Sunday, March 8, 2015

Talking Gender Pluralism for #IWD2015.

Happy International Women's Day!! And Happy Birthday to my step-aunt, Kim!

IWD is a microcosm of tension and heterogeneity within diverse feminist communities and thought. While I identify with (post)colonial and post-structural anti-essentialism, I don't think the day should be cancelled by any means. There is, however, a rigorous task of intersectional deconstruction that foregrounds ethical feminist organizing of IWD affairs.


IWD is actually a great opportunity for community, conversation, and critical thinking. IWD is a platform for a broad audience to think and share about social practices of sexism and gender policing as axes of women's oppression. This type of sharing and learning is a meaningful departure from the ideas of 'global sisterhood' and 'universal womanhood' that erase diversity and colonial history.

This IWD, consider how rigid determinate outcomes are assumed of bodies based on their appearances.


Sex is the biological categorization of populations based on physiological characteristics and reproductive observations. Sex is articulated as male/female bodies and increasingly as male/female/and intersex bodies. Hard divisions in sex categories are oversimplified and unrepresentative of fact. Human bodies exist on a spectrum from male to female, with an infinite number of intersex possibilities in between. Intersex bodies are both born and crafted in present day. Sex reassignment surgeries move bodies down the spectrum toward the opposite pole but cannot biologically reach it. Sex markers are genetic as well as anatomic.

Sex and gender have a co-constitutive relationship. While sex serves to categorize bodies, gender is a social idea that prescripts stereotypical behavior to bodies by category. Necessarily, the criteria that divided the sexual categories was formed from gendered expectations of bodies. Similarly, sexism and gender-policing share this co-constitutive character.


Gender policing occurs when a person (falsely) assumes authority to censor or correct the behavior of another person because of that other person's failure to meet gendered expectations. People of all genders are subjected to gender policing in socially specific contexts. Gender policing has particularly disadvantageous career implications for school aged girls. Gender policing puts feminine men and masculine women in physical danger, and gender policing subjects otherwise healthy newborn intersexed babies to invasive surgeries, because life as neither man nor woman is unimaginable.

Gender policing is irrational interference in personal liberty, and we can do something about it. Ideas that devalue femininity need to be confronted, as do the authorities of people who act to police gender. The value masculinity over femininity and of male bodies over female bodies over othered bodies and cannot be reconciled by a project of equality between between two separate, but equal, divisions of humanity. Rather than gender equality, a gender justice where feminists respectfully work across difference, instead of asserting sameness, must be enacted. The political thrust of IWD is for me an opportunity to prioritize resisting and replacing barriers to gender self-determination with a public policy model of gender pluralism.

This IWD, embrace complexity.

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