My Feminist Identity and Who Shaped it (and who is shaping it): My Favourite Feminist Femmes of Twitter

My Feminist Identity and Who Shaped it (and who is shaping it):
My Favourite Feminist Femmes of Twitter
A Beginners Guide
by Ruth Horsfall

I started giving feminism a real hot go thanks to the old cultural zeitgeist, Twitter, not all that long ago. I’d like to say I was that informed 12 year old that cottoned on to how things really were, but I had a lot of dismally uninformed teenage years under my belt before I joined in the party. Twitter came about as my saviour in that it became a vast resource for frankly, fucking awesome, articles and opinion pieces written by women who were funny, intelligent and unabashed. They wrote about everything and anything, and I couldn’t (and still can’t) get enough of it. So, I’ve compiled a list of those women who I enjoy the most – they are sexy, incredible and I’m madly jealous of all of them for being so darn cool.

1.     Marieke Hardy – @mariekehardy

I first got into Marieke Hardy through reading her weekly columns in The Age and intermittent pieces written for Frankie magazine. Not only did her writing make me guffaw in a way most un-ladylike, she could be simultaneously crude and touching. I then went on to follow her online through her blog (here or here), then her television series, “Laid” and of course, her book ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead’. I’m not sure Hardy has ever identified publicly as a feminist, certainly not to the extent of some, but her Twitter describes her as a ‘hedonist, raconteur, bon vivant’ and her writing intimates her as someone who is sexually liberal and a free spirit. Not only that, she is now around 40 years old, childless and unmarried and still having the time of her life. And she loves it. She is on Twitter a lot less frequently than I like but I’m still her biggest fan girl and I promptly ran into a tree when I saw her at Laneway Festival in 2010.

2.     Catherine Deveny – @CatherineDeveny

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who gives less fucks than Catherine Deveny. Brash, outspoken and controversial (she was once, VERY unfairly compared to Miranda ‘Pro-Choice ‘Abortion Enthusiast’ Devine); Deveny makes no apologies for who she is and what she stands for. I was introduced to her acidic and very funny columns, which would often attract an unhealthy mixture of scorn and disgust. Her time at the Age culminated with her sacking after some un-PC tweets about Rove McManus’ late wife and Bindi Irwin (look, the tweets were *pretty* bad but don’t even get me started on the double standards in media when someone screws up – hello, Kyle Sandilands; about as palatable as anal prolapse) but she is now a staunch advocate for riding your bike, has had a very successful Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show called ‘God is Bullshit: That’s The Good News’ and recently did a great podcast with a sex therapist, covering everything from masturbation to anal sex.

3.     Jane Caro – @JaneCaro

Like many, I first laid eyes on Jane Caro when she was a panellist on ‘The Gruen Transfer’ – where clearly she should have been there every week instead of that guy with the motif t-shirts. This led to following her on Twitter, where she is very vocal about a number of issues, such as public education, reproductive rights and women in politics. She is also a published author, runs her own communications consultancy and continues her freelance work – she does it all, and is a total bad-ass whilst doing it. I find her refreshingly unapologetic and I get a lot of joy from reading her arguments with people silly enough to rebut against a point she has made.

4.     Caitlin Moran – @caitlinmoran

A lovely Englishwoman, Moran has penned a dazzling feminist tome called ‘How to be a Woman’ – get your hands on this STRAIGHT AWAY, if you have not already enjoyed its brilliance. I knew I was going to like her when she started referring to her vagina as her ‘foof’. The book is partly a memoir and aligns stages and events in her life with issues in feminism, such as porn, body hair and sexism. She is currently a TV critic and columnist at The Times in the UK and remains hilarious.

5.     Clementine Ford – @clementine_ford

Clementine Ford is new to my radar (and subsequently I don’t know a whole lot about her) – I came across her after she was frequently re-tweeted into my feed. Most of what I know I have gleaned from her personal tweets and articles she has written in response to subjects such as the ‘War On Women’ in America. In her Tumblr biography here she claims to be a boner killer and writer of withering feminist social analyses, among other things. Read her blog now – she is cutting, scathing and totally awesome.

