Monday, February 20, 2017

A response to a friend's request to comment on a Radical Feminist & the Women's Liberation Front

My dear friend,

After a bit of delay, I again revisited the link you shared with me. 

After viewing it several times & jotting down notes & thinking, I visited  Kara Dansky, interviewed in the link above, is on the Board of Directors.

The site intrigued me for a lot of reasons – impressive goals on the part of females - & gave me pause to rethink some things.  More on that later.

First, in response to your request to share my reaction & feedback, & in the interests of transparency, I need to disclose that the issue of biological sex & gender identity was & remains a major part of how I read, how I approach political issues, & how I interpret & navigate with Others in this ever evolving world.

In 1996, I requested to attend a graduate seminar in Modern Literary Theory as an undergraduate.  And was allowed to do it as a Special Project class for my major.  My paper in that seminar was entitled, “Feminism and Foucault:  Pinning & Unpinning Women to Their Sex.

Using the philosophy & writings of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, I set out to find a way to bridge the gap & subsequent divisive discourse between Feminists who insist that gender is defined in terms of biological determination & those who insist that gender is determined by culturally imposed construction.

And to find a way how I, who believe gender is a combination of both biology & culture & time & self-realization & more, fit into the debate.

Dansky, as a representative of WoLF (Womens Liberation Front), argued in the Tucker Carlson interview on Fox News that the group’s objection to using Title IX as justification for a federal decision to allow biologically determined boys & girls & men & women to defy the culturally constructed ideas of male & female & identify with a gender not in sync with their genetic makeup, demeaned women & girls.

Or so it seems to me.  Dansky spoke articulately about several concerns she shares with WoLF members.  For her, including transgenders in the choice to define oneself & write the text of one’s own life, somehow is a threat to biological girls & women.  

Not once did she mention a similar threat to biological boys & men. 

As the mother of two sons, that omission bothered me.

Dansky also voiced the assertion that the Federal mandate under Title IX was a threat to the civil rights protection of girls & women.  No mention of the civil rights protection of biological boys & men or transgender boys & girls or transgender women & men.

That bothered me.  Again.

Over the past decades, when the term “transgender” was first used, women & girls were not the only ones, as Dansky suggested in the Fox News interview, asking What is gender identity?

Her discussion of that question was, once again, limited to females.  This is simply untrue.  Especially now, when both young people & adults born both female & male struggle to find an answer to what defines their gender identification.

As do philosophers, theorists, writers, artists, musicians, doctors & lawyers -  males & females in all walks of life & in all positions.

On WoLF’s website, it defines its “Task  Forces.”  One of the four is:
·         Seeks to abolish the gender-caste system.
·         Educates about the harms of gender and its centrality to male domination.
·         Vigorously defends women-only spaces.
·         Defends sex-segregation of domestic violence shelters, bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams.
·         Supports detransitioners in their struggle to be healed and heard.

If, by “Gender Abolition,” WoLF means abolishing artificial roles assigned to both males & females, I am on board.

While I understand the theory & reality of a “gender-caste system,” I would argue that “gender” itself is not central to male domination.  Rather, it is the interpretation of gender, the language & images used to describe & impose attributes to males & females that contributes & helps fuel patriarchy.

And while I understand the Task Force initiative’s to “vigorously defend women-only spaces,” I think it is a justification for the organization’s exclusion of anything Other than biologically female.

About the final Task Force initiative – to support “detransitioners” in their struggle – because I understand the complexities of the issue of gender, I understand that there are those who struggle & experiment & decided that they are not, after all, transgender.

However, the wording suggests that transitioning is like a condition or a disease & must be healed.  That wording & suggestion is the fault of the writers of the initiative & perhaps, of my reading of the words & my interpretation. 

Dansky spoke about how women can no longer talk of body parts or pregnant women (citing “pregnant people” as the preferred term -  a term I have never encountered).  About the refusal to ignore biological reality.

I would,  not so humbly,  suggest that Dansky revisit her position. To revisit her refusal to acknowledge how the expectations of what defines male or female are determined by more than anatomical equipment or even DNA.

How would Dansky & WoLF deal with a young teenage girl whose birth certificate defines her as a female, who possesses all the necessary female equipment, but whose DNA does not have the second X chromosome that genetically defines her sex as female?  She is one out of every 2,500 live births of female babies who have Turner’s Syndrome.

My young friend, now 14, chose not to allow Turner’s to define or limit her.  She has lived her entire life as a fierce, loving, funny, talented & kind young woman.  She has never doubted that she is a female.

Now that she is in high school & studying DNA, & because she has educated herself about Turner’s Syndrome, she recently asked questions about the implications of missing that X chromosome in defining her sex & gender.

