“However patriarchies began originally, they are recreated in every male child that is born because of our practice of educating boys into a gender category opposite to that of their mothers, even at a time when mothers are intensely practicing gift-giving towards their children. Then mothers, as well as their girl children, adapt to care especially for boys who are learning to be non-giving human beings. But, actually gift giving is the basis of our humanity – men’s as well – so this gender distinction sets up some basic, important, and pervasive paradoxes that influence our lives at all levels, and which are at the root of patriarchy and capitalism.”
By Genevieve Vaughan1
Thinking about gender in terms of giving and non-giving provides considerable insight into the conflict between feminists and transactivists.
Radical feminists often think of gender as the institution in patriarchy that trains males to become dominators/exploiters and females to submit to domination. I agree. If you think about some of the characteristics associated with masculinity such as aggressiveness and competition its easy to see how these qualities are important for carrying out acts of domination and exploitation. And feminine qualities like being nice and agreeable certainly predispose girls and women to submit to domination. These feminine qualities are often instilled in girl children through abuse by men and boys.
However, a critical part of femininity and women’s role in society is as mothers and, even if never bearing or raising children, girls are trained to have the skills needed by mothers including gift-giving, nurturing, and care-giving. Patriarchal societies depend on women to give birth and mother children, but patriarchy always exploits women’s work, including women’s care-giving. Gift-giving is, nonetheless, crucial for human societies, as Genevieve Vaughan says, “the basis of our humanity.” No society, including this capitalist patriarchy, can survive without an active subsistence economy based in gift-giving, cooperation and care. (See footnote 2 for more on the subsistence economy.)
Matriarchal societies take women’s role as mother as the model for all human behavior, so in matriarchies both female and male children are taught to give, not to take. Not so in patriarchy. Genevieve Vaughan views gender in patriarchy through a lens of gift-giving (feminine) vs. non-giving (masculine). Given all the exploitation carried out largely by men in our current society, I think it is instructive to think of the “non-giving” Genevieve Vaughan associates with masculinity as taking.
Male to transgender (M2T) persons claim to have a feminine gender identity. But, are they givers or takers?
These tiny offering vessels were made of clay by human hands about 3,600 years ago. Each of the bowls filled with food was left as a gift to the great mother. The bowls were found in caves, mountain top crevices, by springs and other places sacred to the ancient peoples of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. The bowls were photographed by Paula at the Heraklion Archeological Museum in Heraklion, the capital city of Crete in October 2017.
Women are constantly called on in our daily lives to provide emotional support for others – often men. We give up time for ourselves to focus on the needs of the people we care about. We spend endless time listening to other people’s concerns and problems. Men are often so emotionally unskilled that they are completely dependent on women’s help in finding ways of handling their own emotions or any emotionally difficult situation.
I wonder how many M2T (male to transgender) persons have taken on the feminine role of giving emotional support to others. I am thinking about this question after reading an experience described by Carey Maria Catt Callahan (a biological female) when she was first considering de-transitioning and couldn’t find any de-transitioned women to talk to. She tried to get support from a M2T friend (referred to in the quote below as “she” and as a “woman”):
“I told a trans woman friend of mine this, a woman I’d lent money to and talked down from suicidal threats, and she laughed. It was clear to me, regardless of an internal felt sense of gendered self, I’d done the caretaking work in the friendship and she couldn’t even conceive of herself as owing me same in return.” (See footnote 3.)
In this patriarchal society boys and men are given center stage and they have a lot of self-centeredness, privilege and even selfishness to overcome if they want to learn to be care-givers.
Recently I’ve started telling people that “woman is an identity that is already taken.” What does it mean for one oppressed group to claim the identity of another oppressed group? I’m not sure this has ever happened before. Certainly cultural appropriation is a big problem when, for example, white people start taking over Native American spiritual practices without permission. But M2T persons appropriate (take over) the actual identity of being a woman. As XX Amazons says in our “Who Is a Woman? Who Gets to Decide?” brochure:
“Today male to transgender persons are claiming to be women but they have never asked whether or not women want them. They want to be considered women regardless of how many women object. Where is their respect for women?”
Which gender role are M2T persons acting out when they take what belongs to women?
