The glorious surge of women’s righteous rage in this country over the past two years has been an inspiration in an otherwise desperate political landscape. Led by women of color, our noisy, full-throated, unavoidable pushback against unequal treatment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape culture is long overdue.
I love that women are getting right up in the face of the patriarchy and demanding change. I’m heartened by the droves of women who are standing for election around the country for positions lowly and exalted, especially all the women who will be “firsts”: first Muslim woman in Congress, first black woman governor, first transgender person nominated by a major party for a governorship, first Native American congresswoman, and on and on. I love that Republican Senate Judiciary Committee members (all white men) can’t step into an elevator or walk through the airport without being confronted by women’s anger first. Let them go where they are going, but I’m grateful to the women making sure they know we see their complicity with 5,000 years of woman-hating patriarchy before the elevator doors close.
And, of course, while we may rage at the actions of individual men (the Kavanaugh-supporting senator, the date rapist, the smarmy Hollywood boss), we know that not all men hurt women in these ways. Our true enemy is the patriarchy itself—that crusty, millennia-old system that deems women unequal to men—and all the institutions, bad habits, and cultural assumptions that hold it up. If women are ever to achieve equality, the patriarchy must be torn down.
And that’s why all the #MeToo warriors, all the pussy-hatted marchers, all the toe-in-the-door elevator-interrupters need to fight like hell against the federal administration’s new proposal to erase transgender people. The proposal would narrow the inclusive Obama-era definitions of gender in federal programs to just one: the genitalia a person is born with. And the feds are suggesting that there will only be two genders, male and female, based on those genitalia. Anyone hoping to express a different gender identity and be protected by law must prove, through genetic testing, that they were assigned the wrong sex at birth.
What does this attempt to eliminate a “transgender” category have to do with the defeat of the patriarchy? It’s simple. The easiest system of oppression to maintain is a binary one: You’re either on top or on bottom. Once the nation is sorted neatly and legally into two genders, it makes it that much easier to maintain the dominance of men over women. If intersex, nonbinary, or transgender people are acknowledged to exist, they muck up the works of this simple machine.
Advocates for the patriarchy assert that there are only men and women, and nothing in between. They rally for “complementarianism,” the idea that God created only man and woman and that each sex has a complementary role in the home, the church, and public life. Most importantly, underlying complementarianism is the idea that there is something essentially manly about men and essentially womanly about women that makes these roles perfect for each other. But the existence of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people raises questions about this too tidy sorting-out. If people are allowed to acknowledge aspects of both femaleness and maleness in their biology or gender expression, or to acknowledge the fluidity of identity over time, then how will the patriarchy know whom to oppress?
Women, bring your righteous anger to bear on this fight for trans people’s existence—not only because it undermines a central girder in the edifice of the patriarchy, but because true warriors for equality and justice want them for everybody.
National Center for Transgender Equality
Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
American Civil Liberties Union