Shirley there’s nothing more to say on the subject of radfems vs transwomen

In the interest of a robust discussion, and in light of my own fence-sitting on this issue,  I’m commending my readers to this four year old post by the great Twisty Faster at I Blame the Patriarchy, who is both an old school rad fem and a prolific supporter of trans women.

There are three aspects of this trans “debate” that particularly chap the spinster hide. One is that it is even considered a debate. Is there anything more demeaning than a bunch of people with higher status than you sitting around debating the degree to which they find you human? I don’t think so.

The second hide-chap is the main anti-trans “argument.” It goes:

Unless you were born a woman, how can you really know what women’s oppression means? You benefited from male privilege once; how can we trust you? Your male junk threatens us. You mock us with your affected femininity. You’re not authentic.

This argument is phobic and dumb. It proceeds from, among things like fear and internalized misogyny, the premise that there exists a standard or authentic “woman’s experience” of oppression that derives entirely from childhood indoctrination and imbues the experiencer with some kinda moral authority. The premise is false. An experience of womanhood is not the experience of womanhood. Take, for example, the issue of privilege:

Some women have a little privilege. Some women have a shit-ton of privilege. Some women have a shit-ton of privilege and then lose it. Some women have zippo privilege and then get some later. Some women only ever have zippo, period. Some women are atheists, have short brown hair, drive red Fords, have scars where their sex organs used to be, can’t get health insurance, eat only vegetables and shave their mustaches.

Source: I Blame the Patriarchy


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Shirley there’s nothing more to say on the subject of radfems vs transwomen

  1. Tarzie says:

    I have to admit, I don’t find this as compelling as the radical feminist critiques I’ve been reading lately. First of all, I don’t think feminist critics of trans id politics are “sitting around debating the degree to which they find [trans women] human.” Rather, I think second wave feminists are legitimately concerned that decades of work on carving out space for themselves and unpacking gender as an oppressive construct are being undone by at least a reactionary subgroup within the larger trans movement. The ones I’ve read make a clear distinction between trans people — with whom they seem genuinely sympathetic — and an undeniably retrograde strain of trans politics. I also think Faster, perhaps because she wrote this several years ago, does not adequately account for the very expansive definition of trans woman that has emerged over the years, and now includes anyone claiming to *really* be a woman, regardless of how they feel about their biologically male bodies, present in the world, or what others take them to be. She elides the problematic gender politics of “lady brains” and the like entirely. I just don’t think its fair, or even intelligent, to write off people who take a more guarded, self-protective and rigorously analytical view, as bigots.

  2. No soy yo says:

    Well, Tarzie already mentioned some of my concerns about this essay. To say, “you have a penis and a protruding Adam’s apple, therefore you are a man” is not denying anyone’s “humanity.” That’s ridiculous.

    Second, yes, some women have more privilege than other women. This is confusing to liberals and conservatives — there’s patriarchy, yet some women have privilege – but why is it confusing to us? I have privilege as a white woman. That privilege comes from being white, not from being a woman. I have never ever had male privilege, and never will. Just like a black man has never ever had white privilege, even if he’s rich and “powerful,” and has male privilege. But this whole “privilege” concept while certainly good to keep in mind, is mostly a liberal concept used to avoid talking about power, and groups, and instead talk about individuals. Put me on a scale of privilege and you may forget that I will never in my life walk down a street alone at night without worrying about rape because of my membership in the group that is woman, and because of the actions of members of the group that is man.

    Talk about “male privilege” also avoids talk about “male violence” which goes along with this privilege. No, not all men, but almost no women. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violent crime. When it comes to rape this is especially true. Turns out that men who say they are women are just as likely to carry out these violent crimes as any other man. Testosterone, penis, socialization, it doesn’t matter which it is – that is part of being a man.

