If women were human, no one would read books about serial killers.

If people were capable of viewing women as human beings, their murders would not evoke prurient fascination and bolster book sales. Big “if,” I know.

After reading an excellent post at The F Word yesterday related to a serial killer whose existence I was theretofore unaware of, I made the foolish decision to google the Robert Pickton case to learn more about it. In the first page of results I came across a collection of salacious accounts of a man raping, killing, and dismembering prostituted women and feeding their body parts to the pigs on his farm (and, possibly, to other humans, as some accounts claim he mixed the dead women’s flesh with pork and served it to those who visited the farm).

The public just loves serial killers, and this case had all of the elements that make for the kind of serial killer story a misogynistic society can really get down with. First — and most telling — the victims were nearly all prostitutes, many of whom are said to have had drug problems. That element is mentioned early in every account of the case in order to assure the reader that he or she may proceed to revel in maximum prurience without any feelings of fear or guilt, because everyone knows that prostituted women with drug problems are about as worthless as anyone can get and deserved to be raped and murdered. With that concern out of the way, the authors of the stories delve into the gory details of what they choose to pretend was a bizarre aberration, treating the salivating reader to the fine points of how Pickton lured, trapped, brutalized, raped, and murdered up to 49 female human beings.

Each account that I read made mention of Pickton’s farm, the Piggy Palace, where he held parties that hundreds of people attended. They also mention Pickton’s 1997 arrest for the attempted murder of  a woman who escaped after Pickton handcuffed and stabbed her, and of the many times police visited Pickford’s farm on the suspicion that he was connected to a growing list of missing women. Despite those visits and several searches of the farm, Pickton managed to murder several more women before being caught in 2002. Each of the stories also mentioned that, though he had only been convicted of killing six women, police were aware that the number of women Pickton had murdered was likely 49. They were aware of that number because Pickton admitted to an undercover cop posing as a cell mate that he had killed 49 women and wished he could have had the chance to kill one more to make it an even 50.

It doesn’t take a philologist to understand the underlying messages glossed over in the reporting on this and other serial killer cases. Pickton felt comfortable enough to admit to a near stranger that he had killed 49 human beings, which means two things. First, he had to have disclosed his activities to several people with whom he had closer relationships prior to having been caught, and none of those people came forward. Second, he was so secure in the knowledge that other men hate women as much as he does that he didn’t expect his new “cell mate” to blink when he admitted to 43 murders he had not yet been charged with. Then there is the fact that scores of bands played and hundreds of men partied at Pickton’s farm, many of whom recalled later having witnessed violent scenes involving prostituted women and deeming the place creepy. One dude who frequented the farm reported to police that there were purses and women’s IDs all over the place, but that information resulted in a search that — either because Pickton was coincidentally slightly less secure and careless in his assumption that everyone would overlook his murdering prostituted women on that day or because the police did a half-assed job (likely both) — turned up nothing that would put a stop to Pickton’s activities. In short, the hundreds of men who had the chance to didn’t care enough about prostituted women to bother putting forth a smidgen of effort to prevent them from being raped and murdered.

There are marathons of biographies of serial killers on television nearly constantly, and books written about serial killers perennially occupy the upper reaches of bestseller lists. People revel in serial killer stories because serial killers generally tend to kill women, and the culture is so desensitized to the murder of women that it can be taken as pure entertainment, especially when those women are prostitutes. Prostitutes, in the fictional account of their existence provided by libertarian, individualistic, boot-strap ideology, became prostitutes out of some moral failing of their own, and thus deserve far less sympathy and police resources than other women (whose murders are still entertaining, though slightly scarier — to women).

Serial killers take revenge on women on behalf of misogynistic society for rejecting men and for straying outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and they scare other women back into line by doing so. Serial killers punish prostitutes for being prostitutes — despite the fact that their being prostituted in the first place is already usually punishment for their having been born poor or having been victims of abuse — and everyone but prostitutes and feminists seems to find that acceptable. Societal obsession with men who compulsively murder women and the fact that no one seems all that interested in the thoughts of men who routinely shoot other men indicate that the fascination comes not from the purportedly bizarre landscape of serial killers’ psyches, but from the fact that they are murdering women. What is interesting about serial killers and the cultural enthrallment with them is not how aberrant their psychology is, but how banal and pedestrian their hatred of women is. An obsession with serial killers might go really well with the general thoughtless consumption of macabre bullshit like Norwegian death metal and horror movies, but it does not indicate anything about the obsessor other than that he has mistakenly come to believe that men who sexualize violence by murdering women are doing anything but reflecting the logical conclusion of mainstream societal misogyny.

The third (and probably last) trans post of my life

I’m going to restate my position on all of this as simply as I can:

  • Radical feminist theory is founded in part on a separation of sex and gender, with “sex” referring to that which identifies the the material body as female or male and “gender” referring to the social roles enforced on the sexed body. A male supremacist society constructs gender roles out of thin air and horseshit in order to enforce social behavior on women and men that turns women into negative foils for sets of purported male attributes that amount chiefly to the valorization of that which allows men to dominate women (physical strength, violence, “bravery,” lack of discernible emotion, etc.).
  • Gender roles feel constrictive to almost everyone to some degree, and especially to the women who sense that the expectation of “femininity” is actually an expectation that they sublimate all of their own desires and interests so that men may more freely express their desires and interests (most of which are detrimental to women’s existence). Feminism, in general, aims to eliminate gender roles as the social foundation upon which male supremacy is constructed. The ultimate goal is thus to overthrow male supremacy and create a social environment in which behaviors and feelings don’t come in pre-packaged sets and are completely divorced from body parts that they are only nonsensically attached to now.
  • That there are people who feel so uncomfortable with the difference between their sexed bodies and their socialized conception of themselves that they would choose to risk deformity, death, and disability is to be deplored. Women have been conditioned to harm their own bodies in service of a social gender role grounded in misogyny and male supremacy. Radical feminism seeks an end to this practice. Women seeking surgery in order that their bodies will appear like male bodies, or men who undergo surgery in order that their bodies will present as female bodies, face huge psychological and physical risks and social ostracization. Adamantine gender roles are the source of the demand for these medical procedures and the dangers that attend them. Radical feminism also seeks an end to this practice.
  • The existence of transgenderism appears to strengthen the already sturdy bond between gender roles and sexed bodies when an individual comes to believe that their body must — but does not — match their thoughts and feelings and seeks to alter their body to resolve that conflict. However, the existence of sexual reassignment surgery and hormone therapy alerts the public to the disturbing and destructive power of gender role expectations, which might result in a gradual reassessment of the way we think about gender. On balance, it is difficult to determine whether transgenderism does more to strengthen or to undermine gender roles, but to expect an individual human being to suffer for the entirety of their life in order to fight for a political goal they may not even share is not appropriate.
  • Banning reassignment surgery is also not an option. Engaging the state in enforcing what should be a cultural prerogative will only lead to harm when people seek incompetent help outside of a medical establishment that can barely be considered competent itself. The male-dominated and capitalistic medical industry seeks constantly to arrogate to itself greater and greater authority to dictate our understanding of our bodies to us, and to decide for us what constitutes an appropriate application of medical technology (hence the plastic surgery and pharmaceutical industries). An outside entity must limit the power of the scientific and medical establishment and urge the reassessment of how to approach the phenomenon of human health. That outside entity should not be the state, but rather a movement of people who have reached a political and social consensus on how to approach the human body and mind more effectively, humanely, and holistically. This movement should obviously operate in tandem with a general shift in thinking about sex and gender informed by radical feminist politics.
  • Gender roles have served as justification for the rape, murder, and silencing of women since men figured out how to enforce them. They have also been used as justification for extreme physical and psychological violence toward men who do not conform to male gender roles (homosexual men; men who dress, present, or live as women; etc.). Both cases are expressions of misogyny. Men absolutely loathe and fear trans people. Transmen are seen as intruders, but transwomen are seen as traitors. Men cannot understand why someone born male would choose to take on what they see as a subordinate position in society. It threatens their sense of order in a fundamental way.
  • There is a difference between men who were born male, live as men, and reap the benefits of male privilege every time they come into contact with another human being and people born male who, while they may have absorbed enough social conditioning to exhibit a male sense of entitlement, have also experienced oppression at the hands of men who are recognizable as men (i.e., as no threat to gender hierarchy). It is not the same  kind of oppression women face, but it is nonetheless oppression and can include forms of violence just as severe as those women face. And it comes from the exact same feature of the average male psyche: virulent misogyny. That means transwomen need to be approached differently than men, and that transmen need to be approached differently than men or transwomen (though it does not mean that radical feminists ought to not analyze and critique trans theory) if the discussion of transgenderism and trans politics is to have clarity.
  • Radical feminists, while they do at times seek to make use of state power to reach limited goals, generally do not see the state as a vehicle for the good of women. The state’s existence is inextricably bound up with its ability to use violence and coercion. The state can thus be used as a tool, but it usually lags quite far behind the public and requires strenuous prodding by social movements to do anything right. That means that radical feminist ideas need to be impressed into the minds of the largest number of people possible in order to create a social movement. In the event that enough people absorb what radical feminism has to say, we will either find ourselves in a future in which the state will no longer exist, or in which the state can be used as a tool to bring us closer to wholesale liberation (the former obviously being preferable). In either case, there is work to do, and a shitload of it. No one wants to spend time explaining to men why they should behave like human beings, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel because separatism is only a viable option for a very small number of women, of which I am not one. That means I have to spend my life repeating myself in the hopes that a few small improvements will be made in the lives of some women before I die and that men will stop killing, raping, and dehumanizing us a few centuries after I die. I’m cool with that because it’s right. The only thing left is to determine how best to convince other people that it’s right.
  • In the face of a constant barrage of misogyny, and in an environment in which women who speak out in defense of women are besieged from all sides, anger and the desire for some form of camaraderie with the few women who have seen through the bullshit is to be expected. I am nearly constantly furious and quite often have an extreme sense of isolation in my political views. Still, when that camaraderie takes place on public blogs and contains words that men use to subjugate transgendered people, it presents a problem for radical feminism if the aim is to inject radical feminist ideas into public consciousness. Anger is one thing, slurs are another. Slurs shut the reader’s mind off. What cannot be allowed is for the public face of radical feminist theory to appear reactionary, and right now it does. When trans activists bully radical feminists and attempt to force their way into women-only spaces, women should be angry and should speak up — and should express anger when they do speak up — but should do so responsibly and intelligently, so that the radical feminist perspective won’t be written off.  Analyzing competing gender theories is not as simple as telling people how stupid and offensive a Burger King ad is. It’s complex, touchy, and very difficult to sort out and should be approached carefully.

