When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cast doubt on whether trans women were ‘real’ women, she not only did a disservice to the trans community, but to all women, says Toryn Glavin.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was once a symbol for female empowerment and a warrior in the ever-continuing fight for equality, so inspiring of modern women that Beyoncé featured her words prominently in the call for equality and the ode to womanhood that was Flawless.
But Adichie has shown herself up. When asked on Channel 4 News whether she believes trans women are true women, she responded with “my feeling is, trans women are trans women”.
Her suggestion that trans women are not true women harks back to a long-standing argument that those who wish to subjugate and oppress trans women have used: we’re not ‘real’ women. But why are people so obsessed with the status of trans women? We live in a patriarchal society. Men are at the top of the foodchain, and the idea that a ‘man’ may one day give it all up and live as a woman challenges this status quo. It suggests that maybe all genders are equally valuable and valid, a concept our society is clearly not yet ready to accept.
Womanhood is still considered a dirty thing. We’re not to speak too loud. We’re not to be too sexual. We’re not to have opinions, and heaven forbid we should run for the most powerful office on earth. Hillary Clinton, the most qualified candidate to ever run for President of the United States, and the first woman to do so, losing to a dangerous orange buffoon showed us that the world is not ready for true gender equality.
Here in Ireland we like to see ourselves as an enlightened nation, and I believe we rather are. Yet this state still does not allow women, and of course all those who can get pregnant, to choose what happens to their own bodies. The 8th amendment is just one high-profile example of the continued oppression of women in our society.
But where do trans women fit into this patriarchical oppression? This is a difficult question for feminists across the globe. As a trans woman and a feminist I would see trans women as fitting into the narrative of womanhood as just another group of women, as a group with different bodies, like women who are differently abled, or with a distinct experience of youth, such as those from a less privileged socioeconomic background. I think trans women should just be another tile in the beautiful, bright mosaic of womanhood.
Instead we face a constant questioning of our motives and of our identity. It seems impossible for us to be left alone. We are continuously forced to defend questions about our existence, and whether we are truly women. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not alone in her feeling that trans women must be ‘others’ in the court of woman, that we watch from the sidelines. She stands in esteemed company with figures such as Germaine Greer, who feel that their feminism compels them to oppress trans women.
It’s a big decision to transition. One which can cause trans people much pain and turmoil. It’s not easy to be seen as a ‘freak’ and to risk losing your family, friends and livelihood, all in the name of being authentic to who you are. Trans women’s struggles are real and they are valid. I fear that Adichie’s comments, coming from a place of ignorance and not malice, will really damage our community.
Having someone you respect coming out against your community in such a way is never an easy thing to go through. I worry for all the young trans women who may have looked up to Adichie, who may have sought comfort in her words and in her calls for equality. To hear this figure of fairness say what an oppressive society has been telling them for many years, that they are not true women, has the potential to be crushing.
Womanhood is a democracy. We come from a great many backgrounds with infinitely different experiences and opinions. This democracy can never give in to factionism. All women must stand together if we are ever to truly experience true equality. Those men in power will use our bickering and backstabbing to continue our oppression. They’ll remind us that we’re “emotional” and “unstable” and not fit for leadership. So we must stand as a united front.
Nobody has the right to tell you who you are. Each of us is the only true expert on our own identity. Women are strong and brilliant and vibrant and caring and flawed. We make mistakes. It would seem to me, however, that trying to pick and choose who gets into the female gender, would be the biggest mistake of all. We should accept all women, without condition, and with equal respect.
Chimamanada, our suffering and oppression is not what makes us women; it’s our spirit and our soul. You’d do well to remember this.