Imagine a world where the virulently misogynist words of Phyllis Schlafly were held up by feminists as representative of the opinions of all women. Imagine a world where the discrimination-denialist positions of Christina Hoff Sommers were held up as the pinnacle of women’s advocacy by feminists. Imagine a world where hundreds of feminists surfaced from the crevices of the internet to hail me as some kind of valiant free speech defender after campaigning for women to be banned from public life because one time, this woman threw hot coffee at me and no, I don’t have an independent link for you to verify that but I promise I’m trustworthy *pinky swear* smiley-face emoji :)
I don’t live in this world because it is, sadly, limited to cis feminists. A feminist publication called Athena Talks, whose mission is “to help young women mature, [to help] budding professionals become leaders and [to help] leaders become advocates for equality,” decided that all of the above absurdities were suddenly worthy of their editorial attention, strictly because it was re-purposed for animus against trans women.
To be clear, I don’t consider it a bad thing that my feminist works are usually held up to a higher standard. If I were to deploy the venom-spitting baffelgab passing for “reasonable dialogue” in the start of this post, I would be rightly shredded as a derivative thinker and deemed an asshole with an axe to grind. Instead I want to draw attention to cis feminism’s problem with shoddy double standards: If the topic is trans women, y’all start giving the “deer in headlights” look as if you’ve never encountered a logical fallacy before. (#NotAllCisFeminists, of course, but enough of you).
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the latest candy-glossed hate piece to make waves in feminist discourse: “I am not a ‘cis’ Woman, I am a Woman and that Matters.”
Content Notice for trans-antagonism, in case it wasn’t already obvious from the title.
The author opens thusly:
Silenced by men first and now trans women. Will women ever not feel silenced?
(Just a reminder, this piece was given a slot in a publication. The author, Olivia Broustra, is approximately as silenced as Jordan Peterson.)
I asked why as a woman who was born with woman parts it is now considered transphobic to want to have conversations about the distinct and unquestionable differences in life experience between cis and trans women.
I want everyone to take note of the moral investment of the piece: Broustra is making the claim that she “wants to have conversations” about the “distinct and unquestionable differences in life experience between cis and trans women.”
The second thing I would like to note: Trans feminism as a discipline within broader feminism operates from the analysis that trans women are subject to specific forms of oppression that cis women are not. Thus the continuously made claim that trans women argue there are “no” differences between cis and trans women is one rooted almost entirely in straw–trans feminism is a tradition that specifically coined a word to capture said differences. Several, in fact, including “cis” and “trans” themselves!
Seriously, not a single trans feminist I read argues that cis women and trans women are identical. At best, we argue that are certain contexts where the distinction between the two is not/should not be made in practice–but that is not “trans and cis women are identical,” an argument that I have seen literally only advanced by self-styled radical feminists of the sex essentialist variety who claim trans women argue cis and trans women are identical.
Broustra hasn’t linked to someone making this argument either, so we’re supposed to trust on her authority that trans women argue this? As far as conversations go, this is rather jarring: I have said that the sky is blue, and Broustra responds “the sky is not red!”
Back to Broustra…
I asked why when women have faced systematic violence at the hands of men and 1 in six women is raped, is it wrong for cis women to have some spaces just for them to feel safe in a world where they don’t?
This piece is penned in defense of trans-exclusion. The only way this logic is cogent is if you believe men are rape threats (P1), trans women are men (P2), and therefore that trans women are rape threats (C1). Let’s look at the premises.
The evidence for premise one scatters in a few different directions that support the use of caveats and asterisks but definitely contradicts the unconditional version presented here.
David Lisak’s 2002 study posed a questionnaire to US college-aged men (most of whom were likely cis–they never asked as far as I can tell, but if his sample is truly random then maybe ~12 of his 1,882 respondents were trans men). The questionnaire asked specific questions as to whether one has used force (successful or otherwise) to “have intercourse,” and whether they “had intercourse” with someone too intoxicated to resist. These actions are rape, of course (hence the scare-quotes), but they weren’t trying to measure how many of their respondents self-identified as rapists, but rather how likely and how often they were likely to rape, regardless of their self-perception.
