First of all I want to make it clear that this is not a personal attack on Caroline Criado-Perez. I just don’t agree with many aspects of her article:
‘Becoming a Woman: Trans Women and Male Violence’. https://weekwoman.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/becoming-a-woman-trans-male-violence/
Though our views may vary, I understand that feminism encompasses differing views and strategies. I do however believe in healthy debate within feminism on subjects and a right to differ. I do understand her views were based on personal experience and respect that. However, as an influential writer, I also find they somewhat endorse an existing dangerous and damaging precedent.
As I’ve said before where ever you stand on ‘the trans issue’ within feminism, you cannot deny difference. Women and transwomen ARE different, whether in terms of socialisation, health, biology, social/political history and so on. The experience of being a woman is not something transwomen will ever know, nor vice versa. It is biologically impossible for someone born male to ‘become a woman’ no matter what is done to a body or outward appearance. Unless of course if you believe, in what my view is, very worrying ideas about ‘innate gender’ and ‘female brains’ etc that is …..
Actually being a woman is a particular experience and as women we have a basic right to own this.
Even using this article’s title therefore, in my opinion, really undermines the reality of womanhood. It projects the oppressive notion that womanhood is something which may be synthetically imposed and dismisses it as an actual valid experience. Yes, women are different too and it is important to define ourselves by these hugely impacting differences. But all women share basic aspects of being female and all women as a class are still universally oppressed by the misogyny embedded in patriarchy.
When those born male transition, they do not experience womanhood as a result, but that of being a transwoman. This may provoke abuse and violence, but as transwomen have said themselves, this is not (straightforward) misogyny but often linked to oppression such as homophobia (- and there is obviously a complex debate about how this manifests). Transwomen therefore simply can not ‘reveal …. what it means to become a woman’’. They can only ever reveal the experience of transwomen.
To state otherwise is to add to a world already intent on erasing the reality of actual womanhood.
For me and many others, it is a basic imperative of our feminism to acknowledge the people who actually and truly can relate this reality. From the complexities of female socialisation, to living within patriarchal societies, to particular oppression, health issues, education etc etc etc…….we learn from ourselves and other women. We learn from the women who came before us. We learn from women from many cultures.
We learn from women.
No one born male can do that for us and this is particularly important in a world where ideals of ‘womanhood’ are continually, oppressively, destructively ascribed to us – by men.
I personally abhor all forms of male violence and have stood up against it in many forms, for many years, for many different people. There’s certainly nothing wrong with empathy. However it’s also imperative to view the bigger picture in feminism and the impact of our individual voices for women as a class.
In a world in which those socialised in male gender roles are themselves responsible for most of the violence towards everyone, this is not an issue of personal compassion. It is about basic survival for women and protecting a recognised, valued state of actual womanhood.