There’s a lot of nuance to feminism. Needless to say, all those nuances can’t be covered in one article. There’s a lot of different ways to go about practicing it—some of which are oppressive. Mainstream feminism (often referred to as “white feminism”) doesn’t recognize the nuances of race, class, gender or agender, dis/ability, sexual and romantic orientation, and so on; it doesn’t particularly think critically, and really only benefits white women of middle- and upper middle-class. Neo-liberal feminism seeks assimilation into existing power structures and has a heavily corporate focus. Intersectional Feminism strives to take all these nuances—these “intersections” where different types of oppression meet—into account and incorporate the larger structure of oppression intersectionality creates into their social justice work. Then, there are TERFs.
TERF is an acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist(s). TERFs are not feminists. If your feminism does not include people of Color, it’s not feminism; if your feminism does not include people living in poverty, it’s not feminism; if your feminism does not include queer people, it’s not feminism; if your feminism does not include people with dis/abilities, it’s not feminism; if your feminism excludes trans women and gender non-conforming people, it’s not feminism; if you feminism does not include sex workers, it’s not feminism. TERFs largely exclude trans women on the basis that biology—genitalia, chromosomes—defines gender, argue that transgender people, trans women specifically, transition only to gain access to women’s safe spaces. They even hold entire festivals, like the Michigan Women’s Festival, that openly exclude trans women.
TERFs push notions like Autogynephilia: not attracted to women, but specifically trans women having a sexual fetish for themselves as women. Autogynephilia is a fictitious dichotomy that oppresses both trans individuals inside and outside the gender binary and neurodivergent individuals (as this false rhetoric defines Autogynephilia as a mental illness, in addition to defining trans-ness as a mental illness). TERFs can often be heard saying that they’re not transphobic, they’re trans-critical. Which is the same thing is being transphobic, it’s just re-packaging ostentatious transphobia and inexorable transmisogyny in a package that sounds, in theory, less shitty. (It’s not less shitty.)
RadFems also are anti-sex work by cisgender women and incorporate that anti-sex worker stance in a truly hyper-focused emphasis on the fact that many trans women turn to sex work as a “survival crime” because of the cisgender privilege rampant in society that creates and maintains anti-trans violence; RadFems and TERFs actively deny cisgender privilege exists. (Goodness forbid that some sex-workers actually enjoy their work—a reality for some sex-workers that TERFs vehemently deny even as a slight possibility.)
In addition, their use of the word “radical” is misappropriated. As an adjective, “Radical” is defined in the Mariam-Webster Dictionary as 1) thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms, and 2) favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms. Intersectional feminism—feminism that makes it a point to include trans individuals of all shapes, sizes, varieties, and backgrounds—fits, to an extent, this definition. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists or “RadFems” are not radical feminists in the essence of the word despite their use of it; their use of the word has been twisted around to an extent so extreme that a now-accepted definition is one of trans exclusion. Hopefully, “radical” in the way TERFs define it will never become part of the dominant feminist lexicon.
Sometimes that happens with words, language evolves for better or worse. A “radical” is not (inherently, originally) a bad thing; radical is a person or action that wishes to tear down existing power structures and redistribute them in a manner that is more equitable for everyone. It is a person or action that is strong in their conviction for positive change. It’s a philosophy that stresses patriarchy (political and social structures that inherently oppress women—and other femme-type folks—while privileging men) and the need to tear down, or “Smash,” the patriarchal system because it creates such glaring social inequity that women and other marginalized groups (such as the few mentioned above) have little to no way of accessing the powers that would allow social equity. The structure of the society we live in prevents that, and so assimilation into that system is not the way to gain access to the privileges it distributes, only re-distribution of power and wealth through ending patriarchal systems can lead to that.
Intersectional Feminists, who are fighting tooth and nail for equality and inclusion of all marginalized groups, are not RadFems. We, and the demographics we are made up of will never exclude trans and gender non-conforming people. Biology is not destiny, but claiming that biology is destiny is nothing short of bigotry.