Fractured Feminism: Is Identity Politics Failing?

identity politicsCBC is carrying an opinion piece by feminist Meghan Murphy titled Why a women-only spa in Toronto should not change its policy to accept trans women. While I would expect to see conservative women apposing trans women’s rights, a self proclaimed feminist doing so goes against one of the very movements that pushed for these rights in the first place: third wave feminism. Let’s see what Murphy has to say:

In an ideal world, perhaps women wouldn’t need women-only spaces. But unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. Body Blitz, a popular Toronto spa, offers a space where women are free to relax among other women — to strip off their clothes, go for a swim and have a spa treatment without having to worry about men showing up to ruin the party.

This pretty much sums up Murphy’s opinion of men, I’d say: they ruin things.

Body Blitz came under fire recently after being accused of refusing service to a self-identified trans woman. On Twitter, Toronto resident Jia Qing Wilson-Yang posted: “My wife tried to book me a surprise appt @bodyblitzspa but they won’t allow ‘male genitalia’ at the spa and told us not to come.” The news quickly spread among trans activists online, and Body Blitz was accused of “transphobia” and “transmisogyny.” People swarmed the spa’s Facebook page, leaving negative reviews and comments.

Which is exactly what Murphy would do if there were a male only facility that wouldn’t allow women.

While the spa does not have a policy against trans people, it is a “single-sex facility” that allows full nudity. As such, it would be fair for women who visit the spa to assume they won’t see male genitalia.

Ah, but now, under bill C-16, discriminating against a person who identifies as female but has male genitals is a violation of her charter rights.

Trans activists would argue the distinction between women and trans women is an unimportant one — that people who identify as trans women are women like all other women. But the reality is that internal feelings don’t change outward impressions.

And one can make exactly the same argument about men and women, but if they did, Murphy would call them a misogynist.

To some women and girls, the presence of a male body can leave them feeling uncomfortable, uneasy and even threatened.

Presumably making them transphobic.

The controversy around Body Blitz is particularly poignant now since the Canadian Senate just passed Bill C-16, which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to prohibit discrimination based on gender expression and identity. (Full disclosure: I testified against Bill C-16 in the Senate back in May.)

And here we see the fracture. Should a feminist support trans rights over woman’s rights (supporting bill C-16), or women’s rights over trans rights (against bill C-16)?

Trans people absolutely deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. But as many feminist and women’s groups have argued, Bill C-16 has the capacity to actually undermine women’s rights.

Just as feminism undermines men’s rights.

The Canadian Human Rights Act protects women because as a society, we understand that women face discrimination based on their biological sex. But our ability to organize on behalf of women’s liberation and to maintain women-only space is threatened by legislation that protects people based on “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

Just as men’s rights and male-only spaces are threatened and legally prohibited. This is fairly ironic.

How can we argue for women’s rights, based on the understanding that women are oppressed specifically due to their biological sex, if we simultaneously say that sex doesn’t matter, but that “gender identity” and “gender expression” do?

You can’t. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You have to choose: is a person who is genetically male but identifies as a woman an oppressed person who is in need of protection, or not? Currently, Canada says she is, and that if you discriminate against her, you can be charged with violating her rights.

On average, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days. One in three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. It is for these reasons that women should have the right to certain spaces — such as gyms, change rooms, transition houses — in which they feel safe. The concerns of women who have experienced trauma because of male violence should not be dismissed.

76.8% of murder victims are men. According to a 2010 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Justice, in a 12 month period, more men than women were victims of intimate partner physical violence. And yet men are not given a right to certain spaces in which to feel safe. The concerns of men who have experienced trauma because of female violence should not be dismissed.

True, Body Blitz’s policy might inconvenience a few trans individuals who have to choose a different spa. But as an oppressed class of people, females as a whole deserve the right to maintain women-only spaces. And for women who have been sexually assaulted — those for whom seeing a penis could have a triggering effect, especially in what they perceive as a safe space — the experience goes way beyond “inconvenience.”

Paraphrasing: “Violating Trans people’s rights is a mere inconvenience. Women have a right to exclude you.” If a man were to say women’s rights were an inconvenience and that men as a whole deserve the right to maintain male-only spaces, what would Murphy say?

Considering the extent to which male violence and fear of male violence shapes women’s lives, it should not be unreasonable to keep certain spaces free from male bodies — even if the people in those bodies identify as women.

So women are transphobic, and it is not unreasonable for them to discriminate against trans women, violating their human rights under the charter.

I hope it is clear why I see this as a failure of identity politics. You can’t tell a judge that you are an oppressed class who deserves special protections, and then expect to be allowed to violate another even more oppressed class’s rights. By doing so, you’re removing the nails that hold up the platform you’re standing on.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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3 Responses to Fractured Feminism: Is Identity Politics Failing?

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