I devote this post to my sister, Valerie Mannucci.
Reference: A New Yorker article, August 4, 2014 issue, “What is a Woman?” by Michelle Goldberg
I am interested in the conflict between radical feminists and transgender activists. It is quite intense at times, as documented in the New Yorker article “What is a Woman” by Michelle Goldberg in the August 4, 2014 issue.
My sister Valerie is a feminist. She was the one who brought this conflict to my attention. Then, after reading the article, I developed a philosophy regarding this conflict, and feminism in general. This post is to explain that philosophy.
First, I’d like to describe some subjective interpretations of mine after reading about the radical feminist (RadFem) arguments. Radical feminists appear somewhat suspicious of the male-female sexual relationship, seeing it as a potential form of subjugation to men. From this I conclude than many RadFems lack a strong sex drive, at least towards men. Perhaps not being sexually attracted to men is an “enlightened” position? That idea is interesting, because such attraction is fundamental to the survival of our species. (Or at least it was, before modern medicine made it possible to reproduce without sexual encounters).
RadFems view transgender women (TW) as different than “women-born-women” (WBW, or rather “womyn-born-womyn”). Of course, the difference is accurate in a physical sense, but the physical aspect of this distinction is not what the debate is about. According to RadFems, male privilege, something that RadFems fight against, is bestowed upon transgender women more so than WBW. RadFems thus feel more solidarity with WBW than with transgender women.
Which brings me to analyze the idea of male privilege a little. What exactly is male privilege and why is it something to consider? In thinking about this topic, I have come to conclude that male privilege is derived from the superior physical strength (on average) of men compared to women. This is not really a debatable point, is it? Although physicality is just one dimension of life, we clearly live in a world where physical strength counts to some degree, particularly when one considers that personal violence is still a fact of our lives.
What are the consequences of this privilege? It is that men can more easily threaten women and subjugate them than the other way around. Being victims of subjugation would appear to be a claim made by RadFems. I am certain that not all men would agree that they are subjugating women. However, the structure of society and men’s place in it are evidence to the RadFems that women are victims of subjugation. Thus a struggle for liberation is born. That fight towards liberation could entail, for example, confronting men, forming gatherings or groups separate from men, and other political means.
Note what I said: that RadFems believe they are victims of male privilege. The concept of “privilege” connotes an injustice to some degree. The privileged get unfair and undeserved advantages. In this case, by virtue of genetics, men are “unfairly” stronger than women, thus leading to their “unfair” dominance of women. One should point out, however, that male privilege was bestowed on men without their explicit permission or desire. Men simply are privileged, by virtue of how the natural world is organized. That certainly can be perceived as unfair, but the lack of male complicity in creating the physical strength advantage is worth noting.
The relationship between RadFems and transgender women must include a sense of solidarity, in part created by a shared sense of victimhood. I would imagine there are many areas of agreement between RadFems and TW. For example, both are women, and thus lacking in full male privilege. Both groups must fight subjugation by men, etc. As I’ve learned, however, RadFems believe that TW share in some aspects of male privilege. Despite common aspects to their experience, RadFems and TW differ in substantial ways also.
Is there a solution to this conflict? In more concrete terms, the question could be: do WBW have a right to congregate amongst themselves and exclude TW from their gatherings of women? That is a difficult question that has broader aspects. It is a question that is treated at length in the New Yorker article with reference to a music festival in Michigan.
Allow me to digress to address a related question: do men have a right to gatherings that exclude women? The thinking may be that men do not, because men excluding women perpetuates and extends male privilege, of which women are victims. So gatherings of men excluding women is an indirect act of subjugation, whereas the same is not true of the reverse. When women gather excluding men, they are not victimizing or subjugating anyone. They are in fact trying to liberate themselves and free themselves of subjugation. So, women have a right to exclude men, but not the other way around, some may argue.
One may question the realism of fully liberating women. Male privilege is a fact that cannot be altered until the genetic make up of men is altered. The superior physical strength of men, which ultimately led to the reality of male privilege, is not changeable. The consequences of this strength is alterable, and that is part of the RadFem agenda. Certainly, in the United States, society has changed to create more opportunities for women and alter the degree of subjugation of women. However, it is unrealistic to believe that all traces of male privilege can be erased, unless one adopts a very radical approach of genetic alteration to, somehow, reduce the inherent strength advantages that men have.
It may be wiser to accept subjugation, to some degree, than to insist it be completely erased. This is likely not a popular opinion. We are taught to fight oppression in all it’s forms and work towards maximum fairness and maximum equality. However, nature is not cooperative with this goal. Creating a society where physical strength does not confer any advantages is hard to imagine. Some male privilege is likely to remain.
My conclusion then is to acknowledge that the world in inherently unfair, and that the subjugated and the subjugator both share in their own particular joys and sorrows. Life is not a walk in the park. Focusing on fairness and equality to an excessive degree does more harm than good. Rather, it is better to focus on working together towards a positive vision for society, while accepting that this society will not be completely fair or completely equal for everyone.
The damage done in history by trying to remove all traces of unfairness and inequality have been enormous, far more than what is gained. Just as the natural world has made men physically stronger than women, so has it created a world that is fundamentally unfair. Sic fiat.
I have not directly answered the question whether it is acceptable for WBW to gather and exclude TW. The answer to that question can perhaps be surmised from the message above.