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Feminism’s Gender Identity Crisis

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Miriam Zoila Pérez

Feminism has come a long way — it has absolutely revolutionized the way gender shapes our lives. The restrictions placed on my mother’s generation have little bearing on mine.

But sexism hasn’t disappeared, it’s simply adapted to the successes of feminism. Sexism today is often more subtle, less in your face, but still a very real part of our daily lives. Instead of being shut out of the board room, women are welcomed in, but when they don’t see the same success as their male counterparts, they’re told (often by other successful women) that it’s because they aren’t aggressive enough, don’t lean in to their careers, are too family focused.

Today’s sexism means that women aren’t the only ones who suffer. Sexism plays out in the narrow ways society uses gender to define who we are, who we can be and how we should be treated. This is something that we all experience no matter our gender. Feminism’s project moving forward? Constructing a tent big enough to hold a constituency beyond the confines of the women’s movement.

This work has already started, but it’s got a long way to go before we can claim a new direction for feminism. The LGBTQ movement, sometimes allied with feminism, has blown open new avenues for understanding gender identity in today’s world. Transgender, gender non-conforming and genderqueer people have more rights and recognition today than ever before, and this work is propelling the need for a feminism that understands how gender stereotypes and biological essentialism impact us all.

Let’s welcome everyone who cares about eliminating gender-based oppression into our circle, and talk openly about how our roles in this movement should be shaped by the privileges we hold. The smaller our circle, the less our potential to change our world. Let’s bust open the doors, invite everyone in, and start the hard work of envisioning a world where your gender doesn’t determine who you can be or how you will be treated.

Many fear that broadening feminism beyond a women’s movement will allow male privilege to run rampant in the movement. It’s true that sexism and gender-based oppression don’t impact us all to the same degree, and that’s a truth that goes beyond gender. Broadening the tent also means we have to better learn how to deal with privilege within our movement, a project that feminism has been struggling with for decades already around issues of race, class, ability and much more.

Feminism, it’s time for a new approach. But let’s not forget why we’re here: because we’ve won. We’re here because feminism has transformed our society, and now it needs to transform itself for the next frontier: building a world where no one is limited, treated differently or discriminated against because of their gender identity.


Miriam Zoila Pérez is a writer and activist based in Washington, DC.

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  • Anonymous

    But reverse- sexism hasn’t disappeared, it’s simply become much worse as the world-wide hate movement known as feminism becomes increasingly institutionalized. Reverse-sexism today is often more subtle, less in your face, but still a growing part of our daily lives. Instead of being welcomed in the White House, men’s rightists are shut out and mocked by male Gender Bigots. When men see bigoted, reverse-sexist, totalitarian travesties like the VAWomanA reauthorized, they’re told by bigoted feminist women and men that it’s because women aren’t aggressive at all, that there’s a War on Women and that the huge number of men and boys murdered, rapes, and abused by women simply don’t matter.

  • Anonymous

    Masculism, it’s time for a new approach. But let’s not forget why we’re here: we got snookered because we ignored the feminist hate movement early on. We’re here because feminism has destroyed our society, and now it needs to be destroyed in turn. We need to build a world where the whole term ‘gender’ as a ‘like’-ness’ for ‘sex’ is rightly considered absurd, where sex and gender differences are fully respected and where everyone is limited, treated differently and treated appropriately where they are indeed limited, different and/or unable or unwilling to perform as genuine equals. Feminism as an intellectually, biologically, socially, and morally bankrupt ‘religion’ needs to be tossed back on the trash heap of history from whence it came so that genuine human decency can be created between the opposite, unequal, and distinctly different sexes and genders.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.franklin.7739 Robert Franklin

    “but when they don’t see the same success as their male counterparts, they’re told (often by other successful women) that it’s because they aren’t aggressive enough, don’t lean in to their careers, are too family focused.”
    Amazingly, Perez assumes this to be nothing but a sexist attitude toward women. In fact it’s nothing but the truth. A great many studies (e.g. of women lawyers, women with MBAs, women in STEM academic careers) show that it’s precisely women’s preference for family and childcare that holds them back in their careers. These are highly intelligent, highly educated women making choices about what to do with their lives. Those choices have very predictable consequences that those women well knew when they made them. But Perez tosses all that well-known social science into the bin labeled “sexism.”
    Most women gladly accept the consequences of their own decisions. Feminists like Perez? Not so much.

