An Open Letter to Smith College About Transwomen

Smith College has developed an Admissions Policy Study Group. If you would like to share your own thoughts about the admissions policy with the Study Group, you are encouraged to do so via this web form.

___________________________________________

Dear Smith

Smith College Board of Trustees
College Hall 205
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01060

December 15, 2014

Dear Smith College Board of Trustees and President McCartney,

I am writing this open letter to express my strong and continuing support for Smith College’s female-only admissions policy. As a proud Smithie (’00), an attorney, and a vocal feminist, I have thought long and hard about the issues raised by the campaign for transwomen’s inclusion at Smith on the basis of their “gender identities.”

Ultimately, a theoretical deconstruction of the social category “woman” such that anyone and everyone can identify as a “woman” does not reflect the historical purpose of Smith College or the needs of its students.

Being a woman is not a spiritual or metaphysical experience. It is not a feeling and it is not a performative utterance. Being a woman is a lived experience with material consequences. Smith’s admission policy must reflect some clear limitations on male gender identification, lest the social category “woman” become entirely meaningless.

The slogans “transwomen are women” and “transwomen belong here” sound righteous at first, but on deeper analysis, they are also frustratingly simplistic. The full implications of the proposed policy change must be considered. There is much more at stake than validating identities and proving how open-minded we are.  In this letter, I will attempt to lay out some of the considerations that I believe must be taken into account and propose elements of a reasonable compromise.

Considerations Related to a Change in Admissions Policy

I. Continuing Need For Single-Sex Colleges

In her Final Will and Testament, Sophia Smith stated her wish to create:

an Institution for the higher education of young women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for education equal to those which are afforded now in our Colleges to young men.”[1]

Clearly, Smith was established as a kind of affirmative action[2] against the exclusion of the female sex from higher education.

Despite all of the social and legal progress women have made over the past century, mixed-sex spaces simply do not offer women the same educational quality and opportunities they offer to men. From the prominence of male accomplishments and viewpoints in the curriculum,[3] to the more responsive and encouraging treatment that males receive from teachers and administrators,[4] studies have repeatedly demonstrated that women’s experiences in coeducational contexts[5],[6] are not at all equal to male students’ experiences. [7]

The persistent and inescapable nature of sex-based bias in all levels of education is precisely the reason that many women continue to find value in Smith’s women’s-only environment.

II. Human Biology, “Gender Identity” and Neurosexism

As an institution that prides itself on academic and intellectual rigor—particularly in the STEM fields of study—Smith must not endorse the sloppy conflation of biological sex with the social constructs of gender.[8] In addition, the College should be careful not to radically alter its admissions policy on the basis of unproven hypotheses about “brain sex” or speculation that it is possible to be “born in the wrong body.” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The idea that a metaphysical “woman” can be born into a male body is a truly extraordinary claim that has little, if any, hard science to support it.

Neurobiological theories of “gender” and the meanings inferred from brain differences between males and females can very often be traced back[9] to sexist stereotypes about “men” and “women.”[10] In studies of so-called transsexual brains, sample sizes are notoriously small[11] and the findings are inconclusive.[12] Many authors seem eager to analyze innate or “hard-wired” difference without accounting for the effects of socialization or neuroplasticity.[13]

It is not “transphobic” to question these assertions or to strongly suggest that we should bring skepticism to bear on such claims. Quite the opposite, I believe it is our duty as educated people to consider whether old-fashioned sexist essentialism lies at the heart of “brain sex” theories of “gender identity.”

III. “Gender Identity” and the Subjectivity of “Identity Politics”

Lacking both material and experiential referents, “gender identity” is vague beyond comprehension. Without any measurable criteria, “gender identity” can manifest as pure theory, divorced from social reality.

Subjective self-descriptions and “identities” are not the entire basis by which social ‘positionality’ is determined or experienced.[14] Peers, colleagues, and other social actors may reasonably disagree with the image one holds of herself, whether positively or negatively. I may consider myself to be any number of things, but no amount of identifying as X can make others perceive me as X if they don’t.

