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One result of the recent rise in anti-trans campaigning has been the rash of cis women targeted and subjected to harassment as a result. Whether it’s because they’re gender non-conforming in style, or the viewer considers their natural physical features too masculine, these women have been chased out of public toilets and harassed in public for things such as having short hair or not dressing “feminine” enough.
While trans women are still the primary recipients of transmisogynistic harassment, and the focus needs to stay on them, many people have noted the irony of cis women who fail to meet feminine norms also being subjected to this kind of discrimination. Others claim that this is part of the purpose and that the end goal is enforcing traditional gender norms on cis women as well as forcing trans women back into the closet.
Honestly I think it's still an important point to talk about because TERFs are literally spreading misogyny and worsening the patriarchy.— Future Bona Fide Sword Fucker (@RedOphiuchus) September 3, 2019
A lot of news outlets let their views go uncontested as "feminism" and in that respect it's important to show how at odds that is.
I'm afraid I find myself peering at all women's pictures now to work out if it's a real woman. Especially in articles about ground-breaking women.— Corner_flag ⚽🚴🔭 (@Cornerflag4) September 3, 2019
The most recent high-profile cis victims of this trend are the competitors from a race at the Chinese National Athletics Championship held in Shenyang, China. Twitter users are accusing several of the runners, including Tong Zenghuan and Liao Mengxue, of being men based on nothing but their physical appearances.
These are all cisgender women, from the 2019 National Athletics Championships held in Shenyang - but trans exclusionists...Posted by Jessica R. Durling on Monday, September 2, 2019
Wow, so we are supposed to believe the two obvious males in this 4x4 women's relay team are women? More cheating in women's sports. They just keep coming. pic.twitter.com/vlIF1mTu1q— Skeptical Mom (@Skeptical_Mom) August 31, 2019
The Chinese Athletics Association has since gone on record confirming that all the competitors are cis women.
Still here you fucking are, claiming to be able to "tell these are not ReAl WiMin". https://t.co/9eBOyEBoeC This article states that these are all in fact biological women, however, speculating whether anabolic steroids have been involved. So really, calm down.— Lena med utenlandsk etternavn (@lenateacup) September 2, 2019
However, despite this, TERFs and their allies are still claiming otherwise on Twitter, unwilling to accept that women who don’t fit their physical standards for womanhood actually exist.
Some people pretend they can't distinguish a male from a female body. I wonder who they think they're kidding with their talk of 'cis women' - what else does that mean but people with a female body? I.e. WOMEN.— Passie (@Passie_Kracht) September 4, 2019
They're gaslighting you. For all I know, all 4 were natal males, but at least 2 appear to be normal males now. This is some magnificent Chinese trolling, possibly as a challenge to the IAAF.— Emma Van Vliet (@EmVanVliet) September 3, 2019
More cheating in women’s sport.— Diane #Deboosted (@dianevk) September 3, 2019
We are genetically programmed to recognise the differences between male & female for procreation purpose. The photograph clearly shows 3 males & 1 female. Thank you for naming it, Helen. The Chinese regime is notoriously repressive. Anyone who believes their spin is very naive.— Ginger (@63_susan) September 2, 2019
8th rule of misogyny: Men are whatever men say they are and women are whatever men say they are.— Rose Grant "The Bewilderness" 🕸️ (@tehbewilderness) September 3, 2019
Many of them are also hailing @MsHelenWatts as a persecuted heroine of the women’s movement as she has now set her account to private due to the amount of conflict her tweets have created.
Looks like a great deal of men. Sending support.— JoWinkleman (@JoWinkle101) September 4, 2019
If it helps - I appreciate you. Women for centuries have had to fight for our rights in the face of hatred and abuse, be proud to call yourself a warrior. Every single woman & man I have spoken to, bar none, agree there is no place for male biology in woman's sport.— Paula Gosney (@PaulaKGosney) September 4, 2019
If this all seems familiar to you, it’s because it’s happened before. Casta Semenya was subjected to an unbelievable amount of misogynoir and transphobic investigations after her win at the Olympics, and many feel it’s no surprise that the IAAF’s ruling applies specifically to the events she does best in despite their being the ones least impacted by higher testosterone levels. Successful cis women of color, especially Black women like Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, have also regularly been accused of being men in disguise. There’s a long history of attempting to dehumanize women of color, particularly Black women, by attacking their femininity, calling them manly and aggressive, and deriding them for failing to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. According to white supremacy, women of color are not real women and don’t deserve to be treated as such. The clearly racist angle of the attacks on the Chinese runners form a clear part of that pattern.
That's nowt. You should see the Iranian "Women's" football team. pic.twitter.com/7JFWPrmpsN— [REDACTED] (@ZiggySawdust) September 1, 2019
Tong and Yang? More like Dong and Wang— Mark Gillon (@mgillon81) September 1, 2019
Know what gets the cake from these replies? That the 3 g.j buys aren't even trying to pass as women. China realizes that western people largely go by stereotypes over taking time to LOOK at a person for 3 seconds. So many bleeding hearts yelling about trans issues and none can...— ThatPurplePenguin (@ThatPurplePeng1) September 2, 2019
Sum, Ting, Wong— VK2 (@2222vj) September 2, 2019
Fortunately, a lot of Twitter users are also aware of this and calling it out.
You started this by judging people of colour on their facial features. Don't complain when you end up surrounded by racists who think they're in good company.— 🏳️⚧️ VƎX is Trans 🏳️⚧️ (@vexwerewolf) September 2, 2019
When your transphobia and racism reaches such absurd levels you start misgendering cis women 😂— Social Justice Mage 🧙♀️ (@SocialJusticeMg) September 1, 2019
Props to the guides for kicking this trash to the curb. Imagine children having to put up with this.
I suppose you think all women should look like the western, 'feminine', white ideal? Like this maybe?— Lisa T Mullin (@LisaTMullin) September 1, 2019
Remember how many claimed Michelle Obama was 'a man'? pic.twitter.com/qnot07HC59
Categorising people based on "bone structure" was literally invented and used by racists pic.twitter.com/TnNsyvCorS— Delighted (@delightedmoth) September 2, 2019
But this still isn’t enough to combat the problem. Women, cis or trans, don’t deserve to have their gender up for public debate and we must stop holding up white femininity as the standard of womanhood. While the runners in question are all cis women, it ultimately shouldn’t matter, and no one should have their body or gender identity publicly dissected like that.
Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org