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Janice Raymond: A Fake Feminist?

mislabeling opponents is not productive

Date: 05/04/2004

On 5/6/04 8:12 PM, "Wendell Ricketts" wrote:

Leaving the analogy aside, it's an interesting question whether Raymond's book is genuinely "feminist" (I don't agree that it is just because she says it is), since what it actually seems to be is an essentialist reification of extremely traditional and narrowly drawn gender roles.

I am just as critical of Raymond's work as you are, but I disagree with this assessment. Even though I find "The Transsexual Empire" extremely hateful and often intellectually dishonest, it did make a good point about how the medical standard of that time was being used by (mostly male) doctors to arbitrate and impose "extremely traditional and narrowly drawn gender roles" onto transsexual patients. To say that she is reifying such traditional gender roles is inaccurate, as she is doing the exact opposite.

Also, I do not feel that labelig her "essentialist" is accurate. Her use of "men" to describe transsexual women, while inappropriate and offensive, is not based on essentialism, but on the radical feminist notion of sex classes. Their argument is that the patriarchy divides humans into two distinct socially constructed "classes," male and female, and that there are no other basis for making one a man or a woman. As such, they reject the concept of "gender identity" because to say that one is a woman despite her being "classed" as a male/man would have to assume that there are essential differences between males and females beyond the social construction, and thus essentialist.

Under this logic, it is not essentialist to reject transsexual people's self-reported gender identity; rather, they feel that transsexual people's claim to be one gender or another to be a false and essentialist claim that need to be dismantled. I am not saying that I agree with this logic, but that is the rationale for Raymond's position. I just feel that mislabeling Raymond as "essentialist" is not helpful in challenging faulty methodologies and assumptions in her research.

I would also encourage critics of Raymond to read her other works. She is known for being the anti-choice feminist: she does support abortion rights, but opposes RU486 and slew of other new reproductive and biomedical technologies because she believes that they dehumanize women. Her criticisms of sex reassignment surgeries and other transsexual medicine need to be understood in the context of her other criticisms toward modern medical technologies--some of which I happen to agree with, although I disagree with her 95% of the time.

Lastly, even if someone was an essentialist, can't she still be a feminist? I would say that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the entire first wave of feminism was pretty essentialist, but they are feminists, aren't they? Also, aren't "cultural feminists" feminists--as much as we might disagree with their positions?

Indeed, there are some self-identified "feminists," like the leaders of the "Independent Women's Forum," who are funded by the right-wing foundations to provide right-wing diatribes on the FOX News, and I am tempted to say they are "not genuinely feminist." But I've also seen many people whom I consider legitimate, albeit controversial, feminists (e.g. Katie Roiphe, Naomi Wolf after 1995) being grouped together with the highly compensated talking fem-bots on FOX News and attacked by other feminists, and it's really not fair.

Hey, I've even been on the receiving end of such attacks, simply for disagreeing with some other feminists (according to the folks on Ms. message board, Nomy Lamm and I are the worst of the new breed of anti-feminists), so I really want to be careful about calling someone a fake. If our argument is that Raymond's position doesn't help women or that it hurts women, let's just say that.

Emi K.

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.