Naming the agent and understanding how oppression works


I have largely avoided writing about trans issues on this blog. There are two reasons for this, the first is that, although this is a radical feminist blog, I want it to be available to everyone as an anti-porn resource, and writing about trans issues would just have been a confusing diversion to anyone who was uninitiated into what was, until fairly recently, an esoteric subject. Secondly, and more selfishly, I didn’t want to draw a shit-storm down upon myself, but I survived my previous forays into this subject practically unscathed, and the subject has become too mainstream, and too important, to stay quiet about.

We are now at the stage where trans activists, with the full support of liberal feminists, collaborate with MRAs (‘men’s rights activists’), to try to stop FAB (female assigned at birth) women meeting and organising as a political group.

We also see trans activists and liberal feminists make threats of violence, rape and death against radical feminists (and any other woman who is unfortunate enough to be branded a ‘transphobe’) and their children, behaviour which is indistinguishable from that of MRAs, and misogynists generally.

Whether or not trans women are ‘real women’ (whatever that means) is irrelevant to me; what matters is that I, and every other FAB woman out there, are being told that we are not allowed to recognise that being assigned female at birth means something, and that it will have an effect on how we are treated and what our life chances are. What matters is that it is becoming more and more difficult to organise politically with other people who are in the same socio-political group as us.

Recognising that being FAB means something is not the same as biological essentialism (the favourite accusation of trans activists), there is a difference between a normative statement and a descriptive statement.

A normative statement says things must or should be a certain way, a descriptive statement is an observation of the way the world actually is, for real, right now. Observing that being FAB means that certain things will happen to you, that you will have a certain set of experiences, is not the same as saying that women should be x, y, or z.

The term ‘phobia’ in the context of, say, homophobia, means a deep-seated fear, loathing and hatred that leads to discrimination and violence. All one needs to do to be branded a ‘transphobe’ is to not believe that gender roles are hardwired into our brains, or to believe that gender roles are oppressive rather than liberatory, or to recognise that a penis is a male sexual organ, or refuse to put a trigger warning on writing about menstruation.

An accusation of ‘transphobia’ is like an accusation of witchcraft, no real evidence is needed, because none can be given, and no defence can be made, because there is nothing a woman can do to defend herself from such an accusation, except grovel and beg for forgiveness for her ‘inherent cis privilege’ and beg for forgiveness for being born into the ‘oppressor class’ of female.

There are many things wrong and dangerous about trans activism and trans theory (for example the targeting of gender non-conforming children for chemical castration and a lifetime of medical intervention, or ‘trans inclusive’ guidelines that make it too easy for an abusive man to get into women and children’s safe spaces like changing rooms and homeless shelters), but what I wish to discuss here is how trans theory offers a model of ‘oppression’ and ‘privilege’ that makes understanding how the world actually functions impossible.

Trans women are oppressed, and trans women do experience a huge amount of violence and discrimination, and that is a bad thing and shouldn’t happen (see, that’s a normative statement), but they are not oppressed by ‘cis’ women, they are oppressed by men, and by patriarchal society, and this refusal to name the agent, this re-labelling of male violence as ‘cis violence’ makes actually combating this violence impossible.

As Cathy Brennan said at RadFem 2013, FAB women and trans women do have a common cause in opposing male violence.

But trans activists aren’t interested in talking about male violence, they are like sex industry advocates, who refuse to name the agent when it comes to violence against prostitutes, and instead insist that the real problem is radical feminists and their reality altering opinions that cause the actual harm, rather than men and patriarchy.

It should be easy to work out who actually benefits from these pseudo-feminist movements that both refuse to talk about male violence, it should also be easy to work out why both movements have so much traction with the mainstream and liberal press, and within academia, they both prop up the status quo, and both make it easier for men to carry on abusing women and children.

Women as women are not an oppressor class, being female is not a privilege, and when trans activists talk about ‘cis privilege’, they are creating a model of oppression that bears no resemblance to any other recognised axis of inequality.

