Prolific feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came under fire this weekend for voicing an opinion on trans women. Her statement may not sound particularly controversial to people who don’t spend the bulk of their time in modern feminist spaces:
“It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
But this is very controversial within modern feminism, where “trans women are women” is gospel. Males and well-meaning allies rushed to discredit Chimamanda. Some went as far as to call her “transphobic,” or even a “white feminist.”
white liberals and feminists calling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a “white feminist” is surely a sign of the end times
— cosima 🌈 (@lexeme) March 11, 2017
Talking about gender and privilege
A lot of the criticism of Chimamanda’s interview rests on the assumption that being a woman born as a woman is a form of privilege. Some feminists hold a radical perspective: that the basis for women’s oppression is our biology; that male sexuality has been historically weaponised to control women and withhold economic empowerment; that “femininity” is a social construct to keep women subjugated in a patriarchal system; and that feminism is centrally about elevating women beyond all of that to achieve our potential as equal human beings. This isn’t a new opinion (holla atcha girl de Beauvoir) but it also isn’t mainstream. It certainly has potential to conflict with the notion of womanhood as privilege.
I want to write more about my personal experiences with gender dysphoria and discovering radical feminism another day. For now I will just say: it is vitally important to be able to engage in thoughtful, even controversial discussion about the nature of gender and its relation to biological sex and patriarchal power structures. And that just isn’t happening today.
people actually believe no woman is capable of legitimate disagreement re. the gender debate – she must be misguided, or stupid, or a bigot
— ròsachd mackenzie (@daemonologies) March 11, 2017
Freedom to speak as a feminist
I believe that dysphoria is really hard and really shitty, and allies shouldn’t do anything to make it harder. But I don’t believe in bullying women who want to talk about “women’s issues” relating to biology. And I don’t believe that entertaining the unscientific delusion that biological sex is a mere construct is productive for feminists and trans allies. There is an important place for trans women within feminism. It doesn’t have to come at the expense of women’s freedom to talk about ourselves as pussy-havers or menstruators or whatever else is lately in vogue.
When I look at the vitriol directed towards Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the wake of her statements, I worry. It’s so important that feminists create a space where women feel safe to be who are they are, but also to question dominant paradigms of gender and sex. And remember:
White Male Feminist Allies™ saying Chimamanda is insufficiently educated – she has forgotten more about feminism than you will ever know.
— Sister Outrider (@ClaireShrugged) March 11, 2017