Friday, July 8, 2011

The World's Women are All Kinds of Things

I want to open my post today by letting you know that I was thisclose to writing a post from the perspective of my cat, Jonesy, who really loves lesbians, if his behavior around my friends is any indication. So be grateful for what you're getting, mmkay?


Tiger Beatdown has a breakdown of the United Nations report called Progress of the World's Women. The blogger noted that the report doesn't deal specifically with queer women, including trans women, at all. This bugs me.

It's true that trying to define "woman" gets sticky. I believe that anyone who wants to call herself a woman is one, and it doesn't matter what her chromosomal sex is, what her gender presentation is, whether she consistently calls herself a woman, whether she rounds up to "woman" for political purposes but feels the label doesn't really suit her, etc. Kyrie already wrote a post about this, so go read that if you have any questions. It's pretty brilliant.

So the question is: Why write a report about women and not include all of them? This report has a lot of great information, but it's incomplete and heterosexist. Given the world we live in, most cultures assume heteronormativity, so not explicitly including queer issues means that it's impossible to find out whether issues of violence and health are different for, say, lesbians. If they are, we need to do something about it.

When I was bugging Kyrie for something to write about for today, and we talked about this report, she said, "It's not very feminist to divvy up women into groups and then only help some of those groups. Plus, LGBT issues are gender/sexuality issues, which ultimately affect everyone anyway." This is exactly right. We talked about this a bit in the post and comments section of our discussion of Read My Lips: feminism hasn't always done a good job of representing everyone, especially white middle class feminism. As feminists, this is our job to correct.

Furthermore, queer people are not just white people, or cis, or middle class. We all carry lots of identities and signifiers all at once, and it's rarely uncomplicated. Some dyke-identified people, for instance, don't identify with "woman" at all. It is the privilege of straight, cis, white people to put these issues aside, I think.

Women's issues are issues of intermeshing. We are all coded differently at different times. For instance, I recently heard someone tell a story of a young gay black man who was standing on top of a building, contemplating suicide in the face of anti-gay harassment he had received at school. When the police arrived, they coded him as black [and therefore criminal] and hauled him away in handcuffs in the cruiser, instead of treating him with the sympathy the police department had shown to white gay boys. The same sorts of coding can happen to anyone, though it results in the denial of parts of peoples' identities.

Another thing that bugs me is that I can't find coverage of this report in any of the major US news outlets. What the hell?


  1. Well, one of the big issues is that the UN is heavily reliant on member participation for these sorts of reports, and from what I have read, some of those countries surveyed, and some of the folks that wrote the report, were heavily resistant to including queer or trans women simply because to do so would have shut down the entire effort. This is not excusing the action, but it is an explanation.
    It is the same reason that you can have Libya, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, or China chairing the UN Committee on Human Rights.

  2. A couple of other things:

    I found the report interesting for one of the same reasons discussed by the writer at Tiger Beatdown: it turns some of the conventional wisdom about women in the 'developed' and 'developing' countries upside down. The US certainly has a way to go before equaling some South American countries in having women in positions of authority, for example.

    And as to why it is ignored by the media: It wasn't named Cassee Anthony or wasn't holding the world economy hostage over taxes.

  3. I really, really hate the "if we include the scary people then other people will take their ball and go home" rationale for not including us. I know you're not endorsing it, but it makes me sick. It contributes to the dehumanization of queer people and I won't fucking stand for it. It's no excuse.