The well-known and influential radical feminist Gloria Steinem has written an apology (of sorts) about her past anti-trans writing.
On the one hand, she’s AFAIK the only well-known TERF who’s ever bothered to do even that much; on the other hand, the apology follows a notpology script just a tad too well*: she blames any harm caused on the internet, devotes most of the essay to explaining why she didn’t mean harm, and phrases the apology-line as very close to the standard “I’m sorry you were offended” notpology, saying “I’m sorry and sad if any words floating out there from the past seem to suggest anything other than support, past and present”. And then there’s the problem noted by activist Janet Mock in a tweet earlier today:
[Janet Mock @janetmock
Not once in the op-ed does @GloriaSteinem write “trans women.” Doing so would recognize the fact that trans women are women. #girlslikeus]
Further, Toni D’Orsay points out that Steinem did more than write an essay. She actively contributed to the inclusion of TERFs into a feminism that had until then accepted trans individuals**:
IT wasn’t until Daly and similarly like minded lesbian separatists started getting really loud, really angry, and really offensive that trans people became an issue.
They did that at first from outside the mainstream of radical feminism.
Steinem was one of the people who helped to bridge that divide. Who worked to secure that change so that lesbian women could be included, and one of the ways she did that was to bring in Daly’s work and Raymond’s work into the awareness of mainstream readers through the vehicle of MS magazine and the New Yorker.
Monica Roberts at TransGriot similarly expands on Steinem’s actual contributions to cissexism:
Because you referred to SRS surgeries multiple times as ‘mutilation’, it gave credibility to the 1980 paper that Raymond wrote to Congress that led to SRS being eliminated from Medicare and Medicaid coverage and the insurance company medical exclusions on trans related health care.
It co-signed the anti-trans attitudes in feminist circles that have led to the suffering and deaths of far too many trans people. It led to trans people being cut out of desperately needed LGBT human rights legislation in the 80s, 90’s and early 2k’s.
Still, she said something that wouldn’t come out of the mouth of a dedicated trans-exclusive feminist; she said that “transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make.” That is a big admission. An admission that she will, however, have to follow up with real deeds to undo the damage she’s caused and use her influence in feminism and in society as a whole to fight for the rights and acceptance of trans people; including trans women. Probably the simplest thing to do right now (for example) would be to sign the Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism. And Monica Roberts provides another (non-exhaustive) list of actions for Steinem to take:
Lobby with the trans community in Washington DC for a trans inclusive ENDA. Call out the trans exclusionary radical feminists and help us get the Southern Poverty Law Center to declare them as a hate group. Declare there is no room in feminism for anti-trans hatred and bigotry. As a Smith alum you can help us ensure that your alma mater puts admissions policies in place that allow qualified trans feminine students to enroll there.
Then, of course, there’s the other toxic effects of her paricular flavor of feminism. She’s yet to even do this kind of acknowledgment in the context of her anti-sex-work activism. She’s still promoting the Rescue Industry, and just today she tweeted support for a petition to get the UN to alter its stand (which is based on research and on listening to sex workers) on the decriminalization of sex work:
— Gloria Steinem (@GloriaSteinem) September 30, 2013
[Gloria Steinem @GloriaSteinem
United Nations: #ListenToSurvivors — don’t jeopardize efforts to prevent #sextrafficking http://tinyurl.com/m8chxo5 ]
Overall, I’d say this is a babystep in the right direction. Not something she should be given any ally-cookies for, since it still fails to acknowledge the entirety of the harm done as a result of her anti-SRS work and her promotion of TERFs in feminism, and doesn’t so much as acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with any of her sex-work-prohibitionism. At this speed***, she’ll likely be dead before she arrives at a genuine apology for all of it; and even if not, many trans people and sex workers are going to suffer and die before she ever gets around to undoing the damage she helped/helps cause to them.
***Trigger Warning: TERF reactions to Steinem’s op-ed***
However, even this microscopic step forward has pissed off other TERFS. Maybe if they’ll now spend their time sniping more at each other, and less at trans women and trans rights activists, that would be an improvement [/wishful thinking]. Examples:
[Incendiary Lover @incendiarylover
absolutely devastated & pissed that @GloriaSteinem has opted to erase women & lesbians w/transjacktivist sell out #radfem #cottonceiling]
[Actual Dykes @ActualDykez
As Lesbians, we feel @GloriaSteinem has no idea what is happening to Lesbians under Transgenderism #cottonceiling http://fb.me/6CR6zgeZT ]
[E. Hungerford @ehungerford
Gloria Steinem adopts #neolib identity politics as a means to end oppression against women. WHAT? GENDER hurts women http://goo.gl/XkcFTO ]
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*also, I’m thinking “twin-spirited” is a mangling of “two-spirit”, the term adopted by North American tribes to describe gender minorities. It bugs me that she didn’t bother to even do a google-search to get this right (I did, to make sure “twin-spirited” isn’t an accepted alternative, or some other concept I hadn’t heard of).
**please do read the entire essay, it’s eyeopening if you’re not familiar with the history of and current actions by TERFs in feminism! the linky again. And also read the TransGriot piece in its entirety: linky again
***the text in question**** was written over 36 years ago, and supposedly she only now realizes that it’s criticism of SRS might get interpreted as being anti-SRS, even though it was part of the discourse that led to SRS (and other even vaguely transitiony medical treatments) being dropped from public aid and private insurance, as Monica mentions in her piece. Snails and glaciers would be insulted by a comparison.
****which also describes mutilation of intersex babies as “rescue”. Jesus Fucking Christ. Has she apologized for that yet?!