Andrea Hildebran

Sex(ism) and gender and everything that comes next

Filed By Andrea Hildebran | February 04, 2008 4:22 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: ENDA, gender discrimination, GLBT, lesbians, Robin Morgan, sexism

Check out this much-needed commentary by Robin Morgan on the sexism displayed in the presidential race so far.

Whoever you want to see win the presidency (I am personally so deeply moved by both Clinton and Obama to the point that I stood with my finger poised for nearly 15 minutes over my wacky Florida touchscreen last Tuesday), we need to address the insanely misogynistic language that's become commonplace in public discourse.

I also hope that the next round of work on a trans-inclusive ENDA will start to address the ways that inclusive language will impact gender-based discrimination against women generally, trans or otherwise. The specter of a move, even a subtle move, towards women's equality (and while gender stereotypes always impact and restrict men's personal expression, let's be clear that they also come with measurable harms for women in the form of lesser pay, demeaning job options, harassment and violence) is a lurking element of dissent within the reluctance over inclusive ENDA language. The words 'gender identity or expression' inevitably have larger implications for gender freedom that need to be answered and defended explicitly.

Beyond the essential job protections that the inclusion of "gender identity or expression" would provide for transgender individuals, these words in the employment non-discrimination law would also become a mechanism for challenging gender-based dress codes and other demeaning and discriminatory employment practices for women everywhere. It may seem like only conservative outposts like Hooters still want to put waitresses on sexualized display, but statistically sex stereotyping still means that women make less money than men, aren't tracked to sciences or other high-paying fields of work, lose earning power when they have children and are targets of assault throughout their lives.

The feminist movement has been off the radar in so many ways since the early 90s - an evolution of its own success in spawning the reproductive health, anti-domestic violence, LGBT equality, womens' and girls' sports and academic movements (go team). But truly, if you add it up, as Robin Morgan does in this article, the job isn't done. I think the time is coming again, hopefully as a corrective to the stomach-turning gains by the Christian/corporate extreme-right of the last 20 years, for a political movement that advocates directly for women's full equality.

Sexism and feminism both touch really painful third rails for just about all LGBT folks. Whether it's the wrenching exclusion from one's innate gender (by feminists perhaps) as a transgender person, or getting paid less for one's work as a lesbian woman, or the gay man's fear of being a girly queer, or the history of male sexism towards lesbians in the movement, one way or another it touches us all. There's a world of hurt in there that will be messy to sort through, but we'll always be better for the effort.

It's an odd and probably great thing that the tables have turned since the 70s, when in my home state of Vermont the ERA was undermined by Phyllis Schlafly telling people they shouldn't support women's equality because that would open the door to gender-neutral bathrooms. I'm glad that now we are fighting openly for gender-neutral bathrooms and everything else that will make life livable and safe for transgender people. But here's a newsflash for you: that ERA never passed back in the day and it would warm my heart more than any presidential speech about hope or policy to see the women's and trans and LGBT communities standing shoulder to shoulder to end discrimination on the basis of sex as well as gender.

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"...these words in the employment non-discrimination law would also become a mechanism for challenging gender-based dress codes..."

Except that all the gender identity and expression non-discrimination language that I've seen expressly state that employers retain the right to enforce gendered dress codes and grooming requirements for the gender an individual affirms.

You've got really good points, Andrea. Wouldn't it be awesome if a presidential candidate would support a renewal of the campaign to pass ERA? Oh, wait . . . that would never happen.

You are right. Thanks for the important reminder, dumblemop.

But why are we pursuing transgender protections with that caveat? Is that our way of selling out women workers? Does that really leave us ahead? How much stronger would we be if we were working with women's groups to pass the thing without what we might as well call the Hooters & Hotel Maidservice clause?

I think that part of the reason the gay rights movement has been so afraid of touching gender is because it would, you know, actually challenge power.

Probably the same reason the movement has shied away from sexual liberation and has had more success with hate crimes legislation than anything else.

This isn't an advertisement, but for folks interested in the interrelationship of trans folks and feminism, see Julia Serrano's book, "Whipping Girl." It's the same misognystic
attitudes toward women that also excludes trans folks from ENDA and other issues.

Great post, Andrea. I'd like to read more from you about this subject.