Women who are maligned by this label

Well this is like a cool drink of water in a wide desert – Samantha Rea rebuking Juno Dawson in the Independent.

There were furrowed brows last week, in response to a column by author Juno Dawson in Glamour magazine. Dawson identifies as a transgender woman. In a column entitled, “Call yourself a feminist?”, she refers to feminist academic Germaine Greer as a “TERF” explaining that the acronym means, “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.”

Dawson tells readers that TERFs are: “A subgroup of feminists who steadfastly believe me – and other trans women – are not women.” Explaining how this is an issue, Dawson says: “The key battle ground between TERFs and trans women is the issue of toilets. Yes, my right to do a little wee or poo is, apparently, major political battleground.”

Notice that she politely ignores the syntactical trainwreck of “who steadfastly believe me – and other trans women – are not women.” I didn’t ignore it. It chaps my hide that editors let that pass, and then called Dawson an excellent writer in Twitter discussions. Come on.

The term [TERF] is actually an exonym – a term used to describe a third party that the third party neither recognises, nor uses itself. It’s generally seen as a slur, and since the publication of Dawson’s column, women have objected to the label via social media, and in personal blogs. The controversy should be no surprise to Dawson or Glamour, as the term has been contentious since it was coined.

Yes, but the people who like to use it pretend that it’s already normalized, and contentious only to the evil.

The negative connotations mean that those with similar views and concerns to those labelled “TERF” will be reluctant to speak up, for fear of being similarly tarnished. Women who are maligned by this label are also then isolated by it.

Dawson’s description of TERFs as a “subgroup” of feminists compounds the idea that these are the views of a few hardline zealots, and therefore unrepresentative of women generally. In reality, many women are afraid of men following them into women’s toilets. There’s no way of knowing if the man identifies as a woman, and just needs a wee – or if he’s about to sexually assault them.

That’s because such assaults do in fact happen, and voyeurism is downright common.

But it’s not just about toilets. Expanding the entry criteria so those who identify as women can access women’s rape crisis centres, domestic abuse shelters, and other spaces where women may be vulnerable, means an increased risk of assault, because men – not just transgender women – will have easier access, being able to walk into these spaces unchallenged.

And it’s not only that. It’s also seeing those who identify as women explaining both feminism and womanhood to those who were simply born women and left to deal with it however they could.

Getting too aggressive with the term “TERF” can inhibit personal conversations between women about subjects such as periods, pregnancy, childbirth, the menopause, miscarriages and stillbirth. Already, women are finding themselves censored and corrected when recounting their own experiences. Breastfeeding becomes “chest feeding,” vaginas become “front holes,” and there are no pregnant women, but “pregnant people.” Instead of talking freely among themselves, women’s language can sometimes end up policed, even though the source of women’s oppression often has everything to do with their bodies and their reproductive systems.

“Can sometimes end up policed” is quite an understatement.

Suggesting that such concerns are exclusive to a subgroup of feminist fanatics is disingenuous and shuts down the potential for open conversation and understanding. Dawson’s assertion that women are simply upset about “my right to do a little wee or poo” deliberately undermines the validity of women’s concerns, mocking their genuine fears.

In writing this column, Dawson continues the age-old tradition of dismissing women’s fears as hysteria. The title even questions women’s credibility as feminists. “Call yourself a feminist?” it asks. I’d like to ask the same question of her.

I’d like to tell her to sit down and be quiet.

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