‘Cis privilege’ places FAB women and girls into an oppressor group for the ‘privilege’ of having a female body, and being ‘allowed’ to be feminine. This assumes that no FAB woman or girl ever feels bad for having a female body (despite the endless mainstream media telling us we are disgusting in our natural state), and that we get some kind of reward for being feminine, rather than femininity being something that is forced upon us, and then used against us as proof of our second-class status.

Oppression is not about wanting something somebody else has. Anti-poverty campaigners do not want to make themselves rich, they want to end massive inequalities in income so that there are no rich or poor anymore.

I, as a radical feminist, do not want what men have, I do not want to be able to commit physical and sexual violence and get away with it, I want there to be no more physical and sexual violence.

A disabled person is not oppressed by the existence of able-bodied people, they are oppressed by the lack of even basic services and facilities that would allow them to fully participate in and contribute to society (and it would be very insulting to disabled people to suggest that they spent all their time wishing they were ‘normal’).

But trans theory tells us that FAB women are privileged over, and oppress trans women because we are born female and have what trans women want, a female body, even though having a female body is not recognisable as a privilege under any other understanding of the way the world works.

33 responses

  1. Reblogged this on There Are So Many Things Wrong With This and commented:
    Thanks for this.

  2. Thanks for this post.

  3. Brilliant writer! The clarity and accuracy of the topic are spot on. Thanks, and sharing.

  4. Trans is a male created myth whereby biological males can magically become ‘female.’ Guess why male supremacist system welcomes the myth of ‘trans theory?’ Because it doesn’t challenge men and their male supremacist system.

    We radical feminists don’t want the social construction of gender – we demand its abolition because men only created ‘gender’ in order to legitimise their pseudo male sex right to dominate and /or have 24/7 sexual access to female bodies.

    So now do those biological males who think they can magically transform themselves into women and simultaneously become ‘lesbians’ and hey presto – this means those biological males continue to have sexual access to female bodies.

  5. Thank you so much for this entry. It is highly necessary for everyone right now to wake up to the fact that trans theory is a dangerous new enemy of freedom, that they are whole-heartedly genderists, that they are fighting to enforce the gender hierarchy, that they are fighting to destroy homosexuality, that they are claiming radfems are the perpetrators when this is a bald-faced lie. Radfems are not out there killing transgender people. Radfems are not the perpetrators.

    Radfems are the most compassionate group of people I’ve ever met. But when I tell that to transgender people, they laugh at me and mock me. Yet they are the ones advocating the death of radfems. What scum…

  6. Thank you for the supportive comments everybody!

  7. And thanks Cathy, your talk at RF2013 helped me pin down a few of the concepts.

  8. Tbh people say cis privilege because they know by saying “woman privilege” or “lesbian privilege” they’d sound pretty much like someone David Futrelle would mock in his page. Sad to see liberals fell for this Newspeak.

  9. I am glad that I was helpful. Be well.

  10. Great post. I think its really important to highlight that gender was specifically created and has been used throughout time with the intended purposes of keeping women down. This opposition to transgenderism is not coming from a reactionary place at all, its coming from a sincere desire to end that which has been so harmful throughout time.

  11. Reblogged this on Sifting Through The Pulp and commented:
    Oh this, this and then some. Perfect!

    [EDIT: Zeuge, AsukaMiyuke and nuclearnight, thank you for your comments too! APL]

  12. “‘Cis privilege’ places FAB women and girls into an oppressor group for the ‘privilege’ of having a female body, and being ‘allowed’ to be feminine. This assumes that no FAB woman or girl ever feels bad for having a female body (despite the endless mainstream media telling us we are disgusting in our natural state), and that we get some kind of reward for being feminine, rather than femininity being something that is forced upon us, and then used against us as proof of our second-class status.”

