It was about 10 a.m. on International Women’s Day, when I opened my Instagram and clicked on my profile, intending on finding a saved recipe to try for breakfast. But my thumb hovered over the button, as I read through my bio, reaffirming myself with the quote within it. Then my eyes moved just above, to my pronouns that I had included, in order for people to know how I identify (she/her), and stopped for a while, thinking about all those people whose pronouns are different to mine. More precisely, I thought about all those feminists out there whose pronouns are different to mine, and how their experiences are impacted by this.
You see, I’ve always considered myself to be a ‘good’ feminist; I read the books, listened to the podcasts, and, if there was an exam, I think it’s safe to say that I’d ace that.
To me, feminism is a fight for equality and inclusivity for all genders, but I’ve come to realise that feminism, as a movement, needs to become more inclusive for transgender women and non-binary people. I had failed to consider that during so many pivotal moments in the fight for women’s equality, trans women and non-binary people have been there, at the very forefront of these movements, yet continue to be marginalised, dehumanised, and othered by the very community whose cause they’re fighting for. The experience of white, straight, cisgender women is assumed to be the default experience of all women, and thus, the way this single group experiences patriarchal oppression defines the objective of the feminist movement as a whole.
It’s undeniable that trans and cis women experience oppression and patriarchy in differing ways, but excluding trans women from feminism on this basis disregards the variation and multifaceted nature of the female experience overall, which is affected by numerous factors such as race, religion, class and sexuality, in addition to gender identity. Traditional feminism views patriarchal oppression as the way men seek to disempower, control, and sexualise women but ignores the way in which trans and non-binary people are hyper-sexualised and fetishised, while simultaneously presented as undesirable.
For anyone who didn’t previously know, this is referred to as trans-misogyny. Unlike much of the patriarchal oppression cis women experience, this discrimination against trans women is directed not only by men but also cis women themselves, some of whom paradoxically identify as “feminists,” or more specifically, “gender critical feminists” and “radfems”. These are known as TERFs: trans-exclusionary radical feminists.
These TERFs equate womanhood with biological female sex, as well as female reproduction and menstruation, and use this to justify anti-trans discrimination, loosely disguised as activism. However, by saying that you are only a “real woman” if you menstruate, are able to have children, and do go on to have them, it not only invalidates the experience of trans women, but also many cis women who may not want to or are unable to do these things. Furthermore, this idea plays into archaic gender expectations which force women into domestic roles, and suggests our purpose is merely that of mothers and wives.
Moreover, TERFs divide our beautiful and loving feminist community and put trans women at risk, as rates of violence towards them continue to increase. Since 2016, over one thousand trans and gender non-conforming people have been murdered in the United States alone, with legislation being rolled back, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to hate crime and discrimination, which is not only dangerous, but inherently anti-feminist. Feminists everywhere must support and protect trans people, and recognise that this is our issue too.
Feminism facilitates the emancipation of women from gender norms and limitations, and in doing so we must enable trans and non-binary people to emancipate themselves from these very same rigid gender binaries. After all, isn’t the objective of feminism to push against rigid ideas of gender? And therefore, self-determination of gender must be an extension of feminism by its very definition.