Blog 4: Feminism and Transgender Identity

Feminism and Transgender Identity

Florence Lubash & Rachel Simon

Undergraduate Research Final Report

Learning Outcomes

            The goal at the outset of this paper was to understand how different feminist ideologies may view issues facing transgender people. In order to achieve this goal, I looked at primary source documents from individual feminist scholars and theorists. To contextualize their work, I read anthologies and analysis of their work. Often, these texts seemed antiquated and many were written in terms of the issues of their day, but most of the texts felt live and malleable in their ideas. These texts are about issues impacting society, and their goals and views of society varied radically, but in the end, I was able to gleam one central idea. Feminism is the basis for transgender liberation, and transgender liberation is a key aspect of contemporary feminism.

Coming to that conclusion brought me to the second goal of this project, to answer the question, can feminist frameworks be reconstructed to accommodate transgender people? Originally, I had assumed that some feminist ideologies (radical feminism in particular) would be too closely linked to transphobic sentiments to create any basis for a trans inclusive feminism.

Learning about feminist politics is difficult because in comparison to any other political ideology, feminism is deeply fractured and constantly in flux. It is difficult to analyze history while it is being made. The goal of full understanding of feminist ideology in only two semesters was clearly a fool’s errand. For this reason, I chose to limit my analysis to only those ideologies which are most pressing and represented in contemporary feminist discourse.


 

Literature Review / Research Summary

            In “Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction” Rosemarie Tong and Tina Fernandes Botts, divide feminism into several different types of ideologies – liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist/ socialist feminism, women-of-color feminism, psychoanalytic feminism, care-focused feminism, ecofeminism, existentialist, poststructural, postmodern feminism, and third-wave or queer feminism. Each of these feminist ideologies view the oppression of women as having different root causes, impacts and requiring different solutions (Tong and Botts). Tong and Botts only specifically address transgender issues in an analysis of queer and third wave feminism (270).

In “Transgender History” Susan Stryker lays out the historical dynamics between transgender communities and feminist activism, theory, and practice (3-5). These dynamics are best understood through further analysis of primary texts from distinct time periods and written by authors across the feminist ideological spectrum.

Liberal feminism’s core tenants during first wave feminism can be found in Mary

Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” and Susan B. Anthony’s Speech after Arrest for Illegal Voting. These readings all show that the concerns of bourgeois white women were placed above those of working class and poor women, especially women of color. This is a problem which would not begin being addressed until third wave liberal feminism (Tong and Botts 35). The concerns in second wave became, according to Tong and Botts “gender equality and equal opportunity for women” (11). This tendency to focus on bourgeois white women lead to critiques by Marxist feminist and the creation of feminist movement for specific women of color.

Marxist feminism’s influences have been more ideologically consistent through the waves than liberal feminism, beginning with Engels The Origin of Family, Private Property and The State  (106-109). Contemporary socialist feminism in both the end of the second and beginning of the third wave start with Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist- Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Marxist feminism has focused on the plights of working women and the functions of capitalism as a system to oppress women (73).

Women of color feminism is different depending on the specific women of color a particular group of women in question, for example feminist movements exist for undocumented domestic laborers in a different way than for African American women at the forefront of the Black Panther movement (105). The tenants of Women of Color feminism can be found in the writings of Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” which addresses how often first wave feminism, specifically suffrage, focused on the rights and needs of rich white women. The evolution of this has been continued into third wave feminism and was specifically critiqued by Crenshaw in “Intersectionality and Identity Politics: Learning from Violence against Women of Color.”

Radical feminism was a phenomenon of second wave feminism which focused on lesbianism and reproduction (Tong and Botts 39). Radical feminism can be divided into cultural and libertarian, and each make very different conclusions about patriarchy and how best to dismantle it.

Existentialist, poststructural, and postmodern feminisms are important to transgender issues because they are the basis of the theory of gender as a social construction (231). This theory has enabled a lot of transgender theory to come into existence, a topic which Susan Stryker explores in “Transgender History.”

Third wave and queer feminism are movements which are related to each other, the rise of intersectionality gave rise to the need for contemporary queer feminist movements and the creation of transgender specific feminism (Tong and Botts 234,247). .

