Is Feminism Outdated? / The Need for Trans Liberation

Or perhaps I should ask, is the word feminism outdated? I’m not questioning whether we live in a postfeminist society, as I think the answer’s pretty clear — compared to (cis)men, (cis)women still make fewer than eighty cents on the dollar, there are still huge double standards, etc. etc. etc. However, the feminist movement’s narrow focus (women’s equality, women’s rights) does not seem expansive enough for the society in which we live.

I have absolutely claimed myself to be a feminist in the past; unlike some, I’ve never had an issue with using the “f-word” as BMC’s Women Center’s “Use the F-Word: Feminist” t-shirts called them. Once I took a feminist theory course, I began to add clarifications — I’m a third-wave feminist; I believe in intersectionality. I tried to separate myself from the (straight, white, middle- to upper-class, able-bodied, ciswoman) second-wave feminists and from the extremists and misandrists that people like Christina Hoff Sommers pretend represent all feminists. (For the record, I can’t stand Christina Hoff Sommers. I just want to make that very, very clear.) Nevertheless, I still claimed a strong tie to feminism.

Nowadays, however, I look at the word itself, and it makes me uncomfortable. Feminism. It’s about women. Even the word itself exclusively focuses on women. That just doesn’t seem right to me. Back when I claimed most strongly to be a feminist, my definition involved people being treated equally regardless of gender (not merely supporting women).

And since I’ve realized more clearly that there’s more to gender than just women and men, the word “feminism” seems short-sighted and exclusive. There should be a movement to make society better for people of all genders — of course, Leslie Feinberg argues that “trans liberation” is a movement for all people, women and men included.

I originally thought of “genderism,” but then I realized that I’ve also considered that as a term for treating people differently based on gender (similar to the word “racism,” but for gender). It’s interesting how adding “ism” as a suffix to a word can do so many things. The use of “ism” in feminism, for example, is completely different from the use of “ism” in racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and heterosexism.

There is absolutely not gender equality in U.S. society — not in terms of formal, legal equality, and definitely not in terms of actual, practical, day-to-day equality. Furthermore, there is not gender self-determination — we, ourselves, should have the right to decide what our gender is and what that means to us. In order to change this, we need to all work together. This is not merely a problem for women; this is not merely a problem for men; this is not merely a problem for trans and gender non-conforming people: this is a problem for everyone. Feinberg wrote:

And if you do not identify as transgender or transsexual or intersexual, your life is diminished by our oppression as well. Your own choices as a man or a woman are sharply curtailed. Your individual journey to express yourself is shunted into one of two deeply carved ruts, and the social baggage you are handed is already packed.

So the defense of each individual’s right to control their own body, and to explore the path of self-expression, enhances your own freedom to discover more about yourself and your potentialities. This movement will give you more room to breathe — to be yourself. To discover on a deeper level what it means to be yourself (6).

Instead of feminism, we need trans liberation. We need an inclusive movement that works for the good of all people. We need to work together. We all deserve a world in which neither our sex, nor our gender, holds us from our full potential. We all deserve a world in which we decide what will happen with our bodies. We all deserve a world in which we can both fully express ourselves and determine what it means for us to do so. We all deserve a world in which we can be free from the sexism, misogyny, transphobia, and deeply restrictive gender and sex binary systems that currently hold us down. Let us work together to make that world our world.


Feinberg, Leslie. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

4 responses to “Is Feminism Outdated? / The Need for Trans Liberation

  1. I love this post, basically. I really don’t know why we have to focus on women when gender inequality hurts everyone. I’m actually writing a paper about this right now (I know, you don’t do such things anymore).

  2. i think you’re getting at something important here, and i would push it a little bit too. when you said “Instead of feminism, we need trans liberation,” i would say we need both, because they’re different, overlapping, important kinds of work. the gender binary isn’t the only kind of gender oppression that exists: women, female-assigned people, and feminine people/femmes all experience forms of sexism, whether or not they transgress gender norms. and ftm-spectrum/transmasculine people often experience transphobia, but can also sometimes acquire privilege for living in a sexist world as male or masculine. julia serano’s book ‘whipping girl: a transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity’ really pushed my thinking on this stuff. there are so many different feminisms, and i feel like we need to invest our energy wholeheartedly into the ones that call for gender self-determination while also looking at the way power works to value maleness/masculinity over femaleness/femininity.

    • You are definitely right. Perhaps I should have said, “instead of just”? Maybe not. I still think (hypothetically, at least) that if we were able to get rid of the idea (in people, in culture, in institutions) that men need to be/act/look a certain way, and women need to be/act/look a certain way, and males need to be men, and females need to be women, and males/men/masculinity is better than females/women/femininity, and that everyone needs to be woman or man, female or male, etc., then all forms of gender oppression would be gone. (I mean, in so far as it can be while there’s still racism, classism, ableism, etc.) And in that (limited?) sense, the concept of trans liberation covers feminism and combats all forms of gender oppression.

      But there’s still need for . . . more specific movements within that, perhaps? I just think that they should realize that they all (hopefully) have a common goal. But, yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that the gender binary is the only kind of gender oppression that exists, or that it’s the worst/most important on which to focus kind.

      As to Julie Serano, I’ve never actually read her book (although, clearly, I should), but I saw her speak at Bryn Mawr in the spring of 2009, a week before Translate Gender came to Bryn Mawr, and she definitely gave me a lot of food for thought. I think she’s the first person I’ve heard (that I remember, given my tendency to not take to heart things until I’m ready for them or something) who used the word transgender in a more inclusive, broader, more than the classic (stereotypical?) transsexual narrative sort of way.

      As to feminisms, I don’t think I’ve heard of one that really calls for gender self-determination (which probably just means that I haven’t been looking in the right directions), but your last sentence sounds like a good idea. It would probably do me good to take a few steps back and do some more looking in various forms of feminism, as I’ve sort of neglected over the past year or so.

      Also, thanks for commenting, and thanks for giving me more to think about. I have a tendency to make sort of sweeping statements, and then people don’t call me on them . . . and then I don’t have to reassess what I think/what I’ve written when I probably should.

      PS. I hope that made some kind of sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s