Issue Brief: The State of the Housing Crisis

CJ Trowbridge



Issue Brief: The State of the Housing Crisis

The lack of affordable housing is a pervasive, escalating, global crisis driven in part by NIMBYism, speculative investments, and a lack of development. This is a social problem because the troubling social condition has been clearly outlined, and clear solutions exist for each underlying problem. NIMBYs use land use restrictions such as single-family zoning, height restrictions, and density restrictions to allow wealthy white people to artificially inflate housing costs, push out minorities, and prevent migration into their neighborhoods. An another front, speculators are holding vacant the very housing which is critically needed because they want to artificially inflate rent by reducing supply; there are currently over 46,000 vacant homes in the bay area. (Pena) There are about half that many homeless people in the bay area, at just 28,000. (Anthony) Lastly, developers are not building enough homes to meet the needs of cities. For example, at the current pace of housing development, Redwood City projects that it will meet its 2040 housing needs in 2880. (MTC)

The overarching problem of a lack of affordable housing is pervasive throughout the world, and it’s getting worse. Marginalized people are bearing the brunt of these problems across the globe, “While the advantaged members of the knowledge, professional, and creative class have enough money left over even after paying the cost of housing in these cities, it’s the less-well-paid members of the service and working classes who get the short of end of the stick, with not nearly enough left over to afford the basic necessities of life. They are either pushed to the periphery of these places or pushed out all together.” (Citylab)

Land use restrictions such as single-family zoning and height restrictions allow wealthy white people to artificially inflate housing costs, push out minorities, and prevent migration into their neighborhoods. In The Sunset district of San Francisco today, no one may build anything higher than fifty feet. (SF Gov) This means that despite the abundant availability of land, most of it is zoned for small, low density homes rather than large apartment buildings which could house many times more people.

All around the world, speculators make the housing problem worse. They buy distressed properties or even perfectly fine properties. They remove existing tenants and hold the property vacant. Eventually, they hope the demand will go up and cause the price to increase to the point where the speculator can make a significant profit from selling the property. This means that all they are doing for the community is raising prices on properties because of their personal greed. There is no benefit to anyone but themselves, and the people they removed from the property are now likely priced out of their own neighborhoods. In California, almost all homeless people are homeless in the same neighborhood they grew up in. (Marbut) There are currently over 46,000 vacant homes in the bay area. (Pena) There are about half that many homeless people in the bay area. (Anthony) In many cases, homeless populations exist in those neighborhoods because speculators forced them out of their homes before inflating the prices and reselling the properties to wealthy new owners who vote to deny services to help the people whose houses they are now living in. In one recent example, a group of homeless mothers in Oakland occupied one of these vacant speculator-owned homes. With broad community support, they were eventually able to acquire legal ownership of the home! (Elassar)

During the progressive era, the government decided to give trillions of dollars to certain kinds of people to fund the construction of the suburbs. Programs like FHA and the GI bill gave trillions of dollars in loans to people who would never have been given loans in the past. This funded the creation of the suburbs by now-wealthy primarily white people. They left the cities in a period we now refer to as “white flight.” Despite the fact that the GI bill and FHA gave loans primarily to white people, the racism of the home loan programs was extended into a policy called redlining. Tracts were described by lenders on a scale of how many people of color lived in the tract. If there were too many people of color then the tract was outlined in red on the map. Redlining meant no loans would be offered there, or to people who lived there and wanted to leave. Predictably, this led to a long period of decline and decay in the inner cities, where the white people had trapped most of the people of color. (Race, The Power of an Illusion)

Never fear because Urban Renewal was here! In the mid twentieth century, redlining was banned, but the damage it had done to urban communities of color was intense and pervasive. The US government responded by allocating enormous amounts of money to bulldoze those neighborhoods and allow white people to build new homes there which could then be used to exclude people of color from their neighborhoods, or in some cases rented out to them so they could now rent where they had previously owned. At the same time, public housing was also being demolished and replaced with private for-profit housing. Today there is no public housing left in San Francisco. Throughout the country, 90% of the housing demolished during Urban Renewal was never rebuilt. Two third of those displaced were black or latino. (Race, The Power of an Illusion)

Today in San Francisco, there are many programs intended to create “Affordable housing” as an alternative to public housing. When the phrase “Affordable housing” is capitalized, it means there is a subsidy involved. Programs like HUD’s Section 8 will cover the cost of rent for a small number of very-low-income renters with certain characteristics. Other programs will cover part of the cost for certain kinds of renters. There are few to no “affordable housing” options for most people. When this phrase is not capitalized, it means housing which costs less than 30-50% of people’s income. San Francisco basically thinks about only two categories; market rate housing and subsidized housing. Market rate housing is when a two-bedroom apartment costs $4,520/month. (Rent Jungle) This is affordable only if someone is earning $108,480-$180,800. This means you have to earn in the 76th-90th percentile for market rate to be affordable. (DQYDG) This tells us that for the vast majority of people in the city, there are no affordable housing options.

Developers are not building enough homes to meet the needs of cities. Cities are required to work with the state to project their housing needs on a regular basis through a program called RHNA. Cities are not, however, required to actually make sure that amount of housing gets built. For example, according to SPUR, at the current pace of housing development, Redwood City will meet its own projects for its 2040 housing needs in the year 2880. (MTC) If this sounds like a joke, it’s because this problem is so enormous and so out of control and so poorly managed by cities, that there is no longer any way to sugar coat these numbers.