6.     Leslie Knope – @TheKnope

As a fictional character in a television series, Knope is not technically a real person (but entertainingly enough, is being her dang fine feminist self on Twitter) however I did say in my piece last month there would be a time in the future where I talk about Amy Poehler – and that time is now. Poehler’s Knope is in charge of the parks department (part of the local council) and really the only word I have for her is incredible. Annoying, endearing, out-spoken and super cute; and that’s how she (and we) like it.

 7.     Tina Fey – @TinaFeyOfficial

It is about as unlikely as pubic hair on a porn star that you have managed to avoid knowing who Tina Fey is – the incredible force of woman that is Fey entered our psyches with Mean Girls, confirmed that she is officially The Funniest Person Ever TM with 30 Rock and uncanny impersonations as Sarah Palin. For me personally though, she wasn’t confirmed herself as my feminist goddess until I read her  biography, ‘Bossypants’ – which is essentially about being a female boss and generally owning a vagina in the comedy industry. I have to stop writing this now because it makes me think about how Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hang all the time probably and I get sad I’ll never be in the same room as that much amazingness – ever.

References

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Women and Marriage: The Struggle with Identity

Women and Marriage: The Struggle with Identity
by Charlotte Audley-Coote

Please note: this piece is focused on cis-gendered heterosexual women and couples.

For a woman, it can be so difficult to be identified as an independent and whole person. The very fabric of our society not only encourages but almost demands women to exist only ever in relation to men. It seems so absurd to me, that the presence or lack of a male in your life (as if this narrow spectrum of existence is the only option for women) determines how you will be addressed in almost every aspect of your life. It’s so sad that no matter how successful a woman becomes (professionally, personally etc), the word first directed towards her won’t really be about her at all. To ground a women’s public title within her romantic life seems like such an invasion of privacy and simply reinforces that the most definitive aspect of a women depends on outside perception. Although I personally don’t feel that people need titles at all, it’s almost inescapable to either be a Miss, a Mrs or a Ms.

The fact that this variety of different and distinct titles are meant only for women really says something about the way women are expected to identify and how we are culturally positioned for passivity. I know that a lot of women choose Ms. because it is supposed to represent a neutral position despite of marital status – but because it is also tied to being divorced or widowed, I’m not sure how effective Ms. can be or what this association reflects in how society judges women who attempt to identify independently. Either way, the very fact that women have to navigate this identity minefield speaks volumes in terms of how women are perceived. In contrast, a man never has to struggle in the way women do (in this regard), to let the world know who he is. Whether he is married, single, divorced or widowed, the language and cultural norms will always support him as a fully realised human being and determine his identity as separate of his relationship status throughout every stage of his life – with the singular title Mr.

Titles are not the only issue surrounding a woman’s marital status. Women also have to struggle through decisions as to whether they will change, keep or hyphenate their last name if they decide to marry. If a women does decide she wants to keep her name (or even hyphenate it), she must also spend time evaluating about how this may be received by or effect her family, her partner or her partner’s family. Not to mention all the questions as to why, which may follow her throughout her entire life in different work places, children’s schools, doctor’s offices, at functions and so on. Women who do not want to participate in customs which reflect her as property within marriage definitely seem to be a conversation starter! I know that through my own personal experience, the most common responses I get (not just from men) is that the man may be ‘offended’, that it’s all for ‘practicality’ and not to mention that, ‘its tradition!’ Silly me, I do always seem to forget that when something is traditional it is exempt from any moral scanning, intellectual debate or common sense intervention.

Speaking of tradition, the change of name isn’t just a nice neat way to put your family under one word; it represents the exchange of assets (that would be you, brides) from under the ownership of your father to your husband. This is also depicted by the way women are walked down the aisle to be ‘given away’ by their fathers while in that lovely pure and white gown to represent how valuable that virgin bride is (another topic altogether!). If this isn’t enough to enforce your objectification, an engagement ring also serves as a great reminder that you are now off ‘the market’… Just in case you forget. I know rings are nice and shiny (and I’ll be the first to admit that I like anything if it sparkles) but in reality it is just another way of letting the whole world that you belong to someone. Knowing what these traditions really reflect, it’s kind of gross to see how romanticised this whole ordeal is portrayed by movies/shows/songs and how women’s identities being dependant on such factors is considered desirable. It’s even sadder to see so many women react to such sensationalism, where they dream about the day that they get to perpetuate a tradition which represents them as an object of exchange and as forever dependant.

