At The Establishment, Tori Truscheit asks, “How can the queerest generation ever still believe in gender roles?”
If that question seems jaw-droppingly lacking in self-awareness, congratulations: you have been paying attention. If, on the other hand, you’re scratching your head, trying to get to the bottom of why a society drowning in rainbows and glitter, with endless “genders” to choose from, remains so steadfastly misogynistic, you’ve probably spent too much time at Everyday Feminism and The Establishment…
We have one problem to start: the word “queer,” which in the past (first as an insult, then reclaimed) referred more explicitly to gay and lesbian people, has recently come to mean pretty much anything. We have heterosexual women and men calling themselves “queer” because they claim to be “non-binary,” like “kinky” sex, or wear glittery makeup. In other words, today, “queer” and “gay” do not mean the same thing. And mushing together homosexuality with a variety of chosen identities or funky haircuts means that the question of why “the queerest generation” might not be progressive on the issue of women’s liberation is flawed from the start, because it’s unclear what the word “queer” even means in this context.
Either way, whether we are talking about gay men or those who identify as “queer,” there is one glaring reason why sexist gender roles have stuck around: being “queer” is not necessarily the same thing as being feminist. In fact, in many ways the queer movement has wholly rejected women’s liberation, as a political aim.
Truscheit is right on one thing: the gay marriage movement was not particularly feminist. Rather, this was a liberal effort that chose not to challenge the institution of marriage itself — which exists only because men wished to trade women as commodities, among themselves — and instead fought for inclusion in a heterosexist, patriarchal tradition. This is actually a useful demonstration of the difference between liberal feminism and radical feminism: one fights for equal access to already existing institutions, the other fights for a new system (and therefore new institutions) entirely.
Most (if not all) American liberals support gay marriage, unequivocally, but don’t necessarily have any vested interest in destroying male supremacy. (This is evidenced, for example, by liberal support for things like the porn industry and the legalization of brothels.) Liberals are capitalist, also, which means, again, they are invested in maintaining the systems already in place, but tweaking them a little, in order to offer an illusion of equality (i.e. if we all are allowed to make more money, get married, and own property, the world will be a better place.)
It is here that North American liberals tend to get lost on the question of feminism: they fail to understand that in order to achieve liberation for women and other oppressed groups, capitalism and patriarchy need more than a few tweaks.
“More than half of high school students identify as something other than straight, 12 per cent of millennials are trans or gender nonconforming, and millennials overwhelmingly support gay marriage.
In a world where millennials are increasingly embracing marginalized groups, you’d think their accompanying views on gender would follow suit.”
But the thing is that none of the positions or identities listed here are necessarily anti-patriarchy. By and large, the male-led fight for “marriage equality” ignored the plight of women in its effort, meaning that the oppressive system behind homophobia remained intact, despite marriage rights. Gender identity discourse misunderstands how the system of gender works and that it exists to oppress women and legitimize male supremacy. And “embracing marginalized groups” doesn’t mean understanding or fighting the underlying systems that ensure certain groups are oppressed as a class. To liberals, “marginalization” doesn’t need to happen on a class basis — it can happen on an individual basis, which is why liberal societies keep digging themselves deeper into these pits of violence and vast inequality — because fighting structures of oppression can’t happen within an individualist framework.
Truscheit’s big mistake is to look towards yet another anti-feminist, liberal movement for a solution to patriarchy: queer politics.
While Truscheit blames “mainstream gays” for not “questioning gender,” she lets the trans movement off the hook — an odd blind spot considering that trans activism is largely responsible for re-popularizing the idea of gender itself. Whereas feminism has said gender, under patriarchy, is something we should reject, not embrace, today’s queer movement has positioned gender as fun and liberatory. Indeed, transgenderism itself can only exist so long as we have gender and believe gender roles are fine, so long as we choose them.
Truscheit says the “white male activists behind the marriage equality movement… sacrificed trans rights on the altar of their own desired outcome,” connecting this to what she perceives as a failure to “question gender.” But what she doesn’t realize is that an end to gender means an end to transgenderism — we can’t “identify” with gender roles if there are none to identify with. Indeed, if the gay rights movement had explicitly gone after gender, the result would not have been allyship with the transgender movement.
While I understand feeling let down by those around us who claim to want a more just, more equitable world, what feminists have learned over and over again in the past 150-odd years is that we can’t rely on male-centered movements. In order to liberate women, we need to put our energy into political activism and ideology that centers women and addresses the root of male supremacy.
Transgenderism isn’t going to save us from male dominance anymore than liberal gay men or male anarchists will. If we want real change, we need to look back, and take our cues from the women who broke ties with the men who sold them out and took matters into their own hands. From Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, after being betrayed by their abolitionist allies, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which refused to support constitutional changes that did not enfranchise women; to the radical feminists of the late 1960s, who told the left to fuck off because “we’re starting our own movement;” to the black women involved in black militant politics who were expected to take a “traditional feminine role,” allowing men to lead the movement and hold positions of power within it — these women learned the lessons we should have memorized by now.
There is one answer to the question of patriarchy — there always has been. While queer politics may be more trendy (a result, in part, of its marketability and individualist ethos), feminism is the only political movement that can free women from the shackles of male domination.
Liberals like Truscheit and her colleagues at The Establishment will continue spinning their wheels until they decide to pick up where first and second wave radicals left off. We need to stop looking around, and asking ourselves who to turn to next: our sisters have the answer.