Sheila Jeffreys, RadFem2012 and the imaginary trans conspiracy

For those not in the know, in July a conference entitled RadFem2012 is supposed to be happening, with headline speaker radical feminist–and noted transphobe–Sheila Jeffreys. The conference is open only to “women born women living as women”, a clunky way of saying “no trans people”.

Kickass feminist and activist, the thoroughly inspirational Roz Kaveney recently wrote a takedown of this particular branch of radical feminism, rightly likening it to a cult (although arguably  there are also fascistic overtones to the radfem party line on this issue). If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s utterly brilliant.

Sheila Jeffreys has responded to Roz’s excellent piece with an argument with so many holes it would be better suited to function as a colander. Again, this piece is worth reading, though for the exact opposite reasons to the one above. Jeffreys’s entire argument hinges upon the idea that it is only trans people who could possibly ever object to this particular murky brand of transphobia.

This is, of course, patently untrue. I’ve written myself that transphobia has no place in feminism, and I’m hardly the only one. One does not have to be trans to care about the rights of trans people. One simply has to be free from bigotry.

Jeffreys claims persecution from the trans community in the form of utter horrors such as glitter bombing and captioned photographs. Perhaps the most stark example of the hideous persecution faced by poor Jeffreys and her transphobic ilk is that Jeffreys claims the RadFem2012 conference venue to have banned her from speaking, citing evidence of her hate speech that she believes to be entirely reasonable. Throughout, notably, Jeffreys can only blame a shadowy cabal of trans people: the idea that cis allies may have in any way been involved simply fails to occur to her.

This line of thinking is not unique to Jeffreys. In the past, coming up against a transphobic radfem who I will not name because I’m utterly terrified of her, I received a string of tweets saying “sorry you’re male”. It simply did not enter this person’s imagination that anybody but a trans person could care about transphobia.

For cis feminists, there are three major reasons to fight transphobia coming from those who are supposedly on our side. The first is a moral one: we should be against misogyny and hatred in all forms. Second, we must fight gender essentialism. And third, we must stand up for bodily autonomy.

Trans people are more likely to experience violence, sexual or otherwise. Trans people are more likely to be excluded from areas of public life. A large group of women are more vulnerable than others, and in their ignorance (at best), the transphobic radfems ignore this travesty: in the case of RadFem2012, and many other instances, they are actively partaking in exclusion.

Gender essentialism is something we have fought against for years, and I had honestly hoped that it would be at least mostly dead since the publication of Delusions of Gender. Alas, no. The radfems obsess over chromosomes and what genitals a person might have and testosterone levels as if it means anything. They view trans women with an almost McCarthyist suspicion, believing that they can never be anything but men infiltrating women’s spaces. All because of a peculiar fascination with biology in an age where such essentialism is largely discredited.

And finally, bodily autonomy. This is a fundamental aspect of feminism which is ignored by the transphobic radfems, who believe the surgical and medical interventions some trans people undergo to be inherently wrong. Jeffreys couches it in the language of concern-trolling, claiming it to be a “human rights violation”, yet, surely, having the right to do whatever the hell you want to do with your own body is the basic human right?

It is curious, then, that the men’s rights activists and the radfems do not make good bedfellows: both position themselves against these feminist struggles. In her piece, Jeffreys even uses the same argument tactic as the MRAs: all she wants, she says, is to have a debate (the irony of excluding trans people from this debate is apparently lost on her).

I am not alone in thinking that transphobia and feminism are diametrically opposed ideologies. The shift in feminist thinking is firmly on this side. Jeffreys and her ilk are anachronistic curiosities, though loud and dangerous. The trans conspiracy Jeffreys fights is non-existent: in fact, she is attacking a foe far bigger than she can possibly imagine.

We are in the majority, we who reject transphobia. We must continue to be vocal in our rejection of this dated and frightening rhetoric.

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28 responses to “Sheila Jeffreys, RadFem2012 and the imaginary trans conspiracy

  • jemima101

    Thank you thank you, thank you…As a woman, cis if that matters to anyone, a feminist, and a socialist , I cannot begin to comprehend why transphobia is tolerated in any feminist community. The most obvious argument to me (other than the ya know bigotry isnt nice one) is bodily autonomy. How can people argue for reproductive rights, but against gender reassignment surgery?
    Recently I got into an argument with a blogger who was all oh we loose our specialness, the sisterhood would be violated…i was reminded of Marx (Groucho) and concluded, for the umpteenth time that it’s not a sisterhood I want any part of.

  • mamacarriemakes

    I’m astonished by RadFems who are just as judgy and harmful as the Patriarchy…there I said it and I feel good! I can’t believe they don’t see irony of discriminating against a whole group of people so they can…discuss how they have discriminated against?

    Re-lurking…

  • Zarathustra

    As I said when I gave my own thoughts on the subject, this is just another case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.

  • Zarathustra

    LOL! I just read Jeffreys’ article.

    Germaine Greer was glitterbombed, a practice that can be seen as assault and can endanger eyesight

    Seriously? She’s actually deploying, “You could have someone’s eye out with that” as her argument?

    Better not squirt a water pistol at her. She might might accuse you of trying to drown her.

  • countrygirljo

    Thank you for this. Yes I have a trans background (there, busted)…and it sustains many of us who fight for our rights as women (and who each day face ridicule, prejudice, hatred, violence or even murder at the hands of those who feel able to define our identity rather than allowing us the human right of owning and defining it for ourselves), that we have cisgender allies. Your voice is increasingly important. Some radfems display a shocking hatred of women like us, their language is full of appalling violence (especially some notorious bloggers), and whilst these people are the minority their voice is loud and bitter and attracts attention. Terrifyingly it still shapes perceptions amongst some policy makers who know no better, and occasionally chimes with the widely bigoted populist media agenda. People’s lives are ruined because of these opinions – the lives of people who wanted only to be left alone, to quietly be at peace with themselves, away from any hate-filled battleground in which they are completely misrepresented and threatened.

    Cisgender feminists making powerful arguments against this hate will get so much further than we ever could, or have, with these people. I would add to your points that not only do they obsess over ‘biology’, but their take on biology is usually deeply partial, medically reductionist and ill informed. Like all bigots, they are fond of taking subjectively observed phenomena which fit some kind of selective a priori dogma and clinging to it with more and more tenacity as the weight of opinion and evidence (and common decency and tolerance in this case) moves against them.

  • Sheila Jeffreys, RadFem2012 and the imaginary trans conspiracy « Resist RadFem 2012

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  • misswonderly

    Great piece, CN. Hadn’t come across the term ‘concern trolling’ before … genius! Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby is of course a disguise cisgenderism eagerly embraces at every opportunity … certainly not confined to TERFs and still all too frequent in the medical and quasi medical communities. People like Blanchard, Bailey and Zucker have invested their professional careers in serial concern trolling masquerading as scientific research. But it can also take more insidious and apparently reasonable forms which are harder to expose to reason because acquired cisgender ideology appears intuitive to so many in our society.

    I am truly heartened by the comments below Sheila Jeffries Guardian piece which demonstrate a willingness to cease questioning the way trans people JUST ARE and turn around to remark on the gaping holes in trans-exclusive radfem ideology. As somebody remarked in the comments … this would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. TERFS such as JB, who would get it in the neck from frankly misogynistic commenters whenever they wrote in the national press, could always feel sure of being perceived as having a reasonable side when they played the trans card. No more … it seems it’s not only exasperated trans people responding. At last there does seem to be a dim awareness dawning in wider society about the evils of cisgenderism.

  • misswonderly

    Oh, excuse me … wasn’t paying attention. I thought CN wrote this. Please remove that reference to CN from the beginning of my comment. Everything else stands. Brilliant post :)

  • Ally Fogg (@AllyFogg)

    Great article, couldn’t agree more. .

    Out of curiosity though, can I ask what you mean about radfems and MRAs being strange bedfellows? Are there MRAs that specifically deny the trans experience or who campaign against transition rights?

    I wouldn’t be surprised, based on their general bone-headedness about pretty much everything, but I’m curious as I don’t think it’s something I’ve encountered. I would expect a lot of individual ignorance and bigotry, but I’m not aware of transphobia being a part of the ideology, as it were.

    The only time I ever see trans people mentioned on MRA sites is when they are being used as a stick to beat feminism.

  • tristan

    “an argument with so many holes it would be better suited to function as a colander.”

    Brilliant.

    I’m still amazed at the arrogance of academics who try to define the identities of minority groups to which they have no association. Jeffries’s position on Trans people is reminicent of 19th century colonial anthropology or the medicalised “gay cures” of the 1950s.

    • Zarathustra

      Frankly, there’s only one “debate” that needs to take place between radical feminists and trans people.

      RadFem: “We need to debate the manner in which transgenderism invades the female space and therefore oppresses my ovaries.”

      Trans Person: “Go fuck yourself.”

      Any further queries can then be referred back to the previous answer.

  • Lesbilicious » The responses to RadFem2012 show our queer and feminist communities to be standing strong against transphobia

    [...] truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.’ This cis woman methodically takes down the radfem argument for excluding trans women from women-only spaces. Many [...]

  • boostick

    I like to think. of myself as a nuRadfem. Smashing the patriarchy with every sister I can, IDGAF about the medical background of my fellow smashers.

    The more, the merrier!

    My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be nothing.

  • Nile

    Perhaps we should rebrand the RadFems as ‘The Chromosomal Purity League’.

    Meanwhile, I wonder how they’re getting on with finding a new venue: Conway Hall discussed their terms of service with the TERFs legal advisors, and a decision was made that it would be more in keeping with the inclusive and tolerant guiding principles of Conway Hall to host the conference elsewhere.

    Such discussions are, of course, confidential; and it is not our place to speculate on what was said, nor on the tone of these exchanges. But I have every confidence that the rigorous reasoning, exemplary courtesy, effortless charm and diplomatic skills of Ms B – who has communicated with you recently, and who has had much to say on Roz Kaveney’s blogs and journals – were decisive in helping all parties in reaching the best possible decision.