Now, while I don’t think marriage has to reflect these things or that everybody should stop getting married, it’s important to recognise that it is internally problematic and will never be really be free from patriarchal roots. I know that there is progress in how weddings are being celebrated in less exploitive ways, but until a women’s title isn’t dictated by this and her own name isn’t so controversial, there seems to be a long way to go. It can be very difficult to go against these ideals which are basically thrust upon us but it’s important to remember that, men never have to explain or justify wanting to disassociate from being considered property because it has never been a question that they are anyone’s property but their own. No one questions a man’s personal or external life in order to correctly address who he is independently because it is not considered an important factor. Until I am regarded as autonomous in my own right and without scrutiny, I try to keep this injustice in mind when society begins to wear me down.

~ Charlotte Audley-Coote

Why Identify As A Feminist?

Why Identify As A Feminist?
A collage by Joanna Horton

Most of us will have encountered young women who question that value of being a feminist. And there’s no denying that, while still not equal, formal conditions for women (e.g. employment, financial independence, political representation) have improved vastly. In this piece I tried to show a few of the more subtle ways that women are still denigrated, shamed and treated like second-class citizens. These include sexist jokes, body-shaming, subscription to traditional gender roles, and unrealistic stereotypes. (Of course, it’s worth noting that the last two in particular are also disadvantageous to men.) I chose to use the format of media because a) it’s the most effective and direct way of perpetrating these messages and b) cutting stuff out of magazines is fun.

~ Joanna Horton

*We’d like to note that due to the editor’s oversight the above blurb was not included in the latest issue of the zine alongside Joanna’s collage. Sorry, Jo! We hope reading her artistic statement helps you to soak up the awesomeness of her creativity even more.

Sexual Abuse, Myths and Identity

Sexual Abuse, Myths and Identity
by Adela Brent
of Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre

Trigger warning for references to sexual abuse and negative social myths surrounding it.

Sexual abuse can affect women’s identity. Beliefs about who they are can be shaped by experiences of violence in their life. There are many misconceptions about women and sexual violence in the community. Unfortunately, many people believe them, including women who have been sexually abused. They can spend years of their life believing they are bad, not okay and “damaged goods” (as some women told me) because they believe some of these myths that are usually reinforced by society as a whole.

  1. Sexual abuse is an unusual occurrence. Some women might think that they are the only ones who have been violated and see themselves as “different”. The reality is that sexual abuse happens to many women and children. Taking into account that offensive staring and leering, unwanted touching and sexual harassment are also sexual abuse.
  2.  Women lie about rape. Many women have been called “liars”, but the reality is that victims of sexual assault are more likely to remain silent about the assault than to report it. It has been my experience that women don’t lie about sexual abuse.
  3.  Women enjoy being raped. No one enjoys sexual violation. The function of this myth is to reduce rape to an experience that is trivial and inconsequential and it also reduces women to objects.
  4. Women who are sexually abused because they dress or behave provocatively. This myth states that women who dress certain way are “not good” and deserve to be raped. Friendly behavior, drinking alcohol and accepting car rides, are interpreted as “signs of consent” and they are not. It does not matter what women are wearing, it is not an invitation to rape. Full stop.
  5.  Most women are raped by strangers. Although many women are raped by strangers, many women are raped and sexually abused by people they know including fathers; step-fathers; uncles; brothers; cousins; boyfriends; husbands; friends; dates; friends of the family; neighbors; etc. Many experiences of sexual abuse occur in the home.
  6. Men “can’t help themselves”. They rape because they cannot control their sexual urges. This is just an excuse. Sexual abuse is not an impulsive sexual act. It is an act of aggression and power.
  7. Men who rape or sexually abuse women and children are “sick”. Most sex offenders are ordinary men from all classes, professions, ages, nationalities, religious beliefs and backgrounds. They are not necessarily psychopaths or mentally ill. Sex offenders are usually men who are expressing a commonly accepted male behavior in sexist societies which reflect a very low regard for women.
  8. It is up to women to avoid being raped. In reality, it is up to sex offenders to stop abusing and take responsibility for sexual violence.
  9. Women never rape. About 1% of sex offenders are women. Women can also incorporate patriarchal values.
  10. Women cry rape when it suits them. Women are usually too ashamed to tell anyone that they suffered an experience of sexual violence. They know the legal system does not deliver meaningful justice to women and children. Most cases of sexual violence are never reported to the police. Many rape survivors do not tell anyone.
  11. If women don’t struggle or scream, it cannot be rape. When we are scared, we tend to freeze. Women do not struggle to avoid further violence. They know they could be killed if they resist.
  12.  Children are sexually provocative. Children do not give permission to be exploited and abused. The myth of the “seductive child” is often used as a defence by the offender. There is an enormous difference in the power and authority of an adult compared to a child.

