Words to Avoid: Handmaiden

Women are victims of patriarchy, including those who have been brainwashed into supporting it.

We object to this term on several grounds:

  1. The targets of our criticism should be men
  2. It is our goal to liberate women, including those who are called “handmaidens.”
  3. It’s in-group language that marks us as fringe
  4. It’s mean, and mean to the wrong set of people at that

For more on the types of words we should avoid, click here.

For more on the ways that jargon is harming our cause, click here and here.


The Problem with Jargon

We must reject jargon, even if it’s ours, and speak in plain language.

Here are the major reasons:

  • Normalcy – Our position is reasonable, but certain activists have managed to paint us as a fringe faction of feminism with murky values. Let’s not use language that seems to reinforce that misconception.
  • Clarity – Jargon makes it difficult for disinterested third parties (unfamiliar with the finer points of the debates we find ourselves in) to follow what we’re saying.
  • Accountability – Jargon allows both sides to sidestep meaningful debate and rely on semantic trickery and obfuscation instead.
  • Refusal to Concede – Jargon defined by our opponents grants them too much power; they set the terms of the debate and we let them.
  • Kindness – Good debaters use the Principle of Charity, arguing as though their opponents act in good faith. To win over the general public and counter our undeserved reputation we must show that we’re compassionate.

Words to Reject: Transactivism/Transactivist

First, the fact that this is usually written as one word marks it as an in-group term, with all the aforementioned problems that entails.

Second, even as two words, it isn’t doing what you think it’s doing. You say “trans activist” like it’s a bad thing. But would observers feel like “minority rights activist” is a bad thing? How about “women’s rights activist?” Here’s one of those cases where plain language would convey a whole lot more. How about “a certain strain of activists, who have appeared on the scene in only the last decade or so, and are arguing for radical redefinitions of commonly understood words”? It’s a mouthful, but what else are you doing? Making the problem clear is your job as a feminist activist. In successive sentences you can say something like “these activists.”

Words to Reject: Gender

We recommend replacing this word with “sex stereotypes.” Gender enthusiasts will have a hard time explaining why “gender” is something more honorable, or even different, from “sex stereotypes,” and the onus will be on them to prove it’s something else.

Bystanders will be forced to consider exactly what is meant by “gender.”

And everyone will be prevented from confusing, or switching back and forth between, “gender” and “sex,” which sometimes occurs innocently (out of a belief that these are synonyms) and sometimes as a deliberate bait-and-switch (to convolute the discussion).

Words to Reject: Liberal Feminist

Besides reinforcing the dichotomy described in our article on “Radical Feminist,” this phrase doesn’t do a good job illuminating the problem with the belief system it describes. Most bystanders aren’t going to understand why stringing together two words they consider positive, “liberal” and “feminist,” should result in something negative.

Our Business

Our business is protecting the rights of women and girls.

That’s it.

More on this article is coming soon.

WoLF’s Tactical Error in Taking the Aimee Stephens Case

Certain activists have succeeded in painting “radical feminists” as people who oppose any and everything transgender people happen to get up to.

This is not our business.  Our business is protecting the rights of women and girls. How and whether that affects transgender people is beside the point.

Unfortunately, the public missteps of some radical feminists serves only to perpetuate this rumor.

Let’s talk about WoLF’s decision to intervene in the Aimee Stephens case. This was a lawsuit brought by a male transgender person who was fired for dressing in clothing the funeral home deemed appropriate for women.

A couple of points, out of the gate:

  • There were no women or girls involved in this case. Thus, radical feminists should not have shown any interest in this case.
  • To the extent that radical feminists should have an opinion on this case, our opinion should be to support sex non-conformity, just as we’d support it in the case of a woman who wanted to wear pants to work.

We’ve spoken elsewhere about the necessity of plain language that ordinary people, who don’t follow the “gender” debate, can follow and understand. If your position or your justification for it is tortured and difficult to follow, you’re not helping.

On the face of it, this seemed to be WoLF’s position:

  • As feminists, we support non-conformity to sex stereotypes
  • Aimee Stephens is a man
  • Aimee Stephens was fired for dressing in a way that was non-conforming to sex stereotypes
  • We support Aimee Stephens’ termination.

Wait, what?

