Who Owns the Playing Field?

A cultural debate is raging about whether women’s and girls’ rights should be subordinated to men’s rights whenever men identify as women.

Currently, our opponents have home field advantage because they built the field. They characterized us as “anti-trans” instead of pro-female. They sabotaged Michfest and then blamed the conflict on us.  They invented words centered on transgender interests and got us to legitimize them by using them. They convinced social media that we hold fringe views instead of common and reasonable views. They took our focus away from the rights of women and girls and refocused us on the concerns of trans people. We took the bait. We now talk about autogynephilia and pronouns more than we talk about reproductive rights and keeping girls in school.

The field they’ve built is made of circular reasoning, threats and jargon. We need to play on a different field–one in which we have the advantage. That field is honesty, bravery and plain language. Our home field advantage is truth and clarity.

To win this debate, we must first refuse the terms and conditions of the debate as it currently stands; these were set up by our oppressors. To that end, we should reject not only the words invented by “their side” (like “cis”) but also the words invented by “our side” in direct response to them (like “TRA”).

Here’s why: when we create our own words–words that no one else uses–specifically for the purpose of refuting absurd arguments, we grant validity to those absurd arguments–and we show our willingness to work within the framework in which they arose. But the framework is faulty and it needs to be discarded.

Imagine a group of respected geologists runs into a group of angry young-Earth creationists. In reality, the scientists would likely pay the creationists little attention, especially in the public sphere.

Imagine if instead of blowing off young-Earth creationists as irrational, geologists invented words for them like, I don’t know, GEDRAs (geology-denying religious activists), and then used these words in science documentaries and television shows. Bystanders would wonder, quite correctly, why the geologists would waste their time. Scientists have the upper hand against religious quacks. Scientists have truth on their side. Unless the scientists feel threatened, and they shouldn’t, they’ve no need for this “GEDRA” business. It exposes an insecurity on their part. It would be better if they spent their time advancing geology instead of getting in pissing matches with its detractors.

So it is when we create words like “TRA.”

A much better approach would be to speak in plain language and to insist on plain-language responses. This disarms the people who can’t explain themselves and strengthens those who can, which works in our favor.

We must reject jargon, even if it’s ours.

Jargon reinforces rumors that we belong to a fringe faction of feminism with murky values.

It makes it difficult for disinterested third parties (unfamiliar with these debates) to follow what we’re saying.

It allows both sides to sidestep meaningful debate and rely on semantic trickery and obfuscation instead.

It gives the power back to the oppressor, as he’s setting the terms of the debate and we are letting him.

And much it appears mean to bystanders. Being mean is against our best interests.

Think about whether you can defend the claims you wish to make with plain language. You can (especially since everyone already agrees with us). Now think about whether your opponents can defend their claims without relying on poorly-defined in-group language and repetitive mantras. They cannot. Their jargon serves to cover up, deflect and confuse. And it works.

Using plain language is the intelligent, professional and poised thing to do. Using in-group language obscures our message and makes us look petty and peripheral.

Words to Reject: Radical Feminist

Perhaps you’ve heard of the linguistic concept of “marked” words. People say “female doctor” but not “male doctor” because it’s assumed that most doctors are male–the male doctor is just the “regular” doctor while the female one is the anomaly. Here, “female” is marked. Likewise, people say “male nurse” but not “female nurse” because it’s assumed that most nurses are female.

When we call ourselves “radical feminists” instead of just “feminists,” we concede that we are a special weird faction of feminists. We concede that the other feminists, the ones some call “liberal feminists” but who generally call themselves simply “feminists,” are the standard kind.

But that is both incorrect and a tactical error on our part. “Feminism” has a meaning. It is those other feminists, not us, who have abandoned feminism. We want women’s liberation. Those who defend practices which enslave women, such as the porn industry, depart from feminism. We want to work for the collective good of women. Those who favor individual expression over an analysis of patriarchal oppression depart from feminism. And those who have not read and will not read the foundational works of their predecessors (second wave feminists), because they’ve been told not to, are the ones who betray the movement they purport to belong to.

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.

We are not a special kind of feminists to be compared to the “regular” feminists, and we should not allow ourselves to be labeled as such. We should simply call ourselves “feminists.”

If someone gets confused about where our positions fit in among all the other positions being called “feminist,” good! We should infiltrate fake feminism with real feminism, not allow fake feminists to infiltrate and indeed take over a movement that is rightfully ours.

Of course, “radical” in this context means “root.” Radical feminism is feminism that examines the roots of women’s oppression. If we find it necessary to modify the word feminism to call out this distinction, which we argue will occur infrequently, we recommend using the term “roots feminism.” This prevents opponents and bystanders from believing or pretending to believe that the “radical” in “radical feminism” means something like “extremism” (which they are wont to do).

And yes, we know the word “rad” is in the URL of this site, but we needed to get your attention.

More on words we should reject here and here.