Unfortunately, these myths are very much alive in the community. They do not help survivors of sexual violence. They protect perpetrators. What can we do to challenge these myths? As individuals? As a community? How can we contribute to eliminating them so they will be a thing of the past? These are very important questions to answer if we want to build a better world for women and children where sexual violence is no more….

~ Adela Brent
Sexual Assault Counsellor
Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource
www.zigzag.org.au


Women CEOs have “traumatic” childhoods: UQWC Letter of Complaint in response to ‘Momentum’ Article

A member of the UQ Women’s Collective was recently surprised and dismayed to come across an article in ‘Momentum’, the magazine of the UQ Business School. The article profiled male and female CEOs, essentially arguing that virtually all female CEOs have had dramatic or traumatic childhoods, which equipped them with the leadership and adaptation skills necessary for success in the business world. Meanwhile, male CEOs were seemingly endowed with these skills naturally – which, the author seemed to suggest, was largely due to the presence of a stay-at-home mother. As a collective, we were upset with the researcher’s methods, tone, assumptions and conclusions, and so we wrote a complaint letter to the magazine to tell them so.

To whom it may concern,

On behalf of the UQ Women’s Collective, I am writing to register my disappointment at the publication of a recent Momentum article – ‘Women at the top’, by Dr. Terrance Fitzsimmons. While we welcome the fact that new research is being conducted on the phenomena of Australia’s embarrassingly low rate of female CEOs, we found this article to be offensive and damaging.

Firstly, we found Dr Fitzsimmons’ research methods to be questionable in the following areas:

a)    Self-selecting participants with no subject matching criteria.

b)   No verification of participant responses (e.g. the claim that most male CEOs were football captains. It is no secret that people can and do invent past achievements – for instance, the CEO of Yahoo blatantly lied about having a Bachelor’s Degree.)

c)    Bias introduced by having the interviews carried out by the investigator rather than a question script presented by a blind actor.

d)   Bias introduced again by the investigator coding his transcripts without using multiple blind.

e)    No consideration of the type of life events considered significant by patriarchal gender expectations (e.g. social emphasis on women; achievement emphasis on men). Instead the investigator asked only about significant life events.

f)     Interview times were significantly longer for female participants (70 minutes, as opposed to 48 minutes). If the interviewer emphasised certain areas repeatedly with only the female participants, the results are no longer valid.

g)    Conclusions not supported by statistics or even raw numbers of the contextual categories between groups, although they were supposedly coded. Statements are supported solely with exemplar quotes and blanket statements such as ‘a trend emerged’.

Reading Dr Fitzsimmons’ thesis, we were particularly troubled by page 184, which contained a diagrammatic representation of the different roles prescribed by male and female CEOs to their (heterosexual) parents. While female CEOs prescribe a spread of values to both their fathers (including equality) and mothers (including integrity, work ethic, leadership and self-efficacy), male CEOs label their fathers’ roles to include ‘dominance’, ‘maleness’ (as if maleness were a widely accepted trait as opposed to a contested social construction) and ‘self-efficacy’ and prescribe the sole value of ‘supports male’ to their mothers.