    Why is it “phobic” to say men are adult human males, and women are adult human females? She doesn’t explain why, except to mention that all women have different lives and privileges. And she doesn’t say what a “woman” is. Is our definition supposed to be “a woman is anyone who says they’re a woman”? (or thinks so?) Isn’t this circular? A cow is any animal that looks like a cow. A chair is any piece of furniture that is treated like a chair. Etc.

    Also, no, “oppression is oppression” is just not true. The oppression of black people is different from the oppression of women, for example. You can try to quantify it like a liberal, or just try to describe it. There’s a difference between oppression at home by your husband and oppression by society. Etc.

    The reason the definition of “woman” matters is that if you believe women are oppressed, you must believe there’s a reason for that oppression. Women are oppressed because we have lady brains, we’re oppressed because of how we feel, or we’re oppressed because of our reproductive capacity (not all women, but all women are seen as having that capacity until around the age of menopause when surprisingly women are seen as ugly, useless, etc.). MRA’s of course believe that not only are we not oppressed, but that we have privilege and power over men. It should come as no surprise then that MRA’s are big in the trans activist movement and that trans identified males are big in the MRA movement.

    Avoidance of biology also makes it seem like women who don’t want penises in bathrooms are just bigots. Women are on average 6 inches shorter than men. We tend to have less musculature. We have to take our pants down just to pee. We have to spend more time in the bathroom peeing, wiping, changing tampons and pads. Etc. All with our literal pants down while most vulnerable. And, when raped, we can get pregnant and are more likely to be transmitted STD’s. Oh, and what’s the most common tool used for rape? Yeah, penises. Typical liberals to say that the word “rape” needs a trigger warning, but concern about rape is bigoted. Or the sight of a penis to a rape survivor can’t be a problem for a former rape victim, but a word can.

    The third aspect she brings up (via an Andrea Dworkin quote from the ’70’s) is basically the position of most radical feminists, myself included. Trans people have the right to live their lives how they want, but my goal is to abolish gender. If gender were abolished, then probably most trans people would no longer exist (as trans but they’d still be human!) because they would not feel the pressure from society. Also personally, while I support trans adults making their own medical choices, that doesn’t mean I’m ever in favor of lifelong drugs or surgery that removes or disfigures working organs, so I think that should not be a first choice, and I will educate and fight back against the capitalist medical establishment just like I do regarding other issues.

    What Andrea Dworkin didn’t talk about back in the 1970’s (because it wasn’t an issue then) was the effect of the trans activist movement on women, women’s liberation, and that goal of abolishing gender. Also, the “transing” of kids, and the fact that the number of trans identified people is growing, especially among teenage and pre-teen girls. This is related to “where [trans movement politics] belong in relation to other political priorities and concerns,” so since this is already very long I’ll talk about that as a reply to the previous post.

    • Tarzie says:

      It should come as no surprise then that MRA’s are big in the trans activist movement and that trans identified males are big in the MRA movement.

      Can you provide a source for this? My apprehension about a lot of anti-trans criticism is that it seems purely anecdotal. How big is “big”?

      • No soy yo says:

        No I don’t have numbers. I’ve seen lots of links to 4chan discussions, I’ve seen the vocal MRA trans activists on Twitter and all over the web, which is of course in the end anecdotal, I guess.

        Mainly lots of the rhetoric around trans activism is the same as MRA rhetoric. Much of the MRA trans rhetoric is like these men’s:

        “Meyer and White agree their criticisms of feminism, and support for MRAs, did not develop despite being transgender but because of it. White says after living part of her life as a man and part as a woman, she believes she unequivocally receives more societal privilege as a woman than a man. She says as a woman people are kinder, care more about her feelings, and are more willing to sacrifice on her behalf.”

    • Tarzie says:

      yes, some women have more privilege than other women…etc

      I don’t think this responds to Faster’s point, which is that sexist oppression exists on a continuum, with the implication that having a vagina is not a prerequisite for being on that continuum. While I’ll concede that the oppressive construct of gender originates in biological sex, I won’t concede that it stays there, nor would any gender theorist require me to.

