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Margins and Marginalization

problems with feminist "priorities"

Forum: Reddit (/r/AskFeminists)
Date: 08/08/2012

Neg Karma Vortex:

I recently found out about Cathy Brennan and other second wave feminists that believe the feminist movement has been hijacked by former men who are now trans-women for their own purposes.

I wonder, does anyone who's a feminist at /r/askfeminism think that feminism should focus more on women than trans* folk?

Many feminist women of color (among others) have long criticized the framing of this sort of question: asking them whether they prioritize solidarity with white women or with men of color splits their experiences as women of color, making it difficult to be all of who they are in either feminist movement or anti-racist movement, silencing and marginalizing their voices. The question is wrong, and is racist and sexist.

Now, the interesting twist about the question you have posed is that some people do not think that there is an overlap between categories "women" and "transgender" (or at least "transsexual"), like there is an overlap between "women" and "people of color" (i.e. women of color). If you take this perspective, perhaps one could rationalize that this question is different from the one mentioned above (about women of color): unlike the question about priorities for women of color, one could argue, there is no individuals who are in both groups and are therefore silenced or marginalized by the question itself.

On the other hand, if one believes, as I do, that there is an overlap between these categories--that is, one accepts that some women are trans and some trans people are women--the question is just as wrong as the question about racism/sexism. I tend to believe that this is the case, and therefore I believe that to treat this question as answerable necessarily is oppressive to trans people, especially trans women.

Those who do not accept trans women as women might characterize my position as prioritizing women over "trans people." I just think they are wrong, as they were wrong and racist when they accused women of color of being traitors for refusing to severe dual loyalties to feminist and anti-racist movements.

Neg Karma Vortex:

I never implied exclusivity. Or at least I never meant to. But surely priorities must exist for many. If they do not, where is a movement to go? How are leaders to decide the next battle to fight? If one is to fight all battles simultaneously, will not one lose the greater war?

There's nothing wrong with people having a focus as individuals. But you are talking about priorities for the entire movement when you ask if "feminism should focus more on women than trans* folk." The question, like the question about whether we should focus on racism or sexism, erases and silences people facing multiple oppressions.

Neg Karma Vortex:

I was asking personal opinions. I apologize if my words were taken in another way. Assuming you ran an organization related to the feminist movement, what would your priorities be?

Even as a question about personal preferences, "do you prioritize women's rights, or trans rights?" is an inherently problematic question that erases and silences experiences of people facing multiple oppressions.

Since you insist...

Every dollar must be spent equally among the categories I listed above?

No, but every dollar should theoretically bring about equal amount of utility at the margin. People (and organizations) are making decisions at the margin, which is to say that we don't rank priorities in the abstract but in response to the pre-existing distribution of resources and needs at that moment (think: you don't prioritize vegetables or fruits or grains or meats when shopping: your decision is based on what other food you already have and what you still need). Because of the law of diminishing returns, it is not efficient to have a fixed set of priorities (e.g. women's health over trans health, or other way around): we make priorities as we go, constantly updating our priorities in order to address needs that appear to be most neglected or underserved.

What about reproductive health? Surly there may be health needs that many women require, but trans* folk don't and visa versa? Should no clinic ever open until it can handle both in your view?

Everyone deserves healthcare. Your framing of question artificially presumes a zero-sum world in which improvements in trans health necessarily diminish women's health. Not only is it a tactic of someone who works to take away trans people's access to health care, it also plays into the hands of those who are working to take away women's access to healthcare as well. I'm not going to presume your motives, but you might want to consider how your rhetoric may be counter-productive.