Dr Fitzsimmons presented these traits as fact, rather than participant opinion. We find it difficult to believe that there exist so many women who have no values at all except to support men, and would postulate that these data in fact reflect the blatantly sexist attitudes of male CEOs. From which one might pose the alternative hypothesis that such attitudes from current (male) CEOs either affects, or are representative of the attitudes of the executive boards that appoints new CEOs (and executive board members, and upper management roles etc), resulting in the under-representation of women in these positions.

Furthermore, we were troubled by Dr Fitzsimmons’ assertion that “[t]here is nothing you can do right now to fix the problem, no matter how much legislation you ram through, because you are talking about a deep-seated cultural issue”. This statement seems to offer an excuse for governments, companies and current CEOs to not even attempt drafting equal opportunity laws, employing more women in higher-level positions, or fostering a workplace culture that encourages and supports women.

As is surely obvious, people in positions of power do not willingly give away that power. They must be forced to, and often the only way this can take place is through changes to the law. In asserting that the CEO gender gap is a “deep-seated cultural issue”, Dr Fitzsimmons discounts and ignores the enormous possibility of legislation (as a tool and reflection of culture) to effect cultural change. (He also contradicts himself later, by stressing the importance of governmental support for extended childcare hours.) We offer the situation of Norway (now one of the most ‘equal’ countries in the world, following the introduction of a quota system) as an example of successful change through legislation.

We were also extremely disappointed by the lack of attention paid to men’s roles. The ‘conundrum of the working women’ is a trope that too often ignores the immense capability of men to assist with child-rearing and housework. Thus women find themselves working two jobs – one in the ‘formal’ workforce, and one in their own homes. Dr Fitzsimmons seems to recognise this latter point, but encourages increased childcare subsidies, instead of an expectation that men take an equal role in looking after the home and children that belong to them just as much as to their female partners.

Furthermore, childcare and housework services bring their own problems – although useful for working women, it is largely ignored that childcare workers, nannies and housekeepers are women of a lower socio-economic status, often women of colour. This perpetuates gender and race stereotypes at the expense of allowing a certain type of woman (white, upper-middle class) to ‘get ahead’ in the workforce.

We were especially disheartened by the lack of solution offered by Dr Fitzsimmons. If he discounts legislation, what is left? Does he wish to let time pass and hope the issue will resolve itself? As mentioned before, power is never given willingly – it must be taken, often after generations of perpetuating the ideal of a more just, inclusive and equal society. We feel that Dr Fitzsimmons’ research insults and damages the work that many are doing to advance towards such a society.

In disappointment,

The University of Queensland Women’s Collective 

~
This letter of complaint was also published at NUS Women’s Blog.
It will also feature in the upcoming issue of Wom*news

Calanthe500

Calanthe500
By Emma Di Bernardo

This short story will feature in Issue #5 of Wom*news!
*Trigger warning for physical assault of a female and gender identity dismissal.*

“It is my honour to present to you my latest creation…Calanthe500!”

The applause is deafening. The lights are bright.

“Smile, 500!” the Creator whispers to Calanthe500 as they stand up on the podium outside the rustic government building.

Calanthe500 can feel the mechanic muscles stretch up and outward as she moves her lips into a smile, teeth showing, just like she’d seen in the pictures of humans Creator had shown her. Flashbulbs flash bright as the news people take photographs of her in excitement at her humanoid behaviours.

She feels hot – the warmness creeping upon her metallic skin that is generally associated with nervousness – but she supposes that it is the lights affecting her exterior. This big reveal is her first outing in the Real World, and this amount of lights have not been tested against her skin yet. But Creator is happy, so Calanthe500 reassures herself that she will not melt.

She mentions this to the adoring crowd when it is question time. “Charming!” they respond. “So real!” So normal.”

The latest innovation in robotics – a machine with the ability to speak and process thoughts of its own accord – is an immediate success.

*

Calanthe500 spends the weeks following her birth and reveal doing appearances on television shows. Her ability to speak five hundred languages wows halls of university students. Scientists are impressed by Creator’s ability in making each of her movements silent, without a robotic noise. Calanthe500 feels warmth again; pride for her Creator. She sees what a wonderful creation she has become because of his genius.

