A Plain Jane Theory of Sex Differances, Or: Jonesing for Some Sexy Oppression

In this scene, Jane Clare Jones, our star bigot, our astro-TERF attempts to Clarefy sex and sex-based oppression. I, a brainless rube, become confused, certainly on account of my brainlessness, and ask for further Clarefication. Jones obliges, to little effect. Our brainless rube is just too brainless.

Roll cameras! Action!

Skip the dinner and small talk: Jones wants to begin with sex. A little forward for my liking, but let’s role with it. Sex is not just “a very complex mix of chromosomes, hormones, and genitals.”[1] It has much more to do with “gametes and reproductive function.” It’s true! Sex is the system of categorisation we use to understand whether two individuals can productively copulate to produce viable offspring. XY/XX, testosterone/estradiol, penis/vagina, sperm/egg, nurturing mother/deadbeat dad. Sex is a binary. It is . . . wait, Sex isn’t a binary? “THAT IS NOT A FUCKING BINARY,” says Jones.

Okay, so what’s a binary? “A binary,” she says, “is a conceptual hierarchy which is formed by taking a term with a dominant positive value and creating a subordinate value by negating the privileged qualities of the dominant term.” Male/female (sex, that is) is not a binary. Masculine/Feminine (sex(?), that is) is a binary. Glad we Clared that up. Oh no, wait, I sexed it. Masculine/Feminine is gender. Okay, got it. Gender is the “ur-binary, to the extent that ALL of the binary pairs which structure Western thought . . . are gendered.” Sex, on the other hand, is not a binary because it is a “natural difference.” Apparently we in the West didn’t realise this at first because our thought “is so thoroughly gendered that [we] are incapable of thinking the difference ‘male/female’ without thinking it’s (sic) cultural hierarchisation . . .”

Good, good. Now that we know that sex is just a difference between individuals on account of their reproductive function and that there is no hierarchy granted on those grounds, we know what the cause of women’s oppression is: it is the cultural hierarchy of masculine over feminine, of man over woman. So trans women, as women, are oppressed just like cis women, for both are tokens of the same cultural type. They wear their hair long, care needlessly about their figure, read romance novels instead of build motors, and all the other things that women do that are not predicated on their reproductive function. To solve this oppression, then, we need  . . . Huh? What? Oh no: I’ve gone and gendered it up again. “You are committed to an ideology,” she says, “that means you can’t recognise . . . that female people are oppressed qua female people—that is, on the basis of their sex.” Now I’m confused.

I’m Jonesing for a Clarefication here! She obliges: “Male people commit violence . . . because of the structure of patriarchal gender.” Yeah, so men think women are weak and passive and emotional and irrational, and that these characteristics are worse, so they abuse and rape them, they pay them less, they don’t grant them political power, and so on. I got that. So when do we get to the sex? Jones says that “women are oppressed on the basis of their sex.” Okay . . . I realise that reproductive function sets women back in their careers because of child-bearing, and financially in other ways because feminine hygiene products cost money, but what about all the more heinous stuff? Women are raped. Women are catcalled and harassed. These are truly terrible. Trans women get raped too. Quite frequently. They get catcalled and harassed. But they can’t bear children. Rape and harassment have little to do with reproductive function. They are cultural signifiers of power. Cis women don’t have that power. Neither do trans women. Both are oppressed. Now, there are certainly avenues of oppression that cis women face that trans women don’t. Absolutely. But there are likewise avenues of oppression that trans women face that cis women don’t. Trans women face much higher rates of unemployment and underemployment. They live shorter lives. They have more difficulty accessing medical care and have higher rates of disease as a result.

“Stop it with your baseless hierarchy of suffering lady!” Oh no, I’ve made her angry! “You think playing people’s wounds off against each other is going to get us somewhere good, you dangerous idiot???” Wow, okay, rude. I didn’t know I was being dangerous. All suffering is important. I just wanted to know, Dr. Jones, how cis women are oppressed on account of their sex when all of the major threats arise from their gender. I mean, trans men, though female, often don’t face the same threats that cis women, or even trans women, do. So please, Clarefy. Please.

Here we go: Trans women, she says, “are male people who are performing femininity in a way that violates the first rule of patriarchal masculinity.” Uh, sure. But I’m a fairly gracile man. I wear nail polish and sew. I’ve never been catcalled. Not even once. Nor raped. That’s not even a common thing for more effeminate men than me, or at least not nearly as common as it is for cis women or trans women. And why do these two explanations, that trans women don’t live up to the masculine standard, and that cis women have a female reproductive role, happen to explain the same phenomena? What are the chances of that?! Especially since many men don’t have x-ray vision and can’t see that trans women happen to have testes and a Y-chromosome. Like, I know men are attentive and discerning, but I didn’t know we could see hidden, invisible things!

So is that all? Is there nothing else? No? Okay. OKAY!!

