My name’s Rebecca. I’m a political philosopher and lifelong feminist. I originally wrote the material here as a series of posts for my personal blog, but since they’re a useful introductory overview to contemporary debates in sex and gender, I thought they deserved a wider audience.
All the views expressed here are my own. The ideas I present are the source of much disagreement and conflict among contemporary feminists, and I am certain that very few feminists reading this blog in its entirety will come away from it wholly satisfied with what I have had to say. I was motivated to write this in part to clarify for myself what I think about these issues. The existence of transsexual people, and the move towards transgenderism as a form of identity politics, present us with hugely difficult and complicated questions, of both a philosophical and practical nature – questions such as: what does it mean to be a woman? What are the origins of women’s subordination and oppression? What forms of social and political organisation are necessary to remedy this continued oppression? How might we balance the valid claims of females as an oppressed group against the interests and concerns of other groups in society?
The recently emerged notion of “gender identity” presents a direct challenge to established feminist theories about the operation of gender, and about the origins and continued existence of female oppression and male supremacy. The practical problems thrown up by increasing numbers of male-born and male-socialised people coming to identify as women represent a real, unescapable challenge for any feminist who recognises the reality of gendered socialisation and gender oppression, and yet also wants to show empathy and consideration for the needs of a stigmatised and marginalised group. It is both naive, and dangerously simplistic and totalising, to try to magic these problems away with reference to snappy soundbites and thought terminating clichés, or the pathologising of all disagreement as bigotry. The aim of writing this blog was to begin to untangle some of these complex philosophical and practical problems, and to clear the terrain for feminists and trans activists to work together to try to reach compromise solutions that recognise the legitimate claims on all sides.
I haven’t identified any solutions. I’m not sure that’s something that can be done in the abstract. It may be that solutions have to be found on a case-by-case basis, through a process of reasoned, good-faith deliberation among affected parties. But hopefully one thing I’ve done is clarified some of the various considerations at stake. In particular, what I hope to have shown is that we have valid, legitimate reasons to desire at least some female-only spaces; that empathy and concern for transsexual women need not come at the expense of erasing the reality of female existence altogether; and that the doctrine of “gender identity” and its associated identity politics is incoherent, and harmful to both biological females, and transsexual women.
Please share this website if you think it’s useful, and feel free to make use of the ideas and arguments I express here. All I ask is that you cite Sex and Gender: A Beginner’s Guide, and attribute any direct quotations to me.