djs
Type
Article
Category
Feminism
Identity

Pussy power in peril

Earlier this month an event in Fitzroy called ‘Pussy Power’ – an all-female DJ line-up – was boycotted by activists who claimed such an event title actively excluded transgender-identified people even though the by-line read ‘gay straight transgender friendly party.’

Pussy-Power-postercrop

The event name itself was bold but not overly remarkable considering it was drawing attention to the ‘all femme DJ line-up.’ I was excited, so was my date, and then we were disheartened. I grabbed glimpses of the debate on the Facebook page over the name being offensive to transgender people on the day of the event, saw its subsequent change to the innocuous ‘Let’s Go Dancing’ and then a few hours before it was meant to start, the event was cancelled. No warning and no explanation given.

‘Pussy’ has always been a dirty word. If you’re a ‘pussy’, you’re weak, you’re a girl and you throw like one too. In the context of a party highlighting female DJs it was meant to be subversive, a tongue-in-cheek alliteration, a literal call to party, a reclamation in the vein of feminist punk band Pussy Riot. At least that’s how I read it. I understand that language creates our reality and a term like ‘pussy power’ could be read as exclusionary because not all people who identify as women have a vagina. However, when it’s coupled with a by-line announcing inclusivity, surely reactions should be context-driven. Not to mention that pussy power of any kind it is still marred in a long, yet-won battle over the gender inequity that having a vagina produces. And what about transgender women who do choose to have sex reassignment surgery and have vaginas, or transgender men?

Yes. Gender is a socially constructed idea; I hear you and I agree. What we understand to be male and female changes across culture and history. Our toy and clothes aisles should move with the times. One’s biological sex does not necessarily define the gender they feel most comfortable with, nor what they do, how they act or how they look. But when one sector of the queer community denounces the use of the word ‘pussy’ and shuts down a whole party celebrating women of all sexualities and gender identities, that’s when I have a problem. An all female line-up of DJs is a rare enough thing in the glorified male-dominated world of vinyl and CDJ pushers, and women should be celebrated, femme women included.

Yes, transgender inclusivity is important. I’m an all-out ally having recently been at the forefront of the push to get Brunswick Baths to include a third gender option on their gym forms and I’ve written blog posts on transgender issues under the guidance of transgender friends. So, I’m no one-eyed bigot flailing around with her gender privilege on one side and white privilege on the other. But it leaves me wondering whether women with vaginas will become the new silenced majority in favour of those whose womanhood doesn’t include one (constructed or otherwise). Why does it always have to be us or them? Riki Wilchins cautions us about the need to ‘accept a wider vision of gender’, that doesn’t create a ‘hierarchy of queerness’ in which some can be ‘more oppressed or needy than others’ and the very real divisions this can create within already marginalised groups.

Must we carry our internalised phobias with us and project them onto each other with the kind of divisive abandon that Tony Abbott does? As a lesbian identified woman, I battle with my internalised homophobia every time I unconsciously leave the gender of my lover out of conversation. I wage war with my internalised sexism each time I make silly assumptions that a colleague mentioned in conversation is male. All this even though I have spent almost two decades learning and teaching about gender and sexuality.

All women are subject to marginalisation no matter their class, race, sexuality, gender identity, religion or ability. The gender pay gap in Australia has risen to an all-time high of 18.8% or $298.10 per week in many workplaces, except for traditionally female-dominated ones. Men still occupy the majority of the positions of power, even at institutions like the University of Melbourne, where I work, which actively teaches against and seeks to negate patriarchal privilege. Transgender women do experience more discrimination than biological women, but all women experience it.

Broader conceptualisations of what ‘woman’ is and what they can be are sorely needed, but that doesn’t include throwing the biologically female or surgical constructed baby out with the bathwater. In the words of transfeminist activist Julia Serano, ‘To believe that a woman is a woman because of her sex chromosomes, reproductive organs or socialisation denies the reality that every single day, we classify each person we see as either female or male based on a small number of visual cues and a ton of assumptions. The one thing that women share is that we are all perceived as women and treated accordingly.’

