Female-Who and What is SHE?

How do we describe "female" in the absence of patriarchy's constructed "femininity"?

Wittgenstein said : “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

Sara Lennox writes in her Cemetery for the Murdered Daughters: "Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina is about the absence of a female voice; in some respects it reads like an illustration of the feminist theory which has evolved since its publication to explain why, within Western discourse, women are permitted no voice and subjectivity of their own. It may be that feminism is the collective struggle of women to constitute that voice, but that battle has barely begun. In what voice, then, does a female scholar write about the absence of a female voice? I have realized that my struggle with Malina, Bachmann’s struggle to write it, and the struggle she describes in it are all part of the larger war in which we women (against our will and often without our conscious knowledge) are combatants—and which may have killed Bachmann".

"The dilemma that Bachmann confronts and represents in Malina involves women’s place in the symbolic order. How can it be possible for her, a woman, to write about women when exactly what she wishes to assert makes her own position as woman wielding the pen impossible? This awareness of oneself as a contradiction in terms traces its way through Malina in recurrent phrases which express both extraordinary pain and perseverance: “Those who have to live a Why can endure almost any How,” and, most poignantly, in view of Bachmann’s own death by fire, “Avec ma main brulée, j’écris sur la nature du feu” (with my burned hand, I write of the nature of fire). Damaged herself, she will insist on overcoming her injuries to write of their causes".

Janet Frame says at the end of her novel The Edge of the Alphabet that those who live at that Edge are like: "those yellow birds that are kept apart from their kind —you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors".

A voice without language exist only as a scream, unfortunately the collective voice of females sans language, beneath patriarchy, exists as a silent scream. I asked what should have been a simple question the other day, describe female. There have been no concrete answers, most replies didnt even make the attempt. I do not believe that those who responded didnt try, but that those who responded had little or nothing to try with. 

Under patriarchal structures, like Frame's yellow caged birds, females are "kept apart" because we cannot communicate with each other given that the only available language is the language of our "captors"! Since men created language, it has been use to hold women down, keep women in horrific relationships, sexualize females from infant to elderly, buy and sell females, legally blame us for our own rapes and trounce our bodies till we learn to do it ourselves with even greater precision ad infinitum. 

If as Wittgenstein said, that the limits of language means a substantial limit to the world, females are like infants, pre-verbal. How can females fight for equality when the very thing we must use to fight with, is absent? It is through this absence of a female language that Butch Invisibility has manifested. This is why any female who exist outside of how males have defined "female" is often labeled "masculine", "manly" or "mannish". 

Language informs how we see each other, it also informs how we feel about ourselves. Which is why when we cannot see ourselves in the male defined female that we feel alien or "not female" or do not "feel female". The absence of a female language alienates us from our very selves, body and soul! And when there are only two primary positions to take, that of female or male? If we do not "feel" female, we leap to what seems to be the only logical conclusion. That somehow, through some cosmic joke or mistake we must surely then be male! 

Until the female sex can put herself into female, female must be stripped of all male desires, definitions, decrees and delineations. We may not be able to describe her right now, but lets at least stop her from being described as what she isnt. Monique Wittig warned us decades ago: "There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember . . . You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent." 



  1. So, given that language is a male construct, do we believe that males could describe what is male? I doubt the responses to that question would be any more lucid or accurate to somebody trying to describe what it is to be female (or to desribe what it is to be human, for that matter, something we surely all share). There is just too much variety in the world; of thought, of ability, of culture, of needs, of desires.

    That being said, the problem is that we don't know how to celebrate (or, at the very least, accept) the differences. In fact, from a young age we are either physically or psychologically conditioned to try and belong. If we are or think ourselves too different for one group, then we seek another. We convince ourselves that we are different, by adopting the dress and habits of another big group, be it punks back in my day, goths, readers of vampire books or whatever.

    A while back in one of your entries you asked where are the male role models for young women who don't indentify themselves as women and want to 'pass'. I can't totally remember the point you were trying to make, but I found myself wondering where the female role models for these girls are? Where are their mothers, or sisters, or cousins, to tell them that we all went through times when we couldn't stand to be in our skins, when we hated our breasts because they either drew too much or too little attention or got in the way of our pitching a baseball, when we were ridiculed for wanting or loving or dreaming of something different, or when we thought we escaped ridicule by conforming to something we didn't really believe in. Where are the role models, male or female, to tell these girls, as well, that it does get better, that they will find their way, that they are not alone in their discomfort with their bodies, their minds, their lives, but that it doesn't last forever, even though it might well seem like it when they are 17 or 18 years old, but that they might have to struggle a bit.

