#TERFWeek: Why Must Feminism Always Include Trans Women?
It’s #TERFWeek, which at first made me cringe, until I realized that the week is about educating the broader feminist community about the harmfulness of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). This is a group of people, mostly women, many lesbians or queer-identified, who claim to be feminist, yet exclude trans women, one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups of women, from their communities. They’re usually the ones arguing that trans women in the women’s room or in lesbian groups or at MichFest are dangerous, often have weird convoluted mental requirements around transition-related surgeries to recognize trans women as women, and can be found outing trans women on the Internet (including previous names, arrest records, employer info, and home addresses) and generally making lives miserable.
Here’s the thing about TERFs: they’re not feminists.
Now, you could make the argument that a feminist is anyone who says they are one, but I don’t think that really jives with the definition. At the very least, TERFs are extremely hypocritical feminists opposed to the actual tenets of feminism, a movement that is about oppression to patriarchy (which includes, you guessed it, rigid gender norms and a hierarchical binary gender system!)
In this post, I’d like to focus specifically on why feminism must include trans women. I also believe that it must include trans people generally, but if you subscribe to the narrow definition of feminism being about male/female equality or equity, then trans women would be the focus here. It’s also important that feminism focuses on issues such as violence against women and lack of access to employment–areas where trans women are some of the most targeted and affected. Read the rest of this entry
Radical Reading: Excluded
It’s been a while since we had a Radical Reading column around these parts, and I confess that it’s due to the fact that I read Excluded, written by Julia Serano and published by Seal Press, about three times before I felt like I could really talk about the book. The October 1st release date came and went, and I knew I needed to get a review up, but I just kept dithering about what I wanted to say. In a way, though, I think it’s appropriate to post this review as 2013 comes to a close, as this was such a major year for intersectional feminism and (perhaps more obviously) its discontents.
Excluded summarizes some of Serano’s earlier work since her widely-read (in the trans community, anyway) Whipping Girl and then tackles the issue of trans women’s exclusion from feminist spaces. This topic clearly hits a chord with trans and cis feminists alike, and it’s been brewing in feminist, queer, and alternative sexuality communities for several years. A post I wrote about the cotton ceiling debate back in 2012 remains the most popular post on QueerFeminism.com, a site I founded to give a voice to communities that have been excluded by many mainstream feminists, and rarely a day goes by where I don’t find some example of cis feminists being transmisogynist to a greater or lesser degree on Twitter. Furthermore, Serano’s book comes from an important voice at this important time–unlike some of the other trans authors popular in radical queer communities, Serano is a binary-identified bisexual trans woman. She describes herself specifically as bisexual, a transsexual woman, and a femme tomboy. Much of Excluded reminds us of the danger of assuming that the gender binary is a conservative force, and the continued prevalence of biphobia or perhaps general bi-cluelessness in communities that rally around the term “queer.”
Women of Color and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen
As a white person, I don’t want to use #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and the Schwyzer debacle as a platform for my own thoughts, but I do want to lead my readers to just a few amazing women of color speaking for themselves. Please take a look at the following bloggers and authors, as well as the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag on Twitter and Mikki Kendall’s article explaining the subject.
Mikki Kendall (@karnythia): Esoterica on Tumblr, also writes for sites such as xoJane
Flavia Dozdan (@redlightvoices): Red Light Politics, also writes for Tiger Beatdown and The Guardian
T.F. Charlton (@graceishuman): Are Women Human?, also on Storify
Sydette Harry (@blackamazon): on Tumblr
Janet Mock (@janetmock): JanetMock.com and on Tumblr, also writes for sites such as The Huffington Post
Shanelle Matthews (@freedom_Writer): ShanelleMatthews.com, contributes to sites such as The Frisky (the most recent post there is on the Schwyzer situation) and Racialicious
Spectra (@spectraspeaks): Spectra Speaks and on Tumblr, founded QWOC Media Wire
Biyuti: Biyuti and The Biyuti Collective
Kendra James (@wriglied): writes for Racialicious
Jamilah King (@jamilahking): news editor for Colorlines
Andrea Plaid (@andreaplaid): writes for Racialicious
Renee Martin (@womanistmusings): Womanist Musings
The entire Crunk Feminist Collective (@crunkfeminists), also on Tumblr
Andrea Smith, Conquest
Adrien Wing, ed., Critical Race Feminism
INCITE! Women of Color Collective, Color of Violence and The Revolution Will Not Be Funded
Jessica Danforth, ed., Feminism for Real
Gloria Anzaldua & Cherrie Moraga, eds., This Bridge Called My Back
Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, eds., The Revolution Starts at Home
bell hooks, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center
White Feminists: It’s Time to Put Up Or Shut Up on Race
Listen up, white feminists.