Here’s what they found as summarized by Thomas on Yes Means Yes:
120 men admitted to raping [or] attempting to rape. This is actually a relatively slim proportion of the survey population — just over 6% — and might be an underreport, though for part of the sample, the survey team did interviews to confirm the self-reports, which tends to show if there is an undercount in the self-reports, and found the responses consistent. But the more interesting part of the findings were how those rapists and their offenses broke down.
Of the 120 rapists in the sample, 44 reported only one assault. The remaining 76 were repeat offenders. These 76 men, 63% of the rapists, committed 439 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 5.8 each (median of 3, so there were some super-repeat offenders in this group). Just 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 attempted or completed rapes.
In other words: approximately one in twenty cis men has attempted or completed rape. Of those one in twenty, a lion’s share of the violence is committed by an even smaller proportion of serial perpetrators.
This is a survey of undetected–i.e. not reported, no criminal history–rapists. So how are they getting away with it? Most of you, if you’re reading this, probably already know: It’s because there’s an entire culture dedicated to smokescreening the reality of this danger.
Here’s what that smokescreen actually looks like:
The breakdown between the modus operandi of the rapists also tells us a lot about how wrong the script is. Of all 120 admitted rapists, only about 30% reported using force or threats, while the remainder raped intoxicated victims. This proportion was roughly the same between the 44 rapists who reported one assault and the 76 who reported multiple assaults.
The biggest proportion of sexual assaults is committed by serial offenders who remain undetected because they use alcohol rather than force, and target people they know rather than strangers.
This also jives with RAINN’s findings on the relationships victims have with their perpetrators: About three-quarters of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
Recall P1 from earlier:
men are rape threats
We have a bit more detail than that. Men who know you and who use alcohol to intoxicate you are probable rape threats. Stranger perpetrated assaults, while still devastating, are relatively uncommon in the big picture. But rape culture doesn’t encourage folks to look at alcohol-plying men cruising for dates at the bar as the primary perpetrators of assault. No, in order to smokescreen who the actual perpetrators are, the cultural messages gin up a disproportional panic over stranger-perpetrated assault.
So in the context of “women’s spaces,” which will presumably include at least some strangers as participants, it is now suddenly feminist work to invoke the same disproportionate fear that gives a social license to the alcohol-plying-date-raping serial rapists, just for the purposes of trans exclusion? P2, “trans women are men,” and C1, “therefore trans women are rape threats” invests heavily in the stranger-danger misconception in order to make its point, because it glosses over the caveats found from evidence.
That brings me to question premise two of this construction: In what ways are cis men and trans women equivalent? The most salient question is relevant to the threat of sexualized violence in the context of “safety” in women’s groups. In my experience, feminists who come from Broustra’s tradition seldom (if ever) remember they should have evidence to substantiate their claims, but when they do one of the most commonly quoted studies is a 2011 Swedish study by Dr. Cecilia Dhejne.
[Note: Once again, I’ll point out that Broustra has not provided corroborating evidence for her own statement. This is forcing me to fill in the blanks. Now, I study a lot of trans-exclusionary tropes, so my guesswork is a bit more educated than it might be otherwise, but it should be noteworthy that Broustra is so reluctant to provide third party evidence.]
Here’s what the lead researcher has to say about her own work:
The individual in the image who is making claims about trans criminality, specifically rape likelihood, is misrepresenting the study findings. The study as a whole covers the period between 1973 and 2003. If one divides the cohort into two groups, 1973 to 1988 and 1989 to 2003, one observes that for the latter group (1989 – 2003), differences in mortality, suicide attempts and crime disappear. This means that for the 1989 to 2003 group, we did not find a male pattern of criminality.
As to the criminality metric itself, we were measuring and comparing the total number of convictions, not conviction type. We were not saying that cisgender males are convicted of crimes associated with marginalization and poverty. We didn’t control for that and we were certainly not saying that we found that trans women were a rape risk. What we were saying was that for the 1973 to 1988 cohort group and the cisgender male group, both experienced similar rates of convictions. As I said, this pattern is not observed in the 1989 to 2003 cohort group.
