Wish you a 'Happy Womxn's Day'
I'll be more conscious about how I use the category 'women' and how it can be expanded to be more inclusive of non-cisgender and trans people
Reading Vijaya Ramaswamy's book, Walking Naked: Women, Society, Spirituality in South India, has been helping me cope with the widespread reference to the divine in the masculine form. It is something that had come to deeply upset me, especially when I have to be in church. I feel this great gap between my Catholic upbringing and my feminist upbringing. Christianity doesn't offer enough room for spirituality. And the feminist leaning makes it difficult to swallow the idea of God as a masculine being, figured with long, flowing robes and wild, white hair. When the Renaissance painters like Michelangelo pictured the Creation of Adam, he solidified this image, and, by placing it as a fresco panel upon the surface of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, it was sanctified. It became the only way to imagine the divine being within Christian theology.
The older I get, the harder it is for me to invest in the gendered nature of religious practice, especially within a religion whose basic premise is the call to love the other as oneself, but which enables so much discrimination on grounds of forms of otherness.
We were told, from the age of three or four, that this male god made man first, calling him Adam, then, witnessing his loneliness, while he was asleep, took a rib from his body and used it to fashion a companion; and so was woman born of man. The very word woman carries that patriarchal relationship. And so the binaries continue to be perpetuated. We continue to think of human beings as being either male or female, and those who simply do not identify with those definitions have had to really fight to resist their othering. How is this accommodated within a religion founded on the principle of a love ethic? And if all religions are essentially the consequence of humankind humbling themselves before a divine entity, why is it that that entity continues to be considered as male?
Recently I found myself tremendously moved by someone I follow who identifies as non-binary and trans. They had posted photographs of themselves from childhood to 'girl'hood to adulthood, tracing the relationship they had with their body, and articulating what it means to not identify with the biology of your body, which is referred to as gender dysphoria.
After going through years of depression, they finally realised at the core was this non-identification with the assigned gender. They now find immense solace in vocalising their identity as trans. One of the best things to have evolved out of recent feminist discourse has been the labels of cisgender male and female. These are terms used to describe people who identify with the gender they are assigned. It is also a way of relating the mainstream from the perspective of those who are considered other.
Nomenclatures matter, and how we start to un-condition ourselves from the vocabulary that has been historically used by patriarchy to enslave us and our subjectivity is the beginning of our resistance. It has taken centuries for us to arrive at this moment in time where we can finally begin to raise children in a way that is not compelled to replicate the systems of gender conformity. And many feminists have contributed to discourses on how 'girling' takes place; how we actively condition those born female to behave in a certain way and subscribe to certain beliefs, and how we socialise those born male to adopt masculinity as the preferred mode, shaming them when they deviate from the prescribed norms.
Having now read about the history of the term, and inspired by many activist friends, both cisgender and non-cisgender, I have decided to be more conscious about how I use the category 'women' and how it can be expanded to release it from the relationship to men.
One of the first alternatives to show up in the 1900s to the term was 'wimmin'. In the 1970s, 'womyn' gained traction. But many white feminists felt strongly that the word should refer to those born female, thus excluding the trans and non-binary community. I'm beginning to appreciate “womxn” as the evolving alternative. I love how the 'x' makes it difficult to pronounce, and how, when typing it in a word file, it gets automatically underlined in red, so it cannot be disguised. The 'x' is a way of including within the conceptual realm of the word as signifier all those who in some way relate to women's subjectivity and who are conscious of their oppression by patriarchal misogyny.
So this year, I'd like to wish you a Happy Womxn's Day. For my adult life, this feels like the most significant one thus far, because I have never felt as empowered as I do today, and I'm utterly cognizant of how hard I've had to work to arrive at this moment. And I give thanks to everyone who has helped me to live and bask in this feminist light/life. It's never been truer... It is us, womxn, who are dismantling the fortress built by brahmanical patriarchy. May our tribe multiply.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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