  • http://twitter.com/bugbrennan Cathy Brennan

    “It’s true that sexism and gender-based oppression don’t impact us all to the same degree, and that’s a truth that goes beyond gender.” – sexism and gender-based oppression doesn’t disadvantage men as a class.

    Gender is a hierarchy, with women at the bottom. And gender-identity laws inhibit the ability of women to organize as a class. http://genderidentitywatch.com/gender-identity-legislation-and-the-erosion-of-sex-based-legal-protections-for-females/

  • Mathias Fritz

    Well at last your were honest about one thing “Today’s sexism means that women aren’t the only ones who suffer.” Men have to deal with too, the only difference being that we have no body to turn to…

  • Mathias Fritz

    Well at last you were honest about one thing “Today’s sexism means that women aren’t the only ones who suffer.” Men have to deal with it everyday too, the only difference being that we have nobody to turn to…

    see more0

  • Mathias Fritz

    Careful, your misandry is showing…Well at least you were honest about one thing “Today’s sexism means that women aren’t the only ones who suffer.” Men have to deal with it too, the only difference being that we have nobody to turn to, anytime we are unlucky enough to not be the majority we have to struggle to get ahead just like women do in a predominantly male office…

    see more0

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.goldman.581 Adam Goldman

    “These are highly intelligent, highly educated women making choices about what to do with their lives. Those choices have very predictable consequences that those women well knew when they made them. But Perez tosses all that well-known social science into the bin labeled “sexism.”" And you seem to toss aside the possibility that women are brought up in a culture that expects them to put family before career and that, just maybe, this can affect decision making. Not everything boils down to simple preference.

    “Most women gladly accept the consequences of their own decisions. Feminists like Perez? Not so much.” Wow! You have an uncanny ability to speak for all woman. Can you teach me that trick?

  • Anonymous

    The entire commercial media seems to me one big mudflap. It is painful to raise girls, watching them take all of it in. To see a 75 pound 10 year old turning sideways in the mirror, and trying to shop around clothing on the children’s rack that looks like it belongs on a stripper’s costume rack. A couple women at the top of the corporate ladder, at superstar status, build a nursery next to the exec suite and put out self-help books claiming to be the new Gloria Steinem? Please. Meanwhile, laws are being passed that basically criminalize women owning their own bodies. It’s sickening, honestly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.findley.9 Mary Findley

    “Wow! You have an uncanny ability to speak for all woman. Can you teach me that trick?” :-)
    Robert, thanks for the deep, analytical insights and reference of a vague study to criticize and discredit Miriam. Your logic is… interesting and by no means short sighted. It’s always good to hear an objective argument!

  • Tess Elliott

    If we won, how did the fair pay act lapse? How do all those states that pass laws against abortion get away with it? I think we did accomplish a lot, but we are still very much in the minority when it comes to real freedom to own our own bodies and be equal players in the world.

  • Lynn Cole

    Just because LGBTQ people have more rights and recognition than before doesn’t mean that discrimination and hatred doesn’t exist. It does exist, it is real, and it hurts real people. The same goes for anti-feminist sexism and racism. It is our duty to fight against discrimination wherever we see it.

  • Pamela S. Wallace

    As a cultural anthropolgist, I am so amazed at the clearly defined gender rolls in our commercial television. Watch closedly as to the rolls both men and women play. This is one of the best ways to pass the cultural norms on to our children and reinforce the same amomg adults.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcie.rosenzweig Marcie A Rosenzweig

    To me, the goals of feminism were and are very simple – give women the same opportunities and pay as men and women should support each others’ choices.

    The race and class divisions happened organically as the major socioeconomic group able to lobby for their rights were upper middle class white women who could take advantage of that position. Where I was, women of color and the LBGT community were welcomed and were equal partners, as were enlightened men. Women of color were fewer and were also middle class.

    Our wins have been wins for every women regardless of gender status or color although they have been unevenly distributed. When you’re struggling to find work that pays enough to keep a roof over the heads of your family and food on your table and the justice system disproportionately incarcerates the males in your community, lobbying for feminist ideals is not your top priority.

