There was a time in this nation not too long ago when girls and women had no public voice. When they spoke about inequity or abuse they were told to shut up. They were publicly shamed into submission. They were called b*tches, nags, over-dramatic scolds. Women were what men said they were and were expected to act, dress and think accordingly. They were expected to behave themselves.
A favorite, classic quote among feminists is “Well-behaved women rarely make history” and it’s a favorite for a reason. For so long in western society (and even to this day in most other parts of the world) women have been told to “behave” because that’s what men needed them to do. My mother’s generation stood on the legacy of “misbehaving” women like Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony and bucked western society’s patriarchal demand for women to conform to the desires and ideas of men. They forged their own path and for better and for worse changed the way women interacted with society at large in regards to their femininity and empowerment.
Suddenly and shockingly we are finding ourselves once again in the position of being defined by men.
I am speaking of the recent and stunningly swift phenomenon of “transgender women” - men who identify as women - invading female spaces in the area of athletics. We’ve recently seen a spate of male athletes who identify as women breaking into female sports and unsurprisingly dominating those sports because of their physicality. A transgender cyclist won a world championship event in the women’s category. When the second-place winner complained that it wasn’t fair she was forced to apologize. A transgender player on a women’s rugby team has been dominating women in competition and has sparked a discussion about the safety of women in such an environment.
The most disturbing iteration of this trend has been in the introduction of boys who identify as girls into high school sports. In Connecticut, two female-identifying boys have been dominating the sport of girls track, taking home state championships and varying racing prizes along the way. The girls and their parents who have dared to complain have been roundly dismissed as bigots and ignored by Connecticut school athletic authorities. Their pleas for fairness have been ignored by the media at large. Their frustrations have been squashed.
Like the many women before them who have come up against such blatant silencing, they are being asked to behave while the boys tell them what a girl is and isn’t.
One female teenage Connecticut track competitor described the frustration of working so hard and yet knowing there will never be a way to win against the physicality of a male body.
“We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralizing. I fully support and am happy for these athletes for being true to themselves. They should have the right to express themselves in school, but athletics have always had extra rules to keep the competition fair.”
This is a teenage girl who says she is perfectly fine letting anyone define themselves however they wish and at the same time crying out for someone to hear her…to help her. She (and many others like her) is begging for equality; simply for the chance to be competitive in her peer group. Nothing more. Yet, in this situation she is the one who is misbehaving. The response from the transgender teen who recently won the state championship?
Pundit and host Dana Loesch asked what might happen if a man were to say the same thing to women who complain about wage gaps in the workplace.
I dare say, it wouldn’t be pretty.
Navigating life as a teenage girl in America is tough. There are body image issues, equality issues and the crushing culture of perfection to wade through. “You are not enough the way you are” is a message that is spoken to girls over and over again in current pop culture.
Now imagine being a 16-year-old girl who has worked hard to excel in school and athletics and now is asked to compete alongside a biological male in a sporting event in which there is a cavernous difference between what the male form and the female form can accomplish. She’ll most likely never have a chance to beat a boy not because she’s not working hard enough, but because biology forbids it. There’s literally nothing she can do to beat a boy in her own age range and sport, but she’s being told it’s her fault that she can’t do it anyway. Her body will never, ever, ever exhibit the same qualities as the biological boys who now monopolize her sport. The message to her is, “You’ll never be enough but try harder to be enough even though you’ll never be enough.”
At the end of the day, this is still a case of a (young) man telling a (young) woman how to behave and what exactly it means to be female. We’re all being asked to take as gospel the definitions of these two young men while the objecting voices of the young women in this case are being willfully silenced and ignored.
When do their voices count? When is their equality important?
You’ll notice that these conversations are happening almost exclusively in the female space. No one is worrying about women identifying as men and wrestling away hard-fought opportunity from them. No, it is only we women who are being asked to step aside, redefine ourselves and our spaces, and accept how men choose to define what it means to be a woman.
Everyone should feel free to live as they choose and as who they choose, but not at the expense of the freedom of another. Women have fought too hard for too long for the ability to excel on our own terms. It is inconceivable that in 2019 we are once again in a place where that right is being threatened.
Yet, here we are once more - being told to behave while the men run around making all the important decisions.