On August 7, a Back To School ad campaign by American clothing company American Apparel was launched to a viral uproar. The campaign was banned from Britain as of September 2, as an image from the campaign, shared by social media user Emilie Lawrence, brought attention to an up-skirt shot of a woman in a plaid skirt.
The acceptance of trans* athletes in sports has long been contentious, and a recent race brought this debate back to the forefront in Canada: a pair of transgender athletes, Enza Anderson and Savannah Burton, took part in a rowing competition on the Ottawa River, and organizers of the race have noted that the two are the first openly trans* athletes to row in a Canadian competition. With this step forward for Canadian trans* athletes, and the ensuing discussions that have arisen, it begs the question why some continue to resist the inclusion of trans* athletes.
Assertions of an “unfair advantage” generally centre around the supposedly inescapable differences between, as is most commonly argued, trans* women and biological women. In Salon.com, Heather Hargreaves details how trans* athlete Fallon Fox’s career has been peppered with accusations of physical inequality, and statements that she “is a man beating up other females” in mixed martial arts.
Not only are these accusations insulting to athletes, Hargreaves also discusses how they’re factually inaccurate. Many who argue against acceptance of trans* athletes assert that male-to-female (MTF) trans* athletes have more testosterone than biological women do, and this increases their muscle mass; in fact, studies have shown that cis-female athletes have higher testosterone levels than trans* female athletes. Consequently, trans* female athletes actually face more difficulty in reaching the same muscle mass as their cis-gender opponents.
Bone density is another go-to argument, but bone density varies a great deal based on different factors, including nutrition, sex, age, race, and genetics. As Hargreaves states, “there is simply too much variation to exclude someone solely on the basis of that measurement. Not only is there an extreme amount of variation that overlaps between sexes, but bone density and bone structure is irrelevant to determining athletic performance.”
These arguments against trans* athletes also disregard the physical variation amongst cis-athletes. There will always be some people who naturally have a physical advantage over their opponents; yet I’ve never heard of a basketball player being kept from playing because they’re “too tall,” or Michael Phelps being told he couldn’t compete because his long arms gave him an unfair advantage in swimming. On top of which, clearly the arguments against trans* athletes aren’t entirely based in science.
Your body changes a great deal when you transition and go through hormone therapy. Nong Thoom—the famous trans* woman who began her muay thai boxing career as a male fighter and transitioned under intense public scrutiny—had to deal with the physical changes as she took hormone therapies and continued to fight cis-male muay thai boxers. Granted, Thoom was and is an incredible muay thai boxer, so she can hold her own against any opponent; nonetheless, it’s ludicrous to pit a trans* female undergoing hormone therapies against a cis-male opponent, in every fight, simply because of a stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge a trans* woman as a woman.
Some have proposed reserving leagues for trans*-only athletes, but this is potentially problematic—although I do see the value in fostering a place and community for trans* athletes. First of all, I worry that having separate, segregated leagues for men, women, and trans* athletes sets trans* athletes apart as “other” to the supposedly regular leagues. Additionally, there’s already a great deal of inattention paid to women’s leagues and competitions; would a league for trans* athletes keep those athletes on the fringe of competitions, and prevent them from being recognized as elite athletes?
The Olympics represent a perfect example: few will deny that they mark the pinnacle of competition in athletics. What happens when you’re an athlete who isn’t allowed to compete with the world’s cis-gender elite, or are given a consolation prize of “separate but equal” competitions? While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was the first to adopt more inclusive policies, the Huffington Post reported in February that no openly transgender athletes have competed in the Olympics; additionally, the IOC’s policies require that competitors have expensive sex-reassignment surgeries, take hormone therapies for at least two years, and receive legal recognition of their transition. These policies, while more inclusive than what has previously been the case, haven’t been updated since they were enacted over 10 years ago, and they prevent countless athletes who can’t afford the stipulations from competing. As angry as the global community was over the Winter Olympics being held in homophobic Russia, there was another group that has been and continues to be excluded.
Originally published in the Other Press.
Fraser Health is under fire after parents began posting on the website iVillage.ca about a breastfeeding “contract” typically introduced to parents with newborns. The two-page form, entitled “Did You Know…,” has been in use since 2007, but parents are just now reacting. The contract itself is not a mandatory obligation, but more of a personal goal outline for parents.
While we at Women at Women publish articles on a weekly rotational basis (every Friday!), I felt the urge to write this piece earlier this afternoon upon having a significant emotional revelation.
Since initially hearing about the online harassment of Anita Sarkeesian following her Kickstarter campaign for Tropes vs Women in Video Games, I have experienced various feelings and, as a result of those feelings, took some unfortunate actions, or rather, inactions.
“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.” — Taylor Swift.
I’ve discussed in the past how frustrated I’ve been by Taylor Swift’s previous aversion to feminism, and her songs which, in my view, have perpetuated some sexist ideas; I’ve also talked about how, despite my occasional frustration, nobody has the right to impose feminist ideals (or any ideology) on another individual. I stand by my assertion that it doesn’t particularly matter if you identify as a feminist. There are myriad reasons why someone might choose to steer away from such an identification, beginning with the truly negative way the movement’s been portrayed since its inception—I’m not bragging when I say that it takes guts to stand up and say you’re a feminist.
Recently though, more and more women have begun to align themselves with feminism—and I wanted to take a moment to be absolutely thrilled by this fact, and talk about the significance of the Beyoncés and Taylor Swifts in the world bringing feminist discussions to the populace. While I have to respect when someone is actively anti-feminist, influential women aligning themselves with the movement is also invaluable.
Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are among the most powerful and influential artists around. People go gaga for their music, their ideas, their work, their words—everything Swift and Beyoncé do is worth paying attention to.
Neither of them was particularly political when their careers first began, both entering the world of pop and celebrity while still in possession of baby-faces. The fact of their success puts an unfair pressure on them to have their ideas and themselves figured out, so that they have an identity to present to the public. This is largely the result of audiences demanding a totally formed person behind the music with whom they can identify.
I lose track of Tay-tay’s age except through her occasional song about being “Fifteen” or “22”; yet I can recall being incredibly frustrated by her previously uninformed definition of feminism when, realistically, she was probably younger than I currently am. Because Beyoncé and Swift emerged as such powerful beings from a young age, we immediately associate them with feminist paragons—women never break through the glass ceiling so young!
But how can we expect a young woman—grappling with identity and a rapidly shifting world that requires her to come up with her “brand”—to know exactly what her stance is when it comes to feminism? More importantly, why should we? The go-to question for successful women is to ask if they identify with feminism. This inquiry (1) is unfairly and unjustifiably gendered (as I discussed in another post), and (2) becomes an annoying, haranguing demand to either identify with all things feminist—including the more negative portrayals which, again, have plagued feminism since its inception—or with nothing feminist at all. All of this, when the road to identifying as a feminist is often long and complicated.
What do you think their choice would be?
Now, I’m not at all saying that age necessarily has bearing on one’s abilities or identity—I don’t believe that it does. It’s common though in youth to solidify what it is you believe, and how that matches up with other people’s beliefs.
That’s why I’m so elated with Beyoncé and Taylor Swift speaking out in support of feminism. There’s been a growing number of women who have come to understand the tenets of feminism, but again, these two women in particular have incredible and widespread influence. Beyoncé’s recent performance at the 2014 VMAs really brought feminism into the spotlight. I think Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth and Full Frontal Feminism, summed it up best in the Guardian:
“Beyoncé, in the midst of an epic 15-minute medley at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music awards, performed her song ‘Flawless’ in front of a giant screen blazoned with the word ‘FEMINIST.’ And, as in her music video, the superstar sampled author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on feminism and expectations for girls. The zeitgeist is irrefutably feminist: its name literally in bright lights … Obviously, feminism can’t hang its hat on celebrity endorsements—it’s a movement for social and political change, not a popularity contest. But successful movements need support, be it in the grassroots or in Hollywood. And there is no debating the hugely powerful cultural message sent … as Beyoncé sang about feminism, while her husband looked on lovingly, holding their daughter. It was, without a doubt, flawless.”
Beyoncé’s performance was particularly important because we rarely see women who can have it all. We see women in pop culture—especially in TV and movie portrayals—who struggle to choose between work, success, marriage, self-love and -care, parenting, and the like. Beyoncé standing on stage, with her husband and daughter in the front row waiting to present her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, tells young women watching that you can have it. You don’t have to choose between the multitude of things that, together, make you happy. In a manner that harkens back to Mary Tyler Moore, it told us that we’re “gonna make it after all.”
There will continue to be those who shy away from identifying as a feminist, or who argue that humanism and egalitarianism are better because they aren’t gendered (yeah, tell those people to read this piece from Feminspire.com: they don’t actually understand what any of the three ideologies are).
Nonetheless, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are paving the way for more celebrities to identify as feminist, and are bringing feminism into more positive and constructive debate. More importantly, they’re making it possible for young girls to read Swift’s statement and realize that they want equal rights and opportunities; for more young women to sing along with Beyoncé and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and to see themselves as flawless.
“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” That’s music to my ears.