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How politically correct is transgender?
Do women and men have different brains? When Lawrence H. Summers, as President of Harvard, said so, the response was prompt and merciless. Experts called him a sexist. Faculty members berated him as a caveman. Alumni refused to donate.
But when Bruce Jenner said the same thing in an interview with journalist Diane Sawyer, he was lauded for his courage and even his progressiveness. "My brain is much more feminine than masculine," he said to explain why he was transgender.
Do women and men have different brains?
Vanity Fair gave us an insight into Caitlyn Jenner's idea of a woman: push-up corset, lascivious pose, loads of mascara and the prospect of regular “girls' evenings” with banter about hairstyles and make-up. Jenner got a lot of applause for this. The "Entertainment and Sports Programming Network" (ESPN) announced that it would award Ms. Jenner an award for her courage. President Obama also congratulated her.
For much of my 68 years I have fought against the fact that women - our brains, our hearts, our bodies - are pigeonholed and we are reduced to dusty stereotypes. And now I have to realize that many people whom I thought by my side - people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination - suddenly believe that tiny differences in male and female brains have huge consequences and that we have a kind of gender fate burned into us.
Yet this is exactly the kind of nonsense that has been used for centuries as a pretext to oppress women. But the desire to support people like Jenner and their journey to the “real me” has strangely brought him back.
But people who haven't lived their entire lives as women, whether Ms. Jenner or Mr. Summers, shouldn't redefine us. Men have been doing this for too long. And as much as I recognize and approve of the right of men to also throw off their corset of masculinity, they must not claim any claim to dignity as a transgender person by trampling on my dignity as a woman.
Your feminine identity is not my feminine identity!
Your reality is not my reality. Your feminine identity is not my feminine identity. They have not lived in this world as women and have been shaped by what that means. You haven't suffered in business meetings where men only talked to their breasts. You didn't wake up to the horror after sex that you forgot to take the pill the day before. They didn't have to deal with the fact that their periods started in the middle of a crowded subway or that their male co-workers' salaries were higher than their own. And they didn't have to live with the fear that they might be too weak to defend themselves against a rapist.
What makes it difficult for me and many other women, feminists or not, to stand behind the transgender movement is that more and more trans people disregard the fact that being a woman also means having had certain experiences, suffered certain degradations and certain ones To have “enjoyed” idealizations in a culture that treats women differently than men.
Brains are a good place to start this debate. Because if there is one thing that science has found out about them, it is that they are shaped by experience. For example, the part of the brain that is responsible for orientation is more pronounced in taxi drivers; just as the brain region for finger movements of the left hand is expanded in right-handed violinists.
"You can't just take a brain and say, 'That's a girl's brain' or 'That's a boy's brain,'" said Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Aston University, UK, recently in The Telegraph. The differences between male and female brains, she explained, are caused by the permanent influence of an environment that treats people very differently depending on their gender.
Jenner's experiences include a hefty dose of male privilege few women can even imagine. While the young "Bruiser" (muscle man), as Bruce Jenner was called in his childhood, financed his studies with a sports scholarship, few athletes could dare to hope for such generosity. After all, universities hardly offered any funding for women's sports. When Mr. Jenner was looking for a job to make a living while training for the 1976 Olympics, he was not forced to resort to the sparse "Help Wanted - Female" advertisements. He got by on the $ 9,000 he got annually.
Unlike young women, whose average income was just over half that of men. Big and strong as he was, he never had to worry about the safest way to walk the streets at night. These are the realities that shape women's brains.
To be a woman also means to have had certain experiences
Jenner and the many transgender rights advocates who argue similarly ignore these realities by defining femininity as Jenner did to journalist Sawyer. In doing so, they undermine nearly a century of hard-won arguments: namely, that the definition of femininity is a social construct with which we have been oppressed. And they undermine our efforts to change the circumstances in which we grew up.
Imagine the reactions if a young white man suddenly declared that he was trapped in the wrong body and expected - after using chemicals that alter his skin pigmentation and curling his hair into small curls black community to be readily accepted.
Many women I know, of all ages and races, talk in private about how offensive we find the language transactivists use to explain themselves. After Jenner talked about his brain, a friend became indignant and asked desperately, "Does that mean he's bad at math, crying at bad movies, or programmed for empathy?" Wrote after Jenner's Vanity Fair photos were published Susan Ager, a Michigan journalist, on Facebook: "I fully support Caitlyn Jenner, but I wish she hadn't made up her mind to become a sex babe."
Most of the time we bite our tongues and swallow the anger that we openly and rightly felt at Larry Summers. We shy away from voicing this anger out loud because we see the mud battle that has erupted between radical wings of the women's movement and the trans movement. For example, there is the question of which events are limited to “women born as women”, about access to public toilets or who suffered the more extreme persecution. We are all too familiar with the insults and fear that trans men and women live with. That is why we instinctively want to stand behind the struggle of a cruelly marginalized group for justice.
