What are TERFs?

TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist–feminists who don’t like trans people.


Well, you know how radical feminists have a reputation for being man-hating Nazis?

That’s basically true, except for the Nazi part. Radical feminists don’t like men all that much and don’t want men at their events or in their conversations.

The three abstracts in this post hail from real, peer-reviewed, academic "papers." H/T @RealPeerReview
The three abstracts in this post hail from real, peer-reviewed, academic “papers.” H/T @RealPeerReview

Radfems believe that “gender is a social construct,” by which they mean that the oppressive, patriarchal society made up this idea of “femininity” and then “socialized” young, biologically female people into believing it. (Society also made up the idea of “masculinity” and “socialized” biological males into believing it.) In essence, they think society is gaslighting people into believing that there are personality differences between men and women, with the result that men are taught to be aggressive, rapey assholes, and women are taught to be demure, doormat victims.

I... I am sorry this exists
I… I am sorry this exists

To radfems, “women” have two things in common: their physical bodies and their oppression by men, and their primary focus is on liberating their physical bodies from male control, as manifest in things like abortion restrictions, rape, body shaming, marriage, or any claim that males and females are different in any way besides anatomy.

So what about trans people?

From the TERFs’ POV, most trans people are either oppressive, patriarchal men pretending to be women, or women who think there’s something wrong with being female and so are trying to become patriarchal oppressors. TERFs don’t want men or wannabe men in their spaces. They don’t want to explain, yet again, that you can never understand what it is like to be female because you were not socialized as a child into believing that “femininity” exists and you were never oppressed by society for being female. Male-to-female transsexuals don’t menstruate, can’t get raped, can’t get pregnant, and can’t be denied an abortion. You cannot become “female gendered” because “female gender” is just a thing society made up to oppress women, and buying into it is only going to further oppress women.

The whole idea of being trans doesn’t make sense within a radical feminist framework. There is no reason at all why you can’t just be an “effeminate” person who is biologically male or a “masculine” person who is biologically female–the only reason you think you can’t is because society lied to you and told you that you can’t.

ctosyoiwcacm9dtEven if you are sympathetic to trans people, it remains a fact that women-who-are-biologically-women have different practical concerns than they do. Trans folks have very specific concerns about discrimination, anti-trans violence (especially incarcerated trans people), related medical conditions, and of course hormonal therapies and surgery. (There is of course some overlap–trans people can get raped and some can get pregnant, for example.)

TERFs believe that when trans people enter their spaces, trans issues, instead of women’s issues, begin to dominate the discussion, and the women who originally created these spaces in order to escape male oppression are yet again being oppressed by men. EG: Why we Must Stop Calling Menstruation “A Women’s Issue”:

Ame: People can be more inclusive of trans people who also experience menstruation by talking about the topic in a non-gendered way. Realising that bodies and body parts are not gendered would help to normalise the idea that you do not have to be a woman in order to menstruate, and also that not all women are capable of menstruating. A simple change in language, such as saying “people who menstruate” rather than “women” goes a long way in terms of having inclusive discussions, rather than discussions which isolate certain subgroups of people.

Sapphire: Stop the whole “lady parts” cis feminist discourse.

Teddy: I think better education, and more accessible resources online is going to be the way forward; I think magazines aimed at “men” and “women” should make people aware of health conditions that affect all body types, about health issues in general, and how to deal with them. There would likely be some pushback, but removing strict gendering of health issues is important.

Yes, Men’s Health and Maxim should totally start running articles about male menstruation, and Cosmo can run articles about the importance of getting your prostate checked–I’m sure that’ll send their sales through the roof!

As far as TERFs are concerned, trans people are free to have their own discussions in their own spaces, but they are not having a conversation about how “men menstruate too.”

Note that I have no dog in this fight, as I am neither a radical feminist nor trans. I think radfems are basically wrong–“gender” is primarily a manifestation of genetic differences between men and women–and that most trans folk I’ve met have an actual medical intersex condition. However, I think most trans people would be better off if they believed the radical feminists and declared to themselves that it’s fine to like things culture has traditionally deemed appropriate to the opposite sex instead of going through all the trouble of transition.

oppression is in the eye of the beholder (Part 1/3 ruminations on Puritans and Indians)

Part 2: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes, and Part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism

I remember an article I read ages ago (that, alas, I cannot find now,) on the subject of what the Puritans thought of Indian gender relations. In Puritan society, men were expected to work in the fields or at trades/professions in the cities, while women were supposed to work in the home, raising children, cooking meals, and otherwise doing domestic labor.