Fixing this problem will take changes to land use restrictions which disempower NIMBYs and speculators while enabling massive redevelopment to take place. We need a lot more units, and we need them everywhere, not just in someone else’s backyard. We need units in EVERY back yard, and we need to replace single family homes with large high-density apartment buildings or we are going to continue to see enormous numbers of people on the streets and few to no affordable options available to most people. This crisis will continue to escalate until action on these points is forced down the throats of the people standing in the way. We can already see examples such as the one I mentioned in Oakland where people are beginning to rise up and demand change, even if it’s in violation of the unjust laws which allow a privileges few to perpetrate this crisis on the people.




Works Cited


Anthony, Kate et al. Homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area: The crisis and a path forward. McKinsey & Company. Accessed 2020-02-24. industries/public-sector/our-insights/homelessness-in-the-san-francisco-bay-area-the-crisis-and-a-path-forward

Citylab. The Global Housing Crisis. Accessed 2020-02-24. 04/the-global-housing-crisis/557639/

DQYDJ. Income Percentile by City Calculator in 2019.

Elassar, Alaa. “Homeless mothers with Oakland’s ‘Moms 4 Housing’ have been forcibly evicted from a vacant home they were occupying.” CSS. Published 2020-01-15.

Pena, Luz. ABC 7 News. There are an estimated 46,000 vacant homes in the Bay Area, but why? Accessed 2020-02-24.

Marbut, Robert. State of Homelessness. Presented 2015-04-07.

MTC. When Will Bay Area Cities Reach Plan Bay Area 2040 Housing Targets? Accessed 2020-02-11. plan-bay-area-2040-housing-targets

Race, The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel.  April 2003.

Rent Jungle. Rent trend data in San Francisco, California.

SF Gov. “Zoning Map – Height/Bulk Districts.” City and County of San Francisco. Accessed 2020-04-01.

Sexism: An Ameliorative Approach

CJ Trowbridge

Feminist Moral Issues


Sexism: An Ameliorative Approach

In this essay, I will argue that Kate Manne’s account of misogyny as the enforcement mechanism for systemic sexism is persuasive as a novel deontological framework for ameliorating the impact of sexism by changing the way we talk about it. To defend this claim, I will show that her argument overcomes one of the main challenges facing feminist ethical arguments by providing not just an epistemic system but a deontological system.

In her book Down Girl, Kate Manne argues for a prescriptive redefinition of misogyny under an ameliorative lens, “if we want to change the world, we may need to conceptualize it differently.” In the past, arguments about systemic sexism have focused on convincing people that it exists.  In these arguments, systemic sexism is typically presented in the form of disparate impact which is aligned with gender as a result of aggregated microaggressions. The impact is the focus rather than the microaggressions. There are several problems that emerge from what Manne calls this “naïve approach.” First, as an inductive argument, it’s easy to find anecdotes which purport to refute it. In reality this is not how to refute an inductive argument, but it convinces many people to accept their predetermined conclusion that systemic sexism is either not real, not important, or not their problem. Secondly, the attention is focused on the impact rather than on the microaggression that causes it. Manne’s argument moves the attention onto the microaggressions and into the deductive form which can not be refuted as easily.

Marilyn Frye’s Birdcage Theory says that systemic sexism is made up of lots of little pieces that come together to form a problematic system which works like a birdcage; no one wire is the one holding the bird down, it’s all of them working together. You could even remove a wire or two and the bird would not be free. It’s the cage that is the problem, not the individual wires. This is metaphor for many things in society which work together to keep women subjugated. The challenge in making arguments based on this theory is that they are inductive arguments. For example, “Trump is a sexist.” It’s easy to point to anecdotal counter-examples like his several female employees or his relationship with his daughter. These counter-examples don’t really disprove the claim but they muddy the waters enough to make further discussion difficult or impossible. This claim is unlikely to change minds.

Manne offers a radically different approach for how to think about the problem and how to articulate claims about the problem. She says that instead of making an inductive conclusion, we should make a deductive conclusion and instead of talking about disparate impact, we should about microaggressions which she calls down-girl moves. This simple deontological claim on Manne’s part has radically changed the way I think about social justice in general and I say that as someone who already a degree in that. Because this is such a fundamental paradigm shift, I have prepared a graph which explains how different this is from older ideas about how to talk about sexism. In logic, there are four types of arguments: A, E, I, O. The naïve approach uses forms I and O. The Ameliorative approach uses forms A and E; these forms are very different as we will see.

From my previous example, when I said “Trump is a sexist,” the stated premise breaks apart to include several implied premises;

  1. Trump has probably committed many sexist microaggressions
  2. The impact of systemic sexism on women is caused by the aggregated microaggressions.
  3. Therefore Trump is probably responsible for some portion of the impact of systemic sexism on women.

It’s easy to attack that claim from many angles, but the fundamental problem according to Manne is that we are saying probably. It’s too easy to attack an inductive or “probably” argument. Now imagine instead the claim, “Trump strangled his wife.” The stated premise and implied premise are reversed, and no rebuttal is possible. No matter how many women he has hired or what kind of relationship he has with his daughter, he still strangled his wife.

I feel like I have to include at least a little bit of queer theory in this essay and say that while all systems of oppression are different, they all work the same way. In the case of race, I think a good corollary to Manne’s ameliorative approach is Black Lives Matter. Instead of signs and posters reading, “Black people are disproportionately likely to be murdered by police,” the claim that black lives matter simply assumes that, and it’s much harder to credibly attack head-on.