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

Subscribe | Renew | Donate November 9–16 to support progressive literary culture for another year – and for the chance to win magnificent prizes!

Brigitte Lewis is a performance (and page) poet, academic and vinyl pusher from the hipster hood of Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter @briglewis

More by

Comments

  1. Why are trans people being blamed for the *event organisers* deciding to cancel this party, rather than them choosing to be consultative and responsive? As far as I understand it, people were calling for a less alienating and offensive name for the event; they did not “shut down a whole party”. Also, rly ? – comparing these activists to Tony Abbott? That is crass, at best. I am suprised Overland published this piece. I expect there will be an opportunity for someone from the trans community to respond formally tho this, though rly, they shouldn’t have to.

    • nothing offence or alienating about the use of the word pussy in the context that it was used Sam …

    • Completely agree Sam. As a feminist I’m shocked you could seriously compare trans advocates to Tony Abbott. This line is basically the cis equivelent of men’s rights activism “But it leaves me wondering whether women with vaginas will become the new silenced majority in favour of those whose womanhood doesn’t include one”. There is nothing wrong with combatting the stigma around vaginas, but no serious trans ally should tie vaginas to womanhood or femininity – it’s not that hard. Pull yourself together Overland. You can’t publish stuff like this just because it says “I’m an ally but” at the top.

  2. you can’t be serious? one of the FEW opportunities for women of all forms to celebrate their gender identity and it has to be shut down by the fragile male ego YET AGAIN. it is NOT an offensive title & anyone who claims it is probably doesn’t understand the context in which its used. how is it pussy has become a dirty word? that its to be a shameful thing? p-lease!

  3. Hear hear, it said it was Trans gay straight friendly on the bill how more inclusive can one be

  4. so … my reading of this article & the flyer (i haven’t seen any of the social media commentary) is that there’s been an over-reaction by those objecting to the name of the event – a non issue to my mind, along with a perception of exclusivity and alienation – which the bi-line negates. as a gender fluid / transgender individual my initial reaction to the objections to the event was a visceral flash back to the paternalism and male privilege of the boys club … possibly a little harsh in hindsight … or not, others may be better informed re the reality of what actually transpired to make that judgement. a conversation, if that was doable, may have been useful, assuming the title ‘pussy’ could be retained after clarification of its use. the other over-reaction from a somewhat selfish perspective on my part, was the name change and closure … we live in world of objections to the anythings and everythings that go on out there … worst case scenario from where i sit is that we’re all going to get it wrong from time to time … shit will happen on the ‘doing’ side and the ‘objecting’ side … doesn’t mean we can’t play in the same sand pit, agree / disagree, embrace our differences and move on (nothing to see here people). Brigitte has written an articulate, well argued piece that raises the all important issue of equality in all its manifestations … cheers

  5. Regardless of how this particular event shakes out, trust me – cis women are not in any danger of being marginalized by trans women, as you somewhat inexplicably suggest here:

    But it leaves me wondering whether women with vaginas will become the new silenced majority in favour of those whose womanhood doesn’t include one (constructed or otherwise).

    There’s certainly a conversation to be had about language like this in this kind of context, what is an overreaction, etc, but this sort of “well, I guess trans women have all the power now” thing definitely isn’t it. It reminds me a bit of one of Doris Lessing’s pre-Stonewall lines (in, I believe, The Four-Gated City) where the narrator had no objection to gay people but it seemed like lately they gays had all the rights and the straights just were not long allowed to criticize them and wasn’t that terrible?

    Also, seriously, let’s just assume that the organizers decided to cave and call the event something else without canceling it – what exactly would be lost? Some name recognition, yes, and as someone who actually has organized dance parties, I understand that this is important, but if you put on a good party and have good graphic design, a clearly signaled name change isn’t the end of the world. Want to signal that you have a femme DJ lineup? How about using the word “femme”?

