What radical women want

it's time for a radical conversation

When I launched PWMR a couple months ago, I had no intention of centering gender politics. I defended Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie because I saw a prolifically wise woman getting shut down by her sisters. Trans allies were saying, ‘Trans women are women. Period.’ and I wrote about why rational, informed and compassionate radical women might disagree.

That post got far and away the most views and shares (look Ma, I’m famous!) So clearly we need another way when talking about gender and biological sex.

I’d love to devote more time to less divisive, less potentially hurtful women’s issues. But I personally believe that if we don’t defend women’s rights to speak out freely, then we risk all the progress of feminists before us.

So why are gender politics so important to so many?

Here are three of my concerns (in no particular order) out in the sunlight. I don’t claim to speak for all women, or all gender-critical people, or even all radical feminists. Others will want to add or respond to this list–please comment or tweet me @pwmroundup.

The radical feminist perspective has never been popular. We’re asking for the same thing that women have always asked: to have our concerns taken seriously. Trans allies can help by acknowledging and owning the problems emerging on the fringes of the trans advocacy movement.

1. Our children deserve a fair shot at growing up without surgery and a lifelong dependence on hormones.

A liberal feminist friend asserted that doctors wouldn’t advocate transition if they weren’t ‘1000% sure’ a kid was trans. But that’s not how it works today. More and more doctors and ‘gender therapists’ advocate hormones & surgery for teens.

I was a dysphoric kid myself. I grew up to be a happy, healthy, and reproductively in-tact bisexual woman (as many do.) We need to be cautious about the narratives we employ. We need to support research and understand implications for kids.

Oh, and we definitely need to stop shaming parents who resist the ‘trans’ label for their gender-non-conforming kids.

2. Protect the definition of ‘woman.’

By changing legal protections to enforce them per gender identity, rather than sex, you disempower women from challenging men who enter their spaces. You risk the legal protections and the space we’ve created for girls to compete in sports. Regardless of the intentions of most, certain males will always take advantage.

3. Lesbian women deserve respect.

Challenge people who shame lesbians who aren’t attracted to male genitals. Would you tell a gay man he has to have sex in or around a vagina, and like it? It’s homophobic.

And please, stop reclaiming the identities of lesbians for the trans movement simply because they didn’t perform to gender stereotypes.

Conclusion: the caricature of radical women

Trans allies regularly equate denial of free access to women’s language and spaces as a denial of human rights and bodily autonomy for trans people.

That’s disingenuous. It paints a caricature of radical feminists, it discredits us as ‘TERFs’ and ‘bigots’ and ‘transphobic’ worthy of the same scorn applied to bigots and sociopaths.

There must be a third way that respects the experience of trans women without dismissing the valid concerns of women. If you’re an ally, be bold enough to help us find it.

WEP to women: get in line

Women's Equality Party??

You almost have to feel sorry for the Women’s Equality Party. Somebody from WEP Bath typed “InterSectional” [sic] into Google and stumbled onto Everyday Feminism. She was lured in by the soft-focus “diversity” stock photos. She felt a rush of self-righteous inspiration that numbed her capacity for critical thought, and she took to social media.

Who among us hasn’t been there? Benefit of the doubt. But then WEP Bath’s Facebook account had to go and respond to the concerns and frustrations of their base.

Here’s some of WEP’s text from the (now-deleted) Facebook thread:

“Really I see a bunch of man  haters labeling trans people as frauds, I mean really?!? demonising a minority is awful!! all of you are so blind”
“… this page is not a breeding ground for Trans Exclusionary feminists to have a tea party”
“I am revolted to see so much hate on this page”
“The comments on this post are incredibly offensive and go against our values as an intersectional, inclusive party. So you are all aware I am going to delete this thread.”

Look: some feminists are concerned about granting males unchallenged access to women’s spaces. You can absolutely respect trans people without erasing the biological basis of womanhood, or vilifying your sisters who do. WEP chose to erase and to vilify.

TERF is a slur

Just to be clear: the use of aggressive slurs is a male tactic to silence “uppity” women who insist on defining their rights and boundaries. 

Of course, being an outspoken feminist has never been popular. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Or Germaine Greer. Or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Maybe a political party must make certain concessions in the interest of broadening its base.

But whether or not it was a strategic decision, there is no call to shout down and shame the measured concerns of your membership. WEP, of all organisations, should know better.

Making amends?

WEP Bath did issue an apology to its membership. Although, they stopped short of condemning the term ‘trans-exclusionary feminists.’

Reading further down in the comments, not only did this apparently rogue moderator delete the thread, she banned the members involved. Those members have since been restored.

Hopefully WEP’s future actions include not only social media training, but educating activist volunteers on opposing views. And, maybe someday, even a space to debate these issues in the light of day.


Ed. note: this post updated 14.4.17 to include WEP Bath’s response on their FB page. Thanks Helen Saxby for the heads up.

Feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has forgotten more about feminism than you’ll ever know

Feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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.”

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.

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: