torstai 26. toukokuuta 2011

Julia Serano: Whipping Girl

Julia Serano: Whipping Girl - A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

Serano's book is an excellent comment on modern-day feminism. It is defined as a manifesto and who am I to argue that it isn't. Her experience is that of a trans woman and she discusses for example male priviledge, trans-misogyny, and the sexualization of trans women. Before going into detail, I have to apologize for not writing a review good enough to complement her book, but it has been several weeks since I read it and much has passed through my head since (perhaps some of it has even stayed there, who knows....).

To me, two important new terms I learned from this book were traditional sexism and oppositional sexism. Simplifying a bit, traditional sexism describes the view that feminine things and women are worth less than masculine things and men, while oppositional sexism means that women and men are thought to be two totally different groups, "complementing each other" and that once you are born in to one of the two categories, you stay there regardless of your identity. This view of sexisim might not be new, but it is new to me, and I enjoy how it makes my thinking clearer.

Serano also tells the reader about her own transition, how her feelings and her view of the world changed because of it. She traces some of these changes to the hormones and some to being perceived as a woman. She doesn't agree with the statement that gender is a social construction. In her opinion, the existance of transsexual people proves this; if gender were something that society forces upon us, how do MAAB-people [male assigned at birth] become to identify as women (or the other way around), since society's message to them is that they should identify as men. Serano takes the old gender-sex distinction further and argues that there are three significant parts that form a person's gender/sex and/or affect it. These are subconscious sex, gender identity and gender expression. I have to say I can't remember if she includes physical sex in this model. It is of importance to her, and she argues that at least hormones do affect a person and their experience of their sex/gender. All I can say is please read the book, this model is explained very well although it at first glance can seem a bit confusing.

Personally, the part I identified with perhpas the most, was Serano's discussion on how at first she didn't identify with the word 'woman'.

"Hell, at the time, I didn't even dare call myself a woman. That word, like the word 'man', seemed to have way too much baggage associated with it. At the time, I preferred the word 'girl', which seemed more playful and open to interpretation. [...] But I completely avoided the word 'woman' bacause it seemed to be too weighed down with other people's expectations - expectations that I wasn't sure I was interested in, or capable of, meeting." (Serano, 2007, 217)

That is exactly how I feel about the word 'woman'. I'm female bodied, my gender expression is feminine and I like to identify as a lesbian, but still, 'woman' feels somehow limiting. Strange for a feminist, but I feel that if I identified as a woman, I would put myself out there for anyone to judge whether I'm being womanly enough.

Later, Serano's views change, and she becomes to identify as a woman.

"I used to fear that embracing that identity [a woman's identity] would be tantamount to cramming myself into some predetermined box, restricting my possibilities and potential. But I now realize that no matter how I act or what I do or say, I remain a woman - both in the eyes of the world and, more importantly, in the way that I experience myself. While I used to view the word 'woman' as limiting, I now find it both empowering and limitless." (Serano, 2007, 224)

I'm not sure if the answer for me is to identify as genderqueer or to see the identity of a woman in a different light, but it feels good to know others have felt the same.

The one thing I haven't discussed in this review, but which played an important role in the book, was the role of femininity in feminism. One of the titles of the chapters is "Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism". Serano feels that feminist theory has not embraced femininity, but made it seem artificial, fake. While she definitely does not argue that all women should be feminine, she hopes that more feminists would recognize the empowering power of femininity, and not exclude feminine women from feminist circles.

All in all, I enjoyed the book very much. The only thing I didn't like was a chapter on art, especially literature. Serano seems to have a similar view of art as Kate Millett, and I disagree with turning art only into a way of making politics. That aside, Serano is extreamly intelligent and has justifiable arguments  behind her theories and views on things. The book was coherent while addressing many different issues and themes, and when reading it, I had the personal feeling that someone was talking to me, explaining her views to me, even though at some points the book was quite heavy on theory. It was enjoyable to read and it certainly changed my way of thinking.

Gender Expression and Identity Challenge and GLBT Challenge: This book discusses what gender is, how it shapes the way we see the world, how we are treated differently because of our gender and what does it feel like (or felt like for one person) to transition from male to female. It also addresses sexism, cissexism, transphobia and trans-misogyny, as well as introduces the writer's own theory on sex and gender. I think I couldn's ask for more of a book belonging to these two challenges.

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