In the nearby Indian tribes, by contrast, women worked in the fields, either alongside the men or while the men stayed at home, doing whatever needed to be done about the house or just relaxing with their friends. (This is not just something I read once, btw; here’s an article from Indian Country Today on Why do Tribes Have Matrilineal Societies?)

It is common enough today to read descriptions of the Puritan lifestyle which basically amount to denunciations of the Puritans as evil, patriarchal oppressors, and glowing descriptions of the Indians’ lifestyle as female-empowered matriarchies.

The funny thing is that the Puritans saw the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. They viewed the Indian men like communists view evil capitalist oppressors who sit indolently at home while benefiting from the exploitation of their wives’ labor instead of working industriously in the fields so that their wives can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at home.

These days, of course, one does not encounter denunciations of the Indians as evil, patriarchal oppressors. In fact, it is difficult to find a respectable source making any kind of denunciation of Indian culture at all, unlike the Puritans.

I’m going to quote Howard Zinn at greater length than I usually prefer to quote, just because I’m having trouble picking the best part:

“Societies based on private property and competition, in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization, found it especially useful to establish this special status of women, something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression, and yet requiring, because of that intimacy, and long-term connection with children, a special patronization, which on occasion, especially in the face of a show of strength, could slip over into treatment as an equal. An oppression so private would turn out hard to uproot.

Earlier societies-in America and elsewhere-in which property was held in common and families were extensive and complicated, with aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers all living together, seemed to treat women more as equals than did the white societies that later overran them, bringing “civilization” and private property.

In the Zuni tribes of the Southwest, for instance, extended families- large clans-were based on the woman, whose husband came to live with her family. It was assumed that women owned the houses, and the fields belonged to the clans, and the women had equal rights to what was produced. A woman was more secure, because she was with her own family, and she could divorce the man when she wanted to, keeping their property.

Women in the Plains Indian tribes of the Midwest did not have farming duties but had a very important place in the tribe as healers, herbalists, and sometimes holy people who gave advice. When bands lost their male leaders, women would become chieftains. Women learned to shoot small bows, and they carried knives, because among the Sioux a woman was supposed to be able to defend herself against attack.

The puberty ceremony of the Sioux was such as to give pride to a young Sioux maiden:

“Walk the good road, my daughter, and the buffalo herds wide and dark as cloud shadows moving over the prairie will follow you… . Be dutiful, respectful, gentle and modest, my daughter. And proud walking. If the pride and the virtue of the women are lost, the spring will come but the buffalo trails will turn to grass. Be strong, with the warm, strong heart of the earth. No people goes down until their women are weak and dishonored. . ..”It would be an exaggeration to say that women were treated equally with men; but they were treated with respect, and the communal nature of the society gave them a more important place.

By the way, I didn’t pick Zinn because he’s a famous liberal historian, but because he was the first Google hit when I searched for opinions the Puritans held about the Indians. Zinn strikes me as one of those guys who would insist to my face that I am being oppressed and that my lack of feeling oppressed is just a sign of how oppressed I am, which never fails to infuriate.

Zinn says the women of the Sioux had to learn to kill people and walked around armed because violence against women was so prevalent in their society, and then claims they were treated with respect. A Sioux girl becomes a woman not because she has accomplished some great skill or acquired some learning, but because she becomes fertile and capable of conceiving children, at which point she is lectured on the importance of being dutiful, respectful, and preserving her “virtue,” which sounds a lot like code for virginity to me. If she doesn’t, her tribe will starve, because goodness knows all misfortune comes as a result of women. Eve, Pandora, dishonored Sioux maidens…

Honestly, I have no idea how the Sioux felt (and feel) about women, but this little excerpt is inadequate to support to the idea that women were more respected by the Sioux than by, say, Queen Elizabeth’s England, where women did not even have to walk around armed for fear of constant violence.

A while back, I posted about the similarities between West African Child-Rearing Norms and African-American Norms. The point of this post was not that the two are similar because of genetics–though that would be very interesting if they are–but that the exact same behavior that anthropologists laud as evidence of cultures that respect and empower women, when practiced over in Africa, is derided as the source of all of the black community’s problems over here in the US.

Be careful what you believe. Everybody has an agenda. Anthropologists want to push the narrative that non-whites are morally superior than whites, generally by claiming that they are peaceful paragons of gender equality, which turns out to be factually untrue in a lot of ways, especially homicide rates. Conservative Americans want to push the narrative that loss of traditional values and family structures created the social decay, crime, and low educational achievement now seen in African American communities. This is likely also untrue, but I grant the possibility.

