To be honest, this piece at The New Yorker is one of the most fascinating stories I have read in a long time. It opened my eyes to two foreign worlds that are in a battle I never knew was going on.
The radical feminists and the transgendered are fighting over what it means to be a woman. The radical feminist insists that transitioning from a male to a female is just another way men assert the privilege they were born with. (Backed by some psychology research, well-known radical feminist, Sheila Jeffreys, claims that male-to-female transgenderism is simply a sexual fetish where men find it erotic to think of themselves as females.) Robin Morgan summed up the radical feminists’ stance:
I will not call a male “she”; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title “woman”; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.
Some feminists do not want these transgendered male-to-females at their all “womyn” events because the Y chromosome-toting women were not born female. Of course, the transgendered women say they are women because they feel like women regardless of their biology.
The radical feminists that reject gender-bending are finding themselves unpopular in today’s culture where you must embrace what is politically correct or you are a “hater.” The New Yorker reports on groups of radical feminists who try to meet but find opposition everywhere:
On May 24th, a few dozen people gathered in a conference room at the Central Library, a century-old Georgian Revival building in downtown Portland, Oregon, for an event called Radfems Respond. The conference had been convened by a group that wanted to defend two positions that have made radical feminism anathema to much of the left. First, the organizers hoped to refute charges that the desire to ban prostitution implies hostility toward prostitutes. Then they were going to try to explain why, at a time when transgender rights are ascendant, radical feminists insist on regarding transgender women as men, who should not be allowed to use women’s facilities, such as public rest rooms, or to participate in events organized exclusively for women….
Radfems Respond was originally to have taken place across town from the library, at a Quaker meeting house, but trans activists had launched a petition on Change.org demanding that the event be cancelled. They said that, in hosting it, the Quakers would alienate trans people and “be complicit in the violence against them.” The Quakers, citing concerns in their community, revoked the agreement.
It wasn’t the first time that such an event had lost a scheduled venue. The Radfem 2012 conference was to be held in London, at Conway Hall, which bills itself as “a hub for free speech and independent thought.” But trans activists objected both to Radfem’s women-only policy—which was widely understood to exclude trans women—and to the participation of Sheila Jeffreys, a professor of political science at the University of Melbourne. Jeffreys was scheduled to speak on prostitution, but she is a longtime critic of the transgender movement, and Conway Hall officials decided that they could not allow speakers who “conflict with our ethos, principles, and culture.” Ultimately, the event was held at a still secret location; organizers escorted delegates to it from a nearby meeting place. Radfem 2013 also had to switch locations, as did a gathering in Toronto last year, called Radfems Rise Up.
This is a puzzling situation for the transgender-rejecting feminist. As The New Yorker puts it:
Having rejected this supposition, radical feminists now find themselves in a position that few would have imagined when the conflict began: shunned as reactionaries on the wrong side of a sexual-rights issue. It is, to them, a baffling political inversion.
Feminists associated with “womyn-born womyn” only events are now being asked to step down from board positions and are being “uninvited” from speaking events. Death threats abound on Twitter for TERFs, short for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” (Search TERF on Twitter and a rabbit hole of epic proportions opens up. Exercise extreme caution.)
One “womyn-born womyn” only event is Michfest, a music festival held every August near Lake Michigan. The women that attend say they feel safe there because of the “all-womyn” nature of the event. Transgendered women say that it is closed-minded and discriminatory to say that male-to-female transgendered persons pose any threat to “womyn.” But The New Yorker reports that transgendered protest groups have vandalized Michfest:
A few years ago, though, Vogel says, some protesters committed acts of vandalism—stealing electrical cables, cutting water pipes, keying cars in the parking lot, and spray-painting a six-foot penis, and the words “Real Women Have Dicks,” on the side of the main kitchen tent.
No wonder the women at Michfest feel threatened. One feminist described the transgender’s need to be recognized as women as “aggrieved entitlement.”
This is a battle that could only happen in our crazy times. And crazy times makes even stranger bed fellows. Radical feminists may indeed find allies across the isle. In a 2006 speech, Sheila Jeffreys commented on transgendered surgery, which she considers mutilation, and she said:
Now one of the things I find puzzling about it is that, when I look at the House of Lords debate on this legislation, those I agree with most are the radical right.
I think the real loser in this battle is rational debate about the nature of women and the truth about what a beautiful creation we are. This truth is a revelation trumpeted by the Church. A truth not in opposition to men…or men who think they are women. Maybe, just maybe, some TERFs, looking for shelter in this transgendered storm will find their way to the Church. We can pray.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly