Sunday, June 14, 2015

Book Review: "Whipping Girl"

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of FemininityWhipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The recent news coverage of Caitlyn Jenner's transition seemed to rile up a certain portion of people, who harumphed and ranted and became generally apoplectic about it. Do you suppose the same degree of reaction would have happened over a born female who transitioned to male? I doubt it, and that's where Julia Serano's central theme comes in. She argues that what is often termed transphobia is actually trans-misogyny, just an extension of the society-wide overvaluing of what is seen as masculine, and the undervaluing of what is seen as feminine.

She makes other fascinating points as well, going into the issue of "gatekeepers", the medical and psychiatric professionals, nearly all of them cissexuals, who have held the key to who can transition and who can't, favoring those who will present as attractive, feminine, heterosexual women--thereby not upsetting the oppositional sexist norm--and turning away those who don't fit this model, as not being "true" transsexuals. This is not to mention the enormous cost of it all, which further reduces the number of people who can actually transition, pretty much guaranteeing that most people never meet an actual transsexual person. To vilify or dismiss a member of any group, it is enormously helpful to be able to remain separate from them. To know someone is to demystify them, making it much less likely that one will continue to dehumanize them.

Serano also goes into the splintering of various feminist and "queer" groups. Who is woman enough to be a feminist? Who is subversive enough to be genderqueer? Who gets entree to each given group, who is excluded, and doesn't that just set up a different gender binary? One thing that would have made me laugh if it were not so sad, is her depiction of feminists who speak of trans women in dismissive and even blatantly insulting terms. Now who's entitled?

Some of the book is a bit dry, in the way of The Week magazine's "boring but important" side bar. Other sections are immensely readable. Serano knows her stuff. Anyone interested in a clear-eyed and intelligent book about sexual politics and the "scapegoating of femininity" need look no further.



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Julia Serano
“In a world where masculinity is respected and femininity is regularly dismissed, it takes an enormous amount of strength and confidence for any person, whether female- or male-bodied, to embrace their feminine self.”
Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

6 comments:

Orchis said...

I can't imagine wanting to be a woman, on purpose. I can, however, understand the draw of turning into a man. I'd do it in a heartbeat ... you know, if it were less involved.

blogoratti said...

Seems like a good read with great thoughts.

Mama Zen said...

I want to read this.

mac said...

"This is not to mention the enormous cost of it all, which further reduces the number of people who can actually transition, pretty much guaranteeing that most people never meet an actual transsexual person. To vilify or dismiss a member of any group, it is enormously helpful to be able to remain separate from them. To know someone is to demystify them, making it much less likely that one will continue to dehumanize them."

I think Billy whatshisname said it, too, "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?..."
I've even know an ultra conservative type (who'd think I'd meet those types in Tennessee?) who, after some fight, finally accepted that gay folks were "just like us" only after his son came out.

Sioux said...

Shay-If you have not read Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" you should. There are five strong women as the main characters. The plot AND the writing is great. (It's based on the real life of Sarah and Angelina Grimke.)

why can't we leave people to their own business and desires and nature? As long as it doesn't endanger others, we should MOOB (mind our own business).

Cloudia said...

Very important and valid points! Remember J. Raymond and "The Transsexual Empire?" I could say more. . . . . LOTS more!