Feminism is often misunderstood and debated in today's society. Many assume that feminism is the belief that women desire greater power than men rather than equality. However, this is far from the truth. Feminism is supporting women’s rights in order to promote equality across genders.
In today's world, not only is there a debate about what feminism means, but there is also debate about who should be represented in the movement. Some believe transgender women should not be included in the movement because they do not have the same issues – they grew up with the privileges of being a man, rather than growing up with issues of being a woman. This is disregarding the internal and legitimate feelings of trans women, which has led to hostility and disrespect towards the trans community in recent years.
In 2008, the term trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, was created by Viv Smythe, a freelance writer at Guardian Australia. With more attention being brought to the term through well-known celebrities, like J.K. Rowling and Bette Midler, criticizing transgender women, more people are becoming aware of its meaning.
This awareness is allowing individuals to become more educated about the term. But at the same time, an increasing number of individuals are following the dangerous TERF ideology. This community excludes trans women from being considered a part of the feminist movement.
Excluding transgender women from the feminist movement is excluding every woman from the movement. Trans women are women. They may have just had a different journey through womanhood. Excluding these women from being able to call themselves feminists or wanting equal rights is backtracking women's rights in general. Transgender women are just as much women as cisgender women. Excluding them from feminism is denying all women equality.
One can’t really call themselves a feminist if they do not support the rights of trans women. But now that we are aware of that, how do we fight the TERF war?
Supporting transgender people in their fight for rights is the easiest way to show that you care and are on their side. Acceptance and empathy go beyond feminism, but it’s imperative in this scenario. Simply by being aware that feminism is a movement against the marginalization of all women, of any race, gender or sexuality, you’re supporting and accepting those around you.
Another way to support trans-inclusive feminism is to research and understand TERFs’ views to be able to assert your stance against them.
Many TERF ideologies are initially watered-down to make people resonate with them. Then, TERFs slowly integrate increasingly radical transphobic beliefs. They often do this innocuously, such as taking away the T in LGBTQ or referring to themselves as “radical feminists,” which refers to a group of people who attribute the patriarchy to oppression among women. Such terms are used instead of just “feminists.”
Many TERFs have slowly become more absorbed in excluding trans women from feminist movements. An example may be if a “feminist” is discussing biological factors of feminism, such as referring to other feminists as “biological women.” TERFs do these seemingly small changes to the feminist movement in order to exclude transgender women. Though this might not sound very degrading or harmful at first, it is.
It is important to stay educated and up to date on current news. Feminism is still relevant to today’s world, but it is important to know what you are supporting. Be aware that you can only call yourself a feminist if trans-women are included in your support. Otherwise, you do not support any women at all.
Kate Hutner (she/her) is a freshman studying journalism and minoring in marketing/fashion design.