The difference we observed between the 1989 to 2003 cohort and the control group is that the trans cohort group accessed more mental health care, which is appropriate given the level of ongoing discrimination the group faces. What the data tells us is that things are getting measurably better and the issues we found affecting the 1973 to 1988 cohort group likely reflects a time when trans health and psychological care was less effective and social stigma was far worse.
So Dr. Dhejne’s study–nicknamed “That Fucking Swedish Study” on this blag because of how often it is raised as evidence of trans women’s equivalence to cis men–shows that the trans women in the latter cohort of their study were not as likely as cis men to commit crime. Dr. Dhejne credits this with improved access to health and psychological care, as well as reduced stigma. But how do we know Dr. Dhejne’s explanation is correct?
If you’re at all familiar with anti-black racism, you’re likely already acquainted with the spectre of black-perpetrated crime supposedly justifying discrimination against black people. Martin Hughes has written extensively about how prejudice breeds poverty, and poverty breeds crime:
Because of the crime rate. Yeah, black people commit crime at a higher rate than white people. This is what happens when you’re poor, and being poor is what happens when people characterize you as a thug so that you’re not able to get a goddamn job, you get shittier medical care, you get harassed by police more often, you are sidelined in social situations, you get inferior education, and you get harsher punishments as far back as kindergarten.
But I don’t think I’m convincing you. I want to drive this home.
Let’s go to NPR for a rundown:
Here’s what the education data show: kids who are suspended or expelled from school are more likely to drop out, and those dropouts are more likely to end up with criminal records. In many places, school discipline pushes kids directly into the juvenile justice system. Take just one example: a school fight can end in an arrest for assault.
Now let’s put two and two together:
“kids who are suspended or expelled from school…”
Seventeen percent (17%) of people who were out or perceived as transgender left a K–12 school because the mistreatment was so bad, and 6% were expelled.
“This is what happens when you’re poor…”
The unemployment rate among respondents was 15%, three times higher than the U.S. unemployment rate at the time of the survey (5%).
Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents were living in poverty, more than twice the rate in the U.S. adult population (14%).
“you get shittier medical care,”
One in four (25%) respondents experienced a problem with their insurance in the past year related to being transgender, such as being denied coverage for care related to gender transition.
One-quarter (25%) of those who sought coverage for hormones in the past year were denied, and 55% of those who sought coverage for transition-related surgery in the past year were denied.
One-third (33%) of respondents reported having at least one negative experience with a health care provider in the past year related to being transgender, such as verbal harassment, refusal of treatment, or having to teach the health care provider about transgender people to receive appropriate care.
“you get harassed by police more often”
Of respondents who interacted with police or law enforcement officers who thought or knew they were transgender in the past year, 57% said they were never or only sometimes treated respectfully. Further, 58% reported some form of mistreatment, such as being repeatedly referred to as the wrong gender, verbally harassed, or physical or sexually assaulted
Don’t just take Hughes’ word for it though–you can find more sources he uses here.
So, discrimination is connected to poverty, poverty is connected to crime. Even if we were to measure a genuine increase in crime rate relative to a specific demographic–which I stress, again, the Dhejne study did not find in its latter cohort of trans women–that wouldn’t actually tell us anything about their “essential nature,” at least not without further controls.
Which brings me back to Broustra. Recall the original statement we were analyzing:
I asked why when women have faced systematic violence at the hands of men and 1 in six women is raped, is it wrong for cis women to have some spaces just for them to feel safe in a world where they don’t?
And how I parsed out the beliefs that would inform such a question:
This piece is penned in defense of trans-exclusion. The only reason to entertain this logic is if you believe men are rape threats (P1), trans women are men (P2), and therefore trans women are rape threats (C1). Let’s look at the premises.
So the problem with premise one is that its formulation implicit in Broustra’s statement is itself a reproduction of rape culture because it obscures the actual nature of the largest forms of sex violation, and that the problem with premise two are that it’s just flatly contradicted, since trans women in Dr. Dhejne’s latter cohort were not as likely as cis men to commit violence.
