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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity [Kindle Edition]

Julia Serano
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A provocative manifesto, Whipping Girl tells the powerful story of Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist. Serano shares her 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. 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 activist must work to embrace and empower femininity — in all of its wondrous forms.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With her first full-length book, biologist, writer and musician Serano positions herself as a Betty Friedan of the transsexual community. Making a case that trans discrimination is steeped in sexism and that trans activism is a feminist movement, Serano delivers a series of articulate, compelling and provocative essays that unmask many of the misconceptions surrounding transsexualism, gender and feminism. Where most books on the topic focus either on first-person accounts or clinical observations, Serano approaches her topic from multiple angles. Tempering her own experience as a transsexual woman with psychological documentation, historical research and sociological data, she explores the debate on biology versus socialization; the media's "lurid," "superficial" and "contrived" depictions of trans women; the psychology of transitioning; "boygasms" versus "girlgasms"; nonacceptance and marginalization of transsexual women by the feminist community; and the subtle shades of gray between masculinity and femininity. Though her writing is dense at times, Serano largely succeeds in breaking down complex issues and offering deep insights that will be valued by anyone interested in transsexualism or gender studies. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Julia Serano is a writer and spoken-word artist on the subject of gender with a PhD in Biochemistry from Columbia University. She is a researcher at UC Berkeley in the field of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology and has performed her spoken word at such high-profile events as the National Queer Arts Festival, San Francisco Trans and Dyke March Stages, Ladyfest Bay Area, and The Vagina Monologues. Serano's work has appeared in Bitch magazine's BITCHFest, Clamor, Kitchen Sink, The Believer, The San Francisco Chronicle, and on Invisible Ink Radio (NPR). Julia lives in Oakland, CA.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breakthrough in feminist thought July 2, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Julia Serano has managed to give voice to many thoughts I've had over the last five years since my transition from male to female, and has sewn them together into a lucid and compelling explanation of how things got so screwed up for us transsexual women. Her approachable, easy-to-follow writing style serves as an effective foil for her brilliant exposition. I feel positively empowered by her writing.

We are the women who give up male privilege for femininity. Serano shows how much this fact threatens the patriarchy, and how transition treatment standards (set largely by men) have tended to objectify and pathologize us.

If you believe the psychiatrists who say we transition just to wear pantyhose, you should buy this book to read the real reason.

If you feel it is just that transsexual women are excluded from such venues as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, you should buy this book for a convincing explanation of why such policies are flawed from the feminist point of view.

If your thinking has been formed by the feminists who've vilified us over the years, none of whom was transsexual, you owe it to yourself to buy this book to hear our side of the story.

And, if you are a transsexual feminist like me, not only will you buy this book, you'll be elated that we finally have our own manifesto.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
By Candice
"Whipping Girl" is not a light, airy autobiography, so if that's what you're looking for, go elsewhere- there are many wonderful ones. Rather, Julia Serano dives headfirst into some deep issues and instead of repeating the same old tired mantras, proposes new theories and different interpretations.

I found myself reading with my highlighter out because I was consistenly blown away by some of the arguments and insightful comments Serano made. Her very background makes her the perfect analyst: as a biologist, she has the foremost knowledge on scientific reasons for transsexuality and related subject matter, as a transsexual woman she has an intimate knowledge of the effects of both testosterone and estrogen, and of how society treats men and women. Feminists, students of gender, or just the average lay person could all benefit greatly from this book, in my opinion.

The reading can sometimes be a little dense- while much more readable than most, it still is primarily an academic text. And sometimes Serano can come off a bit cold and distant- not angry (or when she is, I believe it to be justified), but not exactly a warm and cozy narrator that draws teh reader in. Still, to me, that's a small price to pay.

All in all, it's something you have to read. But I thoroughly anticipate that this book will be revolutionary- a new, fresh perspective on feminism, transsexuality, and the queer movement.

Read it!
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breath of fresh air among stale gender studies! June 6, 2007
By J. M.
This book is amazing. Serano's analysis of sexism, misogyny, feminism, and queer politics are informed by her experiences as a trans woman, but bring important insight to anyone's experience with gender. This was the first thing I've read in years in the gender studies field that didn't feel stale.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Articulate & Biting Rant March 6, 2008
Whipping Girl provides a fresh voice on matters of sexism and prejudice against femininity generally and transsexual expressions of such particularly. Julia Serano's perspective as a woman of transsexual experience, and a particularly bright and well spoken one at that, give this manifesto a brilliant and powerful credibility.

For me the deeply moving first paragraph of Chapter 15, Submissive Streak was worth the price of admission.

Serano's analysis (shredding) of the dreadful novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides was also refreshing after all the hoopla that book received from Oprah. I'm also indebted to Serano for the introduction of two new words, "autophallophilic"and "effemimania." Autophallophilic really helps to reframe the Bailey-Blanchard, Man Who Would Be Queen controversy.

