The world has always found ways to narrow down the definition of a woman. If one is too fat to be a real woman, another is too skinny. If one is too aggressive, another is much too coy.
It is absurd that something as basic as who someone is, must be defined by qualities they should embody in order to be that according to some larger vision; a patriarchal vision in this case.
Chimamanda Adichie has sparked a debate worldwide about where trans women lie on the grid of gender and sexuality. Her remarks that trans women are trans women, and that they have known male privilege and therefore cannot be called only women, is a mark of how little we understand feminism.
Adichie is not wrong in saying that a trans woman’s experiences are different from those of a cis woman, but to imply that both their experiences do not fall into the larger spectrum of womanhood is a problem.
Because no two women have the exact same experiences. Standpoint Feminism, in particular, is about how women know things differently; and how that shapes their worldview a certain way. Since women come from a multitude of backgrounds and cultures, it is inevitable that the standpoints even within feminism will vary to an infinite degree.
Let us also talk about privilege. Yes, some trans women may have had a degree of male privilege that cis women didn’t, but similarly many white cis women may have had a degree of racial privilege that cis women of color didn’t.
Does that mean that just like trans women, white cis women cannot be included in the feminist spectrum of gender? And where do we decided that feminism needs to be fragmented into these tiny compartments where we are not just women, but women of color, white women, trans women, Muslim women, pro-life women, lesbian women, and any of the other kinds of women that we can be?
I remember that in my third semester of college, my professor of International Relations said that the study of global politics had three main schools, and a fourth pseudo- school. The three main schools were ‘Realism’, ‘Liberalism’, and ‘Marxism’. The fourth school was ‘Feminism’, something that in my teacher’s opinion was too fragmented to be called a school of any kind of coherent thought.
At that time I felt that maybe my teacher was just blind to the emerging idea of intersectional feminism. However, after seeing just how exclusive some parts of the movement want to be, I am forced to ask if there was some truth to my professor’s blunt assertion.
Let me bring an analogy here to demonstrate why trans women’s womanhood is no less than that of a cis woman’s.
I grew up in a relatively privileged household, where my parents forced me to go to school and study. My grades were important, my looks were not. But for another girl in my neighborhood, schooling was a right she had to fight for, because her parents wanted her to work as a sweeper like her mother. Education was not a priority, but her marriage was. The reason was that she was born into a poor family, where her brother was more important than her.
Her battles were economic, social, even familial. My battles were not at all like hers. But they were still there. I fought against body shaming, sexual harassment, and objectification while she fought against culture, traditions, and poverty.
What did this make us both? Nothing, but two different kinds of women, fighting for the common cause of equality, even though it meant slightly different things to each of us.
And just like that, a trans woman is fighting for the right to be herself, to not have to bow down to an identity forced upon her by the organs she was born with, to not have to live a lie all her life….. and to not be harassed and hunted. Because a trans woman also faces physical and sexual violence just like cis women. The only difference is, that sometimes she is hurt because she is assumed to have a vagina. And on other occasions, because she doesn’t have a vagina and still is a woman.
Is it so bad, so difficult for us to say that she belongs in our movement, simply because her notion of equality is more specific to her needs? Have we questioned the presence of religious feminists alongside atheist ones? Have we pitted Liberal feminists against Marxist ones?
Then why are we excluding trans feminists from this movement? When did feminism become cis feminism?
It is unfortunate that the trans woman’s fight also includes her struggle to be included in a movement that is all about acceptance, choice, and equality.
Let us get it very straight. Feminism is NOT a fancy philosophy for intellectual masturbation. It is the notion that women are equal to men, that women are people. And that gender and sex should not be a basis for discrimination.
It is a simple ideology that calls for all of us to be human and civil and decent. Why it must exclude trans women is a question that has no logical answer.