Beyond just changing the form of arguments used, Manne says that we should talk about down-girl moves rather than talking just about impact of systemic sexism. As we can see in the previous example, this is a very effective way to prevent rebuttal while making essentially the same argument about Trump being a sexist. In Manne’s argument, a down-girl move is a microaggression which has the effect of subjugating or subordinating women. It’s not just about being a sexist; it’s also about putting women below men hierarchically. She argues that down-girl moves “will be such that all or most women are positioned as subordinate in relation to some man or men.” These moves do the work of enforcing patriarchy or the hierarchy of genders with men on top. She gives long lists of examples from things like strangulation to humiliation to threats of violence, especially when the aggressor jumps between universal and specific as ER did in his manifesto. “[Because some women are not attracted to me, I will punish all women by attacking some women.]” This move is more than just a sexist microaggression, it’s also a claim that women are below men hierarchically. She also argues that we should focus on the most egregious down-girl acts when making claims about bad actors. For someone like Trump who has strangled a wife, it might make less sense to focus on discussions of his diction or hiring practices, unless that’s specifically the context we’re talking about.

The strongest objection to the ameliorative approach would be epistemic sexism. If an opponent rejects the fundamental premises of feminism or accepts the gender hierarchy, then down-girl moves, sexism, and misogyny are good things. In these cases, the ameliorative claim, “Trump strangled his wife,” could simply be met with, “She probably deserved it.” In these cases, this person is someone who needs to be convinced of many fundamentals before they are ready to discuss why strangling one’s wife is problematic. If we assume that the ameliorative approach is intended to be used with people who believe women are people who deserve equal rights, then I think it stands up to this objection.

One of the main historical challenges facing feminist philosophers is the fact that it’s difficult to map discussions of systemic issues onto individual situations. For example, it’s easy to talk about how in the vast majority of domestic violence cases, men are the perpetrators. The response might be, “that’s other men, it’s not my problem, etc.” It’s hard to point to specific micro-scale things that should change in order to ameliorate the larger macro-scale claim. Outliers are often used wrongly as a rebuttal for arguments about the wage gap; “there are woman CEOs, therefore the wage gap is the fault of women who don’t earn higher wages by working harder.” An ameliorative response might be to fight for equal opportunity hiring practices in response to hiring managers choosing men instead of women. This would ameliorate the problem by removing the capacity for misogyny to impact the decision-making process. In Manne’s words, the ameliorative approach is about actually changing things and making conditions better for women. If we follow her advice and use better argument forms and focus on egregious cases, we are likely to see conditions improve, and that’s what it’s all about!

Gender Is The Problem

CJ Trowbridge

LGBT Literature


It’s easy to see conflict between people of certain genders as a problem, but what if I told you that gender itself is the root problem and that conflict between gender groups is actually a design feature? Gender says it is a set of discrete categories based on nature which imparts a series of roles and expectations onto members of these categories. Gender affects everyone whether or not we believe in it or accept its dictates about how we are supposed to live our lives. All of us should reject gender in its entirety in furtherance of justice for all.

Gender says it is a set of discrete categories based on nature which imparts a series of roles and expectations onto members. Consider the following bizarre interaction in Stone Butch Blues. A group of people is working hard to develop identities based on rejecting assigned gender roles. One older member of the group dies, and the younger members are expected to ritualistically embrace their assigned gender roles at a funeral in honor of another person who spent their life working to reject those assigned gender roles. It’s a strange and dissonant moment where a group of people who are working tirelessly for decades to develop and expand their right to exist outside the dictates of heterosexist culture suddenly choose to reject all that and do as the patriarchy tells them. In fact, several members of the group don’t even have the “proper” patriarchy-sanctioned clothes to wear, so they end up shunned by others in the group afterwards. This bizarre and contradictory conflict can only exist within patriarchy. This is a good example of internalized heterosexism. People who are steeped in decades of experiences where the heteropatriarchy is trying to force them to conform may choose to reject that conformity, but also internalize deep self-loathing related to their choice to be at odds with what the culture is trying to force them to do. In this example, the group pressures some of its members to conform to patriarchal expectations. This small act of submission to the patriarchy provides a cathartic release while also executing a down-girl move on everyone who has worked so hard to develop an identity of rejecting the heterosexist culture.

The idea that gender is based on nature or some objective measure of reality is called gender essentialism. Academic critiques of gender essentialism abound. If you haven’t read them, you should. In reality, human sexual diversity is enormously complex. There are at least six possible combinations of human sex chromosomes, and dozens of other intersex conditions. By existing in nature, these examples refute the argument that gender is based on nature. There are also many purely philosophical arguments against gender essentialism which we don’t have time in this essay to expound on. Gender was invented by humans as a tool which facilitates the collective theft of power and resources by one group; men. We see many interesting examples corroborating these points in gay male culture. As David points out in Giovanni’s Room, it doesn’t make any sense for Giovanni to expect him to act like a housewife. David chooses to reject the roles and expectations associated with being a woman. It is common for men in all-male situations and environments from locker rooms to gay relationships to weaponize gender and use down-girl moves to demand subordination from one another. This bizarre behavior demonstrates two things which I have already stated; gender is not real, and gender has nothing to do with the sex characteristics of a person.

