Why I’m skeptical of efforts to criminalize the sabotage of birth control

***UPDATED to fix Tressie’s twitter handle. Cuz that was embarrassing.***

Men sabotaging women’s birth control is A Thing.
It’s a form of abuse, an act of taking control over her own body away from a woman. Women suffering from domestic violence are often additionally victim to this as well as other forms of abuse, by men trying to keep them from leaving the relationship (which for obvious reasons is much harder when you’re pregnant or have children in the house), or sometimes just because it’s another form of control and DV is all about control. It is obvious therefore that sabotaging women’s birth control and other forms of reproductive coercion need to end, victims of this need to be able to seek justice, and perpetrators need to be made accountable.
Which of course means that now that a Canadian case has made a lot of people notice that this is A Thing, they want to criminalize it, based on the argument that the sexual assault laws in the U.S. would never suffice by themselves to persecute abusers for it*. Sounds sensible: if you think that the criminal justice system works even remotely well, then it makes sense to think that if someone commits an act of violence, they need to be sent throught the CJS for it. But this really does require the assumption that the U.S. legal system is just (or at least “close enough” to just to make it work more often than not)and therefore that criminalization will work as intended.

I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, because when I read this twitter exchange between Lauren Chief Elk (‏@ChiefElk) and Brienne of Snarth (@femme_esq), I couldn’t help but acknowledge the truth of many of the points, if not necessarily their immediate applicability to the wider U.S. culture**. I’m skeptical, because I tend to come at these things from a harm-reduction-based perspective, and I’m not convinced that this will actually reduce rather than increase harm. I’m skeptical, because cultural myths play a huge role in the ways laws actually end up being applied.
For example, the Stand Your Ground laws don’t actually allow victims greater leeway in self-defense (see: Marissa Alexander***) but rather allow already privileged people to get away with violence even more. This is because cultural myths are such that black men and women are always seen as the danger, and white men and women always as the defenders of civilization. And how does this work with birth control sabotage? Our cultural myths claim that women are baby-crazy, and men don’t actually want kids; that women are more likely to be ok with an unplanned pregnancy than men (there’s how many movies with that plot? The one where an uncomplicated het-relationship gets derailed by pregnancy that switches the woman into “settling&nesting” mode while giving the guy a midlife crisis?); that women are more invested in committed relationships than men (see: ball-and-chain), and thus more likely to use desperate measures to prevent a breakup; etc. Hell, google “tricking into pregnancy” and see how that works out. As Brienne points out in the twitter dialogue, the cultural narrative is of a woman trapping a man rather than vice versa. Even the Daily Beast article linked at the beginning of this essay acknowledges this with a link to an article discussing NBA orientation for rookie players, in which the following quote appears:

They wanted us to see the dangers out there. They warned us about groupies poking holes in condoms, having hidden cameras and stuff like that. The temptations are hard to turn down, but if you don’t, you are subject to big problems.

And remember, we live in a society in which there are people convinced that women stealing sperm out of discarded condoms is some sort of epidemic (google “spermjacking” if you really want to know more about this; I wouldn’t recommend it tho).
So what I’m saying is this: when you’re operating within an extremely unjust legal system, you have to be exceedingly careful how you use it; in this case, the question is: how likely is it that criminalizing BC sabotage will be effectively used against actual abusers, rather than against women by e.g. dudes not wanting to pay child support?
BC sabotage is going to be a situation of he-said-she-said almost always, and “he said” will be always given more weight than “she said”, especially when other oppressions like race and class also work against the woman. I can imagine this even leading to greater reproductive coercion, if a guy who doesn’t want a kid threatens the pregnant woman to either get an abortion or be accused of spermjacking or some shit like that. I can also imagine that many women won’t report BC sabotage: consider the stigma BC has in this country (Sandra Fluke anyone? And she was a very privileged woman); consider the cultural myths about who sabotages BC; consider the “bitches be lyin'” trope. Basically, all the reasons ever mentioned in #IDidNotReport will figure in here as well, and we might well be increasing the potential for legal harassment of victims of DV, by giving their abusers another tool to subvert for their own needs.

Mind you, harm reduction is not the sole reason to criminalize something. The main other uses of criminalization in justice are punishment, normalization, process, and deterrence.
I reject the idea of punishment as a goal of justice, in general. Punishment of an offender as a goal of criminalization/incarceration (rather than a means towards another goal) relies on the notion that responsibility lies solely and entirely with the offender; it requires belief in a self-causing will, in the notion that an action is entirely and solely caused by the offender’s creation of a desire and opportunity to act as they did. I don’t accept this belief, because it goes against the evidence that shows us that the world outside our heads shapes our desires, priorities, and opportunities. Punishment for the offender and only for the offender (because how to you incarcerate social structures?) is an individualist erasure of the structural causes of violence.
So while accountability for the harm caused by an action is a sensible part of justice, punishment for its own sake is not. Making someone “pay the price” for a crime to society or to the victims has to actually be of value to society or the victims, and locking someone up does not, per-se, produce any value to society/victims. It can only do so as a means to a goal. Which brings us to the other aspects.
Despite the saying “morality cannot be legislated”, a law actually is a normative statement. And the fact that plenty of people can’t tell the difference between legal and moral (nor the difference between illegal and immoral)seems to indicate that normalization happens, if not immediately than into the next generation at least. Basically, if you allow or forbid something and the world doesn’t come crashing down (or significantly inconvenience anyone with social visilibity), people get used to it and start thinking of this as the new normal. So folks saying that it would make a statement that society doesn’t condone reproductive coercion if it were criminalized do have a point. But as a main reason to criminalize it, it seems not enough, given that it would also be a weak normative statement. Not because a law is a weak normative statement per-se, but because laws that go against strongly entrenched cultural myths have their normative function subverted. E.g. rape being illegal does mean the cultural idea is that rape is bad, but it’s entirely abstract; not only do some actual rapes get defined out of the rape category, the culture also creates a lot of exceptions (the most jarring example is prison-rape: people generally don’t deny it’s rape, but they treat it like a joke or a deserved punishment). I suspect the same will happen with these situations: even if we’d achieve a normalization of the belief that reproductive sabotage is a thing and a bad thing, the cultural mythology around it will subvert it so that real instances will be treated as not-it, or as exceptions where it’s somehow ok.
Process means simply giving someone a clear, pre-set way of dealing with something. Now, I don’t think any engagement with the American CJS is easily understandable, simple, etc. but having a set process and a set of legal tools to deal with something is usually preferable to no procedure at all. This is likely the strongest case for criminalization, because it’s useful and helpful to be able to take out restraining orders, have a concrete, codified thing to accuse your abuser of, and have other rules you can lean on when it’s hard to try to think your way out of a situation. But acknowledging this absolutely requires remembering that this will be useful primarily to those with educational and class**** privilege; who don’t make up the majority of DV victims.
Deterrence is/can be an acknowledgement of the way social structures shape choices. To deter means to change the environment in which a choice is made, and introduce a desire (the desire to avoid being held accountable) to hopefully outcompete the desire that would be satisfied by the criminal action. These changes can lead to reductions in the occurrence of a harmful act, and can therefore be actually useful. As such, deterrence is not inherently flawed the way punishment is; but it needs to actually accomplish the environmental and internal changes, or else it’s bullshit. A law as deterrent tends to only work if the likelihood of getting caught & convicted is high, or at least thought of as high. Laws that have low rates of perpetrators getting caught and getting convicted make lousy deterrents: if you get away with it sometimes, you learn that you can get away with it always, even if it’s not true. Works like that for texting-and-driving, for underage drinking, for pot-smoking-while-white, and because of rape culture it also works like that on rape. My suspicion is that given the difficulty to prove sabotage and the power-disparity in literal he-said-she-said situations, arrest and conviction rates would be low. So, not an effective deterrent in the long run.

So to sum up: there are positive things that criminalization could possibly accomplish, but these effects seem to be overall fairly small and doubtful given the current cultural narratives. And the way selective application of these protective laws protects aggressors more than victims, there are potentially many negative consequences to victims. The potential for abuse, for being directed against victims of domestic violence, and for even increasing some forms of reproductive coercion is pretty big given the current social narratives. I worry that the negative effects far outweigh any positive ones.

Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t do anything about this problem, but I’m more and more thinking that putting the tools for defense in victims’ hands rather than in a severely broken, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-PoC criminal justice system is the better approach at harm-reduction and empowerment at this time. So, some suggestions along those lines, to help free women from reproductive coercion without risking anti-woman side effects:

1)increase free and gatekeeper-free access to as many form of birth control (both the contraceptive and post-conceptive kinds): controlling women’s reproduction happens often with the cooperation of laws on birth control which make access complicated, time intensive, expensive etc, thus preventing women in DV situation from discreetly controlling their reproduction and from choosing options that would be less manipulable by a violent and controlling partner. Give women more options and access for BC, and in many cases you take away the means by which an abuser can coerce their reproduction.

2)Destroy the cultural myths that harm victims of reproductive coercion: these would the the ideas that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy; that reproductive coercion is something women do, rather than something abusive men do; etc.

3)Provide better safety nets and community support for single pregnant women and single women with children. When pregnancy and children no longer function as traps keeping the women from leaving (e.g. because there’s no women’s shelter that will accept all her kids), the utility of reproductive sabotage as insurance against leaving will diminish, and with it the value of this action to abusers.

None of those will stop all or even many cases of reproductive sabotage immediately; but neither would criminalization. I just think that the suggestions above would also have fewer negative side effects on already victimized women.

– – – – – – – – –

*it’s complicated, but basically Canada has some stricter ideas about what is or isn’t legally consent than the U.S. does. The Canadian case that kicked off this interest in criminalizing reproductive coercion was one in which the sabotage was treated as aggravated sexual assault because even though the woman consented to sex, she didn’t consent to unprotected sex. Basically, at least in Nova Scotia, it’s (as the case stands now) legally true that consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. As this legal article explains, that’s not true in the U.S. because of that nasty thing called “generalized consent”, plus legal-structural shit that went over my head because IANAL.