    As difficult as the struggle has been from suffrage to 60s feminism to the glass ceiling, we have picked the low-hanging fruit. Going forward we must fight the institutional sexism that keeps us from meeting our goals and we must reach for the hands of our sisters still mired in the racism, violence and poverty that compounds the sexism in their communities.

  • mephisto

    Culture is not necessarily personal. I see many reactions to what has been said by this author as tho there were attacks on personal, individual behaviors. I personally think it has a whole lot more to do with impersonal cultural norms that are simply allowed by a disinterest or disinclination to become involved in changing them. We may not harbor a personal sexist attitude or approach to females in society or the workplace, but our silence and disinterestedness condones what swirls around us. The culture we swim in taints us as well as those who poison its waters.

  • Anonymous

    Suffer the little children.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindsey.spilman.9 Lindsey Spilman

    I agree with mirriam, its now time for a wave of feminism that is gender embracing, as there is a difference between ones internal gander identity and society’s forced gender roles. What we all need is freedom of gender expression. “Gender is a hierarchy, with women at the bottom” That line is wearing thin these days. More like there is a sex based hierarchy that favors men over women, that does not equal there is no gender. Gender is a state of being, not a role. The gender based hierarchy is not a gender based hierarchy its a cis sexed based system that favors those who slot into it. If trans women have male privilege then that’s trans phobia as it means there being treated as male, if trans women are treated less when they become women that’s due to sexism saying being a woman includes a social step down. Now gender identity laws do not prevent women organizing as a class, they prevent gender policing of trans women. Are you afraid that trans women may have a different take on your politics?

    Another point i want to make is this.” Instead of being shut out of the board room, women are welcomed in, but when they don’t see the same success as their male counterparts, they’re told (often by other successful women) that it’s because they aren’t aggressive enough, don’t lean in to their careers, are too family focused.”

    This is the wrong way of looking at the issue. The issue of women who choose family over carear being shut out of the board room for being too family orientated is not whats wrong. And it is not what is holding women out of these positions. The women who choose family choose family as thats what many want to do. These women end up over worked trying to fit two social roles and should not have to feel like they are somehow letting feminism down because they want to be with there kids.

    What the real problem is, that women who are more career motivated and dont wish to play the home maker role(either by not having children or there partner playing the home maker role) are discriminated against for being too masculine. Sometimes the woman is truly masculine, other times she is only seen as masculine due to having personality traits reserved for men. The root cause of the problem again is gender its self, but just not in the way most feminists think. If we had a gender embracing society that saw gender as independent from biological sex but still very real, then women would not come up against a gender barrier that leads them to adopt behaviors that cannot lead to success Some jobs require a certain level of aggression and women are prevented from being that way, otherwise there a btch.

    We need a society where any role is open to anyone regardless of sex or gender expression. Feminism must put aside its past ideology’s and now go for radical gender reform. Instead of abolishing the gender present, abolish the sex based gendering. Allow everyone to embrace gender in there own way, and see what emerges. Sometimes its about adding whats missing rather then demolishing whats already there. Lets have a society where its ok to stand up and be a masculine woman, a feminine man, gender queer or trans without radical feminists trying to tell us we have got our gender from this unfair system. No we haven’t we have got our gender inequality from this unfair system.

  • http://twitter.com/bugbrennan Cathy Brennan

    Here’s a brilliant take down of this piece: http://passtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/feminisms-gender-identity-crisis/

    “I don’t know what sort of world this person lives in, but I have to assume it’s not one in which the words ‘absolutely revolutionized’ hold the same meaning as in mine. Actually, this seems to be the kind of ‘revolutionized’ that, say, the latest toxic concoction by Procter & Gamble promises to do to the world of shampoo and your hair, meaning it’s a completely gross misuse of a word that shouldn’t be thrown around for the hell of it.