    Also, people forget – rename the damn thing, host it regularly and make it good, and you’ll be in great shape. Again, as an event organizer I have to say that if you’re all geared up for an every-Saturday event and you drop it because you might have to change the name, you’re really cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    As an activist, too, I’ve sometimes gone along to get along, giving up on some minor ideas or turns of phrase because they bothered some people even when I felt that those people were basically looking to be offended. And it wasn’t the end of the world. The worst it’s ever been is a little disappointing to me. I did have to deal with some narcissistic wound stuff, mostly.

    Now, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to advocate for your views even if someone is criticizing you from the left, but it’s just silly to pretend that the event organizers had no choice but to cancel, that this was somehow the fault of trans women (we don’t even know, right? it might be overzealous cis allies – that happens) and that the theoretical trans women in question represent all trans women everywhere who are now privileged over cis women.

    • thanks for this reply Frowner, some great points & yes, cis women are clearly in no danger of becoming the new silent majority … trans men & women are still among the most marginalised and over represented re poverty, violence and suicide. the author is a vocal trans ally activist. the objectors, be they trans or allies, have taken offence at the inoffensive use of a politically charged word meant to empower the user in the same way african americans have taken ownership of the word ‘niger’ …
      i am enjoying the broader conversation this story has birthed but let’s not eat our own when there are so many more important issues to focus our attention on – poverty, injustice, greed …
      cheers

  6. I’m sorry, but this piece is ridiculous.

    I was one of the people calling for this event to have its name changed. Nobody was asking the organisers to cancel the event. We are all acutely aware of the need for female and femme-focused events and nights. The problem was that that the name “Pussy Power” *IS* trans-exclusive.

    Trust me, trans women do not hate cis women. We hate cissexism, transphobia and trans-exclusionary politics. But we do not hate cis women, nor are we trying to make women “with vaginas [...] the new silenced majority in favour of those whose womanhood doesn’t include one (constructed or otherwise).” Jesus Fucking Christ. What a preposterously defensive and disrespectful thing to say.

    The author is reprimanding trans people for standing up for ourselves. If you are going to have a night focused on women, then do not have a title that actively excludes trans women without vaginas. It’s not that hard to come up with a different name. And when you are asked by trans women, literally MONTHS before the event is due to take place, to change the name of the event, maybe do that. Instead, the event organisers evaded the problem until the day before, and then copied+pasted an exhaustive list of all the possible gender identities from Wikipedia to the event page,and stated that – despite the trans-exclusive event name – everyone was welcome. Yeah? Prove it.

    The event was cancelled when the organisers realised that there are enough trans people, queers, and allies, in Melbourne to make the shittiness of this event and its organisers become popular knowledge. And you know what happens to shitty events? Nobody buys drinks. That’s why the event was cancelled. So don’t try and pin that on us. We were only asking for a name that didn’t remind us of the fact that most parts of society hate us.

    Thanks,

    June.

  7. I’m really shocked that Overland would publish an appalling, ridiculously defensive piece like this, I really expected better. There was no Us Vs Them mentality in the call out against Pussy Power. Many cis women were involved in this because we understand the need for ciswomen to be better allies than just SAY we’re inclusive, we need to SHOW that we give a shit about transwomen’s lives! Which means not aligning ourselves with the kind of ideology that says that having a certain body part makes you a certain gender (or leads to a certain kind of discrimination as the author of the artoicle suggest). This is dehumanizing to not only transwomen, but intersex and some disabled women as well. This kind of ideology around womanhood is not only offensive, but contributes to a world view that hurts these women through legislation, bigotry and even violence/abuse. The author admits ‘Transgender women do experience more discrimination than biological women’. If you were truly aware of that fact you would see that this issue is not about oppressing or silencing ciswoman, it’s about actively being aware that womanhood is not about genitals. No-one’s trying to create a ‘hierarchy of queerness’ we’re trying to destroy the hierarchy.

  8. Also like to note that I didn’t notice Overland publishing any articles about how white people are now going to be ‘the new silenced majority’, after the multiple club nights in Melbourne that were called out for racism, and I certainly hope they don’t start doing so.

