I am a feminist. This is something I’ve said for years, but only recently have I realised the ambiguity of this statement, and had called to question what I actually stand for. I identify as an intersectional feminist, and was aware of the other branches of feminism, but am shocked at the degree of polarity between their views. The particular branch of feminism I uncovered was gender critical feminism.
This branch is also known as trans exclusionary radical feminism (TERF); however, the term gender critical is increasingly popular. In essence, gender critical feminists see gender as a social class system in which women are oppressed due to their biology, rather than innate femininity; therefore excluding transwomen from being seen as female, and thus excluding them from the equality demanded by feminism. I may have only realised this issue recently, but many LGBTQ+ people have been victims of invalidation, or worse hate, from people identifying with these views, leading me to question whether feminism as an umbrella term is inherently good, or if we should be fighting for something more.
Megan Wynn, a third year Culture, Literature and Politics student and member of UEA Pride, told me that when she tried to engage in conversation with gender critical feminists on one platform, she suffered ‘horrible online abuse’ which has led to her avoiding such platforms all together. Wynn reports users saying they thought ‘trans people would prey on their children’ and ‘gender neutral bathrooms are an excuse for paedophilia.’ Both the American Academy of Psychiatry and UCLA have found that there is no sufficient evidence of sexual predators taking advantage of transgender identity, with UCLA’s study also highlighting that there is no link between crime occurring in bathrooms and transgender bathroom access.
Nevertheless, Jim Read, Vice President of UEA Pride (trans and non binary position), has said that he had ‘been kicked out of bathrooms and assaulted in them for merely being there’, highlighting the stigma surrounding bathroom use despite legal action progressing towards equal access.
In an open letter published in the Guardian, identity politics academic Dr Victoria Cann and other UEA academics stated that this debate ‘seems to be based in the scaremongering and moral panics experienced by other minority groups in the past’, similar to the discrimination of black people in the 70s and gay men in the 80s. It is worth noting that in the 70s and 80s, claims made against these groups were justified with scientific ‘evidence’, which was later disputed. This is an uncanny parallel to the debate today, one which I’m quite frankly shocked the academics supporting transphobic groups haven’t seen themselves.
Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals also experience judgement socially. UEA student Jamie Firman reports having experienced gender critical views ‘within friendship and academic circles’ as well as online, which adds a layer to this already difficult issue. Firman says that he is no longer a feminist, on account of men being disliked and treated in terms of their ‘nature’ or ‘upbringing’, which excludes transmen from the debate. For Firman this has lead to only two options: ‘to be hated for the way that I identify’, or to be ‘invalidated and seen as female’, neither of which accept Firman’s identity and allow him to live his life without objection.
While I’d like to emphasise that this is not the view of all branches of, or all individual feminists, Read highlights a further element to this; gender critical feminism believes in only two biological sexes existing, leading to people who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, or on a gender spectrum to have their ‘gender identity’s legitimacy questioned.’
Identifying as a radical feminist is common among individuals expressing gender critical views, and has become a front for individuals to avoid the criticism that comes with the terms gender critical and TERF, and individuals who state they are ‘a feminist’ and ‘a trans ally’ often hold gender critical views. Radical feminism is defined as feminism which calls for ‘radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.’ This is not inherently trans-exclusionary; however, it’s adaptation by gender-critical groups has made it so. The argument is that transwomen have been socialised as men and so ‘have male supremacy’ despite their desire to identify otherwise, which radical feminism seeks to eliminate. However, I strongly believe this inflexible view undermines the fundamentals of supporting an oppressed group. As Dr Cann wrote in her letter, ‘the recognition and support of a minority group should never be thought of as threatening rights for all’.
The future of feminism? I’d love to say it would be intersectional, this is the feminism I passionately believe in and am speaking from when I say ‘I am a feminist’, but the reality I’m not so sure about. As Wynn pointed out, ‘it’s important that we have more than one ‘feminism’ and are tolerant of differences within feminism’, as this serves to highlight flaws and allow healthy debate. However, Read has said even within the LGBTQ+ community, ‘it has in a sense divided [us] , as some cisgender members still uphold these beliefs.’ Firman worries that it has and will continue to ‘spread closed-mindedness and refusal for change.’ As an optimist, or maybe in avoidance of imagining any other future for the LGBTQ+ community, I agree with Read and UEA Pride’s view that ‘the future lies within intersectional feminism.’