**the conversation includes the following tweets:

[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Anti-Rape Law and Strategizing Accountability in Native American Communities via @andrea366 http://communityaccountability.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/decolonizing-antirape-law.pdf ]
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Rape Law: A Native Feminist Synthesis of Safety and Sovereignty via @sarahdeer http://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/deer-decolonizing-rape-law.pdf ]
The papers deal with the question of sexual assaults and tribal courts. They’re amazing and I find these immensely interesting and good material for thinking about anarchist communities, because not being able to deal with sexual violence is a major flaw of every idea (and praxis) of anarchist community I’ve ever encountered. But most women in the U.S. don’t at the moment live in the kinds of communities that would allow for analogues to tribal court justice.

***relevant and timely, on Friday there will be a discussion on Marissa Alexander and how DV laws backfire on minority women:

[Lauren Chief Elk ‏@ChiefElk
So on Friday we’re going to talk about shifting anti-violence, criminalization of DV, & Marissa Alexander w/#FreeMarissa. Get ready to join.]

****class privilege is very relevant, even if you “fake” it. In this essay on poor people and expensive stuff, Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) recounts the story of her mother helping people in the community with bureaucracy; and how her mother had an expensive outfit to do it which seemed to gain her “respectability” from the office folks, at least enough to make it possible to get stuff done where the people her mom was helping couldn’t.

A piece of cloth

me, wearing a red scarf wrapped around my head, only the eyes visible
This is a crappy picture of me wearing a scarf my dad gave me for Christmas. I’ve been wearing it like that most of the time I’ve been outside since then, because this is North Dakota, and it’s still winter. This just as a reminder that the scarf itself is not (or, shouldn’t be) what’s at issue in discussions of hijab; it’s just a convenient symbol because it’s the most prominent feature of hijab.

I have some more thoughts on this stuff, in light of the Free Amina protests and the Muslim Women Against FEMEN counter-movement; but that’s for later (hopefully; blogging right now is a bit hard for me, but I’ll do my best)

An interesting MRA argument

…and by “interesting” I mean that I’ve personally not run into it before, and that it’s actually one that deserves dissection rather than merely being laughed out of the room for sheer dumbosity. Somewhat unfortunately, this post has been incubating in my brain for so long that the blog in which I originally found the comments (No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz) seems to have moved to a new host, and now I can’t find anything there. So, this will be written from memory and therefore I can’t guarantee the full accuracy of the examples used to support the MRA’s talking point.

Anyway, the argument goes as follows:
We know that women have a higher status than men because women who “descend” into masculinity are tolerated , but men who are trying to do things “above their station” and adopt feminine things/behaviors are punished*; this is similar to the way rich people can affect the “ghetto” look and be cool, while poor people affecting upper class style and behavior are posers and fakes**; or similar to the way blackface is cool, but a black person trying to “pass” for a white one is considered to be transgressing.

The reason I find this argument interesting is because at first glance, that kinda sorta makes sense. Privileged people have more freedoms, and one of them is to appropriate things from the oppressed classes. Cultural appropriation for example is a huge problem with imperialism/colonialism/white culture***. But a closer analysis of the two claims in this argument makes it clear that that’s not quite how it works. So, let’s have a closer look at these claims:

1)The oppressors are permitted to be like the oppressed
This is only superficially true. As I mentioned, affecting and appropriating things that culturally belong to oppressed groups is certainly quite common. But there are “rules” about how you’re supposed to do that. For example, there’s a difference between appropriating/devaluing and adopting/supporting someone else’s oppressed identity. Wearing a hipster headdress is not the same as “decolonizing” and becoming involved in Native culture and society as an ally and/or as a spouse and parent to tribal members; donning blackface is not the same as becoming a student and promoter of Critical Race Theory; dressing up as a woman for Halloween, for a comedy show, or for a pride parade is not the same as living as a trans woman; and I’m willing to bet affecting a lower-class accent is not the same as abandoning your upper-class social ties and becoming a miner and moving to a working-class neighborhood. Point being, it’s ok to mock and play pretend, but it’s absolutely not ok to actually become part of, or a supporter of, the oppressed group. And in many ways, this can be seen by how the privileged classes define themselves, which is often by what they are not****. For example, pale skin was a sign of nobility when it meant that you were not a peasant; and then the Industrial Revolution happened, labor moved indoors, and suddenly suntanning became a sign of not being working class. Another example is Upper Class Etiquette (AKA “being classy”), which is basically an elaborate set of completely superfluous rules designed specifically as an artificial Upper Class Habitus setting the Upper Classes apart from the lower classes; and, sure, you can occasionally adopt what you think is a lower-class habitus, but only when it’s kinda obvious that it’s for shits and giggles; otherwise, it may well be perceived as a giant faux pas. A third, and probably the best-known example, is the one drop rule: whiteness being treated as such an endangered commodity that a single drop of black blood contaminated it permanently and made you non-white. Masculinity works much the same way, i.e. it identifies itself as what it is not, i.e. feminine. That’s why enforcement of transgressions out of masculinity and into femininity exist: they threaten the established hierarchy, and unlike in the cases of racism and classism, there isn’t even an equivalent ideology in the broader culture equivalent to “colorblindness” or “meritocracy” that would temper old-fashioned***** gender-policing the same way it sometimes does temper old-fashioned race- and class-policing.