Gender is a socially constructed set of arbitrary and made-up categories. Gender classifies people into these categories which each have sets of roles and expectations. Until recently women were considered property of men and without free agency, the capability of being self-actualized individuals, voting rights, and the right to own property. This has very recently changed in some liberal and post-liberal cultures, but it remains the law of the land throughout much of the modern world and throughout almost all of the pre-modern world. Systems of identity which are created to facilitate the theft of power and resources from one group by another are called systems of oppression. Gender is part of a system of oppression called sexism where men form a privileged group called the patriarchy which has the power and resources. Other examples of systems of oppression are racism, classism, casteism, ruralism, ageism, ableism, etc. All of these are different but all of them work in the same way; one group is elevated and another is subordinated, one group receives stolen power and resources while one group has them stolen.  The pervasive culture which develops to embrace and enforce gender is called heterosexism or the idea that there are some real set of genders based on sex. Gender is the idea that some people should be doing certain things while others should be doing other things, based on their genitals or on fantasies about what chromosomes are. This belief is fundamentally, necessarily, and inextricably rooted in oppression of one group by another.

The work of enforcing systems of oppression comes from small acts called microaggressions which add up to form the larger system. I like the Kate Mann perspective which is that these can be thought of as “down-moves.” In the case of sexism, they are often down-girl moves which are designed to subordinate women and show them their place is beneath men. We will come back to this.

One good example from the readings comes from David of Giovanni’s Room and his relationship with his father. David’s father has no woman around and therefore the roles and expectations assigned to women parents are simply not conducted. Elements of maternity such as closeness, empathy, nurturing, and care are simply denied to David. His father acts out only the roles assigned to a patriarch; distance, emotionlessness, drunken chauvinism, etc. David’s upbringing and emotional development are harmed by receiving only a portion of the parenting skills which form the complete picture of a healthy relationship between a parent and child; precisely because his father chooses to limit his actions to fit the roles and expectations assigned to his gender while choosing to actively deny David the healthy and important roles and expectations which are instead assigned to the absent mother.

Another example is David’s toxic relationship with Hella. He tries to make it work in order to meet the expectations of people in general and his father specifically. In the end, he destroys that relationship too. This relationship is built on lying about accepting gender roles and expectations while secretly rejecting them. When she finds out the truth, she leaves him.

A third example is Giovanni’s open and vociferous misogyny. He thinks of them as objects, treats them like objects, abuses them physically and emotionally. This is very common for men who have multiple dimensions of privilege. For example, when someone is white, cisgender, affluent, able-bodied, etc, all of those things can combine and amplify one another to provide that person with the perspective that lots of different kinds of people are beneath them, and any one of them may be treated as an object. It becomes more than just a down-girl move. It becomes down-black, down-disabled, down-poor, etc. People performing acts of subjugation will often seek to expand beyond the directly related distinctions. Giovanni frequently includes other things with his misogyny such as adultism. He will call an adult woman a “little girl.” In order to leverage other areas where he has privilege in order to amplify the impact of his down-girl moves. In order to perform his role as a man, he feels compelled to subjugate, belittle, and objectify women.

Gender is not necessary. At some point in the past, people existed as australopithecines. At some point before that, we were shrews. At some point before that, we were microorganisms. The idea that people should live a certain way because of their genitals was invented by people and before that moment we didn’t have gender. Therefore gender is not necessary. We got along just fine without it, and we will get along just fine without it.

Take for example Hella’s contradictory views about gender progressivism and a desire to submit and be a housewife. If she chose to truly embrace gender progress and base her life on these core principles, then the tension and conflict around wanting to submit and be a housewife would be much easier to deliberately reject rather than living a life of quiet desperation and internal logical inconsistency. Why submit to the pressure to embrace the patriarchy and its plans for you when you could instead spend your life dismantling the patriarchy and being liberated from its demands for you? This character’s internal conflict seems to be closely connected with David’s conflict at the door knob. He knows that if he doesn’t leave now then he never will. He knows he has a choice between living an honest life or climbing back into the comfortable lie. He chooses to go back to living a lie, and it costs Giovanni’s life as well as costing the marriage he goes on to try to force with Hella.

In the Stone Butch Blues funeral example, everyone who rejected calls to submit to the patriarchy miraculously survived the experience. Social tension arises as a result, and that’s the cost of living an honest life. Everything from using the locker rooms at the factory to doing the work at the factory which corresponds to specific assigned genders, somehow miraculously continues to function when the people involved reject their assigned genders and do whatever they want to be doing instead of what they are “supposed” to be doing.

There is no case where requiring certain roles and behaviors for one group versus another does not result in a system of oppression. Every action has a cost and potentially a benefit. Costs accrue. Benefits accrue. And systems of oppression make sure that the costs accumulate with one group while the benefits accrue with another group. There is no balanced system; the genders can not be equal if the roles and expectations placed on them are not equal. The people with power and resources will gain more power and resources. The people without power and resources will continue to lose power and resources until the system is dismantled. There is no fix for systems of oppression.

Take for example the case of Molly who entered New York City sleeping in an abandoned car with Calvin. If they had chosen to give up their liberated identities and conform to patriarchal expectations, maybe they would have been a happy straight couple raising children in the back seat of the abandoned car, but they certainly would not have moved into the upper echelons of the city in the next few weeks.

