Gender critical feminism aka “radical feminism” is the view that womanhood is best defined by reducing the category of “woman” to essential biological properties shared by cisgender aka non-trans women.
Why do they define womanhood like this? Because it effectively excludes trans women from the class of women because trans women are not biologically identical to cis women.
But, what’s that you say? Not all cis women are biologically identical either? Biology is messy and fuzzy and bodies are diverse and intersex conditions are as common as being red-headed? Nonsense! Gender critical feminists just ignore the messy diversity of real life biology and classify it under the label of “anomalies” or “developmental disorders”, ignoring of course that most intersex people don’t like to be called “anomalies”.
Btw, I’m using the laborious misnomer “gender critical” because if I called them by the shortened version of what they are, trans exclusionary radical feminists, they’d likely try to report this article and get it taken down because somehow they’ve convinced themselves that using descriptive acronyms is “hate speech”.
Anyway, let’s do an exercise of the imagination. Suppose we are 1000 years into the future and biological science is 1,000x more advanced and we have the capacity to transform trans women at the genetic and molecular level such that they share more biological overlap with cis women than they do with typical males. Suppose further these trans women could even get impregnated and give birth to children.
Would radical feminists therefore admit that trans women are finally women? Of course not! Why? Because rad fems would resort to some clause about how trans women missed some essential childhood upbringing, some essential social experience that defines womanhood. So it looks then that the Ur-crutch of radical feminism is social experience, not biology. The reliance on biological essentialism is merely a facade and the social experience is the fail-safe.
But this thought experiment shows the essential arbitrariness of gender critical feminism. And that’s what thought experiments are meant to do: bring out the incoherence or inconsistency of a philosophical position. Rad fems want to have their cake and eat it too.
Because the entire philosophical movement starts with a desire to exclude trans women from the class of women. That is the ENTIRE point of gender critical feminism. Nothing else really matters to them. The fundamental axiom of the entire worldview is that trans women are MEN. It doesn’t matter how “sex” is defined, or how “gender” is defined, how “man” is defined, or how “male” is defined.
It doesn’t matter that experts on gender have been discussing the complex ways in which sex can be different from gender, or interact with gender in a complex ways, what Ian Hacking famously called “Interactive Kinds”.
None of that philosophical nuance matters. Rad fems don’t care about nuanced philosophical distinctions, nor do they really care to engage seriously with critiques of their work that argue, quite convincingly, that trans women are not men. Because it’s not up for debate.
Some Christian theologians use the same debate tactic: it’s called presuppositionalism. You grant the premise that every competing worldview has its own set of fundamental axioms. The axioms are self-evident to the adherents of the worldview and not up for debate. Everything else follows from those axioms. For Christians, these axioms includes the truthfulness of their religious experience.
Once you establish presuppositionalism, productive debate becomes impossible because you can’t debate axioms. You can only say “Well, that is not self-evident to you but it is self-evident to me.” It essentially becomes a fist-thumping session rather than an actual debate.
For rad fems, their fundamental axiom is that trans women are men, no ifs, ands, or buts.
So why even bother engaging with them? Well, it’s actually quite difficult to. They mostly live on Twitter, or internet forums, or tabloid newspaper columns. Very few gender critical feminists publish their work in mainstream academic venues, or attach their real-life name to the ideology.
Why? Well their answer is that they’d be unfairly maligned. My answer is that radical feminism is a dying philosophy that has already been bludgeoned by brilliant critics and is on the verge of death. Rad fems know this and don’t want the public backlash against their clearly transphobic and hateful ideology.
But like any animal backed into a corner, radical feminism is angry and dangerous. It has minority status in our culture and so it attracts ideological extremists who like to think of themselves as glorious crusaders fighting the Evil Trans Activists.
But in the end, trans rights will prevail. We have already come so far in getting the world to recognize that trans women are women. Clearly, we still have a long way to go. The battle still needs to be fought against general ignorance and bigotry and your generic transphobe is still quite common. But rad fems are a special sub-type of transphobe and, in my opinion, they have already lost the philosophical battle.