The Bathroom Bill is an attack on femininity

By Genevieve DiNatale


On March 30, North Carolina’s legislature passed a bill that repeals the state’s highly contested Bathroom Bill, otherwise known as House Bill 2, which forces transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.  Gov. Roy Cooper (D) – who campaigned on the promise of overturning HB2 – signed the bill into law after the Senate passed it – 32-16 – and the House passed it with 70-48 votes.  This vote comes after The Tar Heel State received much negative national press that prompted a boycott from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), that announced it would be moving championship events out of the state in protest of the bill.

“I think those who oppose trans (or masculine women) using restrooms see it as a threat to their idea of what makes a woman sanctified, i.e. her body and the possible violation of her personhood. This is the reason why you rarely, is ever, see headlines about the converse of trans men using male restrooms (though the whole North Carolina legislation also affected them),” said Rachel Saunders, a transgender creative director currently living in Nottingham, U.K.

The new bill, which repeals HB2, is considered a “compromise” by Cooper who indicated it wouldn’t have passed through the Republican-dominated legislature otherwise.  And despite this seeming progress, many in North Carolina’s LGBTQ community are dissatisfied with the new legislation because it maintains an initial aspect of HB2, which leaves regulation of bathroom access to the state, thereby preventing local governments from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020.

A similar anti-discrimination law was passed in Massachusetts in the summer of 2016. The law gives transgender individuals the right to use the bathroom and/or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity rather than their biological gender.  Yet, despite this seeming legislative progress, anti-transgender sentiment persists throughout the nation.  In March, anti-transgender activists began making the rounds in Boston, parking a bus outside of the State House emblazoned with statements like, “It’s Biology: Boys are boys…and always will be.  Girls are girls…and always will be.  You can’t change sex. Respect all.” The so-called “Free Speech Bus,” commissioned by the Spain-based conservative advocacy group CitizenGO, sparked much outrage on the Hill, drawing a crowd of protesters holding signs saying “Trans Rights Now” and “Justice Never Stands Still.”

Courtesy: WCVB-TV Boston

“The whole trans bathroom debate is the thin end of the cultural wars wedge – this idea that gender has to be predicated on a binary, that you can only be male or female without room for anything in between,” said Saunders.  “Trans women are seen as transgressive as they are leaving behind all the privileges of being male and entering a no-mans land between both genders.”

Feminist theorists argue that (unlike what CitizenGo wants you to believe) conceptions of gender and femininity are more than the biological byproducts of what’s between your legs; but rather, social constructs that justify a patriarchal society.  “Femininity has a structural piece because gender is a spectrum and all people are expressing various and sundry aspects of it. The Bathroom Bill is a way to continue to reinforce a very narrow understanding of what female and male are,” said Allen Corben, co-chair of the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) who works as an assistant registrar at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

“But what proponents of the Bathroom Bill are trying to say is that ‘we want men to be men and women to be women, we don’t want you in the wrong bathroom’ because we have a very clear idea of where you should be and we are going to spend a lot of emotional, legislative, and interpersonal energy enforcing those ideas,” he said.  “I think it continues to be a way to attack the structure because it is fundamentally misogynist.  I think it’s an attack on femininity – on females maybe more than femininity in particular.”

What is femininity?


Femininity is a combinations of characteristics, traits and styles of dress attributed to biological women.  ‘Feminine’ women are thought to be gentle, caring, empathetic, sensitive and dress in a feminine way, wearing dresses, high heels and makeup.  Since it’s a social construct, femininity can also be expressed by men who cross-dress and/or have gender reassignment surgery.

And those men who express their femininity publicly are frequently scrutinized, but not Saunders, who claims that she experiences no harassment for cross-dressing, but does worry about being publicly harassed from time-to-time,  “Even those, like myself, who experience no harassment, still have to worry if someone decides to take things personally,” she said.

“Gender and sexuality are two completely different things,” said Saunders. “Your sexuality is the gender you are attracted to. Your gender identity is the gender you feel close to. Most people are comfortable in their own gender expression without the need to resort to any medical intervention; those who transition medically do so in order to mold their external form to match their own inner gender.”

The religious groups and political leaders in the GOP who take issue with the Bathroom Bill are simply lashing out against those men who choose to identify with their feminine side.  The justification for this anti-transgender sentiment is backed by religion and the idea that “God made men to be men and women to be women.” Furthermore, the biological sciences state that the different biological functions of the sexes result in varying skill sets and brain functionality which results in men having higher IQ scores for math and spatial reasoning while women have better verbal reasoning scores.  This is then further compounded by psychological theories which explain cross-dressing or even homosexuality as a psychological disorder or biological error that results from a criss-cross – or an addition to – the XX and XY chromosomes.

The polar dichotomies of gender and what it means to be ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ were confronted during the second-wave feminist movement when psychologist Sandra Bem created the Bem Sex Role Inventory which is a lengthy questionnaire that determines an individual’s psychological gender.  Her theory was that gender is expressed along a continuum and those expressing the healthiest gender association were actually androgynous.

“Radical psychologist Sandra Bem (1974), the developer of the Bem Sex Role Inventory, began to re-conceptualize gender traits as a continuum, along which it was healthiest to be in the androgynous range.  The androgynous had the highest self-esteem, psychological well-being and emotional intelligence, while those at the psychological extremes of gender were re-cast as constrained and disabled,” (Dvorksy 6).

Comparable to Bem’s theory that androgyny is the actual norm of psychological gender disposition, “postgenderists” argue that gender – like abortion – will be a choice as technology progresses to the point where people can choose their gender and their method of reproduction using things like artificial wombs.

Courtesy: CafeMom
Futuristic depiction of babies in artificial wombs (Courtesy: CafeMom)

“Postgenderists contend that dyadic gender roles and sexual dimorphism are generally to the detriment of individuals and society.  Assisted reproduction will make it possible for individuals of any sex to reproduce in any combinations they choose, with or without ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ and artificial wombs will make biological wombs unnecessary for reproduction.  Greater biological fluidity and psychological androgyny will allow future persons to explore both the masculine and feminine aspects of personality.  Postgenderists do not call for the end of all gender traits, or universal androgyny, but rather that those traits become a matter of choice,” (Dvorksy 2).

Postgenderists eschew the ideas of gender essentialists who assert that the biological differences between the genders define established gender roles and conceptions of femininity.  Rather, postgenderists ascribe to a comparable view to social constructivists who believe that gender roles and conceptions of womanhood have more to do with societal constructs than with biological differentiation.   “During the 1970s the dominant position on nature-nurture among feminists and progressives was ‘social constructionism.’ Patriarchal attitudes and behaviors, gendered differences in abilities and interests, and sexual preferences, were all the result of culturally specific patriarchal and heterosexist socialization,” (Dvorsky 5).

Biology has been used as a justification to reinforce gender roles, permeating the soft sciences like psychology in such a way that psychoanalysis reflects the greater inequities of society.  In Freud’s famous lecture the Theory of Femininity (1931), he characterized the psychology of women based on how he perceived the structure of the sexual gametes.

“You cannot give the concepts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ any new connotation.  The distinction is not a psychological one; when you say ‘masculine,’ you usually mean ‘active,’ and when you say ‘feminine,’ you usually mean ‘passive.’  Now it is true that a relation of the kind exists.  The male sex-cell is actively mobile and searches out the female one, and the latter, the ovum, is immobile and waits passively,” (Abelin-Sas Rose 114-115). By reducing the nature of the sex act to the cellular activity of sperm cells racing to an immobile ovum, Freud’s biological reductionism becomes the meta-analysis that he then extrapolates to conclusions about the psychological dispositions of the genders.

Another now infamous theory that Freud expounded upon in his lecture on femininity was “penis envy,” or the idea that during psycho-sexual development girls recognize their lack of a penis and that realization results in the jealousy that is uniquely characteristic of adult women.  “The castration complex of girls is also started by the sight of the genitals of the other sex.  They at once notice the difference and, it must be admitted, its significance too,” he said.  “They feel seriously wronged, often declare that they want to ‘have something like it too,’ and fall a victim of ‘envy of the penis,’” (Abelin-Sas Rose 125).  Penis envy, Freud said, results in women’s hostility toward their mothers later in life because the mother “wronged” them by not providing them with a penis.

The castration complex begins to emerge in what Freud calls the pre-Oedipal complex, or the developmental phase when the toddler girl shifts her affection from the mother as the original caregiver (her first love being in the form of breast milk) to the father, whose penis represents superiority and society.  Freud even argues that the desire for a penis is the catalyst for women to seek “male” intellectual professions. “The wish to get the longed-for penis eventually in spite of everything may contribute to the motives that drive a mature woman to analysis, and what she may reasonably expect from analysis—a capacity, for instance, to carry on an intellectual profession—may often be recognized as a sublimated modification of this repressed wish.  One cannot very well doubt the importance of envy of the penis,” (Abelin-Sas Rose 125).

Freud’s reduction of every psychological theory to its biological underpinnings is what some feminist psychologists, like Carol Tarvis, call “biobunk.”  “According to Tavris, the public’s preference for ‘neat’ biological explanations over ‘messy’ psychological rationale has led scientists to search for genes that explain behaviors, the development of psycho-pharmaceuticals, and the development of numerous diagnostic screens that physicians can use to screen for mental disorders.  Not every aspect of this ‘biomedical revolution,’ as Tavris calls it, is unwelcome…What she takes issue with is the perception that biomedical explanations are infallible. Similar to the psychobabble that plagues psychological science, ‘brainless neuroscience’ should be giving the field an image problem, but because most people don’t know how to spot ‘biobunk,’ they are more willing to accept bad neuroscience findings over good psychological ones,” (Voss 1).

Betty Friedan, the famous feminist thinker often credited with starting the second-wave feminist movement with her book The Feminine Mystique, described Freud as a product of his times, a genius psychologist from the late 19th and early 20th century who was too subsumed with the sexist thought of the day to separate it from his work product.  “Freud, it is generally agreed, was a most perceptive and accurate observer of important problems of the human personality. But in describing and interpreting those problems, he was a prisoner of his own culture. As he was creating a new framework for our culture, he could not escape the framework of his own. Even his genius could not give him, then, the knowledge of cultural processes which men who are not geniuses grow up with today,” (Friedan 1).

According to Friedan, Freud caused damage to the feminist movement in the 1940s, which preceded the 1950s, when advertising and popular culture was replete with housewives and epithets of women’s place in the home or in other stereotypical oppressive situations that defined women as what Simone de Beauvoir called the “second sex.”  Freud’s take on femininity, Friedan argued, was the reason why people of the time felt that women’s quest for individuality was considered masculine in nature (Friedan 1).

“The concept ‘penis envy’, which Freud coined to describe a phenomenon he observed in women – that is, in the middle-class women who were his patients in Vienna in the Victorian era – was seized in this country in the 1940s as the literal explanation of all that was wrong with American women.  Many who preached the doctrine of endangered femininity reversing the movement of American women towards independence and identity, never knew its Freudian origin.  Many who seized on it – not the few psychoanalysts, but the many sociologists, educators, ad-agency manipulators, magazine writers, child experts, marriage counselors, ministers, cocktail-party authorities – could not have known what Freud himself meant by penis envy,” (Freidan 1).

Work Cited

Abelin-Sas Rose, Graciela, and Leticia Glocer Fiorini. The International Psychoanalytical Association Contemporary Freud: Turning Points and Critical Issues Series : On Freud’s “Femininity”. N.p.: Karnac, n.d. Print.

Dvorsky, George, and James Hughes. “Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary.” Sentient Developments. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, 20 Mar. 2008. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Friedan, Betty. “The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan (1963).” The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan (1963). N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

Voss, Meagen.  ”How to Spot Pseudoneuroscience and Biobunk.” Association for Psychological Science. Association for Psychological Science, Aug. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

About Genevieve Dinatale 4 Articles

Genevieve DiNatale is a multimedia/broadcast journalist with a passion for politics, crime and all things breaking.