Just imagine then what David and Giovanni might have found together if David had made a different choice at the door knob. Probably Giovanni would not have died and maybe they would have been able to find happiness together. It seems likely that Hella could have pursued the life she really wanted, working on progressive women’s issues instead of submitting to be the housewife of a self-loathing homosexual.

A theme emerges from all of these examples; if we choose to base our lives on trying to fulfill the expectations of our assigned gender roles and expectations, we will have a bad time. If instead, we choose to live honestly and do what we actually want to do instead of what out gender roles and expectations dictate we should want to do, we will have a better time and live happier lives.

Finally, consider Ruth’s painting of the sky in Jess’ room in Stone Butch Blues. Jess can’t tell if it’s day or night. Ruth says that’s the point and asks if it unnerves Jess. Jess says yes it does. Ruth goes on to explain that this represents the internal conflict and the part of oneself that one needs to accept. It doesn’t matter whether it’s night or day. It’s not night or day. It’s something else, it’s twilight. Twilight is not night or day. It is its own thing which exists in its own time and space outside of night and day. The idea that we must choose between whether it’s night or day is a false choice. These are reductive and incomplete categories which people made up. These categories do not include all potential cases. When we feel this tension around which category fits, we should interpret that tension as evidence that neither category fits because both are made up. This is a major theme throughout all queer film and literature including the examples given from this class. This is also the point of this essay. I hope I’ve showed that this point is larger than these stories, and while it certainly disproves gender and makes the case that we should reject gender, the argument is much larger than gender.

Gender panopticism must be dismantled.

CJ Trowbridge

Women’s Studies


Take a trip to the store to buy just about any product and you may notice a surprising fact; the products are gendered. Products from pens to diapers and of course clothes are designed to enforce the gender binary while also doing its oppressive work. (Bond) The gender binary is a lie perpetrated by cultural institutions like religion and the media; this lie says that all people are divided into one of two gender groups. One group is subordinated to the other, and power and resources flow from the subordinated group to the dominator group. In this way, the institution of gender fits the definition of a system of oppression and resembles the institutions of racism and classism. Gender itself is the problem. Gender is made up. Gender exists only to steal power and resources from people in the subordinated group and deliver them to people in the dominator group. Identifying as a man means choosing an identity which exists solely to allow its participants to benefit from the systemic theft of power and resources from people who do not identify as a man. Each of the groups in the gender binary are like jail cells in a panopticon; if we choose to accept the premise that everyone must pick one of two jail cells in the prison of gender, then we are choosing either to steal power and wealth on that basis, or to have it stolen from us on that basis. This is what gender panopticism means. Gender panopticism must be dismantled.

Researcher Casey Bond looked at common gendered products offered in supermarkets everywhere. The conclusion was that even when products are identical in every way except their assigned gender, the prices  charged to people in the subordinated group are often double or triple the prices charged to people in the dominator group. This is a great, concise example of how power and resources are stolen from the subordinated group and delivered to the dominator group; people who identify as women pay more for the same things than do people who identify as men. When gender panopticism invades and corrupts products, it causes price discrimination which benefits the dominator group.

Capitalism is a vehicle for systems of oppression like gender panopticism, but gender panopticism exists on a pervasive basis throughout society. It’s easy to see it in products, but it’s not just about products. Everything from who holds the door open, to who gets promoted, to who stays home with the kids is also doing the simultaneous work of enforcing gender onto people and stealing power and resources from the subordinated group in order to benefit the dominator group. This is deeply unjust, and we have a duty to dismantle the systems that perpetrate this injustice.

Historically, we can see evidence of gender panopticism in things like the wage gap. In 1960 for example, people in the subordinated group made an average of just 60% of what people in the dominator group made. (National Committee on Pay Equity) Today, the number is about 80.5%. We have seen some small historical progress in income, and yet people in the subordinate class are paying double or triple the price for the same consumer goods today versus people in the dominator class. (Bond) Is that progress or regress?

The argument that there is an essence or true inner self which is reflected in gender identities is both racist and classist as Grillo explains in “Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality,”

The perceived need to define what women’s experience is and what oppression ‘as women’ means has prompted some feminists to analyze the situation of woman by stripping away race and class… This approach, however, assumes the strands or identity are separate… but as the intersectionality critique has taught us, they are different and not just additively. Race and class can not just be subtracted because they are in ways inextricable from gender. The attempt to extract race and class elevates white, middle class experience into the norm, making it the prototypical experience.

There is no true essence of being a woman, nor any true essence of being a man. These are racist, classist, sexist ideas given to us by a culture obsessed with domination and subordination on the basis of any perceived distinction. A common attempt to rebut this fact will claim gender reflects nature and make illiterate reference to XX/XY chromosomes as the sources of the two genders. In reality, human sex chromosomes can combine it at least six ways. (WHO) Most plants have only one sex. Some plant species have two sexes, and others have three sexes. (Armoza) Throughout nature, sex characteristics are highly diverse and do not reflect the human-invented gender binary.

