An Open Letter to Elinor Burkett, in Reponse to her Op/Ed Article in the NY Times

Oh Elinor, bless your heart.

You asked a rhetorical question, “what makes a woman?” Then you gave us your answer, that a woman is far more than nail polish.  That brain structure is a good place to start with the differentiations, and that our brains are shaped by our experiences.  These are all true statements.

We are more than nail polishes and experiences.  We are more than cultural shapings and tropes.  We are more than brain shapes and hormonal affectations.  We are more than the sum of our collective wounds.

Ms. Burkett, I can no more understand the lived experiences of a cis woman than a cis woman can understand my lived experience as a trans woman.  What we can both understand are the intersections of where our respective identities meet.

When you reference waking up and not being able to remember if you took your birth control pills the day before, a trans woman cannot understand that particular fear.  A cis woman, on the other hand, cannot understand the fear and pain of being hit with a rock or a baseball bat when we step out of the house as our authentic selves.

When you reference that women were smashing binaries before transgender became a word known to the mainstream, this is correct.  What is missing is that while you were smashing binaries in your blissfully unaware polyester pantsuits, we were struggling to avoid being locked in mental institutions, having to cut all ties to friends and family before moving across the country and affecting a parody of stereotypical 1950’s femininity.

Your tonal argument missed the fact that the second wave of feminism has come and gone.  There is a term used to describe you and your message: TERF, or trans exclusive radical feminist.  It is a term that defines a person by their words and actions, such as yours have earned you that label most efficiently.

I would suggest that you take a moment and listen to Gloria Steinem who said that, when asked for her opinion on black women who felt feminism had passed them by, that she “would be silent, and listen“.  Flavia Dzodan, reacting to a world in which women of colour were left out of the feminist discussion, went a bit further and told us that feminism must be intersectional or feminism will be bullshit.

Flavia is right, and it is the Revolution which must be intersectional, or the revolution will be bullshit.  Perhaps you should remember that the next time you decide to call yourself a feminist and criticize another person’s femininity.

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Elinor Burkett, in Reponse to her Op/Ed Article in the NY Times”

  1. Just found your site and this piece really struck a chord for me.

    I was part of second wave feminism. And I withdrew from activism for a very long time when I realized that it didn’t include anyone except women like me: cis-het, well educated and white. Because every time I raised the issues that this stance created, I was treated like a pariah, and apparently I was not a very strong person and I just…checked out.

    Now, in my more ancient guise, I have begun to find my courage again. It’s good to hear voices from places I have never inhabited – it makes me stronger. Thanks.


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