2)The oppressed are forbidden from being like the oppressors
It is true that in order to properly maintain a hierarchy, it’s necessary to make sure the oppressed don’t just weasel out by becoming or passing for the oppressor. Further, since I just explained that the oppressor group often defines itself by what it is not, making sure that the oppressed don’t start doing oppressor-stuff is a way of preserving for oneself the permission to do these things#. However, internalized oppression and the hierarchy itself make it so that the stuff that “belongs” to the oppressor is seen as good, moral, “classy”, etc. while the stuff that “belongs” or identifies the oppressed groups is seen as inferior. Consequently, internal hierarchies within oppressed groups emerge, which state that even while being in the oppressed group, it’s “better” (more moral, more civilized, more normal, etc.) to be more like the oppressor and shun/abandon those things that mark one as a member of the oppressed class. Colorism is one such example, in which lighter skin color is higher in a racial hierarchy than darker skin, even among people of color themselves; similarly, African-Americans who have internalized a white habitus are considered more cultured than those who have a habitus associated with an African-American subculture (it’s probably not a coincidence that the first black president of the US is a biracial man raised by white people. Or, as Joe Biden noted is his typical foot-in-mouth kind of way: a “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”). Another one is the “normal gay” and “flamboyant gay” bullshit: gay men who are otherwise performing masculinity are seen as better, i.e. higher up on the hierarchy, than gay men who are seen to share more “feminine” attributes than just being attracted to men (incidentally, this is also where the weird thing about how it’s not “gay” to receive a blowjob from a man comes from: receiving blowjobs = manly, while giving blowjobs = womanly; and gay = womanly)##. In the trans community, this internal (self-)oppression based on how closely someone manages to conform to cisnormative and heteronormative rules is called the Harry Benjamin Syndrome.
And exactly the same happens to gender-roles. Because men are higher in the hierarchy, masculine things have higher status, whereas feminine things have lower status. The consequence? Femmephobia: the belief that feminine self-expression and things associated with femininity are inherently less good, moral, fun, valuable, etc. than masculine self-expression and things associated with masculinity. This is why women who do traditionally masculine things can sometimes be perceived as being “better” than those doing traditionally feminine things.
It should be noted that a lot of this “it’s better to be like the oppressor” stuff is a symptom of a transitional culture: in a static hierarchy, “upward mobility” of this kind is strictly punishable and control and suppresion of it seen as absolutely necessary for the survival of society. When it occurs within segregated minority communities, it’s only tolerated insofar as it’s invisible (or useful in a divide-and-conquer sort of way) to the oppressor group; the moment it spills out into the “mainstream” (read: the oppressor-dominated culture), it will be swiftly punished. In a transitional culture on the other hand, the oppressor culture becomes a “norm” and “ideal” that becomes a requirement for acceptance into a supposedly egalitarian/democratic/colorblind/whathaveyou mainstream. And when these two aspects clash, you get the faliliar Catch-22 that is being a member of an oppressed group: if you act in ways identified as belonging to your group, you’ll be shat on because of the low status of those social signifiers; if you instead act in ways identified with the oppressor group, you’ll be perceived as “uppity”, bitchy, a trap, a poser, etc., unless you somehow manage to do this while also helping maintain the hierarchy. See also “not like other women” and “model minority”.

So, to sum it up: oppressors are only allowed to appropriate oppressed-group-signifiers for the purpose of mockery and “play”, but not actually adopt them in any meaningful way; conversely, in transitional cultures with delusions of egalitarian ideals, the hierarchy itself mandates that acceptance into the “mainstream” requires emulation of the oppressor class on behalf of the oppressed. Therefore, the fact that women wearing pants is cool, but men wearing skirts is not isn’t a sign that women are the oppressor class; it’s a sign that masculinity has higher-status than femininity, and that we’re in a transitional culture which both enforces the masculinity-over-femininity hierarchy and uses the language of meritocracy and equality, thus basically saying that women have the right to abandon their shitty, feminine qualities and exchange them for the better, more masculine ones, while at the same time assigning lower status to anyone choosing to be more feminine than masculine###.

Conclusion: another MRA being wrong, albeit more creatively and cleverly than usual.

P.S.:I apologize for the ridiculous amount of footnotes. The topic got away from me a few too many times, and there’s entirely too many tangents kinda-sorta-relevant to this topic.

– – – – – – – – – –

*women wearing pants vs. men wearing skirts; the fact that trans men face less violence than trans women; etc.
**to use my own example of this, take for example British class consciousness. It’s kinda fashionable for upper class Brits to affect lower-class accents; OTOH, someone from a lower class background trying to affect an upper class accent could be interpreted as uppity, fake, a poser etc. Also, from what I understand, there’s also a thing among younger folks of “dropping” aristocratic titles to be cool; but you’d get your ass handed to you if you instead wanted to take one on when you don’t have one. So, down-classing yourself = cool; up-classing yourself = punishable
***for example, here’s an entire excellent blog about appropriations of Native American culture by whites, especially by hipster culture: Native Appropriations
****that’s actually one of the identifying characteristics of being a privileged group: being the default, the un-modified state; being defined in common language as that which lacks distinguishing characteristics. That’s why “ethnic” never refers to WASPs, even though that’s technically a kind of ethnicity, and a human figure lacking secondary (or tertiary) sexual characteristics is interpreted as male.
*****”old-fashioned” vs. “modern” bigotry is a discussion in and of itself, but basically it’s the difference between being a blatantly prejudiced and discriminatory bigot (what we traditionally call “a racist”, “a misogynist” etc.) and someone who perpetrates microaggressions. Don’t know where dogwhistles fall here; probably the former masquerading as the latter
#and actually, it just occurred to me that of course appropriation is a way to allow the oppressor-group to do oppressed-people-stuff without losing their status and identity: Pat Boone’s career is in fact based entirely on this principle.
##the issue with “lipstic lesbians” vs. butch lesbians doesn’t neatly fit here because of the intersectional nature of it: on the one hand, feminine lesbians are considered “straighter” and more gender-role-conforming than butch lesbians, and thus are rewarded for that; on the other, femmephobia means that a feminine form of self-expression is considered lower-status than a masculine AKA butch one.
###while simultaneously still enforcing the old gender-roles. this intersectionality means that gender-non-conforming cis women and gender-non-conforming cis men both end up suffering along two axes of oppression while being in the oppressor category on one; and it’s also this intersectionality that synergistically ends up super-shitty for trans women, because they suffer from femmephobia (pretty much regardless of how butch their self-expression; but femme trans women tend to get more of this), gender-non-conformity (when they’re treated as supergay or superfeminine men), and misogyny.

A kitteh and a link dump

I was going to write a post using most of these, but I changed my mind. Still, the links are informative reading, so I’m just going to post them without the article that was supposed to go around them. And just to make the post more than just a dry linkdump, here’s a picture of Dusty:

Not a safe space — a good 101-level explanation of what the term “safe space” even means.

Michigan Legislators Demand Control of the Organ Which Must Not Be Named — summary of what thedrama in Michigan, with summary of the effects of their anti-woman bill

Chicago Police misclassifying trans women of color in the sex trade as “johns” in its “end demand” initiative — article on how the police manage to turn a anti-procurers-of-prostitution campaign into a campaign to arrest, out, and shame poor trans women of color

Despite The Evidence, Anti-Choicers Persist in Lying About Emergency Contraception — article by Amanda Marcotte about something I’ve been saying repeatedly: the science has already shown that hormonal contraceptives, including Emergency Contraception, doesn’t cause implantation failure.

Respect as it applies to anti-harassment policies — A conference organizer states his opinion about the relative importance (or lack thereof) of whether anti-harassment policies will make it harder for people to get laid.

In which I demonstrate on a volunteered document just where radical feminists go wrong

well, my last post actually attracted two radical feminists, one of which provided me this deeply flawed 2-page document which demonstrates a lot of the flaws in radfem understanding and treatment of trans issues. So I figure I might as well pick the thing apart bit by bit, for everyone’s entertainment and edumacation.

**TW for standard radfem fare**

Stereotyping is the act of making an assumption about an individual based on her membership in a specific class or group. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 landmark employment decision, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (490 U.S. 228), held that sex stereotyping is sex discrimination:

[i]n forbidding employers to discriminate against individuals because of their sex, Congress intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes.

Internal citations omitted.

An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissible Catch-
22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not. Title VII lifts women out of this bind.

well actually, those two quotes seem to indicate that consequential action based on stereotyping is discrimination, not that stereotyping is. But so far, that’s close enough.

Feminists do not believe that women are naturally bad at math, but good at cooking and cleaning. We do not believe that women are neurologically, biologically, or genetically programmed to behave in certain “feminine” ways. To support women’s full and equal participation in society, women need strong legal
prohibitions against these persistently damaging stereotypes.

This is where the mistake from above gets compounded. First two sentences are self-evidently true. The last sentence gets tricky. Legal protections against discrimination are pretty straight forward; legal protections against hate speech are at least feasible, if ethically and legally questionable (and in the US, pretty much unconstitutional); but what the everglorious fuck can legal protections against stereotyping possibly be, and how would they work? Rather obvious fact aside that we can’t legislate people’s conscious or subconscious thoughts/attitudes, legislating against stereotype itself would render all American cultural artifacts illegal. Every.Single.Fucking.One.Of.Them. Because no cultural artifact is stereotype-free, especially if we remember that Title VII protects not just against sex-based discrimination but against “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin”.
Anyway, point being that this is ridiculously fuzzy language, with some seriously fucking stupid consequences as a result.

Gender Identity protections must not come at the expense of Sex

okay…? did anyone suggest otherwise…?

