Advanced search

'TERF' isn't just a slur, it's hate speech

(36 Posts)
DonkeySkin Fri 22-Sep-17 15:40:22

This article by Meghan Murphy explains how the anti-feminist term 'TERF' is being used, by men especially, to incite hatred and violence towards women.

I've been thinking about what an effective propaganda tool 'TERF' has been in silencing and demonising women who criticise any aspect of the trans agenda, and how crucial it is that feminists expose both its true meaning and the hateful rhetoric that accompanies it.

Make no mistake, 'TERF' represents the most extreme misogyny in both conception and function.

Firstly, the phrase behind the acronym - 'trans-exclusionary radical feminist' - derives its power from the accusation that there is something unnatural and monstrous about women who 'exclude' men. It plays into the sexist notion that women are hateful for having boundaries: according to patriarchal logic, women are not to supposed to have anything for ourselves; everything we have is to be made available to men for their benefit. ‘TERF’ is an extreme manifestation of this patriarchal logic, implying that women should not even be permitted to distinguish ourselves as a separate, real category of persons, and that our ontological existence itself should be open for colonisation by males.

Secondly, it is not only a misogynistic slur but a lesbophobic one. If women are bigots for excluding males, it follows therefore that lesbians, who exclude men from the resources they most prize from women (sexual and reproductive function), would become open to charges of bigotry simply for being lesbians, and they have been, with organised campaigns against lesbian sexuality in the form of the ‘Cotton Ceiling’ workshops and vicious targeting of otherwise ‘trans inclusionary’ lesbians such as Youtuber Arielle Scarcella, merely for saying that they don’t want to interact sexually with male-bodied people.

Thirdly, the word itself is deliberately ugly, evoking its homonym ‘turf’, implying that the women so-labelled are ground to be trodden on, stomped and kicked. This is crucial to the term’s dehumanising intent. As Murphy points out, once a man has labeled a woman a ‘TERF’, he can then direct any sexual or violent threat towards her (or, as we’ve seen with the assault on Maria MacLachlan at Speaker’s Corner, actual violence), and take cover from the fact that, according to many leftists and liberal feminists, he hasn’t abused a woman, but rather righteously disciplined a ‘TERF’.

In light of the extreme misogynist abuse that ‘TERF’ encourages and enables, it was very upsetting to see the media, in the wake of the Speaker's Corner attack, refer to the assembled feminists using that term. In some cases (e.g., Pink News) this was deliberate, but in others, e.g., the Daily Mail, it seemed more a result of confusion and perhaps the genuine belief that this is what the feminists called themselves (I think the DM even referred to MacLachlan as ‘a member of TERF’). IMO this highlights the need for feminists to undertake a campaign of educating journalists and the general public about this slur and how it functions. Perhaps, next time the issue is in the news, we should undertake an email campaign to journalists and editors at major media outlets explaining how 'TERF' is a term that has been imposed on gender-critical feminists in order to demonise us, and that it is often accompanied with misogynist abuse and threats. This would also be a good opportunity to provide examples (e.g., screenshots or links to articles like the one above) of said misogynist abuse from transactivists and men in general, which helps to expose the misogyny of the movement itself. Lord knows, they are providing us with AMPLE evidence. Probably the simplest way to do it is to direct journalists to the website terfisaslur, which should open a few eyes to the real nature of trans activism.

And I also have to beg women here not to try to 'reclaim' it. Reclaiming slurs never works for women. Think about the way liberal feminists tried to reclaim 'slut' - this ill-conceived campaign did nothing to stop men from using slut to denigrate women. I guarantee that it did not stop a single abusive man from hurling 'slut' at a woman while he was beating her. Ironically, all it did was give men licence to use slut more freely.

Rather, we need to acknowledge the seriousness of this. ‘TERF’ is a term, now in widespread use amongst the left, that dehumanises women and justifies violence against us. That's the REASON it has been gleefully embraced by so many people, especially men. I know that many gender-critical feminists here and elsewhere like to use 'TERF' jokingly or ironically, and I understand the impulse towards that, but please be aware that this ultra-misogynist slur cannot be subverted or 'reclaimed’ - it can only be exposed for the woman-hating propaganda that it is, and whenever women apply it to themselves ironically or casually throw it around in jest, it makes doing this very difficult, as well as possibly retraumatising the women and especially lesbians who have had to endure truly horrific misogynistic and lesbophobic 'TERF'-inspired abuse and threats.

SmartiesHaveTheAnswer Sat 30-Sep-17 14:25:37

Link works on my PC - ignore my last post.

Ereshkigal Sat 30-Sep-17 09:36:14

The example you gave made me especially angry because it goes against the spirit of the law, in favour of a feeling of entitlement.
Its obviously sex discrimination if a woman is barred from breastfeeding. Surely is the point of giving the protection was not some mealy mouthed 'muh equal rights', but the fact that babies are fragile and need constant care, including feeding at regular intervals? that has been completely overlooked because some men are upset that women get 'more' or different rights.

