwraith says:

    Human beings who enjoy social privileges relative to other human beings and thus, exist in relatively higher positions in the social hierarchy, rarely like to admit to the destructive potential and unjust advantages that their privilege and social position make available. They’d rather think that such positions of superior social standing are either natural, earned, or simply don’t exist in the first place. Admitting otherwise leaves that social power vulnerable to challenge.

    The word cis, by its very nature, is a linguistic vector that points directly to the underlying reality of a deeply unjust, destructive matrix of hierarchy, privilege, and power. Of course the word is going to upset those who wield the power it reveals and so many of them will stop an nothing to deny and rationalize away that underlying reality. That conflict is a direct outcome of the very social dynamics implied by the word. Most importantly, it is not the word itself which is central. Rather, it is the very challenge to the unjust structures which it signifies that so frightens and enrages people.

    So, to hell with people such as Ms. Criado-Perez. She just woke up to the fact that having her own privilege challenged is deeply uncomfortable. Rather than embrace ethical integrity and actually consider the underlying reality of injustice, she’s denied it’s very existence. She stands in accordance with a long tradition of privilege-deniers, many of whom are proud supporters of patriarchal traditions, across the globe and across the centuries.

    She keeps traditionally revered and appropriate company… company who’d happily shit upon her as willingly as she’d shit upon others.

  4. voxcorvegis says:

    2014 will surely go down as the year that trans women stopped shit from the mainstream media, and as the year that all of cisqueer and feminist “allies” came out of the woodwork to tell us to shut up.

  5. “the culture we live in is made up of little tiny [transphobic] acts which you can just ignore but when you think of them collectively you start to see a pattern”……

  6. cisdad says:

    Wow.

    Sami hit what I think is probably a key point — that

    “It’s doubly stupid because these are almost always the people who would tear apart someone who tried to argue having to put up with a lot of crap in their life means they don’t have male/white/etc. privilege.”

    Those sorts of reactions are not limited, it turns out, to straight, white, cis, male … people (ex me, though I’ve usually avoided that kind of response.)

    I’m more than a little baffled about objection to ‘cis’. But, then, I’m a science nerd and so is my trans son. Organic chemistry uses cis and trans to describe orientations of molecules. I just can’t get peeved that my situation is different from his, so cis and trans.

    Well, I _can_ get peeved — because we just see people as being people, which is why I’m cisdad at susans.org, and have campaigned (with many other people) for trans equality in my state. (Successfully this year.) There’s no reason for my son to be treated badly for his gender identification, or sexual orientation, or ….

    It’s unfortunate that CCP didn’t read further at Susan’s. Or, apparently at all. It didn’t take me long there to observe that exceedingly high on the list of desires for the trans* people was “Please don’t assault me for being trans*.” Not (usually) an actual quote, but the elation one trans boy felt at having ‘passed’, been invited over to play video games with another boy, and done so — without getting any verbal or physical violence — spoke volumes about the (depressingly reasonable) expectation of receiving such violence. Iterate over many other postings, and the gargantuan ‘can I pass’ threads.

    It’s a sad thing that ‘not getting assaulted/fired/denied credit/denied housing/… for being myself’ is a matter of privilege. But, since it currently is, I have to confess to having a lot of that. Which is why I went to the state house to make it less of a privilege.

    Ok, no news to folks here. But I’ll be reading and try to contribute something new, or help implement better policies and practices.

  7. Kathy11 says:

    With apologies to Haley Joel Osment She sees “things”…..I see cis people.

    However, to honor the genuineness and how well intentioned her sentiments appear – I’ll refer to her as non-non cisgender or anti-cisgender. Likewise, she should refer to me as non-cisgender.

  8. Sami says:

    I have never seen a decent argument against the term cis. The crappy argument I usually see against it is that claiming someone is ‘cis’ implies they fit exactly into the expected norms of their gender, a claim I’ve never seen any trans person ever make about them and which makes no sense at all since you can find multitudes of cis people who challenge gender norms.

    It’d be like if someone claimed that calling them ‘straight’ means your implying that they’ve never ever had any sexual desire outside of post-marital missionary or that calling someone ‘white’ implies that they’re descended directly from anglo-saxons and enjoy mayonnaise. Those claims would be laughed off as absurd whining, but stupid whiny crap like this:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/j-nelson-aviance/i-am-not-cisgendered_b_5598113.html

    Is taken completely seriously.

    A less common but equally crappy argument against it is that we’re ‘forcing’ the label on them. If I were to whine that people were ‘forcing’ the labels of white, bisexual, and American on me the response would be ‘What the hell are you whining about? Those are perfectly accurate descriptions of you’, but when the same thing is done with cis they get cheered on by the totally-not-transphobes who also have a problem with the word.

    Of course those are absolutely brilliant arguments compared to the ‘I have to put up with lots of crap for being a woman, therefore cis privilege doesn’t exist’ argument that’s so incredibly common. It’s doubly stupid because these are almost always the people who would tear apart someone who tried to argue having to put up with a lot of crap in their life means they don’t have male/white/etc. privilege.

    The actual argument against ‘cis’ is that they consider themselves normal and us freaks. They’re offended by the idea that we’re just as normal as they are and we have the nerve to point out that they’re simply a different type of normal than us instead of accepting our position as an inferior other. Any other argument they try to spin against the term is just a BS rationalization.

  9. Dana Taylor says:

    Perez actually added “clothes” to her Google Search to show it is all about the clothes. This was deceptive. Visit https://storify.com/miss_sudo/caroline-criado-perez-of-weekwoman-goes-full-terf to see this exposed.

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