Gender transgression and the binary nature of a women’s day

The fact that an International Women’s Day, at least taken literally, is eminently binary – yes/no, woman/man, good/bad – is troubling. It might just be words playing tricks on us, as they invariably do, but the apparent trap of hard and fast categories is worth exploring. Especially at a time when boundaries between categories are becoming more fluid.

Setting aside a day to celebrate women makes eminent sense. Not only to rejoice in the individual and collective strength and creativity of women. But also to highlight the successful struggles to guarantee women’s rightful place in society, including ensuring their inalienable right (and responsibility) to make decisions about their own bodies. In addition, drawing attention to the battles that still need to be won. Such a celebration is all the more appropriate at a time when the rights of girls and women are being rolled back under the cover of manmade crises and ideologically-driven policies.

Notwithstanding, the binary nature of a ‘women’s’ day, focussing on women as opposed to men in a struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor, would seem to leave little room for fluidity of gender. Ambiguity and uncertainty when it comes to gender are often shunned if not feared. Predominant attitudes epitomised by a rigid divide between male and female, incite intolerance and abuse if not outright violence against transgression, especially of people born in male bodies seeking to appear or be female. That said, gender, for all its potential fluidity, is necessarily situated, whether explicitly or implicitly, with respect to the binary pair, woman-man. This apparent contradiction is largely due to the limitations of our language as it reflects the way we express and experience the world.

There are very good grounds to celebrate and encourage those who push back the boundaries of what being a woman or girl means. All those who flirt with a female identity while living in a male body desperately need recognition, support and empowerment as they struggle to celebrate the female in themselves, whether they see themselves as ‘women’ or not. As for drawing attention to struggles, such people have a very hard time being accepted for who they are. They are condemned to cower in the closet so as not to offend or shock others, rather than step out and unleash their potential by embracing their true nature.

See my two books in the Boy & Girl saga, Boy & Girl and In Search of Lost Girls, for the tale of a boy who flirts with being a girl and the joys and difficulties he encounters.

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