Yes, it was just blatantly used as a get out clause so that women could be discriminated against with impunity. It's exactly the sort of thing the law was supposed to prevent.

SmartiesHaveTheAnswer Sat 30-Sep-17 08:18:13

Assigned the link doesn't work - has it been taken down?

Datun Sat 30-Sep-17 07:32:32


Thanks. Great article. I can't help wondering which way this is going to blow, concerning the word terf.

On the one hand, it is definitely used inappropriately, as a means of othering women who disagree with the ideology.

On the other, it is levelled, now, at anyone, even if they've never heard of feminism, if they believe transwomen are men.

It's very useful to keep saying it's a slur, because as it's applied more widely, people who are slurred by it, will realise exactly how little they have to do to deserve it.

If they believe that has been even the slightest merit to it, when they themselves get tainted by it, they will have something of a lightbulb moment.

Rumandraisin1 Fri 29-Sep-17 23:19:14

Excellent article in the New Statesman on the use of the word TERF:

Datun Sun 24-Sep-17 14:17:52

It is terrifying. I'm talking to a woman on another thread, whose child is trans-. They are frightened and angry at the feminist discourse surrounding it.

I'm fully supportive of any parent whose child is trans. That doesn't mean I can't support women and girls and defend them against the hate in your link.

But there does come a point where rights conflict, I think. The parent of a trans child might want them to use the bathroom of the opposite sex, because that is what the child wants. Also medicalisation. I don't think there are many parents who undertake it lightly. So when feminists start talking about the danger of it, it feels like a slap in the face.

Of course, none of this means we shouldn't be able to talk about it. Talking about it can only ever help.

AssignedPerfectAtBirth Sun 24-Sep-17 14:08:39

Not at all. Terrifying, isn't it?

Datun Sun 24-Sep-17 14:03:25


I'm borrowing that link for another thread, if you don't mind.

AssignedPerfectAtBirth Sun 24-Sep-17 13:01:50

Don't know if this has been posted before but I found it on twitter. It a bunch of males gleefully celebrating Michfest being closed. I am really fucking angry. Many of them are still on twitter. I checked

Datun Sun 24-Sep-17 12:40:07


Thanks. I find the law part of it very interesting. You may not be able to change the dictionary definition of the word (yet), but the legal definition has huge ramifications.

Also, the quite blind refusal to understand women's point of view on this. Or just being completely ignorant of it.

Men can, and do, instantly change the dynamic of a gathering of women. The fact that no man will ever realise this, I believe is part of the problem.

You have to spell it out to men, trying to find analogies and examples and saying now do you understand? Whilst they think a bit and then say oh, yes okay, I can sort of see where you're coming from.

Because they don't live it.

Trying to explain to a man how another man can intimidate you by doing virtually nothing is incredibly difficult. Trying to explain the extra layer of hell, if that man says he is a woman, is almost impossible.

A man identifying as a woman can get away with far more boundary violation, intimidation and sexist behaviour, than a regular man.

Women know this.

DJBaggySmalls Sun 24-Sep-17 12:28:42

The example you gave made me especially angry because it goes against the spirit of the law, in favour of a feeling of entitlement.
Its obviously sex discrimination if a woman is barred from breastfeeding. Surely is the point of giving the protection was not some mealy mouthed 'muh equal rights', but the fact that babies are fragile and need constant care, including feeding at regular intervals? that has been completely overlooked because some men are upset that women get 'more' or different rights.

DJBaggySmalls Sun 24-Sep-17 12:17:20

Datun - Its not you being dense.
The Equality Act used to specifically state 'women' as a protected class and that was recently replaced by 'sex'.
They also conflate 'sex' and 'gender'.
So yes, mtt's with a penis are legally women, and women are invisible. Which is why I believe the Women and Equalities Committee is not fit for purpose.

Ereshkigal Sun 24-Sep-17 11:59:03

The woman in Canada who couldn't sue over breastfeeding at work, based on sex discrimination. Because they said men can breastfeed too (transmen).

I once had a discussion about this with a transactivist and I don't think they actually used transmen as the example. They provided evidence that some actual men can lactate. Which is ridiculous. But obviously it's even more undermined when gender identity comes into it.

Ereshkigal Sun 24-Sep-17 11:56:04

For instance, if you had diversity quotas and you had to have say six men and six women on the board for example, legally that could be six men and six transwomen?

Yes and I believe such a law has just been passed in California.

Datun Sun 24-Sep-17 07:23:09


You're absolutely right. I apologise. I was getting mixed up with hate crime. Which includes being trans, but doesn't include being a woman.

They say something is a hate incident if the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on one of the following things:

transgender identity
sexual orientation.

