It is said that before judging someone you should walk a mile in his or her shoes. This is most definitely something blogger Meghan Murphy might have considered doing before criticizing Laverne Cox for her recent nude photo spread in Allure magazine:
If women or transwomen were truly allowed to love themselves, I doubt they’d be spending thousands and thousands of dollars sculpting their bodies in order to look like some cartoonish version of “woman,” as defined by the porn industry and pop culture. The fact that Cox’s body is seen as “subversive” because she is trans doesn’t change that. Her body doesn’t look subversive. It looks like any other objectified female body, sculpted by surgery and enhanced by Photoshop.
But hey, as a white feminist we’re sure she knows exactly what it’s like for a transgender woman of color.
Team Blackness also discussed the death of a Louisiana man at the hands of police arrested for sagging pants and the attorney general confirmation of Loretta Lynch (finally!).
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Murphy’s still right.
Other than that Laverne Cox was born male, it’s not like her performance of femininity is anything other than bog-standard. The only thing it really has to do with her colour is that in our culture black femininity is constructed differently from white, Asian, or other femininities, and therefore requires a slightly variant performance.
As a woman who doesn’t perform femininity very well naturally (I have a genderqueer male-bodied friend who looks less butch than I do when we’re both in skirts), the ever-elevating standards of public performative femininity really get up my nose.
Crap! If Murphy’s opinions, or even worse, the opinions in the comments to her piece, is the state of understanding of gender dysphoria and broad issues affecting trans women, then this is a truly depressing state.
@Interrobang: I’ve never heard of Murphy or Cox, but just from reading the highlighted statement (the one that’s apparently supposed to demonstrate how clueless Murphy is), I tend to agree with her as well.
ETA: After clicking through to the article linked above, I find that I DO know who Cox is after all — she’s in “Orange Is the New Black!”
Boring! Sorry my give a damner is borked.
@Interrobang: Concur. I certainly don’t have experience with her struggles w/r/t gender dysphoria and race, but she doesn’t have the experience of being fat and conventionally unattractive or having “badly” performed femininity by the patriarchy’s beauty standard. We all have some privileges, even while we lack others. Intersections, they are interesting.
I’m not entirely sure why ‘feminists’ get to define what transgendered women get to look like in order to properly love themselves. If a damned birth women gets to go whole femmie plastic shabang because that’s her thing as does a bog standard drag queen, then why not someone transitionning? It’s just external prescription and limitation of what a ‘real’ woman should be and do. Nobody has to live up to someone else’s idea of a picture perfect role model woman.
Cox is famous for her performance in “Orange Is the New Black.” There are really a lot of great actresses in that show.
In her critique of Murphy, AngryBlackLady was linking to a lot of stuff in Batty Mamzelle about how black women are not allowed sexual agency, and they get criticized for things that white feminists do all the time. But the white “feminists” that are being used as comparisons are generally people who even white feminists argue about. For example, I am not sure that Miley Cyrus performing with Robin Thicke was considered an embrace of feminism because “Blurred Lines” was denounced by a whole lot of people for celebrating unwanted advances.
Nicki Minaj is being held up as a feminist in that article, and I feel like in a way the article is attempting to make Nicki Minaj seem more respectable. You a Stupid Hoe just does not sound like a feminist anthem to me.
Speaking as a trans woman…thank you.
@scav: Transwomen have a really weird role. If they do not try to be feminine enough, then they are not trying to pass. If they are over-performing feminity, they are essentially performing drag and caricaturizing feminity.
I kinda thought that one of the points of feminism was that whether I’m sporting a mullet and flannel or a tutu and tiara, or the gamut of fashion choices in between, I’m not “doing it wrong” or “letting down the team” or whatever bullshit terminology we’re using today to describe women who aren’t being women good enough for Meghan Murphy.
Choice: Still applies to the choices that you don’t relate to.
@scav: I don’t think the point being made is that anyone is trying to define what Cox should look like in order to feel positively about herself. I think the point is that when we make compliance with a beauty standard a requirement for feeling positively about oneself, everyone who doesn’t comply is harmed.
I also think the point that Murphy was making, though she didn’t say it exactly in these words, is that Cox enjoys beauty privilege, and that by posing nude in a sexualized and objectified manner, she perpetuates the beauty standard and female objectification.
To an extent, I support widening the beauty standard, so a broader slice of people get to feel personal feelings of self-worth and empowerment. However, I think the real end goal is getting rid of the beauty standard altogether. Feminism is a social movement intended to make social change, not to give individuals more happy-happy-joy-joy feelings about themselves.
Meghan Murphy doesn’t buy the idea of choice feminism. She’s a radical, second wave type.
@Starfish: While I agree that black women have been denied sexual agency, I think it’s a bit disingenuous for ABL or anyone else to assert that all the white feminists are okay with white women being sexualized. There are entire feminisms that specifically focus on this NOT being okay, that “your decision to do porn affects my ability to walk to my car safely”, that do not support any woman’s adherence to the beauty standard. White feminism is not just one thing. (And I agree that no feminists of any color were cheering on Miley Cyrus.) Choice feminism is not the only thing out there.