I was one of the lesbians de-platformed by transactivists at the Goddess Festival in March of 2017. I have to say that what I experienced from transactivists at that time – the unrelenting Facebook, phone, and email campaign, threats of picketing and invading our workshop – in no way resembled any form of giving. I certainly experienced caregiving and support from lesbians and other feminist friends. But, transactivists, both M2T and F2T persons, did everything they could to take from me my rights to speak in public and meet with other women.
M2T persons not only want to take women’s identities, they want to take from women our ability to speak about our experiences and understandings. They want to take away from us and take over for themselves the narrative of what it means to be a woman. I have heard from a reliable source that transactivists once wrote “Real Women Have Dicks” in large letters on the outside of a public tent at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, so I guess that is their narrative for “Who Is a Woman?” According to this version of reality we women no longer qualify as women!
M2T persons do not seem to be very good at giving, at performing the most basic acts associated with the feminine gender identity they claim.
Radical feminists are resisting the attacks of the TEAFS (Transactivist Extremists Attacking Feminists) and fighting for women and girls. But what of the other women, including many mainstream feminists, who are far more concerned with supporting transactivists than they are with the pain experienced by their sisters who are under attack from those same transactivists?
There are probably many reasons for the ways that trans-supporters prioritize M2T (male to transgender) needs, but why not look at their actions in terms of giving and taking? If there is one form of caregiving that women are most programmed to do in patriarchy, I expect that would be taking care of men. Many women so prioritize taking care of men that they fail to take care of their own needs.
What males could need women’s caretaking more than M2T persons? Just like other males, many M2T persons are emotionally unskilled. Many of them are experiencing gender dysphoria and gender (or gender identity) confusion, as well as emotional difficulties or crisis. They experience prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis.
Usually liberation movements are able to help their members grow strong as they fight for their group and learn to embrace their authentic selves. This strengthening process could work for transgender people, but cannot while the transgender movement pushes its members to falsely claim more than the transgender identity they have clear rights to. When males claim to be women or females claim to be men they become trapped in an endless pursuit of an identity can never have because they have the wrong biology. The result is a needy, shaky, inauthentic self forced to constantly perform a role and desperate for external validation.
Enter all the female caregivers drawn to help a movement full of males who need help and can’t give each other the help they need because of their socialization as “non-givers.” Many women trans-supporters empathize so strongly with transgender people that they put transgender personal and political needs ahead of women’s needs. They collude to end women-only and girl-only spaces because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of M2T persons by excluding them. I know feminist women who understand that M2T persons are “non-givers,” but want to invite M2T persons into women-only groups in order to teach them how to act like women – to stop dominating meetings, to stop being self-centered, to learn to be care-givers. Seriously! How could radical feminists, with our strong authentic selves, no matter how assaulted we are by TEAFs, even begin to compete for the care and concern of the women who give too much to males!
The irony here is that radical feminists offer an important gift to male and female transgender persons. We radical feminists understand that gender is a patriarchal trap. We know that nobody is naturally “masculine” or “feminine.” Males have to be forced into adopting “masculinity”, females forced into “femininity”. Transgender people try to find their way out of this gender trap by switching roles, but following any gender role prevents free self-expression. Transgender people become stuck trying to perform a gender role they weren’t even trained for. Gender roles were created by patriarchal society for the purpose of controlling women for the benefit of men (especially elite white men). The gift radical feminists offer to transgender people is the understanding that gender has been purposefully constructed by patriarchal society and that this deadly institution of gender can be just as purposefully dismantled.
Feminists and transgender people have a common enemy – gender!
Who has more to offer gender-confused and transgender people: their “yes-woman” supporters or the radical feminists whose critique of the transgender worldview offers a life-affirming path out of the gender maze?
1. From Genevieve Vaughan’s article, “Matriarchy and the Gift Economy,” in Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past Present and Future edited by Heide Goettner-Abendroth.
2. For many societies, including most matriarchies and tribal societies, the subsistence economy – based in production that has only the goal of creating, re-creating and maintaining life – is the only economy. Capitalist patriarchy has installed an exploitative market economy on top of the core, gift-giving, subsistence economy. The capitalist economy would quickly falter and fail without all the work women give for free bearing and raising children, caring for households and men. See Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen’s book The Subsistence Perspective.
3. From Carey Maria Catt Callahan article, “Unheard Voices of Detransitioners,” in Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body edited by Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore, p. 169.