According to current definitions of the term “trans,” roughly 75% of those who identify as transwomen are not fully transitioned; many are not transitioned at all, and some have no intention of ever doing so.[15]

Transwomen may retain their penises and secondary sex characteristics. They may retain offensive, stereotypical ideas about what “being a woman” means. They may talk loudly over women or on behalf of women while looking and sounding exactly like men.

If transwomen are admitted to Smith on the basis of their self-described “gender identity” alone, this scenario will undoubtedly play out not just on the sidewalks of Smith,[16] but in Smith classrooms as well. It is an uncomfortable reality that all Smith students will have to confront: transwomen who have not medically or legally transitioned will apply for admission.

Possessing no standard beyond the vague and mutable category of “gender identity” and requiring no more than the use of the pronoun “she,” Smith will have no means by which to prevent this inevitability from occurring.

IV. Unintended/Legal Consequences

Further, permitting applications from any male who claims to identify as a “woman” expands the meaning of “single sex” beyond any reasonable legal interpretation.

I, and many other alumnae, would be devastated if Smith lost its Title IX status as single-sex college in a misguided attempt to demonstrate good will to activists who demand that the institution expend its limited time and resources validating male applicants’ “gender identities.” In addition, debates about the proposed change to Smith’s admission policy seem to omit discussion of the very real risk that Smith could face a lawsuit from males demanding inclusion regardless of their “gender identity.” It is naive to believe that such a challenge could not happen.

The Smith community will also have the daunting task of mediating certain sex-based situations that are routinely omitted from conversations about transwomen’s “gender identities.” For example, housing male and female students in the same spaces and male participation on Smith’s all-female sports teams[17] will have to be addressed. There will be many women for whom these forms of sex-blending are not acceptable. During my years at Smith, I served briefly as a coxswain on the crew team. The presence of partially transitioned transwomen would have considerably changed team dynamics and the nature of physical competition in general. Especially in the case of untransitioned transwomen, sharing housing space and sports teams with males will pose serious problems of privacy and fairness to other women. These entirely foreseeable conflicts of interest must be resolved to the satisfaction of all students before the admissions policy is changed, not after.

Elements of A Reasonable Compromise

I. Need To Establish “Transition” Criteria

I do not believe that Smith—or any women’s college, for that matter—is in a position to evaluate the subjective “gender identities” of legally male people. Especially in light of the trend towards preferred pronoun practices, consistent use of the pronoun “she” is a weak criterion by which to measure whether an applicant is “a woman” for the purpose of admission to an all-women’s college.

If a policy change cannot be avoided, I propose that basic documentation showing duration of social transition and evidence of permanent legal transition from “male” to “female” are necessary elements of Smith’s admissions policies. The logistics of this proposal could entail something as simple as the additional requirement of providing a state or federally issued form of personal identification such as a drivers’ license, passport, or social security card. While some transwoman-inclusionists are sure to balk at this proposal, I repeat: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

The fact that most Smith students are young adults undergoing periods of significant personal growth and transformation only reinforces my belief that transwomen should demonstrate their commitment to transition before applying to and matriculating at Smith.

II. Need To Protect Freedom of Speech and Thought

The unconditional inclusivity of identity politics demands that we honor transwomen’s subjective identities as “women,” even if those identities conflict with our own perceptions. In some cases, it amounts to nothing less than suspension of disbelief. This is unprecedented political territory.

No Smith woman should be required to accept a male person as a “woman” if she does not believe it is so. It is perfectly fine if some Smith women choose to adopt a politic of identity libertarianism. At the same time, it is fundamentally unreasonable to expect that all Smith women should uncritically co-sign the “gender identities” of every male who wishes to lay a claim to “womanhood.” The pressure on women to be welcoming and accommodating of anyone who is “marginalized by gender” mirrors sexist stereotypes about women’s care-taking social responsibilities.

