When I started to write this blog about the sex vs. gender debate, I was going to write a nice, intellectual piece, fully referenced, stating my position. But as I sat down to write it, I realized there is no clear-cut solution and presumably, most of the discussion has been decided in favor of the gender ideology, ranging from post-modern feminists in the academy, to the queer community, to the communist left.
In a recent antiwar speech in Washington, D.C., Angela Davis, while giving a laundry list of oppressions, mentioned both gender and LGBT, but failed to mention the word “women.” Sonia Sanchez, in the same event, left out categories having to deal with women’s liberation altogether (although in her poetry she did make the pronoun gender neutral).
At the same time, mainstream feminists (what is generally referred to as the white middle class women’s movement) seem content to deal with reproductive issues such as abortion and contraception, rape and wife battering in a piecemeal fashion, with little overriding ideology or causal framework. (One positive note: there is a new coalition of young women, WORD [Women Organized to Resist and Defend] which seems to be trying to fuse the concepts of sex and gender back together – along with race, class and imperialism. I look forward to seeing what their analysis will be since so far they seem to be mainly an activist group).
So what, if anything, do I have to contribute to this discussion? As a second wave socialist/ lesbian/ feminist born to a first wave socialist feminist, I have worked on projects with third wave feminists and raised a son who is active in the gay-rights movement. I believe that my long history in these communities might give me a perspective worth sharing. I also hope younger third wave feminists will not write me off as one of those smug old second wave feminists who thinks she knows everything.
By the rambling nature of this blog, you can probably tell that I am writing in a stream of consciousness “consciousness raising” style, true to my second wave “the personal is political” roots; although I believe this form is also regaining popularity among third wave feminists.
To begin. I came into feminism out of a Left Trotskyist organization about the same time I left my marriage of several years, right into the arms of the feminist movement. Most of the women, it is true, were middle class and white and, as a working class woman, I wasn’t sure I would fit in. I remember the first time I entered the women’s bookstore and one of the women commented on my “bourgie” $26 dollar JC Penney’s pantsuit. I was working as a secretary in the college where I was putting my husband through school. I was required to wear the pants suit to work (along with pantyhose) even though the professors I worked for could wear jeans. It took me awhile to realize that most of the women in the bookstore wore jeans that cost four times what my pantsuit cost.
I relate this story because this was my first exposure to identity politics and downward mobility and the tendency of the community to identify one’s class position by external secondary characteristics, not our actual class position. This foreshadowed a similar tendency in terms of defining the issues of oppression in terms of our sexuality. Nevertheless I stayed because those women still had something I wanted and wasn’t getting in the male-identified Left.