      Certainly trans women who pass will experience sexism. Trans women who don’t pass will experience transphobia, which is most surely a subcategory of misogyny. As children I reckon they’re less likely to enjoy the perks of maleness, than feel the weight of its demands, enforced through emotional and physical abuse. If, as children, they really do identify with women, then they will feel the sting of sexism and internalize it, even it doesn’t come at them directly, the way queer children spend years internalizing homophobia before their sexual identity congeals.

      The trend of the past few years in lefty circles is to insist on a great chasm separating each oppression from another. For the life of me, I can’t see the political utility of this to anyone but those with power. Since you seem to endorse this atomizing, perhaps you can explain what I’m missing.

      To me, the idea that trans oppression is a less weighty form of sexist oppression or, worse, constitutes a separate category entirely, is what makes me extremely reluctant to give the radfem critique of trans politics anything but the most anguished and qualified support. I think you’re on more solid ground in the area of protecting women’s space and gender theory and refuting the reactionary elements that have taken up residence in the movement.

      • No soy yo says:

        What? Hillary Clinton is not immune to sexism. Surely that’s clear as day. No woman is, no matter where she falls along the “continuum.” And the point is that the “continuum” of women is based on other things, whereas “woman” stays the same, even if there are different expectations and stereotypes for black women vs white women for example. Men are not on the “woman” continuum no matter how much men want to invade our spaces.

        The fact that patriarchy dictates that men must meet a certain ideal or be placed in the “non-men” category does not mean that those people are women. Gay men are despised by patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean you’re a woman. It doesn’t mean that the oppression you experience is called sexism or misogyny. It’s also not “a subset of misogyny,” much less “surely” so. Why is transphobia therefore considered a subset of misogyny? What is so special about those men? (you notice of course that the most vocal trans activists are trans identified males. I wonder why that is?)

        The only difference is that they claim to be women. Women having our own spaces is so abhorred that we can’t even have our own oppression. Jesus. If men think another man is a woman and treat him like one, how does that then follow that he is in fact a woman? Why should the definition of “woman” need to accommodate a few men who shout about it? And please tell me what the definition of “woman” should be, or what definition you use. Anyone manly men/patriarchy hate? According to that, you’re a woman. Do you have a non-circular definition?

        You think it’s ok to talk about protecting women’s spaces, but how is that possible without talking about the (biological) difference between women and non-women? This is the pernicious neoliberal postmodernist aspect of this “debate.” Not only is every definition turned on its head and/or nullified, but in so doing any discussion is therefore silenced.

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to wade through this right now, so I’ll just simply say the implication that I declared Clinton or any woman immune to sexism is a super shitty way to start.

      • No soy yo says:

        PS: not sure if you edited or I missed the next-to-last paragraph. I’ll address that in my reply to your previous post, which probably won’t be right away.

      • No soy yo says:

        I didn’t imply that. My point is that *all* women fall on the continuum, *no* men do. And if Clinton has lots of privilege it has nothing to do with her being a woman. Her woman-ness does not dictate her place on the continuum, her membership in the ruling class, her whiteness, and her husband’s ex-presidency, etc., do. The fact that trans identified men face discrimination does not place them on the “woman” continuum.

  3. Bab says:

    “If men think another man is a woman and treat him like one, how does that then follow that he is in fact a woman?”

    If you subscribe to the view that “woman” is a social designation and not a biological one, then the answer has to be yes. A person viewed as a woman by men will experience sexism, misogyny and all the other defining characteristics of womens’ experience. Moreover, if radfems truly believe that gender categories and gender roles are instruments invented by the patriarchy, presumably for the benefit of men, then the opinion of men as to whether a person is a woman or not, is the opinion that matters. Or to quote Sartre: “it is the anti-Semite that defines the Jew”.

    This is the bind for radical feminists: if they attempt to hew to a “traditional” or biologically essentialist definition of women, then they stray dangerously close to Christian conservative territory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s