Reply to Garavelli

It is not ‘nasty’ to stand up for women’s rights
by Laura Rimmer

It didn’t bode well. From the off – the very first sentence, no less – Dani Garavelli’s piece in the Scotsman, ‘Time to call a ceasefire as gender debate gets nasty’, draws a parallel between ‘the rights of two historically oppressed groups in society – cis (non trans) women and trans women.’

Leaving aside the reference to ‘cis (non trans) women’ – a label which many feminists reject as othering, dismissive, or downright offensive – the framing of this argument fails to stand up to scrutiny. Only one of those groups (women – or more accurately, as it also takes into account girls – females) is ‘historically oppressed.’ The notion of trans identities is a recent phenomenon. In my own lifetime I have known people who self-identified as transvestites or transsexuals; these are people who these days would probably be described as ‘trans women.’ I am not denying that these individuals, however they describe themselves, are on the receiving end of discrimination, but to equate their oppression with the female oppression which has been in place since humans began walking the earth is plainly absurd, not to mention easily refutable.

But the worrying analogies don’t stop there. Garavelli goes on to compare the trans rights movement with the gay rights movement: ‘Unlike equal marriage, there was no public groundswell of support for self-identification, and those with an agenda – particularly an anti-trans agenda – were able to exploit that lack to their own ends.’

I wonder – for she gives no indication – if Garavelli considered that the fundamental difference between these two positions is that only one of them expects another oppressed group of people to relinquish something? Equal marriage advocates asked for gay people to be treated in exactly the same way as their heterosexual counterparts. Conversely, self-identification – the notion that a man can say he is a woman and be treated as such in the eyes of the law – calls for women and girls to make room in their changing rooms and public toilets, on their sports fields, in their hobbies and extracurricular activities for people who are essentially male. As the law stands, a ‘trans woman’ can be a man – any man – who identifies as a woman. To compare the movement for this person’s right to access female space with the movement for a gay person’s right to marry is disingenuous at best.

It is a particularly invidious charge that to oppose changes in law which will directly impact women and girls is ‘anti-trans.’ How hard can it be to comprehend that fighting for female rights does not make a woman anti-trans but, rather, a feminist? If the ‘rights’ of an individual – any individual – can only come at the expense of women and girls, then it is feminism’s job to oppose any such movement. It is the raison d’etre of feminism. Smearing feminists as having an ‘anti-trans agenda’ is blinkered, unjustifiable, and misogynistic. ‘Feminists have many different takes,’ says Garavelli. People calling themselves feminists have many different takes, that is true. But those of us who understand the purpose of feminism to be the liberation of women and girls have just the one take on this issue.

‘It is possible for individuals to express such concerns without challenging the existence of trans people,’ says Garavelli, which begs the question: who has challenged the existence of trans people? I don’t know; she has provided no link, no evidence to back up this assertion. Quite clearly, trans people exist. I have never seen anyone argue otherwise. The argument centres around whether people – all people – can identify as the opposite sex, despite the fact that we know sex to be a material reality which exists outside of human cognition. If you accept that people can identify as whatever or whoever they want, then that raises a problem for females much more than it does for males. The simple fact is that if a man says he is a woman this, in effect, is a member of the oppressor sex identifying as a member of the oppressed sex. Some people call this appropriation. Some people would argue that for a member of the ruling class to identify as a member of the subjugated class is just another kick in the teeth.

This is why Garavelli’s talk of ‘poisonous’ and ‘hostile’ language is politically loaded. There is a long history of women being silenced and ridiculed merely for standing up for ourselves, or for fighting for rights in law which men already enjoy. It would befit journalists to equip themselves with basic facts and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the history of the fight for female liberation before offering up their opinions on a subject which directly impacts women and girls.