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TERF Wars 2: Welcome to the Internet

In Part 1 we encompassed the initial theories related to the TERF movement, led by Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond. Their theories were especially damaging to trans women. What they said is that trans women, while performing female identities, were immersing themselves in the same narratives – cute lady, pretty lady, wear-a-dress-and-shave-kind-of-lady – that radical feminists battle to erase. What these radical feminists want is a world without genders. A gender-less world is a world in which you can – free from judgment or consequences – chose to wear nail polish and dresses or choose not to shave, independently of your genitalia. In the particular case of TERF theories, trans women are collateral damage. Whereas other women are merely frowned upon for buying into the beauty ideal, trans women are robbed of their womanly status and denied the opportunity of partaking in the female beauty norm.

Both Jeffreys and Raymond are still writing, and they are no short of controversy (some of them with Judith Butler) I will include information in the references but is just them throwing theoretical shade and not the Twitter carnage that you clicked to see.


The so-called TERF wars started mainly on Tumblr. This blogging platform was the ideal basecamp for feminists because the content is unedited, you can share multimedia posts and there are no length limitations to the posts.

In 2014, something sparked a fire. The 23rd of May the Isla Vista killings happened. 22 years old Elliot Rodgers killed 6 people and hurt 14 near the University of California Campus, and then he killed himself. Before driving to the campus, he uploaded a Youtube video in which he explained the motives behind his killings. According to the video, he wanted to kill those women who had rejected him, and those men who -unlike him- led a sexually active life. He also mailed an autobiographical manuscript to acquaintances, his therapist and his family, which leaked to the Internet and was called his manifesto. In it, he described his life and frustration because he couldn’t find a girlfriend, along with his hatred and resentment for women. Here an excerpt:

“It would be possible for me to get a tall, blonde, sexy girlfriend if I was a multi-millionaire! Oh yes, it would be very possible. Becoming a multi-millionaire is the ONLY way I could have such an experience, and winning the lottery was the ONLY way I could become a multi-millionaire at my age. As I stared at the Powerball jackpot that was over $500 million, I knew that I HAD to win it.”

Both the news and the manifesto unleashed a witch hunt in the #radicalfeminism hashtag on Tumblr. Many users confessed to being disappointed with the feminist movement and its failure to achieve substantial changes in this constant and horrific violence against women. And on this occasion, the blame was not placed only in the patriarchy, but also in a feminism too timid to effectively educate and instil change.

And from there, divisions only multiplied. Users tend to define what they thought, but especially what they were fighting against. Some were against equality feminism because the concept of “equality” was fitted to the male norm. Others supported intersectional feminism because feminism must deal not only with gender but also race, class and sexuality. Some wanted women-only spaces. And TERFs… well, they didn’t want trans women in their women-only spaces.

And Tumblr had something that Twitter lacked: the Tumblr fight was predominantly theoretical. That is probably due to the nature of the platform: while Twitter was back them limited to 140 characters, Tumblr had no limit, allowing for discussions that were oftentimes in-depth and knowledgeable. In Tumblr, several branches of feminism developed further and defined themselves. Not that much swearing. We’re getting to the swearing now.


Fast forward to December 2019. Researcher Maya Forstater posted a tweet claiming the impossibility of changing sex. Following that tweet, Forstater lost her job at a think tank, and that same month, J.K Rowling expressed her support for the researcher also on Twitter.

And a few days ago, this:

The backlash was huge: Tweets left and right pronouncing J.K. Rowling cancelled, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson (from Harry Potter) condemned Rowling’s tweets and on top of that, all kinds of insults over the platform. And so, TERFs were back in the hotspot. Not that insults against TERF were not a usual thing before.

Let me be clear: I do not agree with Rowling. Her claims remind me of Janice Raymond’s arguments. Rowling comes to say that if sex isn’t real, women’s struggles throughout history are hence invalidated. Because in Rowling’s world, considering sex as something fluid would have a retroactive effect. Like in Orwell’s 1984, we are now at war with Eastasia, and we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Now move over and let me rewrite these newspapers. History? What is that?

BUT. Why that constant stream of insults? Okay, I don’t agree with TERF collectives at all, but I don’t think that calling somebody and asshole and wish them a slow death will change their minds. In this day and age seems that convincing, reasoning, educating or sharing is out of the question.

So let’s just go ahead and do that. Let’s go crazy. Let’s think, and reason and throw ideas around and see what happens. In Part 3 I’m gonna take you on a walk around my brain. What I’ll say, you don’t need to agree, I don’t need to have the last word and it won’t have to be completely conclusive. It is adventurous, fun - at least for me - and a new possibility to see the world. I do promise one thing: I always do my best to find research and I am methodic, so I’ll show up with my homework done.


Butler, Judith. “Judith Butler on gender and the trans experience” Verso, May 26, 2015

Goldberg, Michelle “What is a Woman?” New Yorker, August 2, 2014

Williams, Cristan “The Shame of Sheila Jeffreys’ hate” Transadvocate, March 6, 2014

Yang, Jeff. “What a close read of the Isla Vista shooter’s horrific manifesto, ‘My Twisted World’, says about his values – and ours” Quartz, May 26 2014

Miller, Ryan W. and Yasharoff, Hannah “What’s a TERF and why is ‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling being called one?” USA Today, Jun 9, 2020

Murphy, Meghan “TERF isn’t just a slur, it’s hate speech” Feminist Current, September 21, 2017


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