I think this is really interesting, because this functions at so many intersections. I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s thoughts.
@Suzanne: But the critique isn’t being addressed theoretically, it’s attached to and around a specific person and body, getting along with her life under current circumstances. Her life doesn’t has to be entirely subordinate to an overarching social goal. “No happiness (or practical compromises, I haven’t a clue what her ideals are) for you in the name of an abstract social goal.”
the point of feminism is to be able to make your own choices. If Cox wants to drape her nude body all over a sofa on the cover of a magazine, then it’s just not a problem for me. Is she beautiful? Damned right she is. Does she have a privilege? Hell yes. Does she also get discrimination because of her beauty? Hell yes. Would she face other issues if she was ugly or unfeminine? Damn fucking right. Look, transwomen are women and some of the comments on Murphy’s article should give you pause before you agree with her. They face the stigma of being female in a misogynist culture AND the burden of being a man who gave up their proper role according to the dominant culture. Toss in being a woman of color and it’s a shit show. I’m not a feminist to tell a woman she can’t pose nude as an appreciation of her beauty. Especially when she is of a group that all too often is told they are ugly and unfeminine –> black women. This could have been a better article on the uncomfortable nature of free choice in a feminist society, instead it was this broad slap at a marginalized population who finally, finally, has a spokesperson take the spotlight and be treated as someone worthy of appreciation.
@Suzanne: Random thought. Blaming the women that make porn does rather let off the poor little helpless men that would never assult women if they never saw dirty movies. A that Other woman shouldn’t have worn low cut blouses rationalization of an act that involves power and control more that simple sexuality. Seems a bit of a mess.
I hope you mean that nobody SHOULD have to. As a cisgendered woman who doesn’t wear makeup and tends to dress pretty casually, I hear all the time that I’m not living up to other people’s beauty standards. I was once told that the socks I was wearing to work were not feminine enough. Yes, they were scrutinizing my fucking SOCKS.
I think this is one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding between transgendered and cisgendered women — it often seems that transgendered women don’t realize how often cisgendered women get criticized for not being “feminine enough” and so they don’t understand why it’s frustrating that transgendered women who meet traditional beauty standards are held up as being more feminine than cisgendered women. Yes, a comparison is being drawn, and it’s telling cisgendered women that they’re not feminine enough and they need to try harder to look like “real” women. Which is exactly the shit we’ve been fighting against for decades.
@scav: I agree 100%, which is why I’m not personally in the Dworkin/MacKinnon school.
@ruemara: I agree with almost everything you wrote, except that I don’t think Murphy was “saying she (Cox) couldn’t pose nude”. I think she was bringing up a valid point about how Cox is really conventionally beautiful, and it isn’t really revolutionary to have a conventionally beautiful woman sexualized for the male gaze because she does a great job performing femininity.
Is the point of feminism to be able to make your own choices? I don’t think that is a universally accepted assertion.
I wouldn’t call this a “shit show”. It’s complicated, and great that society is making headspace to appreciate Cox’s tremendous talent.
@scav: Yeah, that’s where it gets complicated. Everyone, including Cox, fights some battles, but no one can fight them all.
Since when is feminism in the business of establishing standards of beauty? Or womanhood in general?
Anyway, a rebuttal in Playboy:
@Nemo_N: Radfems do have a standard of womanhood in general. They believe in biological determinism, and they exclude transwomen. I think there was at least one instance where they were patting down people to see if they were allowed in to see a particular radical feminist speaker. That seemed somewhat extreme.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): Socks?! whew, they are rather micromanaging. Bad enough having to fight those expectations and explorations of possibilities when in the full flower of teenage hormones when everyone around you is going through the same kaleidoscope and rethinking personal choices weekly. Wouldn’t want to do it in a business setting with busybodies. Or, maybe I’d come in attempting a full lumberjack beard and tiara Casual Friday.
I do think it’s important to note that Cox is appearing not in a men’s magazine, but in a women’s fashion magazine that’s known for pushing the boundaries and questioning exactly what “beauty” is and what it should be. I think the point is to make WOMEN stop and think about these issues, so I’m not sure that Murphy’s complaints about the “male gaze” have much of a point given the context of where the photos appeared.
An aside on Cox: In flashback segments on “OITNB” that show her character pre-transition, her twin brother plays her. Cool!
Welcome to being a cisgendered woman. It’s all about having your appearance micromanaged, often (but not exclusively) by other women. And that pressure starts much younger than you’d think. Blue for boys, pink for girls, you don’t want to wear that, dear, that’s for boys, don’t you want to be pretty? You have to suffer for beauty. Etc.
Ironically, transgendered men probably understand this better than transgendered women since they were steeped in it from birth like cisgendered women were, plus transgendered men had to deal with the inner knowledge that all of this “girl” stuff was completely wrong for them and yet feel the pressure to perform it anyway.
