Regarding the scarcity of women-only spaces

Natalie Van Gogh, 44, stands at the podium after taking first place in a 2019, 50 km, Dutch women’s cycling championship. Source: Swaboladies.nl

Once again, in the Seattle Times, we’re treated to the nauseating spectacle of a comfortably employed, middle class woman, giving away the rights and privacy of other women and girls, seemingly without a thought for anything besides how many men are going to praise her as an ally:

“Gender-critical radical feminists did not just wake up one day to believe transgender people do not and should not exist. They evolved as a reaction to the oppression of women and homophobia against lesbians. These radical feminists believe that focusing on gender threatens cisgender women and girls by allowing “men” into women’s spaces and they believe that only a strictly biological definition of sex, not gender, protects the forward progress of cisgender women and girls. Unfortunately, their reaction to that oppression was to oppress others, targeting an already vulnerable and extremely marginalized group.

“The scarcity mindset that these women espouse would seek to roll back the progress the queer and transgender liberation movements have made to create a more expansive view of gender and identity — one that allows for not just transgender people but gender nonconforming and nonbinary people as well.”

Starting with the blatant falsehood that we believe that any group of people “should not exist,” a charge meant to falsely accuse us of genocidal intent when we’ve never called for harm to anyone, Naomi Ishisaka suggests that we’re wrong to “believe” in biological sex, and that we’re oppressing men who identify as transgender.

We “believe” in biological sex like we “believe” that water is wet. It’s an aspect of the physical world that exists outside of our beliefs, outside of human society.

And anyone who insists that women are the true oppressors of men isn’t a feminist, so their lectures about what constitutes real feminism are going to be unconvincing. 

Maybe Ishisaka hopes that by including some men in the category of womanhood, other men will be more interested in supporting our causes. But it’s been very easy for left-leaning men to support causes that benefit trans-identified men — such as eliminating girls and womens sports in favor of a mixed-sex category — without doing much of anything to address, for instance, the epidemics of sexual harassment and violence faced by women in every part of the country, and in every industry or professional space, regardless of how the men involved like to vote.

Yet the most important part of this metaphysical argument that we can wave away reality by an act of will is the claim about a “scarcity mindset.” 

To be fair, Ishisaka is defending policies that won’t facially reduce the number of women-only spaces in society. The claim from groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU is that there will still be women’s changing rooms, and there will only be “women” in them. If you trust the word of these increasingly misogynistic organizations, nothing will change.

Yet from the perspective of the material existence of women-only spaces, where there are only women and girls allowed there, Ishisaka is in fact supporting their complete elimination from public life.

Nothing is “women-only” if there are men in it.

It’s not a “women’s prison” if there are men in it.

It’s not a “women’s shelter” if there are men in it.

It’s not a “women’s shower” if there are men in it.

It’s not a “women’s team” if there are men on it.

We could go on, but let’s put this in the form of some hypothetical stories.

Ms. Ishisaka is far beyond the age of having to deal with early menses at school, but now, “cisgender” girls increasingly have to do that in school bathrooms and locker rooms that they share with boys. Are there any grown women who’ve gone through this who never had a day where they were worried about stains, cleaning blood off their hands, or having sanitary products show, even in front of other girls? Now add boys to that equation, and the threat of being called a “bigot” for not wanting to deal with that in front of them. For female athletes who often have to change and shower more than their classmates, and now can’t even be guaranteed women-only teams on which to compete, this situation is even worse.

Ms. Ishisaka is probably also not likely to get arrested for illicit substance abuse at this point in her life, but if she did, she might now have to wait to be charged in a mixed-sex holding cell with an open toilet. If sentenced to incarceration, she might have to share a bunk or an open dorm with a male inmate who has as much right as she does to walk undressed to and from the showers. If she were unable, after release, to find housing and ended up in a homeless shelter, there might also be men there, with full access to the women’s showers and communal changing areas.

Ms. Ishisaka might, however, someday need long-term intimate care from a medical care provider, for herself or a female relative. With the known risks to female patients of heightened vulnerability to sexual abuse when incapacitated by illness or infirmity, does she genuinely wish to give up her right to ask for female care providers and have that request filled in its literal sense? Would she really be fine if, on making such a request, the care staffer who showed up was 6’3” bruiser of a man named Chad, with they/them pronouns, natural stubble, and purple hair?

The problem here isn’t one of abundance vs. “scarcity.” It’s one of a limited range of female-only spaces that are provided in the very few cases where that really matters, vs. the complete elimination of such spaces due to men being able to identify into them.

Ms. Ishisaka’s failures of empathy for other women and girls is saddening.

But the hardest task of feminism has always been getting women to extend their solidarity first to other women, over men.