These days I struggle to be bothered to write pieces specifically related to gender identity. The women who might read them tend to agree with me anyway; men, on the other hand, don’t bother to get to the end of articles by women who don’t serve as mirrors reflecting back their opinions at twice their size.
The moment it becomes clear – by the mention of reproduction, or bodies, or violence – that you suspect the social construction of gender might be more than a matter of self-contained, decontextualised inner feelings, you’ve sounded the TERF alert. You’ve committed an act of actual violence and therefore deserve nothing less than metaphorical violence – such as being punched in the non-metaphorical face – in return. So what’s the point?
I’m bored, too, of articles asking what the definition of “woman” might be. We all know what it is: whatever man is not. That’s what it was when Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex and that’s what it remains today. It is impermissible to demand any further definition. After all, if one is to grant any quality whatsoever to womanhood, one is excluding anyone lacking that quality from “being a woman”.
Being a woman is whatever anyone says being a woman is. Unless it’s a woman saying being a woman involves experiencing something that not everyone who says they’re a woman experiences. Such bigotry is not allowed. Hence nothing – not having a female body, not being seen as a woman, not being treated as a woman, not having the low social status of a woman – defines womanhood. Nothing other than the state of not being defined.
What is a man, though? That’s what I’m wondering. I’d quite like to be a man. I don’t feel like a woman, so why can’t I leave all this womanhood nonsense behind and just be male? If nothing – not my body, not my experiences, not my social status – makes me a woman, why can’t I just be a man? I don’t mean this facetiously. I’d love people to respond to me the way I see them responding to people who – for some mystic reason I don’t quite understand – get to be men while I do not.
The army of left-wing men currently lecturing feminists on what awful bigots they are for wanting womanhood to have some meaningful definition – Owen Jones, James O’Brien, Ed Miliband, Eddie Marsan – seem very sure they are men and not women. Why? If it’s neither their bodies nor the externally imposed social category into which they’ve been placed, what makes them men?
They will, I am sure, acknowledge that they have male privilege – but where does it come from? And why can’t I have it too, without having to change my body or anything else to do with the way I present myself?
If left-wing men are so much in favour of gender equality, why don’t they socially transition and join the rest of us down here in the not-man box? If cis men are the problem – if they’re the ones who bully, steal, beat, rape, murder – then don’t be a cis man. Become one of us, the women. After all, anyone can join these days.
“Ah,” they will say, “you don’t understand. I’ve got no choice.” Gender identity, we are told, isn’t a choice. It’s just who you are and if that person happens to be someone the top of a social hierarchy, then there’s nothing you can do about it. Poor old cis men. They don’t want to be privileged, but what can you do?
Until relatively recently the press were filled with scare stories over the erasure of men. 2012 saw the publication of Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men, prophesying that women daring to do things other than be accessories to men would render men obsolete. MRA websites fretted over men being “reduced to sperm donors and walking wallets”. After all, if nothing other than reproductive role and economic privilege differentiate a man from a woman, what is manhood? What is male privilege founded on? Nothing. Why should it persist? No reason at all.
Thankfully gender identity theory has thrown existentially challenged men a lifeline. If a man is defined neither by his body nor his external privilege, then manhood must be something else. What, then? No one needs to say. You’re not even allowed to ask. The corollary to “trans women are women” is “cis men are men”. They either have something that trans women lack, or lack something that trans women possess. What is it? No one really knows. But they’re definitely not women. They’re definitely not like you or me.
To me it is pretty obvious who benefits from all this, and it’s certainly not the not-cis-men amongst us. Men can say they want to change as much as they like, but unless they are willing to admit that actually, nothing – nothing at all – differentiates them from women other than the social status they have as men, bestowed on them because of perceived reproductive role at birth, they will always have a get-out clause.
They will always fall back on that desperate belief that they are something special, a class that dominates not out of spite or cruelty or ignorance, but just because that’s how they were made. “I can’t help how I feel,” they will say. You can tell them you feel the same, but being men they don’t have to listen. Unlike us, they don’t identify with having to care.