    I think you are absolutely right that being cis is not straightforward, and that being as you say FAB and having a ‘female’ body brings its own kinds of complicated oppressions, as feminists have pointed out for decades. But you seem to misunderstand what is meant by cis privilege. As far as I can see, being a cis woman and having cis privilege (as I do) means that certain aspects of life are easier than if I were a trans woman. So, to use a well worn example, if your body, gender expression and gender identity line up as female, you can use the women’s bathrooms, or changing rooms, in a way that trans women cannot easily do without experiencing discrimination or judgement. Perhaps you don’t think trans women should use the same bathrooms etc as FAB women, I have no idea what you think about that, but that’s a different conversation; the point is, acknowledging that I have cis privilege does not mean that I experience no oppression on the basis of my sex/gender, only that I get some social benefits from being a cis woman, benefits that trans women do not get.

    This is the first time I have ever written a reply to a blog! Mostly because I find too much scope for misinterpretation in the written word when dealing with complicated issues and impassioned responses, so much missing in tone and body language that helps people connect (or work out what the disconnects are). So I’d always rather sit down and have a conversation with people. But I was reading about the twitter/blog stromash in January over Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill’s comments about trans women, and it ultimately led me here. And I found your post really interesting, even though I don’t agree with it all; it made we want to have a conversation with you, so I decided to write.

  13. you seem to have no understanding of how oppressions intersect. I think it is more than the right thing to do to be inclusive and welcoming of trans* people. Think women don’t have privilege? ha. What about a white middle-class woman? Does she not have more privilege than say a black lower-class man in certain situations? Does a cis-woman who is able-bodied not have more privilege than a trans alternatively abled woman? way to throw people under the bus. I do not organize with men’s rights activists, nor do I consider myself a “liberal” feminist.

  14. s,

    I do not perform femininity correctly, I have been challenged while using the ‘ladies’ toilets on numerous occasions, and harassed on the street for not being suitably feminine, where’s my ‘cis privilege’ there?

    The fact that trans women are disadvantaged in numerous ways (and I do not deny that they are) doesn’t mean I am privileged over them, or that I oppress them, simply for existing while female. Take another look at the disability analogy I used, does the existence of an able-bodied person cause the oppression of disabled people, or is it the systems and institutions that refuse to offer disabled people even the basic services they need?


    A white middle-class woman has white privilege and middle-class privilege, and in some, but not all, circumstances she will have advantages over a working-class black man, but she does not have ‘woman privilege’, over him, or any one else. An able-bodied ‘cis’ woman has able-bodied privilege, but she does not have ‘woman privilege’ – I understand how intersectionality! works.

    How am I throwing trans women under the bus? Did you miss the part where I explicitly said that violence and discrimination against trans women wasn’t ok?

    You may not consider yourself a liberal feminist, but by supporting the aspects of trans theory that are harmful to FAB women, you are helping MRAs by helping them destroy women only spaces.

  15. I suppose that’s exactly my point though, your body, gender identity and gender expression don’t ‘match up’ in the linear way that people expect – your gender expression is apparently not sufficiently feminine enough so you don’t get to enjoy cis privilege there. Cis privilege is not ‘woman’ privilege, it’s about getting by more smoothly in the world because you present to that world a neat story of gender that matches how you feel about yourself and the sex/gender you were assigned at birth.
    I am not for a second suggesting you individually oppress trans people just by existing. Although individuals can and do oppress each other it’s systems of oppression that are more embedded, problematic and difficult to shift. So whether or not you individually oppress someone else is not really the end of the story. I mean, questions of oppression don’t begin and end with the individual. Feminist analysis tells us that every individual act of male oppression is tied to a structural system of patriarchal oppression. It’s the same thing here – individual people who ask you to leave the women’s bathroom can only do so because structural cisnormative and heteronormative systems exist in the first place. I think we are sort of agreeing about that part actually!

  16. The thing is, I don’t have a gender, and I don’t ‘perform’ any gender, I exist as a female human being.

    You saying that you believe that I don’t have ‘cis’ privilege, puts you at odds with the mainstream of trans theory that says anyone who isn’t trans is ‘cis’, and that ‘cis’ people have inherent ‘cis privilege’ over trans people.