    There is absolutely no doubt in mind that some people are born in the wrong bodies, and that they cannot and will not be happy until they set things right. There is also no doubt, however, that these decisions cannot be made at the young age they seem to be being made at, that they often result from completely different motives than gender 'wrongness', that they're driven by the desire to simply be somebody, anybody, other than who they are and to belong to another 'group', even it it's only one on YouTube. And for a while they might be happy, because, ironically, in their new identity they don't mind the struggle to be accepted, because they themselves finally accept that they are not identical to what they aspire to, and that it doesn't matter if they're not. Too bad they've done their bodies irreperable harm by taking too much estrogen or testosterone, that they've hacked off body parts, to come to that conclusion.

    I've rambled on a bit, and I apologize for that, but I've just been thinking on this for so long, and it came pouring out.

    Who is female? I don't know a woman who isn't. And whatever construct you use to describe her, language, drawing, whatever, you simply place boundaries, not open horizons. And life is all about the second.

  2. Language isnt a "construct", its very real and you can see us using it here.

    And there isnt any direction in which we look that we do not see male. Phallocentrism isnt something pulled out of the asses of past feminists.


  3. Anonymous wrote: (among other things)"There is absolutely no doubt in mind that some people are born in the wrong bodies, and that they cannot and will not be happy until they set things right."

    No one is born in the wrong body. No one. Now, change your body because you want to, because the society makes it very uncomfortable to be a woman, that I can accept. But cannot accept that anyone is born into the wrong body. That is just magical thinking.

  4. "No one is born in the wrong body. No one. Now, change your body because you want to, because the society makes it very uncomfortable to be a woman, that I can accept. But cannot accept that anyone is born into the wrong body. That is just magical thinking."

    Sounds a lot like you're not permitting some people a voice or subjectivity of their own.
    Just saying.

  5. "Sounds a lot like you're not permitting some people a voice or subjectivity of their own."

    But we must be objective as well..........

    Just because SOME people believe it is true doesn't make it so. We can't 'believe' everyones voices when they contradict. If I believe the voices of some trans people, then that is in contradiction with the voices of some women and lesbians (including my own). should i do that just to be NICE, or because it is politically correct or more socially acceptable?

    It's OKAY to disagree, and in fact in many cases extremely unhealthy NOT to disagree.

  6. A couple of years ago, a girl I loved read me parts of Bachmann's writings, "Malina" included, aloud. I remember being confused. Now isn't that ironic - one female reading aloud to another about the absence of the female voice?

    It is very hard to define what female is, if one doesn't want to simply define it as "the Other" of Simone de Beauvoir's work.

  7. Dirt, why are most transitioned female and male sex mostly compromised of homosexual females and males. There are a lot more heterosexuals in this world, so wouldn't make sense that it would be more heterosexuals doing the HE-she or shemale stuff. is it self-hate caused by heterosexuals (mostly by heterosexual males). please if you don't mind, i am a hetero male just commenting here and would like a response. one of my best friend is a butch lesbian. what you said about a strong female is the best quality.

  8. me at 8:04. I don't like femininity that most men want in women. . I like a women who is independent, makes money and can take care of herself and of course she has to be cute. athletic girls with a basketball shirt please. i know you are a self described radical feminist and i know i can't empathize, but I can have sympathy. there still is sexism on females and you know it goes both ways. in america thing are so much better then 100 years. about the male medical machine, if i remember their are more female doctors then male doctors i believe, correct me if i am wrong.

  9. @ Dirt

    If you accept that language was created and is controlled by males, then it very much is a construct, regardless of its universality. You only have to look at different cultures and the words they include or exclude, or even to different languages that assign different genders to inanimate objects, to see that. That being said, of course thoughts and their expression may be limited, which is why new words are created. One being Herstory, which when viewed etymologically is wrong (the greek word ιστορία, which is feminine by the way, has nothing to do with his or her), but when viewed culturally says a lot to any feminist, whether or not she agrees with it.

    Phallocentrism? Of course it exists and to deny it would be to be completely self-delusional. But that doesn't answer the question of whether anybody can define 'male' in a way that is acceptable to, if not all, males at the very least.

    The problem isn't 'male language' and to get mired in such an argument is to engage in unproductive navel-gazing.The problem is that we cannot agree on what we want, and that each strain of feminism tries to assign a one-size-fits-all mentality (not only to women, but to men, as well) and to dictate to us that if we don't agree with that, we must surely be self-deluded and/or suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

  10. Just a little note about language in science. It is still common practise to use 'he' when actually meaning male or female, in terms of talking about some hypothetical person. If (as I sometimes do) you use she to make a point, it gets noticed. Why? Because 'he' is seen as generic. Which is part of the problem, the male term is seen as both male and generic, he stands for human, whereas 'she' is seen as specific.

