[Edit 2/24/2015: I originally made this chart as a means of parsing what the ‘E’ in TERF actually means. So I have changed the title to include the term TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist). The central question is: what exactly are transwomen being excluded from (where)? And what is the purpose of that exclusion (why)? The following post is a basic analysis of various spaces from which females might reasonably desire the complete exclusion of male bodied and male socialized people. Alternatively, we might enforce conditions on the inclusion of male bodied or male socialized people. Bathrooms and locker rooms are examples of spaces where conditional inclusion is possible, such as for for fully transitioned transwomen. On the other hand, a private gathering might not make any exceptions for transwomen. It depends! There are many factors to consider. #nuance]
Women’s-only spaces serve a multitude of purposes depending on the context.
For example, [public] women’s BATHROOMS AND LOCKER ROOMS are not a space for women’s healing or bonding– they are merely temporary sanctuaries from male view/attention while completing specific tasks: namely, voiding one’s bodily waste or changing clothing. The sex-segregated space is not a means to a larger social end, it is a solution/end to a problem (male voyeurism and sexual predation) in itself. That is the segregated space’s *purpose.* No one spends all of their time in these spaces or invests energy in improving the space beyond pragmatic function, as if they were a hang-out space (maybe except nursing lounges).
A women’s-only [private] FEMINIST POLITICAL MEETING, on the other hand, has a whole different purpose. It is, again, a temporary time/place set up within integrated society for a specific intent. In this case, the respite may intentionally lead to healing or bonding between women in that space. There is a specific desire to interact with the other women and to find shared interests and experiences on which to build ideas, understanding, and to find common ground. Further, political meetings seek to leverage that common ground to organize and plan for future actions that likely involve some kind of political confrontation in the “integrated” world. Political meetings are a MEANS to an end.
Similarly, women’s-only [private] EVENTS LIKE MICHFEST also provide healing and bonding spaces along shared experiences of womanhood. In this case, however, the temporarily set up time/space is not necessarily a means to a political end. The togetherness created by the women’s only event is an end in itself. The activities that occur during the event are the event’s purpose. Women leave the land at the conclusion of the event or festival and return to integrated society without plans to confront or change the larger society and its structures. The purpose of [public or private] women’s-only SCHOOLS is mixed in the sense that they act as long-term, but ultimately temporary, respites from integrated society: the women or girls always graduate back into integrated society. At the same time, these institutions seek to mold the individuals they purport to educate in ways that enable the individuals– as representatives of their class (women)– to be more impactful in integrated society. There is, however, no group action or prescribed means of effectuating social change after concluding participation in the school.
At the far end of sex-segregation are women’s-only [private] COMMUNITIES or LAND where women live full-time in isolation from integrated society. They are permanent sanctuaries where women can fully escape from hostile social environments created by androcentrism and patriarchy. Communes are ends in themselves, for some. Others argue that these enclaves are politically effective means to some greater end. I would beg to differ with such an assessment, but that is not the point of this post or chart.
The diversity of women’s-only spaces and purposes defies simplistic condemnation of sex-segregation. When women are accused of being TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) or of being transphobic merely for valuing sex-segregated spaces in some contexts, or in some circumstances, their critics fail to comprehend the complexity of women’s reasons for sex-segregation. What is acceptable for a bathroom setting is not acceptable in other settings. There is nuance! Here it is in a chart format.
|SEX-SEGREGATION||PURPOSE||Respite or sanctuary from male view & presence?||Participants return to integrated society?||Interaction and social bonding with other women in the space?||Healing from trauma related to unequal male/female power dynamics?||Planning for future group action outside of the space?|
|PUBLIC SPACE Public= entities that may receive federal funding in order to exist||Bathrooms*||Y||N|
|PRIVATE SPACE Private= no federal funding in order to exist||Political Meeting||Y!|
|Consciousness Raising/ Therapeutic Setting|
|Private Event (ex: MichFest)|
|* Not all bathrooms and locker rooms are subject to federal funding requirements. Bathrooms and locker rooms may be inclusive of both public places such as government operated swimming pools and “private” businesses such as shopping centers and restaurants; they are also found in employment situations.|