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Recently, a friend of mine linked the responses to questions at a Hustings for the GPW (Green Party Women) which sadly reflected a wider conflict that is tearing apart plenty of purportedly feminist groups.
This conflict centres on the question what is a woman?
It sounds like a simple question but like all deceptively simple questions about identity it contains a wealth of complicating and conflicting nuance. (Please don’t tell me it’s an adult human female, because I will block you :))
The question the GPW needs to ask is: what is it trying to achieve?
To help answer this question, it is worth looking at the slew of issues that women’s groups and feminist organisations traditionally campaign about.
(Side note: I am a cis woman. I may not get everything right and accept good faith corrections, disagreements and education. We’re all figuring this shit out together, yelling on the internet solves literally nothing.)
Issues of biology
I’m starting with issues of biology because in some ways it is the least controversial. These are things like:
- Reproductive rights – e.g. access to contraception and abortions
- Equality of health outcomes — e.g. clinical trials that utilise diverse populations, medical training that teaches about sex-based differences.
- Specialised support for pregnancy and birth – e.g. access to trained medical professionals such as midwives, autonomy over birth experiences, maternity leave to recover from post-birth complications
- Support for breastfeeding – e.g. normalising breastfeeding, creating clean safe spaces in workplaces etc.
There’s also an issue that gets thrown in with this a lot which is support for motherhood, but I would argue that it is more progressive to fight for parental rights, given that we expect and want fathers to look after children–although I accept that currently women are disproportionality affected by the lack of parental rights.
So who do these issues primarily affect? The answer is anyone with female sex organs: cis women, intersex women and men, many non-binary people and trans men.
Issues of patriarchal violence
These include issues such as:
- Domestic violence – e.g. increasing the number and quality of refuges, raising awareness, research into effective rehabilitation methods, educating police, social workers etc. about domestic violence, working with offenders to prevent re-offending etc.
- Rape and threats of violence – e.g. creating safer streets, tackling date-rape, drink-spiking etc.
- Gendered violence (violence perpetrated to uphold a gender binary; attacks on butch cis women and trans men, femme cis men and trans women) – e.g. unisex toilet stalls
Who do these issues affect? The answer is pretty much everybody. Violent men make life difficult for everyone, including themselves (I know, I know, cry me a river etc.)
Now, there is an argument that women’s political groups should focus on supporting the victims of patriarchal violence, and men’s political groups should do the work of figuring out effective rehabilitation methods and finding ways to hold men to account for the violence they cause, which is way beyond the scope of this brief blog post.
However, bluntly, it needs to be tackled from multiple fronts and the danger is not coming from trans women.
Issues of equality & gender+ stereotyping
These include issues such as:
- Diverse representation in places of influence and power – e.g. getting more women (and other marginalised identities) into senior leadership positions across politics, business, NGOs etc.
- Equal pay
- Making workplaces free from sex and gender harassment
- Tackling corrosive gender stereotypes at the social level – e.g. pink and blue toys for children, assumptions around who stays home to take of the children, who has responsibility for ensuring a clean home environment etc.
Who do these issues affect? The answer is almost everybody, but to the greater extent it impacts women of colour and working class women (both cis and trans), as well as cutting across many similar issues for disabled and LGBTQ+ people. Stereotyping/equality is a fully intersectional issue, and it is impossible to isolate ‘sex/gender’ from all the other aspects of a person’s identity.
If you want to argue that trans women and non-binary people should be excluded from the GPW, I’d have to ask why. If it’s about creating ‘safe spaces’, well, white/middle class/able bodied women have always and continue to perpetrate violence and hostility towards women of colour, disabled women, neurodivergent women, working class women etc. The ‘woman’ umbrella is inclusive of a wide range of intersectional identities, some of which are in conflict with each other.
Nobody said politics was easy. But the effective solution to the myriad problems facing us is not to hunker down into a tiny bubble made up of people exactly like us and argue semantics. What does that achieve for anybody?
Yes, the ‘woman’ identity is big and complex and nuanced, and the issues facing women affect different women, non-binary and trans people in different ways. This is not new and is not made any different by accepting non binary people, trans women and trans men into the GPW.