[Edit 2/24/2015: I originally made this chart as a means of parsing what the ‘E’ in TERF actually means.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 two central questions are:
- what exactly are transwomen being excluded from (where)?
- what is the purpose of that exclusion (why)?
The following post is a very basic analysis of various spaces from which females might reasonably desire the complete exclusion of male bodied and male socialized people. Alternatively, we might desire conditional inclusion of male bodied or male socialized people who identify as women. 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, 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. 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). The sex-segregated space is not a means to some larger social end, it is merely a preventative measure to an existing problem: male voyeurism and sexual predation. That is the purpose of the space’s configuration.
A women’s-only private FEMINIST POLITICAL MEETING, on the other hand, has an entirely different purpose. It is 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 may be intended provide healing and bonding while highlighting 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 might be a therapeutic end in itself. The activities that occur during the event are the event’s purpose. Women leave the space 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 women’s-only SCHOOLS is different still. These institutions 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, schools seek to mold the individuals they purport to educate in ways that enable the individuals–as representatives of their class, in this case, women–to be more impactful in integrated society as a kind of affirmative action against systemic marginalization. There is, however, no organized group action or prescribed means of effectuating social change after participation at the school concludes.
At the far end of the sex segregation scale in terms of permanence and purpose, are women’s-only private COMMUNITIES or LAND where women live full-time in isolation from integrated society. They are isolated and permanent sanctuaries where women can fully escape from the 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 their multiple purposes defies simplistic condemnation of sex-segregation as harmful and exclusionary.
When women are accused of being TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) or 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. That is the conversation we need to have.
|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?|
|PRIVATE SPACE||Political Meeting||Y!|
|Consciousness Raising/ Therapeutic Setting|
|Private Event (ex: MichFest)|
|*Bathrooms and locker rooms exist in both settings open to the general public, such as municipally operated swimming pools and large shopping malls, and more private spaces that restrict access to a subset of the public, such as office buildings or college libraries.|