I have been personally censored and publicly attacked for daring to suggest that there must be some measurable standard by which we can differentiate males who are sincere and permanent in their transition to “womanhood” from those who are not. I am not ashamed of my position in any way. Many current and former Smith students, however, are unable to speak freely because they fear similar treatment.[18] I hope that Smith’s policy makers will be sensitive to the hostility surrounding the debate about trans “gender identities” —including the many aspects of transwomen’s inclusion at Smith that are not regularly discussed— and continue to solicit the confidential input of alumni and students.

Conclusion

The Smith community celebrates the diversity of women and their accomplishments, fights sex-based stereotypes, and offers unique opportunities for women to explore the world and expand their minds. I love Smith for that. But Smith and its students are not obligated to provide space for and expend their resources on male people based on nothing more than a deconstructionist, and arguably sexist, theory of “gender identity.” Nor should all Smith women be required to welcome into their space every male who claims innate knowledge about what it means to be a “woman.”

Smith College has a responsibility to all current and future students to ensure that non-transitioned transwomen, also known as men, are not part of any incoming or outgoing classes at Smith. This should not be a controversial statement. It is simply common sense to build basic controls into the admissions policy designed to prevent males who have not fully transitioned— and cannot demonstrate intent to transition—from being admitted. This is the only consistent and legally justifiable means of maintaining Smith as a single-sex college in anything but name.

I hope you will take these important considerations under advisement as you review the admissions policy and plan for Smith’s future.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth Hungerford, Class of 2000
Maynard, MA

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[1] Sophia Smith’s Last Will & Testament, Thirteenth:

http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/smith/sophia/found/will/will10.htm

Full text here, accessed 12/14/2014: http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/smith/sophia/found/will/will_txt.htm

[2] Sidhu, Dawinder S., Are Blue and Pink the New Brown? The Permissibility of Sex-Segregated Education as Affirmative Action (2008). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 17, p. 579, 2008. Accessed online 12/10/2014 at http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/research/JLPP/upload/Sidhu.pdf

[3] See The Missing Half of American History by Beth Olanoff. August 7, 2014. Newsworks.org. Accessed 12/11/2014: http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/essayworks/71298-the-missing-half-of-american-history

[4] See Moss-Racusin, C. A., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 16474–16479. doi:10.1073/pnas.1211286109.

See also: Milkman, Katherine L. and Akinola, Modupe and Chugh, Dolly, What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations (July 11, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2063742  or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2063742

[5] Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls by Myra Sadker; David Sadker. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994.

[6] Orenstein, P., & American Association of University Women. (1994). Schoolgirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap. New York: Doubleday.

[7] Chen, Jacqueline M. and Wesley G. Moons. (2014) They won’t listen to me: Anticipated power and women’s disinterest in male-dominated domains. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.

[8]  See The Case for Sex- and Gender-Specific Medicine JAMA Intern Med. 2014; 174(8): 1348-1349. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.320.

[9] Jordan-Young, Rebecca M. Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010. Print.

[10] Fine, Cordelia. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. Print.

[11] Button, KS, Ioannidis, JPA, Mokrysz, C, Nosek, BA, Flint, J, Robinson, ESJ & Munafò, MR 2013, ‘Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience’. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 14., pp. 365-376.

[12] For example, E. Lentini, M. Kasahara, S. Arver, and I. Savic. Sex Differences in the Human Brain and the Impact of Sex Chromosomes and Sex Hormones. Cereb. Cortex (2013) 23 (10): 2322-2336 first published online August 13, 2012 doi:10.1093/cercor/bhs222

[13] For example, E. Luders, F. Sánchez, D. Tosun, D. Shattuck, C. Gaser, E. Vilain and A. Toga, “Increased Cortical Thickness in Male-to-Female Transsexualism,” Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, Vol. 2 No. 3, 2012, pp. 357-362. doi:10.4236/jbbs.2012.23040.

[14] See Mount Holyoke’s recently announced admissions policy and the concept of ‘positionality’ that they have put forth.  Accessed 12/13/2014 at https://www.mtholyoke.edu/policies/admission-transgender-students. I argue that male and female social positions are not interchangeable and we do not become similarly positioned through the wishful thinking of subjective “gender identity” alone.

