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Here come the new gender stereotypes, same as the old gender stereotypes

They aren’t subversive or ironic; they’re just silly

Artillery Row

Anyone else notice that gender stereotypes — long the scourge of any self-respecting feminist and progressive — are suddenly fashionable? Don’t worry. I don’t mean old-style, plebby gender stereotypes, the stuff of tradwife articles and gender reveal parties. I mean better, cleverer gender stereotypes for better, cleverer people.

Whereas “pink for girls and blue for boys” is rightly derided when it’s stupid people saying it — the kind of people who’d vote for Brexit, or haven’t pretended to read Judith Butler — when they’re in the hands of the right people, such regressive beliefs are fine. Indeed, they’re not even regressive any more. Some progressive types are so intelligent, they can turn sexism into feminism by the power of their intellects alone. You just have to make sure no inferior beings attempt to do the same.

Take, for instance, a recent article in Men’s Health, announcing that some people — wait for it! — only fancy women! I know! There’s even a name for it: gynosexual. In case you’re thinking, “hang on, isn’t that just ‘lesbian’ for women, ‘heterosexual’ for men?” — well, no. That’s an embarrassingly outdated way of viewing things.

Gynosexuality is more complex than that, perhaps because, as lesbians have found, just being attracted to women can lead to charges of being a bigot. Hence the need for a word which specifies that when you fancy women, you might not fancy boring old vagina-havers. You might be “sexually attracted to femininity”. Which is kind of like being attracted to women, but also not. Women aren’t, after all, a set of feminine stereotypes. That’s what the tradwife contingent think.

How to square this circle? According to the article, sex educator Lilith Fox has found a way:

If it’s empowering and feels authentic for someone to identify with a stereotype and define it for themselves in the context of their own expression of it, I see it as a powerful tool rather than a hindrance. However, that doesn’t diminish the reality that for some, this concept can certainly be a hindrance or restrictive. Both perspectives are valid.

So, if you still find sexism, well, sexist, that’s perfectly “valid” (phew!) — just as long as you’re willing to validate other people getting off on it. Live and let live!

Another example occurs in Amia Srinivasan’s much-lauded The Right to Sex. Here, the author reproduces the following quote from trans activist Andrea Long Chu’s Females:

I transitioned for gossip and compliments, lipstick and mascara, for crying at the movies, for being someone’s girlfriend, for letting her pay the check or carry my bags … for Daisy Dukes, bikini tops, and all the dresses, and, my god, for the breasts.

I’ve truncated the quote because it’s really boring but I’m sure you can add your own examples. Think Shania Twain’s “Man! I feel like a woman” if written by a porn-addict who hated women. It sounds really sexist, right? Or … is it? Are you perhaps a bigot for feeling affronted? Srinivasan certainly thinks so. “Once one recognises trans women as simply women,” she writes, “complaints that they reinforce gender stereotypes begin to look invidious, since one hears far fewer complaints about the ‘excessive femininity’ of cis women.”

Feminine stereotypes are used to trivialise female people

This begging the question falls somewhat flat, given that this is a point feminists have been making for years — that male people who claim to be women gain a free pass to be enormously sexist due to the alleged change in status from volunteer to conscript. There is a profound difference between someone who is biologically female embracing feminine stereotypes, and someone who is male insisting these stereotypes are all women are. One might hear “far fewer complaints about the ‘excessive femininity’ of cis women” because feminists object to feminine stereotypes being imposed on women, not because they have some personal animus towards anyone in a push-up bra.

What’s more, there’s a reason why someone like Srinivasan quotes incel Shania Twain, and not Shania Twain herself. Feminine stereotypes are used to trivialise female people. They reinforce the belief that women are trivial, decorative creatures lacking in depth. Someone like Long Chu might get off on this idea of sexy triviality, but Long Chu retains the moral and intellectual status of a male, adopting the role of “civilised” researcher venturing into and explaining the ways of a supposedly inferior culture. I don’t think it’s accidental that Females has a title reminiscent of an anthropological study. This degree of misogyny isn’t clever; it’s utterly old school.

A third “progressive” defence of gender stereotypes is found in this weekend’s Guardian, in an article called “Why the bimbocore aesthetic is the path to weaponising the social performance of the ageing woman”. Yes, I too was losing the will to live by the time I got to the end of that title. Anyhow, all the piece is saying, in a very long, convoluted way, is that women who embrace bimbo stereotypes — performances of dumb, pinkified hyper-femininity — are in fact totally owning the conservatives:

… the aesthetic exists to satirise the impossibility of meeting contemporary standards of femininity by aggressively performing them … Wide-eyed pouting by the young registers as ironically Lolitaesque … how wonderful it is that activist young women and their friends have found a way to channel such a flagrant, public up-yours to the culture of gender policing that grows more exclusive and dangerous by the day.

Ha! Women who follow all the rules of gender to the extreme are being ironic! We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Back in the nineties, I was very ironic myself, getting one over on all the idiots who couldn’t see that you could reduce yourself to a walking stereotype whilst not actually being one. It’s really clever when you do this. Indeed, as Victoria Bateman, author of the recent Naked Feminism, attests, there’s nothing like getting your tits out to confound people who still don’t believe a woman can be “both a body and a brain” — even if the end result is just people staring at your tits.

Forgive me for finding all of this somewhat depressing. The trouble is, I thought we’d got over “gender stereotypes can be feminist providing you tie yourself into a pretzel of pointless self-awareness” sometime around 2003. How has it happened this time around?

How can you admit you’re wrong? Won’t you get called a genocidal Nazi, too?

For the past few years, when feminists have pointed out that the concept of gender identity relies entirely on the stereotypes we seek to reject, we have been gaslit by those seeking to be “more inclusive”. No, no! We’ve got it wrong! It’s, like, way more complicated than that. Anyhow, aren’t we the gender essentialists for thinking only women have babies? At the start of The Right To Sex, Srinivasan lists thinking “some bodies are for creating new bodies” alongside thinking some bodies are “for washing and clothing and feeding other bodies” as examples of plebby, old-style thinking. Whilst a second’s reflection might suggest both that only women being able to have babies doesn’t mean that’s all women are for, and that thinking only women get pregnant isn’t the same as thinking men can’t wash underpants, Srinivasan is presumably hoping none of us will engage in this second’s reflection — too overawed are we by the genius of someone who uses the word “bodies” rather than “people”.

The trouble is, thanks to the trolling efforts of Long Chu and Dylan Mulvaney, it’s becoming much harder to maintain the pretence that gender identity isn’t all about stereotypes, no matter how manipulative you are with words. How can you admit you’re wrong, if you’ve thrown your lot in with telling other women they’re genocidal Nazis for noticing the problem before you did? Won’t you get called a genocidal Nazi, too? It reminds me of cats, when they misjudge jumping over a fence or squeezing through a gap, adopting a face-saving air of “I totally meant to do that”. Likewise, we have people who are against stereotypes pretending they are in fact into stereotypes. Only in certain circumstances, though, which only really clever people would understand.

I don’t know what more to say about this other than that it’s rubbish. It’s not that the new gender stereotypes are no better than the old ones; it’s that they’re the exact same ones. Mary Wollstonecraft decried the way in which “taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming around its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison”. Then again, Wollstonecraft hadn’t read any Long Chu. She’d no idea just how cool or how very clever a prison can be made to appear.

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