Serano's tirade is well informed though I did tire a little of its relentlessness toward the end and longed for a bit of levity, just a little humor to make it a bit more palatable. In several places I felt she drew conclusions and made generalizations about human experience from her own youthful experience that might well evolve as she continues to observe and create. I certainly hope we'll be hearing more from her in the future.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I found Julia Serano's book, "Whipping Girl," to be full of very shrewd observations as to femme-phobia in modern American culture. Many of her observations were dead-on regarding bigotry towards not only trans women and effeminiate gay men, that is, hate being directed primarily toward the feminine itself, but towards the roots of fear of the feminine. The book explores why our culture discourages the feminine in individuals while encouraging the masculine, and on this level I found the discourse very insightful and accurate if somewhat academic.

Although her logic and common sense is very good, at times I found the book a bit too full of legalistic, persuasive argument and lacked in personal experiences that I could relate to. As a trans woman myself, although I agreed and understood whole-heartedly Ms. Serano's line of reasoning, I often found myself a little lost in the rhetoric which at times bordered on the partisan and philosophical. Sadly, at times the book's philosophical tone gets a little caught up in its own righteousness, vocabulary and hard-driven logic, and so loses heart in the process.

I would have enjoyed, and related, more I think to a story involving more personal and emotional anecdotes as well as the anti-transphobia partisanship that the book delves so deeply into. I suspect Ms. Serano's goal was to present a comprehensive and philosophical view from that of a trans woman feminist, which she does very well, and were I in a womens'-studies college class, this book might be an excellent text, however, for relaxing in the sun on a spring afternoon it began to seem a little dry and frankly made me sleepy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent argument, personal and political.
A clear, cogent, detailed statement of a transexual political position--the best I've seen yet. This is an excellent book, compassionate and convincing. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Keith Maillard
1.0 out of 5 stars I was hoping for a memoir
I was hoping for a memoir, but instead I got a vaguely feminist-political intellectual gender theory tome. It is a lot of words to dig through, but not a lot of reward... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Celeste Thayer
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and powerful
This book presents powerful insights into the transgender experience that go way beyond the conventional wisdom. Read more
Published 1 month ago by T. Pigeon
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense, In Depth, Insightful
Julia seems to pour every fiber of her being into this book. It can be somewhat "heady" at times. Read more
Published 1 month ago by CJ
1.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, the radfemmes make better arguments, and I'm a male saying that
I didn't like this book. You don't hear any educated scientific establishment opinions here, you just will be introduced to other feminists like Judith Butler who ostensibly make... Read more
Published 2 months ago by SM Dragg
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading
This book should be required reading for anyone laboring under the delusion that if you wear lipstick you aren't a "real" feminist--or if you weren't born with a specific... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Shannon Drury
5.0 out of 5 stars she tells it as it is
I am reading this book and I must say that she is literally writing her story as it is in a real life. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Vladimir Vascak
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written & very interesting
This author has put forth an amazingly well thought out feminist perspective that I deeply respect. This is a persuasively good book on how transphobia and sexism are intimately... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Val
5.0 out of 5 stars Well said
Julia found the words that I have struggled to find for so long. This book is fantastic. There is a refreshing amount of nuance in this book when describing the reality that is to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Seth
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome!!!
Awesome book, a must read for any gender variant. I did have to re-read much of the text due to my own lack of vocabulary, the flow of the context was well defined and engaging. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Allie Kedzior
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More About the Author

Julia Serano is a true Renaissance woman: a writer, performer, activist, and biologist. She is best known for her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (Seal Press), a collection of personal essays that reveal how misogyny frames popular assumptions about femininity, and shapes many of the myths and misconceptions people have about transgender women. Since its publication in 2007, Whipping Girl has garnered rave reviews and has been used as teaching materials in gender studies, queer/LGBTQ studies, psychology and human sexuality courses in colleges and graduate schools across North America.

Julia's second full-length book, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, published by Seal Press, will be available in October, 2013.

Julia's other writings have appeared in numerous anthologies (including Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, Transfeminist Perspectives: in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, Best Sex Writing 2013, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, and Word Warriors: 30 Leaders in the Women's Spoken Word Movement), and in feminist, queer, and pop culture magazines and websites (such as Bitch,, Out, Ms. Magazine blog,, and make/shift). Her articles and essays tackle a broad range of topics, including feminism, queer/LGBTQIA+, and trans activism, sexism, sexualization, media stereotypes, psychiatric depictions of gender and sexual minorities, the "nature versus nurture" debate, bisexuality, femininity and femme politics.

In addition to her writing and activism, Julia has a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University, and spent 17 years as a researcher at UC Berkeley in the fields of genetics, and evolution and developmental biology ("evo devo"). Her understanding of biology, along with her life experiences as a trans woman, give her a unique perspective on gender and sexism that challenges many commonly held beliefs.

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