“It took so many tries to get to the point where I could create this 500 model,” Creator tells his colleagues at a dinner held in his honour. “Many failures made a path for Calanthe500 to become the human of robotics!”

*

Weeks pass. Other copycat creations hit the market, until Creator remarks one day in his silver laboratory that no one is printing news articles about them.

Calanthe500 feels her face automatically move into an expression she knows is called a frown. Lately, parts of her move and feel when she feels like they should, regardless of certain codes programmed within her. She puts down the most recent novel she had been reading.

“Perhaps there is a function of me you did not publicise enough?” she queries gently.

Creator looks at around, contemplating her words. He distractedly accepts a glass of water from one of his older creations, Eugeni3.0. “Yes… that’s it! I was showing off her robotic advancements, but not showcasing what the public loves best: humanity.”

As a new publicity stunt, Calanthe500 is renamed Calanthe. (Although Creator still calls her 500, but she does not mind – 500 is one of his many affectionate nicknames for her.) She is overjoyed – she feels as though she is like everyone else. Reporters come flocking to see her on the streets as she engages in many public activities. Interview offers soon coming flooding in.

The most popular magazine in the country gets Calanthe for their cover story. The reporter is a short woman, with a simple notebook and a pack of chewing gum. She asks a slew of probing questions, and then finally:

“How do you feel about your androgynous look?”

“I don’t really consider my appearance too much,” replies Calanthe. She thinks she has to give a better answer than that, or Creator’s work will all be for nothing. “But yes, I do like it. Do you think perhaps my look should be more…girly?”

“Why would you want to do that?”

Calanthe laughs in what she hopes is a charming manner. “Because I’m a woman, of course!”

The reporter snaps her gum. “You’re not a woman.” Snap.

“But I’m the human of robotics,” she says bewilderedly, repeating the words her Creator oft said.

The reporter sighs and points to her breasts. “Do you have these, honey?”

Calathe suddenly feels shaky, unsure. She move her hands to her chest. Smooth metal. Almost flat. “No.”

“And what about down there, huh?”

Calanthe feels her heart sink. “There’s no opening, no,” she answers shakily.

The reporter waves her hand. “See. Not a woman.”

Calanthe has believed for the whole of her limited life that she was a woman, only to be told this. It doesn’t seem real.

The reporter gives her big parting smile, green chewing gum seeping out between her teeth. “Sorry, honey.”

*

Calanthe feels fury for the first time as Creator picks her up in their green flashy automobile. The words cannot help but leave her mouth. “Am I not a woman?”

Creator does not like being surprised. “What do you mean, 500?” he asks, hackles raising, glasses slipping down his nose.

“Am I not a woman? I have a gender binary code. You nicknamed me pet and your baby. These terms have female connotations.”

“So do objects.”

Calanthe is sure that if she could bleed, these words would cut.

*

Calanthe smooths a hand down her arm, feeling the cold, smooth surface in sadness.

She is not a woman.

She feels horribly alone in Creator’s long, spacious laboratory. She finds herself talking to earlier models stored away in their creator’s workshop about this genderlessness: Eugeni3.0 and Harrae21. They tell her they are proud to neither be he nor she. They say Creator programmed them without gender binary codes. They like it. It fits well on them, unlike the inferior silver material that is their skin.

Calanthe does not agree with binary theories. She wishes she could care less for gender. But Calanthe enjoys being her and she and woman.

She uses these terms in secret, in her mind, where no one can tell her she is wrong, where she cannot be, where she is not.

*

Creator is more agitated than usual. He is up late and Calanthe, along with the other creations, are worried. The decline in his publicity is affecting him negatively.

He goes to switch on his computer when he notices Calanthe reading on the opposite side of the room. Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

“That’s it!” he says, almost to himself. “I’ll make you a counterpart, a partner, just like Victor did.”

Calanthe is alarmed by this. “I’m only half way through the novel, but considering the protagonist’s other misadventures, I don’t think that is a good idea,” she replies warily.

“An opposite of 500…” Creator says dazedly, lost in his genius.

“How can another creation be opposite if I have no gender?” Calanthe asks.