Feminism supports every individual’s right to be gender non-conforming and to have legal protection from sex stereotyping discrimination in employment,
housing, education, credit, and access to public accommodations.

just worth noting that here they acknowledge that it’s sex stereotyping discrimination that must be protected against.

However, advocates who frame Gender Identity as more important than Sex…

“more important”? Just like with the first segment, this is vague and thus can be accurate or not, depenting on where they’re going with it or what meaning they attach to the words/terms in that sentence. but it’s a red flag, for sure.

…reinforce stereotypes about women that feminists have fought against for decades.

citation or it didn’t happen.

GLBT organizations are, in effect, undermining critical civil rights legal precedent by developing a theory of Gender Identity that values gendered “appearance, expression, or behavior” more than biological Sex. No other class of persons seeking protection under anti-discrimination legislation has attempted to intentionally disregard another protected class— until now.

This being the conclusion based on two unevidenced, asserted premises, it’s not worth much. Granted, this is a two-page flier, but since this is the central point of it, it would have helped to actually try to demonstrate that a)Gender Identity is valued higher than Sex*, and b)that protection against discrimination based on gender identity or “gendered ‘appearance, expression, or behavior'” undermines or disregards protection based on the visible physical phenotype.

Feminists are deeply invested in maintaining hard-won protections against Sex stereotyping in the form of legally actionable Sex discrimination. Feminists seek to preserve this precedent without having the same harmful assumptions about women’s appropriate “appearance, expression, or behavior” paradoxically privileged under the guise of Gender Identity.

you’re going to show any evidence, or at least a rational argument, for how protections against discrimination on the basis of Gender Identity would undermine “protections against Sex stereotyping in the form of legally actionable Sex discrimination”, or how the concept of Gender Identity, per-se, implies anything about what “appropriate” behaviors, appearance, etc. for women are? Just making and repeating these assertions isn’t making them any truer or any more convincing…

Feminist analysis of Sex stereotypes, legally actionable Sex discrimination, Gender Identity legislation, and the importance of protecting Sex as a separate legal class.

so we’re going to actually see some proper analysis finally? Thrilling. Except since no one** is arguing against protecting sex as a separate legal class, I’m not sure what’s there to analyze in connection to Gender Identity legislation.

The issue of Gender Identity has taken a prominent role in discussions, organizations, and activism supported by the Gay and Lesbian community.
Unfortunately, it’s not always clear that we have the same thing in mind when we talk about this issue. Feminist opposition to Gender Identity has been widely
misconstrued by those who don’t fully understand our concerns. This pamphlet will explain our objections and help readers engage in more productive discussions about Gender Identity that do not reinforce stereotypes or erase the legal importance of biological sex.

yeah, it’s pretty fucking obvious we’re not talking about the same fucking thing if you in any way imagine that gender identity reinforces any gender-based stereotypes or erases the legal importance of the visible physical phenotype***. I have very little hope that this pamphlet can actually manage to “explain” this false assumption into coherence.

GLBT Organizations have asked state and local legislatures around the country to take up the cause of discrimination against people of trans experience. To
do so, GLBT Organizations have offered up “Gender Identity” to protect trans people. Though familiar to people in the center of the debate, the concept has caused a lot of confusion because it’s too broad.
Prominent GLBT organizations—including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)—support a definition of Gender Identity similar to this one from Washington, DC:

“Gender identity” means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

First, it’s not actually DC, it’s Iowa (the quote is from this list), but that’s a minor quibble.
Second, for clarification, I’d like to point out that these are working definitions for a protected class, rather than definitions for Gender Identity per-se. This matters, since this is anti-discrimination protection, and thus a class should include both the thing itself and also behaviors, expressions etc. of/in relation to the thing. so for example, while religion wasn’t defined in title VII itself, a later law defines it as “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief” (which, if you ask an evangelical, is not the definition of their religion, for example; faith not works, remember? :-p). Most of the definitions at that link go through the trouble of separating the thing (Gender Identity) from other things relating to it, legally speaking (Gender Expression); a few do not, and a few go even further and fold Gender Identity and Gender Expression into sexual orientation, an even more inaccurate grouping. One that doesn’t make sense if one wanted to learn what Gender Identity is (i.e. its actual definition), but might be actually an attempt to pass comprehensive LGBT protection, as opposed to attempting to do it piecemeal; a potentially strategical decision then, I guess.
Anyway, yeah, these are broad definitions, and they are certainly quite varied. One can reasonably quibble about them, their accuracy, their effectiveness, etc. and the specific example provided is “too broad” only insofar as it doesn’t separate identity from expression, the way the nearly identical one from DC does****. But considering the precedent of including not just aspects of a person but also actions and behaviors in class-definitions even when they’re not part of the word definitions, it’s I think a minor quibble.

As of March 2012, at least fifteen American states have passed Gender Identity legislation modeled after this definition (the “Stereotyping Definition”).

um. “This definition” is specific to Iowa. I somehow doubt other states have passed legislation based on an Iowan definition. Also: the only “stereotype” part of that definition is the conflation of Gender Identity with Gender Expression. I’d be very surprised if that’s why it’s labeled so here.