    You may not believe that FAB women structurally oppress trans women, but many trans activists do, and they think that gives them the right to shut down women-only spaces, and send rape and death threats to the children of ‘cis’ women.

    What do you think of the whole Cotton Ceiling thing? Do you think a trans woman has the right to claim that her penis is a ‘female penis’ then harass lesbians for not wanting to have sex with her?

    That’s the mainstream of trans activism at the moment, that and relabeling male violence as ‘cis violence’, ie refusing to name the agent of the actual real physical violence committed against trans women (violence that I think is wrong and should not happen).

  17. […] and a hierarchy, and it is harmful to feminism and to all women. I have written about this before, and I highly recommend this post from Liberation Collective on the […]

  18. @Hecuba: Fascinating assertion. Now, I assume you have actual evidence for how Patriarchal society loves trans individuals despite all actual evidence to the contrary — including the Greek internment camps that specifically include trans people as one of the categories of undesirables to be imprisoned? And an explanation for how your stance explains the existence of FtM trans individuals? And an explanation for how only people female-assigned-at-birth can possibly be women when gender is a social construct?

    Or do you simply have no evidence to support your assertion and are simply uncritically regurgitating the “deceptive men in dresses” patriarchal meme about trans people while dressing it up in feminist language?

  19. Nezumi,

    Under UK law, hate crimes against transgender people are now, rightly, recognised as such, while hate crimes against women still are not:

    I can also cite the mainstream liberal press bending over backwards in capitulation to trans activist demands (see Moore/Burchill ect).

    I do not claim anywhere that there is no violence or discrimination against trans people, nor do I say that such violence or discrimination is ok.

    FtM individuals seem to be reacting more to escape from misogyny and lesbophobia than out of any masculinity fetishisation.

    woman = adult human female, female = biological sex

    sex =/= gender

    Please spare me the 101 stuff.

  20. @Antiplondon: And if I were actually criticizing your post or comments in mine, rather than Hecuba’s — as I directly stated in said post — your rebuttal might actually have a point. Instead, you’re characterizing me as attacking you when I was not even speaking to you and leaping to the defense of someone who openly disagrees with your own assertion that Trans people are oppressed and who is, herself, an agent of that oppression by uncritically regurgitating patriarchal memes about trans people while thinly characterizing them as feminist, reinforcing the very attitudes you say are inaccurate.

    I was going to do a polite critique of your piece acknowledging both its valid points and failures, but if you response to someone who wasn’t even talking to you is to jump to the attack in defense of someone that, if you’re standing by your original blog post, you should be condemning, I’m doubting it’s worth the effort.

  21. It’s my blog, and I’ll bloody-well comment where ever I want to on it.

  22. It should be blatantly obvious, but if you are commenting on my blog, you are talking to me, and you can’t order me to ‘butt out’ on my own blog!

  23. For a touch of perspective:

    Ok tumblr, I get that many of the more sensible people around here, and many people who are Greek or know people in Greece, are blogging and reblogging posts aimed at calming down the hyperbole and lies about “concentration camps for trans women” (false, some – probably poor, in many cases prostituted – trans people have been harassed and arrested by the police in Thessaloniki, they have not been sent to any camps) and comparisons with Weimar Germany, and the implications that all greek people must be racist and fascist.

    But is it really necessary to use the terms illegal immigrant or illegal to describe people? – the terms are completely dehumanising (better terms are migrants, or migrants without papers) – and also inaccurate as some of the migrants to Greece that are being detained entered the country legally (but have not got a current visa or permit), and a large number of the migrants without papers in Greece are asylum seekers (people who want to apply for refugee status) and seeking asylum is an international legal right. No one is illegal!

    While we’re on this subject, detention centres for migrants in Greece are not “like hotels”, they are like detention centres. Immigration detention centres don’t tend to be pleasant, well-resourced places anywhere in the world.