 


 

Conclusions Drawn from Research / Research Accomplishments

Although feminist movements have not always viewed transgender issues as feminist concerns, there is no basis for a contemporary feminist movement which does not incorporate the concerns of transgender people. While this is a contentious belief, it is not one without rigorous historical and ideological precedent. To understand the role trans people play in feminism, one must examine how systems oppressing cisgender women often also oppress trans people. The systems of oppression which impact the lives of cisgender women, such as patriarchy, capitalism, reproductive healthcare, often manifest in similar ways in the lives of transgender people. The systems of patriarchy can be understood as linked to the gender binary as systems which oppress anyone who is not a cisgender men. Deconstruction of the gender binary is in many ways a struggle parallel to the deconstruction of patriarchy. For this reason, all feminist ideologies and their goals can be used as a basis for understanding and dismantling systems which marginalize transgender people.

Radical feminism is one of the feminist ideologies which on its face may appear to be in the most tension with affirming transgender people. Radical feminism can be separated into libertarian and cultural radical feminism. Radical libertarian feminism views gender as something which should, ideally, join male and female to create an androgynous gender identity. Both of these would seem to assert a gender binary and an inheren “womanly” essence of certain people. However, the goals of both cultural and libertarian radical feminism benefit from trans inclusion.

Radical Libertarian feminism’s idea of an androgynous gender identity being an ideal one is something which can become part of culture which does not strictly divide gender into male and female. Constructing more gender identities and more labels for gender identities helps both transgender people and libertarian feminists critique of patriarchy. If women are oppressed because “feminine” gender identities are treated as lesser, and the best solution is for women to  partake in the best aspects of masculinity and femininity, having people who exist as neither male nor female, man nor woman, allows cisgender women’s androgyny to be more socially acceptable.

Radical cultural feminism has evolved into movements which are hostile towards transgender people, especially transgender women, this is because a central conceit of radical cultural feminism being that women’s oppression stems from a “inherently woman nature.” This nature, according to many radical cultural feminists, is their reproductive capacity. While this may seem as something inherently opposed to an understanding of womanhood as a socially constructed phenomenon, the end goals of radical cultural feminism can be achieved within such a framework. According to both radical cultural and libertarian feminists, one of the central pieces of women’s marginalization is that they are required for all reproduction, and men can be mostly absent from the birthing and rearing of children. In a world where trans men are seen as men, and the biological binary of gender is overthrown and all bodies become capable of giving birth through both biological and technological means, then everyone can become part of the responsibility of reproduction.

In contrast to radical feminism, contemporary liberal feminism is trans inclusive. Liberal feminism in the modern day derives largely from Crenshaw’s essay on intersectionality, and ways of understanding interlocking oppression and privilege. Therefore the marginalization of transgender people must be understood as one form of oppression which is compounded with race, class, sexuality, ability, and other forms of marginalization.

Marxist feminism is also more inherently trans inclusive, but for different reasons than liberal feminism. Marxist feminism focuses on the class based oppression of people, and since most transgender people are working class, there issues are largely the concerns of the proletariat. Here, one must note that women are not, in the classic Marxist conception, a class. Rather, their oppression exists both as bourgeois women and proletarian women, and the same is true of transgender people. The oppression of transgender people exists regardless of class, but the advancement of working class trans people can not be won through those means which benefit rich transgender people. From a Marxist perspective, there must be an overthrow of classes entirely for their to be liberation, and without class, transgender people’s personhood would be affirmed and accepted, and those institutions both medical and legal would no longer be exclusive to bourgeois transgender people.

Women of color feminism is arguably the most analogous to transgender feminism or queer feminism as they both exist as critiques of contemporary feminism, and seek to address the concerns of specific people. The use of intersectionality allows women of color feminism and queer feminism to become ideologically connected movements, and not compete for resources. This is necessary for many transgender women of color especially because they are oppressed both as transgender people and people of color.

Existentialist, poststructural, and postmodern feminism are important starting points for transgender theory and the conception of gender as a social construction. Although not all people who believe gender is socially constructed affirm transgender existence, many of the most influential figures like Judith Butler do. For this reason, existentialist, poststructural, and postmodern feminism can be seen as base framework to build off of to analyze how we think about gender and how transgender people change those societal conceptions.

 

Reflection

            The research project I have done has been a great lesson in terms of research. I have learned how to do research more efficiently and manage my time, and I am extremely happy with the research aspect of this project.

The aspect of this project I am most disappointed in by far is the paper. I should have been working on a final product for far longer than I have. I ended up writing a report with a few weeks before the due date, and the result has been far less than what I had hoped for at the outset. I do not reference my sources nearly as much as I wanted to, and my lit review is the only section I really reference my sources effectively. As such, I want to continue working on this paper individually because I believe I have the start of a genuinely valuable idea.

