on the premises of gender nihilism
November 8, 2015
I know. I know. I said I wasn”t going to discuss gender nihilism, but my brain keeps turning over some of the premises laid out in this post and I kind of want to talk about those, not so much the entire theory.
In general, I can”t support the conclusion because I don”t think that all of their premises are true/accurate. Part of this is worldview and part of this ideological. I have no problems accepting that this really is the ‘radical” form of gender theory or whatever you wan to call teh Discourse. But I do think it might be useful for ppl who follow me (and for my own processing purposes) to explore how my views diverge from these.
Re: the notion that a prediscursive body doesn”t exist, I don”t agree. Or rather, this cannot be true given the ontology and worldview that I subscribe to. Now, this post at least is trying to limit the ontological implications of there existing no pre-discursive body to gender not being inherent. This would seem reasonable, given a view that gender is socially constructed, since this is kind of the logical conclusion if you take this to its radical implications.
Except. That while I disagree with notions of biological essentialism, my ontology has room for other kinds of essentialism. For example, when I read explanations for why bakla are bakla from contemporary people in the PH, often (because of our history of colonisation) the answer will be “because God made me this way.” This is a type of essentialism. It isn”t biologically based but theologically. The point says that gender isn”t inherent in the body, but what if it is inherent in the soul?
The thing about the (false) dichotomy of social constructionism and biological essentialism is that it assumes that these are the only two possible positions. And, yes, these two are oppositional in the sense that both are constructed and intended to discredit the other. But even though you can take social constructionism to be a refutation of biological essentialism, it isn”t a refutation of other kinds of essentialism.
Accepting this premise means subscribing to an ontology that I simply don”t think is either well supported by the theory being advocated for or one that is obviously true. It isn”t. And honestly? This is the sort of thing that this theory”s over-reliance on dense academic theory ends up missing. Because are they really trying to say that because social constructionism is valid that God didn”t create us as? Or that God doesn”t exist bc they say so?1
Is gender a means of enforcing labour divisions? Maybe, maybe not. This premise, again, depends on worldview and ontology. It also relies on premise 2. Only if gender is a contigent operation of power, is this premise true.
I guess they could argue that the reason that God created ‘two” genders is because he wanted to create a means for enforcing divisions of labour… but this isn”t really something easily derived from the story of Genesis. While it is true that God put Adam in the garden to ‘work it”, the creation of Eve seems to be about companionship and support, rather than dividing labour. At the very least, gender and/or sex isn”t at all about divisions of labour if you subscribe to the worldview as laid out in the Genesis.
But let”s suppose that this is true anyway. That gender indeed is about dividing labour. The argument here is that this is necessarily bad and oppressive. The reasoning for this depends on Premise 5, where it is asserted that gender is a colonialist and capitalist construct. Again, if this is the case, then yeah. Gender is necessarily bad.
The problem I”m having here is that there are divisions of labour that exist that aren”t based on capitalism. Are these just as bad? Or is what is being asserted here that only the labour divisions made by capitalism count as gender? If this is the case, then what is going on in these non-capitalist cultures where a division of labour appears to be based on something that resembles gender? Ultimately, that is what”s being argued here. That whatever was going on in non-capitalist communities even if labour was divided, that this isn”t gender in some important respect.
This also doesn”t account for the existence of patriarchy without capitalism. These cases definitely seem to fit the criteria of creating exploitative and oppressive divisions of labour… but according to this framework this isn”t gender. What is it then? I mean. In Premise 6, it outrights states that the purpose of gender is to “create an oppressive class of men that exploit and oppress women”. So it follows that if such a thing exists within a culture, let”s call this thing ‘patriarchy”, that gender must exist in those cultures, since this is what gender does. And yet, we are contradicting ourselves.
