A Unified Movement for Gender Justice

We Live in Extreme Times

In the recent elections of November 2018,  we have seen more women, LGBTQ folks and people of color elected to positions of power. At the same time, we’ve seen an anti-choice judge confirmed to the Supreme Court who threatens women’s right to choose. The Trump administration is attempting to define transgender folks out of existence and mount an assault on their rights. States pass Draconian restrictions on abortion—and all this and more is just in the last few months!

We need a unified movement for gender justice—a movement that sees itself as one facet of an even broader justice movement that also works for racial justice, immigrant justice, religious freedom, and all forms of human rights and self-determination. 

Too often we have seen the movement for trans and nonbinary rights as separate from the movement for women’s rights that arose from the second wave of feminism. That division only serves to reinforce the structures of authoritarian male rule. Our issues are not separate, and our interests are far more common than they are divided. 

A Unified Movement Can Be Built on a Framework of Human Rights

If we see our interests as united, then we can build a unified movement around our basic human rights.

  • The right to self-determination: the right to define for ourselves who we are and how we present ourselves in the world.

  • The right of bodily sovereignty: our human right to determine what happens to our bodies, to have our boundaries respected and our bodily integrity inviolate, and to make our own choices. This right encompasses the right of a pregnant woman to choose whether or not to bear a child, the right of nonbinary folks to redefine what gender means to them and to choose how they live in the world, the right of those who need it to have access to birth control or hormones or surgery, the right to research that might inform decisions about medical interventions of all sorts and the right to make those decisions for oneself, the right of all genders to be free from rape or harassment, and more. All of these are linked, and we need to stand in solidarity with one another to defend them.

  • The right to be our own moral authority: Politics, media and social media pressure us to stake out clear, simple positions and defend them vehemently. But many decisions are complex. Whether or not to have an abortion, whether or what type of medical intervention to seek—so many of the choices we make around issues of sex, gender, biology and identity are actually very deeply personal and intimate, and don’t always fall into easy sound-bites. We have the basic human right to struggle with that complexity ourselves, to choose our own advisers, define our own guiding principles, and be the arbiters of our own conscience.

A Clear Critique of Patriarchy

An understanding of how patriarchy functions would also be key to a unified movement to counter it. Patriarchy reinforces the rule of a few over many by keeping us divided. It enlists men in its service by offering them entitlement to women’s bodies and the bodies and services of all those of lesser power. 

For male supremacy to rule, gender must be strictly binary and divided—men must be manly men and women womanly to keep us insecure, striving to live up to gender ideals. Women are assigned the realm of nurturing, caring, and feeling—a realm which is devalued. Protection, aggression, assertiveness and violence are assigned to men—and overvalued. The strong are revered and the weak despised.

Male supremacy is the twin of white supremacy—they march together and reinforce each other and we cannot defeat one without also challenging the other, along with their brothers and cousins of all sorts of discrimination and economic oppression. 

The women’s movement that arose in the late ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies did the heavy lift of identifying patriarchy and naming the damage it inflicts. Today, younger activists are often challenging the construct of gender altogether, pushing its edges into new and creative places. Both strategies are important ways of challenging the current structure of power, and they do not need to at odds with each other. Each has their own strengths and limitations, and each might be used more effectively if we can build a unified movement for gender justice.

A Framework of Solidarity and Restorative Justice

A unified movement must be built on a framework of mutual solidarity—that we agree to stand together and support one another around these goals. Solidarity does not mean that we agree on everything, or that we like each other, or that we don’t sometimes have grave differences of opinion on serious issues. It means that we agree to support one another on these basic rights, regardless; that we understand we have vital interests in common and opponents who threaten us all. It also means that we seek ways to engage in meaningful dialogue, constructive critique, and mutual education and relationship-building.

What do we do, then, when one of our allies does something we truly find hurtful or offensive? Most often in our movements our immediate response is to demand they be cast out, ejected from community, or silenced. The intention is protective, to make our communities safe, especially for those who have been targets of oppression.  But often the impact is very different—for those responses create a frame of transgression and punishment which is itself authoritarian and binary and often shatters community.

Instead of creating safety, radical spaces come to feel less and less safe when anyone can be cast out. Moreover, history shows us that liberatory movements that take the route of purification and purges become repressive when they gain power, but more often, self-destruct along the way.

Instead, we can adopt a framework of restorative justice, which has been proposed and used successfully as a counter to the deeply unfair and damaging criminal justice system. Restorative justice has the aim of supporting the community as a whole. When someone does harm, they tear the fabric of community. 

Justice aims to mend that rip, not to cast out the offender but to stop the harm, assure accountability, and as far as possible, heal the wounds. Offenders who take responsibility for their actions and make amends are offered a path back into community. 

Trauma and Healing

Speaking out about these issues feels risky.  The level of pain, outrage and sheer vehemence that erupts on social media when these subjects are broached can be hurtful and intimidating.  The intensity is often rooted in the legacy of trauma and pain we carry from living under a supremacist system that condones assault and violation.  Yet when we respond out of unhealed trauma, we may inadvertently cause further pain.  We may lash out at our allies, or attempt to protect ourselves or others by adopting a framework of condemnation, silencing, banishment and punishment that comes from the very system we are fighting. 

A unified movement for gender justice must include awareness of the affects of trauma and offer tools for healing. We need ways to grieve our losses together and support one another’s resilience and strength. For if we allow unhealed pain to drive us apart, we will be less effective in countering the system that generates the trauma. 

In an era of the rise of right-wing neo-fascism and increased assault on all or our communities, we need both the insights that arose from second-wave feminism and the gender challenges and creativity of the third wave. Our movement will be far stronger if we seek for ways to complement and support each other and work together. Our lives and our future are at stake.

17 comments to A Unified Movement for Gender Justice

  • Reuline Nightingale

    I would also like to see included in your manifesto the right to choose the time and method of our own death.

    P S. I met you many years ago one summer at Diana’s Grove.

  • Malinda Magpie

    Utter moral cowardice to ask one group of people (females) to have unity with those actively seeking to erase us as a class of people. Maybe Starhawk doesn’t think she’ll ever do serious incarceration time and be subjected to a male rapist in prison or forced to seek refuge in a women’s shelter only to be told that she must share a room with a male who claims to be female, so she can’t actually have much empathy for those situations. She certainly will never be a female who loses a “woman’s sporting event” to a male. Or be a thirteen year old lesbian coerced by her peers to declare that she’s actually a boy and make preparations for breast-removal surgery. But who cares? It’s only females who suffer.

    This is uber-privileged pseudo-magnanimity from a known egotist, eager to throw women, especially poor women, under the bus.

  • I am not clear how this new thing will achieve anything more than the women’s liberation movement aims to do, and it seems to achieve less as even you have supported the silencing of MD, for no actual reason except a m*le complained.

  • joy smith

    writing a book about language and how our language fosters power over or power with. In researching i found this piece from Marshall Rosenberg, his opinion of anger as part of domination systems and, the part i found most interesting, the 4 things domination systems need to maintain control including some language pieces.

    Marshal Rosenburg thoughts on anger

    I think of anger as a political issue. To me anger doesn’t form the central issue and I have concerns about thinking of anger as a problem. Thinking about anger as a problem resembles a man in the habit of smoking in bed that fears catching the house on fire. Yet he gets disturbed by the damn fire alarm going off so often. He gets really annoyed and keeps changing houses because he doesn’t like dealing with the fire alarm.
    In many respects anger represents the fire alarm. Why worry and get concerned about the fire alarm? I don’t see anger as the problem. To me the problem comes from the thinking that creates it. This quality of thinking supports domination systems. By systems I mean governments, organizations, or any institutions that regulate human affairs. In his books, The Powers That Be and Engaging the Powers, theologian Walter Wink talks about domination systems as ones in which a few people control [many] to their own advantage. In domination systems you have to train people to think in ways that support the system, so they fit in with the system.
    Domination systems require:
    1. Suppression of self
    2. Moralistic judgments
    3. a bureaucratic language that denies choice, with words like: “should,” “have to,” “must,” “ought.”)
    4. The crucial concept of deserve
    Now we can see anger as the result, the fire alarm, telling us we have started thinking in ways that support domination systems; when you think in a way that contributes to the oppressive world order, you support that world order.
    I don’t want to get rid of anger so as not to act like the man who keeps moving houses because of the alarm. I choose to make a radical shift in my thinking so I no longer think in ways that take part in the domination systems of the world. Systems maintain themselves by training people to think in ways that support the system. And how we get trained to communicate obviously affects our human development. In the current English language we get trained as nice ‘dead’* people or bullies. Those in a position of authority feel justified in taking on the bully role. You don’t call yourself a bully—you call yourself an authority. In domination systems authorities receive legal power to bully through the system of deserve, in which punishment, rewards and other forms of coercion get you to do things. How humans develop obviously affects our understanding about the nature of human beings, it alters what we think about the nature of human beings. This leads us to create the kind of systems we create. For example if you think of human beings as evil, wretched creeps, horrible things, that humans have gotten tainted with an evil energy (this view has gotten spread widely for several thousand years) —then obviously you need set up a system that controls from above by those who have a better moral compass, like you and me! And I feel wary about you to tell you the truth!

    I hold that changing how we talk to ourselves and each other can change the way we relate and help step us out of domination culture.

  • Iris Child

    He tells her he’s a woman too
    He has a ladybrain
    He tells her his identity
    and hers; they are the same
    He tells her not to talk about
    her body; it’s not fair
    her body is her privilege
    his own, a cross to bear

    He tells her that she cannot talk
    or otherwise allude
    to what her female body does
    It’s nasty to exclude
    He says respect diversity
    except he would prefer
    that she would not point out the ways
    that he’s diverse from her

    He tells her that biology
    does not impact her life
    she should still bear his children
    but she must call him ‘wife’
    He says that words must all evolve
    She must learn to make do
    And now that woman is his word
    He’s taking ‘female’ too

    He tells her that a woman is
    whatever he decides
    He will not put it into words
    She must not ask, he chides
    He tells her he is more oppressed
    Than she has ever been
    He says she must agree with him
    or else she’s being mean

    She searches for the words she needs
    To talk about herself
    The billions who exist like her
    their lives, their rights, their health
    Whatever word she chooses now
    He finds a way to spin it
    The conversation carries on

    But she’s no longer in it

    -R Irischild

  • I’m in!
    Willing to put whatever I can towards this end!

  • Elisabeth Brook

    Starhawk, All people on Earth deserve equal rights. All people (with extremely few exceptions) are male or female. We are born being one or the other, and there are very few people who present with both sets of external and internal genital structures. And they are not transgender. Gender is something we have created to put people in rigid boxes. A man is not a woman because he feels it. You know in your heart, I am sure, that this is not true. You have had a wonderful influence on women in your lifetime. Please don’t ruin that by buying into a set of men’s feelings. Only natural born women truly are women. Please continue the respect you had for us in the past. This is very hurtful.

  • Kitsen

    Claiming the issue is white supremacy bonded with sexism is proof you haven’t paid any attention. If you refuse to acknowledge that the overarching problem is capitalism, you have already missed the point. Second wave feminists are notoriously unable to let go of the idea that equality is when you share the boardrooms. It’s when you separate them from the seats of power that we really begin to approach it.

    Also, telling those of us who’ve been hurt to stop saying so unless we can ask nicely for people to stop curb-stomping our heads is ironic, to be polite. You would never let a man tell you that. We don’t have to obey a cis woman who only wants to be in charge when she can’t even see the proper extent of the battle.

    Also, the people who’ve been cut out of segments of Paganism can return when they apologize and show they have done actual work to improve. Right now, anyone you can name who’s been removed from convention schedules is claiming to be a martyr. You just played right into that nonsense instead of listening to those of us who needed them to change.

    And then the grieving together part just sours me more. You are not entitled to grieve with me. You do not know my pain. You do not respect it. You have supported the cause of it instead. I would no sooner grieve transphobia and gender essentialism with a cis woman than a black man should grieve racism with a white man. You benefit from the system that oppresses me and mine. I have no desire to see your crocodile tears over that fact.

    If you actually care, listen. No, more. And still more. Right now, you still hear the screams of your fellow cis oppressors more than your trans and non-binary victims. And you want the real victims to whisper. In a word, NO.

  • Laine Fine

    This is so in line with everything I believe. Thank you for this clear statement of inclusiveness and for your thoughtful perspective. I too am committed to this movement. Our very lives may depend on it. I sincerely hope it never comes to that kind of a pass, but I’ve had nightmares about the rise of fascism in the United States ever since the current regime came into power. My energies and heart are with you 100 percent.

    Much thanks,

    Laine, Druid student at Sacramento Grove of the Oak

  • Thank you. Yes. We need to be ready to listen to one another’s hurts, while taking responsibility for our experience, and holding one another accountable.

  • Michelle Dalton

    Very disappointing. Men cannot be women. That is the truth. The dare is to tell the truth. Truth or Dare, Starhawk? -Meriweather, former Priestess of Witch Hazel Coven in Ashland, Oregon.

  • You do a great job of laying out the issues that we all have in common, and showing how liberation of one of us furthers and depends on the liberation of all of us. Thanks so much.

  • Baer

    This comment section sure has a lot of bigotry in it. Yikes.

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