On Thursday, transgender columnist Juno Dawson published a thinly-veiled attack on feminists in GLAMOUR. This is not entirely off-brand for the magazine, who Dawson makes clear has always approached feminism through a liberal lens that says the women’s movement should be focused on supporting personal choice, rather than than on collective liberation. Dawson celebrates what the columnist calls a “rebranding” that made feminism seem more appealing to anti-feminists, as mainstream media wholly defanged the word itself, turning a radical movement into nothing more than a superficial label. And if decontextualized “choice” were the primary purpose of feminism, perhaps Dawson would be right to categorize feminists who oppose the neoliberalization of our movement as a “sub-group,” but alas, it is not.
It was only last year that Dawson “came out” as a transwoman, but this hasn’t stopped the writer from dictating how women should be approaching their ongoing fight for liberation from male oppression. In fact, the entire column essentially describes the ways women are doing their own movement wrong, indeed rejecting basic feminist tenets and failing to recognize that maybe — just maybe — feminists who’ve been at this for many decades now have thought this through a little more than Dawson has.
“The key battleground between TERFs and transwomen is the issue of toilets,” Dawson states. “Yes, my right to do a little wee or poo is, apparently, major political battleground.”
That Dawson clearly thinks it’s cute to reduce feminist analysis of sex-based oppression to “toilets” relays not only ignorance, but a deep disrespect for women and our rights. “TERF,” for those lucky enough to have not yet encountered the term, means “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.” Rebecca Reilly-Cooper offers a flawless explanation of the term, its failures, and its purpose, explaining that it is not a meaningful description of any feminist politics:
“A key assumption underpinning radical feminist analyses is that the word ‘female’ denotes a biological category, referring to the class of persons capable of menstruating, ovulating, gestating, and lactating.”
Therefore, Reilly-Cooper explains, “it makes little sense to describe, and still less to criticize, a radical feminist approach as ‘trans exclusionary.'” In other words, yes, the feminist movement is indeed “exclusionary,” if you must describe a political movement towards the liberation of women in such a backwards way, but no more than any other movement. Political movements naturally work towards specific aims — if they did not, and instead attempted to broadly address every single issue on the planet, including every person and all of their ideas, that “movement” would surely be an unsuccessful one. Socialists “exclude” capitalists from their activism just as feminists exclude anti-feminists from theirs. We do not prioritize the issues or concerns of males in this movement because this movement is not for men — it is for women. If that makes males feel left out, so be it. Not our concern.
But back to “toilets.” Feminists do not have any interest in preventing people from peeing. What they are interested in is both challenging the idea that gender is innate and the idea that one becomes female simply by saying so, regardless of their biology and socialization. They are also interested in creating and maintaining safe spaces for women and girls, who are subjected to male violence on the daily, across the globe. This includes long fought for spaces such as transition houses, homeless shelters, change rooms, as well as spaces that allow women to strategize towards their liberation, without men around. Men and women have separate bathrooms because men continue to abuse, harass, film, and photograph women and girls in bathrooms and change rooms and we deserve at least a marginal right to safety from that. That Dawson doesn’t respect or understand this basic reality of women’s lives is, frankly, appalling. I am baffled that someone who claims the identity of “feminist” would fail to empathize with women’s fear of male violence.
Trans activists like Dawson tend to focus on the “bathroom” issue because it is an easy way to paint feminists as cruel and petty instead of addressing our legitimate fears of men and our ongoing fight against gender and towards safe spaces.
“There will be people reading this thinking that transwomen want access to women’s bathrooms to sexually assault them,” Dawson says. But no, that is really not what people are saying. This debate about women’s spaces is not rooted in the idea that trans people are somehow natural predators — rather, it is about women’s fear of males. Women and girls fear men for good reason, and that that fear does not dissipate simply because a male identifies as transgender. If a girl sees a penis in a change room or bathroom, she will feel afraid and harassed. This is not “mean,” nor is it about disliking or expressing prejudice against trans people, it is an unpleasant material fact. Women and girls cannot be expected to push a lifetime of abuse, harassment, and a refusal to respect our boundaries aside simply because a person chooses to identify as transgender. I would not ask Dawson to pretend away a fear of male violence that feels all too real, so there is no reason why Dawson should expect that of females. This is not hysterical or irrational; it has been our daily reality throughout our entire lives.
Dawson claims, “It is a funny sort of a feminism that would place already vulnerable women in danger,” yet fails to understand that saying a male must do nothing more than “identify” as a woman in order to access our spaces puts women in danger. The amount of time men who identify as trans have abused or raped women should tell us as much.
No one believes that “all transwomen are predators,” as Dawson manipulatively claims. We are also well aware that transwomen suffer male violence as well. Transwomen most certainly deserve safe spaces — including bathrooms — but this need not come at the expense of women’s safety. Considering the incredible press and attention trans rights have received in recent years, it should not be so difficult to demand public buildings offer a gender-neutral washroom and change room alongside the women’s and men’s washrooms and change rooms. This is not at all an unreasonable request. Especially if public officials care about trans rights as much as they claim to.
By pitting women’s rights against trans rights, Dawson sets up the very “battleground” the writer claims to decry and demonstrates a deeply troubling lack of understanding and empathy towards women and girls.
Resorting to using anti-feminist slurs like “TERF” in order to mock and dismiss women’s fear of male violence and desire for safety makes Dawson’s identification with the movement hard to swallow.
“I feel perpetually on the back-foot, constantly grovelling, almost apologetic for my inclusion in womanhood,” Dawson complains, amazingly without realizing that women and girls are being forced into the very same position by trans activists who claim we should sit down, shut up, move aside, and quite literally deny our realities in order to accommodate people’s new “identities.”
“It’s frustrating,” Dawson writes, “that trans women, including myself, constantly have to defend ourselves.” Believe me, we know the feeling. We’ve been at this for about a century now, after all.