A huge problem I have with the concept of “cisgender privilege” is that my female-bodied friends, and female-bodied people in general, are somehow assumed to have more privilege from being recognizable as feminine, instead of more targeted for victimization. Er, no. Femininity doesn’t work like that: there is no place of acceptance or safety, just different kinds of violence and objectification.
What I’ve seen is that when women achieve or fall into contemporary beauty (i.e. femininity) norms, they are not given a magic shield from gendered violence, whether sexual, emotional or physical. But they are given more attention of the kind patriarchy wants us to believe is positive—a guy not-so-covertly stalking you throughout the entire grocery store, spooking you so much that you keep your keys between your fingers and look over your shoulder walking through the parking lot; some douche who comes up and tells you that you’re pretty, with the obvious expectation that you’ll immediately swoon and accompany him to bed; getting “HAY BAYBEE” or sundry other things shouted at you from a passing man (in a car, on foot) instead of “FATASS” or “FREAK.” Stop acting like these things are not just as invalidating, minimizing, and fucking terrifying as the things women go through when they’re not feminine enough. They are.
Newsflash from Feminism 101: Women do not win. Ever.
But dividing women has one very salient advantage—it keeps them occupied arguing over who’s the prettiest, ugliest, bitchiest or most privileged, short-circuiting any destruction the silly little dears might have otherwise been able to wreak on the existing power structure.
Come on. This has been happening for centuries. Women fight over who’s more beautiful and the winner is men. Women fight over a husband and the winner is the man. One of the sad truths of women’s interactions throughout history is that women are always more likely to blame and fight each other than men. Patriarchy—all power structures—create a competition amongst the underclass to divert their attention and energies to getting small slivers of oppressor-given approval and power, because the easiest way to quell rebellion is to make sure it never begins. By making women compete, patriarchy succeeded in making men and men’s power invisible: in the din and dust of scrabbling to get whatever scrap of male approval was there, women forgot who was standing above them, laughing, and blamed the women around them for being better at the competition, or worse.
Part of the solidarity of the feminist movement was realizing that the women who won were still being forced to compete.
When I look at the belief that women—because it is always women—are privileged because they have an advantage in the competition, I see that history and that community disappeared. When I see the dismissal of this competition as important, as a fundamental shaping factor of all women’s lives—because all women have to deal with this in any civilization—what appears to me is not a fight for the rights of those maligned, but an incredible push to make people forget that the competition ever existed at all.
That’s the voice of postmodernism, individualism, transactional oppression. It’s the voice of the pornographers and the pimps, the doctors and the butchers and the rapists: women have power over the competition because they choose to compete.
This is the voice of reality: women have no choice to compete, because they are not the ones setting up the arenas. Men are, and the prize is sexual, emotional and capitalistic victimization. The only beneficiaries of the Colosseum were the spectators.
The privilege and power that transactivists seek does not lie in being able to participate in the competition, much less in winning at it. Those things reside only in not competing, and women cannot give you this—they’ve been trying for thousands of years to find a way out of the competition, themselves. You cannot give power you aren’t allowed to have in the first place, and women cannot oppress you as women, if trying to found a safe place for themselves and those like them—who were given no power and no choice—even counts as oppression. Demanding that women give you the power to be like them is only begging from an empty hand, because women have never had the power to decide what women were in the first place. And I find it unsurprising that when women finally do try to decide what women are—people designated unwilling competitors from birth in a system they cannot benefit from, because they have ovaries—the reaction is this vicious.
As women, they have no power to give you and even less to take yours from you. As women, they aren’t even allowed to decide who does not get to be around them, because that would be making boundaries, and those without power cannot have boundaries. As people born and recognized as men most of your lives, you still believe that women should not be allowed to have boundaries that are respected, defended. I know you believe this because your actions are written by patriarchy, and they are the same as any other man in the world, speaking slowly and menacingly: you have no right to keep yourself from me.
The only reason that oppressiveness is scented when a woman says, “I feel unsafe, and I don’t want you around me,” is that men have always had every right to women’s space, women’s bodies and women’s time. So when someone who was raised as a man is told no, it is perceived as a limiting of their rights, their privilege. Women are oppressing men by taking away their rights, the rights that were originally taken from women. But that is also invisible, especially to men.
As a genderqueer, I am absolutely skeptical of the idea that such a thing as “cisgender privilege” exists. Seeing it in the light of male privilege and the reality of women’s lives, instead of abstracted to fit the needs of those who have been privileged all their lives, it is just more of the same thing from the same place.
Remember: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.