Why the TERF movement is inherently anti-feminist
We’ve all heard a speech from a woman who is stuck back a century ago in the first wave feminist movement. Give women the right to vote? They’ll say, “Sure, love. I voted in the last election!” But tell them to let trans-women use the women’s bathroom, to let cis-women rise to the top of their fields in STEM while they wear no makeup and kiss other women? If they’re like most of the women in the Brethren community I grew up in, they’ll say, “I think that’s going too far, dear.”
Unfortunately, they’re not alone. Posie Parker, for instance, is the founder of a group called, ‘Standing for Women’. Her website itself states, ‘We are standing for women: every woman.’ Her definition of woman? ‘Adult human female.’ The horseshoe theory might have a role to play in where TERFs like her sit on the political spectrum. The theory is based on the assertion that the extreme left and the extreme right, while representing at opposite ends of the political spectrum, are more closely aligned than they initially appear. The feminist views of TERFs have, it seems, gone so far left that they’ve looped her around to the alt right.
On the basis of it, TERF ‘feminist’ views actually seem to have a bit in common with the left. Hear me out. Sure, they don’t acknowledge an entire subset of womanhood, but they acknowledge some women, right? Just the ones that have it easier, because they were actually born as the sex that best represents their gender, rather than having to fight through layers of thick social oppression to be true to themselves. That being said, for the cis-women the TERFs are willing to acknowledge, they advocate for their rights—to equal pay, to be free from violence, reproductive rights, and the like. These are all things that genuine feminists actually want. We just want them for all women.
So, why is this so problematic? Beyond this bottlenecking approach to feminism actively excluding a group of women, it has awful repercussions for the feminist movement as a whole. TERFs are not feminists. They are merely weaponising a powerful movement to actively reinforce a distinct, patriarchal, gendered establishment.
Transphobia is hateful to any woman who isn’t represented under a definitely feminine persona. Take, for example, multiple accounts of cisgender women who have been asked to ‘leave bathrooms’ for appearing to be trans, because they present more masculine or androgynous than feminine. Take women being criticised in their own sporting events for being ‘too muscular’ or ‘too strong.’ Transphobia distinctly overlaps with misogyny, in that they both perpurate ideas that a ‘real woman’ must be ‘divinely feminine’—soft and shaven from head to toe (because god forbid a woman has armpit hair), polite and kind, wearing a full face of makeup to step out of the house—to be perceived as valid.
It’s a continuation of age old, harmful vengeance on women. It emphasises a patriarchal structure that continues to oppress women, box us all into one identity, and smear our faces in shame if we break free from tradition.
Womanhood comes in all forms, including queerness and androgyny. A trans-woman and a cis-woman are of equal value under the true feminist movement.
Anyone with basic filtration skills can see right through charades like these, but spare a thought for those who don’t make it through these guises so easily. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, even men, may start off supporting campaigns with good (albeit ignorant) intentions, only to get suckered into an incessant, hateful ruse.
We should be worried for these women. Women like my nana, who grew up in a conservative home and raises her children the same, who shudders every time I leave books lying around at her house with titles like “Sexual Revolution”, but is trying to learn more about feminism. Women like my mother, who do not immediately understand why branding like Posie Parker’s is hateful when she sees her on television wearing a t-shirt that says ‘let women speak’, when this is what I’ve been telling her is important for years. TERF messaging is confusing at best for those who do not know how to discern it. At worst, it’s a gateway into malicious alt right propaganda that continues to fundamentally hate women.
If you’re like me and you come from a socially conservative background or interact with those that do, remind your loved ones who may be uncertain or confused about the events of the weekend what feminism is really about. Educate them with kindness, grace and patience. Feminism stands for all women with love and solidarity.