On the Mark of Woman

by | 19 Apr 2021

It is true that men do not understand the refusal so well. It is true that women understand it all too well. Such that they make it their own. When the death of Eurydices Dixon in Melbourne re-evoked the chant “men fear women laughing at them, women fear men killing them” the line that was forgotten in the shadows of that horror was that women also fear men laughing at them, and they also fear women laughing at them. Women fear a lot of things. I know. I am a woman, such that that name has come to bear me. But fear is not the purview of this name alone.

It is both easy and impossible to understand the choreography demanded of women in the world, around their fears, around fears that have come to be called theirs. It is not clear how that gift is given, but it is clear that it has a volume? a slaughterhouse? a restructure? a genome? a film festival? of trajectories.

I am using the collective noun as a device here, because there isn’t one. Not one without its share of violence. Gayatri Spivak iterated and then reiterated the importance of ‘strategic essentialism’, STRATEGIC essentialism. Essentialism for defiance not defining. My body is not so simple. And as for all the desires that reside in it…no chance.

I once wrote on an internet dating profile that I ‘prefer women but am not organised by anything so trivial as biology’. Clever? No? that really did get me a few ‘likes’. (A few too many). But biology is not always so trivial. It stamps us with its categories and leaves us floundering around in our own skin, trying to make a sense of the words. Collective nouns huddle us together, all facing in the same direction. Not toward the creative present but toward the namer. The oppressor always defines the nature of the struggle, says Nelson Mandela, they dictate the terms, and the terms are the point. Authority and authorship overlap for a reason, and between them there is punishment, usually state sanctioned, as anyone who tries to enter the wrong bathroom will tell you. First the Karens then the police. I am not sure which I prefer. Actually, I am sure, but it does vary, as do I.

A few weeks past there was a rally against trans-phobia at the University of Melbourne. I could not be there. It was because the University will not take a stand on transphobia, or rather that its stance bears that glorious moniker of ‘free speech’. The terms of the struggle already defined as free, and therefore not up for debate. It is only the place, the worth, the lives of trans people that seem up for debate. The debate is centred on the legitimacy of bodies, or rather, what I would call defining the terms of their outline. Where the body is allowed to disturb or displace its imagined mark. This mark is heavily policed.

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