I understand primarily through language, and wrestle with problems through words. The power to name concepts is the power to mould people’s understanding of reality. The power to change names is freedom to become who we truly are.
“Gender critical feminists” are oppressed by gender. Feminine gender stereotypes do not fit them. They would say those stereotypes are patriarchal, and fit no woman, but some people seem to live with the stereotypes more easily than others, and to me it seems the gender critical feminists are oppressed more than most women.
I don’t know how to convince them that some women are happy with the stereotypes. I could refer to the women’s anti-suffrage movement, or women’s campaigns against abortion or contraception.
I cannot work for the interests of gender non-conforming people, trans, non-binary and gender variant folk, without including the gender critical feminists. That means finding common interest, common goals, common things we can work for.
Patriarchal power structures tell us that the problem is each other, that “transgender ideology” prevents women from organising politically as a “sex class”, or that trans excluders stop trans people from living our lives in peace, but really the problem is the gender stereotypes which fit some people very badly, which trans men, AFAB nonbinary people, and “trans-excluding” feminists all deal with in different ways, however similar they might appear to outsiders. The oppression is the same, and we should be allies, not enemies, not demanding that others follow our ways, but accepting all the ways people cope.
My femininity is not the same as the gender critical feminist’s femaleness. Seeing ourselves as opposing sides prevents us addressing the real oppression and directs our energies against each other. This only pleases the oppressors, which is why Charles Koch and the Heritage Foundation fund gender-critical feminists.
Both sides spend more time obsessing than oppressing- messing about on social media and talking amongst ourselves, rather than taking action to exclude trans women, or frightening the people who see us in lavatories.
How does language divide us, and how might language be used to bring us together? I can think of two ways it divides us: the trans allies’ habit of declaring their pronouns, and inclusive language for trans men’s reproductive issues. This does not include the language around whether we are women, or whether we should be in women’s spaces. That is a more intractable problem. I want to achieve language that includes gender critical feminists among the gender variant, to emphasise what we have in common.
When I argue for the inclusion of trans women as women, my argument is that we are not some redefinition of what womanhood is, we are an anomaly, a few harmless people, asylum seekers not colonists, who can be included without so much fuss.
When I argue for inclusive language for trans men- pregnant people, people with cervixes, etc- I argue for their importance. Even though there are about 0.1% trans men and maybe the same number of AFAB nonbinary people, one in a thousand people with wombs, we should change the language to refer to people who menstruate.
I will not, in an attempt to reach out to gender critical feminists, leave behind trans men. And, better inclusive language may be possible. The American Cancer Society said “individuals with a cervix” but the NHS says “women and people with a cervix”. Possibly there is an advantage for all feminists in seeing “women’s problems” as “people problems”, things all people should be concerned about. Period poverty is a problem for society, not just women. Seeing women and men as people with people-gifts rather than masculine or feminine gifts helps all our gifts to be valued and used.
I do not like the term “gender critical” because it feels to me that all the criticism is of transgender- the idea that ones gender can differ from ones sex, or that gender matters, or that we have gender identities. “I don’t have a gender identity” say gender critical feminists. Well, I do. And I feel there could be a term that includes that position and also includes me. “Victim” and “survivor” have been suggested in other situations, and critiqued; possibly “gender oppressed” acknowledges the oppression. We cannot be free of that oppression, entirely. Others have expectations of us and responses to us based on our perceived sex or gender expression, even once we succeed in purging all the internalised self-suppression.
I feel some word- “gender rejecting”, perhaps- could unite trans and gender variant people with gender critical feminists, including all of us, and that would be a benefit. I am happy to call myself “gender critical”- I critique gender stereotypes, finding them oppressive too.
When cis people declare their pronouns in their email signature, their zoom name, or on badges they wear, they are declaring they are allies of trans people, and I would like this allyship to include the gender concerns of gender critical feminists. Robin Dembroff suggests that is achieved by adopting the pronoun “they” for everyone. It rejects gender stereotypes. So people could give their pronouns as “they/their/them”, “she/they” or “he/they”.
You might also put in your email signature “I oppose stereotyping”. Stereotypes are the basis of all of Kyriarchy, not just sexism. If we proclaimed that, we would have to live it too.
So much language divides us. The phrase “sex-based rights” excludes trans women, and even denies that there could be a possibility that excluding us could be remotely objectionable. The phrase “Trans women are women” works the opposite way. Each side can communicate only with its allies, honing its language to express its rectitude. If we are to converse we need a common language and to value each others’ experiences.