[15] Grant, J. M., Mottet, L.A., Tanis, J.,Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Accessed 12/14/2014: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

See Transition, page 26; Gender Identity and the Public Sphere, page 27; and Surgery—Male-To-Female, page 79.

[16] See a feminist transsexual’s commentary on Justin Kilian here: http://snowflakeespecial.tumblr.com/post/101268179918/peak-trans-x-1-000-000-gallus-posted-an-edited. Full video of Kilian’s October 25, 2014 “Speech at the Rally for Trans Inclusion at Smith” on the Smith campus here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FI0iwMN8Zo#t=28

[17] See the case of Gabrielle (formerly Robert) Ludwig, a 6’6” tall male who joined the women’s Mission College basketball team in California. Accessed 12/14/2014 http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2012/12/04/college-basketball-transgender-player-gabrielle-ludwig-robert-ludwig-mission-college/1744703/?sf7664870=1

[18] Internet only reference: When Women Become Men at Wellesley, by Ruth Padawer, New York Times, October 15, 2014. Accessed 12/15/2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/magazine/when-women-become-men-at-wellesley-college.html?_r=0

37 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Smith College About Transwomen

  1. As a current Smith student who feels silenced, thank you SO much for writing this eloquent piece. I’m so heartened to hear that there are people who are coming forward to support Smith’s female-only admissions policy. Thank you.

  2. Kent, I’m not approving your comments. They are inflammatory and fail to address the content of my letter. You may get a better understanding of my position if you read the other posts on this site. Your preferred mantra “transwomen are women” is an elementary level of discussion; I am trying to have some nuance. Thanks for reading.

  3. Liz, I hope to speak to a Mount Holyoke alumna later this week about the possibility of organizing resistance. Enough is enough. I may not win, but I will know that I fought!!

  4. Elizabeth…No, you’re not trying for nuance. You’re hiding the message that believe transwomen aren’t women behind academia, and not even very well. And the call for nuance, instead of addressing the actual points that I made (such as that perception is *not* more important than self-identification) indicates to me that you are not actually interested in a conversation about this topic. You just want to tell people what you think and not have them respond. Well, if you want to do that, there are many forums for that kind of thing, but a blog post is really not the best place to do that because of the comments.

    I’ve read the other posts on this blog, and I have a perfect understanding of your position. You think that genitals and chromosomes make a person who they are. You have no understanding of trans theory, despite your claims to the contrary,, and yet, you somehow know that there is a difference between trans and trans*, though I don’t think you truly grasp what that difference is. For your edification, trans* is inclusive of people who do not fall in the male/female gender binary, and the only reason there’s a binary between cis and trans is that trans is inclusive of all people who do not identify as the gender assigned to them at birth, whether that means that they shun all genders, identify as bi-gendered, or choose any of a number of genders outside the patriarchal male-female model (not every society has embrace only two genders). And feeling like a woman doesn’t mean you only do things that the patriarchy deems womanly. Obviously.

    This will be the last thing I write, because obviously you’re only going to let the sycophants through (because “Spot on. Brilliant piece.” is such a nuanced comment), but trans women are women. I encourage you to read the writing of Janet Mock, or listen to Laverne Cox speak. They are full of nuance.

    Now, please, allow me to be actually inflammatory for a second: You are a bigoted piece of shit who wants to use her education to make others feel shitty. You are just as much of an oppressor as the men who you don’t want speaking over you. I felt this way the first time I posted, but because I was hoping that you might be the kind of person who could actually have a dialog with another human being instead of dismissing their points altogether as elementary (which is in and of itself elementary you arrogant asshat). Alas, you are not intelligent enough to entertain ideas outside of your comfort zone. I hope Smith makes the right decision and ignores you.

  5. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable that transwomen applying to an historically all-female university be required to provide a certain amount of evidence that they are committed to permanently joining the ladies’ team, so to speak. The balancing act between supporting our trans sisters and protecting our rare women-only spaces is an unfortunate necessity.

