Not if she does not want to be- though that takes strength…
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. I have not studied Simone de Beauvoir, but understand that refers to Patriarchal repression. She, who fought for academic achievements almost entirely reserved for men, saw the repression at its most powerful. Judith Butler interprets that quote: If being a woman is one cultural interpretation of being female, and if that interpretation is in no way necessitated by being female, then it appears that the female body is the arbitrary locus of the gender ‘woman’, and there is no reason to preclude the possibility of that body becoming the locus of other constructions of gender. At its limit, then, the sex-gender distinction implies a radical heteronomy of natural bodies and constructed genders with the consequence that ‘being’ female and ‘being’ a woman are two very different sorts of being.
This is a way to freedom, to imagine that having a particular appearance should not constrain either the gifts you are expected to have, or the way you develop and embody them. If the word “woman” oppresses those it does not fit, cast it off. You might later reclaim it, defining it not by “feminine” qualities but by a common experience of oppression. I share that oppression: I have been sexually assaulted as if my body belongs to the man, to use as he pleases. As Poppy Noor says, when talking of sexual assault men ask, cautiously and very sympathetically, whether this has happened to me… women swap stories and counter-tactics. Woman, then, is a social group suffering particular oppression, sharing an interest in fighting it.
Butler found freedom by escaping the woman gender. If ‘existing’ one’s gender means that one is tacitly accepting or reworking cultural norms governing the interpretation of one’s body, then gender can also be a place in which the binary system restricting gender is itself subverted. Through new formulations of gender, new ways of amalgamating and subverting the oppositions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, the established ways of polarizing genders becomes increasingly confused, and binary opposition comes to oppose itself. Her solution is not to become a woman.
She uses genetics to further this aim. And what is “sex” anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such “facts” for us? … If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. For her, the concept of the gender binary affects how scientists without the insights afforded by feminist philosophy classify intersex people, and how they hypothesise about sex differences.
There is no specifically female or feminine virtue. We make Rudyard Kipling inclusive- What is more, you’ll be a person, my child. We extend his promise to those designated “women”: Yours is the World, and everything that’s in it. Carl Rogers wrote “On Becoming a Person”- everyone is affected by nature, nurture and environment, throughout life.
Extracts from Judith Butler.
Arguably, as a trans woman, my Judith Butler quotes do me no good. By transitioning I am asserting that my feminine virtues fit a female body and female presentation, that there is a gender binary. However, I am rejecting the role of oppressor, and begging to be granted a space with the oppressed- I am an asylum seeker, not a colonist- and rejecting the idea that being “born a man” specifies qualities I have, or ought to have. Mine is the way to radical freedom- if I may “become a woman” anyone who does not wish to need not.
Butler herself seeks to listen to trans and intersex communities and include us. If ‘queer’ means that we are generally people whose gender and sexuality is ‘unfixed’ then what room is there in a queer movement for those who understand themselves as requiring – and wanting – a clear gender category within a binary frame? …It is a fundamental issue of how to establish and insist upon those forms of address that make life liveable. At issue as well is a question of autonomy, conceptualized not through individualism, but as an emergent social phenomenon: how do I name myself, how can I establish my status within the law or within medical institutions, and to what extent will my desire to live as a particular gender or within an established gender category be honoured by those who claim to ally with me? For me, that my gender does not fit my birth sex is sufficient to make me “queer”- oppressed, and resisting oppression; that should be enough to make me an ally of all others resisting it. Anyone who attacks me as an oppressor or seeks to defend other oppressed people from me is doing the oppressor’s work. Don’t fight me, I am not the problem.
To put it another way, here is JFK, lightly made inclusive: Freedom is indivisible, and when one person is enslaved, all are not free. You cannot be free unless I am.
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
What a liberating thought!
Once again you astonish me with your ability to deep dive into writings on gender and biology which I have only wished I could find the time to explore, and come up to surface with the most precious of gems.
Thank you for putting them right here at arm’s reach.
Thank you, too, for your beautifully articulated and thoughtful commentary, further illuminating the subject. It will take me a while to unpack all of this, but I greatly look forward to it.
With best wishes, Tara Erin
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If you have any gift not yet fully realised-
if it may free you or help you free another, I am delighted.
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I was declared to be a boy at birth, but I was born to become a woman. The first is explainable; the latter not. My own reality is no less viable, however.
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De Beauvoir was forced to be a woman, and transcended that, but your woman is what is inside you, bearing fruit.
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Even though it is apparently fruitless to convince some others of that fact. 😉
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Just a heads up, what de Beauvoir means by this quote is usually very different than how most trans women and allies interpret it. For example, the first sentence in part 1 chapter 1: “Woman? Very simple, she is a female: this word is enough to define her.”
I don’t think you understand the term “heads up”, or indeed deconstruction: the text has more meaning than you would allow it, and it escapes your restrictions.