This week, Fox News published an op-ed suggesting that transgender women are derailing the fight for gender equality. According to the piece, transgender individuals are “taking advantage of gender systems.” Or, more pointedly, being a transgender woman is a way for men to “take away sports victories from biological females,” to “undercut female military achievements,” and to “make others feel unsafe” in bathrooms. The piece seems to operate under a fundamental misunderstanding: that a transgender woman is not a women. Sadly, conservatives and Republicans aren’t the only individuals who take this point of view. In fact, the feminist movement has a history of viewing transgender women in the same way. When it comes to the struggle for gender equality, some of our greatest feminist leaders have historically been stingy about who should fight the good fight.
There has been one group in particular that has been widely — and often deliberately — excluded from the modern feminist movement: transgender women. Germaine Greer, who became a noted public figure for women’s liberation in the 1970s, has repeatedly said that transgender women are not really women. Greer even expressed this point of view as recently as April 2016, when she claimed it’s “not fair” for transgender women to “decide” their gender. “I don’t believe a man who has lived for 40 years as a man . . . decides that the whole time he’s been a woman,” she said.
The same sentiment is shared by Janice Raymond, another radical feminist who has a history of combating violence against women and attacks on women’s health. In 1979, Raymond published The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male, which has been criticized over the decades as a horrifically transphobic text. Raymond has not significantly evolved her views in the time since; even though she dedicates an entire page of her official author website to dispelling some myths about her views on the issue, she still says that recognizing the civil rights of transgender individuals “does not mean we must accept that hormones and surgery transform men into women and women into men.”
It’s not just historic pioneers of women’s rights who seem intent on leaving transgender women out of the conversation. Even more modern feminists are hesitant to view the transgender woman’s experience as a fundamental woman’s experience. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who powerfully penned We Should All Be Feminists and who also features on Beyoncé’s feminist anthem, “Flawless” — suggested in March 2017 that transgender women are different from biologically female women.
“When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is trans women are trans women . . . I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
While it’s true that transgender women may have a different experience than cisgender women, we must consider that all women’s experiences are different — each person’s experience of gender is also largely shaped and influenced by numerous factors including economics, race, and physical ability. This push to think about gender and feminism in a more nuanced way is called intersectional feminism. It’s a kind of feminism that allows any gender advocate to be “female and BLANK.” This model could apply to a huge cross section of people: female and black, female and handicapped, female and transgender. Intersectional feminism allows for a larger spectrum of female experiences, because not every woman faces the same amount of discrimination in the same way. This inclusive form of feminism doesn’t pit women against each other, but instead unites them against gender inequality and patriarchy.
Janet Mock put it best during her speech at the Women’s March on Washington, when she said “our approach to freedom may not be identical, but it must be intersectional and inclusive . . . our liberation depends on all of us and all the experiences that have shaped us. To act, to organize, to resist.” Transgender women may be fighting for bodily autonomy because they want to be able to make decisions about hormones and gender-reassignment surgery, while cisgender women want to be able to make decisions about reproductive health and pregnancies. At the end of the day, though, the common goal is the same.
This is why trans-inclusive feminism (and, on the largest scale, intersectional feminism) is so important. It makes the collective volume of the feminist movement that much louder. It doesn’t matter where a person who identifies as a woman came from — it matters where she’s going. And for all feminist women, transgender or otherwise, there’s a simple, common goal: equality across gender.