This article is written in response to an article entitled Are All Marxist Feminists TERFs?’. The article can be found here.

The author of the above article argues that Marxist feminists (or ‘Red TERFs’) deny the ‘actual lived experiences’ of transwomen. Not only is this ironic as trans activists regularly dismiss women’s extensive lived experiences of male violence and patriarchal oppression, but it is a wholly untrue and unfair accusation. Criticism of gender has been integral to feminist criticism for centuries and feminists have continually outlined the oppression faced by those who do not conform to gender — particularly lesbians. Transwomen are males who do not conform to traditional masculinity and so often face abuse and even violence as a result of this gender nonconformity. Marxists feminists (and other women who are slurred as ‘TERFs’) do not deny that gender non-conforming males face oppression but we vehemently disagree with the categorisation of this oppression as ‘misogyny’.

Misogyny is a systemic form of oppression suffered by females. Whilst Marxist feminists do not wish to reduce women to their reproductive systems and genitalia, it is precisely these aspects of female anatomy which have been exploited and commodified in protocapitalist and capitalist states the world over for millennia. Therefore, within a social, economic and political context, the importance of recognising women as the biological class of female humans cannot be overstated. Women are oppressed under capitalism due to their reproductive value which, by virtue of material biological fact, is disproportionately greater than that of men. It is in the interests of capitalists to control the source of the workforce and women are, quite literally, the source of the next generation of exploitable workers. Since the advent of private property, it has also been in the interest of males to enforce monogamy upon females in order to ensure paternal lineage for the purposes of inheritance. When Engels asserts that ‘woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children’ in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, it is very clear that he is referring to the reproductive labour of female humans. As transwomen do not, by any material, scientific measure, belong to the biological class of humans who give birth, they are simply not victims of this systemic misogyny. Though progressives attempt to bastardise language, the fact remains that the birth-giving sex formerly known as ‘women’ suffer a specific form of oppression which transwomen will never know, and it is from this sex-based oppression that all other forms of misogyny stem.

Sex and gender are different, but they are inextricably linked. Once the economic need to control the reproductive labour of women was identified, it was reinforced by socially constructed gender roles to ensure future compliance. As such, the oppression of women can be roughly divided into two categories: misogyny which directly controls female reproductive labour (forced marriage, female genital mutilation, abortion etc); and misogyny which controls females more generally through gender roles (poorer job prospects due to perceived inferiority etc). Patriarchal oppression is based on both sex and gender, but as gender roles were designed to subjugate the female sex specifically, femininity is only oppressive to them. Gender cannot be divorced from the sex it was designed to oppress — it can only be abolished. Postmodernist notions of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ indulge the individual’s perception of self and are only able to thrive in Western consumerist societies where narcissism is king. The rampant individualism associated with the abstract notion of subjective gender is in direct opposition to the collectivism and materialism of Marxism. Marxists must acknowledge gender as the socially constructed mode of oppression which positions the female sex as lowly caregivers and the male sex as dominant leaders, rather than a fantastical, personal, spiritual experience devoid of social and historical context.

If transwomen conform to female gender roles convincingly enough that others erroneously perceive them to be female, they may experience some more superficial forms of sexism such as catcalling, mansplaining, etc. However, they are not the intended victim of such misogyny. Unpleasant though it may be, it is misdirected. When gender non-conforming males mistakenly receive sexist abuse, they do not inherit the history of sex-based oppression that women share and so to suggest that these experiences are the same, or even similar, trivialises misogyny. Instead, the abuse faced by gender non-conforming men is likely to be homophobic in nature and/or as a result of also belonging to another oppressed group (black, latino, a victim of the sex trade, etc). Traditional notions of masculinity centre heterosexuality and so deviations from male gender roles often evoke homophobic responses. Eradicating homophobia and other abuse associated with policing masculinity is clearly an important cause but feminism is solely concerned with female oppression. Had the trans lobby accepted and acknowledged masculinity and male gender non-conformity as wholly distinct from the historic and enduring oppression of women, it is likely that they would have found a sympathetic ear amongst feminists. As it stands, their insistence on appropriating the struggle of women is thoroughly incompatible with feminist thought and is an insult to all females who know that they are oppressed on the basis of sex.

