I’ve been mulling this over for a while…a slogan I’m seeing everywhere: “The Future Is Female.” Living in a patriarchal society, a patriarchal world, really, I understand the need for such a statement. During and after the Women’s March (on Washington and elsewhere), you could see signs and t-shirts with these four words all over the place (at least among feminist circles). Even Hillary Clinton recently said the famous four words during the MAKERS Conference. And I’m all for it. We do need a society where female reproductive rights aren’t constantly under attack. We do need a society where women and men (and trans people and non-binary people) all get equal rights, equal treatment, equal care. We don’t need men (and especially cis-het white men) making all the decisions for everyone else.
But sometimes I take issue with it because it feels trans-exclusive and totally erases non-binary people. Granted, sex and gender are NOT the same thing. You can be born in a female body and identify as a woman, or a man, or some other label altogether (or none at all!) You can be born intersex, or male, or whatever, assigned one gender, and later on realize that doesn’t quite fit. In some Native American cultures, we find the term “two-spirit” to mean male, female, and intersex individuals who identify beyond the binary. While some conservatives would have us believe this is somehow “wrong”, it isn’t. Those who live beyond the binary have always existed, but have long been oppressed.
I recently cited a study I saw on Twitter about higher rates of cognitive disability in children born to women of a certain age. They studied some 300k families and found that the lowest incident of cognitive disabilities is found among children born to women in their early 30s. I found this information interesting because I have a genuine interest in all matters of reproduction (whether that means abortion, pregnancy, high-risk pregnancy, prenatal or postpartum depression and anxiety, child birth, birth trauma, birth-related PTSD, pregnancy and infant loss, child development, etc.) I am a mother, as well as a writer with a background in anthropology. I find humans fascinating, I find pregnancy and motherhood fascinating.
I am also a feminist, and I feel the need to spend my life fighting for the rights of all (especially and mainly the oppressed) including but not limited to young girls, women, trans folks, non-binary persons, mothers, queer parents, non-binary and trans parents, immigrants, those living in poverty (and those not quite there, but constantly at risk of being there), and so on.
Anyway, I cited the study, but changed the wording to acknowledge that these higher incidences of disability often occur when pregnant folks aren’t able to obtain proper healthcare. Or rather, that’s how I meant it. Here’s what I said:
I didn’t expand on this because honestly, my head is spinning at a million miles a minute right now as I care for my sick child, try to squeeze in some work and writing, keep the house orderly, deal with other current family disasters, etc. Then I got a notification on Twitter that surprised me.
Uhm, say what? It was never my intention to “erase women” or disrespect women in any way. My only intention was to bring this matter up (because I think it’s important to study risk factors for all things in pregnancy), and to be more trans-inclusive since I always know I could do better.
I told this person in so many words that I don’t have time for trans-exclusive/non-binary exclusive feminism (as said person identifies as a feminist), and explained why I phrased it the way I did. Of course I acknowledge that women/girls/pregnant persons in general tend to have a harder time receiving proper healthcare. Anyhow, it didn’t get very far, and that was the end of that conversation. But it got me back to thinking about the whole idea behind “The Future Is Female” and wondering if it is in any way trans-exclusive/non-binary-exclusive as this apparent TERF is (still waiting for her to let me know if I am dead wrong on that but so far, silence). Back to “The Future is Female,” though…
In case you weren’t aware of where the slogan came from (and really, we might never know entirely for sure), we can trace the origin to the bookstore Labyris–the first feminist bookstore in NYC back in the 70s. At the time, a photo of musician Alix Dobkin wearing a t-shirt with “The Future is Female” written on it (likely merchandise from the store but I’m not entirely certain), was taken by her girlfriend at the time, photographer Liza Cowan. And thus, the phrase became popular for a while.
It’s been revived again in recent years, with Otherwild (a shop by feminist artist Rachel Berks) selling a new version of the tee, which also donates 25% of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. We can even see Dobkin wearing it again for the feminist Instagram generation:
Pretty cool, yeah?
I’ve been considering getting one myself because yay feminim and yay feminist t-shirts and all, but was on the fence until I read this note on the site:
This slogan has lasted through the decades and is reemerging as an empowering statement for all, as female-identified bodies and rights remain under attack. Inflexible and compulsory sexual and gender binaries are used to oppress and deny people their humanity and agency. Otherwild believes in an inclusive, expanded and fluid notion of gender expression, identities and feminisms. We support liberation, embrace our trans sisters, and call for the end of patriarchal ideology, domination, oppression and violence. We believe that “The Future is Female” is the past, the present and the future, and is language that resonates.
We don’t live in a post-gender society. At least, not yet. And I do appreciate the idea that “The Future is Female” (especially as we use it nowadays) is not about female separatism or about being trans exclusionary. Or that even if it was (as some same it might have been a lesbian separatist ideology), it no longer is.
As feminists in 2017, we strive for the future to be female, but we strive for so much more. We strive to embrace all those who would not fit into the mold society wants them to fit in to. That means our trans sisters and brothers, our non-binary friends, our genderqueer friends, everyone under the LGBTQIA umbrella, the immigrants and children of immigrants and the refugees and the children of refugees, undocumented or documented, black folks and brown folks and all our allies, everyone who knows and understands why we NEED our society to change on a global level. The men who have been in charge have obviously not been doing the very best job, and now we need diversity. Hell, we always needed diversity. We’re living in the era of nazis making a comeback, of hatespeech becoming protected, of those who would dissent becoming outlawed, with a president who would argue with a retailer about his daughter’s merchandise being pulled while he continues to keep the White House comment line off the hook because he doesn’t want to hear our voices but we will NOT be silent.
The Future is Female, y’all. It truly is. But it’s also going to be so much more.