One of the things that really worries me around gender critical/ terf discourse is how they are handling ideas around violence and abuse. What I see from them increasingly is the idea that trans women are a threat to cis women because trans women are men and men are abusive. The only reason they can imagine for trans women existing seems to be that it enables men to access female spaces to abuse women. Let me be clear now that as far as I am concerned, trans women are women and that point requires no further discussion.
Problem number one – female only spaces do not protect women from abuse, and we know this because female only spaces exist but lots of women experience abuse and typically three women a week in the UK die as a consequence of it. Men who are unequivocally presenting as men do not struggle to find opportunities for abuse.
Problem number two is that not all men are abusive. Most men aren’t actively abusive although men who are not abusers often don’t do enough to counter toxic masculinity and rape culture and can benefit from it. Talking about abuse as though it’s just what men do functions to normalise it, which in turn makes it harder to tackle. Abuse isn’t inevitable. Men are not intrinsically predators and women are not inherently prey. We need to hold men accountable, not assume that they can’t help themselves.
Treating abuse by men as inevitable leads to victim blaming and puts unreasonable pressure on women to act protectively. This in turn can have the effect of driving women into women only spaces, hived off from anywhere they might have influence or significance. As a female-presenting person, I don’t want to be hived off in special, women’s only spaces where I can be more easily ignored.
Problem number three is that some women are abusive, and treating abuse like it’s always a gender issue is totally unhelpful and misleading. Women are disproportionately affected by abuse and far less likely to kill, but women can also be abusers and we should not pretend otherwise.
Problem number four exists around the determination to call pregnant people ‘women’. Not all pregnant people are women, and this is especially a problem when the pregnant person is a child, and therefore an abuse victim. Equating pregnancy to womanhood is a tactic being used to distort thinking around abortion in America at the moment. A pregnant child is a pregnant person, and is not a woman.
When we double down on the ‘rules’ for gender identity, we are more likely to limit women than support the majority of people who identify as female. This usually impacts hardest on women of colour, who tend not to match the definitions of femininity that come from white women. Any attempt at measuring and defining women is going to exclude people, and many of these will be people who have spent their whole lives considering themselves to be female. Attempts to limit and define women invariably play into the hands of people who want to control and regulate female bodies.