If gender is only a colonialist and capitalist construct, than any culture with divisions of labour that oppresses women but isn”t capitalist doesn”t have gender. But the purpose of gender is to create a class of men that oppress women. And so… which is true? Does this patriarchal but non-capitalist culture have gender or not? If not, what does it have?2
So. Yeah. This isn”t a comprehensive review of all of the discourse surrounding this theory. Maybe my questions have been answered elsewhere (while I don”t spend any effort in following this theory or its development, everything I”ve seen suggests that none of these questions have ready answeres within the ory). But… even if some of my later questions are answerable, the basic problem of ontology will remain. Buying into this theory means wholeheartedly accepting the ontology and worldview that grounds and frames it.
Which is something that I”ll never do. My own spiritual and ontological commitments are mutually incompatible with this theory. And it is incompatible with the worldviews of many people I know. And, ultimately, if you reject this premise then you cannot support the conclusion. So I don”t.
In a lot of ways you can tell from my questions and analysis that… um, I don”t have my head shoved up a bunch of academic”s asses. Its funny seeing that the primary person identified with this theory is genderkills. Who I really don”t like. Not only for her anti-Blackness (which is significant), but also bc of her elitist perspective when it comes to teh discourse.
Of course, she handwaves this away. Who cares if ppl outside of their circles find their jargon and theories opaque. I”ve literally seen her assert that not all conversations are for everyone. Which… sure, this is true. However, if your theories have significant implications beyond your circle of friends, this becomes less defensible.
You walk up to me and say, ‘hey, i want to abolish your gender!” and I response with, ‘why” and what I get in return is a bunch of dense theory that appears to have little grounding in the reality I live in? My initial response is ‘fuck you”. And. Hey. I”m a philosopher. I am not pointing fingers about dense, inaccessible theory from a moral highground here. The same has been said of me and my writing.
But the difference is, is that the stuff I write about doesn”t have the same hegemonic force that gender nihilism does. In part because I”m a pluralist. I think there are many roads to freedom, rather than just one. Gender nihilism only has room for one and one only. I definitely do not think I have the One True Answer™ to solve oppression. I don”t even have a particular path that I like enough to advocate for (which is why I”m very clear about not being part of any particular movement or ideology).
It also strikes me as unbelievable disingenuous that many of the proponents of this theory get so mad when you lump them in with radfems and their notion of gender abolition. Which is something pointed out in the conclusion of the linked post. And its a bunch of handwaving, tbh. The message is the same: “we want to abolish your gender”. Sure, sure, the reasons for it might be different but who cares? I don”t. Because I fundamentally disagree about what gender is and isn”t. Either way, I feel like I”m being told that I”ll be ‘morally mandated out of existence” whether I like it or not.
Is this message any more palatable coming from other trans women of colour? No. Especially not when the major proponents of this theory have consistently demonstrated to me, on a personal level, that they find my body disgusting. Not when this particular group has also demonstrated a very interesting double standard to identity policing3.
Honestly? This post was really an effort on my part to move beyond my distaste for the group I know who significantly contributed to this theory and actually engage the substance of it. And I”m also unbelievably happy that I figured out the general disgust many of them have for me and girls like me early enough to bail when this theory was being hashed out. I”m also also really glad that I do not care and have never cared about how ~radical~ my politics or ideas appear.
Anyway, after this we can go back to mostly ignoring each other.4
- No, I"m not a christian, despite being raised catholic. But I"m momentarily assuming the position for rhetorical purposes. However, my own spiritual commitments also resist this premise. ↩
- And, no, I"m not just proposing abstract concepts here. There are real and actual cultures that exist/have existed that are patriarchal in the sense that they create an oppressive division of labour but were not capitalist and are not capitalist. ↩
- Yes, I"m aware of the big schism amongst the people who appear to have been the main contributors/proponents of the theory. But this is a lot more recent than the initial development of gender nihilism. ↩
- I"m trying to decide if I ought to leave an open invitation for any advocate for gender nihilism to engage me on the topic. My inclination is 'no" because the worldviews really are mutually incompatible and cannot be reconciled. There isn"t much to be gained from any discussion. But let"s say that I"m provisionally open to discussion from the few people I know who advocate this theory that I actually like. ↩