The author asserts that Marxists need to ‘update our theories to match the needs and conditions of oppressed sections of the working class’. This is revisionist nonsense. Marx’s method, in its scientific objectivity, transcends time. One of the great virtues of Marxism is that it has maintained its relevance throughout the centuries and the fact that Marx’s analysis carries weight in modern political discourse is testament to its timelessness. It is true that we must apply Marxist methodology to present and changing circumstances which Marx himself may not have foreseen, but this certainly does not mean that adherence to solid materialist analysis can be compromised. The analysis may change but the method does not. Just as science cannot bend to accommodate societal trends, nor can historical materialism be distorted to appease the identity politics of liberals.

The author also asserts that ‘the idea that there is something inherently non-female about the body of a trans women is reinforcing the binary gender categories that we ought to be seeking to dismantle’. Male bodies are inherently non-female. This is not an idea; it is a material reality. Although trans activists persist with the bogus ‘sex is a spectrum’ narrative, 99.98% of humans are unambiguously male or female. Biological sex is observable in every cell and every organ of our bodies. It is not assigned. It is a physical, material, and biological fact. As the author of the original article has done here, many trans activists conflate sex and gender in order to negate the importance of the former. Material reality (biological sex) cannot be ‘dismantled’ and to suggest that the physical should be reimagined as the metaphysical is fundamentally anti-Marxist. Marx went to great lengths to condemn this idealist manner of thinking in The German Ideology, stating that the materialist method ‘starts out from the real premises and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premises are men, not in any fantastic isolation or abstract definition, but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions’. He goes on to say that ‘viewed apart from real history, these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever’, making it plain that attempts to abstract gender from the history of sex-based female oppression has no place within Marxist analysis. One phrase from The German Ideology encapsulates the materialist method so completely that it would be remiss not to include it in relation to the contemporary gender identity debate: ‘life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life’. Currently, working class unity is impeded by the vast social chasm between the sexes and efforts must be made to bridge this gap in order to organise effectively. It is vital that, as Marxists, we apply rigorous historical materialism to understand the origin and development of misogyny over time in order to combat its present-day incarnations.

13 thoughts on “The Gender Debate: A Marxist Feminist Perspective

  1. I find most of this an exceptionally clear analysis of the muddle of gender politics, but there’s one passage that seems self-contradictory, or at least confuses me: “When gender non-conforming males mistakenly receive sexist abuse, they do not inherit the history of sex-based oppression that women share and so to suggest that these experiences are the same, or even similar, trivialises misogyny. Instead, the abuse faced by gender non-conforming men is likely to be homophobic in nature”. Can you disentangle this for me, because it starts by referring to trans women who pass as women and receive misogynist abuse, but then refers to those who don’t pass and receive homophobic abuse? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that those who pass may receive misogynistic abuse, whereas those that don’t may receive homosexual abuse. Perhaps this is just an editing error?

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  2. Thank you for pointing out the absurdity of historical materialists trying to tell us that biology is not real, that feelings trump actual bodily reality, that women are not oppressed, but transwomen are. Because ”feelings”.
    It seems unbelievable that self-proclaimed Marxists could get it so very wrong, but….here we are.
    Good post.

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  3. The accusation that ‘notions’ of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ are a postmodernist creation which can only be sustained in the Western world is SO ahistorical and SO first worldist in it’s logic that I have to heap scorn on the claim. While claiming the mantke of history to defend their argument they’ve tossed history out the window! But I shouldn’t be surprised that when writing a polemic about how trans women aren’t really women (and no mention of trans men aaas usual) a TERF would not think for a second to research LGBT history.
    Gender is a spectrum, always has been, always will be. In ancient India at least 9 genders were recognised, in Native American society the ‘two-spirit’ people were considered a third gender, there are other examples of gender variance which have been documented throughtout history. Native societies often distinguished between physical sex organs and gender.
    The defense of the notion that sex and gender inextricably linked by nature or logic is a reactionary social conformation. The reality is that gender is a social construct whose borders and flexibility shifts and changes in time depending on what is permissible and what is not permissible by authority of church and state in the public sphere.
    The reality is trans people have every right to be their authentic selves, and it is reactionary and frankly crass to tell a trans person that they are not who they are, and they are not welcome in certain services or amenities because they are a threat of some sort. It simply isn’t on and while I’d expect to see such drivel from the Catholic Church or the conservative movement I am genuinely shocked and saddened when I see it come from Marxists.
    In summary – Genders always been a spectrum, trans people deserve our support as comrades, TERFs are reactionary transphobes masking their transphobia with ahistorical analysis of history.