“I’ll make it a male robot, then.”

Calanthe slams her novel down on the table. Anger makes her hands shake. “It’s okay for me to have a gender when you want me to, but not when I desire it?”

Creator’s eyes narrow. “That’s enough, 500.”

“My name is Calanthe. You gave me that name.”

“I said, that’s enough.”

“No, it’s really not.”

Calanthe feels cold and hot at the same time as she watches Creator’s facial expression change. She realises this is what it would feel like to be sick.

“Perhaps it is you that needs a change,” Creator says softly.

The words steal all thoughts from Calanthe’s mind. She watches in frozen horror as Creator sets up his flat silver workbench and brings out his toolbox. He orders for Calanthe to lie down.

“W-why?” Calanthe dares to ask.

Creator looks at her, annoyed, as though she were a small task in the way of a larger one. “I’m going to reprogram you.”

Horror rises inside of her. “No!”

“It’s just to make you feel a little calmer, that’s all, 500.”

But every mechanical piece inside of her knows this isn’t true. Reprogramming means she would be brain dead. Emotionless. A true robotic of the old age, no longer human.

“You’ll only feel a click, nothing more,” Creator reassures her, and she knows her fate is sealed.

Calanthe dutifully silences herself. Just a click. Just a click, Calanthe.

She is shaking with fright as she lies down on the table and Creator touches the tip of her skull until a small compartment slides open. She wishes she were like the old models of his creation, the inferior robots that noisily rattled when they moved. Perhaps then Creator would truly see her fear, and stop what he was doing. She wishes she her physicality could support water, for then she could cry. Perhaps tears would bring the human out in him.

Calanthe pleads to Eugeni3.0 for them to overpower Creator, for they are strong enough; cries out to Harrae21 for them to make Creator see reason. But they sit still, silent and humanoid and robotic, held back by the unseeable identity that Creator assumes: power. He can revel in what he is, although no one can physically see it, while he tells Calanthe whatever she is is not true.

She can feel him fiddling around in her mind, tapping codes on the digital keyboard in an agitated, jerky way, to a rhythm Creator sees fit. She is horrified and furious and so very frightened. She howls for help, but no one hears. Calanthe looks to Eugeni3.0 again, the word please on the tip of her ton-

Click.

 

~ Emma Di Bernardo

‘I’ is for Intersex: Identity and ‘I’


‘I’ is for Intersex: Identity and ‘I’
By Anonymous.

 “After stillbirth, genital anomaly is the most serious problem with a baby, as it threatens the whole fabric of the personality and life of the person. The trauma of discovering a genital anomaly in the labour ward is great for both parents and doctor.” – Dr John Hutson, MD.

Since I can remember my life has been carefully constructed around the sexual binary. During my childhood I was told both explicitly and implicitly how boys, men, males, must behave. And I obeyed – I was, after all, male. Following high school I was able to achieve financial independence and a degree of control over my life and in doing so I found that the gender binary that I had been brought up to obey was not as an immutable construct as I had believed. While undertaking a Women’s Studies major to better understand this realization, I have grown to comprehend the role that feminism, and feminist theory, has not only in helping women, but all of society. It is coming from that background that I now explore the role that intersex, those that have atypical combinations of chromosomal, morphological and/or genital presentation, have in feminist discourse.

I was born in the afternoon of early autumn here in Brisbane, a fact that took doctors 31 days to acknowledge before signing my birth certificate. I was born with gonadal dysgenesis[1] – an intersex condition – and until the doctors had decided on my ‘true sex’ I remained in that state of limbo. At the time (and, to a degree, still today) the accepted model of treatment for babies born with ambiguous genitalia was originally put forth by Dr John Money in 1972 after a ‘successful’ re-assignment of a baby boy into a girl. Money believed that by performing sex reassignment surgery to make the child appear female and instructing the parents to raise the child unambiguously as a girl, then the ‘nurture’ would override the child’s inherent ‘nature’. Only by conforming to the physical and behavioural expectations of the sexual binary can a child be ‘normal’. So how did this apply to me?