@Nemo_N< The issue is that nobody should be defining what makes a woman a woman. People should be allowed to live their lives but let's not forget that our actions may reinforce gender stereotypes. I would say that both transwomen and ciswomen have a tendency to reinforce gender stereotypes, not just transwomen.
@Starfish: I agree that that is 100% bullshit.
@Nemo_N: I have to say that I think Noah Berlatsky’s characterization of Murphy’s post is really awful. I think “loathing”, “contempt”, and “cold glee” are in no way a fair representation of what she wrote. And I don’t even personally agree with all of what she wrote.
I try to edit my comment but every time I clicked the edit button, I keep getting sent to the front page.
@Starfish: They want to be women, don’t they? And isn’t the quintessential woman’s problem: if she’s too feminine, she’s incompetent, if she’s not feminine enough, she’s a bitch?
These guys want to be women, well, never getting it right comes with the territory.
@Mnemosyne (iPhone): I’ve often thought/wondered that it’s extra-complicated by the fact, especially in the past, in order to have the energy and motivation to go through with transitioning, one would have to be strongly identified with the stereo-typical other gender. The muddly in the middle folks can more easily make minor adjustments and pass.
@Diana: But in stereo?
@Suzanne: I think pat downs are 100% bullshit. I think that sometimes radfems are overly vilified, and they occasionally do have points. I don’t think that gender is 100% a construct or 100% biological. I think that it is like other nature versus nurture arguments where it is generally 50/50 but sometimes 60/40 or 40/60 in special circumstances.
Also, too, I agree with you that Murphy ignores the racial aspect of Cox’s gender performance to the detriment of her own (Murphy’s) argument. A black woman (cis or trans) performing a “traditional” model of beauty has a different meaning than when a white woman does it.
@scav: I don’t understand what you mean by “stereo.”
I’ll get a little wacky for a minute and say that I do think that gender is mostly biological and inborn BUT that it’s generated in the brain, so some people’s genitals don’t automatically match up with their gender.
We have a winner. Those of us who are in the middle, in terms of gender expression and investment in our gender ID, and just really don’t give a damn about what gender we’re perceived as (24 hrs in Cleveland got me 2 ‘son’s and a ‘sir’, I’m aging well) are not inclined to engage with the Gender Industrial Complex at the level of fashion, let alone let it cut up our junk.
Those who feel strongly that the performance of ‘woman’ Laverne pulls off so well–where the effort is visible rather than hidden, as it is for 99.9% of women AFAB–is what ‘feminine’ should look like…are reading from another text entirely. Denying that it’s a performance, just because she was assigned male at birth, is horseshit. It’s not subversive or radical for her to do it perfectly, and I’m not a hater to say that it’s a performance.
Just like it is from women born with an innie, not an outie.
@PhoenixRising: And she’s got an equal right to perform that tune if she should so please. Asexuality or anbiguous sexuality or purly sloppy can be / is just as much a performance as anything else. Let’s try for authenticity maybe?
Nevah mind; I’ll save it for another thread.
@PhoenixRising: Concur. I didn’t think that Murphy was saying that Cox “shouldn’t” pose naked or perform femininity, merely that it isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking to do so.
I think we all just have certain battles we can fight, and this rubbed people for coming off as negative toward Cox for not fighting the battles that the writer thinks are more important. But I think it’s more interesting to acknowledge that truth, not so we might be persuaded to someone else’s priorities, but to have more empathy for one another. For example, I work in a very male-dominated and rich-people-dominated field, and I want to “lean in” and have a great career and a leadership role someday, and I want to open up this profession to women and minorities and the less-than-rich. However, in order to play this game, I wear makeup and spend time and money on my clothing and appearance and try to perform powerful femininity more than I would if I worked from home or if I had a less professional job. I can’t try to break this particular glass ceiling and fight the appearance battle, too. I don’t expect other women to make this choice, but I do acknowledge that I am perpetuating the beauty standard by doing so.
I think Berlatski’s on target. I was pretty disgusted with the Murphey article. And the comments there.
Tim in SF
The comments on that page were the most transphobic thing I’ve read in a while. I’m kinda shocked to see something like that on a feminist site. But then again, I’ve often heard the wiring in feminist brains short-circuits around drag queens, trans, and what they perceive as objectification.
@Interrobang: “Other than that Laverne Cox was born male, it’s not like her performance of femininity is anything other than bog-standard”
In our heteronormative, cisnormative, white-centric, male-centric world, neither trans women OR women of color fit the beauty standards imposed by society. Both women of color and trans women are told by society that our bodies are repulsive things we should be ashamed of. So imagine what it’s like to be both trans AND a woman of color. A trans woman of color posing naked is possibly the most radical act I can imagine. And it needs to be done. Because our bodies are just as beautiful, just as amazing, and just as empowering as yours.
Laverne doesn’t fit normal beauty standards. She’s 5’11, she has broad shoulders and she has big hands. And she’s freaking beautiful. She’s not appealing to the male gaze, begging for attention. She’s saying “Screw the male gaze, I’m trans, I’m black, and I KNOW I’m beautiful.”
And that’s a more radical act than Meghan Murphy will EVER accomplish.