Are Pussy Hats Inherently Transphobic?

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First off, disclaimer: I didn’t actually attend the local Women’s March, so read what I have to say with a grain of salt.

With that said, I want to comment on the current controversy about whether the cornucopia of pussy-themed images at the Women’s March is inherently transphobic.

The first thing I want to say is that the mere mention of vagina and female anatomy is not inherently transphobic. It is perfectly fine if a cis woman or AFAB person (or post-op trans woman) wants to talk about their anatomy in the context of furthering reproductive rights, such as the right to a safe abortion or access to birth control or in the general context of bodily autonomy and female empowerment. When the Republicans are dead-set on attacking these reproductive rights it is perfectly ok for vagina-owners to talk about their vaginas, pregnancy, rape, and anything else relevant to reproductive health or any other issue facing vagina-owners.

Furthermore, we need to place the pussy images in the proper context, which is Trump’s comments about grabbing women’s pussies. I don’t believe it is inherently transphobic for vagina owners to use pussy imagery to respond to Trump’s misogynistic comments that centered around grabbing AFAB anatomy. Take, for example, the following sign:

laub-womens-march-dc-011-nocrop-w1800-h1330-2x

I don’t believe this sign is inherently transphobic because it’s dealing with the GOP obsession with restricting the reproductive rights of people capable of getting pregnant. Furthermore, nothing about this sign indicates that only women have vaginas or that women are defined by their genitalia are that vaginas are the Ur-symbol to represent the Women’s Rights movement, femininity, or feminism in general. So we have set an example in which it is possible to use vagina imagery in a way that is not transphobic. In contrast, let’s look at this other sign:

laub-womens-march-dc-041-nocrop-w1800-h1330-2x

This sign is much more problematic than the previous sign. It is obviously a play on “we the people”. In my opinion, the underlying implication of the sign is that the “we” is referring to all women who are fighting back against Trump and the republicans. The problem is that not all women fighting back have pussies. The picture is clearly trying to make a general statement about feminism and the Women’s Rights movement and it is not explicitly focused on the GOP obsession with taking away reproductive rights from vagina-owners. This image is arguably transphobic because it ignores the way in which non-pussy owners are just as much part of the “we” which is fighting for body autonomy and Women’s Rights. This sign is problematic in the same way the next sign is:

laub-womens-march-dc-017.nocrop.w1800.h1330.2x.jpg

“Pussy power” with a female symbol next to it. The underlying implication is that female = pussy and pussy = female and that the power to fight the GOP lies only with pussy-owners. This is transphobic because not all females have pussies. Furthermore, the underlying context of the sign is supposed to represent the power of women to protest Trump and fight back against the Republicans who are taking away women’s rights. But obviously not all the women who have the collective feminine power to fight back have pussies.

However, there is nothing wrong with taking pride in having a pussy, or thinking that pussies are powerful, or in trying to organize with people who also have pussies. But why exclude trans women from the symbolic image of those with the female power to fight Trump and the GOP? Trans women are incredibly powerful fighters. We have so much power to contribute to the fight. Furthermore, trans women are female. We have just as much claim to the female symbol as pussy owners. By associating the female symbol with pussies this works to alienate trans women from the collective female fight against Trump and the GOP.

In conclusion, pussy hats and pussy imagery are not inherently transphobic. Wearing a pussy hat is not inherently transphobic. But the context certainly matters. The nuance of language certainly matters. There are non-transphobic and transphobic ways to use pussy imagery to represent the fight for Women’s Rights. If feminism is going to work in the 21st century it needs to do better to be inclusive of trans women. This is not to say that everything has to be about trans women or that people should give up on using vagina-based imagery altogether. The pussy is still a powerful symbol because the vast majority of women have vaginas and conservatives have traditionally focused on controlling pussies. But the fight for bodily autonomy is a fight that is equally shared with trans women and trans women are powerful allies that feminism excludes at the risk of losing amazingly powerful allies. We can do better.

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14 Comments

Filed under feminism, Gender studies, Trans studies

14 responses to “Are Pussy Hats Inherently Transphobic?

  1. radamaker

    Re male-to-female transgenders accusing the women’s march of trans misogyny because of their references to pussies, pussy hats, and vagina centric rhetoric:

    Men can talk about their penises all day and they aren’t accused by female-to-male transgenders as being trans misandristic! Female-to-male transgenders are not telling men to shut up about their penises because they (male-to-female transgenders) have “unconventional penises.” Women are perfect targets for this kind of attack…because of their internalized misogyny. An “unconventional pussy” doesn’t make mine irrelevant! Yea for the pussy hats! Keep the vagina monologue going!

