What Do I Talk About When I Talk About Feminism

I went back to Twitter recently, and a couple of days ago my face broke out in the most epic, angry acne. Emphasis on epic. Rather than considering it a perimenopausal hormone-situation, I blame the social media (as any adult would). And this time I brought supporting documents with me.

What lured me back to the can of worms?
I liked the contact I got from it: a small accumulation of positive regard, the favouriting on Twitter, the Facebook likes, the little devices designed and coded for maintaining attention and boosting client egos. It felt like a community, a joyful place; a lifeline, in fact, considering how cut off I otherwise was.
At other times, though, the whole thing seemed insane, a trading-off of time against nothing tangible at all: a yellow star, a magic bean, a simulacrum of intimacy.
And it only took a few missed connections or lack of likes for the loneliness to resurface, to be flooded with the bleak sense of having failed to make contact.

Not my words, but those of Olivia Laing in The Lonely City. I do not have her skill with language, but the following was me (is me), and is the absolute perfection, especially as regards any expat’s attempts to hang onto the social circles of both the adopting country and the other:

“…it was the first thing I looked at and the last, this descending scroll from mostly strangers, institutions, friends, this ephemeral community in which I was a disembodied and inconstant presence. Picking through the litany, the domestic and the civic: lens solution, book cover, news of a death, protest picture, art opening, joke about Derrida, refugees in the forest of Macedonia, hashtag shame, hashtag lazy, climate change, lost scarf, joke about Daleks: a stream of information, sentiment and opinion that some days, most days maybe, received more attention than anything actual in my life.”

To add to the previous point and to describe my emerging mood as concerns social media, let me also quote a passage from Garance Doré’s latest newsletter:
“I am getting weary of having to listen to chefs, actors, musicians, and random influencers giving me their take on the political climate without any understanding of what it is, only regurgitating what they’ve heard here and there. I am tired of reading self-aggrandizing political bullshit and newfound social consciences that contribute only in making what political movements are not: trends.”

So I was on Twitter and saw J.K. Rowling trigger a larger than life online shitshow (currently spilling over to the real world) when she made a comment that biological sex is real and that women and girls should have the right to single-sex spaces. Her essay, expanding on the points she made on Twitter where no discussion about anything other than weather should ever take place is here.

Before I go on with what my take on this is, I want to make two distinctions that very often get mixed up in these discussions, happily confusing the two: gender and sex.
These are two different things.

I will elaborate on the importance to have single sex spaces, which to me is the end-game here.
I once had a fleeting conversation about this over a glass of wine with friends. “I do not have a problem with going into a unisex toilet” – came up. I do not have a problem with using unisex toilets, either. Toilet cubicles are not the only spaces at stake in the bigger picture.

Feminism is not about our individual rights and preferences.
My being OK peeing in a unisex toilet cubicle and you being OK using a unisex changing- and showering facility next time you visit your day-spa or swimming pool is not the issue.
I am talking about all women and girls here: young girls, old women, the sick and the healthy, those who are abused, scared and running away, those who are not, and those with religious beliefs and constraints.

The issue is all of the spaces across the society, physical and not. It is about women having the right to compete in sports against other women. It is about women having the right to be represented in politics by people who share same physical and social experience and background.

It is about women’s right to demand to be seen by a woman gynaecologist (if this concerns you, ask yourself why it’s important to you. Does biology and your biological sex play any role in your preference?)

If we take away girls’ and women’s right to single sex spaces and make them free game, whose rights are we protecting?

The Scottish Government is currently debating controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to become a woman is to say he’s one. (Rowling lives in Scotland, which partly explains her activism on this issue.) This will be a huge legal precedent if it goes through, and brings me to the second part of this rant, which is gender.

Recognising biological sex does not eradicate everyone’s right to identify as something they were not biologically born as.

Anyone’s right to identify as man, woman, intersexual, anything, must be protected, recognised and respected. Yet, gender identity is not same as biological sex and my concern as feminist is that a person’s gender self-identification will be granted the same legal status as biological sex, as is now debated by Scottish politicians.
This would result in further eradication of women’s space across the society – basically anywhere outside the domestic setting. And fighting for women’s space and representation is the very point of feminism.

Rowling made another comment that is at the very heart of feminism, and it is this: If the concept of biological sex is removed, the lived reality of women globally is erased. If we (women) are not allowed to speak about how our biological sex has determined our lives, what remains for us in the society?

Patriarchies the world over have oppressed women because of our biology, not because of our femininity. We can attempt to break free from our assumed, female characteristics, but not our biology.
Does one need to have a woman’s biological body in order to be feminine? No, absolutely not.
Women don’t own femininity or femaleness, same with masculinity – who- or whatever happens to be defining these things on our behalf.

My concern is the attempt to eradicate “woman” as a political and biological class. It is our hard-fought right to formally exist in a society, and throughout the history it has been determined by a man.

Simone de Beauvoir said “If I want to define myself, I first have to say, “I am a woman”; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.”

– and here ends my scrambled attempt at trying to make sense about something I read on Twitter.

There’s a ton of related, fundamental questions that would have merited my opinion, and I do realise that. I did dodge many issues that are at the epicentre of the raging Twitter-war.

My important take-out from this spectacle is returning to the fundaments of feminism as I see it: the recognition of women’s rights and woman as a sex – biology and experiences and lived lives shaped by it, and having the right to meaningfully discuss our lives, as determined by our biological sex, in public.

And, of course, that gender and sex are two different words, each with a different legal and scientific definition and meaning, and mixing them up in a sentence spells fucking disaster, especially on Twitter.


P.S. To the issue of my Twitter-related (hormonal) acne: should you be attacked by such, take a ton of Omega3 -oil, capsule format is the best. Take them three times a day (I went up to 9 capsules a day) for a couple of days and drink water like it’s going out of fashion.
Acne was gone in 3 days without any further action from my part. The red scars should be gone soon.
I hope.

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