Transgender Women and the Feminist Movement
It comprised of the women’s movement that emerged to fight against sexist exploitation and oppression (Hooks 1). The movement is traceable to the mid-1800’s in the United States and has been responsible for political campaigns that called for reforms aimed at fighting various forms of discrimination and oppression against them (Ryan 1). With a progressive increase in freedoms and liberties within the society, the idea of trans-identities has also become a common feature in the society, and its rise has been accompanied by tensions between trans-gendered women and feminists, as relates to whether they deserve to be part of the movement or not (Pattatucci-Aragon 231). It therefore raises the question of whether trans-gendered women indeed qualify to be women who should be protected by the movement (Green 231). There is the need to ensure inclusivity in the feminist movement as an indication that it is not discriminative. This paper discusses the issue of trans-gender women and their entitlement to join the feminist movement, and argues that they should be members, as an indication of genuine movement inclusivity. . Feminism was one of the greatest social movements of the twentieth century (Ryan 3)
Background of the Movement
century, most focus was on suffrage. This was however later limited by conservatism, which weakened and scattered it (Cahill 17-18). The Second Wave, lasting from the 1960’s to the 1980’s on its part led to a lot of grassroots mobilization and success, but was limited because of generalizing the characteristics of members, therefore its effectiveness was condemned because of failure to adequately value its members’ diversity (Heywood & Drake 27). In the third wave, lasting as from the 1990’s henceforth, a lot of premium was placed on diversity. Coming from this background therefore, the movement is expected to be sensitive and avoid all forms of discrimination, at least because it is part of its declared agenda.th century and early 20th The feminist movement was initially the product of the abolitionist movement, where it was associated with anti-racism and anti-slavery calls (Midgley 41). This later evolved to advocacy for women’s rights as members increasingly noticed the extent of their disenfranchisement hence they pressured various states to create remedial legislations (Cahill 180). Development of the movement occurred in three waves. In the first, occurring between the 19
With the growth of feminist theory as a component of the Second Wave of feminism in the 1970’s, there was the onset of a period during which there was a lot of effort towards political correctness. The environment was intensely pro-change, so that for instance traditional feminine clothing was considered as being oppressive, hence women sought to wear more male attire as a political statement of the time. This was not however welcomed by everyone, as there were feminine women who also believed in feminine self-expression. In the process, trans-women became more visible in the movement while feminine women and trans-women were considered traitors because of rejecting the feminist ideology that inspired the adoption of such androgynous clothing. In seeking to distance themselves from trans-women, especially the feminine ones, some of the non-trans feminists tried to create a differentiation between the two kinds of women by openly discussing why trans-women should not be referred to as women, basing on their being born male. With the expansion of this differentiation, the feminist identity of the trans-women started being suspected, therefore their exclusion (Green 236).
Arguments against Trans-gender Involvement
The issue of whether trans-gender women should be bona fide participants of the feminist movement has been the cause of debate for decades. Feminists often consider gender as comprising of a system, in many parts of the world patriarchal, which exposes women to oppression by men through for instance the limitation of social roles, statuses or career choices basing on one’s sex at birth (Hooks 18). This raises the question of whether a transgender woman is indeed a woman and can fit into the feminist movement because a transgendered woman is essentially an individual who is male in biological sex but who opts to transition so that through socialization, she becomes female. Green indicates that in opposing their participation, it is believed that the trans-women group comprises of deviant men that are seeking to bring down or at least minimize the achievements of the feminist movement so far (239). The eradication of gender-variant presences within the movement would therefore help to safeguard the feminist agenda.
According to Goldberg, there were already questions as to whether transgender women should be considered to be actual women as from 1973 when participants at the West Coast Lesbian Conference held in Los Angeles got into a serious disagreement on whether a transsexual folksinger named Beth Elliott needed to be allowed to perform (par.3). This resistance was probably due to the longstanding belief by radical feminists that accepting transgendered women will cost everything that has been sought for decades by the movement. A major question arising here therefore is: would it be fair for a person who is a beneficiary of male privilege and who never underwent the real challenges of womanhood deserve membership?
The typical radical feminist view is that maleness signifies oppression. According to Green, it is believed that there is no other kind of inequality which is more pervasive and extreme than that of women, irrespective of one’s class, race, ethnicity or nationality. For this reason, the perceived male privilege which the trans-gendered women possess makes them a dangerous group that will need to be kept away from the movement (232). Goldberg explains that gender is in this perspective considered to be more about a caste position than an identity. Men always retain the male privilege within society whether they accept to be men or opt to be women, which places them at a subordinate position socially. The mere fact that they have a choice implies that they will never be able to understand what womanhood is truly about. When a transgender woman gets into the feminist fold and demands acceptance, it is just another expression of male entitlement (par.6).
Few feminists subscribe to the idea that a male should be considered female under whatever circumstances. The trans-gendered women demand to be considered women because they do not feel male, and that they are females trapped in male bodies. The radical group believes for instance that a person can not be having a female brain because the only reason for different ways of thinking and acting observed across the genders is because the society forces women to take a certain form, for instance being nurturing, deferential and sexually attractive, what in the feminist circles is referred to as “ritualized submission” (Goldberg par.5).
