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Womyn-born womyn (WBW) is a term developed during second-wave feminism to designate women who were identified as female at birth, were raised as girls, and identify as women (or womyn, a deliberately alternative spelling that challenges the centering of male as norm).
Events and organizations that have womyn-born-womyn-only policies bar access to anyone who was assigned male at birth: trans women, gay men, bisexual men, heterosexual men, and male children older than a determined age. Cisgender women-only spaces have raised a number of concerns from transgender groups.
The term "womyn-born womyn" gained usage and popularity during the second wave feminist movement. In 1978, the Lesbian Organization of Toronto adopted a womyn-born womyn-only policy in response to a request for admittance by a transgender woman who identified as lesbian. Womyn-born womyn policies held that the nature of the feminine experience over the course of a lifetime could only be experienced by someone who experienced life presenting as a woman. The intent was to create a space for only women, defined not by identity but experience, defined in a way that excluded transgender women.
Second-wave feminism is a period in the feminist movement lasting from the 1960s until around the 1980s.[full citation needed] Some feminists of the period such as scholars Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond, and theologist Mary Daly were proponents of womyn-born womyn policies. These policies created controversy and scholarly discussion.
Raymond's The Transsexual Empire (1979) is often seen as the characterizing work of this movement. It is known for its view of trans women as privileged men who did not previously live in the oppression of the patriarchy, stating, "We know who we are. We know that we are women who are born with female chromosomes and anatomy, and that whether or not we were socialised to be so-called normal women, patriarchy has treated and will treat us like women. Transsexuals have not had this same history."
The surgeons and hormone therapists of the transsexual kingdom, in their effort to give birth, can be said to produce feminine persons. They cannot produce women. – Mary Daly
Jeffreys was similarly outspoken in her criticisms of trans women, arguing that the feminine characteristics they were adopting are simply those that women must adopt to avoid punishment from the patriarchy. She believed trans women adopt stereotypical attributes that are enforced by the patriarchy and were political signifiers of the oppression of women.
Judith Butler (regarded as the "most significant theorist" of third-wave feminism) is opposed to womyn-born womyn policies yet is often used as an argument for them by modern second-wave feminists. Butler's Gender Trouble (1990) contained discussion of performativity versus performance, which second-wave feminists used to exclude trans women on account of their performativity through repetition of gender norms, which is "real only to the extent that it is performed", which was used as a separator from experience.
The RadFem Collective, a UK-based radical feminist group, describes its membership as "restricted to 'women born women and living as women'" and promotes womyn-born womyn policies. The statement for the 2015 conference was rephrased in explanatory form to read "RadFems Resist is a women only, feminist event. Our conference is a space for women to share our experiences as women, to politically self organise for women's liberation and to celebrate womanhood in a safe environment. We welcome all women who were raised and socialized as girls to join us...We are gender abolitionists who have been raised and socialized as girls and women *because of our female bodies* in the context of patriarchy."
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival
Throughout the final quarter of the twentieth century, women's music festivals often enacted womyn-born womyn policies. After the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MichFest) was described as a gathering for "women born as women and living as women", these intentions garnered wider attention in response to the exclusion of trans women from such events.
In 1977, MichFest's primary owner, Lisa Vogel, issued a letter (co-signed by 21 supporters) to the feminist music collective Olivia Records, objecting to the inclusion of production employees at the festival that were not born female, notably Sandy Stone:
We are writing concerning your decision to employ Sandy Stone...as your recording engineer and sound technician. We feel that it was and is irresponsible of you to have presented this person as a woman to the women's community when in fact he is a post-operative transsexual. The decision to work with a transsexual is one issue in itself; but the omission of this information from the public of women who support you was an unwise choice....We do not believe that a man without a penis is a woman any more than we would accept a white woman with dyed skin as a Black woman. Sandy Stone grew up as a white male in this culture, with all the privileges and attitudes that that insures [sic]. It was his white male privilege that gave him access to the recording studio and the opportunity to gain engineering practice in the first place. He has never had to suffer the discrimination, self-hatred or fear that a woman must endure and survive in her life...How can we share feelings of sisterhood and solidarity with someone who has not had a woman's experience?
In 1992, Nancy Jean Burkholder, a transexual woman, circulated a gender survey at MichFest that asked, "Do you think male-to-female transsexuals should be welcome at Michigan?" Out of approximately 7500 women present, 633 responded to the inquiry with 73.1% (463) responding "yes" and 22.6% (143) responding "no" (the margin of error was 3.8%). Although admitting that the sample was not "randomly selected", surveyors calculated the results as indicating that "less than 1 in 100,000" attendees would be against the exclusion of transsexual women from the festival; and while the replies about "female-to-male transsexuals" were not tabulated, it was determined that "80% of respondents were against their inclusion". However, the presence of male-to-female transsexual people at MichFest was understood to exist.
After 40 years, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival held its last event in 2015. This final gathering followed the withdrawal of support by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, and The TransAdvocate nonprofit website, for a boycott against MichFest and its womyn-born womyn intention.
- Feminist views on transgender and transsexual people
- Sex segregation
- Third-wave feminism
- Women-only space
- Womyn's land
- Raymond, Janice (1994). The Transsexual Empire. p. 114. ISBN 978-0807021644.
- Jeffreys, Sheila (1990). Anticlimax: a feminist perspective on the sexual revolution. London: Women's Press. ISBN 9780704342033.
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