  6. I don’t subscribe to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism. Please peddle your inane bullshit lumping Paul Ryan and Janet Mock into the same category to someone who gives a shit.

  7. Kent’s behavior here exemplifies the kind of treatment that women who dare to criticize identity politics are regularly faced with. It’s very sad.

  8. Kent, there are THOUSANDS of colleges that accept male applicants. The exclusion of male people from Smith is no more offensive than the exclusion of white people from the NAACP. Power analysis is everything when we talk about oppression, discrimination, and public policy. Finally, PLEASE stop using the word “trash” in reference to other people, it suggests that you consider yourself superior.

  9. Hi Elizabeth!

    I’m sorry you’ve been attacked for publicizing your views, while I find many of them offensive, I don’t think that in itself is sufficient reason to lower the quality of public discourse.

    I’m a trans woman a little bit beyond the age of enrolling in a new college, and no interest in an expensive private option, so that’s my stake in this.

    I agree that a need for transition criteria is necessary. A statement from a counselor or medical practitioner affirming that the individual has been in the process of transition and living as a woman for a certain period of time (six months to a year perhaps) should be more than sufficient. Yearly follow-up statements affirming that the individual is still doing so can also be required. If the individual detransitions they should make arrangements to transfer to a different college as soon as possible.

    Your need to protect the freedom of speech and thought seems like nothing more than a false flag, of course everyone is free to say or think whatever they want, but there is no legal guarantee that they can impose such thoughts on the world.

    You say that being a woman is a lived experience with material consequences, and I agree because it is my experience. You assume that our experiences cannot align on some level, but how could either of us possibly say for sure?

    I notice you don’t advocate for the exclusion of trans men, who develop male secondary characteristics, talk loudly over women, look and sound exactly like men, and even have penises in some cases (though the last is rare). The fact is that the erasure of women’s spaces that you fear so much is being performed by them because of Smith’s and other women’s colleges archaic fixation on the genitals of its applicants. For in their view, men are the penetrators and women are to be penetrated. Not particularly progressive, n’est pas?

    (Though not without its problems, here’s a good article explaining what I mean: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/magazine/when-women-become-men-at-wellesley-college.html?_r=0)

    As a final note, I and most trans women prefer trans as an adjective and not a prefix. The mangled phrase ‘transwoman’ seems to be a word constructed by those radical feminists such as yourself who advocate for the exclusion of trans women to impose on us. While we certainly disagree on so much, perhaps we can agree that all people deserve to be able to construct the language that describes themselves? Please give this some thought.

    Gentle regards,
    Sofi

  10. Very commendable the sane view of what is a full transgender female. I am also in transition to the female mind and body. I applaud you on the legal use of the definition of what is female. I can fully understand the importance of being a fully transitioned female. I know that any thing else is a mutation on the female gender. I am 50 and know that I am not a person who is female until I fully become as close as I can to the accepted form of a woman. I refuse to be a mockery to either genders expectations. I do know that I will never be good enough for some people to accept me. I just hope that I can survive without being beat or murdered for who I am. I really look forward to seeing myself as a woman or as close as I can get there. I just hope that I survive the pain of people who hate me because they believe that science doesn’t prove transgender. Take the hog fish and a certain wrasp. They are never going to be a male or female no matter what science says.

  11. It seems to me that Sophia Smith’s desire was to provide for those who had been treated as girls and women throughout their lives until their enrollment at Smith College. Could not that be used as an elaboration of her word “women,” since the noun “women” has lost its clarity of meaning? Applicants with a lifelong history as girls and women are those she wished to benefit.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can only hope Smith will listen to reason. I felt extremely silenced at Smith regarding this issue. I am so scared that the administration will be bullied into changing admission policies, just as Mt. Holyoke’s was. The lived experience of being socialized as woman is not something that can be learned. There is more talk of “transmisogyny” today than ACTUAL misogyny, and it makes me so sad and disappointed. We need women’s colleges – for female-socialized women – today more than ever.

  13. “Bigoted piece of shit” and “arrogant asshat”…Kent, if your goal was to demonstrate an inability to come up with sound arguments to support your position, you did that brilliantly. Congratulations!

