RadFem2012: Excluding on the basis of gender

Sophie Warnes
144576089 300x208 RadFem2012: Excluding on the basis of gender

People visit the exhibition 'Hidenseek' organized by LGBT on 16 May to coincide with the first time Albania marked an international day against homophobia and transphobia. Image credit Gent Shkullaku/GettyImages

As someone who is interested in feminism as a movement, I was pleased to find out about RadFem2012 – a Radical Feminism conference held in London in July. Unfortunately, to my disappointment and anger, this conference has a policy of excluding people based on gender – not only men, but also people who are transgender. I am particularly concerned that trans women (assigned male at birth but now living as women) are being excluded from this space because there aren’t really any other adequate – and safe! – spaces for them to be in where they can discuss feminist issues.

I have been told that I shouldn’t be disappointed because radical feminism includes ‘trans theory criticism’, and that clearly if I can’t see why trans people are being left out, then it is because I am not a radical feminist. But it’s worth noting that at no point in the explanation of what radical feminism is on the conference website, does it say that transphobia, or even ‘trans theory criticism’, is an integral part to the politics of radical feminism. It does, however, list those issues that I do think are important to discuss: male-perpetrated violence against women, the sex industry, cultural misogyny, and the effects of economic and environmental policies on women across the world.

Thus, by the organisers’ own definition, excluding trans people (or even having a debate about trans people) isn’t a critical part of radical feminism. And in fact, one of the pioneering – or most well-known – radical feminists, Andrea Dworkin, wrote herself that: “That is not to say there is one sex, but that there are many… The words “male” and “female,” “man” and “woman,” are used only because as yet there are no others…We can presume then that there is a great deal about human sexuality to be discovered, and that our notion of two discrete biological sexes cannot remain intact.”

I suspect the root of the issue is either a fundamental misunderstanding of what transgenderism is, or a bizarre need for ciswomen (assigned female at birth, and still living as females)to claim feminism – as in, what it means to be a woman, as well as feminism as a political standpoint – for their own. In the first instance, transgenderism is borne out of a condition known as gender dysphoria. Those with gender dysphoria feel like they are in the wrong body; born the wrong gender.

The ‘cure’ for it can be as simple as living as their preferred gender, or as complex as having surgery to permanently alter their sex. Thus, trans women – who are assigned male at birth – have always perceived themselves as, and wished to be perceived as, women. Who are we to deny their self-identity? In the second instance, wanting to claim that the only people allowed to identify as women are those who are assigned female at birth, goes against everything that feminism stands for: Equality, choice, and autonomy.

For a group of people who are supposedly preoccupied with genuine equality, and the eradication of gender roles and stereotypes, it sure does seem like the organisers are intent on creating divides and excluding people based on just that. If, as many feminists believe, gender is a social construct borne out of the system we live in, then why exclude people based upon the terms defined by the system that you loathe?

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  • Zoe Ellen Brain

     ”Stay away from feminist threads.”

    That’s a command, right? Because you, as a cis-person, have the right and privilege to command your inferiors, to tell them what they must do. Or else….

    The Patriarchy grants that right to you.

    Feminists deny that you have that right.

    Please, have a look at yourself. Have a look at what you’re doing. Have a look at what you’re becoming. Listen to other women.

  • carole.twining

    Goodness, WHY take what Sheila Jeffries or Janice Raymond supposedly said (and without referencing it as such, naughty, naughty from someone who is so keen to show their sciency credentials by giving us all those references to journals) and take THAT as supposedly their (meaning all radfems I presume) creed.

    I think you’ll find that radfems disagree about some things just as much as any other group. Okay, you could use such quotes as part of an argument to show why the actual author of those words is wrong, but unless you can ALSO show that that is REALLY what all radfems also believe, then your argument falls down before it even starts.

    Plus I don’t think either of these feminist writers was attempting to write a biology textbook BTW.

  • carole.twining

     O come on! Are willing to admit that you may have mis-represented the facts, or given the wrong impression. What is ‘good reply’ supposed to mean?


    The term transsexual has “fetishistic connotations”. Where did you get that from? Heterosexual male transvestites would be more fertile ground for this particular accusation. I find the term ‘transgender’ unhelpful because it is far too general. It includes anyone from the genderqueer, through drag queens to transvestite males. I am a woman, with a quite unfetishistic sex life. You could also call me a transsexual woman (though I prefer ‘woman born transsexual’). The wider transgender community (and it is very wide) co-ops our identities to gain a spurious kudos of some sort. Just leave me out of it please. I’ll decide which umbrella groupings I want to be part of. You can’t do it for me.

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