1. The Stereotyping Definition does not define “gender.” If one doesn’t know what a “gender identity” means, how could one know what a “gender-related
identity” means?

true; it should be noted however, that “race”, “color”, and even “sex” are not, to my knowledge, defined in Title VII either; and “religion” was only defined years after the thing passed. I suppose one could make the argument that defining “gender” even when other terms aren’t defined is necessary, better, more useful, whatever… but then one should actually make and support that argument, not vaguely hint at it.

2. The Stereotyping Definition of Gender Identity is phrased in such a way that it intentionally overrides Sex: “regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.”

no. English simply doesn’t work that way. Sex (the visible physical phenotype) is simply being marked as a variable independent of and separate from from Gender Identity/Gender Expression. Which it is. What I suspect is happening here is a parsing problem (whether honest or not I’ll leave up to the reader) because of the impreciseness of that regardless. better would be “a gender related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of a person, which are independent of the person’s assigned sex at birth.”
Nonetheless, even with that imprecise “regardless”, the statement doesn’t override sex any more than the class-definitions for race, national origin, or religion do; those are also “regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth”, they just don’t say so, because nowhere has anyone ever conflated race, national origin, or religion with sex. Gender Expression and Gender Identity on the other hand are constantly conflated with sex.

No other class of persons seeking protection under anti-discrimination legislation has attempted to literally disregard another protected class.

actually, they all do. Religious discrimination exists regardless of race of the person being discriminated against; national origin discrimination exists regardless of the sex of the person*****. I just explained why this one definition bothered to make that distinction. And I also just explained that the phrase disregards the connection between sex and Gender Identity, rather than disregarding sex as a protective class. So yeah, that sentence is fractal wrongness.

Feminists object to the Stereotyping Definition because Sex has objective physical, reproductive, and experiential consequences for the overwhelming majority of women assigned-female-at-birth

no, not because. The first part of that sentence doesn’t follow from the second.

Sex exists in its own right and requires unique legal protections that Gender Identity cannot explain or represent. Gender Identity cannot replace the legal concept of sex without a significant loss of legal protections for females.

oh look, a strawman.

3. Understanding the Stereotyping Definition depends on understanding how traditional sex roles and stereotypes operate. Enduring sexist assumptions about
women create stereotypes—that we’re softer, gentler, and more emotional than men; that we’re all inclined toward “femininity,” nurturing children, and wearing certain clothing. These stereotypes act as major stumbling blocks to women’s social equality. They especially damage women who don’t conform to them.

The Stereotyping Definition elevates gendered “appearance, expression, or behavior” over bodily reality. Framing gender identity—specifically, femininity—as that which fundamentally constitutes “woman” will not improve women’s social status. On the contrary, this definition of Gender Identity legitimizes as natural the social order created by traditional sex roles. This will ultimately make it more difficult for women to combat the Sex stereotypes that prevent our advancement in employment, education, and political office.

First, understanding any definition for a protective class, be it specified or not, sort of depends on understanding the roles and stereotypes involved. Can’t make sense of race discrimination protection without racism, racist stereotypes, and the harm they do to people within a racist community. Cant make sense of sex discrimination without the understanding of those stereotypes, either.
Second, Gender Identity is not Gender Expression; “femininity” is not a female Gender Identity, so the argument based on that conflation is a fucking strawman.
Third, fuck-all is being “elevated over”, as I already explained.
Fourth, Gender Identity, being an issue specifically because some individuals so thoroughly reject assigned sex roles that they end up being killed for it, cannot reinforce traditional ideas about sex. It’s doing in fact the exact opposite of that.
Fifth, Gender Identity is independent of Gender Expression, since there are femme trans men, and butch trans women; thus, it’s impossible for Gender Identity to legitimize enforcement of traditional gender roles either; which BTW aren’t the same as sex roles, since sex and gender aren’t the same, except in the patriarchal mind.
This paragraph is therefore also fractal wrongness.

We propose this alternative:

“Gender identity” means a person’s identification with the sex opposite her or his physiology or assigned sex at birth, which can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of a transsexual medical condition, or related condition, as deemed medically necessary by
the American Medical Association.

Gender Identity means “identification with the sex opposite her or his physiology or assigned sex at birth” in exactly the same way that sexual orientation means wanting to fuck people of the same sex, and race means being a Person of Color, you bigoted, privileged fucks.
The rest of that definition means that a person can be discriminated against until they have reams of paper s “proving” they’re really trans, a stipulation not present for any other protective class, and excluding people in the early stages of transition (or pre-transition); making this a completely fucking discriminatory definition and thus utterly fucking worthless as a legal definition of a protective class. And as a definition of a protective class (rather than as a definition of Gender Identity per-se), it also potentially leaves the door open to discrimination based on non-conformity with sex stereotypes for the the sex assigned at birth******, and as such it fucking contradicts your claim to be against discrimination based of sex stereotypes

This definition maintains a clear distinction between sex and gender.

so did the other one; you fucking complained about the part where it made that distinction clear though.

