TERFs, feminism, privilege
by Joanne von Spanien
I was gonna write about language, but I’ve got feminism on the mind.
So the thing is, most things that TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) feminists … wait, that was redundant. Most things that TERFs say would easily be considered hate speech coming from anyone male or a part of an organized religion. If you’re new to the concept, the gist of it is that they refuse to see trans women as women, lobby to try and kick them out of women’s shelters, accuse queer trans women as metaphorically “raping women” and a lot of other things which make about as much sense as the tenets of scientology. It’s easy to google if you’re still curious.
They’re a tiny, albeit vocal, minority. The problem is that their dogma seems to trickle down into mainstream queer culture in a diluted, yet mildly to blatantly transphobic form. Many trans women have tried to criticize this phenomenon, but are often dismissed—albeit in academic, latinate language—basically because their trans. This is a whole ‘nother bag of worms. Again, easy to google if you’re curious.
Okay, so there’s a small branch of toxic feminism out there. Sad, but so what? Well, I think it illustrates a bigger problem with current feminism: bogus theory that goes unchallenged.
Now, I am totally fine with a textbook definition of feminism—by its definition, I am a feminist through and through—but, to paraphrase Iulia Seranus (my nerdy Latin name for trans writer Julia Serano), feminism is a lot like Christianity. If someone says they’re a Christian, there’s a whole spectrum of doctrine that they may or may not agree with. Ditto for feminists.
Because you’ve got big name academics saying things like, “if you’re not a feminist, you’re a bigot,” and because it’s sort of an unspoken rule that any privileged class isn’t allowed to critique feminism, a lot of dogma isn’t adequately examined.
Academic feminism, like every other social theory, has its flaws, and because it’s so politicized and entangled with things like communism and socialism, it’s become increasingly hard to criticize if you don’t come from a certain demographic. This is academically irresponsible.
Feminists definitely have one thing right: privilege does matter. But it’s a double-edged sword. I think this is easiest to illustrate through an example:
As an American living in Spain, I experience privilege every day from the fact that #1, I’m bilingual, and #2, I’m a native English speaker. Being able to correct tiny mistakes that non-native anglophones make opens a lot of financial doors and confers a bit of social prestige. I’m even asked to translate English-language journalism into Spanish because I can pick up on subtle meanings other people apparently miss.
Does that mean that I’m unqualified to speak about or criticize Spanish politics? Not at all! I’m certainly unqualified to be a Spanish politician, but the fact that I’m not Spanish will actually help me to notice things a Spaniard might not. On the other hand, being Spanish enables my friends to notice things I might not. In a word, it means that Spaniards should call me on my privileged shit when I’m wrong and logically explain to me why this is the case. I can explain to them my unavoidably American perspective and, while we may end up agreeing or disagreeing, we can acknowledge that different but valid opinions about a given issue exist.
Back to feminism. Some schools of academic feminism would have us believe that privileged perspectives are detrimental or have no value. If you’re privileged, you are not allowed to critique the theory, period.
Taken ad absurdum, this means we should only value the opinion of feminists who speak minority languages like Quechua and Swahili, who grew up without learning to read and write, who are chronically raped and malnourished—you get the point.
The thing is, Western literate university-educated feminists are in fact, extremely privileged (in a relative, global sense) and yet this privileged perspective is important. It elucidates things that would otherwise go unnoticed. The perspective of the down and out, likewise, is equally essential because it elucidates different, equally-important things.
In conclusion: Sexism, racism, violence, oppression, poverty and various phobias are global problems. They involve everybody. Ergo, everybody must be part of the solution.
Oh, and for the record, I’m a queer trans women, financial struggling, and a capitalist (though by no means opposed to moderate socialist policies! I just think free markets are a good thing!) In some ways I’m not privileged, In some ways I’m very privileged. So please, academic feminists, stop excluding me! I love many radical feminist and queer theories, but I’m constantly given the impression that I won’t be welcome unless I’m a unemployed and a Marxist. Radical feminists, you have so many potential allies out there that you’re overlooking and alienating!