Arguments for Trans-gender Inclusion
The creation of an effective and intersectional movement would require the establishment of a more trans-inclusive environment. There is also the argument for need of the trans-women to be allowed into women-only spaces. Such calls are justifiable. This is because according Buzuvis , an application of social justice feminism suggests the need for accommodation of the trans-group within the movement. The approach requires the focusing of reforms at a broader level in identifying the best ways of dealing with sources of inequality, and in doing so recommends that race or other basis of subordination must be taken into account (104). Going by this, it would be hypocritical for the movement to discriminate against other human beings.. The feminism movement has not always provided an inclusive space. There are therefore calls for an institutionalized inclusion of trans-gendered women into the feminist movement, as their issues are feminist ones (Pattatucci-Aragon 231)
Considering current social trends, the definition of gender leaves the movement with no choice but to accept the group into its work. The insistence on gender differences raises a challenge because it takes the debate back to the determinant of gender; whether it is simply about how a person feels. According to Evans & Williams, an individual’s sex is determined by their physiological and biological characteristics, which will indicate if one is a man or a woman, while gender is based on constructed roles which are socially constructed, so that a person’s attributes and behaviours will need to be the acceptable ones to be considered a member of either gender. The implication is that the meaning of sex could be the same across societies, while that of gender differs depending on the social context (42). In the transgender argument, a woman is not defined by their physicality, but rather their gender identity, which in their view is permanent, never really a choice and lasts even before the individual is aware of it (Green 231).
The inapplicability of biological determinism can help explain why inclusivity is necessary. The argument against inclusivity often bases itself on biological determinism, where biology defines destiny. It is men who create the gender problem hence the solution would be to end the existing gender binary. Trans-people only help to make the gender binary stronger by indicating that there is a difference between the two genders and are therefore a challenge to gender equality (Jaggar 107). Such an argument is however confusing because trans-women could be a factor that would enable escape from the binary possible, to avoid gender socialization and assignment and to contribute to a more dynamic knowledge of gender as a concept.
Part of the leadership in the feminist movement is already not in favour of transgender exclusion. According to Stark, a number of believers in the feminist movement are aware that there is no need for bigoted and outdated perspectives that seek exclusion, considering the third-wave feminist ideal of welcoming every woman to the effort. However, the movement still believes that even while accepting trans-women, reproductive rights will always remain the central feature of womanhood’s meaning (Ryan 46).
The discussion of perspectives relating to inclusion of transgender women in the feminist movement draws attention to the fact that leaving them out could lead to the perception that the movement is inconsiderate and dismissive of an apparently marginalized and persecuted demographic of the society. It may be true that trans- gendered people are socialized into a given gender category but feel that they are constrained by its category while feeling more comfortable with a different category’s norms. However, such norms arise from a patriarchal system, implying that there is the need for a feminist critique of the system so as to avoid the gender trap (Stark par.16). This is informed by the knowledge that according to Stryker & Whittle, the reluctance of feminists to accept trans-women fully does not really arise from the desire to protect the movement from patriarchy, and neither is it driven by fear of the unknown (32).
It emerges that such exclusion of trans-women is based on the assumption that they have not undergone any discrimination or been exposed to any struggles or vulnerabilities in the course of their existence. Contrary to this, they are likely to have undergone such challenges. This is because by the nature of their current position in society, they are likely to have been exposed to double victimization through misogyny and transphobia, which could make them even more deserving of attention.
The issue of trans-gender inclusion in the feminist movement is seemingly an important though difficult conversation that needs to be addressed, considering that the modern society is highly diverse. There is the need to encourage discussion of the issues arising from the debate within a free and open environment, so that no one should be accused of being homophobic or transphobic just because they are not yet convinced about the nature of the issue (Stryker & Whittle 9). It will in this way be possible to come up with a feminism which is both trans-inclusive and radical. While radical feminism may often be considered as being against them, it is possible to change this.
Generally, the feminist movement especially in the period after the Second Wave expressed its commitment to avoid any forms of discrimination. In the present-day discourse, there is a trend towards acceptance of the trans-identity as a complete one. Discrimination along gender lines can therefore be considered unacceptable, and rejection of trans-women as part of the movement is likely to be viewed as being trans-phobic. The overall argument that trans-women’s experiences are different and therefore set them apart from other women is inaccurate because it has the assumption that all other women have had the same experiences, which would be inaccurate. The belief that trans-women have been exposed to male privilege is not sufficient reason for them to be kept away because not all women end up being exposed to the same levels of oppression or privilege, even when subjected to the same societal condition. Anti-inclusion ideas are the result of misinformation, ignorance and a baseless fear that having them as part of the group might lead to an undermining of feminist ideology and theory.
The feminist movement was established to help champion the interests of women, a group that was generally oppressed within society. As from the 1990’s, the movement sought to be accommodative to diversity, considering that failure to do so had led to failure of its previous developmental stage. However, there has been a historical disagreement as to whether transgender females need to be considered as women and therefore participate in the movement. The reasons for rejecting them include their already male biological status, the possibility of endangering the feminist agenda, their already privileged status, and symbolization of oppression against women. However, arguments may be provided for their acceptance. These include upholding of social justice, weak definition of gender, the need to embrace diversity and the need to express transgender issues because they are relevant to feminism.
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