Feminism, Gender Justice, and Trans Inclusion: Web Resources

In her announcement of a series of public forums on the question of what policy Barnard should adopt in relation to transgender admissions, President Spar indicated that resources are available on the web for those who want to educate themselves on the issue. BCRW has produced a number of resources over the past several years, which we have gathered here to share with you. The resources include a lecture by Barnard alum, Dean Spade, specifically on the topic of transgender admissions at women’s colleges, as well as presentations on the broader context of transgender lives, feminism, and gender justice.

Some of the issues raised in these materials that you may find helpful:

Feminism, Gender Justice and Trans-Inclusion

The staff of BCRW supports trans-inclusive admissions at Barnard and at women’s colleges as part of a feminist project. We understand feminism as a project in support of gender justice, and, indeed, in support of all forms of justice. This project includes attending to the various ways in which gender is used to discriminate against people, to police their behavior and expression, and to limit and control their life possibilities. Gender discrimination occurs when women are denied access to education and employment, and also when gender conformity is used as a reason to deny access to anyone, whether the requirement is for conformity to standards of masculinity or femininity or in the demand that people identify with one of these categories. Gender justice offers the possibility of a world in which basic values like freedom of gender expression would be upheld for all people.

All Women are Women

Since its founding in 1971, the mission of the Barnard Center for Research on Women has been to ensure that “all women can live in dignity, autonomy and equality.” As Janet Jakobsen notes in her introduction to BCRW’s salon on Janet Mock’s book, Redefining Realness (see video below), excluding some women from the category “women” has long been a means of perpetuating inequality and injustice. This type of exclusion has occurred historically in multiple ways: lesbians were configured as the “lavender menace” to “the “women’s movement” or women of color were excluded from the category of “women” in terms of citizenship, so that, for example, African American women had to fight for voting rights in the 1960s despite the fact that “women’s suffrage” was passed in 1920. The refusal to recognize some “women” as “real,” including the refusal to recognize trans women as “real” women, has had negative consequences for individuals and for social justice.

Gender Justice includes both women’s empowerment and trans inclusion.

The argument over trans inclusion at women’s colleges is often framed as if trans inclusion is in opposition to women’s empowerment, but both women’s empowerment and freedom of gender expression in all forms can be part of a broader feminist project of creating gender justice. Freedom of gender expression supports women’s empowerment, because it undercuts the policing of women for the ways in which they enact their gender. Women are often policed for seemingly minor things such as whether they straighten their hair at work or how they dress on the street. Upholding the principle of freedom of gender expression would create more social space for women to live out the diverse possibilities of their lives, and it similarly would create more space for trans women and trans men and for gender nonconforming and genderqueer people.

The mission of Barnard is to educate women (not to determine who is or is not a woman).

At their founding women’s colleges provided more educational opportunities to some people who were excluded from the most powerful colleges and universities in the United States, and, thus, helped to address fundamental gender inequities. Women’s colleges also have histories of exclusion on the basis of race and religion, and of using their administrative power to enforce particular notions of womanhood on students. Barnard had parietal rules to govern heterosexual interaction until protests in 1968 and posture tests until 1972. One of the ideas behind gender justice is that people should be free to determine their gender identity and expression.

There is no single legal definition of gender, and so, legal documents cannot determine who is and is not a woman.

One of the most useful parts of legal scholar Dean Spade’s lecture on admissions policies at women’s colleges is the delineation of the fact that gender is not a simple legal matter (see video below). Similarly, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Professor Rebecca Jordan-Young has shown how there is no simple or singular biological basis for gender. In her work on both the brain science of gender and the attempts by the International Olympic Committee to find an objective scientific basis for gender determination, Professor Jordan-Young shows that gender identity is a complex social and physical phenomenon, and there are no scientific “litmus tests” for it. The best measure of gender identity is simply how a person identifies.

Barnard is already inclusive of many gender nonconforming students (and long has been); any new policy should expand this inclusiveness.

Barnard strives to provide a space to educate and support women in pursuing their educational goals. We also recognize that trans men, trans masculine, gender nonconforming and genderqueer students have been a strong presence on Barnard’s campus and an integral part of our community. The framework of gender justice recognizes both trans inclusion and educating women as part of a social justice feminist project. In response to the question of trans-inclusion at women’s colleges, several colleges have developed policies that recognize the ways in which traditions of women’s empowerment at women’s colleges can be carried out in conjunction with trans-inclusive admissions. For example, Scripps College recently changed its policy to reflect this philosophy.

Web Resources


Trans inclusive polices at women’s colleges

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