It also protects transsexual people from discrimination without legislatively prioritizing Gender Identity over Sex

neither did the other one, you just can’t fucking read.

and without falsely presuming that Gender Identity exists independently of sex roles and stereotypes.

Gender Identity does exist independent of sex and gender roles, and stereotypes. Just because you don’t fucking know what it is, doesn’t mean you get to claim that this independence is “false”.
Now, discrimination against people’s Gender Identities and their choices of expression and behavior stereotypically tagged as gendered would not exist without these roles and stereotypes, seeing as it’s these stereotypes and roles that are gendering these things in the first place. But that’s a separate kettle of fish which this pamphlet ignores and inverts incorrectly.

So yeah. That is why I’m done with radical feminism.

– – – – – – – – – –
*I have a pretty good idea where the idea starts out from, namely that the sex assigned at birth based on the visible physical phenotype is being rejected by trans folk based on the diverging psychological sex; since radical feminists don’t seem to acknowledge the existence of this diverging sexual body mapping, they think that the “real” sex of a person is what they were assigned at birth, and disregard the sex the brain has a map for. This by itself doesn’t lead to “advocates who frame Gender Identity as more important than Sex” in the context of anti-discrimination protection, and less still to “a theory of Gender Identity that values gendered “appearance, expression, or behavior” more than biological Sex”, where “biological sex”, I assume, is the visible physical phenotype; unless CAIS women aren’t women either *snort*. There is a leap of logic here that simply does not follow from any stated or implied premises.

**well; the patriarchy defenders everywhere probably do, but this isn’t about MRAs, Fundies, Republicans, or any of their like.

***were this the kind of blog that liked to commit the fallacy of the Golden Middle and the fallacy of the False Equivalence, this would be the point where I would ramble about miscommunication, and both sides misunderstanding the each other. This is not such a blog, so I’ll just point out that it’s NOT bloody likely that Newt Gingrich knows better what atheism means than atheists do; or that Rick Santorum knows better what sexual orientation is than LGBT people do; and so, it’s not bloody likely that radfems know better what Gender Identity is than trans people do.

****”Gender identity or expression” – a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

*****because of intersectionality, a lot of people experience multiple forms of discrimination, often interconnected ones: sexism against black women for example is quite different from sexism against white women. so sometimes it would be useful to treat the different protective classes as influencing each other. Now, if the radfems would make an argument that the specific inclusion of the “regardless” phrase in the definition will make it impossible/more difficult to make the argument that sex-based discrimination and Gender Identity/Gender Expression discrimination can influence each other, and thus should be excluded or rephrased as I did above to clarify what is regardless of what, they’re welcome to do so.

******theoretically, discrimination based on sex could cover this. Since it has never done so, it obviously doesn’t cover it sufficiently well, and thus it needs to be covered elsewhere. You might wish it wasn’t so, but if we’re going to be basing legislation on wishful thinking, why bother with protected classes at all? we could just wish for there to not be any discimination at all, after all.

I’ve served radical feminism the divorce papers.

**TW: Radfems in the comment section**

Until fairly recently, I didn’t know shit about trans issues. I’m trying to play catch-up, but… yeah. So anyway, this is mostly a post about my complete and utter disappointment with the concept of radical feminism. Because when I started getting into social justice at first, the concept appealed: patriarchy really is at the root of the oppression of women, and thus the goal should be uprooting it, not simply carving out a space for women who pay a sufficient tribute to fundamental patriarchal principles.

But you know what? that “not just for women who pay a sufficient tribute to fundamental patriarchal principles” goes for all women, so conforming to patriarchal gender-essentialism absolutely counts too. So does including women whose oppressions happen along more than just the gender-axis, because denying that classism, racism, ableism, heterosexism, cissexism, etc. are things that aren’t the patriarchy is bullshit. counterproductive bullshit.

Anyway, at first I didn’t even know that this denial, and this conformity to gender essentialism was a thing that radical feminists did, because the 2-3 that I know aren’t saying nasty shit about trans women, and aren’t denying that they are women. And I figured the extremists at AROOO were some sort of exception, possibly specific to separatist/political lesbianism (yeah, I know). So, in parallel to “Not my Nigel”, I was suffering from “not my radfem”. It wasn’t until I discovered Womanist Musings that I started learning about the history and current reality of entirely too much of what counts as radical feminism, best exemplified by the exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Since then, I’ve made it a point to search out more trans activist voices (Natalie Reed first among them, since she’s also a skeptic and feminist), and as a result have stumbled upon the deeply fucked up shit that radfems do and say to and about trans women; like this shit, or, on a wider scale this shit, where they actually fucking wrote a letter to the UN Commission on Women saying that protections for trans people are dangerous because they undermine protections for women. and then of course is the fact that the history of feminism is littered with cis feminists who’ve advocated violence against trans women, and who are considered heroes in radfem cycles.

so yeah.

I’m done defending radfems and radical feminism. the decent radfems can do the defending and the cleanup themselves; I’m gonna be over here, being an intersectional feminist, trying to be an ally to trans women, instead.