On The “Cotton Ceiling”, Rape Culture, and Feministe

Planned Parenthood Toronto is planning a conference called Pleasures and Possibilities for the end of this month.

One of the events featured at this conference is called Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women.

What is the cotton ceiling?

The term cotton ceiling is a reference to the “glass ceiling” that second wave feminist identified in the workforce, wherein women could only advance so high in the workforce but could not break through into positions of power and authority. The cotton represents underwear, signifying sex.

The theory of the cotton ceiling is useful in identifying the dynamic trans women are experiencing, and is meant to open up conversation around desirability’s intersections with transmisogyny and transphobia.

Some feminists have found this conference to be blatantly rapey, since women should have the right to refuse sex with anyone, for any reason, and no one should hold a conference attempting to overcome these barriers to sex. Furthermore, it is offensive to compare overcoming barriers to sex with women to the historic example of women overcoming the barriers to equal treatment in the workplace.

As this petition says,

Planned Parenthood Toronto is helping to sponsor a March 31 conference in Toronto that includes a workshop inviting participants to discuss and strategize ways they might be able to “overcome” women’s objections to these participants’ sexual advances. We believe that no means no, that a woman’s right to say “no” to sex at any time is sacrosanct and that no explanations should ever be requested because none is ever necessary. The name of the workshop proposed is “Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women.

I encourage those of you who agree with this statement to sign the petition here.

Because I believe that feminists support a woman’s right to say no for any reason, I linked this petition to feministe.us. I was under the impression that the petition would be well received. The ensuing conversation verbal stoning occurred here.

Instead of engaging with the petition as it was written, against rape culture and for a woman’s right to choose her own sexual partner(s) for whatever reason(s) she chooses, I was lambasted with unkind names such as “bigot”, “transphobe”, “self-righteous idiot”, and told to “fuck off” for criticizing the conference. I was even called names by the moderator.

As I’ve pointed out before, name calling and ad hominem attacks are not effective argumentation strategies. Using them shows that one’s argument is weak, and that an attempt is being made to change the subject from the content of one’s interlocutor’s position, to her character, associations, and prior work– which are not the topics at hand.

In fact, the commenters stone throwers went through my blog and quoted it in attempts to further denounce my character. Interestingly, however, they did not notice that they themselves were participating in the argumentation strategy that I criticized in my first blog post. They quote me as saying:

Second wavers recognize that there are intersecting oppressive forces, but don’t want to lose sight of the oppression of women. They may see 3rd wave feminists use intersectionality as a strategy for turning female energy away from female causes. These radfem thinkers are particularly concerned about transgender and transexual folk who are seen by the radfems as having hijacked feminism and our efforts toward women’s liberation and moved them into a more male centered direction. Trans women are also seen as male invaders to female spaces by these rad fems, and the fun fems think this view is transphobic.

An interesting critique of this privilege checking procedure is that any individual making a logical argument can be proven wrong by having not properly checked her privilege. So, by making trans critical arguments that do not align with the 3rd wave party line, an individual will be shut down as transphobic, and her arguments will not be listened to. This silencing tactic is particularly worrying to me as a person interested in the *truth*– rather than what is least offensive.

Clearly, I was shut down and silenced, just as I said I would be (even though I wasn’t even being trans critical in the post!). These folks are not interested in critical thinking; they only wish to hear their own ideas repeated to them.

I’m disappointed at what I take to be feministe’s support of this conference that encourages rape culture.

It’s clear to me that many commenters at feministe do not see that the name calling and dog-piling they engage in against those they disagree with is used to silent any dissent from their narrative.

Bullying is not a feminist tactic, but it is often used as a silencing tool by those who have weak arguments.