Lauren Rankin is ‘a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University.’ She recently wrote an opinion piece, ‘Transphobia Has No Place in Feminism.’ The arguments put forward will not be news to radical feminists. But what did surprise me – and what prompted me to write this post – is the fact that Ms Rankin uses a quote from Simone de Beauvoir to support her argument. The quote will be familiar to anyone with even a cursory interest in feminism:
‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ (The Second Sex)
If one reads the context in which Simone de Beauvoir made her famous assertion, it is clear that she was referring to the enforced feminisation of females. She was saying this begins from the day we are born. She was observing that females are not born ‘feminine’, but that social indoctrination forces this upon us – or, to use her own words, ‘it is civilisation as a whole that produces this creature.’ She was not saying, as Ms Rankin appears to be implying, that ‘anyone can become a woman’. No, that is Ms Rankin’s own assertion, and to use a Simone de Beauvoir quote from 1949 to support her (flawed) argument is at best naive and at worst disingenuous. Let’s give Ms Rankin the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Rutgers’ Women’s and Gender Studies graduate did not read any Simone de Beauvoir during her time at university.
The problem with the assertions put forward by Ms Rankin and other liberal feminists is that they do not allow for discussion. If a radical feminist says that she considers trans women to be men, she is immediately labelled ‘bigoted’ and any and all channels of communication are shut down. The word ‘bigotry’ is used no less than 11 times in Ms Rankin’s fairly short article and in each case it is used to describe those who Ms Rankin deems to be guilty of transphobia: the ‘rad fems’ she talks of.
Let’s look at the other words used to describe radical feminists: ‘acerbic’, ‘aggressive’, ‘violent’. ‘Acerbic’ suggests bitterness, a slur which is often used by men to belittle women who dare to speak their minds, but I have the most trouble with the contention that radical feminists are ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent’. It is not aggressive to argue that a human male is male. It is not aggressive to express a desire for women-only spaces. And if Ms Rankin has any specific examples of our ‘violence’, she didn’t provide any evidence of this rather serious allegation.
Some might say that it would be aggressive to vociferously campaign against the right of a marginalised group in society to hold a conference. Some might say that it would be aggressive to try to prevent females meeting in a female-only space in which they can feel safe and in which they can be sure their voices will be heard. Some might say that it would be violent to threaten staff at the venue where such a conference was due to be held. All of this happened, but none of the aggression and violence here was perpetrated by radical feminists. The responsible parties in these cases are trans activists (including trans people and other people who identify as feminist) and MREs (male rights extremists). None of this aggression and violence is mentioned by Ms Rankin – and, tellingly, she omitted to mention that the very person she quotes in her article, Sophia Banks, is the same person who openly tweeted certain MREs for their ‘assistance’ in the first place.
The final paragraph of Ms Rankin’s piece is worth repeating here just in case you didn’t get it the first time:
Trans women are women. How do I know that? Because they say they are women. Because they identify as women. Because your gender expression is not dictated by the gender with which you were born. Because I, and many other cisgender feminists, trust trans women when they say they are women. Because women are women, and that’s really all there is to it. [My bold.]
Do you hear that? As long as a man says he is a woman, he is. That’s it. No questioning of it is permitted (that would be ‘bigotry’). To question a man who tells us he is a woman is to be ‘transphobic’. Oh, Ms Rankin: men have been telling women what to do since time began. Not long ago, men told women that their lady-minds could not cope with the responsibility of the vote. Even more recently, men told women that their lady-minds could not cope with the responsibility of a mortgage. Every day men tell women what they should wear and how they should look and how they should behave. Every day men tell women that it is her place in society to cater for his every whim. And now women are being told by (some) men to accept without question that they are, in fact, women. Some women are doing as they are told, as is their rightful place as the subordinate sex. Other women (‘rad fems’) are choosing not to be told what to do by some men. Some women are choosing not to be dictated to. Some women are fighting against men telling us we cannot meet unless they are invited, some women are fighting against men telling us they have right of access to areas where girls and women are likely to be undressing, some women are choosing not to be told what to do by men.
We don’t trust men when they say they are women (our biology books tell us otherwise). We don’t trust men who use aggression and violence to try to prevent us from meeting. We don’t trust men who try to tell us what to do, or how to think, or how to behave, because we are not men’s puppets. Any man who wants our trust needs to earn it first, and throwing his weight around and issuing demands and telling us what to do will have quite the opposite effect. Standing up to men is not bigotry but self-preservation because men are men and women are women, and that’s really all there is to it.