    • LazyJay H

      Perhaps we should rebrand the RadFems as ‘The Chromosomal Purity League’.

      Ha! They’re even more narrow-minded than that. They exclude trans men as well as trans women, even though they argue with all the certainty of an evangelist preacher that trans men are women.

      I’ve had more than 50 years’ experience of being me. I think I know who and what I am rather better than these jerks that I’ve never met.

  • RadFem 2012, “male privilege” and censorship | Indigo Jo Blogs

    [...] Speakers were to have included anti-pornography campaigner Gail Dines, Australian lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, and Pragna Patel, a founder member of Southall Black Sisters, but no other speakers have been identified and no firm programme has been announced (there is a list of “indicative conference topics” which is identical for both of the days of the conference at the time of this writing). The website currently says that the venue has been “changed” (although they don’t announce that on the front page – you have to go to the “Conference venue” page to find that out, if you haven’t been following the discussion on Twitter) and also does not give any clue about ticket prices. (More: Outlines, The Goldfish, Stavvers.) [...]

  • makomk

    “It is curious, then, that the men’s rights activists and the radfems do not make good bedfellows”

    It’s not curious at all. The radfem argument is that trans women are a bunch of entitled “men” who are displaying their privilege by making demands of cis women such as demanding to be treated as their gender, or demanding to be allowed to use women’s bathroom, or demanding that cis feminists care when they get raped after being forced to use the men’s bathroom. In particular, the argument that blog post uses to justify not caring about trans women being raped is literally identical – almost word for word even – to a really common argument used against MRAs to justify not caring about men getting raped.

    Why on Earth do you think that MRAs would be willing to align themselves with a group which justifies its transphobia by misgendering trans women as men and then declaring that listening to men or helping male rape victims is an attack on women’s rights? Why do you think that a group so vigorously opposed to everything MRAs stand for, in ways that are intimately entangled with their transphobia, would be willing to ally with them?

    The only transphobic radfem argument that groups like MRAs seem to buy into is the “sleeping with someone whilst stealth is rape” argument, which is sadly fairly universal. The rest just plain don’t work because the entire point of the men’s rights movement is that they don’t buy into the underlying premise that listening to men is wrong, and once someone takes the opportunity to actually listen to trans women it’s fairly obvious they’re not men after all and the whole charade falls apart.

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  • mcd

    While I agree and think all of you have valid points that it is very important important to listen to and to not dismiss or belittle trans women and their experiences, concerns, safety and human rights. It is also important to listen and not belittle or dismiss cis women and their experiences, concerns, safety and human rights. I don’t see how you can argue for listening and not belittling one group and not the other. I don’t know for sure about this, but I think the rad fem argument goes along the line of something like people (not necessarily women) who have vaginas which are capable of being impregnated, by people with penises at the risk of their lives, are oppressed because of this very biological fact which is often used to these people’s disadvantage. I think that in fact they don’t want to oppress trans people at all they want respect and safety for ALL people including people who have made a very difficult I would think choice to change genders. I think that the choice to include only biological women in the conference was not because of a desire to stifle a debate about trans people but to create a space for people with vaginas the organs which are capable of producing babies. I honestly think what you may be upset about is less about what these women like jeffries have to say and more about fear of being excluded from what I don’t know because everything that they talked about at the conference is probably accessible to the public. With all due respect.

    • stavvers

      So, ultimately, it boils down to echoing the anti-choice right-wing sentiment of women-as-nothing-more-than-meatsock-baby-incubators?

      • mcd

        i guess in a way, yah… sheila jeffreys even quoted the one right wing guy as echoing her views. maybe woman as many things including a baby incubator which is no small thing. i think that it might also be the idea that having this threat of violence/ life changes does affect people’s experience of the world. i for one am definitely 100% pro choice. maybe they just feel upset because they need more space or understanding and some individuals reacted in a way that was silencing to them, putting up everyones guard. who knows. i dont even know why im defending them. i guess i just agree with many of their arguments and I don’t see a reason to attack them without a thorough understanding

  • Marc Wood

    interestingly, Jeffries knows Cordelia Fine (author of Delusions of Gender) and had her give a guest lecture in 2011

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  • Lilith Morris

    Radical feminists are prevented from meeting together due to the actions of MRAs (as outlined here – http://www.mralondon.org/2013/04/the-london-irish-centrewin-or-lose.html?m=1 ). That a group of mens rights activists are able to shut down this (contested) women’s space benefits feminism how? Benefits trans women how?

    • stavvers

      Thing is, they’re probably lying. I wouldn’t believe anything the MRAs say.

    • Danah Gaz

      Except that’s not what happened. Both the radfems as well as the MRAs are attributing, wrongly, the cancellation to MRM activists.

      The stated reason for the cancellation as expressed by David Barlow, charity director of LIC
      ““We did some research into RadFem and discovered certain language was used and some statements were made about transgender people that would go against our equalities and diversity policy.”

      Here:

      http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/ireland/article1248683.ece

      I cannot believe the legs this MRA lie has. It’s amazing that people believe this in light of it being such an easily disproved falsehood.

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