And has been reassured that she is, indeed, a girl.  She chose & claimed that identification as she has done & lived long before her diagnosis. 
What would Dansky & WoLF do with other genetic inconsistencies?  With children born with complicated, conflicting body parts?  With children & adults whose original birth certificates defined them as male or female, and undergo sex reassignment surgery?  As both infants & children & adults.

I would also encourage Dansky to open her thought process to the impact of culturally specific expectations & the traits & limits those expectations assign to both males & females, the influence of environment, diverse family history & traditions affect the way we perceive gender identity in ourselves & Others.

Neither Woman nor Man can define identity & claim self-identification based totally on genetics or anatomy.  Humans are more than the sum of our body parts & genetics.  What is written on the text of our bodies & our lives is influenced by so much more – culture, tradition, education, experience, choice & time.

Unfortunately, my visit to the Women’s Liberation Front did nothing to endear me to Dansky’s position or WoLF’s mission.  The page states: 

WoLF is a radical feminist organization. In order to join, you have to agree with basic radical feminist ideas. Please note that we are a women-only organization, intended to serve and include biologically female persons who survived girlhood.

What Kara Dansky & WoLF need to come terms with is the reality that females are not alone on the planet.  We are surrounded, thwarted & supported by both females & males.  And all the different & evolving definitions of gender.  We cannot exist or fight against discrimination, or promote inclusion & understanding or continue as a species without one another.

WoLF membership excludes males & non-biological females. Which begs the question – do they accept biological females who identify as males?

In my own mantra & thought process, I believe in the power of inclusion & its ability to change the world for the better.

Integration without assimilation, union without loss of self, difference without dominance. 

No positive change in the human experience ever emerged from fear of the Other.  Nothing fine or worthy ever came from exclusion & marginalization.  Or from claiming the right to define one’s identity while rejecting the rights of Others to do & make the same claim.

Progress comes only with inclusion – when those who aim toward the same goal look past differences between one another & focus on the common ground needed to achieve the goal.

Women can only change thousands of years of patriarchy & its linear discourse by inclusion of the Other.  Those who do not look like us.  Or always think like us.  Or do not possess a clitoris, vulva or vagina.  Others who are often the perceived enemy of Self.

I have no problem with women only or women centered groups & organizations.  But I do have a problem with limiting the definition of who is or what constitutes “woman.”  It far more complex than biology.

One more thought.

The coverage of Kara Dansky’s position on allowing transgenders to choose which anatomically defined restroom to use – “Feminists & Christians Unite” - implies that Feminists & Christians are mutually exclusive.  

As a self-proclaimed Feminist & as a Christian, I maintain that this implication is fundamentally untrue.  And, in the end, divisive & destructive. 

Pitting Feminists against Women who are Christians.   

My conclusion is this:  I cannot get excited about a self-proclaimed radical Feminist who defines Women as the sum of their body parts & excludes Others.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Finding the NSI Barbie at Aldi's in Meadows Place

Several days after it opened, I explored the much anticipated new Aldi’s in my little city of Meadows Place, Texas.  I thought by avoiding the opening the previous Thursday, the crowds might decrease.  

I am an optimist & a dreamer.

The parking lot, which used to look generous while under construction, was almost full.  I found a space & walked to put my quarter into a slot to get my cart.  I helped a man figure out how to facilitate the return of his quarter & set out on my quest for kiwi at an affordable price.

The Meadows Place Aldi’s did not disappoint.  The aisles are wider than the Aldi’s at the previous location I patronized.  Laid out in a similar pattern, with a few differences.  I did not spot the bread aisle, although I have since learned I walked past it in the quest for kiwi. I did not find a large container of unflavored Greek yogurt with 24 grams of protein.

But I am an optimist & a dreamer.  Although I subsequently found the bread, I still awaiting the large container of plain Greek yogurt.

The kiwi & blueberries were there – at less than half the price of the grocery store a few blocks away.  As was the trio of red, yellow & orange bell peppers & the organic chicken broth.  I had to search for the section containing the canned goods I needed.

But the checkout lines were all manned & in spite of the crowd, moved quickly.

It was while examining the fruit juices, reading the label of a pomegranate flavored 100% juice that I imagined someone saying my name.  It was there that I found the National Signs Barbie.

Or, her inspiration, found me.  She said:

You may not remember me . . .

And I hugged her.  How could I forget one of the kindest, most loving & genuine souls I had ever met?  How could I forget the inspiration for the National Signs Barbie?

Debbie, who was working full time & going to TSU to become a social worker.

When I arrived at National Signs, my own direct reports did not mingle with me at first.  I spent most lunches alone, or at my desk, or driving my VW Beetle around the NRG Stadium area, wondering why I had taken the job.

