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Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz

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Like many Americans, I have been paying attention to the current marketing of gender, the unquestionable system that tells us what constitutes male vs. female in our capitalist patriarchy. With morbid fascination, I am witnessing our culture move away from the old women’s liberation values that told young people they could participate in any activity they enjoyed, wear any clothing they liked, play with whatever toys they wanted, and think any thoughts they thought without these behaviors and beliefs being labeled male or female by forces then known as sexism. Not only have the categories of “boy’s toys” and “girl’s toys” returned with a vengeful backlash, now children and the rest of us are being told that an affinity for “girl’s toys” and dresses and make-up actually defines the true essence of girlhood. If a child really, really likes what is being sold by the capitalist patriarchy as female, that child IS female. And vice versa for children who reject female toys and stereotypical female interests. Even if they have two X chromosomes and a vulva, these children are now obviously boys. These children are especially to be considered boys if they hate their female physiology and despise their female bodies. Through the miracle of capitalist cooptation, we have progressed from the women’s liberation war cry of “Start a Revolution, Stop Hating Your Body” to hating the body being framed as revolutionary.

With particular interest, I have been watching and reading about Jazz Jennings, the biological male who from the time of toddlerhood strongly preferred the toys, clothes and mannerisms marketed as female. Because Jazz rejected the products and behaviors sold and enforced as male, and because Jazz never had opportunities to see males who identify as males playing with “girl things” and wearing “girl clothes” and “acting like girls,” and because Jazz had no interest in the products marketed as “boy things” (the guns, the robots, the buzz cuts, the army men), Jazz began identifying as the kind of person who likes “girl things.” Jazz’s parents agreed that if Jazz shopped and talked and threw like a girl, obviously Jazz was a girl. Happily for them (if money can buy happiness), Jazz was born at the perfect time in our post-feminist, post-modern, bread-and-circuses phase of late stage capitalism. Jazz’s family landed paid appearances on talk shows, paid interviews, and now a reality TV show, all promoting the idea that sex-role stereotypes (aka gender) are the only definition of male and female that matter. Jazz Jennings has become the literal poster child for Gender Incorporated, telling and selling us all what it really means to be female in a capitalist patriarchy.

Like Honey Boo Boo and Miley Cyrus, and Michael Jackson before them, Jazz appears as a happy, fun-loving child with a caring, supportive family. Jazz continually smiles while doing the things girls do: posing in a mermaid suit, cheerleading, being pretty. In several articles and appearances, however, Jazz has hinted at sadness, worrying about finding a boyfriend, stating that many biological boys Jazz encounters do not view Jazz as a girl. Jazz reports plenty of female friends, though. While I’m sure Jazz’s life will have its difficulties (life-long hormone replacement, plastic surgery, and childhood fame all carry significant risks), the majority of biological females Jazz encounters will offer comfort and kindness to Jazz, as they have been socialized through gender to do. Gender after all normalizes female self-sacrifice. Most adult females, even those who identify as feminists, exhibit an unexamined acceptance of gender. Women reflexively label every creature they see as male (unless said creature is portrayed with breasts or fake eyelashes and lipstick). They fear more than anything not being liked and they work hard to never, ever commit the sin of hurting someone’s feelings. They have been enculturated to accept their own erasure and to serve the interests of biological males. Jazz’s life will have problems, but these will be buffered and mitigated by female caretaking.

Jazz will inevitably encounter people who refuse to accept the belief system that asserts gender as fact and biology (i.e. the living, material world) as a mere social construct or inconvenience to be fixed with chemicals and technology. Some of these people will be females who resent being told that femaleness can be reduced to performance of “femininity” while they themselves do not appreciate the patriarchal gender system that defines female this way. Others will be males and conservative females who support and revere the patriarchy, but want to maintain a social order like the good old days when men were men and women were women. Because Jazz and the rest of us are being strongly indoctrinated to view “misgendering” as violence, Jazz will have many tales of such violence to report through the gender-promoting media. Those who have participated in the crime of misgendering will be appropriately shamed for refusing to capitulate to the new rules of gender (they may also lose their jobs or speaking gigs at universities or be sued for discrimination).

Because Jazz was born into a violent patriarchy, Jazz may also encounter physical violence, almost certainly at the hands of males. Should it occur, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t, this violence will be labeled a hate crime, a crime more worthy of social outrage and attention than the rapes, murders, torture and beatings suffered by biological females at the hands of males. Unlike biological females, Jazz legally belongs to a protected class, and violence toward this protected class of people is taken more seriously by the media and liberal activists (and sometimes even the legal system) than the routine, all day, every day male violence against biological females.

I do not predict an easy or peaceful future for Jazz. I, however, am even more concerned about what the future holds for Jazz’s sister and all of the girls she represents: the less special kind of female, the kind who doesn’t automatically get awards of bravery for declaring herself a woman and devoting herself to the performance of her assigned gender role. The kind of female conditioned to take up as little space as possible, even if this means starving herself. The kind of female whose body is not legally her own. The kind of female who is viewed as a state regulated incubator, worthy of public debates in mainstream media venues about whether or not she should be allowed to end an unwanted pregnancy or give birth at home. (Such debates about what women should and shouldn’t be allowed to do with their bodies currently receive less social criticism and outrage than the crime of misgendering, by the way. When it comes to forced pregnancy and birth, “good people can disagree.”)

A recent article in Cosmopolitan (a magazine designed to enforce the rules of gender to the female population; a magazine which recently ran a cover story promoting torture porn and telling women that we should learn to enjoy being tied up, beaten, choked, and having men ejaculate on our faces), featured Jazz Jennings talking about his sister. Jazz tells the interviewer and the world that he views his sister’s body as something that can be used to serve his reproductive desires. Like so many gender non-conforming children today who would have once grown up to be happy gay people with intact bodies, Jazz is being sterilized through the process of transitioning into a cultural stereotype of femininity. The medical industry will remove his testicles, if they haven’t already done so, and through plastic surgery create a simulation of a vagina for Jazz. Jazz wants very much to be a parent. Lucky for him he lives in a world where women’s bodies are for sale and rent. In the Cosmo interview, Jazz brags that he is “convincing” his sister to serve him as incubator so he can fulfill his dream of being a mother. Jazz, speaking of his sister’s vagina (which he calls her “vag”), says, “We’ll take my hubby’s sperm and throw it in there and fertilize it.”

For those of you out there, and I know there are many, who are reacting to the use of male pronouns and judging this sin of misgendering as mean, maybe even violent, I want you to compare your reaction to my pronoun use to your reaction to Cosmo promoting rape and torture porn, and ask yourself if by going along with the cult of gender you just might be doing the work of the patriarchy. I want you to compare your reaction to my use of male pronouns when describing a teenager who believes he is entitled to his sister’s “vag” and womb, to your reaction to Jazz’s words about his sister, and ask yourself just what you are doing for biological females when you promote and defend gender.

Unfortunately for her, Jazz’s sister belongs to the class of females that patriarchs like Rick Santorum talk to when he and other male authority figures take to the airwaves every election cycle telling us we should be forced to give birth to rapists’ babies. (Santorum, who hates women and gay people, has publicly asserted that Bruce Jenner is a woman if Jenner says he is a woman.) Jazz’s sister is the kind of female the patriarchy exists to control, the kind of female who can be used to produce the progeny of biological males. When power and property are controlled by competing men and passed to male children, female bodies must be policed and controlled so men can be reassured they are not spending their resources on another male’s children. This is called patriarchy. Patriarchal societies oppress females because of biological sex, their capacity to reproduce. Gender serves as the rule book for this oppression. Females are not oppressed because of their gender. Gender itself oppresses females.

Gender trains males and females to know their proper places in the system of male supremacy. Just as children absorb and learn language, they also learn the rules and syntax of gender. And the childhood rules of gender are clearer and stricter today than they have been in over a century. Unlike the halcyon days of the 1970s when all Legos looked alike and television ads portrayed the Slinky as a toy for a girl or a boy and “Free to Be You and Me” played even in my conservative Catholic childhood home, gender stereotypes now permeate every aspect of children’s media and toys and clothing. Lest anyone accuse me of waxing too idyllic about the 1970s, I will mention a phenomenon I witnessed in my family and church community. Gender non-conforming boys were told from a very young age by all of the adults around them that they would make very good priests. Several of my gay male cousins and classmates, who from toddlerhood enjoyed wearing make-up and high heels and other things that made them feel pretty, internalized this messaging and did indeed become priests. Had they been born several decades later, they would have been encouraged to think of themselves as female. (Whether priests in the 1970s or transwomen today, these males interestingly both hold a place of enforcing the rules of what it means to be a woman in a patriarchy.) Jazz’s sister and Jazz both grew up soaking in gender. Both were taught only to view cartoon characters or animals as female if they were portrayed in highly sexualized ways: with male-gaze appealing face paint and bullet-tit bodies, or to be more sexually mundane, in the acts of gestating, birthing and breastfeeding. (For more on this, Google “madonna/whore dichotomy.” After you sort through the inevitable pornography, you may find some feminist critiques of this classic aspect of the gender system.)

Jazz’s sister belongs to the class of females socialized to feel inferior for being female. Magazines don’t interview her about how great it is to be the kind of girl she happens to be. No one commends her on her courage for shaving her body hair and applying make-up. She remains the kind of girl brainwashed from birth to caretake and accommodate biological males. To not participate in such caretaking and accommodation will result in social punishment. With regard to Jazz’s reproductive desires, this leaves Jazz’s sister with very bad options. She can be nice and agree to accept the risks to her physical and emotional health that accompany gestating, birthing, and relinquishing a child. If she agrees to let Jazz throw his hubby’s sperm up her vag and incubate a child for him, she will reap some temporary social rewards for her self-sacrifice. Or she can be a bitch and say no. More on this story to come, I’m sure, as we are all subjected to the gender-promoting spectacle of the Jazz Jennings story.

Mary Lou Singleton is a radical feminist midwife and mother who desires nothing more than the destruction and abolition of gender and the smashing of the patriarchy. She sits on the advisory board of the Stop Patriarchy Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and serves as the coordinator of the Women’s Liberation Front’s Reproductive Autonomy task force. Mary Lou is the founder of Personhood for Women.

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