  9. I’m not sure, it seems like you may have had an argument, if you were talking about a different event. I didn’t personally find the name to be super offensive, perhaps a tad exclusionary. However the immediate response from the organizers was intensely hostile, the Caitlyn Jenner jokes that had been posted on the page, and the TERFS weighing into the debate quickly revealed the transmisogyny present. You talk a lot about biological sex, which I would expect someone who claims to be involved in trans activism to know is a highly contested term. Suggesting that all women are oppressed is not a counter argument, oppression does not null your ability to oppress others. You seem to have a poor grip on the situation that occurred as well as making a sloppy attempt at what you think that represents.

  10. In what universe are cis women ever going to be a “silent majority”? Come on. This is a classic example of “I am a member of *marginalised group*, therefore I could never marginalise members of any other marginalised group”.

  11. As a trans* woman who is also (very much) a dyke, I was thrilled to see the title of the event. Finally something that wasn’t afraid to celebrate and reclaim a term that has been used as a weapon against us.

    I don’t really get too carried away on social media (and since when is knowing “the right people” a prerequisite to participate in dialogue?) so I only saw a very limited representation of the criticism against the name. As a trans* person, I am frustrated to have people speak on my behalf in slandering people actually getting their forces together and creating something. I friggin’ love certain parts of anatomy and I think it’s important as hell that we celebrate it. If you think the name of the event is that offensive, then go and make something happen and call it something else. Easy!

    My primary concern about going was that such a big deal was made about being straight inclusive -but I’m not going to give people a hard time for their work.

  12. I’m a little confused. Folks who experience shit about bodies, gender and so on, on a daily basis, both personally and structurally, said that “Pussy Power” just reinforced those shitty experiences, not cool. Allies also jumped in and said, yeah, not cool. So the reluctance to change the name comes from who? Non-allies with vaginas? Strange…

    • its one thing to voice that the title reminds one of negative experience. but to ascribe that title to negative experience itself is an extreme projection of that trauma onto something which is honestly quite innocent. that is counterproductive to all of us struggling against the bs system.

  13. changing the event name was an option, sure. yet, ‘pussy’ is still a dirty word, a dirty thing. having one is still reason for discrimination, it increases one’s chances of assault and exploitation while limiting one’s life chances. that’s enough reasons to want to reclaim it.

    the queer movement is big enough to host multiple, parallel fights that do not necessarily annul their respective efficacy, but rather augment it. feminist sentiments behind the desire to nobilitate vaginas are not incompatible with trans fights for a broader definition of womanhood than the strictly gonadic one.

    finally: as a man, should my pussy-less-ness make me feel excluded too?

  14. I’m really disappointed that Overland has published this piece telling off the trans community for the apparent crime of speaking out clearly and respectfully about what language they find inclusive.

    This dialogue started months before the event, and it was the organisers, not the trans community, who did nothing until the last hour.

    The tokenistic attempt at identifying as an ‘all out trans ally’ is as transparent as it is wrong.

    I won’t be renewing my Overland subscription if this is the kind of one-sided anti-trans BS that’s going to be run. What’s next, a piece on how cishet men are going to be the ‘new silent majority’? Someone certainly sounds like Abbott.

  15. I think there’s been some interesting debate here in the comments.

    But can I just clarify what seems to have been raised in the discussion here: are people saying that the term ‘pussy’ cannot be used by any woman under any circumstances because it is offensive and exclusionary? If not, what are people here arguing? When can it be used? What can be done to make feminist spaces more inclusive, while also recognising that misogyny exists (i.e. that ‘pussy’ is a politicised word, one that threatens)?

    There are obviously examples from racial politics of words that are highly problematic. Is ‘pussy’ a similar word when it comes to gender politics? If so, what about ‘cunt’?

    If anyone want to make that argument, please email me, because I’ve been trying to find someone willing to debate the ideas raised here, rather than focus on the event itself. My email is jacinda@overland.org.au. Thanks.

