Early 21st-century social movements have brought about significant political reforms and cultural attitudes around women’s rights. The #MeToo movement in 2018 brought to light a culture of sexual abuse in Hollywood and other so called elite circles. The #MeToo movement spurred women to come forward and speak out against sexual abuse by prominent figures like film producer Harvey Weinstein, actor and comedian Bill Cosby, and Wall Street financier Jeffrey Epstein, which ultimately led to charges and convictions of criminal sexual behavior and rape.
For many, these events solidify America’s commitment to human equality since the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement of the 19th century.
While some feminists take a nebulous position that more work is needed, an interesting development has occurred within feminism that produced a specific and concrete political and cultural opponent: transgenderism.
The current political and cultural landscape in America seeks to unify women’s rights and trans rights under the mantra “trans rights are women’s rights.” But this union is not sitting well with all feminists. Feminist and author of the Harry Potter fantasy series J. K. Rowling has been a leading voice in the rejection of trans ideology (not trans people), which is a cultural attempt, she argues, to erase the reality of women.
Woke critics of Rowling have attacked her for pointing out obvious issues with transgenderism. Rowling stated in a tweet, “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to discuss their lives meaningfully. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.” In response, GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, stated in bad faith and with complete disregard for Rowling’s claim on Twitter, “there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”
The great irony here is that GLAAD accused Rowling of “distorting facts” when they did exactly that by saying Rowling is targeting trans people. “JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans,” GLAAD responded. GLAAD is entirely wrong, however. Rowling is taking issue with transgenderism and not trans people. Rowling believes in “every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”
Rowling is correct, however, when she points out that current social schemes advanced by transgenderism come at the expense of women’s right. Due to woke activists like GLAAD privileging transgender identities, transgenderism has all but physically erased womanhood as a distinct social category. As a result of these political and cultural forces, a new social movement has emerged under feminism to reestablish its unique political and cultural interest. Feminists are starting to identify themselves as trans-exclusionary radical feminists or “TERF” in response to what proponents view as erasing women’s rights.
Their frustration with transgenderism guided by the totalitarian hand of woke progressivism is understandable. What is advocated now by woke progressives under the phrase “women’s rights” are changes in language: “menstruating people,” “birthing person,” and “cisgender woman.” From the perspective of TERF activists, the only “right” that woke progressives advocate for is the right to erase biology and stereotype women.
The TERF rebellion against transgenderism signals discontents with the direction of mass culture. TERF activists feel that trans rights come at the expense of their rights and are not wrong for feeling this way. Woke progressives have made these social issues mutually exclusive by failing to approach transgender issues intelligently.
I believe TERF activists are in the right on this issue and therefore should advocate for a clear distinction from transgenderism. I think this will allow for more productive discourse on cultural issues.
For example, a charitable reading of feminism is one where the unique interest of women is accommodated in society, e.g., making sure they have private and secure facilities separate from biological men, which is a valid concern and should be respected. And this is separate from a medical issue where accommodation is appropriate in the case of gender dysphoria.
I think the TERF rebellion against transgenderism within the progressive wing of political discourse is ultimately a good thing. Let feminism and transgenderism go their separate ways.
Joshua Peters is a philosopher and social critic from Raleigh. His academic background is in western philosophy, STEM, and financial analysis. Joshua studied at North Carolina State University (BS) and UNC Charlotte (MS). He is a graduate of the E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders.