Photography isn’t my forte, but hopefully this is useful to women who have been curious (or outraged) by the exhibit and don’t live in the Bay Area.
I took pictures of the Degenderettes exhibit at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) for those who can’t make it there themselves. The Degenderettes are “a humble and practical club, fighting for gender rights within human reach rather than with legislation and slogans”, or a trans advocacy group that goes around intimidating and threatening women, especially lesbians. One of the pieces originally displayed was a bloodied t-shirt with the words “I PUNCH TERFS”.
Following outrage from women around the world, SFPL removed the t-shirt with this disingenuous comment: “This exhibit contains strong language, blood and mentions of transmisogyny and police violence. The Library has altered the exhibit, removing artwork that could be interpreted to promote violence which is incompatible with our policies.” Transmisogyny is defined as “misogyny” towards transwomen, but you would be excused for assuming it refers to the misogyny displayed by trans people.
SFPL should have either removed the entire exhibit (and there is a petition to that effect that I encourage you to sign) or kept the t-shirt, so that the public understands what this TERF rhetoric is about.
Who is a TERF? A TERF is a woman who doesn’t believe in gender essentialism, or the idea that there are certain personality traits (or an essence, soul, mind, etc) that define all women. A TERF is a woman who thinks that her experience of oppression is rooted in being born in a female body. A TERF is a woman who believes that people born with penises, regardless of how they identify, have had different life experiences than those born with vaginas. A TERF is a woman who defends female-only spaces and resources (such as scholarships) set aside for women. A TERF is a woman who questions the medicalization of children who don’t conform to gender norms. A TERF is a lesbian who excludes males from her dating pool. Above all, a TERF is a woman who doesn’t know her place.
According to these guys, she should be punched, beaten, even killed, and SFPL found it appropriate to give them a platform. This is because they are white American males, who always have a license to spread terror to anyone they deem in their way.
We are living a global pandemic of violence against women and this exhibit was put up mere days after a massacre in Toronto that was motivated by misogyny and male entitlement. It is an ode to more of the same and allowing it at a public library is unbelievably irresponsible and insensitive. Regardless of how you choose to define “woman” and “man”, it is a fact that people with vaginas are born into an oppressed class that experiences systematic violence from people with penises, who make up the oppressor class. However, by positing that there is another axis of oppression – cis and trans – in which “cis women” (in this case lesbians) are suddenly the oppressors of “trans women” (in this case heterosexual males), they’ve reframed the violence and intimidation of the Degenderettes as a case of a marginalized group “punching up”. That’s all it takes for a stamp of approval from the enlightened folks at SFPL.
Even if SFPL does believe that trans-identified males are oppressed by women and that that the violence of those punching up is justified, would they allow similar exhibits from other oppressed groups? I can imagine that they might host exhibits about other movements that include violent tactics in their struggle for liberation, but would they zoom in on their bloody weapons and violent slogans? Can you imagine Palestinians or Kurdish women or Black liberationists being allowed to exhibit weapons and slogans like “I punch Jews”, “I kill men” or “die white scum”? Somehow I doubt it. This is a privilege only afforded to those who are white American males.
As someone of Muslim descent, I see both something very different and very familiar in how the marginalized groups of Muslims and women are treated. If SFPL had exhibited a t-shirt that said “I punch Muslims”, I know that Bay Area community organizations and activists would have raised hell and had it shut down. But women? That nagging underclass of humanity? Nobody cares about us, be it on the left or the right.
There is also a chilling similarity. Violence is often justified by presenting the aggressor as the victim. When I see the lies and histrionics about radical feminists who “want all trans people to die” it reminds me of claims like “Muslims want to destroy the West/kill all Christians”. I have never seen any radical feminist advocate for violence against or wish death upon transpeople. Radical feminists simply do not believe that gender is natural or innate, and therefore do not agree with the current dogma that a woman is “anybody who identifies as a woman”. And in the ultra-privileged bubble and navel-gazing culture of American identitarians, disagreeing with someone’s beliefs about themselves is construed as the ultimate violence.
The Degenderettes exhibit is nothing more than misogyny and male entitlement and violence repackaged with the help of some eyeliner. As to the “liberals” who condone this, they have so wrapped their self-worth and social capital around being “woke” and supporting progressive causes, and they are so skittish about being reprimanded for wrongthink, that they allow themselves no room for critical thought.
IYIs [Intellectuals Yet Idiots] fail to distinguish between the letter and the spirit of things. They are so blinded by verbalistic notions such as science, education, democracy, racism, equality, evidence, rationality and similar buzzwords that they can be easily taken for a ride.
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb