Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
She’s been called the Betty Friedan of the transsexual community and now her groundbreaking book is being released in its second edition. Whipping Girl is a collection of essays written by biologist and trans activist Julia Serano. Her background, as a biologist, makes her the perfect analyst. Her insights stem from both the scientific reasons for transsexuality and her own intimate knowledge as a trans woman.
Serrano’s book is not a confessional tell-all. It does not focus on first-person accounts or clinical observations; rather, it is more of a political and historical account of the self. Serrano delivers a series of provocative essays that demystify the many misconceptions surrounding transsexualism, gender and feminism.
Her goal is to raise our awareness of rampant antifeminine sentiment. She believes that no form of gender equity can ever truly be achieved until we first work to empower femininity itself. She writes: “Until feminists work to empower femininity and pry it away from the insipid, inferior meanings that plague it – weakness, helplessness, fragility, passivity, frivolity, and artificiality – those meanings will continue to haunt every person who is female and/or feminine.”
Serano is speaking as someone within the feminist movement, but calling attention to the structural problems within it. She does not appreciate how mainstream feminists are highly critical of femininity. Anything perceived as “girlie” (heels and lipstick for example) is deemed too femme and therefore bad—as in something that holds women back. Serano does not deny that feminists have created spaces where women no longer feel pressure to behave in a feminine way, but she is advocating for a world where women (trans women especially) are not punished for expressing feminity. To do so is to be a misogynist.
Serano argues that antifemininity is misogynist on the basis that women who want to be taken seriously need to be more masculine. I found an explanation of one of Serano’s core theories beautifully illustrated by a theorist I hold very dear, s.e. smith (ou does not capitalize her name and prefers the use of ou which is a gender neutral pronoun). In her essay, “Get your antifemininity out of my feminism” ou writes:
Earlier generations of feminists pushed back against feminine roles and tried to create a world where women didn’t have to meet impossible and idiculous appearance standards just to go to the mailbox. That was a good thing. But somehow, there has been a shift from ‘women should not have to perform femininity if they do not want to’ to ‘femininity is bad, and people should be punished for behaving in a feminine way.’And that tells people with a femme orientation that they do not belong… s.e. smith
Whipping Girl is a rather dense read—even for me and I used to teach Women’s Studies. One of my favorite feminists, bell hooks (she does not capitalize her name either) once said: feminism is for everybody. Yet, we are not doing everything that we can to make it more accessible. Feminist texts are notoriously difficult to read or grasp. The prose, sometimes impenetrable. I am not advocating that feminist theory be dumbed down, just more straightforward. Other than that, Serano’s book is a provocative manifesto. A must read by anyone who strives to embrace and empower femininity—in all of its wondrous ways of being.