GENDER JUSTICE, LANGUAGE, and MY CONCERNS FOR THE NY WOMEN’S EQUALITY AGENDA
The NY Women’s Equality Agenda is a policy initiative that NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo announced early in 2013. NY Women’s Equality just unveiled this new video. I invite you to watch the video, read my response below, and share your own response.
Let me be clear before diving in: I completely support the points set forth by the Women’s Equality Agenda. However, we need to make sure that if we are going to push such important policies we do it the right way the first time. In a sense, I am stressing and advocating for *gender justice*.
Don’t know about the Women’s Equality Agenda? Here’s a quick description via NY Women’s Equality Facebook:
The New York Women’s Equality Coalition is comprised of hundreds of labor groups, business associations, civil rights organizations, medical associations, and religious groups united in vigorous support of Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda.
New york has long served as a model for equality and fairness on several issues including women’s rights. This year at his state of the state Governor Cuomo announced plans to advance a 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda that will break down barriers that perpetuate discrimination and inequality based on gender.
The video is alienating and offensive to me, not only as a self-identified woman but also as someone who knows that gender and gendered nuance — hundreds of years of patriarchy and systemic oppression against anything not white, male, and acceptably masculine at the historical moment — cannot be expressed by playing with the tone of someone’s voice. The video is glaringly transphobic for similar reasons, reasons that should be obvious to anyone interested in putting an end to the violence and discrimination against trans* and gender nonconforming individuals.
It relies on hurtful and limiting assumptions about human gender expression and identity. The dubbed “male” voice-overs completely ruin a video that, unedited like that, would have been alright. Additionally, I would imagine that the male voice-overs are incredibly alienating to men — they pit women against men by adding an odd emotional and accusatory element that diminish the power of the statistics. This is not how we get legislation passed in a government of predominately male representatives.
The video is embarrassing. It is offensive. It is a lazy and oversimplified effort to express what is supposed to be a helpful policy agenda for women. It is unfortunate that this video undermines the real message. My women’s equality agenda, the one in my head and heart, is one that not only encompasses cis women’s struggles (which are real, they are here, and they do seem completely hopeless at times) but one that also acknowledges and recognizes the struggle of trans and gender non-conforming individuals (as well as the different struggles between women of color, poor women, and immigrant women); individuals that feel the oppression and discrimination expressed in the 10-point plan even more deeply, the oppression and discrimination that Gov. Cuomo is trying to eliminate. My equality agenda understands that oppression and discrimination come from a hatred of things that do not fit in boxes, are not the masculine norm, or stem from ableism, classism, racism, etc.
When it comes to politics it is easy to take the simple way. A Women’s Equality Agenda that communicates like it did in this video, just like the rhetoric used in the “War Against Women” we saw last summer and during the elections, plays into the oversimplified way that culture wars happen in our country. It makes me feel like we are running on a hamster wheel. I hope that NY State Women’s Equality Agenda and Gov. Cuomo consider how these potentially liberating and transformative policies can also be limiting and hurtful if used and communicated in the wrong ways. Additionally, I pledge my support to the NY State Women’s Equality Agenda in hopes that it continues to transform and grow in its approach.
Let’s push for *gender* equality (for women, for trans* individuals, for gender nonconforming individuals) and equality for ALL individuals (people of color, people living in poverty, immigrants, individuals with disabilities, etc.).
Please let the NY Women’s Equality Agenda what you think at Twitter: @ny4women and Facebook: nywomensequality.