Speaking as someone who considers herself a strong and generally proud feminist, if the meeting of A Woman’s Place in Oxford last Thursday demonstrated anything, it was how far we still have to go. Part of the purpose of feminism, and indeed of all oppressed groups fighting for equality, is to achieve liberation, not only through active struggle, but through education. Understanding, in this case, encompasses both intellectual and emotional definitions, and above all the acceptance that for liberation movements to succeed they must develop as they progress. Feminism seeks and has achieved so much in the journey for equality – yet some who claim to adhere to it nonetheless propagate inequality and oppression, and this needs to change.
Feminism must not stand separate from the struggle of trans people. It should be united with the transgender rights movement, not only in support of their rights as an oppressed group but on the understanding that trans women are women too: feminism should fight for them. Yes, some of the struggles they face are different to ciswomen, but this should not exclude them from the feminist movement. All women face different struggles according to a multitude of different aspects of their identities, which is why intersectionality is the future of liberation movements. Our campaigns cross over and are entwined based on the diversity of their members, and some people have further to go in their fght for equality and acceptance:we must be united if this is ever to be achieved.
This unpleasant othering of the trans community belies an outdated and harmful concept of gender binaries which does as little for ciswomen as it does for transwomen, and which above all suggests an implicit, indeed frankly often explicit, refusal to accept that being trans is valid; even that trans people exist.
However, there is a more concerning and sinister aspect to the beliefs of groups like A Woman’s Place, which is not merely that each liberation movement should keep to itself, but that somehow the struggle of trans people is an enemy to feminism and an enemy to women. Why is this? The aforementioned groups are currently protesting changes to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, which proposes to allow people to state their own gender identity without the current lengthy and often distressing process of a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. They claim that this is somehow a slippery slope to allowing men into women’s spaces.
To imply that transgender people exist solely to inconvenience or threaten women, and to suggest that their identity is driven by a wish to intrude upon or oppress (cis)women is something that should have no acceptable place in society and certainly nowhere in the feminist movement. It is fear and loathing thinly disguised as some pretence of protecting girls’ and women’s rights and spaces by not allowing these rights to girls and women who don’t ft the right biological categories. It rests on myths and prejudice, such as the widely dispelled notion that cis men will claim to be trans in order to attack women in their spaces. There is simply no evidence of this ever happening: this claim, like so many made by TERFs, rests on groundless accusations which demonise and alienate an already oppressed and ostracised group.
Much of the point to be made here is one that must be repeated as many times as necessary until it is finally understood, which is that being a feminist does not mean you cannot be oppressive. It does not mean you are immune from needing to educate yourself on the fight for equality by others, your fellow women – cis or trans – included.
Feminists need to stand by the trans community, even if this means going against our peers in the movement, because liberty is only real when achieved by everyone. Here, it’s probably worth restating that oft-cited maxim: united we stand, divided we fall. The fight for equality cannot fall.