    Also, arresting and forcibly HIV testing women and others that are accused of being prostituted is not ok! I understand that the rates of HIV infection in Greece are rising (due to a range of factors, but partly because of cuts to health care and drug user services) – but notice that they are not arresting or testing the johns!

    From Woman on the Edge of Tyne

  24. Also this:

    Via radiobubble:

    In May 2012, in the run-up to the general election, the Greek authorities rounded up hundreds of women from the streets of Athens. They made them take rapid tests for HIV. Those diagnosed positive were charged with prostitution and the intent to spread the virus. Their mug shots, names and personal details were published in the media. They were imprisoned. And they became unwitting pawns in a political game by a system hungry for scapegoats.

    Directed by Zoe Mavroudi, Ruins features exclusive interviews with two of the women, two of their mothers, lawyers, journalists, doctors and activists, who campaigned for the women’s release.

    Ruins is in the final stages of editing and will be released in September 2013. It is the first feature-length documentary produced by radiobubble’s team of volunteer citizen journalists.

  25. I am a trans woman in transition and I have to recognise and thank you for being so balanced and respectful about us. I also don’t believe being cis a privilege because many cis people live under the worst living conditions like people in extreme poverty, etc, but to be trans is equal to face many discriminations and violence, depending on the social classe, the country a trans person is born in and so on. On the other hand we trans women would never think the female body is something inferior, in the contrary, the female body is one of the most (if not the most) beautiful things in the entire universe. And I feel sad when you cis women feel in some way threatened by trans activists, you deserve all respect as women and as human beings. I consider myself a feminist and I defend full women’s rights and all respect for all women. That having been said, I would critique the fact that the majority of radical feminists treats us as if we were cis men, using masculine pronouns when referring to us (misgendering), something hurtful to us. I know I am not a genetic woman but I am a trans feminine person and addressing to me using pronouns I identify is an act of respect that doesn’t cost that much. I appreciated wholeheartedly you article. All the best to you.

  26. Hello Isabelle, and thank you for your respectful, balanced comment.

    I would add though, that a lot of radical feminists find the term ‘cis’ an insult, and it is a label we feel is forced on us and does not accurately reflect our experiences as FAB women under patriarchy (for example, the idea that we are automatically comfortable in our own bodies).

    Also, I have seen many times on line, FAB women being called ‘fish’, and vaginas being called disgusting, dirty and unhygienic compared to the surgically created neo-vagina of a trans woman.

    Also, the violent behaviour of many trans activists, especially in relation to lesbians demanding physical integrity (see the Cotton Ceiling etc), gives lesbians good reason to see trans women as hostile.

  27. Hello, thanks for your reply. I apologise for using in my previous comment the wortd cis. I think this term is also used to refer to FAB women regardless if you are in some way uncomfortable in your body or not, but I respect your disapproval of this term. As for vagionoplasty, may post-op transsexual women never read this but a surgically made vagina will never be superior to a FAB woman’s since it’s a immitation of the natural-born ones. And there’s nothing disgusting about female bodies, don’t listen to these stupid people who say this nonsense. I’m not using paragraphs because I’m commenting by a mobile phone, not a computer.

  28. Hello Isabelle,

    Thank you for your comment; unfortunately, the people who you describe as stupid are the most vocal, and therefore become the representatives of the trans community, but I am always happy to hear from the other voices within that community.

  29. Chocolattruffaut

    Just a friendly word of advice, most women don’t appreciate hearing about how the female body is “the most beautiful in the world.” We don’t want to be put on a pedestal b/c it’s just the other side of the misogyny coin. It’s condescending and fetishic. Please remember that women are human beings, not some exotic alien made to be stared at.

  30. […] ‘everybody oppresses everybody’; to try to ‘prove’ that such a thing as ‘woman privilege’ exists; and to try to claim that there is no commonality at all among women’s experiences. So […]

  31. […] can’t get your comment on the first page, don’t bother). I (perhaps unwisely) linked to this blog in one of my comments, and I’ve had eleven click-throughs from the Guardian so far […]

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