Under this model my parents were instructed, and perhaps determined themselves, to raise me ‘unambiguously’ male – ‘hypermale’. I was to have a surgery before I could even walk to try to remove my ‘ambiguity’, several more during my childhood, and lifelong hormone injections to take the place of my ‘failed’ testes. As a child I was not permitted to play with my sisters, especially if it involved any kind of ‘feminine’ activity. Neither was I able to join in any event where I could be seen naked by others. To my doctors I was seen to be a ‘success’ in that I do not identify as being female – however what they could not comprehend is that I do not identify as being male either. For all the efforts made, once I was able to live independently I found that what I was doing was merely an ‘act’ of male; the degree to which I was raised, as ‘hypermasculine’ (or, rather, hyper un-feminine) allowed me to realise this as it clashed with my own sense of self. So while I continue to ‘perform’ as male – in my clothing choices, hair style, e.g., I have become increasingly aware of that such choices do not have to be at the exclusion of ‘feminine’ ones, and that if that is the case, then what is the purpose of separation? Why do we place so much importance on the division of the sexes?

In Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, Judith Butler put forth her theory of the heterosexual matrix – that normative Western assumptions about sexual identity are based on a belief that anatomical sex causes gender development which, in turn, causes sexual orientation. By not being able to separate between biological sex and the social and cultural categories of gender means that in order to obtain a gendered place in society, one must have a linearly associated sex as well (as per my state of limbo at birth). My own experiences attest to the existence of this matrix – the importance placed on having ‘normal’ genitals, and that I be raised unambiguously male. It was reading these texts that I was able to realize the intended purpose of my upbringing, and its effect on my identity. I could see that how I was raised enabled me to ‘act’ male, but it did not bind me to the male identity. And if I did not have to be bound to a gender identity, why was one forced upon me?

As expressed in the opening quotation, the trauma the doctor speaks of is “for both parents and doctor”, not the child. I would argue instead that the degree of ‘normalization’ wrought upon an intersex child is not so much on their behalf, but for others’. For those that have never had to question the validity of the heterosexual matrix, to acknowledge the existence of those upon whose bodies the fallacy of the sexual binary is written must be intolerable. In fact, regarding the importance that others place on the necessity of ‘normal’ genitals, David Reimer, the ‘failed’ child of Money’s John/Joan experiment, recalls thinking: “Leave me be and then I’ll be fine… It’s bizarre. My genitals are not bothering me; I don’t know why it is bothering you guys so much”. Likewise, I can honestly say that my own genitals have not caused me any distress directly, and that any negativity – recurrent pain and infection, insensitivity – were brought about by doctors in their efforts to make me ‘normal’ so that I did not pose a threat to the heterosexual matrix. This degree of effort and the magnitude of its effects on my life only serve to reinforce to me the validity of the heterosexual matrix paradigm – why else would they go to such efforts?

Unfortunately, this adherence not only affects the intersex, but also innately priorities one sex over the other – a prioritisation that invariably leaves women as inferior to men. As Humm said, when societies divide the sexes into differing cultural, economic or political spheres, women are less valued than men. Until the artificial separation of male/masculine and female/feminine is broken down, then the prioritisation of the masculine male is always going to cause inequality.

From my own experiences I have seen that not only is the concept gender socially and culturally constructed, but having had them forcing upon me, that they are remorselessly unaccepting of those do not fit within its narrow range. When a society linearly regards sex and gender, they then both limit those with non-typical sex and non-typical gender expression. This practice of conflating sex with gender, as well as insisting on the sexual binary not only affects the lives of intersex individuals, but also results in an inherently unjust society that favours one division over the rest. Through my own life story I know that it is possible to develop as a person without needing a male sex identity or typical male anatomy, and going against my strict upbringing. ‘Being’ a man or woman cannot simply be ascribed to chromosomes, anatomy, or hormones – neither can it be solely determined by social upbringing. Rather, to me, sex, gender and sexuality arrive from the result of complex interactions between all of those variables and more. In addition, regardless of the mechanism for sexing or gendering an individual, I see no reason why one must subscribe to one, more, or none of these identities, nor why a society should prioritise one identity (white, heterosexual, masculine male) over others.

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