We have a problem. I’m including myself because none of us are immune from this problem. We all fuck up. And you can say “fucking up is natural,” and that’s true, but it’s time for us to start identifying our fuck ups, and not just learning from them, but acknowledging the hurt they cause other people.
We need to acknowledge that we cannot know what it’s like to be an oppressed racial minority. Cannot. The end. Period. We don’t know because we’re queer, because we’re disabled, because we’re Jewish, because we were the nerdy kid in school. These things may have hurt us severely, but we need to stop playing Oppression Olympics and acknowledge that when we’re talking about race we Do. Not. Know. No more metaphors.
WAM!It Yourself Blogathon: The Case Against a Battle of the Sexes
Have you been keeping up with the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) It Yourself unconference this week? Today is the last day of the Blogathon and we’re talking about various aspects of gender and the media. My post for this event focuses on the idea of the “battle of the sexes” and why it presents such a barrier to feminism and gender activism in media.
I got this idea from watching the first few episodes of Celebrity Apprentice Season Four, an endeavor I do not necessarily recommend to my readers. I started watching because my favorite actress, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and of course it’s not too surprising that a show like this would piss me off with all its ableism and misogyny. I do think it provides an interesting example, though, of one place where reality TV consistently goes wrong–and it’s not just reality TV.
A battle of the sexes is supposed to be fun, funny, and rile up the audience. Everyone can root for “their” team, and it’s a clear dividing line that we’re all used to in this society. You can even make an argument that in this modern, “post-feminist” world, the battle of the sexes is updated and consistent with feminist goals. Many of the shows that use a battle of the sexes have a strong female team, the women tend to be intelligent and kick ass, and the female viewership supposedly gets excited about this and ratings go up.
But something is seriously wrong with this picture.
International Women’s Day Link Roundup
Of course, there’s a plethora of great content circulating the web for IWD today. Here are a few hits that I enjoyed:
- A short piece by Nancy Pelosi on Huffington Post, Agents for Change
- Also on HuffPo, Queen Raina of Jordan writes on A Century of Giving Back, and Queen Noor highlights The Arab Women You Don’t See
- This one is also rather brief, but Annie Lennox is one of my personal heroes, and she writes on Reclaiming Feminism
- Getting more concrete, Sarah Brown writes on Meeting the Need for Health Workers and Christy Turlington covers maternal mortality
- Ursula Lindsey at the Daily Beast gives us an update on women in Egypt
- Newsweek and the Daily Beast list 150 Women Who Shake the World
- Ronnie Cho at the Daily Beast highlights some charities that you can get involved with to help women
- Democracy Now! interviews Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif
Also, just in general, Huffington Post has a number of interesting columns today (some more substantive than others) from some of the world’s female movers and shakers. If you enjoy reading the editorial page, you’ll probably have fun with those.
Alternatives to Strength and Anger
I hear a lot in feminist circles about strength. Strength is a value that’s really embraced in feminism, along with independence and anger. And of course, women do have a great big right to be angry. The stereotype that women should be soft, weak, sweet, submissive, etc., does a great injustice to an entire gender. But feminism is also, as I see it, about recognizing a wide range of possible behaviors that doesn’t depend on gender. It’s about safe space. And for me, it’s much more important to have a space in which it is safe to be soft, sweet, and react to negative events with sadness and a need for protection than it is to have the right to be angry.
The fact is, not everyone feels anger. And no one has a responsibility to feel angry, to be strong, or to be independent. You’re not a bad feminist if you just can’t react that way. It’s okay to depend on other people for support, reassurance, and even protection. If someone threatens you, gets in your personal space, or uses innuendos that make you feel uncomfortable, you’re not a bad person if you can’t “handle it” on your own. My reaction in such a situation is to freeze, and to feel embarrassed and sad. And that’s okay. For a long time, I thought that I needed to work towards instead feeling angry, getting hostile, and yelling at the person in question. But that communication style goes against my personal values. I don’t really want to confront anyone. I want the world to be a place that’s safe enough that I don’t have to.
Of course, the world isn’t that place now. But I would honestly rather be harmed or attacked than I would go against my values and my personality in an attempt to defend myself. My pacifism and my conviction that my communication style is 100% as valid as the alternatives are worth sticking up for. In the mean time, I’m going to keep working to educate those who aren’t familiar with radical feminism about how to make the world a safer place, and I’m going to keep working with my own process of feeling proud of myself as a somewhat shy, anxious, sweet person who needs a little protecting from time to time.
