(Photo: Feminism in India)
By Bella Robinson – Regular Contributor
There are and always will be mandatory uncomfortable exceptions but as a general rule, most people have a strong humanitarian belief in human kindness and the end of suffering. The pursuit of welfare and equal opportunities for women, whilst undoubtedly a continuous global battle, has won many wars, not least in Britain. The outlawing of marital rape, sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and advances in women’s reproductive health and safe access to abortion can be credited to the second wave feminist movement. A feminist movement in the 60s and 70s that drew attention to the need for safe spaces for women and fought hard to get them. Among the many women leading this movement across the world, Germaine Greer may be the most influential, admired, and detested: the latter because despite her otherwise progressive views Greer stated in 2015 that ‘Transgender women are not women’.
There is a growing problem of women, my mother included, who are scared about male perpetrators. They come from a good place, a strong desire to keep women safe, who admire feminists like Germaine Greer for pioneering a movement that brought women so much but who irrationally and dangerously target this fear onto the transgender community. Like with any movement as society moves towards a more accepting place for transgender and non-binary people, giving more people the confidence to identify as they wish, there will be backlash. Just as Nigel Farage uses feminism to disguise his islamophobia, so do the ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ use their self-proclaimed feminism to demonise and disregard trans rights.
The rhetoric that transgender women and non-binary women could invade women’s spaces and bathrooms and endanger women is gaining momentum amongst the older generation who grew up with the second wave feminist movement. Whilst there is no statistical evidence to back this up this fear has been perpetuated by other formerly renowned voices, notoriously, Joanne Katy Rowling. The author who wrote books about a boy stuck in cupboard under the stairs who felt different and excluded from the society he knew is the same author who went on to write a novel (under the male pseudonym Robert Galbraith) which features a man who dresses up in women’s clothes and a wig in order to access women’s spaces in order to murder his victims.
This is not accidental ‘TERFism’. Historically she has compared medical access for transgender people to gay conversion therapy, and spoke out in defence of a women who had been fired over transphobic tweets. In her blog post speaking out on sex and gender issues she admits that she became interested in the ‘gender issue’ whilst writing this book. She goes on to outline ‘five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism’ arguing that there is a growing number of girls (many with autism) who transition to boys because they feel the social indictments of being girls in a patriarchal society, that what they really should be is tomboys but now have medical access to transitioning, something Rowling considers to be the biggest form of misogyny. Whilst it has been heavily criticised for citing misinformation and inducing hatred, the BBC nominated Rowling for the Russell award for ‘free speech’.
Safe spaces are an important issue to many of us, especially members of society who don’t feel safe or have previously not been safe in public. Public toilets can provide safe spaces for women from men but can be daunting for trans and non-binary people who don’t feel safe going in male or female toilets. Just has the second wave feminists fought for a new attitude towards violence for women, there needs to be a new voice and concern for protecting transgender people. Trans spaces do not take away women’s spaces but the demonisation of transgender people as violent towards women in women’s spaces is not protecting women but damaging a vulnerable section of society. And whilst these attitudes are becoming more and more prominent with second wave feminists, now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, the fearmongering continues to be validated in the media and amongst society.
Attitudes matter because as medical procedures for transitioning people are relatively new, new laws can and have been brought in to make this harder. We all have a responsibility to make the world a more accepting and unassailable place that starts with the people we know, the people who are close to us who grew up in a different time, who read us Harry Potter as children. Equality is not a cake, giving one group in society equality does not take away equality for another. Men have always had the power to dress up as women and sneak into women’s bathrooms just as men who want to harm women have always been able to do so. But this is a separate problem and an unrelated concern to the emancipation of the transgender community. I know my mother, like many women of that age, come from reasonable place, doing what they think is right and being influenced by women they look up to but unless the younger generation has those uncomfortable conversations with people they know, these harmful narratives will continue to dominate, outwardly in open conversation and mainstream media. For those who want to be an ally to the transgender community, this conversation may start at home.