But as the trans movement becomes mainstream, it becomes more and more difficult for us not to ask probing questions given the constant attacks by some trans movement spokesmen on women's right to define ourselves, our attitudes, or our bodies. Because the trans movement is simply not doing what Afro-Americans, Latinos, homosexuals or women have done, namely: calling for an end to violence and discrimination and respectful treatment. The trans movement also demands that we women redesign ourselves.
In January 2014, for example, actress Martha Plimtpon, a campaigner for the right to abortion, sent a tweet about a fundraising event called “Night of a Thousand Vaginas”. Suddenly there was criticism for using the word "vagina". "Given the constant focus and scrutiny of our sex organs, one cannot expect trans people to be attracted to an event title that focuses on a sex organ that is engaged in reactionary, binary politics," read a tweet.
Movement demands that we women redesign ourselves
When Martha Plimpton stated that she would keep saying “vagina” - and why shouldn't she, when there is no pregnancy or abortion without a vagina? - her page was flooded again with indignant comments, as Michelle Goldberg reported in The Nation. "So you're really determined to keep using a term you've been told many times to be exclusive and hurtful?" Asked one blogger. Plimpton became - to use the new trans insult - "Terf", which means "Trans exclusionary radical feminist".
In January, the Mount Holyoke College theater project, a women's arts college, canceled a performance of Eve Ensler's iconic feminist play The Vagina Monologues. The reason: It offers "only a very limited perspective on what it means to be a woman," said Erin Murphy, the chairwoman of the student group.
To note again: The word “vagina” is exclusive and only offers a very limited perspective on womanhood? So should we three to five billion people who have a vagina, along with the trans people who want one, use the politically correct term transactivists want to give us the politically correct term: "front hole" or "inner genital"?
Even the word "woman" has been targeted by the very people who claim the right to be considered a woman. The hashtags #StandWithTexasWomen and #WeTrustWomen are also under attack. Reason: They are "exclusive".
"The right to abortion and reproductive justice are not a women-specific problem," wrote Emmet Stoffer, one of the many who describe themselves as transgender and blog about the topic. It is a "uterus-possessing specific problem". Stoffer was referring to the possibility that a woman who is taking hormones or undergoing sex reassignment surgery, or who does not identify as a woman, could still have a uterus, become pregnant and need an abortion.
As a result, abortion rights groups are now under pressure to remove the word woman from their statements, as Katha Politt recently reported in The Nation. Those who have given in, like the New York Abortion Access Fund, are now offering their services to “people” and “callers”. The “Fund Texas Women” initiative, which finances hotel and travel expenses for women who want to terminate their pregnancy, has also been renamed “Fund Texas Choice”. "With the name 'Fund Texas Women' we have publicly excluded trans people who need an abortion but are not women," the group explains its move on its website.
Women's colleges contort to accept female students who consider themselves men, but usually do not accept men who live as women. Now these institutes, whose core mission is actually to produce female leaders, have a student parliament and student dormitory president who describes herself as male.
Students at Wellesley Women's College are increasingly replacing the term “sisterhood” with “sibling”. Faculty members receive complaints from trans students complaining about the use of the pronoun “she” despite Wellesley's long tradition of being THE world-class women's college.
The situation that is emerging and the language that it entails is impossible to understand. The theory-heavy trans activists claim that there are no paradoxes here and that anyone who claims the opposite is clinging to a binary view of gender that is hopelessly out of date. Even so, Ms. Jenner and Ms. Manning, to name but two, expect to be called women; At the same time, Pro Choice activists are taught that it is discriminatory to use the term “woman”. So are those who have been converted as men the only “rightful” women left?
The struggle to overcome stereotypes is far from over
Women like me challenged the limited view of women and men when most Americans had never heard the word "transgender" in their lives. And because we did, and continue to do, thousands of women who were once restricted to jobs like secretaries, beauticians, and flight attendants are now working as welders, mechanics, or pilots. That is why our daughters play with cars just as they do with dolls, and that is why most of us today dare to wear a skirt and high heels on Tuesdays and jeans on Fridays.
It is quite likely that this hard-won relaxation of role constraints for women explains, at least in part, why three times as many sex reassignments are performed in men. Men are comparatively more restricted or even overwhelmed by gender stereotypes.
The struggle to overcome these stereotypes is far from over - and transactivists could be our natural allies in it. As long as humans produce X and Y chromosomes that lead to the development of vaginas and penises, almost all of us are “assigned” a gender at birth. But what we do with this gender, the roles we assign to ourselves and to others, is almost completely changeable.
If this is the ultimate message from the trans community, then we warmly welcome them to fight together to ensure that everyone has the space to live the way they want - without being constrained by role expectations. But undermining the identities of women and denying or even extinguishing our experiences - we cannot use that in this struggle.
When asked by journalist Sawyer what he was looking forward to the most after his sex change, Bruce Jenner replied: the chance to wear nail polish. Not just for a brief, fleeting moment, but until it flakes off. I wish that for Bruce, now Caitlyn, too. But I also want to remind you that it's not the nail polish that makes a woman into a woman.
Elinor Burkett, translation: Josephine Ngomo
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