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    • transphilosopher

      Last time I checked there wasn’t recently a “Men’s March” with millions of men marching in the name of gender equality holding up signs of penises. But I promise you that if that did happen trans men would be upset with any attempts to define manhood in terms of penises because not all men have penises. But the underlying cis-sexist implication is equally problematic. No one is telling cis females to “shut up about their vaginas” – talk about your vaginas and have monologues about your vaginas all you want. But if you want your feminism to be intersectional and inclusive of trans women, then don’t talk about vaginas in such a way as to define womanhood and everything about Women’s Right in terms of vaginas. It’s that simple. My guess is that you just don’t care about making feminism intersectional. I can’t force you to include trans women in your feminism – but that’s your problem not mine.

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  2. radamaker

    Exactly how do you define womanhood?

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    • transphilosopher

      I think it’s a philosophical fool’s game to try and give a precise definition of womanhood with necessary and sufficient conditions. And if I did try and define it one thing I wouldn’t do however is to try and give womanhood a biological definition because that’s conflating sex (physiology) with gender (more than physiology). I also wouldn’t try to define it in terms of interests, activities, clothes, accessories, personalities, behaviors, etc. For me the term “woman” is a polymorphous, vague, ambiguous term that is difficult to define precisely because gender itself and the cultural systems of gender are complex phenomena and any attempt to simplify it with definitions seems like a dead end. My preferred way of thinking about womanhood and gender is through the concept of identification, cultural learning, and subjective experience. For me, the concept of “woman” is something I cannot give a definition to but it’s something I can recognize. It’s really hard to define “porn” precisely vs erotic art but I know porn when I see it. Similarly, I know a woman when I see one. I don’t have to be able to define the term precisely to have a working understanding of the term.

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  3. radamaker

    Would you recognize me as a woman even if I don’t subscribe to culturally defined definitions of gender? There are two ways to look at gender biological and then there is all the cultural bullshit about what it means to be a woman. Mostly the definitions of womanhood come from men who feel entitled to define it. I have been fighting against gender stereotypes all my life. My dad tried to tell me ad nauseum what a woman is. If I would just wear a little pink lipstick, and pink nail polish, a dress…My mom told me a woman gives men a good game and then lets him win. Its unfeminine to be intelligent, its unfeminine to chew gum, its unfeminine to go deep sea fishing, girls wear pink …boys wear blue,girls play with dolls and boys play with guns. Gender is crap. The ultimate was when a male-to-female transgender told me she was more woman then I because she wore dresses, make-up, and heels and because of her past experiences of having been a man and knowing what men want. All I have to hang onto is my vagina…all this other shit about gender is an illusion.

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    • transphilosopher

      Even if you were completely gender nonconforming I would recognize you as a woman so long as you told me sincerely you identified as a woman. Wearing pink, high heels, liking men, dresses, makeup – none of that defines womanhood. Anyone who tells you that, trans or cis, is full of BS and doesn’t know two shits about gender. Yes, there are trans women out there who have backwards views of womanhood but there are also cis women out there who have equally backwards views of womanhood.

      Gender stereotypes are harmful. Gender expectations, rules, and requirements are all harmful. But I don’t think that makes the whole system total crap. The problem with gender is not that it exists but that it’s forcibly regulated by society and enforced by tools of the patriarchy. But I could imagine a would where gender exists but is not so forcibly regulated, where women can be valued for their intelligence and men are allowed to wear makeup without having their manhood challenged. But that doesn’t make gender an illusion. I think gender is both socially constructed but very real – just like money. If you want to hang onto your vagina to define your own personal sense of womanhood that’s fine, so long as you don’t go further and define ALL women as owners of vaginas – that’s where I draw the line.

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      • Pamela Radamaker

        What is “identifying as a woman?” By its very nature it suggests that being a woman is something “other” than owning a vagina. That “other” is socially constructed gender which would essentially take away any of my claims to “womanhood.” I don’t subscribe to any socially constructed ideas about womanhood. Gender is not “real like money” …it is made up. I don’t need to sincerely tell you that I “identify as a woman” to be a woman. If you identify with being a woman by the socially constructed version of gender then so be it. I accept you as a woman. Standing up for my vagina doesn’t exclude you. I would invite you to carry a sign with your own “non conventional pussy” however you conceptualize that. Or any other sign advocating for male-to-female transgenders or women in general (by any definition).

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  4. Pingback: The feminist movement has a problem but pink hats aren’t it |

  5. Pamela Radamaker, are you really saying the only way you “know” you’re a woman is that you have a vagina? What would happen, then, to your gender identity were you to lose that vagina to cancer or sexual violence? Would you then be a-gender because your genitals were not quite vagina, but certainly not penis? That’s ridiculous. I’m sure that, like me and most other women, your sense of womanhood is based somewhere inside of you, in your heart or your gut or your “soul” or whatever you’d call it. Otherwise you are saying that the only reason you participate in “feminine” or “womanly” behaviors and traditions is because that’s what’s prescribed for people with your genitalia. That’s preposterous. You do those things because you FEEL like a woman, because you ARE a woman. That takes place somewhere besides your crotch. Your insistence that gender is all made up flies in the very face of your own insistence that you’re a woman. If it’s really just all made up, then every single one of us is merely playing a role that we’ve been assigned? Pshaw. Please go out of your house someday dressed entirely in “male” fashion, and see whether your vagina, and therefore womanhood as you define it, is still visible. Your hangup about genitalia is the opposite of understanding transgender issues. And your insistence on arguing with people who ARE trans just shows how arrogant and/or ignorant you are. Why don’t you just stop? Just stop.