I mean, hey, it’s taken a good ~2,400 words but now we can answer the question, “why is it wrong for cis women to have some spaces just for them to feel safe in a world where they don’t?”
It’s not wrong to want safety. However, the motivations for this trans-free “women only” space…
- Perpetrate rape culture by overstating stranger danger;
- Perpetrate rape culture by obscuring the actual tactics of serial predators;
- Assumes trans women are as likely to be violent as cis men, which is factually incorrect;
- Assumes violence is an essential property of certain persons, which is also factually incorrect–not to mention the rhetorical flourish liberally employed by white supremacists;
…all of which are complaints which have nothing to do with “trying to take away cis women’s safety.”
Then there are a number of bonus reasons I can provide for why it is wrong for cis women to think they need a “safe space” specifically from trans women:
- It assumes that trans women will be provided all the same cover that is given to cis men by rape culture for her actions; historically, this has not been the case.
- It obscures that trans women are even more likely to be assaulted than cis woman, and are less likely to have crimes against us treated seriously.
- It assumes that “men” (both cis men and trans women in this construct) commit all sexualized violence; historically, trans-exclusionary spaces were rife with woman-perpetrated sexual assault.
- It assumes a monolithic set of needs for cis women to consider a space “safe;” historically, this has resulted in exclusion of women who also intersect with other minorities.
- It’s yet another rehash of white women weaponizing their fear specifically against the “other.” We’ve seen how that can go and we should probably know better by now.
I really have to ask, are we comfortable with white supremacist talking points and an inadvertent apology to rape culture being heralded by Athena Talks as a supposedly feminist work?
Whew, there is a lot of wrong packed into Broustra’s piece.
Back to her:
And I was immediately threatened, labeled as transphobic, and left to feel as if my voice was nothing.
Please note, I have not once accused Broustra of being transphobic in this piece, nor will I. What I have concluded, however, is that there is a great deal of evidence denial involved in this tirade. It just so happens that most of the evidence-denialists on trans issues who are criticized in my material are often called transphobic by other elements–I’m sure it’s all a coincidence, though.
Also: Pairing her critics who object to her material as necessarily objecting to her personhood–gee, where have I seen that before?
I am angry.
And I’m exasperated, nice to meet you. #DadJokes
Angry because now even questioning these issues is seen as an act of hate, discrimination, or intolerance.
It took me 2,800 words to dive into the assumptions Broustra has made thus far. If glossing over that amount of data is her idea of “questioning,” I’d hate to see what assuming looks like to her!
Angry because wanting to have open conversations is now considered hate speech.
Here we are again–this is the second appeal for an “open conversation.” Remember this!
I am angry that as a woman who has constantly had to be careful of my language and behavior around men to ensure my own safety, I am now being forced to police my language even more, around and for trans women who had entirely different experiences and anatomy.
Perhaps the rhetorical deficiencies would be more apparent if I rephrased the above for Broustra:
“I am angry that as a woman who has constantly had to be careful of my language and behaviour around men to ensure my own safety, I am now being forced to police my language even more, around and for black women who had entirely different experiences and anatomy.”
At this point we can assume that Broustra denies any and all evidence that demonstrates a difference between cis men and trans women. She’s being “forced” to police her language after having had to be careful “around men” and “trans women” are doing the same. For her, the acts of literal aggression by cis men (assault, rape) are equivalent to acts of metaphorical aggression by trans women (existing in women’s spaces, proposing different vernacular).
Female language around female issues is important to many cis women because we have struggled to even have our identities and issues seen as valid.
Trans feminists do not typically deny misogyny or its consequences. What I have argued, however, is that one method of enacting oppression is to first construct a particular kind of body as possessing a particular essential property, and then connecting that particular essential property to moral inferiority (“uncleanliness,” “unholy,” “impure,” “unnatural,” “not real,” take your pick), thereby granting oppressors a method of permanently available character assassination by which they can dismiss the voice of the minority.
Because, really, is there any difference between dismissing a cis woman “because she’s on her period” and Broustra here dismissing trans women because we’re, quote un-quote, “angry,” an accusation which itself has a storied history with racism?