In which Nine Deuce uses the word “trans” a second time

The cognitive dissonance that plagues the thinking radical feminist when ruminating over trans people matters and needs to be confronted, discussed, and theorized about, but it needs to be done in such a way that some good might come of it. Radical feminism, at a bare minimum, is characterized by the rejection of essentialism, of the idea that reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics come packaged with sets of social behaviors termed “feminine” and “masculine.” Gender role performances are simply a load of bullshit posturing forced on us by a male supremacist society that requires symbols of difference, no matter how fictitious, in order to continue to operate unchallenged. When we argue that plastic surgery exists to aid those who seek to more closely adhere to a gender role concocted by the partnership between capitalism and patriarchy, it’s easy to assume that the same impulse is at work when someone claims to identify with one gender role or the other and pursues sex reassignment surgery. It’s a very simple logical progression; having parts of one’s body surgically removed or having foreign objects inserted into one’s body as a result of a warped obsession with gender conformity illustrates the deleterious effects of socially enforced gender roles on the human body and mind in the case of the “beauty” industry, so the same must hold true for sex reassignment surgery.

The thing is, none of the radical feminists I know are trans, nor am I. I have no way of knowing whether my battle with what society wants out of me as someone born with a vagina resembles in any way the conflicts that occur in the mind of someone with male genitalia who feels a desperate need to undergo reassignment surgery. I’m guessing, however, that it doesn’t, and I’m thus not going to tell trans people how their minds work, nor am I going to make the outrageous and dehumanizing claim that they must be mentally ill. (Let us please not forget the history of the use of psychiatric authority as a justification for the marginalization, institutionalization, sterilization, rape, and murder of women.)

An even more difficult aspect of this issue is the relationship of male privilege and what society teaches male children about women and what it means to be female. Some radical feminists are offended at what they have perceived as a caricature of womanhood, or a reduction of the experience of being female to whatever a misogynistic society tells us womanhood is about (e.g., boots, bitchiness, and boobs). If all transwomen all the time interpreted and expressed femininity by channeling Bugs Bunny’s take on womanhood and ran around exclaiming that all one needs to be a woman is a facsimile vagina, a sense of fashion, and the ability to gossip, that would be the end of it. But that isn’t the case, and reality requires that we approach this discussion a little more thoughtfully and adhere to our own professed ethics and logical proclivities.

Straw Transwoman

Transwomen, it is argued, cannot ever understand what it means to be female in a male supremacist world in the exact same sense that women who were born female do. That is almost certainly the case, but who cares? Is anyone even claiming that they can? It would appear to be the opposite, in the cases in which transwomen enter into discussions with female-at-birth women and urge that their unique concerns as transwomen be taken into consideration. That leads to another problem. Some trans-critical radical feminists argue that transwomen display that most unseemly of male characteristics, the sense of entitlement to absorb all available discursive space and the totality of the available focus. Seeing as women have so few opportunities to discuss our own issues without men’s obnoxious intrusions, and seeing as there seems to be no space men do not feel entitled to intrude upon, I see the point. The problem lies, however, in whether we want to lump transwomen in with men. I don’t feel comfortable doing so. For one thing, the fact that many transwomen did not adhere to male gender norms even as children likely drastically altered the experience of male gender conditioning, and probably also sharply decreased the ability to relate to other boys and men as allies in the preservation of male privilege. Men perpetuate male privilege by “having each others’ backs” and bro-ing down in their shared misogyny and homophobia/transphobia (being unthoughtful dudes, they can’t distinguish between one kind of person they call “faggots” and another). How many little boys do you know who wouldn’t shun a little boy who displayed characteristics they’ve been taught to disdain since birth? And how many little boys who are shunned by other boys feel invested in upholding a male privilege that they feel fundamentally excluded from? Maybe some transwomen lived as boys long enough to absorb the idea that they are entitled to talk over women and that their concerns come first, simply because parents and society treat children with penises in such a way that they come to expect that. Or maybe the individual transwomen some of the radical feminist community has problems with are just self-absorbed, abusive assholes. In either case, we aren’t dealing with men. We are dealing with transwomen, and it is important when discussing something as complicated as conflicting gender theories to be very specific and delineate exactly what it is we’re talking about.

The argument goes that the existence of trans people strengthens the gender binary, but no one save the few trans activists who have attempted to force their way into female-only spaces truly considers transwomen to be women. The general public who consider themselves intellectuals because they read Time have even begun to evince an awareness, due in part to news stories regarding trans children, that there is a fundamental flaw in the gender binary. It is likely that, in a world without a binary gender hierarchy, gender roles would cease to serve a purpose and people would cease to feel the need to resort to dangerous medical procedures in order to feel at ease in the world, but we aren’t there yet. Even if everyone agreed at the stroke of midnight tonight to cease seeking out hormone therapy and reassignment surgery, trans people exist, and they exist in a no-woman’s-land between between the two ill-fitting gender roles male supremacist society has devised. We have to find ways to reconcile their existence with our mental frameworks and the physical world. Solutions need to be found to the problems that arise when people who do not fit the gender binary come up against it when standing in front of a public bathroom door sign, for example. “Fuck you, stay out” is not a solution. (Lobbying for single-user bathrooms — which make sense for several reasons not limited to trans people’s needs — is.)

The internet is probably the single most valuable recruiting tool history has handed us for ending the oppression of women, children, people of color, and the poor. If the sites people come across when looking for information on radical feminism revolve chiefly around esoteric denunciations infused with snotty, juvenile insults, how can we expect anyone to get on board with the cause? There are venues for the elaboration of theory and there are venues aimed at drawing in outsiders, but the proprietors of both have the responsibility to make themselves clear and accessible — rather than repulsive — to their audiences. That is not a request that women “play nice.” It is a request that feminists use the forums they have at their disposal responsibly.

The task at hand is not to define feminism in such a way that only eight people (of whom I am not one) qualify, it’s to figure out a way to create a world in which no one is beaten, raped, murdered, dehumanized, worked to death, devalued, or shat upon by men as a means for reinforcing male power. That will not be accomplished by using the master’s tools to try to tear down his house, i.e., using dehumanizing language that makes us sound like MRAs against oppressed people, even if some of them act like assholes. Transwomen are not in a position of power, they are not privileged over women except when women choose to efface themselves to give transwomen the stage, even if an individual transwoman feels entitled to talk over everyone. Is the claim that feminist blog discussions are a zero-sum environment in which transwomen’s issues are to be considered only to the ouster of women’s concerns? That’s ridiculous. The internet is a big place, and there is room for everyone who isn’t a complete dick to discuss their perspectives. If a site silences radical feminists (for illegitimate reasons), stop going to the site. There are places that won’t.

Transwomen who call themselves feminists are feminists, if we use the baseline belief that women are human beings as a basic definition of feminism. That some transwomen’s conception of  feminism reflects their own experiences rather than those of radical feminists who were born female is to be expected. It’s time to move away from the Second Wave/Third Wave dichotomy and move past the fragmentation of the feminist movement of recent decades. We can find ways to work with feminists who have varying priorities without descending into a radically relativistic individualism that isolates us all from each other, but we’ll have to attempt to figure out how rather than spend our time coming up with clever ways to delegitimize other feminists. Picking someone else’s position apart is far easier than building one of one’s own, but it’s a fairly dead-end pursuit. If the argument truly is that trans people demand more intellectual and political space than is their fair share, why are radical feminists creating entire blogs about them? How much effort needs to be expended on deconstructing trans politics? Does doing so really build radical feminist theory? Or change individual women’s lives for the better?

Note 1: I realize I only discussed transwomen here, which I did because I am responding to discussions in which transwomen are the chief subject. I tend to agree with the view that women transitioning to become men evince internalized misogyny, but that isn’t for this post, nor is it that shocking of an idea, given that everyone in the world is a misogynist.

Note 2: I will be moderating the fuck out of comments.

To be continued…