“Real” Women

“Real” Women

Gender Critical Feminism and The Need for Trans Inclusivity

In the words of feminist writer and activist bell hooks, “feminism is for everyone.” However, there is a sect of feminists that seem to believe feminism is only for “women born women.”

Within feminist discussion forums and the blogosphere, these feminists are mainly referred to as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs. Yet, some feminists who aren’t as welcoming to transgender individuals find the term “TERF” offensive and prefer to be called “gender critical.”

“In mainstream feminism, trans people are often excluded and erased because cis women are misled by respectability politics and think that by presenting their feminism in a more ‘palatable’ way, they will be granted rights and privileges more quickly,” says Kaleb Fischbach, a 19-year-old transman from Louisville, Kentucky. “They [gender critical feminists] fail to see the interconnectedness of the struggles for individual rights.”

“Much of the transgender agenda is harmful to women and works against the interests of women and feminism,” says Diane Walsh Fortune, a 41-year-old gender critical feminist from Southern California. “I seek to abolish gender as a concept, since it is an oppressive framework that exists for the whole purpose of oppressing women. Transadvocates embrace, support, and deify the gender concept. They exist to reinforce a way of thinking that is designed to oppress women,” she continues.

“When transgender individuals claim to ‘feel’ like the opposite sex, the description of their feelings match stereotypes of opposite sex behavior,” Fortune believes.

“I feel TERFs are very miseducated on the subject of gender identity,” says Jessica Robin Durling, a 19-year-old transwoman and human rights advocate from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. “The miseducation comes from the false, and very dangerous, belief that gender identity is the same thing as gender expression or gender norms.”

Durling explains that gender expression is how one chooses to present themselves in terms of gender stereotypes, such as men wearing pants or women wearing skirts. Durling believes that these stereotypes are negative and limiting. Gender identity, she says, is when someone describes themselves as male, female, or non-binary.

“Gender identity is best thought of as the ‘sex of the brain,’” Durling says. “Gender expression doesn't make someone transgender. Gender expression is a choice, gender identity is not.”

Additionally, there are many trans people who don’t fit the stereotypes of what a man or woman should be. For instance, there are butch trans women and femme trans men. “I’m a soft butch trans girl,” Durling says. “I don’t like skirts, I find them inconvenient and I find things like makeup far too much work to put on every day.”

According to a 2015 study by the Medical University of Vienna, it has been scientifically shown that there is a distinction between gender identity and biological sex. “While the biological gender is usually manifested in the physical appearance, the individual gender identity is not immediately discernible and primarily established in the psyche of a human being,” the report states.

Gender essentialism, which is the idea that men and women have unique characteristics that qualify them to be separate genders, isn’t necessarily reinforced by trans people. Many trans people are looking to become their “true selves” as opposed to striving to become the opposite sex. The former implies that these people are seeking ways to better express their realities, while the latter implies that they aren’t content until their bodies are changed. In fact, there are many trans people who are happy with their bodies and don’t undergo surgery.

“Every trans persons level of [gender] dysphoria is different. Just because they feel they don't need a specific level medical treatment doesn't make them any less trans,” Durling states.

While feminism’s purpose is to abolish to the patriarchal system, it could be argued that focusing so much on one’s privates when it comes to defining gender actually reinforces patriarchy by continuing to make the focal point of our discussions the female genitailia. “I feel that TERFs are so obsessed with genitals defining who can be a feminist or who can be welcome in women’s/feminist spaces or not that they are missing the whole point of feminism,” says Gabriel H., a 29-year-old transman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “The idea that something can only be done by ‘people with vaginas’ or ‘people with penises’ is ridiculous and wrong. Feminism is about equality, at least to me it is. Therefore it shouldn’t matter what is in your pants as long as you are striving for the same goals together.”

