In this second blog on Heather Bruskill-Evans book, “Body Politics: Transgender” I will be exploring her analysis of concepts of gender and sex, and the threat that the transgender narrative has on women’s rights.
“Gender critical feminism specifically refutes a direct link between biology and gender” (p.18)
She argues that gender and sex are two different concepts which have been conflated into meaning one and the same thing. Gender is a term developed to explain societal concepts of the roles of masculinity and femininity. Radical feminists emphasise that these social roles are prescribed by patriarchal societal expectations on how males and females should behave, act and appear in specific and distinct ways. Such societal prescriptions are limiting and oppressive to both men and women. Women particularly, under patriarchy are specifically oppressed by these patriarchal stereotypes.
“A certain class of people experience targeted abortions and infanticide; menstrual taboos; female genital mutilation (FGM); child marriage; high rates of domestic abuse; rape, sometimes as a weapon of war; restrictions on contraception and abortion; and a range of disadvantages in society, all related to their biological reality, not identity. There is a word for these people: female= girls and women.” (Oldereide 2020, cited on p.40)
Gender-critical feminists argue for the elimination of gender roles, freeing up both men and women from these repressive gender roles.
“A gender critical feminist definition introduces the idea that hierarchical power structures gender stereotypes.” (p.9)
These gender roles are based on patriarchal power hierarchies. It is women in patriarchy who experience the most egregious political, psychological and physical injuries.
Under patriarchy these sex-based stereotypes, the oppression of women is based on their biology and relates to
“…the extraction of reproductive, domestic, sexual and emotional labour from female people by male people” (p.10)
The transgender movement, by its focus on gender roles and its denial of biological sex, reinforces damaging and oppressive sex-role stereotypes.
If you like to wear dresses you must be a woman.
If you like pink and playing with dolls, you must be a woman.
If you are ‘tomboy’, playing ‘boys’ games, you must be a boy.
“It is our very biological body, in its political and social context, that gender critical feminism foregrounds in this latest twentieth first century battle of what it means to be a woman and who has the authority to establish that meaning.” (p.39)
Invasion of Women’s Spaces/The Disappearance of the Term Woman
“…if women are compelled to accept that men who identify as women are women, both in law and in life, this could have a profound effect on women’s previously hard-won human rights.” (p7)
The transactivist movement has been very successful in advocating for legislative and policy changes, which not only disappears women, but allows men claiming to be women to invade women-only services and spaces.
Feminists have long pushed for the development of women-only services, and in many cases were successful in creating such services. As a result of feminist activism women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, homelessness services, toilets and change rooms, prisons, colleges, swimming pools and hospital wards were established for women only.
The author cites Murray and Hunter Blackburn (2019):
“The principles underlying the need for the protection of women are that the physical and social consequences of being female are so significant that women need specific protections in law and policy. Sex-based disadvantages may relate directly to female biology, for example pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while sexual violence and domestic abuse can be related to the lower status and ascribed to the female sex class. The special measures create equality of opportunity in a sexist world with protections designed to redress abuse, inequality and discrimination suffered by women” (p.99)
Many organisations in the Western world are no longer using the term woman. The author provides specific examples of the disappearance of women within organisational policies. Organisations such as Planned Parenthood (USA); UK Campaign Bloody Good Period (which provides tampons and sanitary products for asylum seekers); Cancer Research (UK) and the UK Government proposes the use of the term pregnant people in place of pregnant women.
Woman-Centred Midwifery” (2019) argues that the erasure of the specificity that it is women who give birth contributes to the
“cultural erasure of women’s wisdom that the physiological power encoded in our female bodies is what creates, nourishes and births live offspring and transmits culture.” (p.27)
The provision of women-centred maternity care acknowledges recognition that specific and specialised services need to be provided for women in their health care. It is also a recognition that male-centred medicine has consistently failed to identify and understand the significant biological and social differences between men’s and women’s medical needs and health care, particularly in relation to reproduction and maternity care. To then negate women in their policy documents and provision of services shows little respect for women’s bodies and women’s strengths.
“In promoting the ideas of birth as ‘neutral’ act, patriarchal capitalism has been given the best form of control it could have wished for, namely control of the means of human reproduction through the control of women’s bodies.” (p.28)
Gender critical feminists have always insisted that the “most important space for women is their bodies” (Jeffreys, 2014, p. 180).
The historian Sheila Jeffreys points out that men’s invasion and occupation of women’s physical selves is the foundation of women’s subordination.
“Historically men have sold and swapped women as property in marriage so that their bodies could be used for reproduction and sex.” (p.38)
The establishment of women-only spaces is about creating safety for women – safety from male violence and abuse.
In the UK prison system, their policy since 2017 relies on self-identification. Thus, increasingly, some men are now claiming to identify as women and being placed in women’s prisons. This includes men convicted of rape. This policy is based on the concerns of the trans community about their safety from male violence in the all-male environment of male prisons. However, little consideration has been given to the safety of women prisoners and women guards in opening up women’s prisons to men claiming to be women. The author cites one incident where a convicted rapist has raped two women within women’s prisons.
“Some male sex-offending criminals have attempted to exploit already existing gender-change rules for harmful and illegitimate purposes, and that others are likely to do so in the future.” (p.100)
Feminists have also worked hard at creating policies, procedures and practices within governments and organisations to attempt to redress the discrimination that women experience in society. This is being dismantled by the transactivist movement who have lobbied governments and organisations for the inclusion of trans people within these policies and practices:
“in 2018, the National Executive Committee, the ruling body of the Labour Party (the then and current opposition party in the UK) ruled that men who identify as women are eligible for all-women shortlists, minimum quotas for women and other positions such as Constituency Party Women’s Officer, a role designed to facilitate equality of opportunity for females in a male-dominated organisation.” (Waugh, 2018. P. 96)
Transactivism poses a serious threat to the autonomy and safety for lesbians.
“Lesbian women are now required, in the interests of inclusion, not to assert that the bodies they sexually or romantically desire are specifically female.” (p.34)
By creating the confusion between sex and gender, the trans movement is endangering the rights of lesbians.
“Denying the reality of biological sex and supplanting same-sex attraction with same-gender attraction raises serious human rights issues for women.” P.34
The author concludes this section on lesbians by stating:
“It always astounds me that men and women who rush to support women’s rights to bodily autonomy when it comes to ‘sex work’ – pornography and prostitution – become very exercised when lesbian women want to retain their agency and same-sex attraction.” P.35
It is the feminist movement which identified the structural nature of the oppression of women and asserts that patriarchy as a social structure needs to be challenged and contested.
“Patriarchy is a historical structure that has oppressed women on the basis of their biology. To recognise the material basis of oppression does not make oppression necessary: it makes it a political structure and thus open to challenge and to resistance.” (p.10)
It can be convincingly argued that postmodern feminism has become part of the backlash against this structurally analysis of patriarchy and that oppression is now defined as an individualistic experience.
“The 1980’s had witnessed a wave of postmodern feminism that had become very individualistic and detached from analysing patriarchal social structure and power.” (p.18)
In fact, the transactivist movement has commandeered the language of oppression, creating hierarchies of oppression, insisting that trans people are the most oppressed and that their experiences take precedence over women’s oppression. What such analysis does is disappear the material structural conditions which create and maintain patriarchal tyranny.
“While intersectional feminists are ostensibly using the discourse of structural analysis (oppression/privilege etc.), in trans-speak, oppression is entirely individualised. Oppression is no longer a matter of structural material conditions, and how those material conditions are held in place by specific discursive practices.” (p.21)
When women have spoken out and questioned the transactivist movement they have suffered sometimes severe consequences.
Women have been deplatformed, by being disinvited to speak at events. Often the women have previously been invited to speak about issues, such as pornography and prostitution. Transactivists have complained about such women because they have previously questioned the transactivist’s position.
Women have also been removed/fired from organisations because of the positions they have taken on the trans movement.
When women have attempted to meet to discuss and analyse what the transactivist movement means for women’s rights they have been physically threatened and harassed; meeting places have become unavailable to them.
Women’s voices are increasingly being silenced in the name of inclusivity and the trans activist movement.
“Women have a right to bodily autonomy and to speak about their bodies and lives without the demand that we couch this self-expression in language which suits a patriarchal agenda. (Cymbalist, 2020) p.29
A prime example of this is the response to JK Rowling’s article about the transgender movement and her response to the abuse she received as a result. J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues – J.K. Rowling (jkrowling.com)
“…the ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning…for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating.” (p30)
Women are fighting back.
There is a world-wide women’s rights movement: Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights – Women’s Human Rights Campaign (womensdeclaration.com)
A short summary of this Declaration:
We re-affirm the sex-based rights of women and girls.
- We reaffirm motherhood as an exclusively female status.
- We reaffirm women’s and girls rights to physical and reproductive integrity and oppose their exploitation through surrogacy and related practices.
- We reaffirm women’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and political participation.
- We reaffirm women’s rights to fair play in sports.
- We reaffirm the need to end violence against women and girls, and to protect rights of children.
We oppose all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from replacing “sex” with “gender identity” in law, policy, and social practice.
We need differences between men and women to describe our own experiences, to analyse how and why men oppress women so that we can actually resist oppression and bring about social justice.
“Transgenderism is the attempt to wrest female biology from women and in that process not only violates women’s agency but our collective capacity for resistance. We need the language of sex difference if patriarchy is to be challenged and resisted.” (p31)