Queer theory offers most of what I’ve articulated up to this point. Foucault gave us the idea of cultural expectations as a panopticon or a prison of identity where we as prisoners enforce the rules on one another. Foucault also talked about the modern punishment being indefinite examination rather than drawing and quartering as was the case in ancient times. (Focuault) It’s not as though something bad will happen to us if we don’t choose to conform. What happens is the constant and indefinite scrutiny and examination of those who have not yet crossed over into rejecting gender as we have. This means that the cost of challenging gender panopticism is the same as challenging the false narrative of the gender binary itself. Foucault calls this “queering”

Judith Butler argues that gender is a performance. It’s a character we play, rather than something we actually are. At the same time, she argues for defending people whose performance is subordinated. For example, murdering women on the basis of their membership in the subordinated gender class is considered acceptable in many places throughout the world. We can work to stop the murder of women while also rejecting the idea of gender as some absolute fact about people. (Yancey)

These theories are part of a larger body of work called Queer Theory. They overlap with others to suggest a potential path forward called queering. Queering is the idea that we can identify and challenge the assumptions and ideas in society which underly and reinforce systems like gender panopticism. (Cohen 438) There is a strong case for queering as well as either allyship or amelioration. On the one hand, we can reject gender panopticism. We can for example, as I do, personally reject the use of pronouns both in my spoken language and in writing, reject the use of gendered products, and reject elements of the performance of gender in our own lives. But we can also work to improve conditions for those who are subordinated by gender. Traditionally, allyship means leveraging privilege to interrupt systems that oppress people. (Bell) But since this means accepting a privileged identity, we can instead practice amelioration as Kate Manne suggests in Down Girl (Manne 55). Therefore, we can dismantle gender panopticism by identifying and rejecting its discourses as well as ameliorating conditions for the people who it is subordinating.

Since gender panopticism is socioculturally pervasive, there are no examples where it has been dismantled, but we can look at examples where conditions are more ameliorated or where challenging the discourses lead to a lesser degree of scrutiny and examination. At Burning Man, for example, I would say a greater scrutiny is applied to people who conform to normal expectations versus people who challenge those expectations. Dressing as a normal-looking man or woman at Burning Man is likely to convey the impression that one is either an undercover cop or else making an ironic statement about gender panopticism by conforming to it.

So too in the underground queer scenes of cities like Berlin and San Francisco, we see the same reversal of the normal trend. Normies are shunned, while people are elevated for challenging or rejecting discourses around gender performance. In many cases though, these challenges are not to gender itself but merely to the person’s accepted gender identity. Someone may cross-dress or become a drag queen and perform the “opposite” of their normal role as a way of exploring inside other jail cells in the panopticon, rather than exiting the panopticon. Less commonly, we see people who identify as “genderqueer” or “nonbinary.” These people actively work to subvert gender discourses and disrupt assumptions about gender and especially about the idea of a gender binary. These people are at the bleeding edge of gender justice, doing the work of dismantling the gender panopticon.

Possibly the best example in popular culture is Janelle Monae, a queer, nonbinary, “highly melanated” artist who makes music, movies, and other art. (Monae 2) Monae’s music videos often contradict discourses around gender. One example is Monae seated on a throne in Django Jane with people of indeterminate gender seated both above and below the throne. (Monae 1) On the subject of gender, Monae has said, “I defy every label and I look at myself as someone who will always stand with my nonbinary people and I look at myself as someone who is constantly growing and does not see myself as someone who lives in a binary way.” (Monae 2) I think Monae’s example is about as ideal as we can get in terms of talking about how to do the work of being outside the binary and actively dismantling the gender panopticon by directly challenging the discourses that it relies on.

I think queer culture is ascendant within the LGBT communities, and that people are starting to see that many of our identities are built on false dichotomies which trap us into sets of discourses around what we are allowed to do and be and want. More and more, it seems like culture is getting more comfortable with stepping outside the jail cells of identity, if only to step into others. The coming wave is one of exiting the jail rather than tiptoeing between cells. Only together can we dismantle all the cells. Only together can we be truly liberated. Only together can we dismantle gender panopticism and all other forms of panopticism and oppression.



Works Cited

Armoza-Zvuloni, R., Kramarsky-Winter, E., Loya, Y., Schlesinger, A., & Rosenfeld, H. (2014). Trioecy, a Unique Breeding Strategy in the Sea Anemone Aiptasia diaphana and Its Association with Sex Steroids Biology of Reproduction, 90 (6), 122-122 DOI: 10.1095/biolreprod.113.114116

Bell, and Pat Griffin. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Bond, Casey. “7 Weird Examples Of How Women Pay More Than Men For The Same Products.” The Huffington Post.

Cohen, Cathy J. Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens. The Radical Potential of Queer Politics. GLQ 1 May 1997; 3 (4): 437–465. doi:

Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984. Discipline And Punish: the Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.

Manne, Kate. “Ameliorating Misogyny.” Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. Oxford University Press. 2017.  Pp 55.

Monae 1, Janelle. “Django Jane.” YouTube, uploaded by Janelle Monae, 2018-02-22,

Monae 2, Janelle. “I defy every label.” YouTube, uploaded by Associated Press, 2020-01-15,

National Committee on Pay Equity. “The Wage Gap Over Time: In Real Dollars, Women See a Continuing Gap.” Accessed 2020-03-21.

Trina Grillo, Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality: Tools to Dismantle the Master’s House, 10 Berkeley Women’s L.J. 16 (1995). Available at:

Yancey, George. “Judith Butler: When Killing Women Isn’t a Crime.” New York Times. 2019-07-10.

WHO. “Gender and Genetics.” World Health Organization.

Environmental Problems and Solutions: I have a cautious optimism that some manner of future may still exist for humanity.

