Caroline Criado-Perez

A Pox on the Patriarchy

What Does Being “Cis” Mean For A Woman?

Today I got a bit cross. I do that occasionally. I have been watching the non-binary versus feminism wars getting increasingly heated and thinking, one day, I’ll write a considered post on this. It is an important issue that deserves my time and effort – but it is such an important issue that it deserves time and effort that I simply don’t have today. So days go by and I say nothing. I tweet out articles by women far more cogent and intelligent than I am. I endorse them in the strongest possible terms. But it doesn’t feel enough. I feel like I’m ducking my feminist duty: the duty for women to SPEAK. To not feel scared and cowed. To not suffocate under the weight of not saying anything until that mythical perfect moment when all her ducks are in a row, when the sun is at the right point in the sky, when the horizon is clear. Today is not that day. But today is the day I feel I have to say something or I will burst. I want to tell you my journey to being labelled a transphobic terf.

A while ago, about two or so years ago, I didn’t know much about trans politics. The first time I came across the term “cis” was in a tweet. I had no idea what it meant, so I looked it up. The search results returned something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 10.25.47

And that made no sense whatsoever because the tweet wasn’t talking about construction; it was talking about rape. I dug a bit more, and eventually came across this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 10.27.04


I read it a little confused, but thought, OK, that seems ok. I mean, I don’t think I’m a man, so I guess I’m a cis woman. I didn’t really see a problem with it. Moreover, as a woman, I understood the importance for an oppressed group to fight against the designation of them as other, counter to an unmarked default normal. This is how women experience the world every day. We are not men, around whom the world is designed, including when it comes to car crash safety and medicine. This isn’t just about psychological othering which is damaging in itself: this can have life and death consequences. I don’t think that being concerned about being the marked other versus the unmarked default is a trivial concern. I also felt that if someone felt so much horror at living in the body and role that they were expected to perform that they felt they had to switch over to the other side, their pain was worthy of my respect and my sympathy. I didn’t mind if calling myself cis helped in some small way to alleviate their suffering. So I went on with my feminism, having acquired a new term that I didn’t automatically use to describe myself, but which I had no problem being described as.

But as I saw more how cis was used as a term, I started to grow uncomfortable with it. I saw women being told that cis privilege entailed wanting to wear the clothes that were created for their gender. I bristled at that – when did I ever say I wanted to wear impractical, uncomfortable clothes? Jeans with no bloody pockets big enough to fit more than a dainty ring in? Dresses with no pockets whatsoever. Uncomfortable underwear, shoes that are designed to make walking as uncomfortable and difficult as possible. Sorry, no dice. I consider the clothing I’m expected to wear a mark of my subjugation and oppression, not a privilege. I started to feel like cis might just not be very feminist – how can it be feminist to say that female clothing is a privilege? How can it be feminist to say, moreover, that these clothes are natural to women, rather than a tool that is used to mark us out as the silly, trivial, appearance-obsessed, only here for decoration, creatures that we are? I don’t think dresses are innately female or feminine. That is just what society has decided they are. I see absolutely no earthly reason why a man can’t wear a dress – they should, particularly in summer as they are wonderfully cool compared to shorts and trousers, and, if they have pockets, practical! But most men won’t, because they rightly infer that a dress is a mark of the inferior sex class and to be associated with that class in any way is a dent to their manly masculinity and would move them down a rung or two on the privilege scale. This is why women can wear trousers, and men can’t wear skirts. We are trading up and that is OK within reason, so long as we don’t get too manly and uppity. For a man to trade down, well, that’s unthinkable. So, no. I didn’t think this cis clothing thing was very feminist.

I saw other things. I saw women being told that their female bodies were a mark of their cis privilege. This gave me pause too. Really? This female body? This body that causes me such unbearable pain every month and that bleeds and leaks and which I have been told since I hit puberty is shameful and disgusting, although also dangerously sexual? This body that cannot just be, a body without which I cannot walk down the street, but is nevertheless interpreted by men as a class, headlined by the Daily Mail, as permanently on a sexy flaunting parade. This body that from the age of twelve was seen as the property of boys who would grab whatever bit of soft flesh they could get their hands on, that was followed by older men down the street, that was grabbed in clubs, that was threatened, that, ultimately, was violated, more than once? This body? A privilege? Or something else that marks me out as oppressed, someone else’s property to violate as and when they will? I don’t pretend I don’t have the body I have – what would be the point? When it comes to this body, what matters in this life is how other people interpret it. And they have interpreted it as a sign that I am violable. Both psychologically, and physically. Ever since the doctor cried out “it’s a girl”, but most noticeably for me, since I first started showing signs that I was becoming a woman. From that point on, my body was no longer my own. I couldn’t go where I wanted, dress how I wanted: I always had to factor in a consideration of how the signals I was sending out with this treacherous body would be read, by the men who thought I was flaunting it. Men who thought they had rights, ownership over it. Men who thought that because it was hot, my clothing was a come-on. And although I’ve been sexually assaulted, I am one of the lucky ones. I am not a woman whose body is deemed so treacherous, so much not my own, that parts of it must be sliced off to ensure my monstrous sexuality doesn’t run amok, terrorising the menfolk and causing serious issues for patriarchal lineage. I don’t accept that this body is a privilege: this body is a traitor. I don’t identify with any of the messages it is apparently sending out without my consent. This body makes me a marked other.

Now, to return to trans women, I am not for one second denying that they suffer greatly from the same male violence that has made me who I am today. I am also not for one second telling them how to live their lives. I could not care less what another person decides to do with their body, how they choose to express themselves. I don’t care, up until the moment where they start telling me that their identity depends on me defining myself in a certain way. I was happy with the word cis, when I felt it simply said I felt no need to change my body in order to survive in society. I do feel no need. I see no reason why I should, because I don’t believe my body actually does mean all the things society says it means. This is feminism. Feminism tells me that just because I was born with a vagina, breasts, a uterus, does not mean I am inferior. It does not mean I need to be mealy-mouthed, coy and silent. It does not mean my body does not belong to me and that you can do whatever you want with it. My fight is to remain in my body and challenge the assumptions that are enforced on me as a result of it. I don’t see why that has to run counter to the rights of trans women, whom I support to similarly do with their body what it is that *they* want to do. But I will not say that I identify with the womanhood that has been enforced on me since the day I was born.


I do not identify with being silent

I do not identify with being pink

I do not identify with being soft

I do not identify with being scared

I do not identify with being weak

I do not identify with being submissive

I do not identify with being irrational

I do not identify with being hysterical

I do not identify with being bad at maths

I do not identify with being unintelligent

I do not identify with being followed

I do not identify with being grabbed

I do not identify with being assaulted

I do not identify with being raped

I do not identify with being inferior

I do not identify with being a woman as society has created it.

I do not identify as cis. I am not cis. I am a woman trying to fight with every fibre of my being against everything that my “gender identity” tells me to be. Woman as defined by society is not my gender identity. My gender identity is fuck this oppressive bullshit, and let me be a human fucking being.

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This entry was posted on August 1, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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