Socialization Matters: Why “Identity Libertarianism” is Failed Politics

[first published May 20, 2013 on the Liberation Collective blog]

IDENTITY VERSUS SOCIALIZATION

I want to explore what “woman” means when male-born persons can be “women” just the same as female-born persons.

Most significantly, the term “woman” must be disconnected from the socio-historic context that gives the term coherency in the first place. Without any material or experiential framework “woman’s” origin becomes irrelevant; she can be anything or nothing at all.

When male-born persons can be “women” just the same as female-born persons, the skin-deep veneer of social identity is being substituted for the complex, lifelong process of class-based socialization. This is neoliberal individualist choice-theory masquerading as the politics of liberation.

Identity-as-woman and socialization-as-woman describe very different social experiences. This should be an elementary distinction for anyone interested in the politics of sex and gender.

Identifying as a woman is a form of self-perception. It only requires consciousness of oneself as a social actor and the ability to articulate awareness of this. Identity as a woman can be claimed by anyone.[i]

Socialization as a woman, on the other hand, begins at birth and continues as a lifelong process. It seems to have no beginning and no end, almost as if it were organic or inevitable.[ii]  Socialization takes hold even before a young girl has social consciousness of her own and it operates without her consent. It is the day-by-day experience of learning and internalizing the gender-based norms, rituals, and behaviors that society demands of children born female. Socialization is experientially cumulative; the whole of socialization is greater than the sum of its parts. Aspects of this experience may be approximated, but they cannot be duplicated.

It is therefore inaccurate to insist that identity and socialization are equivalent or interchangeable. Further, deconstructing and eliminating oppression against women is impossible if we refuse to fully examine its origin, social determinants, and class-based operations. Continue reading