CJ Trowbridge

Environmental Problems and Solutions

Midterm Essay

            Environmental problems can trigger an existential crisis in individuals both because of the scope of the problems and the scope of the duty this realization imparts on us. There are a lot of environmental problems from pollution to mass extinctions to sea level rise and so on. When people learn about the scope of the problems, they realize there is an enormous amount of critical work to do, if we have any hope of surviving as a species. It’s too big; it’s scary. It forces people to confront two things. On the one hand, they may die as a result of the crisis. On the other hand, we may literally go extinct because of the crisis.

This realization demands that people ask themselves what they can do to resolve these existential threats. In many cases, the answer is that there is no answer, it’s already too late. At this point, we will have to choose which possible problems to solve while watching helplessly as the impossible disasters play out. This too is too much, it’s too big. It’s terrifying. It causes people to withdraw, to become averse to the problems altogether. “Yuck I don’t want to think about that.” People deny and hide from these kinds of threats rather than confronting them.

Lastly, the duty which is conveyed is so far beyond the scope of what a person could accomplish, that it demands a radical and fundamental reordering not just of human life, but of all the ideas we have about our culture and identity as individuals. This too is just too big for people to confront. Instead, they withdraw and avert their attention and continue playing the nihilistic role of the capitalist dominator who cares only about their own future accomplishments and not their role in the broader unsustainable system.

Building off of my previous answer, Michael Nelson argues that we need to shift the aversion from the problems to the cause of the problems. Instead of people withdrawing and averting from nascent knowledge of the existential threat of the ongoing environmental collapse, they should avert and withdraw from the culture of consumption and domination which is causing the ongoing environmental collapse.

This “great yuck” — as he puts it — is a disgust with the culture that is destroying any potential future of life on earth. He goes on to argue that we will then need a “great no” or a widespread commitment to change the culture and norms which are literally exterminating all future generations of life on earth. Then we need a “great yes” about defining a better way of life which is not just sustainable but regenerative in order to repair the pervasive damage that has been done to the biosphere.

World scientists issued a warning in November 1992. The warning came because a consensus developed among thousands of leading scientists worldwide that many of humanity’s contemporary social and industrial trends were not just unsustainable but potentially unsurvivable. The scientists went public because they thought that informing a broad population about the severity of the problems and the extent of the threat would spur action to resolve the crisis.

The scientists warned that the resources of the earth and the broader universe are limited and must be carefully understood and managed in order to preserve their continued existence and that of humanity. They argued that this process of understanding and managing the earth must be based on science and facts, rather than ideology and economics.

The earth’s biosphere is an enormously complex system which defies modelling and understanding. There are countless unpredictable interactions between many complex subsystems. Often times it can be difficult or impossible to anticipate or predict the impact of changes here to outcomes elsewhere, and vice versa. This fact, combined with centuries of observations about well-understood problems makes it very challenging to have comprehensive conversation and understanding of the problems we face or the best way to address them. This is a big part of why so many people “yuck” at the problems rather than – more justly according to Nelson – at the causes of those problems.

The economic, political, and sociocultural forces at play which produce the externalities we see causing the ongoing environmental collapse are incredibly powerful, distributed, and difficult to challenge directly. Sociocultural change is a slow and difficult process. In the words of Max Plank, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” We haven’t even started informing the new generations about these issues in any kind of comprehensive way. It seems unlikely that information alone is enough to convince people to find the much needed “great yuck” and take action to change the fundamental cultural institutions which are actively exterminating all life on earth. It seems unlikely that social change will come in time to avert total disaster.

Luckily there is also a small but growing political movement towards taking accountability for the existential threat of the ongoing environmental collapse. New President of The European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has called a green new deal one of her “top priorities.” Likewise, many politicians and surrogates in America have been floating various versions of this idea for a long time in order to create the beginnings of broad support for taking meaningful action on these threats. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has also spoken publicly about his top priority being addressing the threat of climate change with trillions of dollars a year in spending to combat these problems.

Perhaps most excitingly, on the economic front, there is a major shift happening in actuarial science. There is a new perspective in long-term investment from sovereign wealth funds, venture capital firms, private equity, pension funds, and other sources. These funders acknowledge the long-term perspective that the extinction of humanity and collapse of the biosphere are serious threats which should be hedged against. There is a new financial science emerging called ESG or Environmental Sustainability and Governance. The argument of ESG is that if there are two otherwise similar firms with different levels of environmental sustainability and sustainable governance, the more sustainable firm will outperform in the long-term. This has led to enormous shifts in investment away from fossil fuels and into renewables. It has also led businesses seeking investment to plan in the long-term and acknowledge the serious threat of climate change and the collapse of the biosphere.

Though I work in the sociocultural realm, I am personally most hopeful about the potential efficacy of the macroeconomic shifts surrounding ESG and actuarial perspectives on climate change and environmental problems. Whether or not we survive as a species is what’s on the line, and whether we take the rest of the biosphere with us on the path to accomplishing our own destruction. Like the curriculum of this class, I do not expect us to solve all the problems, but because of the systems and movements I have outlined here, I have a cautious optimism that some manner of future may still exist for humanity.

EDC: Queer Activist, Student in Oakland, CA

I have moved to Oakland, CA to focus on getting a degree in Urban Studies at SFSU as well as working on lots of exciting queer activism and housing activism. Here is my updated everyday carry.


I am trying different backpacks and I mostly hate them all. Currently I’m using the basic Jansport I toured Europe with.

