Whipping girl : a transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity

by Julia Serano

Paper Book, 2016


Checked out


Berkeley, CA : Seal Press, [2016]


In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations,both pre- and post-transition,to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole. Serano's well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. In this provocative manifesto, she exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this feminine" weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire. In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today's feminists and transgender activists must work to embrace and empower femininity,in all of its wondrous forms.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Narshkite
DNFing this. I just cannot. I am a cis woman who laments the lack of intersectionality in activism on behalf of underrepresented communities and who cannot fathom why other cis people care so much about other people's gender identity. That does not mean I don't have questions, I do, but none of them have to do with anyone's right to identify as they wish to identify and present themselves to the world in the way they choose. I wish Serano believed the same.

I was told that my choice to wear makeup and feminine clothing is performative and superficial.

I was told that cis and trans women are the same despite the fact that their lived experiences are utterly different, both when trans women present as male and as "non-passing" trans or genderqueer. There are, in fact, vast differences between the lived expereince of trans women and those people assigned female gender at birth. You may not like that Ms. Serano, but your experience of living as a woman differs a great deal from my experience living as a woman and my experience probably has more in common with the lived experience of trans men and those whose genitalia is female but who are genderqueer. (Serano is SO dismissive of trans men! It is insulting.) Maybe Ms. Serano might consider whether that fact of shared lived experience had anything to do with the (in my opinion completely wrong) decision to not permit trans women to attend the Michigan Womyn's festival. (An event I have been to and found hokey and silly -- and lord the music was terrible. Lord save me from another Cris Williamson singalong.)

Serano mows over any facts or considerations that don't comport with her world view. She is elitist and entitled and illogical. Bad combo. Read this as polemic if you want, but if you are looking for social science or philosophy run.

I have other things I can rant about, but I will leave it here. I only read about 1/3 of the book so I am not giving it a star rating
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LibraryThing member ametralladoras
I'm torn on what rating I should give this book. I feel like this book was written to be sampled by chapter and not actually read cover to cover. My criticisms is that this book gets very repetitive and occasionally hypocritical. It gets kind of old for the last portion of the book. However, I really want to applaud Julia Serano for this book at the same time. I feel that she really brings forth and new and necessary perspective to feminism that no one has done before. I also want to thank...more I'm torn on what rating I should give this book. I feel like this book was written to be sampled by chapter and not actually read cover to cover. My criticisms is that this book gets very repetitive and occasionally hypocritical. It gets kind of old for the last portion of the book. However, I really want to applaud Julia Serano for this book at the same time. I feel that she really brings forth and new and necessary perspective to feminism that no one has done before. I also want to thank her for really pulling from personal experiences with gender that really make this book personable and thought provoking.… (more)
LibraryThing member raschneid
I've read and thought a lot about gender, but this book changed the way that I think about gender identity and "gender performance" (a term that Serano doesn't bother to reclaim, although she does explain what Judith Butler actually meant by it in the first place).

If you are a strict social constructionist when it comes to gender, your mental model does not have room for women like Julia Serano. Serano provides a compelling model for how gender works without straying into gender essentialism, evolutionary psychology, or other lame psuedoscience.

Serano also debunks pop culture and academic approaches to gender, cross-gendered behavior, and femininity, and she talks candidly and bravely about her own experiences in a world where gendered meanings are assigned by others rather than simply performed by the individual.
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LibraryThing member piemouth
It's a collection of essays about transsexuality, some of which touch on feminism and femininity. She thinks the latter is disparaged for misogynistic reasons; I disagree somewhat, but I acknowledge I have a blind spot because I was a tall tomboy and was always in trouble with my mom and grandmothers because I wanted to wear pants and play in the dirt. "Why can't you be more feminine?" or really anything positive about it makes me see red. The essays vary in style and appeal for me. I liked best the ones where she talks about her experience of growing up and figuring out her sexuality and gender. She also has some great thoughts about how TS people are portrayed in the media, how even sympathetic stories of MTF people always start with obligatory shots of putting on makeup, getting dressed, etc. Even if the person is a butch lesbian. Since I'd read How Sex Changed a few years ago, I already knew a lot of the stuff she describes about sexologists and doctors being gatekeepers for trans surgery and requiring the patient to live in "appropriate" gender roles - MTF people who saw themselves as lesbians were barred from surgery. So that part wasn't so interesting. I'd recommend it to anyone who's curious about transsexuality and how it's been treated by our culture and the medical establishment.… (more)
LibraryThing member tngolden
How proud am I to know the author! Julia goes where few have dared to tread and deconstructs gender -- the source of so much prejudice and ignorance. Whether you're trans, cis or just want to see yourself and your own assumptions a little clearer -- this book will strip the shroud away and make you see yourself and the world around you a little more clearly. And it is so accessible to readers of all backgrounds and levels of comprehension. A wonderful book I am proud to have signed.… (more)
LibraryThing member ambiguouslyme
I really appreciate Serano's acknowledgment of actual biological difference and her lens of social exaggeration, rather than construction. I find her theory sections easy to read and quite relevant for all those looking to understand gender a little better, whether their concern is how trans individuals fit into the system or how misogyny and patriarchy influence the lives of everyone. An excellent book!… (more)
LibraryThing member regularguy5mb
This book is a revelation! Taking on both oppositional and traditional sexism, Serano uses her experience as a transwoman and a biochemist to show that gender is not a binary, nor should masculine and feminine be considered opposites. Through a series of essays, she calls for the return of the feminine to feminism.

Her points on the way media and society have handled transsexuals (or really any male-born individual showing feminine tendencies) over the years definitely hit home. She attacks the notions that gender is either innate or socialized, which should really be obvious as there are men socialized male who still lean towards the feminine and women socialized female who lean masculine. We as a society have, for no rational reason, always placed femininity as something lesser than masculinity. From the trans experience, women attaining to be men are accepted as completely rational while men attaining to be women are derided and told there is something wrong with them, that there is something wrong with wanting to be feminine, being female. Serano looks to the sources of this extreme wrong-thinking and tries to find a way past it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Apadravya
This book broadened my perspectives about all the topics that were discussed in it. I was not aware of all the struggles trans women have before I read this book. And I never thought about all the different kinds of sexism and why do they exist. I cannot say I totally agree with all the opinions and suggestions, but all in all I think these ideas should be a guide for fighting sexism as a society. I recommend this book to every person in the world. These ideas deserve to be heard.… (more)
LibraryThing member kthxy
I don't even have to agree with all the theoretical claims to acknowledge that this is the most important book I've read in the past 2 years...
LibraryThing member noonaut
A frankly refreshing book discussing not only the near-universal derision and discrimination towards trans women and other trans feminine people but also the two large schools of gender identity formation -- biological and socially-constructed -- their deficiencies, strengths and the fact that neither alone satisfactorily describes how gender comes about and is lived.
A book that anyone who has any interest in transgender issues would do well to read.
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LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
The author argues that gender is not socially constructed but socially exaggerated -- while there are biological/hormonal elements underlying male/female differences, they are impossibly exaggerated in Western society.

It's a very thought-provoking book, combining her personal experiences with an extensive academic lit review. Not a Trans Issues 101 book, which I appreciate. (Of course, I am already very sold on rejecting the gender binary, so I found it very easy to get into this book.)

Serano also articulates a critique of Eugenides's novel Middlesex that hit right on something that perturbed me about that novel when I read it but was never able to explain to the novel's fans.

There are a few essays that are a bit repetitive, but overall this is an excellent read. Academically challenging in the best way. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member poetontheone
Whipping Girl derails the sensationalist lineage of transsexual memoir with an investment in thorough but approachable theoretical and social dialogue. Serano uses her familiarity with feminist theory and gender studies, as well as her training in biology, to put pressure on her readers and on the academy about regarding our thoughts about masculinity, femininity, and the problem of sexism in contemporary society. Her book isn't gospel and is at times problematic. Serano tries to navigate a space between or beyond essentialism and social constructionist frameworks regarding gender and sometimes ends up falling short of a tenable solution. Regardless of its shortcomings, this book is an essential of gender studies scholarship that is as important for its reach and readability as it is for its groundbreaking dialogue.… (more)


Original publication date


Physical description

xxvi, 392 p.; 21 cm



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