The experience has also given me insight into how to work with other people who are knowledgeable in a topic. Rachel Simon, my faculty advisor, helped me navigate research in capacities I had not tried before. She helped me get in contact with other members of faculty who had expertise and could help with my research.

 


 

Works Cited

Feminist Theory: A Reader. Edited by Kolmar, Wendy K. and Bartkowski, Frances. 

McGraw Hill. 2013.

  • Anthony, Susan B. Speech after Arrest for Illegal Voting. 1872.
  • Bambara,Toni Cade. “Foreword” from This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by

Radical Women of Color. 1981.

  • Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex.
  • Bunch, Charlotte. “Not for Lesbians Only.” 1975.
  • Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Intersectionality and Identity Politics: Learning from

Violence against Women of Color.” 1997.

  • Combahee River Collective. “A Black Feminist Statement.” 1977.
  • Engles, Fredric. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
  • Hartway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist

Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” 1985.

  • Millet, Kate. “Theory of Sexual Politics.” 1969.
  • National Organization for Women. “Statement of Purpose” 1966.
  • “The Woman Identified Woman.” 1970.
  • Sanger, Margaret. “Birth Control-A Parent’s Problem or Woman’s” 1920.
  • Serano, Julia. “Trans woman Manifesto.” 2007.
  • Stanyont, Elizabeth Cady. “Declaration of Sentiments.” 1848.
  • Terrell, Mary Church. “The Progress of Colored Mana.” 1898.
  • Truth, Sojourner. “Ain’t I a Woman.” 1851.
  • Truth, Sojourner. “Keeping the Thing Going While Things Are Stirring.” 1867.
  • Weathers, Mary Ann. “An Argument for Black Women’s Liberation as a

Revolutionary Force.” 1969.

  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Stryker, Susan. “Transgender History.” New York, New York, Seal Press, 2017. Second Edition.

Tong, Rosemarie and Botts, Tina Fernandes. “Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive

Introduction.” New York, New York, Westview Press, 2018. Fifth Edition.

 

Blog Post #3: Undergraduate Research

In order to address the progress I have made so far in this work, I think it best to first list what I have read so far.

Books

  1. Transforming Feminism
  2. Transgender History
  3. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves

Sections of Feminist Theory: A Reader

First Wave

  1. Mary Wollstonecraft, Chapter 2,7, and 13 from A Vindication on the Rights of Women
  2. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments”
  3. Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I A Woman”
  4. Sojourner Truth, “Keeping the thing going while things are stirring”
  5. Susan B. Anthony, Speech after Arrest for Illegal Voting
  6. Friedrich Engels; from The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State
  7. Mary Church Terrell “The Progress of Colored Women”
  8. Alexandra Kollontai “Working Women and Mother”
  9. Margaret Sanger “Birth Control – A Parent’s Problem or Woman’s?”
  10. Joan Riviere “Womanliness as a Masquerade”
  11. Simone de Beauvoir  Introduction and Chapter 12 of The Second Sex

Second Wave

  1. National Organization of Women, “Statement of Purpose”
  2. Kate Millett, “Theories of Sexual Politics”
  3. Mary Ann Weathers, “An Argument for Black Women’s Liberation as a Revolutionary Force”
  4. Radical Lesbians, “The Woman Identified Woman”
  5. Charlotte Bunch, “Not For Lesbians Only”
  6. Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement”
  7. Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”
  8. Heidi Hartmann, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism”

Third Wave

  1. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”
  2. Judith Butler from Gender Trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
  3. Rebecca Walker, “Becoming the Third Wave”
  4. Kimberle Crenshaw, “Intersectionality and Identity Politics: Learning from Violence against Women of Color”
  5. Anne Fausto-Sterling, “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?”
  6. Julia Serano, “Trans woman Manifesto”

Throughout this research project one problem I have run into is the abundance of feminist texts from each wave of feminism, this made parsing what was relevant difficult on several occasions. Not many feminist texts directly address transgender issues, and frequently when these issues were addressed they were done so without an inclusive framework, and worked to further marginalize trans women.

Because transgender issues are relatively new in discourse, there are times when I would skim longer works to decide if I needed to read them fully. This allows me to have a wider breadth of literature for the research project.

I have undergone more intense research sessions this semester. This has been a great experience for me, but it has been tiring!

