Earlier last month, President Biden signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in sports. Some critics claim that the order is a blow to progress in women’s sports. It comes as no surprise that transphobia is at the forefront of these opinions.
Trans exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, are people who exclude trans women from their advocacy for women’s rights. The term was first coined in 2008, and has become widely used to describe the actions of celebrities like J.K. Rowling who have made headlines for their negative comments about trans women. TERFs reject the idea that trans women are women.
Whether TERFs realize it or not, the argument against trans women in women’s sports is deeply rooted in misogyny. TERFs don’t view their beliefs as insulting because they think they’re facts, but the only time the concept of fairness comes up is in relation to women’s sports. While they reject the womanhood of trans women, they have very little to say about trans men. It is well established that people do not tend to view athletic women as capable or comparable to athletic men.
Fallon Fox is often referenced in these conversations. A trans MMA fighter, TERFs point to a fight in 2014 where Fox knocked her opponent out and broke her skull. They claim that Fox had an unfair advantage over her opponent. To be clear, these kinds of injuries are not uncommon in MMA. But what people often fail to recognize is that a year prior to that fight, Fox was knocked out in a fight by Ashlee Evans-Smith — a cis woman.
It isn’t abnormal for people to doubt the abilities of women in sports. Men have openly touted their beliefs that they can beat professional athletes like Serena Williams because they’re naturally stronger. These sentiments are now echoed in jokes that men can now join women’s sports teams, making a mockery of gender identity in its entirety. Views like this are what perpetuate violence against trans women. The belief that they are men pretending to be women is what fuels assaults and stigmas. It is also why many trans women fear dating and telling their partner that they are trans.
To say that the work of women athletes is now undone is ridiculous. The women who came before us are the ones who made it possible for this to happen. TERFs are the ones contributing to the idea that women are incapable of performing. They don’t seem to believe in the abilities of the women that they do acknowledge, let alone the ones who have fought for their voices to be heard. Their argument has little to do with “right and wrong” and everything to do with the inferiority of women. Nothing about this is empowering.
The only thing setting women’s sports back are TERFs. Being selective about who benefits from feminism and equality makes you no better than the systems we fight against. Feminism has no room for these beliefs, and it certainly doesn’t need them to continue diluting the movement.
By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer