Society is in desperate need of a comprehensive lesson on gender, and Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl provides it. Serano defines concepts, problematic beliefs and practices related to gender and transgenderism, exposes the failings of sexology, gender theory and the feminist movement, and calls on us to recognize that women and men are not entirely different. Serano says, “I would argue that the major problem with the binary gender system is not that it is binary…but rather that it facilitates the naïve and oppressive belief that woman and men are ‘opposites.”
With terms like “oppositional sexism,” this gender bible sheds light on issues I’ve had with my own family. For my father and brothers, my sexuality fails to meet their masculinity standard due to oppositional sexism and puts into question their own masculinity. Serano classifies their anxiety as “gender anxiety” and their derision towards my perceived masculinity transgressions as “effemimania.”
Serano makes me realize that even I, despite knowing I’m seen by some as gender deviant, exhibit “gender privilege.” If I’m being honest, I must admit there have been times when I’ve secretly questioned the legitimacy of a transgender person’s gender, not recognizing this questioning as gender privilege, so I think one of the most powerful concepts in this book is “subconscious sex.” Serano says, “For many trans people, the fact that their appearances or behaviors may fall outside of societal gender norms is a very real issue, but one that is often seen as secondary to the cognitive dissonance that arises from the fact that their subconscious sex does not match their physical sex.” I’m cissexual, so this idea of having a subconscious sex is somewhat foreign, but then it would be, as my subconscious sex has never called into question my physical sex.
Serano is also immensely concerned with society’s contempt of femininity and it’s subordination to masculinity, and she calls on us to embrace femininity. She says, “In a world that is awash in antifeminine sentiment, we understand that embracing and empowering femininity can potentially be one of the most transformative and revolutionary acts imaginable.”