I am troubled by the recent rise in cases where feminists expressing gender-critical beliefs are winning employment tribunal disputes.
Put simply, gender critical feminists believe that gender assigned at birth (typically biological sex) is fundamental and that gender identity has no place in the feminist campaign. This belief is held out as a philosophical one which should be protected under various statutes surrounding equality.
Leaving aside the legal position, I wanted to write today about why gender identity matters and why gender-critical feminists are frustrating their own cause.
Gender identity is a component of sense of self. It is part of the core of what makes an individual who they are.
One of the core tenets of feminist philosophy is the belief that women have long been the victims of restrictions and stereotypes imposed upon them by a patriarchal system. One of the most effective ways of attacking this system is to dismantle the gender binary assumption upon which the entire system has been constructed.
So what is driving gender-critical feminists to whole-heartedly embrace the gender binary narrative?
Transgender-exclusionary RadicalFeminists (“TERFs”)
It appears that a driving force in gender-critical feminists (often referred to as TERFs) is a mistaken urge to define the rights of women in opposition to those of men. “We, women, deserve the same rights as you, men”, seems to be the protest.
But is this the right way to frame equality?
Our increased consciousness of the pervasive nature of social identity and associated intersecting systems of oppression and aggression suggests not.
The conceptual framework of intersectionality has, in the last 20+ years, revealed the cost of focusing too
narrowly on single issue identifiers in the fields of racism, sexism and heteronormativity.
In order to truly grapple with civil rights issues it is vital that all of the various aspects of minority identity are viewed as feeding into and reinforcing the social hierarchies where privilege and discrimination abound.
The overfocus on white, relatively affluent, cisgender women in defining the feminist struggle can no longer be supported.
Beyond the Binary
Intersectional awareness gives rise not only to a more expansive understanding of the experiences of women, it also brings into perspective the historical context of the gender binary presumption itself.
In pushing a gender-critical agenda, such feminists are falling victim to the colonial urge to erode the breadth of gender identity as represented and celebrated in many cultures around the world.
A full understanding of oppression and discrimination requires a far more sophisticated approach to societally imposed assumptions and fixed dichotomies than gender-critical feminists seem capable of grasping.