    The OED agree with me on this listing under usage of 'he':
    "Of things not sexually distinguished"

    Which makes me think of Joanna Russ and "The Female Man" -- and guess what, she gets lambasted by the trans lobby for being transphobic, and supposedly apologised.

  11. I swear, every modern review of The Female Man has to complain about who TRANSPHOBIC!!1 it is. It's really annoying.

  12. It's science FICTION you know! Supposed to tackle difficult issues and make people think. It certainly said a lot to me the first time I read it, and of course a lot of it is about gender roles, so no wonder the trans crowd gets all weird about it.

    I had actually remembered some of it in an earlier post when I wrote about what someone elsewhere refers to as:
    "It features separate male and female societies and the men, deprived of women to oppress, make their own by surgically converting boys who fail a machoness test. The whole set-up is very reminiscent of how Janice Raymond talks about transgender people in The Transsexual Empire. Russ has since apologized for her early antipathy towards transgender people."

    Except it's FICTION, she was writing about a fictional society, to transmit an idea of what our society MIGHT be doing. Comparing
    itto Janice Raymond (who was writing non-fiction after all) is a bit naff.

    And I think it's STILL a valid concept when it comes to current female transtrenders.

    Perhaps its just -- label it transphobic, to give people an excuse to ignore all the difficult questions she does pose about gender roles.

    you wonder if some commentators have actually READ the books they view through the trans gender lens. Talking about Ursula K Le Guin and 'the left hand of darkness' one says:
    "But for Le Guin's aliens the change is perfectly natural and their gender identities must be very different from ours"

    Except the whole point about her aliens is that they DON'T have gender roles.
    "A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience"

    This is really about language as well, about how what has been said is being slotted into neat little transphobic or not boxes, and perhaps silenced in that way.

  13. Also from Le Guin: "To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven".

    The only problem with this is the victims caught in the maelstrom of those not stopping at what "cannot be understood".


  14. Describing a gender in terms that fit everybody is an incredibly difficult thing to do when you try and go outside of the terms "male" and "female. Which as terms can be seen as constricting themselves.

    Women and men are so diverse that trying to pigeonhole them is impossible. Gender exists in a way that most attributes of a person can belong to either gender. Its not words that signify transgenderism. Its a sense of self.

    When you say about "he" being a default and "she" being specific. Well isnt that a positive? Means women are special and men generic?

    Sorry for awful spelling above. Im quite drunk

  15. Fuck a definition of gender. You can't argue with physicality. I have transitioned. Therefore I am male in the world. Internally I am what I have always been.

  16. "Therefore I am male in the world"

    To bad you're not. I've never thought it's so hard for some people to understand human biology.

  17. I think an awful lot of you girls on this, think that somehow Transguys are unaware of their biological sex.
    It just doesnt matter much to us. Once we are on T and get surgery/or not (theres variations) then we feel like the world sees us as male. And in that sense we are male.
    We are aware of biology.

  18. "I think an awful lot of you girls"

    "then we feel like the world sees us as male. And in that sense we are male."

    So, are we not 'part of the world' in that we don't?

    That's yer problem right there, agreeing with the patriarchal world that being SEEN as male or female should mean something, rather than seeing it for the gender nonsense that it is. Rather than wanting to be seen as a human being........

  19. This is why I read your blog.

    Beautifuly written.

    We are on the same side in so many ways.

    I love when we can see past the other issues and get a glimpse into the passion that drives you.


  20. "When you say about "he" being a default and "she" being specific. Well isnt that a positive? Means women are special and men generic?"

    No, it means that men are normal and women are abnormal. The fact that "human" and "man" are seen as synonymous (not just linguistically, but socially) while "woman" is just a deviation from the norm has caused a lot more problems for women than it ever has for men.

    Nice try at an MRA-style "men are the real victims!" argument, though.

  21. In a group of men and women, we would NEVER say something like "what do you girls want to do"? Yet its perfectly NORMAL in the same group to ask the entire group, "what do you guys wanna do"?

    Females, not only do not count, very often we dont even exist.


  22. rom The Etch..

    Yeah girls. You are girls aint ya? If you aint then sorry or if you dont identify as that then sorry.

    If you saw me on the street you'd think male and anyone who matters to me sees me as male. As well as that I see myself as male, that is in my opinion what makes me male. Also what point are you trying to make? That Im saying your from Mars because you see me as female?

    Im seen as a human being. Im also seen as a male human being and that is my gender identity. I'd be lovely if I didnt have to modify my body for people to see me as male, Id be lovely if I could look at myself and see male and not see some androgenous thing. In this I agree with you. Society is a bitch but trying to change how gender is seen in society is not something that will change in our lifetimes. Even in history where gender was seen as more fluid there were transgender people. Ill provide sources for that if you like.

    Woman isnt seen as a deviation for the norm. It is seen as specific, thats true. But in what way should this be changed? Do you truly believe that this does enough harm to warrant a change?

    Women and men are societal victims. Women more so. Men too.
    Demonising an entire group of people as diverse as "men" is stupid.

    On Dirts comment - Guys is not a masculine term or at least in how I see it. Just as dude is not a masculine term.
    But I agree with you on the point your trying to make. Basically that its horrible how a man being called feminine is an insult. That somehow being called "girly" in anyway is a negative. Im a Transguy and I dont find my mannerisms being called girly as an insult. But my mannerisms arnt female because they're not gender specific at all. Its just seen that being over the top or gesturing or speaking well is seen as something "men dont do". Its fucking ridiculous.

  23. "Woman isnt seen as a deviation for the norm. It is seen as specific, thats true. But in what way should this be changed? Do you truly believe that this does enough harm to warrant a change?"

    Men and people are one and the same, women are non-people. The terminology isn't the definitive cause of the problem, but it stems directly from it, and helps perpetuate it.

    For instance, when you refer to a hypothetical human as "he", people will picture a man, regardless of how "neutral" the term supposedly is. People hardly ever use "she" for something other than individual women unless they're talking about something that fits in the tiny little pink "girl" box. Or, on occasion, inanimate objects (i.e. boats, cars) that are a man's prized possession, as if they're somehow interchangeable.

    If you can't see the misogyny in this, you fail feminism 101.

  24. Well then I have not failed feminism 101. I am exempt from feminism due to gender identity though.

    The way the english language is means thats sorta impossible to change. If refering to the unknown individual then what do we say?

  25. "I am exempt from feminism due to gender identity though."

    So you're exempt from caring about other women due to some Magical Wang Essence?

    It's kind of hilarious how so many transmen go to Dirt's blog to RAEG!!1 against her for saying that transgenderism is rooted in misogyny and gender roles...only to make post after post of misogynistic and gender role-enforcing BS.

  26. ha
    i almost missed this one
    exempt from feminism??
    these kids are too much
    i have to laugh or else i'd cry

  27. "Im seen as a human being. Im also seen as a male human being and that is my gender identity."

    Nope, it's just a mistaken assumption about your biological sex based on the daft cues that society encodes via gender stereotypes.

    Sex is plain ole biology, gender is the fantasy that you have decided to strengthen by identifying with it.

    I have a sex (female), but gender can go take a hike.

  28. "Yeah girls. You are girls aint ya? If you aint then sorry or if you dont identify as that then sorry."

    Feminism 101 -- calling adult women girls is one way that men fail to treat women seriously as adult human beings. After all, can you imagine a girl as president? As a high court judge? Hence no damn surprise that so many men (and women) find it a bit hard seeing a woman as their boss, or head of anything.............

    "Do you truly believe that this does enough harm to warrant a change?" Yes, because feminists have been saying this for a long time.

    "but trying to change how gender is seen in society is not something that will change in our lifetimes." So lets not even TRY..........Except for a while, it DID change, girls didn't use to always be depicted in pink. And some people are still out there fighting against the dangerous stereotypes we feed our kids:


    Or what can you do instead? Just accept those stereotypes, and go along the route of surgical and drug-induced self-mutilation if your 'identification' doesn't fit your genes.

  29. And I just came across this article:


    that seems to indicate tomboys don't necessarily choose the 'I must be a boy' option if given a choice:

    "From the age of two, Merle had said that she wanted to be called "Marcus" after her best friend. She wanted her hair cut short, she wanted to wear boys' clothes and informed everyone that she was a boy. "She had a very good reception-class teacher," said Lucy who works in urban regeneration. "She told Merle she was a tomboy. That hadn't occurred to Merle before. The teacher would say, 'Boys line up here, girls line up here and tomboys line up here.' Now she calls herself a tomboy.""

    It's not HARD -- if short hair, wearing trousers, and playing 'boys games' is just what a girl wants to do, then no wonder she then says she 'is a boy' if those are the ONLY two options she has ever been given.

  30. BadDyke, I think you got it right when you said that the article you posted was one "that seems to indicate tomboys don't necessarily choose the 'I must be a boy' option if given a choice."

    Which, I think, makes a pretty good argument for not restricting - and, in fact, respecting - folks in their identities and expressions of sex and gender and making room for them to self-identify (which, reasonably, should by that logic include all people regardless of the sex they are assigned at birth).

    Dirt, I find a lot of what you write about female, womyn's, and butch empowerment, to be something that I'd love to pass along to the young butches in my life. But think you need to be fighting the real enemy and not picking on a bunch of kids who are making their own ways for their bodies to move through the world. Please. Stop slagging on trans folks for being who and what we are and let's work together to fight the sexism and gender regulation we all face, rather than attempting to be an arm of gender regulation yourselves.


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