[Another aside: Broustra has registered several complaints about being compared to white supremacists. All I have to say to that is “then stop stripping the label off white supremacist talking points and hocking it as feminism.”]
Ah, but let’s forget about all of that! Broustra’s here to smear some glitter on these totally-not-white-supremacist talking points:
Now before you make any assumptions let me be clear.
I respect everyone’s rights to their pronouns, to surgeries they want, to safe spaces, to tolerance, and to living as humans with human rights and respect. And I will help you fight for that.
But my being born with a vagina and the treatment that comes from that matters in the conversation around the rights of trans women.
Chest feeding instead of breast feeding?
Okay–wow. Broustra seems to be very confused. First she has implied she sees no difference between cis men and trans women, and now she seems to be saying she sees no difference between cis men and trans women and trans men??
Trans women have not, as far as I know, proposed alternate terminology for breastfeeding because we have breasts that can lactate.
Chest feeding was proposed by trans men. Not trans women. Nor do any of the materials on chestfeeding I can find have any binding influence on whether or not a term is banned–what I can find instead are “outlines” and “suggestions.”
Remember all the times I told you she wanted an “open conversation”? Ask yourself now if characterizing outlines and suggestions as some kind of oppression are the actions of someone who sincerely wants that.
If that’s really the hill Broustra wants to die on… she can take it up with trans men.
We are still struggling to make breastfeeding in public considered normal and natural, instead of lewd and inappropriate.
And this has what, exactly, to do with trans women? We’re subject to the same laws, and trans feminists aren’t generally a fan of them either.
People saying the word mother isn’t inclusive to transgendered pregnant people, while moms still struggle to get basic maternity leave and not lose their jobs after having a baby, and even still deal with extremely dangerous situations due to mistreatment during childbirth.
…I’ll remind everyone this was a post ostensibly about being “silenced” by trans women. This is now the second paragraph where Broustra should be taking up her complaints with trans men.
Moreover, there is still no logical connection made by “wow, look at these really shitty and oppressive laws” and “trans women”–who generally aren’t in positions to write laws.
Saying that because you are a woman, your penis is a female penis and should be seen as a vagina in change rooms and woman spaces?
I’m going to briefly interrupt here. Broustra says in her own comments that “this has never actually happened to her,” which is, straight-up, a confession that she expects the hypothetical to trump the empirically observed. Then, she cites the actions of cis men (I swear I’ve seen this before) as an example of what trans women do. Seriously?!
I can’t possibly imagine why this piece would be upsetting to anyone.
Women constantly still deal with being sent dick pics, and being flashed, and forced to see penises when we never consented to.
Absolutely none of which is exclusive to cis women. Her point?
A rich famous celebrity trans woman who had been a man for so so many years, winning awards, and being respected as a man suddenly becomes a woman and wins a women’s award over women who had far far more right.
We’re all Caitlyn fucking Jenner now. Wait, haven’t I seen this before too? Let’s be real, Jenner is Dog’s gift to people who want to rag on trans women because now they have the lowest possible hanging fruit to repeatedly pick. This is what I was talking about with the Phyllis Schafly reference. It would be fucking derivative of me to claim that we can accurately summarize the condition of all cis women from the life of a virulently misogynistic filthy rich lawyer, so why aren’t more people recognizing this when trans women are the one being bludgeoned by it?
This is the scholarship of a third-grader, written in purple crayon on the back of a diner napkin.
Telling lesbian woman they are transphobic if they do not overlook a pre op trans woman’s penis. Even showing up with bats to the Chicago Dyke March to protest this “cotton Ceiling.”
Aight, folks, that’s it. I can’t. I’m done. We’re 4,000 words into this fucking mess and we’re not even a quarter through Broustra’s polemic. This is somewhere in the realm of seeing the phrase “white genocide.” We’re officially in full-blown conspiracy theory territory.
And it was endorsed by a feminist publication.
Athena Talks and Olivia Broustra can keep their “allyship,” thanks. But I appreciate that y’all provided a very stark example of the anti-trans types “throwing the entire kitchen sink at us instead of forming a coherent argument.”