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Why Feminism Can't Afford To Ignore Transgender Women

in AUSTRALIA, 20/01/2013

The British feminist Julie Burchill this week accused transgender activists of being interlopers who "have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women," prompting a backlash so fierce that London's Observer newspaper removed the piece from the web.

But while Burchill cast trans women as a threat to feminism, the real threat is attitudes like hers, which could weaken the entire movement.

A subset of radical, essentialist feminists have for decades believed that transgender people are merely deluded or mentally ill for decades. Germaine Greer, whose The Female Eunuch electrified the movement in 1970, complained in 2009 that "other delusions may be challenged, but not a man's delusion that he is female." Sheila Jeffreys, an Australian feminist who has long criticized sex reassignment surgery, told BuzzFeed Shift that "being a woman is not a matter of gender identity. It's not a matter of what's in the head." To her, womanhood comes from being born in a female body "and experiencing the harms of being a woman in a patriarchal society."

Their views would mean less if feminism were simply a niche movement for a certain subset of women with particular views on biology and identity. But it has come to stand for gender justice in general — and, crucially, for bodily self-determination. It can't do that with any legitimacy if it tries to keep trans women out.

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