    So far, so wrong. Because last time I checked, women are still fighting for the right not to be enslaved incubators to their rapists; girls can’t walk down the street without fear of being called slut or whore or being otherwise harassed or attacked; women and girls are being trafficked and bought and sold, abused, harassed, humiliated, molested, mutilated, raped, tortured, prostituted, groped, groomed, coerced, stalked, bullied, forcibly sterilized or impregnated, killed, dehumanized, objectified, pornified, infantilized, robbed of their childhood, victim-blamed. Women don’t earn as much as men for the same work, while still having to do most of the unpaid work in addition, and women own barely any of the material property around the world. The majority of the world’s poor is female. The world is rife with sex-based danger and injustice against girls and women, from female genital mutilation, ‘honor killings’, executions, and other forms of femicide right down to the countless microagressions and instances of blatant sexism in our everyday lives.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindsey.thomson.129 Lindsey Thomson

    Choices?? How is it a ‘choice’ made out of free will when women are essentially conditioned to believe that it is less acceptable for them to take time away from their families for their careers? Men would make the same ‘choices’ and be punished for them too if they were in the same position as women. Try to see outside of your own limited view of the world and realize that women are punished either way.

  • Steak Taco

    How about no.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindsey.spilman.9 Lindsey Spilman

    Yes and i have stood and watched over the past 10 years of how women have thrown all the newly acquired rights they gained down the toilet. Women in the western world have now more rights then ever, but for some reason women have used there increases power to reinforce the very roles that were meant to be left behind. Women would rather look pretty and compete for men then work hard and get to the top, they want a leg up and then expect the whole work place to change around there there home responsibility as they don’t have the guts to tell there man to pull there share or get out. Most would rather get the man to bring all the money in so they can spend there time reading about celebrates and stupid fashions, then they wonder why suddenly the economy goes bust and there broke. And suddenly after a decade of third wave feminist high heeled power and spending on some super multitasking have it all life style women are now starting to think sh*t our rights are going. women with any sense are transitioning and getting a better deal, and the rest are left with debts and babies and the men are turning into jobless yobs. so the silly women are now thinking lets have feminism back, lets blame the post feminist backlash for the death of feminism. I say no, lets blame the women who thought they had it all. Most women made there choices, let them live it, in a world where they cannot have everything. and high heels and make up dont feel all that empowering anymore do they girls. From ex feminist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindsey.spilman.9 Lindsey Spilman

    ex radical feminist!

  • GirlAuthentic

    I’d be willing to bet, that most readers are going to at least initially view my comments as part of a gender discussion. That is understandable, because that is the context within which we have been talking about this issue over the past several decades.

    I am hopeful that as we go along, many will join me in seeing this not as a gender issue, but as a human issue. It applies to all of us, and will help everyone if we can orchestrate building something new.

    When we look back 40 years from now, I want the working women of today to be known for leaving a legacy. Much like we are doing today reflecting on what women have achieved thanks to the efforts of the leaders who passed Title IX, and began creating the possibility for women to have whatever jobs they wanted, I want the working women of today to be known for bringing forth the feminine by building new business structures. What I mean by bringing forth the feminine is operating in a way that is absent from most of the work structures most of us work in. There is an imbalance of the masculine and the feminine in today’s work structures, because the feminine perspective is mostly absent. Bringing forth the feminine will bring balance, for everyone. I believe women have a unique opportunity today to build business structures intentionally with a balance of the masculine and the feminine.

    Why?…my children. Recently, I realized I did not know any business structure that I would want my children to head off into and devote significant periods of their time. I’m not saying they don’t exist. I believe they do as currently hidden structures and I want us to find them and grow them. I want new structures with a balance of the masculine and feminine to be part of supporting those who want to live whole and complete lives instead of the culturally fed views many of us receive of what “having it all” looks like.
    This will be part of the new approach. We are going to have to build these new businesses. So let’s get started.

  • Jack is back

    Foemeanism has come along way in making our world a much worse place by the careless speeches of its blind followers who think they got the right to shove their misguided beliefs down everyones throats, even worse than Christianity. The womens movement has alot of repenting to do. Women were not supposedly work as men do and wear pants is not an improvement neither is abusing and misquoting Proverbs to justify arresting men as an excuse to jail them just because he says your breasts,cleavage,rear is pretty. Making real progress and becoming civilized would be not judgement and condemnation of those who give compliments,whistling,etc. All the womens movement cares about is here and now, they dont think about the hereafter. And they are very careless in their choice of words and then they wonder why no one likes them. Sort of makes me glad Im not a woman. One of the evils of society is the way women judge and make fun of men by calling them names when they are only trying to be nice. God is going to punish the womens movement for beguiling women into dishonouring themselves and the people around them. They prey upon those who are impressionable. Sexual intercourse is not a weapon thats another lie from the devils.