  16. I want to clarify that I used the term activists when I was writing about this issue on purpose not transgender activists- the event cancellation wasn’t the main discussion for me – it raised broader issues around the use of language and discourse and the in fighting that can occur over the celebration of women, what women are or are not, and who can say what and what is offensive – even when an event for all intents and purposes (I included a link to the event organiser’s interview on the topic in text) is celebrating cis women, a reclamation of the word pussy and trying to create an all inclusive space all at once. My article isn’t anti-trans – it’s calling for a discussion around identity and womanhood and personhood as per my final paragraph. And I didn’t say women with vaginas were the new silenced majority – I said I wondered whether this would be the case because the event was shut down and that is an example of women with vaginas not being able to use the term pussy when referring to themselves as DJ’s as a lineup as whatever. And if you read the next line – my questioning of why we can’t support all kinds of women.

    My other question was re internalised phobias and yes my bad (in jest) comparison to Tony Abbott when referring to myself but also why the term pussy conjures up such fear, disdain and outrage, ‘alienation’ and ‘offence’. It reminds my so much of the pussy/cunt hatred that so many feminists and people in general have and continue to speak out against.

    I never meant to offend or make anyone feel hated, especially the transgender community and I apologise if I did this.

  17. Cis women and trans men for the most part grow up with a part of their body known as vagina/pussy/cunt. This is taught to them to be shameful and disgusting for their entire lives.
    Many trans women also have body parts they identify as vagina/pussy/cunt. either biological or surgical. Many trans women claim these words as words of power and pride.
    These words are used as insults, cunt is considered the ‘worst’ insult you can call someone by most people, and a lot of people can’t bring themselves to even say the word because it is thought to be so vile.
    There is a long history of attempting to reclaim these words in feminist history, to reject the shaming of this body part, and find pride in it.
    Most people born with this body part inherit a set of experiences traumas and discrimination that is unique to growing up as a ‘girl’
    Trans people also have experiences trauma and discrimination growing up, but these experiences aren’t necessarily as homogenous.
    AFAB people are told they are weak, lesser, powerless and a whole bunch of shit from the moment they’re born, in behaviours or words. Most trans women grow up with male privilege, even if that is taken away once they come out.
    Many trans women also grow up with body parts dick/cock/penis, that are considered powerful, sexy, strong. we build buildings to replicate them. Trans people with body dysmorphia may not feel that way about their body parts, but it is not something that is imposed on them by all of society. there is no need for a movement to reclaim the cock.
    People who are AFAB have their own struggles and trans people have their own struggles. we are all women of course, but that doesn’t mean we need to silence each other and hide our experiences just because they aren’t shared. women are women and some have pussies, and some are proud of that, and so they should be.

  18. I have yet to see transmen, anywhere on any corner of the internet or anywhere else, call out cis men, straight or gay, for locating their power, sexuality and maleness in their cock and balls. Imagine the reception they’d get if they protested a gay male club called ‘Shaft’!

    I suspect they wouldn’t dare. That part of our cultural discourse is not going anywhere anytime soon. I suspect the idea that cis men are excluding transmen by focusing on their dicks is so far from the minds of most men that they simply would not know what you were talking about. I doubt it will ever happen.

    So why why why is ALL the focus on women and how we aren’t being inclusive enough? How dare we talk about pussies when being born with a pussy or even conceived with a pussy is enough to get MILLIONS of us killed – aborted, murdered at birth, those same pussies cut and mutilated, their owners denied education because of them. To say nothing of all the sexual violence directed at them. Many women and girls are denied an education because there are no supplies for dealing with menstruation. To say nothing of the ‘drip drip drip’ of gendered experience, of growing up female. If you haven’t had that upbringing you are not a woman IN THE SAME WAY as someone born with a female-looking body who bears the brunt of all that often very scary attention and abuse. And all the assumptions that you’re ‘less’.

    But women are a lot easier to push around, perhaps by transwomen socialised with male power and privilege and what are sometimes remarkable levels of aggression. Lay off pussies – you have no right to go after cis women talking about this most reviled body part in human culture.

