Believe that society must be changed at its core in order to dissolve patriarchy, not just through acts of legislation…Radical feminists believe that the domination of women is the oldest and worst kind of oppression in the world. They believe this because it spans across the world oppressing women of different races, ethnicities, classes and cultures. Radical feminists want to free both men and women from the rigid gender roles that society has imposed upon them. It is this sex-gender system that has created oppression and radical feminist’s mission is to overthrow this system by any possible means. (Source)
Sounds pretty wonderful, I mean, it’s the basis of feminism and got its start in the 1960’s. Radical feminism is what started the push for women’s rights, especially the critical idea of patriarchy and how women are oppressed in society. While there are various subgroups and various definitions of radical feminism, they all believe in one thing; changing society and getting rid of the patriarchy thus, ending the oppression of women.
By most notions, any feminist could be considered radical if they wish to change society at its core and how it functions, especially in regards to how women are treated through gender stereotypes, gender roles, and how society views its definitions of gender. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, in summary, believe that trans women are men, trans men are women (and especially traitors), that trans women rape the bodies of cis women for existing, and that being a woman is not an identity. Many of them harbor the idea of shared girlhood, which is the notion that there is a universal narrative that is experienced by all female assigned at birth people, something that trans women will never understand. These women and their supporters actively lobby against trans-inclusive health care, protections, and basic rights. However, trans people are not the only ones they harm in their crusades.
However, when it comes to TERFs and their beliefs as well as their approaches, there is something unradical about them. In essence, they support the patriarchy and how it oppresses women.
TW: Rape, TERFs, transphobia, transmisogyny, misogyny, sexism
Gender Versus Sex
Abolish gender is often a thing I’ve experienced TERFs say. They wish to not only remove gender roles and gender stereotypes, but believe that gender is inherently oppressive. They wish to remove gender entirely. What this means, has yet to be determined. They wish to keep women’s only spaces, barring trans women and allowing trans men. They want to keep gender separated bathrooms. Gendered pronouns too. What it means to abolish gender has yet to be seen.
One thing is quite clear though, they wish to remove gender and place all importance on identity on the assumed at birth sex of a person. They place genitals at the absolute helm of how one can define themselves. They place limitations on identity. No vagina; no womanhood. They wish to abolish gender in favor of placing strict restrictions, basing a person’s identity on their genitals.
If someone is born with a penis, they are male, no exceptions, even in a post-gender society. If someone has a vagina, same deal, only they are a woman. All women are assumed to have vaginas, anything else is considered wrong. Where various intersex people fall into this, has yet to be seen. They seem to be erased in this entire discussion, unsurprisingly. So, why isn’t this exactly radical feminism?
TERFs want to classify who is a woman solely on their genitals. This is something that is already done by the patriarchy. People are classified by the assumptions made on their genitals at birth. These identities are considered unchangeable and part of someone’s identity. This guess at birth is then held as all powerful over the actual identity of a person. TERF ideology that a person’s gender (or in their eyes) sex, is just what the patriarchy already does. It assumes a strict identity based on genitals that are then used to hold power over all aspects of a person’s identity.
Everything about a person’s experiences in the world are whittled down to their genitals. Their experiences as a woman are only valid if they have a vagina, from birth. Their experiences with life are only valid, regardless of how society sees them, based on their genitals. This type of ideology holds that genitals are the only defining matter of a person’s identity in the world.
Gender Isn’t Real
There is another idea that does hold some truth. TERFs assert that gender is a social construct. Gender is indeed a social construct with the meanings of what gender is, the limitations, binaries, gender roles, and gender stereotypes being the creation of the society they function in. The fact that there are cultures without gender binaries, the fact that gender stereotypes, roles, and conceptions vary across societies is proof of this.
However, as with the idea that we are defined by our genitals and the abolition of gender, how TERFs employ this idea is confusing. They do not want to get rid of the gender binary system (asserting penis is male, vagina is female). They do not wish to acknowledge a wide variety among humans, across all genders. They do not want to focus on removing the meanings attributed to gender (once again, penis is male and vagina is female). In fact, they almost want to continue to support the idea of the binary and how it actively harms women.
Sex is as socially constructed as gender is. It is people who pushed the notion that penises, vaginas, breasts, and so forth have social meaning on how one develops. This is proofed through various cultures who do not apply this meaning to these genitals and parts of a person. They are simply a person and how they identify and exist is entirely separate from this notion of inherent meaning.
In fact, along with their forced biological essentialism, is colonialism. They wish to enact this enforcement of the binary in communities where it does not exist. They wish to determine the identities of others for them, in the framework of their Western, Eurocentric, White, binary system.
Shared Girlhood is Racism and More
There is a belief that all cisgender women hold similar childhoods and experiences in life. They hold this notion of shared girlhood very dear and use it as a way to exclude trans women and include trans men (by degendering them). They believe that being bestowed with a vagina at birth holds a significant insight into the misogyny women in the world face.
While it is true that women experience misogyny across the globe, this is not something alien to trans women. Trans women are often the victims of not only misogyny for being women, but a specific form of misogyny aimed at them for being trans women, thus named transmisogyny. The idea of shared girlhood is also extremely racist, classist, ableist and so on. It is used to unify all women and their experiences while erasing the other impacting factors such as race or class.
Shared girlhood believes that the misogyny a cisgender middle class woman would be the same a woman of color who lives in poverty faces. A single mother would have had the same experiences with misogyny and sexism that a disabled woman would have. The idea of shared girlhood not only erases the variances among women in order to exclude trans women, degender trans men, and erase all other identities (once again, people whittled down to genitals) but it once again, supports the patriarchy.
