Last month Everyday Feminism published an article by Jack Qu’emi, entitled “4 Ways to Be Gender Inclusive When Discussing Abortion“. The article addressed the issue of trans- and non-binary exclusion in pro-choice rhetoric.
Transgender men, women and non-binary people are overlooked in so many areas. The comments on that article alone are enough to confirm the fact that even in the feminist community, this section of society is sometimes overlooked and wilfully misunderstood for the convenience of others.
The article examined more than just online feminist circles, but it struck me because of something I’ve been noticing in our online communities:
A comment on an article or a social media link, bearing a traditionally masculine name being dismissed as insignificant, irrelevant or simply not welcome, not because of its content, but based on the assumption that it comes from a cisgender male. If the avatar displays a person of traditionally masculine appearance, the same response can occur.
This is not my feminism. This is not reality.
The reality is that a name and even a photograph tell you nothing of a person’s involvement with issues such as abortion. A name doesn’t tell you what reproductive organs someone possesses or once possessed. No more than a traditionally feminine appearance ensures the desire or ability to carry biological children.
My feminism looks like this:
A comment is left on an article, a forum, a social media link or spoken at a rally, an event or a meet-up. The name, vocal or physical characteristics of the speaker do not imbue their comment with any additional validation, nor does it discredit or detract from it.
The comment is judged on its own merits, on the worth of the idea itself. From this we get the best of ideas, we improve ideas and with any luck, we might improve our own understanding of the topic(s) discussed.
If the world can be improved by removing the obstacles that stand in the way of more than 50% of its population, making their world better, allowing them to reach their full potential and by extension giving the entire human species the benefit of their ideas, their knowledge and ingenuity – then it must be equally true that feminism, the very fight which hopes to achieve that breaking of barriers and removal of obstacles, can itself be improved by means of removing any roadblocks to knowledge, ingenuity and good ideas.
By allowing people, all people, who meet the definition of a “feminist” to contribute, how much faster can we reach our goals and achieve our milestones? And let us not forget that the standard definition of a feminist is “a person” who advocates for feminism. It is not a man, a woman, nor any other, but a person who advocates for equality between the sexes on social, political and economic grounds. A person who stands against inequality and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and so on.
It has been said that women in the workplace often have to be twice as good at the job in question as their male counterparts in order to receive half the recognition. It has been said with good reason that this is so. This is the discrimination and inequality, conscious and unconscious that we fight. And yet, do we as a entire community live up to our own standards? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
If a man, a cisgender straight male, with scholarly honours in gender studies and feminist theory has a suggestion – we hear it, we judge it on its own merits and we either embrace or reject it in whole or in part on that impartial criteria. But does a person have to introduce themselves with their qualifications in order to be heard? And why is it only this kind of knowledge, the kind so many people can’t afford to have verified through education institutions, that we respect?
It’s true that cisgender straight men cannot experience the world as women do. It is equally true however, that no two women can experience the world alike. No one woman can experience the full breadth of the issues examined in feminism and yet feminism is a place where all of these women have a voice.
In many parts of the feminist community today, people are discouraged from becoming informed and engaged simply because they identify as male or are assumed to identify as male. And not only that, but we discourage them from contributing their ideas and thoughts. Ideas and thoughts, among which may be some insight into what needs to challenged, what misapprehensions needs to addressed and even ideas that are valid and worthwhile contributions to our movements.
Throughout history, every revolution and social movement has had among its proponents some who were not directly affected by the issues. And throughout history, their contributions have been just that, contributions. They are not the shining light of saviour, no one person or idea usually is, but they can be helpful, valid, worthwhile contributions. By becoming informed and engaged, people can be effective in their own ways, ranging from bridges of communication between those who are and are not personally affected, to legal and political strategies or visibility initiatives.
I can’t go further without explicitly acknowledging that the prejudice against ideas and suggestions offered into our community by persons who are either male, whether cis or trans, or assumed to be male, are but a drop in the ocean when compared the discrimination, harassment and violence suffered by women throughout all of human history. It does not begin to compare to the discrimination endured over the course of even one woman’s lifetime. And it amounts to little when considered alongside the ongoing trials suffered by women throughout the world. However, I am also compelled to add this:
Equality is not a finite resource.
There is no need to limit the equality we grant to others. We do not begin each day with a finite number of “equality tokens” requiring us to limit and to prioritise their distribution. We can take ideas and thoughts on their own merit. In doing so we uphold the standards we hope to see upheld in the wider world. We accelerate the pace at which we can enact those standards of fairness and equality for this and future generations, throughout the world.
We do so by engaging the entire voting public, by enriching our community and our efforts with the full potential and intellect of humanity and by informing and engaging those we hope will share their information with others.
In my own feminism, ideas are taken on their own merits and are not diluted with hasty judgements. The speaker or author of a comment does not have to have their privacy wrenched from unwilling hands in order to avoid an angry mobbing. They need make no disclaimers as to their own disenfranchisements or areas of disadvantage. Nor must they choose between their privacy or the basic respect of being heard fairly – If a person’s right to be heard hinges on what organs they possess, have ever possessed and/or whether those organs function, they will have to choose between that right and the right to privacy regarding their gender identity, assigned sex, pre- or post-op status, fertility etc.
I live in a country that has denied abortions to those who need them, that has passively exported those people to foreign shores for treatment in the hopes of exporting “the problem”. Finally, after tragedies that caused media-storms and tragedies never even spoken aloud, after marches in the streets comprising men, women neither and both, we may have the much demanded opportunity to vote on this issue (relatively) soon.
When I go to vote in favour of choice, I will not be asked about my sex, nor my gender identity. I will not be asked about my reproductive organs or my history. Nobody will be asked those questions. Nobody will be stopped and asked about their fertility before they can vote. Nobody, in short, will need to prove their personal involvement with this issue to be granted a vote. So why must a person prove their involvement in order to respectfully discuss it? Why can we not engage as equals, mutually seeking to establish equality?
For those who cannot be directly affected by abortion, we want them in the debate because we want them to be informed, we want them to be engaged and most of all, we want them to vote.
Yet the fact remains, we cannot determine who those people are from a name or a photograph. And we cannot with any integrity, dismiss the respectful contributions of others, on grounds that violate our own doctrine of equality.