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    1. Again, you seek to abstract history from its material context. Every variation of socially constructed gender throughout history has existed to enforce the nuclear reproductive family and to other those who do not conform to it – particularly homosexuals. The root of all incarnations of gender is deeply misogynistic and homophobic. I am interested though, what is your explanation for why societies have consistently created separate social categories for men, women and (sometimes) homosexuals, if it is wholly unrelated to reproduction?

      You’re right, it is very telling that the transwoman who authored the original CYM piece which I have responded to here didn’t mention transmen in their article at all. I rarely see transwomen fight the cause of transmen, sadly. I have every faith that you will berate the male author of that piece for their woeful neglect of female trans people (although, to date, I see no such comments from yourself on the CYM post). As transmen are female, they are naturally included within feminism. Indeed, many feminists are expressing great concern at the staggering disparity between the number of female children who are being referred to gender clinics in comparison to male children (3099 girls compared to just 979 boys aged 10-16 within a 2 year period).

      It is also telling that both yourself and the author of the original CYM piece continue to use the slur ‘TERF’ despite speaking specifically about Marxist feminists. It is difficult for trans activists to continue to insist that this is merely a descriptor when they use it in a deliberately erroneous manner. I am sure you are aware that the term ‘TERF’ is frequently used to level threats of violence and death at women and so I am shocked that members of CYM would continue to use it in full knowledge of this.

      Whilst you use nonsense phrases like ‘authentic selves’ and express dismay at the prospect of telling someone ‘who they are’, you express no such dismay at the prospect of women having ‘who they are’ dictated to them. Gender ideology redefines ‘woman’ but this does not seem to be problematic or ‘crass’ to people such as yourself. Males are a threat to females and as we are unable to discern which males are ‘goodies’ and which are ‘baddies’, we must maintain single-sex services and amenities to protect ourselves. This is based on overwhelming statistical evidence of male violence towards women. Transwomen are male and so are not exempt from male violence statistics. It is unfortunate that you find statistical evidence to be incompatible with your ideological beliefs but you cannot demand that others ignore such evidence to appease such beliefs.

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    2. I find it absolutely unimaginable that someone can speak of gender as a social construct, and yet wants to claim that transgender claims are anything more than constructs. Since people are not born in the wrong bodies, but acquire a belief that they are, which is not the same for any historical materialist. Particularly when those born male, after having achieved social and economic status declare themselves ‘women’, because they actually believe they are better than those born female. Where were all those so-called transwomen when those of us born female fought for equality, to not be owned by a husband, to be able to get an education and have the right to any job, to not be declared mad and locked away, while fighting against sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence in marriage, against prostitution, and vile porn which scares the living daylights in young girls?

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  4. Fantastic article!

    Those in SWP, SP, PBP, Labour, etc, need to stop undermining women’s rights to chase cheap votes and subs! The ideological-illiteracy on the left – currently justifying and fuelling misogyny – is a stain on socialism and the labour movement. Socialist and trade unionist women have been ostracised, no-platformed, punched and sacked while so-called ‘lefties’ turn a blind eye.

    They’ve not read any Marx. I doubt they’ve even managed The Communist Manifesto!

    “The Material reality (biological sex) cannot be ‘dismantled’ and to suggest that the physical should be reimagined as the metaphysical is fundamentally anti-Marxist.
    “Marx went to great lengths to condemn this idealist manner of thinking in The German Ideology, stating that the materialist method ‘starts out from the real premises and does not abandon them for a moment.”

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  5. As an retired academic Marxist teacher, it is also necessary to keep remembering how women in all socialist revolutions have been sent back to their secondary place after helping win them, and some famous ones such as Alexandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg, and more recent ones, such as African women (I am not mention names) after post-colonialism, have mentioned this………

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  6. Thank you for your clear and realistic thinking on this subject. Biology is real. Women and Lesbians are oppressed on the basis of our biology, and female to female sexuality, exclusive of ALL males. Gender is an often if not always an oppressive social construct. period

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