The idea that the experiences of women are universal implies that the situations and experiences of women are universal. It also implies that all women are the same. The notion of shared girlhood implies the misogynistic notion that all women, regardless of race, class, disability, and so forth, experience misogyny in the same way.
All penis in vagina sex is rape. The existence of trans women is raping the bodies of cis women. Trans women are rapists for existing. These are some of the notions that TERFs have (which once again, have a preoccupation with genitals). They believe that women, cisgender or transgender, do not have the autonomy to choose to have sex with people who have penises. They believe that women cannot have control over their lives or bodies.
This trivialization of rape is used as a weapon. It is used to imply that the existence of trans women are violence enacted against cisgender women, despite the actuality that trans women are often victims of violence, at the hands of cis women. This is more erasure of not only transmisogyny, but takes a serious societal issue and trivializes it. If someone simply existing is rape, then why do we use the same word to describe the forced and nonconsensual actions forced onto people with the same wording? Problematic does not begin to explain the issues of using rape as a trigger for actions of existence. It is violence enacted against other women, which has another name, misogyny.
It is a patriarchal idea that women do not know and cannot do what they want with their bodies. They are not granted the autonomy to be sexually independent and make their own conscious choices about who they wish to sleep with. In fact, this idea that a woman cannot be a sexually liberated person in control of her sexual choices and her body, is misogyny. The TERF notion that all penis in vagina sex is rape creates not only the perpetual victim that women are seen as in the lens of the patriarchy, but furthers the idea that women cannot tell the difference between rape and consensual sex.
For a group that proclaims they are for women, they certainly seem to be against women being able to make their own decisions.
TERFs and Sex Work Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) go hand-in-hand. SWERFs believe that all sex work is harming women. Pornography is bad and exploits women. To a SWERF and most TERFs, there is no such thing as a woman who enters sex work on her own accord. No one chooses sex work. They believe the idea of the ‘happy hooker’ to be a myth. They wish to criminalize not only sex work (in the form of selling sex), but in the extremes, criminalize pornography, strip clubs, and anything where a woman would be considered to be selling her body.
Now, this is not to say that the sex industry is without flaw nor that all people who enter sex work do so willingly and happily. However, there are those that do and TERFs/SWERFs seek to criminalize these women. Often, sex work is seen as a way to make money in a world that has already removed all options from the typical and approved economy. Those most victimized by society, trans women, women of color, and queer youth.
These people wish to remove the only source of income and livelihood for these people, while providing not alternatives. They want to criminalize the only way for these people to survive, throwing the most vulnerable aside. Of course, given that these people often do not challenge capitalism, racism, cissexism, and other institutionalized and systematic oppressions that these women face, it’s of no surprise that they are forgotten.
However, this notion once again plays into the idea that women have no control over their bodies. Women are seen as lesser for turning to sex, whether willing or unwilling. They are devaluing themselves for taking their bodily autonomy and wants into their own hands. It plays into the patriarchal notion that women who employ their sexuality are lesser in society. It upholds the idea that a woman cannot be a sexual person, let alone someone in charge of her sexuality.
TERF or MRA (Men’s Rights Activist)?
It is often said that the ideas of TERFs cannot be separated from Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). While MRAs believe that men are systematically oppressed by society and that women are the true ones in charge, they often share similar ideologies.
Both of them function on the idea that biology is something that has control over identities. They uphold the idea that genitals are a concrete fact, erase intersex people, and exclude transgender people of various identities (especially trans women). They believe that the guess of a doctor at birth has more sway than the person who has existed a lifetime in their bodies and in their heads.
They also both believe that there is inherently male or female brains and biology. This is something that is a patriarchal idea, that the brains and bodies of men and women are so biologically different, there is no way that they can even reach equality or see eye-to-eye. They, once again, believe that biology is a fact and upholds how people of various genders are limited in their lifetimes. Biology has the final say and according to basic biology, cannot be changed.
For people so against the patriarchy, they seem to be on the same side as those who believe the patriarchy is a myth. Interesting.
I Know You Better
There is a common vein in all of this. The idea that someone else knows more about you and what is best for you more than you do. They enforce definitions and identities on others who reject them. They force labels onto bodies who do not fit those definitions. They remove the bodily autonomy from people.
They seem to believe they know what is better for all women, despite functioning in an erasive and silencing way. They enact violence against anyone who disagrees with them, through doxxing, contacting employers, and harassing people to the point of silence. The victims of their campaigns are almost always women, showing their misogynistic tendencies. While there are men who are the targets of their silencing and threats, the overwhelming majority are women, often trans women and women of color who dare speak out against them.
They enact their privileges over these women in ways that are almost identical to the patriarchal society that enacts the same economic, social, and personal violence against them. They contact employers in order to get them fired. They slander their names by posting them alongside pedophiles and rapists. They threaten legal action in order to have articles pulled and people silenced.
They lobby for laws to criminalize sex work, actively harming women. They work against trans people accessing health care, helping contribute to the gatekeeping and rampant mental health issues in the trans community. They proclaim they are not for the eradication of trans people, while supporting patriarchal systems that limit their resources on all fronts, while also harming the cis women they proclaim to be protecting.
There is nothing radical about TERFs. For some, even the feminist in their name is questionable. Radical feminism is about destroying the patriarchy and the oppression it exhibits on all people, across all genders, especially all women (cis and trans). The true radical feminists are those who support their trans fellows, sex workers, and everyone for their own bodily autonomy. TERFs are patriarchy sympathizers with a pre-occupation on the genitals of others, especially whittling woman down to whether or not they possess a vagina. TERFs are patriarchal misogynists.