This is the paper that coined the term ‘intersectionality’. It is a working concept used widely for decades in systems that deal with violence and abuse, principally male violence and abuse and the subordination of women. It is about the erasure of the physical existence of women and distillation of it to legal fictions of discrimination that do not protect women, the emergence of systems around this intersection that deal with abuse and violence. Social work, domestic abuse, care economy, child abuse. It is about the routine subordination of women, of discussion of the violence that results, of activism ignoring these systems and of the way that women have organised and developed these systems regardless. It is directly relevant to austerity and the way these systems were targeted by austerity in the UK.
Trans women need to understand intersectionality and here is what it means for trans women:
Gender is not a binary it is a system which subordinates women, and means women have to live with and manage the risk of violence. Gender is a system which does not recognise the reality of womens lives, but which subordinates that reality. It is not innate. Trans women need to recognise that they are male, and their physicality and male privilege is not experienced by women. They need to recognise the fear women have of male violence and its justification. That women will recognise their maleness because of this. It means accepting that gender recognition procedures and access to female spaces will compromise women and children’s safety if there is no risk assessment contained within, and no recognition of that risk of violence and abuse that defines womanhood. It means trans women accepting they are male and women have to discuss the risk they pose.
It means accepting that gender recognition certificates which can be awarded to peadophiles and rapists, mean women cannot recognise holders of these certificates as women who pose no risk. It means understanding that women’s biology and reproductive systems are at the core of the inequality they experience. It means recognising they do not have the right to subordinate females any more. It means recognising male socialisation, privilege and tendency to violence and sexual violence. It means discussing violence against women in terms of the victim, not the identity of the perpetrator, even if that perpetrator identifies as a woman. It means recognising that women have created these systems and organised and respecting that achievement and also respecting that women’s voices and understanding of these systems is not contained in elite institutions. It means recognising women got feminism right. It was men and elite institutions who got it wrong.
It means recognising that when trans women threaten violence and abuse to get validation from women they are demonstrating masculinity. It means recognising that abuse, violence, and offending statistics are what divides men and women, not make up, clothes and hair. It means recognising that women are routinely subordinated through law, policy and activism and not doing that.
There is no interpretation of intersectionality that requires women admit males to their spaces without consideration of violence. Or that women’s sexual orientation must change to accommodate new male identities. Or that violence against women is now valid feminism. It means that males don’t subordinate women or ask them to erase themselves, just because they decided they identify as women. It means recognition of the way sex and race and class are not experienced separately, and these things compound to put women at risk. The physicality at the heart of this. That means recognising when you do not share it it is because you are male.
It means recognising that womens erasure, their subordination, is the tendency of males and leaving this at the door. Trans women need to grapple with intersectionality and what it means. It does not mean they are marginalised women.
What it does not mean is that women exist to validate males, should be forced to associate with males, should be forced to have males in their spaces without consideration of risk. It does not mean women have been getting feminism wrong, quite the opposite. Its that women have been successfully organising to create systems and aspects of the economy which deal with male violence for decades and the reality of these systems is not recognised at an elite level. It is a working concept that women do not need to read papers to understand but which males do.
Munroe Bergdorf’s demand that women subordinate their identity to hers, that they do not discuss their biology, these systems, and defer to her, is the demand of a male. At the core of intersectionality for professionals is reflection. Reflection on the power they hold. The same applies to trans women. It means women’s consent matters, violence against women matter and woman is not an identity that can be appropriated by anyone. It means women dont exist to validate men, their words are not violence to be suppressed with violence and their identities cannot be erased without harming them and children.