On The Women of Westeros, and “The Future is Female”

“No matter where we look in Westeros, the future is female: Cersei to the South, Sansa to the North, Daenerys to the East.” – Laura Hudson, Wired
Game of Thrones has a rocky track record with its treatment of women, full stop, sentence over. Yet, early on in the show it was clear that the Women of Westeros (and Essos) would at times rise up to be total bad-asses. Sometimes that happens through violence, (Arya, Dany, etc.), sometimes through cunning (Olenna, Margaery, Dany again). On the whole though, taken into account the often pointless ways women are sexualized and brutalized on the show, it’s hard to endorse Game of Thrones as feminist. Game of Thrones is made with feminist values, contains feminist lessons and characters, but if you asked me “is Game of Thrones feminist?” I might shrug my shoulders or laugh at the thought.
“You mean the show that turned some consensual sex acts from the book into rapes on the show? You mean the show that continually uses sexual violence as a threat to needlessly amp up the stakes for women? You mean the show that could have written it’s way around a lot of the sexual violence on screen? No, I don’t think it’s particularly feminist.”
But the future is bright. Season Six left almost all seven kingdoms and major military forces under the control of women — women who either out-smarted, out-fought, or out-lived the men who previously held those positions of power. It’s a very promising time for the Women of Westeros — even if some (Cersei and Dany, for instance) are only going to leave one woman standing by the end of the season.
I return to the beginning of this post. Towards the end of an excellent review/recap by Laura Hudson, she uses the phrase “the future is female” which is so jarring to my ears that, well, it ended another Mary Beton hiatus. This is the first thing I’ve ever read of Hudson’s, but judging from a Twitter bio that lists Feminist Frequency as a place she either wrote for, or contributed to, I imagine she knows exactly why “the future is female” is weak tea.

But first, let me make it crystal clear what I’m not saying.

 

When so-called “feminists” state that the future is female, they are showing their true colors. This movement is no longer about creating equal opportunities for men and woman, but it is obsessed with claiming that women are superior to men and that all men are worthless. – Sarah Taber, The Daily Wire
Fuck that, full stop, end of sentence. But Sarah’s interpretation is part of the problem with the slogan, wherein female is immediately code for “woman” to most of the population that’s never taken a Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies course. We should be getting behind slogans that are blunt, even if they’re note catchy. Anyways, rhetorical issues asside…
My problem with “the future is female” as a phrase, slogan, or fucking t-shirt has nothing to do with man vs. woman, because “male and female” and “man and woman” is like “sound” and “color” to me — they describe completely different categories. “The future is loud” doesn’t exclude beige, because, fuck it, beige can be loud if it wants to — but “the future is blue” would exclude beige because, beige will always be beige.
“One problem with “The Future Is Female” slogan is that it elides the distinction between sex and gender. It erases queer, trans, and other non-binary people entirely.” – Sam Miller, Left Voice
“The future is woman” is a phrase lacking alliteration and punch, but it’s sure as hell more inclusive than “The future is female” — and “The future has no gender” even more so. I’m drunk and upset, but clear-minded enough to stand up for this, no matter the consequences. “The future is female” is a shit slogan, and I’ll die on that hill.

Your “The Future is Female” shirt will get you a smile from a TERF. Do you really want to make TERFs smile?

Man-Womanly

“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple;

one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. … Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own

Fatal. Deadly. Obsolete. Impossible.

To be a man pure and simple.

Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

What follows is not a pure endorsement, but a mediation on Woolf’s words. How I wish I could just embrace Woolf word for word, but I can only embrace Woolf for what I believe she was trying to say. In her words I see myself, and many others, struggling to define themselves within, or outside of, the two-gender spectrum.

Most of us know there are not two genders.

Still, that won’t stop me from using man and woman here, because that’s how so many people will define us. Woolf is, I believed, trapped in the language of her time. Terms like “opposite genders,” “woman-manly,” and “man-womanly” to me, speak of a system she’s aware of, but using the system’s language. Were it possible for her to be introduced to the modern gender studies vocabulary, I don’t doubt she would happily adopt in terms like “gender spectrum.”

She might instead say: “It is impossible to be a man or woman purely. Period.” It is not so much that opposite genders must be married, or consummated, but that on this gender spectrum, we all lie defined between two ideas. If “Particle A” was man and “Particle B” was woman, and the rest of us were just particles nestled in between, we could only be defined by our proximity to Particle A or B, but we could not occupy the same space. The manliest man that you can think of is not a man purely. Men and women are ideas, the manliest man you can think of is, or was a human being, and humans are not ideas.

 

My Beard Did Not Invalidate My Femininity

Maybe I’m stating the obvious,

but when I started growing a beard this year, as a part of a New Year’s resolution to just be a hairier, happier human being — I wondered what facial hair would do my gender performance. I have messed around with facial hair in the past, but that was back before I changed my presentation drastically. With infinity scarves and fanciful flourishes came a clean-shaven look, and that felt right. That’s the me that a lot of people first met, everyone in the social justice academia space, whether it be secularists, the LGBTQ community, feminists, or all of the above, they met clean-shaved me. And hopefully they picked up on some queues I was throwing out there.

I suppose the concern about growing a beard was two-fold: I did not want to be perceived as being more masculine, nor did I want so sub-consciously start acting more masculine just because I was getting beardy.

But growing a beard didn’t change anything!

At least, it didn’t change anything about my gender performance. My overall style does feel a little bit different because it’s not a tightly-trimmed beard, so the whole “fancy flourishes” thing feels like it’s become a “scruffy artist” persona.

The most interesting thing about my beard is that I think it actually highlights anything feminine about my gender performance, rather than mask it. It creates contrast; it might make feminine performances more surprising; more jarring; it might make someone stop and think.

 

On Kate Bornstein and Language

TW: Potentially Transphobic Language

Last week the University of Pittsburgh welcomed Kate Bornstein as the keynote speaker to their GSWS “Gender and the Body” conference. She talked about herself, Tibetan Buddhism, postmodern theory, gender theory, and going deeper than tackling patriarchy, but rather society’s all-encompassing hierarchy that includes mental health, religion, gender, race, sexuality, intelligence, etc.

There was a lot of really good stuff here, and as somebody who hasn’t been in a University class in close to a full year, it was really stimulating. I need to be presented with new, challenging ideas like this.

And quite frankly, all of us young GSWS students could use a lesson from historical figures like Kate Bornstein.

I’ve had a copy of Kate Bornstein’s “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” for over half a year, and seeing her in person is going to propel me to finally read that, but during her keynote I realized I had read her work before in GSWS 101, Gender Outlaw. Excerpts at least.

Seeing Kate is like seeing a Trans Treasure, an icon, and I count myself very lucky to be able to hear what she had to say. Hypothetically, even if I didn’t understand or agree with what she was saying, I would have respected the ?#@* out of her opinions (but I often understood and agreed).

Towards the end though, Kate veered into a subject that I think may have offended some, and as she noted, some people left the room at this point.

I want to talk with those who were offended, rather than triggered by her comments, and I’ll clarify the difference.

Kate Bornstein talked about why she identifies with the word Tranny, and the history and etymology of the word. Tranny, largely understood to be a  Transphobic slur, had friendly communal roots, according to Kate. I found her perspective so refreshing and interesting. Perhaps there are some similarities to gay men who can use the f-word endearingly, or black people reappropriating the n-word; I’m not sure – neither of those words originated with positive connotations as Kate claims the “t-word” did.

But if the t-word triggers you, sends you into an emotional spiral, and you had to leave while Kate used it, I’m not taking up any issue with you! You do you, you do what you have to do to stay safe. But the hypothetical situation of people being critical of how Kate identified, and explaining her identity, and the history of her identity, is disappoints me.

Instead of learning from Kate, some must have left hoping to send a message that her language was offensive.

Like I said earlier, Kate is a Trans Treasure, somebody who’s been around the block and seen some ?#@*. The idea of some 18-21 year old young inspired idealistic person walking out to show Kate “you shouldn’t use that word” is so disappointing, because that same person is walking out on an explanation, something that might expand their view on a situation. Context matters here! This is Kate Bornstein, keynote speaker at the GSWS conference, do you really think she’s here to stir things up, or cause harm?

Kate humorously flip-flopped on those who left, “I’m not sorry. I’m a little sorry… I’m not sorry.”

I just think it’s important to hear some radically left ideas, especially if you’re painting yourself as a radical. Kate’s 68 and a cancer survivor, and we were all so lucky to hear her speak. Now, would I be here advocating that we all listen to old Trans-exclusionary-feminists just because of their years of experience? No. Would I advocate that we all go listen to MRA’s on campus because they’re also radical? No. All I’m advocating for, is for some young GSWS majors who think they might know everything about what words we should and shouldn’t use, and consider language to be the be-all-end-all, to reconsider.

 

The Hetero Uber Driver

I like the label “Heteroflexible.” For years “mostly-straight” just wasn’t cutting it. “Mostly-straight” almost sounds defensive, like “oh heavens no I’m not all the way Bi or Pansexual, I’m mostly-straight!”

I like “Heteroflexible” largely because of the “flexible” idea. It conveys that I’m into the opposite of something, but not just my sex, like Heterosexuality implies. It’s like a game of Twister; I’m straight but I’m having a good time here so I’m going to make some adjustments so I can keep playing (that sounded better in my head, maybe I can revisit that someday).  I may be into the opposite gender identity, if we’re using a purely two-point spectrum, with all the flaws that carries with it. Still, “Heteroflexible” is a faster explanation than “Well I’m just not that into masculinity; I’m attracted to femininity and androgyny, cisgender, agender and transgender.”

But, I’m getting off track here. Even if I was just Heterosexual, I’d be bothered by the string of Uber Drivers I’ve had recently. The guy who shows me a nude of a woman on his phone, the other guy who talks about how much he likes lingerie football, the guy who drops me off at a bar and wishes me luck meeting women?

I’m not completely surprised that the assumed sexuality of a passenger is straight; that’s practically the sexuality everybody assumes of everybody in society, unless your performance tips them off, but how often conversations just veer into “girls are hot, right man?” just weirds me out. We can really talk about anything, it’s only 15-20 minutes of conversation, why does it have to go that direction?

Because male-to-male conversations are expected to go that way? When it’s just two guys palling around we can just talk about hot babes right? I don’t know how I have to act or what I have to wear to stop people from bringing that up in front of me, but I’d sure as hell like to know.

Call Me Mary Beton, Lost In Thought

“Here then was I  (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please – it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on the banks of a river a week or two ago in fine October weather, lost in thought.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

For months I’ve sat on this domain, Marybeton.com, wondering “how will I even begin?”
I knew it would always begin with the source of inspiration, but how will I introduce myself to you, if there’s a you out there?

I think I owe it to you to let you know that I am male-identified-at-birth, and largely okay with my male pronouns. The doubt I carry about myself is why I’m here I suppose. I graduated college with a few credits in GSWS studies, and I want to dive deeper, learn more about the subject, and at once, learn more about myself.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t look in the mirror and wonder about myself. And there are a lot of questions. I don’t think transition is right for me, but I have lots of ideas about my gender performance. Sometimes I whisper the name “Lorelai” to myself, with confidence.

I’m lost in thought and needed a place to record the thoughts. Maybe I’ll watch some TV and break down their worth in how they portray and treat gay, female, trans, or POC characters. Maybe I’ll read a book or two and write what I think about it. Maybe I’ll just confess things to you. – M.B.