  14. Hi Sofi,
    Thank you for participating and I apologize for the delay in approving your comment. Disagreement with nuance is always welcomed here!

    I appreciate the practical suggestions you have put forth regarding a doctor’s letter evidencing social transition and yearly follow-ups with pre-arranged plans for transfer if the transition is not moving forward as planned! Radical. Scandalous, even! 🙂

    I think you may misunderstand my concern for genitals. Transmens’ presence at women’s colleges is not without its problems (I really enjoyed the article about Wellesley; I have been following all of this very closely for several years now), but I encourage you to read another one of my articles to better understand why I focus on what I do: “Socialization Matters: Identity Libertarianism is Failed Politics.” Socialization is a very powerful force in our lives and power dynamics are not reversed by sheer force of thought, self-perception, or subjective identity. I believe that Smith is a place for those socialized as “girls” from birth. There is nothing complicated about it: “assigned girl social role at birth?” Y/N. Nothing about genitals, chromosomes, or essentialism. It’s about the social dynamics of gender.

    As you say, “of course everyone is free to say or think whatever they want, but there is no legal guarantee that they can impose such thoughts on the world.” Unfortunately…they can. The concept of “gender identity” and the pressure on everyone to uncritically accept these identities is an attempt to impose subjective/internal thoughts on the outside world. You may be familiar with “gender identity” anti-discrimination laws that DO enforce these identities on others. See http://sexnotgender.com/chart/ for a full listing of the laws. This is precisely the precedent being relied upon to argue that transwomen should be legally recognized as female EVEN IF they have not made any steps towards transition! It’s a big problem for me. If Smith enforces objective criteria for transition, as you and I have BOTH suggested, it will be less of a problem. But at the moment, we are looking at women being forced to accept males as “women” based on nothing more than that male person’s “say so.”

    Thanks again for engaging.
    Gentle regards, Elizabeth

  15. BigYawnAtPolitics:

    I do not find your statement persuasive. Please see footnote 2 to the letter:

    Sidhu, Dawinder S., Are Blue and Pink the New Brown? The Permissibility of Sex-Segregated Education as Affirmative Action (2008). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 17, p. 579, 2008. Accessed online 12/10/2014 at http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/research/JLPP/upload/Sidhu.pdf

    POWER analysis is necessary here. There is an unequal balance of power between males and females on an aggregate, class basis. This needs to be reconciled before we can conclude that female-only spaces are “contrary to feminism.” I suspect that you actually intend to refer to HUMANism, not FEMinism. I would still disagree, but it would make more sense.

  16. I cannot believe this even needs said. When males can go to the very best schools, and 99.9% of schools are coed, I can only see this as an attack on womens space.

    There is NO reason trans should be at that school, especially born male trans, but a F2T shouldn’t be there either once they transition. It’s a school for women- there are so few, why so we have to ruin this?

    Oh yeah, because MEN want in. So screw everything that Smith was founded on. Ridiculous.

    I find it telling that women aren’t abusing trans safe spaces but male born trans seem to focus on getting into ours. How very typical.

    Sad for the future.

  17. I completely agree with you. “Trans activists” are like a cult. The second anyone starts to question their logic, that person is labelled a TERF and is met with death and rape threats even in the most progressive of spaces.

  18. Just for the record, I have not received ANY threats as a result of sharing this letter publicly.

    As you can see, Kent called me “trash” some other people on Facebook apparently compared me to Hitler or something, but that is fairly routine for anyone who dares to speak truth to…identity libertarianism.

    It is more important to me that I speak my truth than that I avoid being called totally irrational insults. In fact, my dearest parents told me that if I care enough to say something, I should care enough to SAY IT WITH MY OWN NAME. So I do. 🙂 And I hope it emboldens other women to do the same.

  19. This is a nice letter. I wonder, though, what you think about positions that are broadly ‘gender critical’ (in the sense that they deny that, for example, you are whatever sex you identify), but because they deny that gender exists at all. I wonder this because your letter seems to affirm that there is such a thing as being a woman which is distinct from being female.

  20. Elizabeth, I support your efforts to preserve Smith’s character. You have already made the legal arguments and the hard line feminist arguments. Let me add a practical one: Some women simply prefer to congregate with other women. Some men prefer to congregate with other men. This associational pattern is pretty common. The reasons for single sex colleges are complex and varied, but whatever the reasons, the single sex private college choice should be available to those who want it. Women’s colleges relieve women of the social pressure to look decorous and behave in stereotypically feminine ways while they are trying to develop themselves intellectually. All the leadership positions are for women at a woman’s college. No social pressure exists to choose any particular area of study. All of the sexual system-based problems of co-ed schools which draw a lot of press these days do not exist in the single sex educational environment. Men can also benefit from single sex education for their particular reasons. Single sex colleges occupy a very small slice of the educational landscape. Women have less than 50 women’s college choices left in the US. Men, some of whom would choose an all male environment if it were still there for the choosing, have substantially fewer secular single sex choices left than that. The transgender movement at single sex schools will likely finish off what single sex college choices remain. That would be unfortunate.

  21. As always I am impressed by Ms. Hungerford’s erudite prose, however I would take her proposal several steps further and propose that the board of Smith update their admissions policy to include a DNA test for all applicants – clearly state that admissions is for XX females only – which is a modern and scientific re-stating of Sophia Smith’s original intent when she endowed Smith College.

    My mother was a Smithie, and I attest that not one member of my mother’s class nor any of the classes at Smith before hers conceived of “woman” as anything other than an XX female. This post-modern bandying of the smoke and mirrors of identity politics must not be allowed to change our common-sense definition of “woman”. To do so would tremendously peril women’s rights, women’s freedom of association, women’s institutions, women’s safety, women’s privacy and women’s precious, hard-won sisterhood. It is a huge leap backwards socially and politically to define women out of existence as a sex-based class and this fad/cult of “gender identity” trumping biological reality cannot not be entertained without destroying women’s work on behalf of ourselves and other women over the past century.

  22. Knowing and speaking about the difference between the real sex-based class female and the current fad/cult pseudo-class “male faux-women” doesn’t make Ms. Hungerford a bad person. It makes her a bad-ass defender of real women’s human rights. You know, real women? 51% of the human race? The half of the human race still considered chattel or male-owned living/breathing/thinking/feeling property in much of the world?

  23. K, Thank you for commenting. I am broadly ‘gender critical,’ but I think you know that. I do not believe that ‘gender’ exists in an innate, pre-social sense. Or, as I said in “A feminist critique of ‘cisgender’

    …[I] reject gender as a natural social category that every person identifies with. Feminists do not believe that everyone has a “gender identity,” or that we all possess some kind of internal compass directing our identification with “gender.”

    What I do believe exists is LIVED EXPERIENCE. And I believe that being a “woman” is a lived experience. It is the experience of being pigeon-holed and limited by the “girl” (sex-based) social role from birth. I would never say that a transwoman is THE SAME AS a woman, but a transwoman may very well be mistaken for a woman. When a transwoman is *treated as* a woman and pledges to live out the rest of her life “as a woman,” then we start to see some similarities between women and transwomen in terms of lived experience. I hope that helps answer your questions. Thanks again for participating in the conversation!

  24. Smith is now apparently inviting people to join scheduled group (?) phone calls to discuss the admissions policy. http://alumnae.smith.edu/study-group-call/

    Please join one of those calls and share your views! You are on the right side of the debate here, but I fear others are too scared of being attacked to fight for what’s right for women.

  25. I left this comment on Laura Trumbull’s blog:

    Hello, Laura Trumbull. Thank you for engaging with this debate and referencing my Open Letter to Smith.

    You say: “I’m fascinated by the assertion that there is a common, lived experience associated with being a woman.”

    The common, lived experience I refer to is that of being pressed into the social role “girl” from birth. This is often referred to as “designated female at birth” or DFAB.