The tortured bit of information that allowed WoLF to pursue this end, and that completely escaped the general public, as well as many other radical feminists, was this:

  • Aimee Stephens believed he was a woman, so supporting his clothing choices in this case is like validating his belief

There are several things wrong with this:

  1. Who cares! Aimee’s mistaken belief does not, in this case, directly take away the rights of any women or girls.
  2. If something is acceptable, like non-conformity to sex stereotypes, then it’s acceptable regardless of what thoughts people are having while doing it. Ditto with what’s not acceptable. Otherwise, we’re seeking to punish “thought crime,” which isn’t an acceptable legal precedent.
  3. A win for sex non-conformity is a win for women, and we should not interfere with that.

We understand that WoLF prepared a rebuttal for an anticipated argument from Aimee’s lawyer that the lawyer did not, in fact, end up making. But we hold that this doesn’t matter. Again, our proper involvement in this case was no involvement at all. And our proper position in this case was the one that supports sex non-conformity. And a position that stands or falls based on the thoughts swirling in Aimee Stephens’ head is not a good one.

We love WoLF, by the way, and this is not meant in the spirit of in-fighting. This is meant to illuminate the many ways in which we must sharpen our focus, clarify our language, and keep our eyes on what’s important.

Words to Reject: TERF

Many radical feminists (if you’ll temporarily excuse the phrase) have “reclaimed” this word. But you can’t reclaim a word that was never yours. This word was coined by our opponents and gives too much credit to the entire flawed framework within which it arose (more on that here). The word confuses bystanders. It makes us look fringe. It associates us with rumors of hate and violence, which third parties may not know whether or not to believe. But perhaps most importantly, it’s simply inaccurate.

To see why, let’s look at each part of this acronym (which, as you probably know, stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”).

Trans – The existence of the word “trans” in this acronym gives away our power right out of the gate. We are feminists: people who care about the rights of females. We aren’t defined by our relationship to trans people any more than we are defined by our relationship to sharks.

The word “trans” here also implies that we hold some position or other in relation to all trans people and only trans people. But the contentious position is a position about males. It isn’t a position about trans people as such.

As the oppressed class (females), we have opinions about the oppressor class (males). Our opinions about males (cross-dressed and otherwise) are different from those we hold about females (cross-dressed and otherwise). The “quarrel” (for lack of a better word) that led to the coining of this term is one started by entitled males, not by female-born trans people. So-called “trans-exclusive” events (like Michfest) exclude male people, not trans people.

Exclusionary – The word “exclusionary” implies, by design, that we are guarding the door to something just to be mean. But if the something is womanhood, then it’s not radical feminists who are denying access; it’s biology and reality. And if the something is a women’s festival, then it’s denied to all men (not just the cross-dressing ones) and usually open to all women (including the cross-dressing ones). And most of us don’t run women’s festivals, anyway, so most of us aren’t in the position to exclude anyone from them. Nor do women, on balance, hold the kind of power in business or politics or public life to deny other things to men. So we are not denying anyone access to anything.

The word “exclusionary” itself is additionally problematic, apart from whether or not it can be used to describe us. The word “exclusionary,” as opposed to the more common English word “exclusive,” is associated with the rhetoric of transgender ideology. And we concede too much ground when we play on our opponents’ playing field. “Exclusionary,” by design, has a negative connotation. “Exclusive” has a positive connotation. If I have an exclusive meeting with my friends, no one’s going to fault me for that. But if I have an “exclusionary” one, suddenly I’m being a jerk. It’s illegitimate to imply, via this odd form of a common term, that there’s something nefarious about holding events for specific people with specific interests.

It is not bad or “exclusionary” to hold (for example) a feminist meetup without inviting male people. We don’t say someone’s being “friend-exclusionary” when they go to a family gathering or “family-exclusionary” when they go to a work gathering.

Radical Feminist – “Radical” feminist, as opposed to just feminist, is a marked word. By using it we concede that we’re a weird faction of feminists instead of simply feminists. But feminism is still feminism even if some have bastardized it and marched for opposing causes under its name.

We should not give up the word “feminist” to fake feminists any more than we should give up the word “woman” to fake women.

Additionally, “radical,” though it means “root” in this context, is read by many as “extreme.” That connotation can confuse third parties who’ve heard rumors associating us with hate and violence, which they may legitimately be unsure whether or not to believe. More on why we should reject the phrase “radical feminist” here.

