Imploding Woke

I haven't posted in ages, and I recently got dragged into an awkward conversation about International Women's Day (IWD) on Facebook, so my inner gender studies TA needs a sec. 

In 2024, IWD struggles to be inclusive, purposeful, and cohesive at the same time. The “woke implosion” around IWD is an uncomfortable tension between 2nd, 3rd, and 4th waves of feminism. 3rd wave feminists are happy to replace anachronistic calls for global sisterhood with critical intersectionality, but the 4th wave demands an entirely new gender paradigm.

I call myself a feminist and not a gender equality activist in acknowledgement that femininity is both violently prescribed and discriminated against. This acknowledgement doesn't preclude or discredit the oppression of androgyny or gender nonconformity.

In many jurisdictions, trans-essentialism is entrenched, where you have a right to be a healthy man or woman, regardless of the body you were born into. This binary conception of a right to gender self-determination is satisfactory for many 3rd wave feminists.

Burgeoning non-binary rights refute the basis of legal trans-essentialism. Unfortunately, a nuanced binary of cis vs. trans is codified again in health rights, where trans people have the right to gender-affirming healthcare. The exceptionalism of "gender-affirming" healthcare inaccurately implies that default health care is "gender disparaging". Any healthcare that refutes self-determined gender is harmful, regardless of your situation. Gender-affirming healthcare is appropriate healthcare whether or not it has to do with transition. When cis men get their jawlines enhanced surgically, that’s gender-affirming surgery.

Transition healthcare, sex transition healthcare, is for (some) trans people. Gender transition has no physical requirements; it's a social realignment. Implicitly, trans people transition, but that's not true of many genders, especially Indigenous genders. They are simply states of being. It is this reason that I do not use “trans” as an umbrella term to describe everyone who isn’t cis.

Rather than a cis/trans binary, I describe mutually exclusive categories of men and women that both overlap with and exclude gender minorities. The gender minority umbrella isn't an either/or; you can be a gender minority and a man or woman. 

top: two independent circles. One labelled "cis", the other "trans". Bottom: Three circles labelled: "women, gender minorities, and men" where the central gender minority circle overlaps on each side with men and women

This 4th wave paradigm of gender is necessary for me to answer "who" is IWD for. IWD is for women and feminine gender minorities. It persists to reject all forms and intersections of feminine oppression. I’m proud to stand in glorious genderqueer solidarity, but it's not my day.

I wrap this impromptu rant commenting on the "femme" identity. Queer women carved “femme” out of French as a gender qualifier. “Femme” has also been describing feminine genders independent of womanhood for a couple decades, at least. I’m inclined to say IWD is for women and femmes, but there’s a snag in that language. A subset of cis gay men have appropriated the term.

Part of my feminism is creating space for men’s femininity, which is hideously discriminated against. However, “femme” was never meant for cis men. It was defined very much in opposition to masculinity and excluding men. Femmes do not experience cis men’s privilege.

The ability for cis gay men to claim “femme” identities is a conflation of gender and sexuality underpinned by gay misogyny and cissexism. Gender expression is not sexuality, and cis gay men appropriating “femme” purposefully narrows community belonging. I implore cis guys (they needn't be gay) using that language to describe themselves to honour historical and resistance context by anglicizing their descriptor to “fem” so that “femme” can take its deserved place in gender discourse and common language.

End rant.