I hear a lot of people use the term ‘my’ feminism. I do it too. Why?
I was extremely tentative when I first started calling myself feminist. I still am, in many situations. There’s three reasons for this. One, I felt I was still learning, and I didn’t want to use the term when I didn’t feel up to its power. Two, I had hangups about the negative connotations of the label. And three, I really, really disagreed with the ethos of some of the people I saw calling themselves feminist.
Now I realise, I’ll always be learning. Accepting what you don’t know and being open to learning is a big part of being feminist. So is teaching. So it’s ok to ask, and answer, lots of questions. Finding the right balance between confidence and humility will be an ongoing challenge for me.
I’m slowly resetting the wrong beliefs I’d been taught about who feminists are and what they believe in. Feminism wasn’t exactly a dirty word in my house but it wasn’t something that was talked about. My understanding of it was gleaned mostly from derogatory comments on American TV shows. And I thought, well that’s not me! I don’t hate men. I like shaving my legs and wearing high heels and getting compliments and men and women aren’t the same etc etc etc blah blah.
Incredible, when I think of all the incredible feminists I know, the number the patriarchy has done on this one. It blows me away that this negative stereotype is so embedded that not only does it succeed in alienating men from a movement that will also benefit them – it succeeds in convincing women feminism is something they want nothing to do with. Unbelievable.
I’m not saying that’s the only reason women don’t choose to use the label, or actively say they’re not feminists. But I think if many more of them knew what feminism actually is, as opposed to what it’s portrayed as, we might have a change of hearts.
The first explicitly feminist thing I ever read was Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman.‘ I had a mixed reaction. It seemed so… instructional and exclusive. On the one hand, it was the first really truly confident thing I’d seen from a woman. On the other, it seemed to say “This is how you should do feminism because you have a vagina.”
I am naturally averse to being told what to do. And far beyond that, there were just so many nuances that were not there.
I guess that was the spark that started me researching more, reading more, talking to people about how they practiced feminism. Hard to believe now I ever thought any other way. It’s the lens through which I see the world. It’s been key to making amazing friends, to opening my mind, to gaining my own confidence as a woman.
However, just because we all call ourselves feminists, does not mean we see eye to eye. When I started researching, the term ‘TERF’ kept popping up, and I went to find out what it meant. It usually stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, though it is also know as Trans Exterminatory Radical Feminism.
I pretty much knew immediately just from the title that this wasn’t going to be ‘my’ feminism. ‘My’ feminism is INclusive. The only thing that appealed to me was the word radical and I’m pissed that ‘radfem’ has been appropriated and become a negative term because radical feminism should be awesome.
Anyway, TERFs exclude transgender people from feminism because – and this is my very basic understanding of it, so apologies if it’s underdeveloped – they claim that trans people reinforce gender binary, which is a social construct that should be destroyed. They believe that “female biological reality is a defining aspect of women’s experience of oppression.” Many think that trans people are choosing to adopt a new gender, as opposed to transitioning from their assigned gender.
I am not trans, and I do not have a good academic understanding of this. What I do know is what I have felt all along: if a person knows they are a woman – regardless of whether they choose to physically transition or not – and they want to be a feminist, who the fuck am I am to tell them they can’t? If a person knows they are a man and – again, regardless of whether they choose to physically transition or not – and they want to be a feminist, again: who the fuck am I to tell them they can’t?
Unfortunately, many TERFs go far beyond excluding trans people from feminist spaces. They actively engage in fights that prevent access to healthcare, education, public services – and basic safety.
An excellent example of this kind of “critique” is the argument that Trans women are men, and therefore represent a threat to women when they go to the restroom.
This argument is the same argument used to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment and the efforts of Radical Feminists to create Unisex restrooms. This argument puts forth multiple theories that are harmful to women. First off, it posits women as helpless creatures in need of protection from men by the patriarchal systems that men have put in place.
This argument also is used by people to deny trans people access to employment, access to public services, access to medical care, access to health insurance, and access to housing, by actively continuing the principle notion that creates hostility towards trans people as a whole. Each time they use this argument, they are actively working to deny trans people their rights by supporting and advocating for the very system that oppresses trans people.
Cathy Brennan is the ultimate example of a TERF who is working in this way. (TW on the link). I hesitate to call people vile, but she is the definition of why I use the words ‘my’ feminism. I find it utterly inexplicable and sickening that this person could call themselves a feminist.
“Her main accomplishment in this regard is coauthoring a letter to the United Nations, insisting that transpeople’s gender identity should not be legally recognized and protected. She had also been a frequent columnist for Baltimore OUTloud’s LGBTQ blog section, which she used to warn of the coming “lesbian annihilation” at the hands of “the queers” and trans people and stridently argue against legislation protecting gender identity.”
She’s known for outing trans people, putting their lives at risk, harassing employers and doctors of trans people, and tracking down trans people on the internet for the sole purpose of harassing them.
This article talks about ideology butting up against lived experience. This is something I have faced, though not in the same context. I know what happens when people’s ideology disagrees with your reality. The conflict, the pain, and the consequences are massive. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face, so I cannot begin to imagine what my trans friends go through, when these people disagree with their right to exist as who they are.
According to Transgender Europe’s Murder Monitoring project, there was 1,374 reports reports of death in 60 countries since January 2008.
This is not “ideology.” It’s not academic belief. It’s people’s lives.
I will never stand side by side with feminists who exclude trans people from our arms. I will never condone transphobia. I will commit my feminism to standing up against fear and hate.
And yes. I will continue to use the modifier. ‘My‘ feminism. It’s about inclusion, safety, equality – and compassion. Which I think is something that so many never get to see.
Thank you to Jen Shields for helping me write this post.
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