Sexual Violence at Sierra College

CJ Trowbridge



Prompt: This is a two part question. Be sure to answer both parts:

Write the sample text a college could use to realistically warn potential students about the risk of sexual violence they could face if they enroll. (About one paragraph)

THEN write the concrete policy steps that YOU WISH the college would implement to keep students safe. What could this look like?? Be creative, bold, and as effective as possible.


Statistically, it is very likely that you as a student will be sexually assaulted during your time at Sierra College. Because Sierra College wants to keep its numbers looking good, our policies instruct employees to violate the mandated reporter law and report sexual violence to some bureaucrat instead of directly to the police. Mandie Davies is a champion for this college who will do everything possible to hide sexual violence against students in order to protect the fake public image of this college, as she said in the Q&A panel after the airing of The Hunting Ground at Sierra College a few years ago. I screamed at her then, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Since Mandie Davies has already given notice that she is resigning at the end of this academic year, I am no longer fighting to remove her from office. Even with the moral stain of her tenure beginning to fade, it will take years of competent and ethical leadership to change the culture of victim blaming and sexist, regressive, criminal, anti-student policies at this college.

During my internship last semester, I gave two recommendations on this issue which I still feel are the best solutions:

First, student groups should be required to have expert third parties from independent outside organizations as permanent members of equal standing to their faculty advisors. For example, Mandie Davies has fought for years to prevent Stand Up Placer from providing free crisis-trained sexual violence counsellors on campus. Instead, unqualified academic counsellors are expected to respond by forwarding these serious issues to some random bureaucrat who works to cover up sexual violence in violation of the law. Changing this, and putting actual experts from objective and independent third-party organizations in positions in student clubs like Feminist Action and Rainbow Alliance would go a long way towards forcing change to happen in this area on campus.

Secondly, while it’s great that we have a few student engagement centers on campus, we should have offices on campus provided to expert third parties like Stand Up or Stonewall or organizations representing other underserved or marginalized communities. This would allow real experts to provide vital services to students and coordinate to respond to events on campus, rather than random bureaucrats who work in the interest of the college and against the interests of the students.

Calling gender a spectrum is almost as problematic as calling it a binary.

CJ Trowbridge


Women’s Studies

Gender Identity

Prompt: With evidence, support the following statement: Gender is a spectrum, not a binary.

Calling gender a spectrum is almost as problematic as calling it a binary. Gender is not a spectrum anymore than it is a binary. A better analogy would be a map of the world, where “male” is one city, “female” is another city, and where many people live nowhere near either of them, much less somewhere in between them. It is a transphobic microaggression to argue that people must exist on or between these two genders, rather than existing outside the binary spectrum.

Gender is the socialized roles and expectations associated with early human beliefs about sex being classifiable into two categories. With a small enough sample size and very little information, it can seem to fit. In reality, sex is very diverse, and it’s socially constructed according to Judith Butler and others. Gender tries to reflect old ideas about sex and confer expectations onto people based on perceptions about which of the archaic sex classes they fit into.

In reality, sex is diverse. There are dozens of human biological states which do not fit into either of the archaic sex classes, nor anywhere in between them on some imagined spectrum. Gender reflects a broken and inadequate concept of what sex is. The roles and expectations which gender tries to confer onto the archaic sex classes, therefore, do not reflect reality. And the idea that people should behave, look, work, think, or love in a certain way based on which of the fake sexes they are perceived to be a part of is both toxic, transphobic, and misogynistic, because these ideas come from hierarchical essentialist patriarchs like Aristotle.

There is no thing that it is like to be a woman. There is no thing that it is like to be a man. There is no spectrum in between these two things. Both maleness and femaleness are performative, and inter-subjective. They exist only because we perform them; they are not something that we are. These ideas do not reflect reality; though people may choose to reflect these ideas. Observing gender performativity in others does not reflect or support essentialist classes as part of reality.

Fall 2019: Weekly Intersectional Privilege Event

I am an affluent, white, male, cis, able person who has these privileged identities within the American white-cis-ablist-classist-patriarchy.

I am also a gay, socialesque, atheist which are marginalized identities within American hetero-ancap-christian culture.

I see many gay, affluent, white, cis men forgetting about the fact that they are affluent, white, cis, men. This has led to much of my social activism work focusing on reminding people with marginalized identities of their privileged identities.


During fall semester at Sierra last year, I led a weekly intersectional privilege event in the quad. Each table represented a different power dynamic and offered things for free to the marginalized identity while inviting people with privilege to pay.

For example, at Rainbow Alliance’s table, straight people could pay for coffee while non-straight people got free coffee. At Feminist Action’s table, men could pay for lemon bars while everyone else could have one for free. There were also other tables for other dynamics.

This led to a fascinating phenomena where people got excited about supporting those who they had privilege over. It was at times very hard, but also very rewarding to start these kinds of intuitive conversations. No one who participated could walk away without an understanding of intersectionality and privilege/oppression dynamics.

We had a few malicious white cis male football players who would regularly come through and claim they identified as black trans women in order to get free things from all the tables, and even in doing that, they were forced to internalize the concepts of intersectionality and power dynamics of privilege and oppression. Even the people who tried to troll us wound up deeply understanding the material. Hopefully this will eventually lead to some change for those people.

Across the board I count this event as an unequivocal success that I could not have conceived of without separating my privileged and marginalized identities and acknowledging as much duty to interrupt those systems that benefit me as those that oppress me.