Disclaimer: This article is meant to act as a tool to help and educate people about some of the ways in which we either knowingly or unknowingly uphold cis centered feminism. It’s not meant to invalidate the lived experience of ‘cis women. Cis is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. I will refer to these women as ‘cis women’ throughout the rest of this article.
When people think of white feminism, their mind usually goes to rich entitled white women only repping each other. But, that’s not the whole story. It’s also cis women only repping each other as well. Unfortunately for me as a non-binary person, non-binary meaning someone who doesn't fully identify as a man or woman, I’ve encountered situations where calling this out gets me into hot water, even within my own community. If the cis person or people in question are well liked and well received by society, they become untouchable. Any attempt they make, no matter how small, is seen as a great stride.
This view is both charitable and hurtful at the same time. Okay, so you want to give credit where credit is due. I respect that. But, do you have to invalidate my feelings in order to do it? Do you have to devoid yourself of nuance and objectivity for the sake of being compassionate? There is a larger conversation to be had here, and that is what is and isn’t acceptable when calling out cis centeredness in feminist spaces. How much of yourself and the good of the community should we be willing to sacrifice in order to make a cis person feel at ease?
There is no simple answer or solution to dealing with these questions. It’s all perception based and everyone is going to have their own ideas of handling VS mishandling. One of the ways I will be attempting to tow the line between education and honesty is to discuss things from a large-scale perspective. Instead of naming names, I’ll be discussing concepts.
1. Stop Shoving Your Misconceptions About Biology Down Trans People’s Throats
First, stop viewing feminism as a dichotomy. It’s hard not to notice this, especially when the universal symbol for gender equality is this:
This symbol acts as a reinforcer that gender is strictly binary, i.e. your assigned sex at birth (AFAB) is the only thing that matters. Further reinforcement of this myth is all the 50/50 campaigns out there. Basically, 50/50 is code for having 50% men and 50% women in any given space or opportunity. I don’t want to take this away from cis women because a lot of them, especially women of color (WOC), have waited far too long for rights of any kind. There are still places in the world where women have less than no rights.
All I ask is that part of that 50% makes room for trans people too. Let’s go from the symbol above to this:
If we work together this is possible! And it’s possible in all spaces that discuss equality.
2. Educate Yourself and Others on Intersectionality.
Intersectionality is defined as the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
A lot of cis feminists view intersectionality through their lived experience as cis people. So, when someone tells a cis white woman she needs to implement intersectional practices into her feminism, her mind automatically jumps to WOC.
I’m thrilled that their minds go there. They NEED to. However, that’s only one part of it. Intersectionality also includes gender. I understand that going this extra mile is so difficult. You are dealing with a situation outside your lived experience. It’s confusing and you’re afraid to say or do the wrong thing. But, it’s a journey that needs to be made. You as a cis woman are going to have similar lived experiences to people of different genders i.e. trans men and non-binary assigned females at birth.
It’ll be a lot easier to rep all genders when you stop seeing gender so much. Yes, these issues are cis women’s issues, but, they’re also mine, my friend Aricia’s, and every other trans person assigned female at birth. The issues aren’t strictly woman. They’re human. Let’s treat them as such by fighting for equality of all genders, not just one.
3. Understand that Cis Women and Trans Women are Similar, but Experience the World Differently
I applaud cis women who use the term woman to include Trans women. I love that they recognize and acknowledge the existence of nonbinary femmes. However, it’s not always appropriate to group these people together. The way the hierarchy stands now is you have cis men at the top, cis women in the middle, and trans people all the way at the bottom.
What this means is there are times where you as a cis woman should remove yourself from this grouping in the interest of platforming those more marginalized than you and as an acknowledgement of the privilege you hold.
Now, on to perception. It’s very easy as a cis woman to see trans women and nonbinary femmes as being treated the same as you are by society. While this may be true to an extent, it’s not completely.
Here’s where the situations differ: your cis identity isn’t questioned. How you live based on you being a cis woman is. Trans people experience both to varying degrees. Take trans men for instance. As long as they are perceived by those around them as cis, they are given privilege. The second that perception changes, they are faced with a different level of discrimination from a cis woman.
4. Hold Female Organizations Accountable!
When you see a group that’s helping foster and promote women’s rights, of course you may want to get involved. How can you not? Pause. Before you get involved in something like this, I suggest doing some research. Does their definition of women include trans women? Are WOC involved? Do they seem like the kind of group that’d expand to include all trans people when asked to? Is there any indication that Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists AKA TERFs could be involved?
Remember, TERFs have weaponized the words woman, girl, and female to exclude trans women. In order to move into the realm of true intersectionality you have to “sharply question what you know” to shamelessly plug my favorite quote from Legally Blonde.
Take these 4 suggestions and become empowered to do more!
Rory Schwartz is a complicated nonbinary person. A lost and sometimes frustrated soul with a spark to act, a sharp tongue, and many, many opinions on many, many things. His/Her/Their debut novel, The Legacy Commencement, was released in August.