The 8th of March is a global day, not only for celebrating women’s achievements past and present, but also about speculating where the women’s rights movement and the state of our gender in general, will be in the future.
With transgender women currently making up about 2 per cent of the international female population, it cannot be denied that they are an integral part in the future of the female community. However, many transwomen view Women’s Day as being exclusive and exclusionist towards their demographic; arguing that they feel as though their biological gender difference, means that other women automatically revoke them of their womanhood. But, are they right to criticise today in this way?
Underrepresented women, specifically those in the transgender community, feel that during women’s marches their issues are relegated in favour of those that only impact white, straight women. Whilst the gender pay gap, the amount of hours women spend on domestic chores compared to men, and the lack of women in CEO positions are major issues, several Women’s Day marches are ignorant of the daily events that impact the transgender community (whether it be police brutality, or the fact that 39 per cent of trans women committed suicide last year), solely because these people have chosen not to be their biological gender. Trans women are simply lacking in presence on the Women’s March leadership team. This, therefore, raises the question of whether Women’s Day is used as another form of subtle discrimination towards the trans community by emphasising biological sex as the main condition for recognition and inclusion.
Some women present the argument that trans women pose a threat to womanhood when they are allowed in exclusively female spaces. In 2018, Karen White (a transgender woman) was transferred to a woman’s prison near Wakefield, where she was accused of four accounts of sexual assault against other inmates, alongside her existing charge of rape before she entered prison. Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, stated that this case exemplifies how vulnerable women are being put at risk through prisons being influenced by the necessity to conform to the pressing topic of trans rights. On a recent prison visit, Crook recounted that five inmates were all in the process of transitioning, had all asked for a transfer, and all had a history of sexual violence against women.
More evidence supports the view that caution must be taken when initiating trans women with other women. A survey released by the Ministry of Justice reveals that in England and Wales 125 prisoners were transgender women, 60 of whom had been convicted of sexual assault. Whilst these figures only apply to the administration of prisons, many justice campaigners feel that the basic safeguarding of women needs prioritising. The question then is this: should the growing social sensitivity around the subject of being able to personally qualify your gender overrule how these cases clearly show that our focus on this one issue leaves other women at risk?
These anxieties of how transgender women pose a potential threat to the female community come at a time when consultation is underway about reforming the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. The discovery that transgender people face huge legal barriers when wanting to transition was emphasised through government report figures. These showed that although 4,900 had been able to transition, this was a relatively small number in comparison to all those applicants that identified as transgender. The report further stated that an ‘intrusive and bureaucratic’ legal recognition system leaves transgender people simply unable to legally qualify as their desired gender. Doing so involves having to present various medical diagnoses and undergo (at least) a five-year transition process.
A change in the law would show a national movement in attitudes towards more acceptance of the LGBT+ community and allow such people to live their lives the way they want to. However, many, such as Pilgrim Tucker and other activists, argue that increasing the ease with which trans women can qualify as their desired gender places women in potentially harmful situations. And so we return to our original question: could the relaxation of measures be exploited by men with the sole intent of harming women, and thus should the mere feeling of belonging to a different gender be enough to allow someone to automatically qualify within it?
However, whilst many women use these examples of sexual assault by transgender women as justification for exclusion, experiences of sexual violence (both publically and domestically) are not a mystery to transgender women. In fact, Transpulse recorded that transgender women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence compared to cisgender women. If to have experienced violence and discrimination is a mandatory prerequisite to being considered a ‘woman’, then transgender women are arguably fully included within that category. Even though evidence exists that accuses men of exploiting a transgender status to harm women, it is wrong to latch onto this as a reason for continuing to view all trans women as potential sexual offenders instead of likely victims of violence themselves. Besides, surely sexual offenders should be considered a social anomaly and not those who set the trend.
The transgender issue is a complex one. Arguments exist to justify weariness towards the trans community by some, while others show contempt towards generalised statements about transgender women. But is it fair to apply any of these to the celebration of Women’s Day and claim that it remains exclusive?
The ‘Pink Pussyhat’, for example, has become a synonymous symbol in women’s marches as a display of the collective power women have in the face of adversities. However, trans women feel that the wide use of this object demonstrates that womanhood is ultimately defined by one’s genitalia, and that therefore, it is a symbol of rejection of trans women from the collective power of women.
The Women’s Day marches last year saw the viral image of a poster that simply stated ‘Trans women are men’. This subsequently sparked huge criticism across social media platforms of the divisive message that this march seemingly promoted, exemplifying how we still have a long way to go before transgender women are fully accepted. Despite the intense and explicit discrimination that banner displayed, surely we must consider it as a growing exception to the global change in attitude? Such isolated examples ought not be used to criticise Women’s Day in general.
To be a ‘Woman’ is what we celebrate today. That is a social category and a personal identification, not limited to your original biology or socially assigned gender role. Bell Hooks’ definition that feminism is a movement to end ‘sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression’, should have each aspect fought against not just on Women’s Day but every day; with the full integration of trans women into marches allowing the fulfilment of this. And almost all celebrations and events do this. However, is the judgement that the discriminatory messages we see are merely outliers to general opinion, ignorant to the fact that perhaps they highlight an underlying social issue of acceptance that needs to be tackled before Women’s Day can be celebrated, by all, to the fullest?
Let me know in your comments.