Feminism is inherently controversial, even within itself. There is a political spectrum of feminism, from radical feminists on one end to what Roxane Gay describes, tongue-in-cheek, as ‘bad feminist‘ on the other.
Where this political spectrum becomes hurtful is when it excludes or devalues certain women’s experiences over others, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of the denial of transwomen’s rights as women’s rights.
Radical empathy may render the thinking behind trans-exclusionary feminism understandable on a knee-jerk emotional level, if not still impolitic. It is easy to be a little bitter as a woman. Many of us have at least the occasional moment where we have a twinge of intense impatience or frustration when our male family members or friends or colleagues are surprised at the minute discrimination we experience daily.
This resentment can spill over into a resentment of transwomen, for what some think of as their former privileged position as a man. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for example, came under fire for her comments that “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 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.” (She later clarified that this did not necessarily mean she did not equate trans rights with women’s rights.)
Yet basing the right to be a woman on privilege is a straw man argument. Cis women (the term for women whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex at birth) themselves face different degrees of discrimination. Women range from those born into the 1% to those trapped in sexual slavery in obscurity – neither is considered less of a woman for their differences in experience, stark as they are.
An additional point of contention has been that allowing transgender women who haven’t fully physically transitioned into women’s spaces increases the risk of sexual assault against cis women, and therefore prioritizes trans rights over women’s rights. Yet there is little evidence transwomen are any more likely to commit acts of sexual assault. On the rare occasion it may happen, to condemn an entire group for the sins of a few is one of the most baseless forms of prejudice. As Katy Guest asked in an op-ed in The Independent, “When men dress up as taxi drivers, teachers, doctors, priests, friends or lovers to commit rape, do we curtail the rights of taxi drivers, doctors, lovers and priests?”
Transgender women face the same discrimination and violence women face; between 2008 and 2014, there were 1,612 murders, the equivalent of a transgender person being killed every two days.
This is in addition to everyday harassment, discrimination and legislation which excludes them from healthcare, representation and protection.
Transwomen may have entered the game later, but they still play by the same skewed rules, with the odds stacked against them. To add opposition from cis women themselves is at best, misguided and at worst, cruel.