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    • transphilosopher

      Hi Jen,

      *slow clap*

      That was a beautiful retort – thank you.

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      • radamaker

        If you are accusing the women’s movement of transmysogyny for reducing the definition of womanhood to a body part, if defining yourself as a woman isn’t about biology and owning your “pussy” or if that body part is such an insignificant aspect of femaleness…why bother taking hormones growing breasts and surgically creating an “unconventional pussy” as you say? Just because you experience gender very differently than the woman wearing a pussy hat or holding a vagina centric conversation …does that necessarily equate to transmysogyny? It really sounds more like mysogyny on your part. My owning my vagina doesn’t disown your “unconventional pussy.” It’s kind of hypocritical to put so much time energy and expense into creating a vagina surgically, then taking hormones to mimic femaleness and then going out of your way to accuse women of transmysogyny for having pride in their own biological body parts that you so badly believe you need to define your own self as a transgendered woman. Seems like a lot of mental masturbation.

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      • transphilosopher

        I don’t think desiring “opposite sex” characteristics is necessarily about reducing womanhood/manhood to body parts though some trans people in the community inevitably do have cis-sexist views about gender essentialism/body essentialism – it’s more about trying to make it bearable to be in our bodies. Personally I have no plans to get bottom surgery but I am on HRT and I can explain why. Imagine your brain had a representation of your body without breasts – like the part of your brain that is responsible for making a mental image of your breasts as a apart of your body thought instead that your chest should be flat. Your brain predicts a flat chest being there but it’s not there. That’s how my brain is with my chest but in reverse. I can’t explain why exactly that representation got in my brain but it’s there and HRT helps re-allign my actual body with that representation. When the representation is mismatched it causes gender dysphoria, which is incredibly painful. This is the primary reason trans people desire HRT and surgery: it helps deal with the pain of gender dysphoria, reduces it, and manages it. Social transition is also part of the therapy. But since most trans women have once had penises even if they now have a vagina very few are going to say “if you dont have a vagina you aren’t a woman”. There are a few who talk like this but they’re in the minority in my experience. That’s the difference. HRT/surgery is about being comfortable in our bodies but it doesn’t entail defining womanhood in terms of body parts.

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      • radamaker

        I guess I am according to your notion of gender “a gender.” My sense of womanhood isn’t in my soul or my gut. I don’t do things because I “feel like a woman.” I have no natural allegiance to some socially prescribed construct of womanhood. I have no natural attraction to the color pink, I am not naturally inclined to wear dresses or to be demure. I am just Pamela Radamaker who happens to have a vagina and XY chromosomes. And I do participate in feminine or womanly behaviors much because it is what is “prescribed for people with my genitalia.” I am horrified when I go shopping for clothes in the woman’s department and feel seriously limited by fashion prescribed for females. I am afraid to buy men’s shirts because people really do notice what side the buttons are on and question why you are wearing the wrong shirt for the wrong gender. My son wanted his ear pierced when he was a little boy just like his sisters… so I let him pierce one of his ears. Apparently according to the sexual orientation police he pierced the wrong ear …I guess there is a straight ear and a gay ear …and apparently it was to be assumed that he was straight (which he is). Anyway he ended up not using his gay pierced ear because of the dog-and-pony show. I work with the limitations of my gender…by purchasing clothing that I can tolerate and will not get me into trouble with the gender police! I walk a thin line. I feel men have a monopoly on comfortable quality clothing at a cheaper price. I am jealous of the lack of pressure on men to wear make up. I am jealous of men’s freedom to be au na·tu·rel. I am jealous of men’s freedom to have a short low maintenance haircut and yet I have no desire to be a transgendered male. Your right, If I dressed like a male people would think I was male. So what. I don’t have a hang up about genitalia as you say. It just happens to be an aspect of my womanhood besides my XY chromosomes. As far as I am concerned gender is a pain in the ass and has caused me nothing but problems from the day I was born. My family spent many years trying to police my gender and tell me what a woman is and what a woman isn’t. I am sick and tired of all this gender polarization crap. I prefer to pursue my authentic self which doesn’t really fit into any socially prescrbed gender category. I am neither arrogant about this nor am I ignorant as you say. Character assassination is not necessary to this discussion. Obviously gender is a big issue to me since I have had it crammed down my throat. And by the way, I am not going to stop talking about this any more than you are.

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  6. radamaker

    By the way I meant XX chromosomes in the above commeny the spell check kept changing it to XYZ and when I corrected it it defaulted to XY ! No I am not a biological male!

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