After learning that all office supplies had to be approved by a person who frequently went through desks & pulled out what he felt was a surplus of hoarded supplies to justify not approving requests, I brought my office supplies from the desks at my previous jobs.

And my own pens & pencils & markers.  I made sure to inform the Office Supply Police that these were my personal possessions & were not subject to raids on hoarded supplies.

I also brought the Barbies. 

When both my brothers & my sister produced daughters, I developed a love / hate relationship with Barbies.  I hate the ridiculous body image Barbie established for little girls.  But I also remembered playing with them as a little girl.  They were not as interesting to me as baby dolls that felt like real babies when I held them.

But I bought Barbies for my nieces.  It was often a struggle to find a Barbie that resembled their diverse coloring.  I spent a lot of time in Barbie aisles in Toys-R-Us & Wal-Mart.

At some point, I wanted a red haired Barbie.  So I bought a blonde Barbie (no chance of finding one with one eye darker than the other or one whose eyes changed color with its surroundings) & my youngest niece & I dyed her hair with Rit dye. 

Subsequent attempts proved more successful than the first & the red headed Barbies ended up on a bookshelf above my desk at work, along with a copy of the complete works of Emily Dickinson (one never knows when one might need to read Dickinson), Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness, Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which is Not One, & a feminist guide to mythology.

One never knows what one might need to read during lunch at one’s desk.  Or a random moment seeking sanity.

In my next job, the red headed Barbies followed.  And in the interests of team building, I posted a Bowling Barbie with an old trophy from my parents’ bowling days to promote participation in the company’s bowling day.  

There was discord between departments, but Bowling Barbie attracted attention & discourse replaced discord.  At least for the company bowling party.

Chocolate also played a huge part in encouraging conversation & understanding.

The Barbies & books & diversions followed me to my first job in corporate America – a division of Sprint.  One of the first questions asked the CPA with whom I had worked at two previous jobs was:

Are the Barbies Welcome?

She assured me that yes, they were welcome.  As were chocolates.  And the feather boa I kept because a girl never knows when she might need a feather boa.

When I took the Barbies to National Signs, I displayed them on a ledge above my office window overlooking the production shop.  On my bookshelves, I added my books & a radio / CD player & CDs designed to calm or inspire me & a small black & white TV.

To attract conversation & as an act of team building, I created a National Signs Barbie.  And kept chocolates on my desk.

Eventually, I retrieved a giant B channel letter from rejected channel letters on the production floor.

Debbie was my inspiration for the NSI Barbie.  She was not one of my direct reports, but her job was important for me to understand in order how to produce the job cost reports I submitted each month.

We attended the same weekly meetings, including production meetings in the offices downstairs.

She was peers with & respected by my direct reports & eventually, I was invited to lunch & never again had lunch alone except by choice or necessity. 

Over time, I asked the ladies who lunched together why they did not ask me to join them for lunch break at first. 

We had to check you out, make sure you were here to stay.

Apparently, my most recent predecessor lasted one day.

I cannot recall when Debbie first felt comfortable enough with me to talk about the woman who was her partner or about her return to school & her pursuit of a degree in social work.

As I have expressed earlier, Debbie is one of those rare, truly genuine human beings. 

When I created the NSI Barbie, I spent many visits to Barbie aisles to find the right clothes.  I spent hours with a curling iron & gel arranging her hair to reflect Debbie’s natural curls.

I aimed to make the NSI Barbie not only represent the company, but its inspiration.

When Debbie found me at Aldi’s I remembered how many times I have thought of & wondered about her since our time together, how much I enjoyed talking with her, how her warmth & empathy made difficult times bearable.  Whether personal or professional.

Her smile still lights up a room & one’s soul.

She asked about my family, remembered my two sons, remembered that my now daughter-in-law, the Lady Jane, had worked in a pet store during high school.
It was not a long conversation, but it brought back memories of people who sought to create & maintain a positive, supportive working environment in the face of toxicity.

That Sunday, I went in search of the Barbies – I had forgotten how many were natural redheads, how the face & look of Barbie had changed.  I found Rosie O’Donnell, Zena (but not Gabriel, Irish Barbie, Valentine Barbie, Mardis Gras Barbie, Rodeo Barbie, Halloween Barbie, Easter Barbie, Gardener Barbie, Overalls Barbie, Patriotic Barbie - Barbies I no longer remember choosing or dressing.

And I found Prince Charming in the box of Barbies & others.

Slightly smaller than his female companions.  

NSI Barbie, inspired by Debbie, brought back something I never want to forget.

The encounters we experience, not just the prolonged or limited relationships,  but the random sound of a voice in an Aldi’s aisle, matter. 

Somehow that random moment at Aldi’s reminded me of who I have been, who I am, & who I strive to be.

Someone remembered as lighting up a moment in time.