Gender and sex are inextricably bound. They are not coextensive; they vary. But they are nevertheless joined like weights by a string, one heavier and one lighter. They shift around with time but at different rates. And yet no one can control either. They both stand independent of us to a large extent. Neither can just be wished away.

But what that means then is that trans women are women. They may differ from cis women in some ways of course: this, after all, is what the “trans” signifies. But their oppression is women’s oppression. Their oppression can be ameliorated by abolishing gender. And what that means is that we don’t demonise them, we don’t add further avenues to their intersection. We accept them and listen to them and support them as we ought to accept and listen and support cis women. But as our support for black women differs from white, disabled women differs from abled, lesbian women differs from straight, so too must our support for trans women differ from cis. Jones, in her infinite smugness, just doesn’t get that.

BOOM!

(Do I get a Prince?)

That’s a wrap! Good job, everyone; let’s get this to the cutting room.

 

Notes

[1] All quotations are from Jane Clare Jones, https://janeclarejones.com/2018/11/20/burble-burble-intersex-burble-social-construct-burble-burble-trans-women-are-women-sally-hines-on-womans-hour/

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3 thoughts on “A Plain Jane Theory of Sex Differances, Or: Jonesing for Some Sexy Oppression”

  1. I’m afraid you don’t get a Prince, because you don’t understand the relation between sex and gender I’m using, and which I consider to be correct…

    Let’s start here:

    “Now that we know that sex is just a difference between individuals on account of their reproductive function and that there is no hierarchy granted on those grounds”

    I never said there is no hierarchy granted on those grounds, there is absolutely a hierarchy which is built on top of sex, it’s called gender. What I am simply claiming is that the idea that sex is constructed by that hierarchy, and the conflation of sexual difference with binary hierarchy, is intellectually and historically incorrect. Moreover, what you’re not getting is that in our model, female people are oppressed *by* gender, *on the basis* of their sex. You seem to think that only oppression which pertains directly to reproduction has something to do with sex, and that everything else is to do with gender – which somehow arose completely independently of sex, and has nothing to do with reproduction, and women’s sexual role vis-a-vis men (as viewed by men). What this comes down to is always this, we think that you don’t have a theory of patriarchy, or rather, you seem to think that patriarchy is just the system of gendered hierarchical value, but don’t have an account of why that system arose, how that system is fundamentally motivated, and what it has to do with sex. And hence you seem to think that you can just change the system at the level of the symbolic, or cultural, without challenging the fundamental structure of domination that underpins it. To our minds, ALL of women’s oppression derives, ultimately, from sex, because the system arose in order to appropriate and control, in the first instance, the reproductive labour of women and the sexual availability of women to men, and in the second instance, based on the first, the domestic and emotional labour of women, with respect to tending to the needs of children and their partners. That is, we have a materialist, Marxist, analysis of the basis of oppression. The structure of gender arises on that basis to codify, and maintain, the subordination of women to men, in order to allow for that appropriation. Some of the violence that is directed at both women and men, is, under those conditions, violence aimed at policing gender… because gender is the cultural system which maintains the structure of power, and gender non-conformity is therefore a threat. However, the structure of power is still, fundamentally, based on sex. It is male people who have power over female people, and male people’s interests that are served by female people being in a subordinate position, so that male people can control women’s reproductive capacities, and get their sexual, emotional, and domestic needs tended to. That is, to repeat, patriarchy is a system of sex based oppression, and the means by which that system is culturally encoded and maintained, is called gender.

    So yeah, you are confused. From where we’re standing, what we see is a system of thinking that can neither think the difference between sex and gender, nor, therefore, can think the way they inform each other and interact. Those advocating for your position constantly misrepresent our position, while, at the same time, insisting that our position by effectively intellectually annihilated, even though you don’t actually seem to understand it. You don’t seem to appreciate that the vast majority of us have absolutely no issue with how anyone wants to perform their gender, that we welcome all forms of gender non-conformity, and that if all you were campaigning for was absolute freedom of gender performance, and the rights to be protected absolutely from all discrimination on that basis, we would be your staunchest allies. However, because your system of thinking can’t think the difference *and* interrelation of sex and gender, the current form of the trans rights movement is effectively campaigning for the abolition of sex as a legal and political category, and refuses to understand that sex, and not gender, is the fundamental structuring principle of the system of power, and is the pertinent issue with respect to the the vast majority of the discriminations and violences women face. And that is the source of the conflict.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Gender and Sex are synonyms. They are each biological. As a TERF I’m not giving up the linguistic turf.

    A person’s attitude to perceived masculinity or femininity is not the same as it being their actual gender.

    Like

  3. “But what that means then is that trans women are women.” No, it doesn’t. Nothing you have said prior to this sentence leads to this conclusion. You haven’t even defined ‘woman’ so I’ll do it for you: A woman is an adult human female and being a refugee from masculinity doesn’t make you one. Womanhood isn’t an escape route for men who don’t want to be men. Mind you, I’m all for abolishing gender because doing so should people to be free to express themselves however they choose without pretending to be what they are not.

    Liked by 1 person

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