Though some gender critical feminists deny inclusion of trans women into their women’s-only spaces, they will accept trans men, as those individuals were deemed female at birth. “Not only is it misgendering, it completely discounts the male privilege and male social position I now have,” Fischbach says. “TERFs who would welcome me into women's spaces are allowing a man into their space while excluding trans women, who are actually women, and face misogyny, specifically transmisogyny, in everyday life.”

Many gender-critical feminists have been accused of being transmisogynistic. One example is Catherine “Cathy” Brennan, a lawyer from Maryland and a well-known gender critical feminist. She has done some controversial things, such as outing high school-aged queer people to their schools and posting Tweets such as this one:

Durling has personally had a negative experience with Brennan. In fact, it was an article Brennan wrote that first introduced Durling to the gender critical feminist movement. The article was published on Christmas Day and attacked Durling’s work as an activist.

“This is a woman I have never met in my life, and I was shocked that they would spend Christmas Day to attack an 18 year old,” Durling recalls.

However, not every gender critical feminist agrees with Brennan’s tactics. Joyce Hackett, a gender critical feminist and novelist from Massachusetts, believes strategies such as outing stealth queer kids or similar privacy intrusions to be a “violation.” “There's a group that seems to feel all trans women at any stage are women, if they declare they are. Then there's Brennan, who says they never ever are. Both are extremist, unworkable positions. If we're going to work together, we're going to have to negotiate,” she says.

While some gender critical feminists, like Brennan, act hostile towards those who identify as transgender, others believe that there still may be room for trans people within feminism. “I do think that anyone can be a feminist, so I have no objection to transgender individuals participating in feminist discussions,” Fortune says. “I am hopeful that some transgender individuals will see that there is room for supportive gender nonconforming and transgender people to work with women to abolish patriarchy.”

“I think that there is always a chance that everyone can work together to abolish patriarchy,” Gabriel H. says. He recognizes that not every gender critical feminist is as militant as the ones he’s come across, and believes “that with some education and time they may open their minds and realize that we are all striving for the same goal.”

Fischbach concurs with Gabriel H., also believing the compromise has to come from the gender critical side of the movement. “Trans people are already part of intersectional feminism. Trans people need not make any compromises to appease those who demean and exclude them,” he says.

Cover Image Credit: NewStatesman

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8 Things We Do In Hispanic Families That Make Americans Scratch Their Heads

Things Hispanics see as common that Americans don't.

As the Latina that I am, I have to say that being and growing up in a Hispanic family is something very different than doing it in an American family.

In Hispanic families everyone tends to be very loud and never on time, making parties or family reunions to always run a little late—you will end up leaving around 3:00 a.m. or worst—while American families usually have early dinners and start reunions in the afternoon—from what my friends in college have told me.

In this article, I will be sharing with you some of the things that being in a Hispanic family means that most of my American friends find weird or odd in comparison to the way they do things.

Hispanic families will always a special place in my heart, since I grew up in one, and is something I wouldn’t change for the world. But, I got to admit that what I thought, and probably what most Hispanics see as usual or normal, might not exactly be for people from different parts of the world.

Eight of the things every Hispanic grew up doing that are unusual for Americans:

1. You always kiss a person on the cheek when saying “Hi” or you will be seen as disrespectful.

2. Dinner parties won’t start until after 7:00 p.m., but you won’t actually be eating dinner until around 9:00 p.m. or even 10:00 p.m.

3. When on a family reunion, get ready to be there for sure after midnight.

4. When your parents say you are leaving, it actually means that we have to start saying goodbye to everyone who is there and will be leaving in an hour.

5. Be prepare to spend New Year’s Eve with your family and not be able to leave until after midnight.

6. When the invitation says that the party starts at 8:00 p.m., it actually means it starts an hour later and everyone will arrive around 9:00-9:30 p.m.

7. You won’t be eating lunch until around 3:00 p.m. and dinner at least until after 7:00 p.m. at home.

8. When going to a party or reunion, expect everyone to be loud, talking at the same time, and having completely different conversations, but at the same time, everyone knows exactly what is going on.

