Of late I have been wondering what it means to me that I am a woman. What does it mean to others who identify as women, cis or trans. Is the identity of a woman only meaningful because an opposite exists – the identity of a man? What is gender identity and can we apply the laws of dialectical materialism to gender?
Ever since I read Mao’s On Contradiction, I have not been able to get the below passage out of my head.
“…the existence of each of the two aspects of a contradiction in the process of the development of a thing presupposes the existence of the other aspect, and both aspects coexist in a single entity; second, in given conditions, each of the two contradictory aspects transforms itself into its opposite. This is the meaning of identity.”
And there’s a passage by Lenin that Mao had quoted in On Contradiction:
“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical – under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another – why the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another.”
“The fact is that no contradictory aspect can exist in isolation. Without its opposite aspect, each loses the condition for its existence. Just think, can any one contradictory aspect of a thing or of a concept in the human mind exist independently? Without life, there would be no death; without death, there would be no life. Without “above”, there would be no “below”, without “below”, there would be no “above”. Without misfortune, there would be no good fortune; without good fortune, these would be no misfortune. Without facility, there would be no difficulty, without difficulty, there would be no facility. Without landlords, there would be no tenant-peasants; without tenant-peasants, there would be no landlords. Without the bourgeoisie, there would be no proletariat; without the proletariat, there would be no bourgeoisie. Without imperialist oppression of nations, there would be no colonies or semi-colonies; without colonies or semi-colonies, there would be no imperialist oppression of nations. It is so with all opposites; in given conditions, on the one hand, they are opposed to each other, and on the other, they are interconnected, interpenetrating, interpermeating and interdependent, and this character is described as identity. In given conditions, all contradictory aspects possess the character of non-identity and hence are described as being in contradiction. But they also possess the character of identity and hence are interconnected. This is what Lenin means when he says that dialectics studies “how opposites can be … identical”. How then can they be identical? Because each is the condition for the other’s existence. This is the first meaning of identity.”
What does it mean to be black or brown? Isn’t its meaning derived from the identity of the white? Isn’t being a lower caste Indian an outcome of the existence of an upper cast? Aren’t the majority of people poor because some are rich? Does the same apply to gender?
When I think of my identity as a woman, I only manage to think of it in terms of oppression by men. I just asked a woman friend who’s sitting next to me as I type this and who doesn’t even claim to be a feminist, what it means to her that she is a woman. She instantly answered, “Do you mean in relation to men?” That is because our existence and role in society have been shaped by the economic and social opportunities we as a gender have had to fight men to win.
I assume if we ask women what it means to them that they are women, they will describe themselves in terms of their relationships with other people – as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, etc. My friend here is a single mom and that is a huge part of her identity. I don’t aim for kids or marriage so being a mother or a wife is not how I identify as a woman. But I am a committed aunt, sister, and daughter and these are important parts of my identity. My being a daughter and a sister largely entails teaching my parents about feminism and supporting my sisters in their quest for equality and dignity. And as an aunt to a niece, protecting her from men is a top priority for me. In whatever way I think of myself as a woman, it is in relation to men.
So what will happen to gender identity in full communism, when all forms of oppression will cease to exist? What will it mean to be a woman or a man? Or will people just stop identifying as women or men and simply be agender because the contradicting forces of male and female identities will transform into one another to create a new form, as per the laws of dialectal materialism?
Let’s revisit Mao’s writing – “the existence of each of the two aspects of a contradiction in the process of the development of a thing presupposes the existence of the other aspect”. As communists, we agree that everything is in a state of motion and development. What is in development here? Gender identity. Gender has been in development for thousands of years. “Third genders” have existed in ancient India for thousands of years and are now also a legally accepted category in India. Is this the synthesis of a thesis and an antithesis, i.e. the identity of a man and a woman?
A growing number of people identify themselves as agender or non-binary. Even though small, a percentage of people are born without clear male or female genitalia. I can’t imagine how difficult they must find to fit into our current binary and discriminatory society but I can imagine communism to create a society where even intersex people will feel fully accepted, not just socially but also sexually.
What does it mean to say that we are attracted to men or women? Are we attracted to a certain set of female or male biological characteristics? Or are we attracted to a certain set of masculine and feminine social characteristics? Or is it a combination of both? Over the past few years, progressives have worked on not associating physical characteristics or behaviors with masculinity or feminity. We don’t think of men with high pitched voices or animated gestures as feminine. We don’t think of South East Asian men without beards as feminine. We don’t think of women with broad backs as masculine. We don’t think women with hairy bodies as masculine. So how much of attraction is biological and how much of it is conditioned, especially by media, advertisements, and capitalism?
I am attracted to the male body but most men are trash and all my experiences of dating men have bitter like it has been for the overwhelming majority of women. So is my attraction biological but my repulsion social? How much of our “biological” attraction to the “opposite” gender is a result of being socialized into thinking that way? How much of our understanding of sex is heterosexual penetrative sex because that’s the only thing we have been told?
Some of us are already raising kids to not think that only opposite genders should feel attracted to each other. What if we raised future generations without telling them that cis people should feel attracted to cis people, same gender or not? What if we raised future generations without the concept of gender? What if we raised future generations to believe that penetrative sex is not the only way of being intimate? What if the future is pansexual?
What about gender-based relationships? What happens to the identities of father, mother, aunt, and uncle? What about sisters and brothers? What about husband and wife? Well, isn’t the future full communist society going to be a society where all people raise all children as their own? Everyone will be a parent to all children in their community and not just to their biological children. People will not be aunts or uncles or grandfathers and grandmothers. They will just be parents and grandparents. The socialist state of Cuba has already removed the entire definition of marriage from its constitution, prior to which it had redefined marriage as a union between “spouses” instead of “men and women”. Marriage as a legal institution won’t exist in full communism, there will be partnerships. We’re already moving away from addressing our significant others as husbands/boyfriends or wives/girlfriends to just partners. Can we move away from addressing our siblings as brothers or sisters and just use sibling? (This future family system I want to address in more detail in a different post.)
Can we imagine a future where people will be free to feel attraction to any person regardless of their physical characteristics and genitals? Can we imagine a future where there won’t be any stigma to being, dressing, or behaving a certain way? This is beyond just supporting trans or non-binary rights – sure, as cis communists, we support the economic rights of trans or non-binary people but what about accepting them just as much as we accept cis people in our lives? It’s like boomer generation people saying they support the economic rights of blacks or Dalits but they won’t marry one. Is this the challenge for millennials then? To open ourselves up one hundred percent to non-cis people and not reduce them to their genitals just like we expect boomers to not reduce people to the color of their skin or their caste? I won’t lie that I don’t have difficulty imagining a different way for myself because I am a cis heterosexual woman but I get the concept intellectually. And maybe that is the first step.
If the future should be raceless, casteless, and classless, should it not also be genderless?