  19. Why are people attacking transwomen themselves for pursuing their rights?

    It’s like there’s this defensive binary switch in people’s brains that is either:

    A) Acknowledge transwomen are genuinely hurt and facilitate discussion and mutual-education.

    OR

    B) TRANSWOMEN ARE OVERLY SENSITIVE MALE-PRIVILEGED ENTITLED CIS-WOMEN OPPRESSORS AND ARE TOO EASILY OFFENDED!!!

    You can disagree with someones opinion with out trying to cut them down emotionally or destroy their credibility. Don’t you realise that’s what you’re (hopefully unintentionally) trying to do?

    We’re all marginalised groups here (I assume) – and we need to acknowledge each others unique experiences with oppression and the very real, very valid feelings those experiences create.

    Some transwomen felt the event name “Pussy Power” was exclusionary/body shaming. That’s not an over-reaction or a hypothetical. It actually happened. We’re talking about a physical, tangible, legitimate emotional response. One that caused genuine hurt.

    Their point of view really needs to be considered for what it is – instead of being shat all over.

    To suggest that male-privilege is the reason transwomen found this title exclusionary is really, really callous. No better word I can think of: it’s callous. It makes my heart sink.

    Transwomen/trans amab ppl are not unchecked cis-men. The 99% majority of us are super respectful and sensitive to our previous or current benefits from male-privilege and how that affects the way we navigate through afabulous spaces and I’ve been 99% welcomed so far (though I’ve heard of many having very negative experiences which honestly gives me the fear).

    You also can’t deny that the allies of the transwomen who made their complaints were other transwomen, transmen, transamab, transafab, cis-men, cis-women. You’re talking like transwomen alone are responsible for this, which is simply not true.

    Transwomen didn’t shut down this event. You’re inability to legitimise their concerns did :/

    ________

    On a v personal note: I’ve been thinking about how to respond to this article/comments all week – it’s really upsetting :( it makes me wish I was cis (I’m non-binary amab).

  20. So…Here Goes – when WOULD it be okay to talk about pussies without being accused of excluding transwomen?

    Ever?

    Cause there’s not much space in our culture for women to talk about pussies you know and now according to you and some transwomen, there’s even less. That really what you want? Seems only straight men allowed to talk about pussy and we really do need women to be allowed to talk about it.

    And I notice no-one, absolutely NO-ONE, picking up my point about transmen and discourse of masculinity and cock and balls. Because that is never going to happen, right?

    • Actually I’ve heard/seen many people (often trans guys) challenge men’s spaces (particularly gay men’s spaces) on their lack of inclusion/use of exclusionary language.

      Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  21. WOW, facing major censorship here, the moderators obviously don’t want a free and fair debate, so there’s not much I can say really. Hopefully this comment doesn’t get censored too even though I’ve cut the hell out of it:

    Recently 150 students demonstrated the right to not be indecently exposed to the opposite sex when they walked out of class after a trans student was given permission to use the female change rooms. http://www.aol.com/article/2015/09/01/150-students-walk-out-of-class-in-protest-over-transgender-stude/21230181/

  22. Not sure what your point is but this is transgender discrimination – Lila identifies as a woman and should be treated as such. My article is about expanding our understanding of what a woman is and who can use the term and terms associated with womanhood – transgender people are included in all of this. The intent and content of words is important – pussy is a signifier of female sexuality and one that has been used for decades to denigrate women of all kinds – Lila is merely getting changed – something that many of us take for granted.

    • She is not merely getting changed. She is wanting to force the other girls if they want to be able to get changed to have to do it in-front of the opposite sex. It is obviously traumatic for a lot of people to have to indecently expose themselves to the opposite sex, otherwise 150 of them wouldn’t have walked out of class. I have had a couple of girlfriends be severely traumatized as a result of such ignorance cultural and gender issues when they have been set up with male staff at hospitals and persuaded to reluctantly expose themselves or let themselves be intimately touched by male staff.

      • It’s just unbelievable that you seem to think that reclaiming words like “pussy” is more important than serious human rights abuses like involuntary indecent exposure of women and girls to the opposite sex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>