Womyn-born womyn

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Womyn-born womyn (an alternative spelling of women-born women) is a term that describes women who were assigned female at birth and raised as females. Events and organizations that have womyn-born-womyn only policies bar access to any persons who were assigned male at birth, including trans women and the young male children of women attendees. According to Michigan Womyn's Music Festival co-founder Lisa Vogel during a Bitch magazine roundup, "What womyn-born womyn means to us is women who were born as women, who have lived their entire experience as women, and who identify as women."[1][2]


The term was developed during second-wave feminism to designate spaces for, by, and about women who were identified as female at birth, then raised as girls, and then who chose to live as women.[citation needed] Though transgender and intersex people have been present in women's only spaces for decades (often in the closet), the term garnered wider attention in response to the exclusion of trans women from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.[3] The festival has publicly declared that it is intended for womyn-born womyn.[4]

The controversy has sparked scholarly discussion.[5]


Womyn-born womyn policies center around the idea that women's experiences under patriarchy are unique, learned, and transformative. Repeating Judith Butler's assertions that gender is a performance, proponents of "womyn-born womyn" spaces seek to create spaces wherein the enforced and policed performances of "girl" in patriarchy can be reshaped outside of the presence of those not subjected to those limitations. Transgender women are excluded because they have not lived under the strictures of the enforced performance of "girl", having instead been subjected to the performance of "boy". Advocates of womyn-born womyn spaces argue that the experience of having been born and raised as a "girl" under patriarchy is not one that transgender women share with womyn-born womyn.

Law can affect the question of what spaces can be womyn-born-womyn only spaces. One example of this is the Canadian case Vancouver Rape Relief Society v. Nixon 2005 BCCA 601, where the judgment allows any group protected by section 41 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code to restrict its work to a sub-group of the group it was created to serve. In this case, it means that a women's charity may limit its services to only women that it decides represent "true women", rather than serving all women.


There have been several instances where transgender women have been denied access to or even been evicted from women's spaces.


Supporters[who?] of "women-born women" policies make the following claims:

  • Most transgender women do not have the experience of growing up female in a sexist society and as such have no embodied experience of the culturally prescribed position of "girl", except as they witnessed the way society around them treated girls.
  • All transgender women have received and, in some instances, benefited from male privilege, especially late transitioners.
  • All oppressed peoples should be allowed to make spaces aligned through a commonality of oppression to heal and recover without explanation and solely through the ease of lived experience.
  • Policies that do not exclude transgender women would allow men to enter the space if they simply wear stereotypical women's clothes and claim a female gender identity.[citation needed]
  • Many women's only spaces provide a safe shelter for cisgender women who have been abused or sexually assaulted. Such cisgender women might feel threatened by the presence of transgender women, and some of them may feel that their comfort is more important than the safety of trans women.[citation needed]

However, critics[who?] of such policies argue that:

  • While transgender women did not grow up recognized as female or as girls, they did grow up with female gender identities and thus should not be considered 'second-class' women any more than would a woman who grew up with other physical differences.[6]
  • Having experienced privilege in the past, particularly unwanted privilege, does not excuse oppression in the present.[6]
  • Although transgender women did not experience sexist oppression growing up, they experienced other forms of repression which are its equal, viz. society's transphobia[6]
  • Many transgender women have experienced sexist oppression, even if not from the day of their birth.[6]
  • If exclusion of transgender women because of access to male privilege is appropriate, then banning female-bodied people who have not had access to male privilege but are gender variant is hypocritical.[citation needed]
  • While transgender women may make others feel uncomfortable, the discomfort of the majority is not an acceptable reason to exclude minorities. An analogous situation is that of many workplaces prior to second wave feminism. Many men felt uncomfortable allowing women into places that had traditionally been open to men only; however, the discomfort of men was not adequate justification for denying rights to women.
  • Many also state that there is no universal experience all cisgender women have that no man or trans women have also had. Since there are cisgender women who do not menstruate or have children and women of different cultures, religions, classes, etc. have very different experiences growing up.[citation needed]

See also


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