Blog, Politics, Sociology

Gender Differences: The Spectrum of Attitudes Towards Trans genders

In my view, the Civil Rights’ analogy is both a powerful and appropriate one. In time, I believe that all institutions will not only have to acknowledge the reality of trans genders, but to make significant changes so that everyone has an equal opportunity to live a equitable and rewarding life.

Originally posted November 2, 2014 on Nation of Change

Two recent articles in major news publications help to capture some of the fundamentally differing attitudes towards trans genders. In brief, it is still far easier to transform one’s sex than it is to transform one’s attitudes towards trans genders.

In “What Is A Women? A Dispute Over The Meaning Of Gender,” Michelle Goldberg makes abundantly clear that radical feminists do not accept the basic proposition that men who have physically transformed themselves into women are really women. [i] For radical feminists, the privileges that men have enjoyed for centuries and have used to brutally subjugate women still persist no matter how much they change their outer appearance. In short, transgender women bear indelibly the seeds of male domination and oppressiveness, which by definition, they can never rid themselves. Needless to say, such attitudes have not endeared radical feminists to trans genders. Indeed, in a number of cases, radical feminists have been subject to violent threats in places where they have been scheduled to speak.

In contrast, in “The Men of Wellesley: Can Women’s Colleges Survive The Transgender Movement?,” Ruth Padawer also makes clear that while there is noticeable opposition, on the whole women’s colleges have been more open to accepting and letting stay women who were initially admitted as women but who have transformed themselves subsequently into men.[ii]While it is true that many students, professors, and college administrators feel that the basic identity and tradition of women’s colleges should not be compromised, and therefore not changed in any way, there are those who feel that women’s colleges need to change with the times.

Those who feel women’s colleges shouldn’t change their traditional mission stress why women’s colleges were formed in the first place, i.e., the fact that men’s colleges wouldn’t accept women for admission or treated them badly if they were admitted. They also stress that women fare far better in women’s colleges. Because men are not there to begin with, they can’t dominate and take over classroom discussions.

Those who feel that women’s colleges should accept trans genders argue that women’s colleges have a fundamental duty to welcome those who have suffered considerable abuse and pain as women have historically and still face.

In talking about both of these articles with friends and colleagues, I have discerned a number of attitudes that lie along a kind of spectrum. First of all, because of where I live–the San Francisco Bay Area–and my Liberal, Progressive attitudes, I don’t really know anyone personally who espouses a true Conservative point of view, i.e., that gender roles ought to remain fixed as they have been for millennia. Instead, people differ over whether someone who first enters a women’s college as a woman and then becomes a man ought to be allowed to stay at a women’s college.

On the one side are those who believe strongly that women’s colleges still have a needed and vital role to play such that the fundamental role of women’s colleges should not be changed. While acknowledging the fact that trans genders have faced considerable discrimination and pain, they feel that special trans gender colleges should be set up to accommodate them. Women’s colleges should neither abandon nor dilute their fundamental mission.

Those on the other side feel equally strong. For them, the Civil Rights’ Movement showed unequivocally that all institutions needed to change if equal rights were to become a true and living reality.

(I should note that no one with whom I spoke sided with radical feminists on the issue of trans genders.)

In my view, the Civil Rights’ analogy is both a powerful and appropriate one. In time, I believe that all institutions will not only have to acknowledge the reality of trans genders, but to make significant changes so that everyone has an equal opportunity to live a equitable and rewarding life.

[i] Michelle Goldberg, “What Is A Woman? A Dispute Over The Meaning Of Gender,” The New Yorker, August 4, 2014, pp. 24-28.

[ii] Ruth Padawer , “The Men of Wellesley: Can Women’s Colleges Survive The Transgender Movement?,” The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, October 19, 2014, pp. 34-39, 48-50.

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One thought on “Gender Differences: The Spectrum of Attitudes Towards Trans genders

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