Feminist Rehab

Photo of Amy Winehouse

I miss her.

Some discussion on Gloria Steinem’s transphobia, specifically within Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,* and what it might look like for her to do some work on retracting her statements, distancing herself from them, and—not undoing the harm, I don’t think, because how could you—but maybe making a space where those she did harm feel some respect, and some acknowledgment of the wrongdoing, and a sense that Steinem and those who identify with her are committed to moving toward a more pluralistic vision of liberation. I don’t want to speak for the trans community and what they might want, but that’s a rough précis of what I think is called for. (Please correct me if I am wrong, althought I am aware there isn’t a monolithic trans community with a spokesperson and a list of demands. Also although, I love lists of demands, so go for it if you like.) ALSO YES I JUST WROTE PRECIS, PRECIOUS.


feministlibrarian replied to your post: So I’d seen some folks previously reference Gloria Steinem as a transphobic feminist.

I’m curious what the pub. date on the book and the original date on the essay were. not to say this makes it less egregious, but I hope her views have changed since she wrote that!

Well, as I stated in the post, it was originally written in 1977, and the edition was put out in 1995. In the new preface to the edition in question, she did not retract or distance herself from or apologize for anything in the essay.

Brown book cover that says the author name: Janice Raymond, and the book title: The Transsexual Empire" Below that is some text that I think is a blurb for the book but the text is so small and blurry I can't read it

BC Holmes: "This is a hate-filled, mean-spirited book"

Of course, 15-16 years have passed since that edition, so it is possible that her views have changed since then, and one would hope that they have. But at the same time, I really don’t think that her views changing really count for much? I mean, admittedly as a cis person my thoughts on the matter don’t really count for all that much, either, but. I’d say she not only owes an apology, but a lot of work to address the harm that those views have done to the trans community over the decades, including the harm that the feminist movement has specifically done to trans people, especially trans women. Like, you know, this.

And, you know. I sure as hell do not see her doing that work.

Which has resulted in deaths. Or cis feminists keeping trans women out of domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, which has caused deaths. Etc. Clearly, she was not only complicit in that, but an active promoter of it.

As another cis woman, I think there is also a responsibility to—without turning your back on those you’ve harmed, who should remain centered—go back to your own community (in this case feminists) and convene a discussion there and see what can be done.

I was reading old women’s magazines from the 70s at work this week. It is very exciting unto me to see that big mainstream books had regular editorials and articles about women’s lib. But the rush is always accompanied by a sick feeling because this vision of liberation is so limited and hateful. I read a whole editorial that starts out talking about how lesbians are getting a lot of press now, gals, and that’s ok! Because they are women too, and therefore part of women’s lib. But you don’t have to let their man-hating ways scare you away from the movement! SO AWFUL. I will see if I can scan it in and post it, it’s pretty intense.

Things like that make me feel like–OK how do I, as a feminist, even deal with it? See also: the suffrage ladies, who I do think were total badasses with their hunger strikes and their getting forcefed with tubes up their noses and burning the president in effigy outside the White House, but who also made such terrible terrible decisions to exclude women of color and women of other classes from the fight for enfranchisement. How can I still honor the good and acknowledge the bad?  I suppose in a lot of ways reading history is just always going to be like that. There are no perfect movements and no perfect people–but that can’t be used as an excuse to not talk about the shit that has gone down and is still going down.

print ina woodcut style that says "If you have come to liberate me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberatin is bound up in mine, then let us work together." Aboriginal Activist Lila Watson

The amazing Lila Watson. This poster is kind of a Successories for activists!

(Perfection issue sidebar: This is a pet peeve of mine. When people are like “Well Al Gore is such a hypocrite, he has a private plane!” And you are like, that doesn’t mean global warming isnt happening, you know. You still don’t need to buy a new tv every year. Just FYI.” There is something I call the Jesus Syndrome on the left ( different from the one on the right!) where you can justify your own inaction by seizing on things like that. I mean, John Edwards: Bad husband! Made a lot of mistakes. However, you sure don’t hear much talk on the national stage talking about poverty since he left the room. (My metaphor has a stage and a room!) It’s hard because you don’t want to fall into that trap, but then you also don’t want to ignore things like, telling Ida Tarbell she can’t march in the parade.)

Uhhh where was I. I think I’m not going to go for a neat little summation here. Working on a history of feminism brings a lot of this up for me. We want Chicklib to be inspiring and to shine a light on a lot of the radical actions that women have taken in the name of gender justice, but not gloss over the shitty things that have been done, either. I mean, it’s problematic to even call it a history of feminism because that’s a pretty modern term. Sojourner Truth and Emma Goldman wouldn’t call themselves feminists, but by including them in the book, I’m kind of claiming them. Perhaps you can now see why this project is mumblemumble almostayearbehind alsobecauseofmybeingsick butmostlythishonestly.

3 Comments to “Feminist Rehab”

  1. Transphobia seems to be almost symptomatic of second-wave feminism, so much that I’ve come to expect it reading feminist lit from the 70s even through the 90s.

    Full disclosure: I don’t have a background in academic feminism. Most of my knowledge of 2nd and even 3rd wave came piecemeal and read outside a school setting. Here’s the question: do we then discredit the good work the Gloria Steinems of the world have done because of their transphobia or homophobia? Or rather, how do we make peace with the fact that the ones we’re supposed to look to fail in a lot of ways?

  2. I think maybe part of it lies in how we look to them. Maybe it’s similar to artists in some ways–Picasso was an asshole misogynist and abuser, but also a brilliant man. Anne Sexton was an abusive mother and awful in many ways, but her poetry changed my life. I don’t want to talk about a middle ground, although I’m thinking about a position that escapes the polarities of “That’s my hero! They’re perfect!” and “That’s not my hero. They are imperfect!” “Middle” seems to imply kind of diminishing the charge at each end, and that’s not right. I don’t know. The answer is to keep talking, I guess.

    (Re: academic feminism–me either. I mean, I took one women’s studies class in grad school in 1988. But I read a lot. And I’m pretentious enough to write about escaping polarities.)

  3. i have been thinking about this post and how I would respond to this for the past 24 hours straight, and last nite when i couldn’t sleep because of incessant coughing (on my own part) i thought about it some more. I can’t stop thinking about it but there is too much for me to put into a comment box. can we please get coffee soon and discuss some of these things?

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