Gender Critical Feminism is a term used by those in the feminist community who consider gender a harmful social construct that is confused with -but distinct from -biological sex.
The World Health Organization defines gender as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women”.WHO: gender equity, human rights
The “roles, behaviours, and attributes” ascribed to women are seen by gender critical feminists as a form of oppression that enforces women’s subordination to men. They also believe the “roles, behaviors, and attributes” ascribed to men serve to maintain men’s dominance over women.1 ; 2 ;3;4;5;
Gender critical feminists believe the definition of “man” and the definition of “woman” should be based solely on biology, rather than on “masculine” or “feminine” personality traits or an innate sense of gender identity.
They recognize those with XX-chromosomes, ovaries designed to produce large egg cells, female genitalia, and a relatively high level of estrogen and progesterone as biologically female. They define “woman” as an adult human female.
They recognize those with XY-chromosomes, testes designed to produce small sperm cells, male genitalia, and a relatively high level of testosterone as biologically male. They define “man” as an adult human male.11;12;13;14
Intersex people, who represent 0.018% to 1.7% of the entire population are those whose chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, and genitals do not conform to the biological binary of female or male bodies. Gender critical feminists recognize intersex people as a distinct group of people with an empirically diagnosable medical condition.15 16
Conflicts between Trans-Inclusive feminism and Gender Critical feminism.
Those who describe themselves as “trans-inclusive” feminists argue that biological sex classifications are “problematic” and that sex is not solely a matter of biology.17
Trans-inclusive feminists believe that whether or not one is a man or a woman (or neither or both) should be based, not on biology, but on one’s Gender Identity, which they describe as “One’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves.”
Trans-inclusive feminists believe that any biological male who identifies as a woman due to an “innermost concept” of womanhood is, in fact, a woman.
According to trans-inclusive feminists, a male does not have to medically transition to be a woman, but need only declare that his “inner sense of identity” is female.18
Trans-inclusive feminists believe males who express an “innate sense of being female” should have the right to access female restrooms, locker rooms, shower rooms, domestic violence shelters, and homeless shelters.19
Trans-inclusive feminists believe transwomen should share prison cells with biological women, regardless of the crime they’ve committed.20
They also believe trans women should be allowed to compete against biological women on sports teams and in the Olympics, without undergoing surgery and with testosterone levels up to 10 times higher than is normal for women.21;22;23
The Oxford English Dictionary defines cisgender as “denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender.”
Gender critical feminists object to the idea that their “self-identity” “conforms” with the feminine gender role they were assigned at birth. They reject their assigned gender traits and roles as a form of oppression, and do not “self-identify” with them at all.
“to be cisgendered has no meaning to someone who does not experience themselves as gendered in any way other than by the gaze of others.” 24
“I have never felt that happy consistency between my female body, the self I know myself to be…I am not cis. I am not trans. I am trying to live as a woman in a patriarchal world, and frankly that sucks enough on its own without being told the female body my culture punishes me for is a privilege in itself.”25
“If “cisgender” were a description of a medical condition, characterised by an absence of sex dysphoria, then I would accept that I am cis. But if cisgender is a gender identity, which it appears to be, then I am not cis, because I do not have a gender identity. I am a woman. But it’s not because deep down, I feel like one. Because deep down, I just feel like a person.”26
“Such a framing invisibilizes female and feminine oppression by falsely situating men-born-men and women-born-women as gendered equals relative to trans-identified people. Though possibly unintentional, “cis” now functions as a significant barrier to feminism’s ability to articulate the oppression caused by the socially constructed gender differentiation that enables male/masculine supremacy.”27
According to trans-inclusive feminists, being cisgendered means that biological women and girls have “cisgender privilege” which is defined as the “set of unearned advantages that individuals who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth accrue solely due to having a cisgender identity”.28
Gender critical feminists do not believe that both being biologically female and knowing you are biologically female makes you a member of a privileged class. Nor do they believe males who identify as female are more oppressed than actual females.
When told they have cisgender privilege, gender critical feminists tend to bring attention to these facts regarding biological women and girls:
68,000 women die every year from unsafe, illegal abortions. The main causes of death from unsafe abortion are hemorrhage, infection, sepsis, genital trauma, and necrotic bowel. Of those who survive, 5 million will suffer permanent life-long health complications, including poor wound healing, infertility, urinary and stool incontinence from fistulas, and bowel resections. 29
Every day 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. 30
“In low- and middle- income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are leading killers of adolescent girls (ages 15-19).”31
222 million women around the world do not have access to safe effective contraceptive methods.32
250 million girls worldwide are married before age 15. Girls who marry before age 18 are less likely to get an education and more likely to be physically and sexually abused by their husbands. 33
Globally, more than 125 million women and girls have been victims of female genital mutilation.34
75% of single parent households are headed by women, and these women are much more likely to be poor than single parent households headed by men.35
One in four girls say they are uncomfortable using school latrines, and are at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation in school.38
Women and girls account for 70 per cent of human trafficking victims. 41
Almost four women are murdered by a current or former male partner every single day in the USA alone.42
Given the various forms of discrimination and violence faced by biological women, it is hard for gender critical feminists to accept that women are more privileged than males who claim to have “an innate sense of being female”.