Cover Image Credit: Alex Martin

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Helen Maria Williams: Pioneering A Voice For Women

A history of women empowerment

Until the 18th century, Europe's social structure was established predominantly as a patriarchy with men occupying the roles of capitalists, political partisans, and any other positions of authority that had adequate reputability to voice a public opinion. This notion of division and modesty towards the fairer sex was held to a considerable standard in the west, most fervently by the English. In Spectator, a series of works aimed to project an elevated and traditional manner of living to the English, Joseph Addison wrote that "as our English women excel those of all nations in beauty, they should endeavor to outshine them in all other accomplishments proper to the sex, and to distinguish themselves as tender mothers and faithful wives, rather that furious partizans."

The challenge to this mode of thinking came by way of the social and political upheaval of the French Revolution. However, unlike the call for change towards the institution of slavery and the prejudices towards Protestants and Jews, the plight of woman fell on the deaf ears of the men orchestrating the revolution. This duty, instead, fell into the interests of only a selected few who outwardly observed the revolution as it unfolded in 1789.

Although many of them during this time did not seek to enfranchise women with voting rights, they did endeavor to break the established social structure and expand the obligations and prospects of women beyond just remedial domesticity and into one of enlightened intellect and an inflammatory stride. None of these writers proved more persistent and ample than Helen Maria Williams.

Like many English writers during her time, Williams was a Romanticist and centered her ideology around rationality and empathy. Some of her earliest politically intimate opinions were embedded in her poetry. Her sympathy for the disenfranchised were expressed in such poems as Peru in which she details the cruelty carried out towards the indigenous people of South America by the Spanish, and The Slave Trade in which she expresses her disparagement towards victimization by political and commercial means. Early on, she also made clear her thoughts on liberalism in her poem Ode to Peace in which she sympathized with the struggles of the colonists at the end of the American Revolution.

Also similar to many English writers, she was intensely independent, a quality that did not favor her sex at the time. Once the French Revolution broke out, like many Romanticists, she was immensely captivated by such an explosion of liberal ideas sparked by what she believed to be a sudden engagement of rationality and sensibility among the people.

She made it her business to travel to the waning country in 1790 and published a series of accounts in her Letters from France in which she records her observations on the events that transpired during the revolution. Of her memoirs, the events that enraptured her the most were scenes of women taking up arms in the streets in the manner men were accustom to. Such scenes included the siege of Bastille and the Women's March on Versailles in 1789.

She observed that the French women of the revolution obtained such a prominent voice in the radical politics of the day and that many of their male counterparts welcomed their patriotism with open arms. She thus upheld the French example as the ideal manner of which the modern English woman should behave and that she should be encouraged to voice her opinions in subjects concerning human interests.

This was a manner Williams herself had already mastered, due to which she received much criticism from the conservative English who despised the social upheaval of the French Revolution. Laetitia Matilda Hawkins, and English novelist and conservative, cherished the traditional manners and behaviors of the English woman and condemned Williams's support for a woman's intrusion in the political sphere that had already functioned properly with the genius of a man.

But Williams contended that a woman, with her morality and sensibility, could understand ideas concerning the common good in an age of revolutions and Romanticism far better than the wisdom and philosophies of a man. Instead of denouncing Williams for not being traditionally feminine like the English, the French heralded her as a true model of domesticity. Her faith in the revolution, however, would not last. By 1793, the Jacobins took hold of the country and the liberal idealisms that Williams steadfastly held on to had disappeared in the Reign of Terror. Williams herself, both an observer and a Girondist, was labelled an enemy to the French Republic and was imprisoned in Luxembourg, only to flee later to Switzerland.

Williams spent the remainder of her life in Paris after the revolution, unwilling to return to England, where people continued to condemn her as a diluted radical. Although the Reign of Terror damaged her own perception towards the French Revolution, her convictions towards liberalism remained strong. And her belief in a woman's role in politics and the dissolution of previously established social orders and hierarchies would go on to inspire future reformers and Romanticists well into the 19th century.

Cover Image Credit: Felipe Dolce

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