In a recent resolution, the Republican National Committee (RNC) called on the Department of Education “to rescind its interpretation of Title IX that wrongly includes facility use issues by transgender students.” The RNC further claims that the gender assigned at birth is one’s only “true” gender, thus implying that trans people do not exist. The Committee believes that the Obama administration’s attempt to protect the rights of trans students by providing them with equal access to bathrooms is an example of “governmental overreach.” Their claim is that the current interpretation of Title IX is a violation of the privacy to those using the bathroom that is “correct” for “members of that sex.” Through a postmodern feminist theoretical lens, it becomes clear that the RNC’s interpretation of these bathroom bills is incredibly harmful to trans people and demonstrates clear discrimination towards bodies that do not fit societal norms.
It is incredibly disheartening to know that the RNC is so backwards in their collective thinking that they would view a move to protect student safety as “overreach.” Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Bathrooms continue to be a constant source of anxiety for many trans people, including both those forced to use the bathroom that does not match their gender identity and those whose identity and/or presentation is ambiguous. For the latter group, there is no appropriate bathroom, as the two male-female options do not acknowledge an existence outside the binary. As Jack Halberstam explains, “Those of us who present in some ambiguous way are routinely questioned and challenged about our presence in the ‘wrong’ bathroom” (332). Halberstam further illustrates this problem in summarizing the narrative of “he-she factory worker, Jess Goldberg” who must “make crucial decisions about whether she can afford to use the women’s restroom” (333). Thus, the bathroom becomes a representation of the “limit to her ability to move around in the public sphere” (333). Unfortunately, even if the RNC’s resolution were to be denied, the issues illustrated by Jess Goldberg would still be very real for many trans people. Very few institutions have “all gender” bathrooms, and while buildings often have single bathroom options, there are usually very few, and they can require long treks across the premises to find.
The RNC is so ingrained in their archaic understandings of gender that they take no issue with the fact that their condemnation of trans bathroom rights could force people to everyday experience systematic oppression whenever they need to pee. As Julia Serano explains, “Transphobia is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against people whose gendered identities, appearances, or behaviors deviate from societal norms” (349). Thus, what is causing the RNC so much uneasiness is the fact that people exist who do not remain within the status quo. Serano further defines cissexism as “the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals,” and then notes that “the most common expression of cissexism occurs when people attempt to deny trans people the basic privileges that are associated with the gender the trans person self-identifies with” (350). The RNC, then, is both transphobic and cissexist in their denial of appropriate bathroom rights. Were the RNC to reify the existence of trans people, they would be subsequently giving up some of their power that is built into the current cissexist system of society. By accepting the performative nature of gender, the patriarchy’s survival begins to crumble by default. Unfortunately, though, the RNC’s uneasiness comes at the cost of trans students’ basic rights and daily sense of wellbeing.
Thus, the RNC’s condemnation of trans bathroom rights reveals their deeply rooted insecurity surrounding gender. Riki Wilchins comments on this phenomenon by explaining, “In fact, the United States may be the only country in the world where we are so insecure about gender that the words man and woman have no meaning unless they are preceded by real” (341). The RNC epitomizes this statement in their insistence that trans people are not expressing their “real” gender. The fact that trans people are able to transcend patriarchal boundaries is incredibly frightening for men desperate to uphold their power that is built into a strictly static binary. Riki Wilchins also explains binaries as “the black holes of knowledge. Nothing is allowed to escape, so we get the same answers every time” (341). Those that do escape are labeled the deviants of society who need to be put back into line. In order to punish those who are rejecting our society’s static binary, organizations such as the RNC begin to methodically remove basic rights from trans people. The message they are sending is that if you want to exist in this society as a human, you must also conform to the system of control that is currently in place.
By Christie Ma
In March, Coexist CIC, a Bristol firm, announced plans for the implementation of a “period policy,” wherein staff who menstruate would be enabled to work on a flexible schedule, taking time off during their period and making it up later. Having witnessed employees doubled over in pain yet unable to get restorative rest due to strenuously lengthy work hours, Co-Exist Director Bex Baxter declared the situation unfair, as it “cripples careers.” Along these lines, a study conducted by the makers of the painkiller Feminax found that 10% of the 600 participants were regularly bedridden by period pains, which disrupted concentration and prevented them from functioning regularly, negatively impacting their careers. In fact, up to 50% of people who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, painful periods. In the past, the hysterectomy–the removal of the womb–has been the main treatment for heavy, painful periods, but the introduction of endometrial ablation–the removal of the lining of the womb–as well as the insertion of the Mirena hormone into the womb offer new, safer methods that have “revolutionized” the approach to heavy periods. However, the effectiveness of this new policy has been put to question. More specifically, that there has been no address of whether men, gender non-conforming, or trans people with bodies that menstruate are included in this change is tremendously problematic. I will attempt to analyze the complexities of this event through a radical and postmodernist feminist lens.
It is vital to note that the misconception that taking time off leads to the unproductivity of a business can co-exist with the encouragement of a work-life balance. This policy has been speculated to cast periods along their cramps and moods as “mysterious ailments beyond […] aspirin,” a move that could further stigmatize periods and hurt employees in the workplace. That menstrual leave “pathologizes a normal human biological function” and may be interpreted as an impression that women are “ill-equipped” for the working world and public sphere is an ironic allegation that does not lie parallel to the aims of the policy. In “Why Women need the Goddess,” Carol P. Christ speaks of the Goddess as a crucial symbol dedicated to the “affirmation of the female body and the life cycle expressed in it” (114). To what extent does this notion of decreased productivity during menstruation reinforce ideas of the menstruating body’s functions and fertility? Would it be more effective to provide tampons and painkillers to satisfy menstrual needs instead? Christ explores menstruation as a “denigration of the female body” expressed in cultural and religious taboos that deem it a “dirty secret” (114). The gendered biopower that plays into this is further distinguished by that a natural bodily function has been stigmatized and used as a tool to oppress.
That cisgender male bodies would be celebrated for what cisgender female bodies naturally do is a prime indication of the patriarchal ways that perpetuate the gender binary to the modern day. Along these lines, in “If Men could Menstruate,” Gloria Steinem advances the argument that these gendered “power justifications” regarding the use of vaginally-equipped bodies are unhealthily excluding, as well as incredibly oppressive (124). She theorizes that if cisgender men could menstruate, periods would mark the “envied beginning of manhood” and signify a “monthly purge of impurities” without which cisgender women would still be “unclean” (114). Further, Susan Bordo asserts in “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” that “female bodies often become docile bodies,” utilizing the registers of the “useful body,” one that is socially adapted, trained, and responsive, versus the “intelligible body,” comprised of cultural conceptions and ideas of health, to investigate society’s expectations and their consequences upon women (322). The paid menstrual leave policy may actually render the menstruating body “unfit to perform activities outside its designated sphere” (326), as centering most female bodies around one of their attributes minimizes their other abilities. The spherical dichotomy of public versus private enforces the feminine “ideal” of dependency, domesticity, and delicacy (327).
Ultimately, the ways in which the new menstrual leave policy has highlighted the menstruating employee’s “unique position”, alongside further singling out their reproductive capacities are questionable in terms of both intent and impact. This is only a singular case of many examples within which gendered biopolitics exerting control over certain bodies, prove the claim that “logic has nothing to do with oppression” to be true (124).