Fighting to Gain Equal Access to Problematic Institutions
I’ve been encouraged by the recent outpouring of feeling and response from politicians, community leaders, and “regular people” regarding queer teen suicide. Of course, part of me thinks “wow, what a big fucking case of too little, too late” and another part can’t help but notice that none of the trans or intersex teen suicides seem to be making the headlines. But I think it’s important that we recognize that every day, the basic rights of queer people are violated. For years, the most important “gay issues” to me have been suicide, hate crimes, and discrimination. But those haven’t been the “sexy issues,” and they don’t get talked about.
I seem to spend half my time in queer activist circles ranting about marriage and the military, but in reality, the problem I have with privileging those two issues goes beyond the issues themselves. Whenever any group is working for equal rights, there comes the question of what people in that group want equal rights to. When the answer is access to an institution, the equality fight can be problematic if the institution itself is problematic.
I personally have big issues with both marriage and the military as a radical, a pacifist, a feminist, and someone who believes in community action and organizing but can be suspicious of state involvement in private lives. The US military is an imperialist machine, while marriage is a patriarchal institution that grants the state control over interpersonal relationships and gender relations. But that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with an individual wanting to marry, or to join the military. It falls along the same lines of being pro-sex workers, but anti-exploitation. Of course, equal access means equal access to our society’s most problematic institutions, as well as those we most fervently believe in.
From an organizing perspective, this means that there are going to be some challenges. My response is to privately support queer people who want to join the military or marry, while avoiding those issues professionally and choosing queer rights issues that I can wholeheartedly get behind. At the same time, part of my response is to be an activist against patriarchy and imperialism, for feminism and racial equality and peace. Part of that is creating options that accommodate people who do want to join the military or marry, for example by coming up with creative solutions for state recognition of a greater diversity of relationships or by creating opportunities for young people to make a living and attend college that don’t require unjustified violence against people of color.
Motherhood, Privacy, Choice
As I said in my last post, I have had a bit of radio silence and I do apologize for that! The combination of a new job, some personal issues, and a few Sooper Sekrit projects have put me out of blogging commission, but only temporarily. I’ll try to get back to a once-a-week or more schedule here, and I thank you all so much for your patience.
Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about children, about mothering, and about where those topics intersect with feminism. I had some mixed reactions to the recent guest posts on Feministe that addressed the topic of young children in public spaces. I, like a number of feminists, am happily child free. I don’t hate children, in fact I have worked with children of different age groups in a few capacities, but I am child-free by choice. I enjoy interacting with children, and I also like to have adult spaces where I do not have to interact with children.
I agreed with the poster on a number of points. Children are human beings, and feminism does need to recognize the importance of mothers and girls in the movement (as well as fathers and boys). I am a strong believer in the “flip side of choice,” aka the choice to have a child and the need for support of children. I think the “it takes a village” concept is awesome, and I also believe that a form of “community parenting” can be a very good thing.
On the other hand, I don’t like it when I feel like someone is telling me that it is my responsibility to interact with and comfort an upset child in a public space. I do think that if a child is crying and no one volunteers to comfort the child, it’s the mother’s job to take the child outside, calm him or her down, etc. It’s also a mother’s (parent’s) job to teach children appropriate behavior in public. Sure, it would be great if mothers could say “my child is well-behaved and thus should be able to enter all public spaces.” I sympathize with the poster, who expresses concern about mothers being isolated or stigmatized. But the fact is that unfortunately, most mothers do claim that their child won’t cry or scream in public, and usually somebody does (ruining it for the rest of them). I can imagine how frustrating it is for parents of quiet children when someone brings in a noisy, disruptive child and the animosity gets focused on the parents of the quiet child instead. But I don’t have a handy solution.
The fact is that society shouldn’t stigmatize mothers, nor should it stigmatize those of us who are child-free. I am so tired of having the heterosexual relationship model foisted on me, so tired of having happy families and cute kids shoved in my face, so tired of medical professionals insisting that I will want a kid one day, so please take our fertility literature. Just as I’m sure mothers like the poster on Feministe are tired of being ridiculed for their choices. I hate to say it, but… can’t we all just get along?
Blogging “Yes” Day 20: Men in Feminist Spaces
For day twenty of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Cristina Meztli Tzintzún’s essay, “Killing Misogyny: A Personal Story of Love, Violence, and Strategies for Survival.” Tzintzún tells the story of her struggles with the cycle of abuse, cheating, and STDs, and I wanted to particularly focus on an issue she brings up towards the end of the essay, which is how the feminist movement and other progressive movements can address the involvement of abusive and oppressive men.