Most Sioux probably liked (and like) their culture and did not feel oppressed by it. Most Nigerians probably liked (and like) their culture. Likewise, most of the English probably liked English culture, and most of the Puritan women probably liked Puritan culture. This is the way of people virtually everywhere.

One thing all of these descriptions of Puritan and Indian life tend to miss (though Zinn comes close to noticing it) is that there is an important reason why women were more active in economic production in Indian life than in European life: the European economy (including the Pilgrims’) was more complicated and closer to achieving full industrialization, and industrialization requires specialization. Anyone can gather yams; most people can fish. Men probably have an advantage drawing a bow or throwing a spear, but women are perfectly good butchers of most game.

But working cattle, building windmills, and driving fence posts are hard, difficult tasks that require a great deal of muscle.

Did you know that the Amish use automatic milking machines? Yes, the Amish use some technology, if they decide it will be a boon to their culture. They use milking machines because Amish women are too weak to easily lift the 70 lb milk jugs, and these are people who were raised on a farm.

Obviously European society in the early 1600s had not yet “Industrialized” as we use the word, but it had reached a high level of technical development, including the use of wind, water, and tidal mills for grinding grain; large guilds for the production of standardized goods and regulation of commerce; orderly societies with falling homicide rates; printing presses and widespread literacy.

The Indians practiced low-scale agriculture/horticulture, hunting, gathering, fishing, and some forms of resource management. They also killed all of the wooly mammoths in North America, because they love and respect nature so much just as much as virtually everyone else on the entire planet. They did not have cows or horses (or any domestic animals besides dogs;) so they could not plow or pull wagons. Trade had to be carried one one’s back or a sled dragged on the ground, pulled by a dog. They had no need to fence in large herds of enormous bovines. Farming by hand, as was common in much of the world at that time, does not require the same strength as plowing with oxen, and can easily be accomplished by women.

Lack of task specialization and resource exploitation had little to do with the Indians being fabulous people who loved women and nature way more than the Pilgrims. It was just the result of low levels of technological sophistication that did not therefore require intense labor, specialization, or large-scale resource extraction.

Oppression is in the eye of the beholder.

Part 2: Pilgrims, Memes, and Genes, and Part 3: The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism


Society Constantly Lies: A Theory

Let’s suppose there’s a group that society thinks is totally awesome and deserves social resources to protect, honor, and generally help them succeed.

For example, let’s suppose society really loves old people. They are given places of honor at family and cultural events, politicians make speeches about the importance of old people to society’s success, etc.

Any mistreatment or abuse of old people would be seen as a very serious problem, and any stories on the subject–the more sensational the better–would prompt total outrage.

By contrast, stories about an actually despised and persecuted outgroup would excite nary a yawn from people who don’t give a crap about them.

As a result, news outlets, blogs, etc., benefit from running sensationalist stories about mistreatment of society’s most favored people, and avoid yawn-worthy stories about the outgroup. As a result of that, the average person will be constantly inundated with stories about how this group they love is being horribly abused, leading to a completely false, out of proportion perception that the beloved group is actually one of the most persecuted in society.

Anyone who questions whether the beloved group is actually the most persecuted in society will of course be seen as a delusional hate-monger attempting to further the beloved group’s persecution. This makes reality very difficult to perceive/determine/discuss, while further cementing the dominant position of the beloved group.

Things could be further complicated if some parts of society actually value different groups. So some folks who do not particularly value old people could provide endless fodder for the group that does value old people.

It is pretty easy, especially in retrospect, to think of scenarios in which society has gone totally nuts trying to protect an already protected group against a basically imaginary predator. The conviction of Germans in 1935 that Jews were out to destroy their country and had to be stopped at all costs comes immediately to mind. Pol Pot’s genocide of 1/3 of Cambodia was probably motivated by similar concerns.

Closer to home, children are a highly cared for and protected group, and society demands they be protected from all dangers–including occasionally totally fictional dangers like Satanic Daycares.
Prediction: If the theory is true, then there should be at least one (perhaps multiple) group in society that is incorrectly believed to be oppressed while actually in a position of great power. You might even find that the group/s most popularly believed to be oppressed is actually one of the most popular/powerful.
Someone who doesn’t mind being hated by everyone could put together data on whether or not some of society’s favorite groups are actually being oppressed or not.