    Do you think that the social role “girl” doesn’t have a coherent, shared meaning? If not, how do you think it is possible for there to be such a stark disparity in power between those who are dfab versus those who are dmab? By disparity in power I refer to the historical and current conditions of women versus men, including but not limited to: land ownership, wealth distribution, governmental position-holding and decision-making authority, and bodily autonomy. There is objective, measurable evidence of women’s oppression in all of these areas of social power. How could a *pattern* of male supremacy emerge if there were no underlying cohesion to the groups: males/men and females/women?

    So in short, it is our *oppression* as “girls” (and then as women) that is our common, lived experience.

    As an analogy, we do not believe that there is no common experience for black Americans merely because shadism is in play. *Racism* is their common experience. Only those who deny the social oppression of black people would argue that black colleges are made largely irrelevant by the differences in lived experience between light skinned black people and dark skinned black people.

    Continuing with the analogy, but moving to the claim that discrimination of any kind is a qualifying criteria for admissions to a woman’s college: we do not argue that white people who experience other forms of hardships in their life, such as economic discrimination, are *also* the intended beneficiaries of black colleges. So why do we conclude that intersectionality of oppression is an equalizing force in the case of women but not in the case of other forms of social discrimination? This line of reasoning just doesn’t work out for me.

    Moving away from the race analogy, many many gay males have been bullied on the playground, rejected by peers and family, and subjected to homophobic hate crimes. This is not unlike the social treatment that many many transwomen experience. Yet, this is not sufficient reason to alter women’s colleges’ meaning of “woman” to include gay males. So there must be another level of distinction here between gay males and transwomen that is not articulated in the “discrimination on the axis of gender renders one entitled to attend womens colleges” argument.

    The other thing I’d like to address from your post is the reference to an “accident of biology.” Referring to your argument above that women have no common, lived experience; how could a male know that he is a woman if women have no shared characteristics? That doesn’t make sense in terms of categorizing people. If “women” are not a discrete class of persons, then it is not possible for anyone to join that group for it simply does not exist! Additionally, transwomen’s bodies are almost without exception genetically XY and functionally male (hormonally, by the structure of the genito-urinary tract, and usually reproductive functional as male as well). Where is the “accident”? Are butch females also an “accident” because they don’t act or look like a woman “naturally does?” And vice versa for effeminate males? A biological framing of transgenderism necessarily uses cis-sexist standards of “healthy” to establish the norm from which trans people deviate. Calling it a medical condition is deeply conservative; it pathologizes human diversity rather than celebrating it.

    I also encourage you to dig deeper into the science that supports the “accident of biology” theory of transgenderism. “Brain sex” hypothesis studies are plagued by small sample sizes, inability to repeat findings, low statistical power, and lack of control groups. Maybe even more importantly, a failure to consider the effects of neuroplasticity on brain structures further undermines their reliability. They also tend to make huge, unsupported leaps between apparent brain structure and brain *function.* It’s a classic “correlation is not causation” error.

    I’m not opposed to transwomen at Smith. I think we agree on that. I am strongly opposed to the “brain sex” theory of transgenderism, and at the same time, I believe that *lived experience* is the correct measure of social positionality. Therefore, transwomen who are living as women do have many things in common with dfab people in relation to their current and future social position. Transwomen who have NOT transitioned, however, and cannot demonstrate a consistent and prolonged *lived experience* as a woman, do not belong in women-only spaces and are not entitled to a place at womens-only institutions. It’s really that simple. Lived experience, not biology. Or identity.

    I hope this helped explain my reasoning in a bit more detail. And I’m sorry for writing a comment that is longer than your post. I am either way verbose, or the topic is way complicated, or a little bit of both. Thanks again for your engagement with these issues.

  26. Hi Sami, I will be listening to the 8:30EST version of the group phone calls on March 11th. I have already “spoken” a LOT, so I’m not sure that I will actually speak during the call. However, if there is a request to submit questions ahead of time, I will. 🙂 Thank you for commenting. And if you want to read more discussion on this issue, I have been engaging in the Smith College Alumnae group on Facebook with other alumni.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2592540778/

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