Radical Feminism & The TERF War
A generous reader sent me a delightfully Dreherbaity New Yorker article on
the Iran-Iraq War the war between radical feminists and militant transgender activists. “Radfems” can’t stand male-to-female transgenders, and won’t let them into the movement because they believe they are really privileged males trying to pass as women. Transgenders can’t stand the radical feminists for obvious reasons. It has gotten very, very ugly, with transgender activists pressuring venues to deny Radfem conferences an opportunity to gather there, given their stance on transgender. Excerpt:
In response, thirty-seven radical feminists, including major figures from the second wave, such as Ti-Grace Atkinson, Kathie Sarachild, and Michele Wallace, signed a statement titled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Criticism of ‘Gender,’ ” which described their “alarm” at “threats and attacks, some of them physical, on individuals and organizations daring to challenge the currently fashionable concept of gender.” With all this in mind, the Radfems Respond organizers had arranged the library space as a backup, but then a post on Portland Indymedia announced:
We questioned the library administration about allowing a hate group who promotes discrimination and their response is that they cannot kick them out because of freedom of speech. So we also exercise our right to free speech in public space this Saturday to drive the TERFSand Radfems out of OUR library and OUR Portland!
(TERF stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” The term can be useful for making a distinction with radical feminists who do not share the same position, but those at whom it is directed consider it a slur.)
Abusive posts proliferated on Twitter and, especially, Tumblr. One read, “/kill/terfs 2K14.” Another suggested, “how about ‘slowly and horrendously murder terfs in saw-like torture machines and contraptions’ 2K14.” A young blogger holding a knife posted a selfie with the caption “Fetch me a terf.” Such threats have become so common that radical-feminist Web sites have taken to cataloguing them. “It’s aggrieved entitlement,” Lierre Keith told me. “They are so angry that we will not see them as women.” Keith is a writer and an activist who runs a small permaculture farm in Northern California. She is forty-nine, with cropped pewter hair and a uniform of black T-shirts and jeans. Three years ago, she co-founded the ecofeminist group Deep Green Resistance, which has some two hundred members and links the oppression of women to the pillaging of the planet.
It gets better and better, in an ultrahathotic way. Despite the freaky-deakiness of both sides, there really is an important set of philosophical questions at the heart of this dispute. But being a right-wing smirktard, I can’t take it seriously because I can’t get past how ridiculous the combatants are in their ferocity and radicalism (e.g., the “de-transitioning” woman who addressed the Radfems wearing a t-shirt that says, “I Survived Testosterone Poisoning”). And stuff like this:
There are young transgender-critical radical feminists, like Heath Atom Russell and Rachel Ivey, aged twenty-four, who was one of the organizers of Radfems Respond, but they are the first to admit that they’re a minority. “If I were to say in a typical women’s-studies class today, ‘Female people are oppressed on the basis of reproduction,’ I would get called out,” Ivey says. Other students, she adds, would ask, “What about women who are male?”
That might be an exaggeration, but only a slight one. The members of the board of the New York Abortion Access Fund, an all-volunteer group that helps to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them, are mostly young women; Alison Turkos, the group’s co-chair, is twenty-six. In May, they voted unanimously to stop using the word “women” when talking about people who get pregnant, so as not to exclude trans men. “We recognize that people who identify as men can become pregnant and seek abortions,” the group’s new Statement of Values says.
“What about women who are male?” is a question that can only be seriously posed in a decadent society. This is not going to end well.