RadFem2012: Excluding on the basis of gender
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?Tagged in: feminism, gender, gender dysphoria, men, radfem2012, transgender, women
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