Reality Check: Everyone Agrees with Us

One of the effects of being labelled “terfs” or even “radical feminists” is that it perpetuates the myth that our views on biological sex are extreme or in the minority. This is why I advocate rejecting those words.

Nobody denies the “womanhood” of “trans women,” opponents like to say, except “terfs” and conservatives.

That is simply incorrect. Consider:

  • Both liberals and conservatives on the Supreme Court demonstrated their belief that Aimee Stephens, the funeral home employee who was fired for being transgender, was male and experienced discrimination based upon clothing expectations for males, as clearly articulated in their recent decision.
  • Until ten or twenty years ago, the mantra (much less the idea) that “trans women are women” didn’t exist. You wouldn’t have been able to find a person of any stripe who even pretended to believe such a thing, including (or perhaps especially) in the transsexual/LGBT/queer communities. If you could go back in a time machine to your high school days and repeat some of the claims transgender activists make today with a straight face, you’d be laughed out of the room. Or–no joke–committed. Because reality is a thing and denying it used to be recognized as mental illness.
  • People in much of the world outside of certain “woke” areas of the US and other wealthy countries find the claim that people can change sex absurd and openly say so. Many of them are too busy trying to avoid walking into gunfire or dying in childbirth to even put this frivolous non-issue on their radar. Trans people’s pronoun preferences are a first-world problem.
  • People who have never followed this debate, even in the aforementioned “woke” areas, don’t believe the claim either. Many folks don’t keep their noses buried in social media, clickbait, and “queer” culture, and are shocked and dismayed when they first hear that such absurd ideas have gained traction.
  • Old-school female trailblazers in the fight for women’s rights, whether or not they call themselves radical or even feminists, know better. See tennis legend Martina Navratilova and Miriam Ben-Shalom, the woman who challenged the military’s anti-gay policy in 1980.
  • Gay men aren’t down with this either. Because they’re often sociable, they play nice and they say the words they’re asked to say. But they’re homosexuals and in the end they aren’t interested in debating what that means.
  • Many, many transgender people disagree with the current rhetoric, including psychologist Anne Lawrence, comedian Eddie Izzard, detransitioners who feel they were harmed by it, and almost all old-school gay transsexuals who came out young and have had surgery. Current activists label the latter, the predecessors of their own movement, with the slur “truscum” for not climbing on board with outrageous claims about the nature of sex.
  • So-called trans people in other countries, including the “travesti boys” of Brazil and the Hijra of India, do not believe they are literally women. The phrase “third sex” is prevalent for such people around the world.
  • Your dad doesn’t think trans women are women. Do you think you could fix your dad up with a trans woman if your dad became single? Straight men don’t think trans women are women. Some might say they do, but when it comes right down to it, they like pussy.
  • Moderates, like conservatives, aren’t even pretending to buy it. A huge segment of the world is politically moderate and not all of these people are dicks. Some are decent people who hold conservative fiscal views or really liked Ronald Reagan or worry about social stability or just vote the way their parents did.
  • Here are some more people who don’t even feel like pretending: J.K. Rowling. Ricky Gervais. Ru Paul. Rose McGowen. Boy George. The writers for South Park. The writers for Family Guy.
  • Even the people who say “trans women are women” don’t believe that trans women are women. If pressed, they’ll admit it’s a semantic concession that is performed in the interest of being nice and signaling liberal/tolerant views.
  • Basically everyone knows that a “trans woman” is a type of man, not a type of woman.

So who believes “trans women are women?” Some trans people do, despite what a feat of cognitive dissonance that is. That’s the power of dysphoria. These seem to be mostly white, mostly affluent, mostly straight male people who engage heavily with social media.

Who pretends to believe it? Their friends.

The apparent dominance of the view that “trans women are women” comes from a vocal minority on social media who has too much time on their hands. Since people who say otherwise are de-platformed, we’re not hearing from people who say otherwise, either because they’re self-censoring or they’re being censored. And remember, people will torture other humans and electrocute puppies when they feel intense pressure to agree with something.

It turns out it doesn’t take a highly specific or extreme philosophy like a weird branch of feminism to recognize the existence of sex.

We are not extremists. People who think that people can literally change sex are extremists.