Rachel Simon has helped me a lot by giving me access to two textbooks which have functioned as great sources for this work, and allowed me to do more actual research work than just trying to figure out what exactly I needed to search in online databases.

So far from doing this project, I have come to a number of conclusions which I will more fully develop in my final product:

  1. Trans issues have often been excluded from Feminist discourse
  2. In feminism, the needs of marginalized groups are often secondary to those of wealthy white women
  3. WOC often experience a disconnect with mainstream (usually liberal) feminism
  4. The notions of gender variance are central to many radical feminist works, BUT this does not always mean they encourage people to identify as genders different than their gender assigned at birth
  5. First wave liberal feminism was centered on voting rights (for women – mostly white and upper class)
    1. This is a similar pattern to a lot of contemporary feminist and LGBT movements
    2. Strict, single issue campaigns
  6. Marxist / Socialist feminism often began with the writings of  men, but eventually women would contribute to this ideology
  7. Just because members hold a specific identity, their work does not always contribute to the of liberation of their own identity group, therefore it is sometimes anti-feminist
  8. Intersectionality is a valuable concept when exploring the ideas of inclusive feminism, but often misused in feminist discourse
  9. Trans issues have always existed in the United States, but were not always part of feminist movements

Blog #2: Undergraduate Research

At this point in my research I have looked at the texts “Transforming Feminism: Trans Feminists Speak Out,” “Trans Bodies Trans Selves,” and “Transgender History.” These books have given me basic insight into how transgender people are discussed in both feminist discourse and transgender specific spaces. They have not yet given me clear lines between feminist perspectives I wish to analyze, but they have pointed to a lot of perspectives in the modern day around transgender issues.

“Transforming Feminism: Trans Feminists Speak Out” is a Canadian text, and my research focus is transgender identities and feminism in the United States. In order to solve this problem, my faculty advisor and I decided to focus on the sections of the text which are applicable across national boundaries. One example of transnational topics include how resources for survivors of sexual assault and rape are used in relation to transgender survivors.

“Trans Bodies Trans Selves” has given me insight on how issues of gender intersect with issues of race, immigration status, and class. This text will be helpful for analyzing how trans issues fit into the future of feminism.

“Transgender History” adresses how discussions around transgender issues have evolved in the United States. A lot of the information from this text will be used to differentiate feminist perspectives both over time and by ideology.

Throughout the research process, I have found new questions to look into more closely during winter intersession as I finalize my research. One problem I have had to grapple with is how broad my research can get, and Rachel Simmon has helped me ensure I am not just reading this for the sake of completion if they won’t be helpful to the final paper. Rachel has also helped me use on campus resources to better my research process. Pace University Librarian Sarah Burns-Feyl has guided me to a number of resources I have accessed through the library.   

 

Blog Post 1 Undergraduate Research

Purpose, Goals, and Objectives

In our research project “Feminist Perspectives on Transgender Identity” we will explore how different feminist ideologies address the issue of transgender and gender nonconforming identities. The objective of this research paper will be to explore how varied Feminist philosophies and perspectives address the issues of transgender identities, the ways in which feminist beliefs inform those views, cultural and historical context for trans exclusion, and the value of transgender inclusion in feminist movements.

Research questions:

  1. What are the primary feminist perspectives?
  2. What do these perspectives have to say about transgender identities?
  3. What is the impact of these perspectives both on feminism and transgender people?
  4. How does one identify if trans-inclusivity is present in the feminist framework?
  5. How is trans-inclusivity important to the future of feminist movements?

What you expect to achieve or learn:

            During the course of researching this project I am hoping to learn about how transgender lives and identities have been viewed throughout US history. I want to examine the influence on feminist movements from trans identities and historical and cultural contexts. Through this project I hope to help individuals understand how feminist thought around transgender people is a deeply varied, even if the end result of those beliefs is similar. Looking at different inclusive feminist frameworks will allow me to understand varied philosophies (Marxist feminism, materialist, intersectional, etc.) come to common conclusions from diverse starting points.

Research Methods:

In order to answer the research questions, we will perform a combination of historical and document based analysis. We will first examine the historical contexts in the United States under which topics and conceptions of gender and gender identity have evolved over time. We will look at texts, studies, and other documents to analyze feminist perspectives on issues of transgender identity at the time, and how these were expressed. Using the information gathered through this research we will then apply it to contemporary feminist thought, and hopefully come up with a conclusion on the role of trans-inclusivity in the future of feminist movements.