"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Monday, August 18, 2008

Excluding, Judging, and Shaming Women is Anti-Feminist

[UPDATE: tigtog pointed out that the original title for and some of the language in this post made it sound like I am criticizing all radical feminists, and this is certainly not the case. I have made changes accordingly.]

Check out this awesome post in which tigtog calls out TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radfems, (thanks for this term, tigtog!) for scapegoating transwomen:
Of course transnsgender behaviours are an exercise in artificiality - but is it fundamentally any more artificial than cisgender behaviours? If reifying gender by dressing so very femininely is so fundamentally awful, then why so much criticism reserved mainly for the transwomen who do so, and so little criticism by comparison for all the ciswomen who embrace all the rituals and accessorised impedimenta of femininity?
Seriously, go read the whole thing. She does such a wonderful job of summarizing and deconstructing some of the most common arguments radical feminists make for excluding transwomen from feminist events and pursuits. Some interesting discussion is going on in the comments section there as well.

I have to admit that when I was new to feminism (or feminist theory, anyway), I identifited first and foremost with a radical point of view. Why work within the current system for change when the system is the problem and should be overthrown completely? Liberal feminism felt like feminism-lite after being inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Firestone, Greer, Dworkin and the like. But despite embracing some radical ideas, it got harder and harder for me to get behind radical feminism entirely as it became more and more apparent how often many (though not all) radical feminists rely not just on criticizing cultural systems, but on judging and shaming women (both trans and cis) for the various ways in which they operate within those systems. And I just can't get behind that.

While it is fine for feminists to spend time describing patriarchal society and theorizing alternatives, it just doesn't make sense to do this without recognizing that, in this reality, all women must bargain with patriarchy in different ways and to different degrees just to get by. My feminism does not allow for judging or shaming women for the ways in which they bargain.

You can criticize transwomen, sex-workers, sex-positives, religious women, married women, heterosexual women, and/or women from other cultures all you like, but if you ask me, it doesn't make you MORE of a feminist than the rest of us -- it actually makes you pretty UN-feminist.

(See also: Womanist Musings - Radical Feminsm And CIS Privilege)


tigtog said...

Thank you for the praise for my post, Tracey. I just wish that this post of yours had a different title and introductory sentence - I'm calling out the trans-exclusionary radfems (TERFs), and I certainly don't assume that all radfems agree with them. I have a pretty strong radical streak myself after all, and I certainly don't agree with them.

Tracey said...

Point well taken, tigtog. I actually did think twice about that title before I posted this, and I see now that I probably should have followed my instincts. I'll change it now.

tigtog said...

Thanks for the prompt response. I've added a clause to my post as well to make this clearer right from the introductory paragraphs.

Thanks too for the link to the post at Womanist Musings - that's a wonderful post.

Please feel free to adopt and spread the TERF acronym, by the way, if it appeals to you.

tigtog said...

Oh, I see you've already leapt upon TERF - excellent.

Tracey said...

No problem -- thank you for pointing it out that it wasn't clear that I don't mean all radical feminists. I didn't want for it to come off that way or to make it sound like that's what you were saying.

And I loved "TERF". I was having a hard time finding a way to make that distinction, but that word works perfectly. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I just can't imagine how hard it must be to shun all signs of traditional womanhood, though. I LIKE the way I look in bras and eyeliner and patent leather. I understand that the world wants me to wear heels and halter tops and whatever, and I won't do that, but I'll do the girly things that make me happy. It seems like women trying to avoid those things must slip up all the time accidentally.