Re-post: What is a woman?

I recently read an interesting New Yorker piece that sets up a debate between radical feminists and transgender women. The arguments basically go like this: Transgender women say they have a right to be whatever gender they want, while radical feminists say that someone who has reaped male privilege for years (and perhaps continues to do so in some contexts) can’t just suddenly decide to take on the title of “woman.”

The radical feminist position here made sense to me at first. Men presume to speak for women in a lot of contexts; it seems there may be danger of that here. “Trying on” womanhood could be seen as a form of extended male entitlement. But the more I think about this, the more I’m not sure how welcoming a transgender woman to the fold in any way decreases my own claim to the term “woman.” Having additional voices doesn’t mean mine will be covered over. In fact, ostracizing trans women on the basis that we don’t have shared oppressions implicitly makes the case that all people born as women DO have shared oppressions. As a very privileged, white, Western woman, I am keenly aware that that is not true.

Obviously, the positions represented in this post are generalizations. However, article author Michelle Goldberg does a really nice job of providing more complexity and illustrating how this debate has played out over years, as well as what it means to consider intersectionality in this context. Perhaps my favorite line is this clever little shift: “In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position.” Whoa.

Read the full article here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/woman-2

 

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