Gender critical feminists do not deny that transgender people are victims of discrimination and violence, but they reject the idea that biological women are “privileged” in comparison to trans women.
They also reject the idea that trans women experience the same type of discrimination faced by biological women. They believe transwomen, being feminized males, experience homophobic violence and discrimination, not misogyny.
Due to their insistence on basing the definition of “man” or “woman” on biology rather than on “an innate sense of being a man or a woman” gender critical feminists are accused of being “transphobic”, which means “Dislike of or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people.”45
They are also frequently condemned as a hate group 46 and referred to as “TERFs” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) even though not all gender critical feminists consider themselves Radical feminists and most reject the “TERF” label.
Because gender critical feminists refuse to agree that “transwomen are women” and believe that transwomen, being male, should not be treated as if they were female under the law, they are accused of denying transwomen housing, education, and “accommodation equality, as well as local, state, national and United Nations protections.” They are also accused of “literally killing” transwomen.
Gender critical feminists believe that safe accommodations should be provided for trangender people, but not at the expense of women’s and girl’s safety.47
They believe biological women are entitled to their own safe spaces due to the epidemic levels of male violence committed against women and girls.
Despite claims that “transwomen are women” gender critical feminists note that laws based on gender identity allow any predatory male to claim a female identity and gain access to vulnerable women in shelters, locker rooms, restrooms, and prisons.
Lesbian feminist Janice Raymond is frequently accused of having “blood on her hands” for single-handedly denying government funding and insurance coverage for transgender surgery/hormone treatment.
According to The Terfs.com “It was only after the NCHCT [National Center for Health Care Technology] published Raymond’s bigotry in 1980 that the US government reversed course in 1981 and took up Raymond’s views and rhetoric.”48
But the US state and federal government had never funded sex change procedures, so the accusation makes no sense. 49
Still, trans activists claim a single sentence by Janice Raymond included in the 15 page NCHCT report (“transsexual surgery is controversial in our society”) caused the US state and federal government, under the Reagan administration, to reject government funding for sex change procedures.
Since The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 most insurance companies in every state must provide coverage for transition-related care.50
Since 2014, Medicare also covers transition related care.51
(Although at the time of this writing, government funding for abortion procedures is forbidden by the Hyde Amendment).
Gender critical feminists find it more than a little curious that a lesbian feminist is accused of having “blood on her hands” due to the historical lack of insurance coverage for transsexual surgeries, while the male lawmakers and insurance company executives who created and enforced those policies go largely unmentioned. 52
Gender critical feminists are also accused of denying the very existence of transgender people, because they reject the idea that men can menstruate or get pregnant. They also reject the idea that issues of reproductive freedom (abortion, contraception, maternal health care) are gender-neutral issues. Due to female biology being an axis of oppression, gender critical feminists view issues of reproductive freedom as specifically Women’s Rights issues.
Along with allegedly denying the existence of transgender people, gender critical feminists are accused of being responsible for the high murder rate of transgender people even though transgender people are overwhelmingly murdered by men, and have high rates of involvement in the extremely dangerous sex trade. 53; 54
44% of black transgender people and 33% of latino transgender people have experience in the sex trade. People involved in the sex trade are 18 times more likely to be murdered than others of their same race and class. 55
“Transgender people of color with sex trade experience reported far higher levels of poverty, mistreatment, and negative health outcomes than their white counterparts.”56
Despite this, trans activists rarely blame male sex buyers (or males in general) for the violence committed against trans women. Instead, gender critical feminists, aka TERFs , are blamed.
“We believe that it is violence when Germaine Greer announces “I don’t believe in transphobia”, or when Rupert Read describes trans women as “a sort of ‘opt-in’ version of what it is to be a woman”. These are violent acts both in themselves and in their perpetuation of a culture in which physical and sexual violence against trans people and sex workers is both extremely high.”57
“And yes radfems, you are the oppressors. Passive-aggressive oppressors with four decades of blood on your hands. I don’t see radfems getting shot at, stabbed, involved in videotaped beatdowns or brutally killed year after depressing year …”58
TERFs are popularly described as a hate group comparable to White Nationalists and the Westboro Baptist Church .60
Perhaps as a result of this, there are a tremendous amount of rape and murder threats made against gender critical feminists online. Misogynists often use the TERF label to commit misogynistic online abuse. 61
Being labeled a TERF has also gotten people fired from their jobs, denied tenure, banned from public speaking engagements, lost funding for social programs, and denied publishing contracts. Many of those labeled “TERFs” have also had their personal details hacked into and publicly exposed.62
Despite censorship, threats, and harassment, gender critical feminists continue to write and speak out against the degrading gender stereotypes, rape culture, and erasure of female biology that is promoted by current trans-inclusive feminism and transgender activism. They are by far the bravest group of feminists out there.