To the Editor:
I was disappointed to read James Malin’s article, “We are more than our genders,” in the most recent issue of The Standard (Volume XL Issue II). I found it to be a flagrant display of privilege and a misunderstanding of how both sexism and feminism work.
First, it is necessary to address the fact that sexism manifests itself in many forms; it is not just people “genuinely [feeling] that [other] people should be denied opportunities due to their gender.” To name that and only that as sexism is to erase the countless other ways in which people experience sexism and to invalidate the ways in which feminism seeks to fight those forms of unconscious oppression.
The article, however, seems to express the view that one’s gender is irrelevant and that it should not be taken into consideration both within the feminist movement and in the broader world. The core of the article seems to suggest that it is wrong to group together one set of experiences as female and another as male because men and women are not monolithic and assuming so enforces gender essentialism (i.e. that some things are inherently female and others male, like empathy or strength).
This, however, is not what we feminists mean when we lend importance to one’s gender. We are not saying that men do not understand some of the things that people of other genders go through due to some biological difference that somehow separates the genders from each other. We are instead saying that our experiences are informed by our genders, and that the difference between these experiences due to sexism must be taken into account. Without doing so, we cannot collaborate as people with differently gendered experiences within the feminist movement, and male privilege continues entirely unchecked.
Of course, people of all genders are both welcome into the feminist movement and able to call themselves feminists. However, it is important to realize that the empathy of a person with male privilege, as powerful and important as that empathy is, is not the same as the lived experiences of someone faced with sexist oppression. Of course male opinions matter in the movement to end sexism, just as the individual experiences of other genders are not the be-all end-all of feminist discourse.
However, it is important to take note of the different perspectives from which we are speaking, privileged or otherwise. Without doing so, the view of a man who has never experienced catcalls and who is making light of the sexist harassment that women face often on a daily basis, for example, carries equal weight to the view of a woman who has been leered and shouted at every day on her way to work. The person who has experienced the oppression clearly has a better understanding of the situation in this instance, but that would not be visible if no one’s gender was taken into account in that situation.
Also, most importantly, to ignore one’s own gender as was done in the article when saying that “If I succeed, that will be James succeeding, not another man,” the system that affords men privilege over other genders is allowed to continue unchecked.
After all, how can we tackle an oppressive system without acknowledging how we are affected by and complicit within it? Because if James succeeds, he will not just be James, a person, succeeding; he will be joining the ranks of millions of other men who have been able to succeed where people of other genders have not been able to do so due to their genders.
Say, for example, that he becomes a Fortune 500 CEO, generally seen as successful in today’s broader culture. Without taking his gender into consideration, his place in the context of broader society cannot be understood. Because when James becomes a Fortune 500 CEO, for instance, James also becomes one more of the currently 474 male Fortune 500 CEOs. To not realize this is to do an injustice to those who face inequity due to their genders.
It is important that we take our genders into account because how we move through the world is structured by gender. Pretending that gender does not impact one’s success is not feminist and is violent in its erasure of people’s experiences. It therefore is not gender essentialism that feminism supports; it is being critical of our world as it is.