So the word terf, despite inciting violence, can't be considered a hate crime? But misgendering someone can? Despite being forced to use preferred pronouns is actually a denial of reality.

I'm confused (easily done), but perhaps you can help out here.

Having had another look, I see that pregnancy and maternity leave are covered as a category on their own. They don't specify that you have to be female.

So what else would fall under sex discrimination that doesn't rely on biology (like pregnancy and maternity leave)?

For instance, if you had diversity quotas and you had to have say six men and six women on the board for example, legally that could be six men and six transwomen?

The woman in Canada who couldn't sue over breastfeeding at work, based on sex discrimination. Because they said men can breastfeed too (transmen).

Would breastfeeding, for instance, have to be in the category of its own, like pregnancy?

And abortion laws. Are they framed as women's rights, or peoples rights?

And the constant threats of rape, violence and murder. They are reserved for women. I take it you can't claim sex discrimination, because men can be raped too? (despite these threats never being levelled at men).

Sunkisses Sun 24-Sep-17 05:24:25

Sex is definitely a 'protected characteristic' under the Equalities Act 2010 (with disability, age, race, gender identity etc). I didn't know that there was no hate crime based on your sex! Which bit of legislation is that? @Datun and @DJBaggySmalls

JemimaLovesHamble Sat 23-Sep-17 22:54:52

Quotes I just read on Robert Webb's twitter account

On being called a terf - "Dude, you might as well call me a 'cuck'. It's lightly invested, it's meaning rests with the accuser."

"They've been calling me a 'cuck' for years. TERF is another thought-terminating cliche."

Datun Sat 23-Sep-17 22:12:06

Sorry DJ, I wasn't talking about you, in case that wasn't clear. It was transactivists.

Datun Sat 23-Sep-17 22:09:09

The only way to separate people with the biological category associated with women, from people with the biological category associated with men, is to name the biology.

Hence 'uterus bearers'.

And it's a no from me.

I am a woman. If you want to separate it out, you can have transwoman and transman.

I am a woman You don't get to rename 51% of the population for a tiny percentage. However much you love the idea of reducing women to uterus bearers.

DJBaggySmalls Sat 23-Sep-17 22:02:33

Oh thats right, sex is protected under the Equality Act but not included in hate speech confused
Women dont have any protection under the constitution in the US, and none in Canada. I was on Twitter earlier and vocal trans activists are complaining that terfs are trying to undo protections for trans people in Canada. They couldnt give any examples of this; when I asked if they meant women want the same protection trans people get they either ignore it or block me.

Datun Sat 23-Sep-17 18:48:33


Is it? It's not in terms of hate speech. In terms of sex discrimination, then yes. But it's not a protected characteristic. Unlike trans.

The ridiculous part of this is that women are discriminated on the basis of their biology. Reproductive rights, breastfeeding protocols, rights to abortion, maternity leave and maternity care.

If you suddenly cannot sue someone on the basis of sex discrimination because of your sex, we're fucked. If the legal term woman, now includes men and the legal term men now includes women, there is no discrimination on the basis of sex to be had.

Writersblock2 Sat 23-Sep-17 18:20:22

Meghan' article is amazing; the comments on the FB thread not so much.

DJBaggySmalls Sat 23-Sep-17 16:05:17

Sex is a protected characteristic in the UK.

Datun Sat 23-Sep-17 15:44:20


I completely agree. I have been dipping in and out of the net today and the rage and fury that accompanies the word terf has massive intensified over the last couple of weeks.

And if you consider that any tiny, microscopic dissent of the ideology will earn you that name, it's very frightening. And I don't scare easily.

Anything less than complete adherence to every part will see you subjected to violence that is considered utterly legitimate. On the side of the gods.

DonkeySkin Sat 23-Sep-17 13:03:46

I can't get worked up about their petty slurs, as you can probably tell.

SerfTerf, when I first heard 'TERF' being used to smear gender-critical feminists, I thought it was laughable. I recognised the inherent sexism of it (it essentially redefines radical feminism, a strand of feminism that is by definition focused on females, and reorientates it around attitudes towards men), but it didn't concern me that much. Mostly, I though it exposed the weakness of the trans/libfem position - that they had to come up with this ridiculous acronym in order to smear their opponents showed that they had no coherent arguments. So I understand the impulse to make fun of it, certainly.

However, seeing the frenzied misogyny that now often accompanies 'TERF' has made me think more deeply about it.

It's an odd one. I thought of terf as a slur, but it didn't bother me as much as it does now.

It seems to have leaped into a different realm of effectiveness.

Yes, that's how I feel too, Datun, and that's why I made the thread. We shouldn't underestimate the power of slurs to demonise women. They have centuries of history behind them and appeal to people on a visceral level. IMO we need to tackle this now by dissecting the woman-hating logic behind it, before it becomes more widespread. We can't afford to be cavalier about this.

Join the discussion

Registering is free, quick, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Get started »