Your Interpretation Is The Problem

May 4, 2012 at 8:43 PM (Uncategorized)

I recently reminded someone that males aren’t women, and was subsequently asked for “beginner radfem” stuff to read. This person wanted to understand the “radfem reasoning,” but was bothered by reading stuff that “denies the realities of my friends and loved ones…” these friends and loved ones apparently being queer or trans.

So, let me explain this as clearly as I can for anyone reading this blog who doesn’t get the “radfem reasoning.”

NOTHING in feminism denies your “reality.” Unless you were hallucinating or something, no one in their right mind is going to try to tell you that whatever you saw or felt or whatever didn’t happen, certainly not under the banner of feminism. HOWEVER, there is a HUGE difference between what you experience, and how you interpret that experience. Your experiences are not up for debate, but your interpretations are. Your interpretations are up for debate because they are arguments, which are subject to being true or false. Your interpretations may be based on your experiences, but they stand independently, and the fact that someone criticizes them does not mean that they deny you had the experiences they are based on.

Here is a handy example of queer interpretation, from my own personal experience:

A young woman has PCOS. She is hairier than most other women. She has been told that, if she were to ever try to get pregnant, she would have more difficulty than other women. When she gains weight, it tends to distribute itself in a pattern that is more prevalent on male bodies than on female bodies. She also feels uncomfortable with her breasts.

This is her experience.

Based on the experience of having PCOS, the young woman says to me: “Maybe I was meant to be a man.”

This is her interpretation. Notice that she could legitimately adhere to this interpretation without even having had the experience; she could say, “maybe women who have PCOS and don’t like their breasts were meant to be men.” Thus, the interpretation is logically independent from the experience, and this ridiculous idea that those of us who don’t experience dysphoria aren’t qualified to criticize how people interpret dysphoria is bullshit.

Also, notice that, even if I outright reject the interpretation (by saying “no, your experiences do not imply that you were meant to be a man!”), I have expressed no attitude whatsoever, least of all denial, of the reality of her having PCOS and feeling uncomfortable with her breasts.

And besides all that, everybody’s interpretation of everything is going to get analyzed and possibly criticized by feminists. Turns out that damn near everyone on Earth has been interpreting their lives without the conscious knowledge that they live in the context of misogyny! And once the misogyny context gets factored in, maybe your interpretations need to be revised. No one escapes analysis, even if they get their feelings hurt or experience a relatively rare and poorly understood condition such as dysphoria.

So, the short answer to this person’s question is this:

Learn to tell the difference between your reality and your interpretation of it, accept that your interpretations may be wrong, and, as for that radfem reasoning, it flows from the fact that everything gets analyzed through the lens of whether or not it perpetuates and/or is a product of female oppression.

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1 Comment

  1. SheilaG said,

    So well put. In a womanhating context, non-gender conforming lesbians are going to be erased, and the idea that all people should fit into “gender” boxes are extremely suspect. You might not be that happy with your body, but that doesn’t mean you are trans.

    If you cannot see misogyny as an operating system, you’ll never be able to get at a feminist answer. Just as if you don’t believe racism is real, you won’t get at how societies are actually constructed.

    You must understand the very foundations of what makes women behave the way they do in public and private, and what punishments are held out to women who reject those roles. Radical feminism puts women’s experience and reality at the center of things. How does it affect women? Why does malestream culture erase lesbian centered realities? Why do you see almost NO butch lesbians in malestream films or TV, and yet Chaz Bono gets top billing everywhere? You have to say, that feelings and truth of what is happening are essential to understanding radical feminism and what its purpose is.

    You experience life as a woman when you are date raped. You interpret that experience in a variety of ways. Just look at how different societies interpret male behavior and female behavior to get clues about this.

    Radical feminism posits that women are the sex class of men, just as the poor and the rich are part of a class system. How opportunity and social acceptance get doled out in any society tell the story of just how free poor men are and poor women are. Is the experience of women and men the same? Rape and pregnancy are facts, they happen to women. Biology tells a story, cosmetic surgery tells another.

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