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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M.A.Melby

M.A.Melby

Contributor at TransAdvocate
M. A. Melby teaches physics within a health sciences program in Minnesota. She serves as a Block Bot blocker; frequently documenting online abuse and was the lead author of the change.org petition presented by Secular Woman, asking the Southern Poverty Law Center to list Gender Identity Watch as a hate group.
M.A.Melby
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12 comments on “Et tu, Caroline Criado-Perez?
  1. Pingback: M. A. Melby

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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