In 1851, or thereabouts, Sojourner Truth did or did not give a speech later titled, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Historical data is sketchy, as Ms. Truth did not transcribe a copy herself. Variations abound, one of the earliest without the famous phrase.
Her speech, given at a convention for women’s rights, before women had them, and at a time when “Women’s Rights’, ” actually meant, “White Women’s Rights’,” often explicitly. 167 years ago, queer and trans rights weren’t even recognized in European cultures.
In many places, still, women’s rights is a stand-in for white, well-off cishet (non-trans and straight) women’s rights. Many women’s spaces are starting to open up and be more inclusive, but there is still work to do. In Sojourner Truth’s speech, she made her case for women’s equality with men, although still referencing archaic beliefs that men are more intelligent than women. She also reminds her audience that ‘women’ is a much broader category than it is sometimes portrayed as.
Of course I believe in and advocate for all people’s equality, regardless of gender, gender identification, gender presentation, race, income status, mental health, etc, etc. And I certainly support the equality of non-binary folk. This piece, however, is written from a first-person, transfeminist point of view. It is not in any way intended to be exclusive of our mutual right to, and struggles for, equality.
35 years of my life, I’ve worked, many years multiple jobs, 50-70 hours a week, same as any other man or woman, and just as hard, and don’t I deserve the same credit as everyone else?
Since transition, I have lived under the same patriarchal rules, expectations, and social limitations as any other woman.
Yet some would deny me rights, my inclusion in women’s spaces, because of my past. But aren’t I a woman, too?
Didn’t I raise my children, often facing the same conflicts between career and family as any other woman? Though I would never regulate anyone to a forced role, have I not cared for so many, in career and life, as many women do?
With as little thanks?
Do I not incur the same dangers walking the streets as any other woman?
Aren’t trans women of color, and trans women who do not ‘pass’ in even greater danger, just for expressing their true gender, for being themselves?
Are we not all women, too, for that matter?
Do we all not suffer the same body image issues? Do we all not hear the same constant messages of low-worth and feel ourselves measured against the same unattainable standards of perfection?
Are we not limited in our careers because of our gender? Does not the same series of hierarchies which puts down our lovely cisters put us down in exactly the same ways?
Are we not women, too? Aren’t I a woman?
Do I not struggle to be heard, even about my own issues, against powerful voices who would define my existence and the use of my private parts, without my consent, without even my input?
And don’t we feel the earth shake when our rights to live, to work, to be in public are threatened by the same people who divide us by gender, by race, by religion?
Are we not judged by our clothing choices? By our body types? By the ever-invisible, non-attainable illusory standards of feminine perfection?
Are we not judged, criticized and excluded for being too feminine, too masculine, too far outside someone else’s standard model?
Are we not judged for wearing too much makeup, not enough makeup, no makeup at all? For the hem of our skirts?
And aren’t we judged by our sexuality?
Aren’t we women? Am I not a woman?
I did not choose to be female, any more than any other woman. I did have to choose to own it, to embody it, to embrace it. I did choose to live as I am, as a woman. I chose to embrace the ridiculous double-standards which dance around gender. And I chose, and choose, to fight against the inequities society heaps upon so many of us, in all our glorious genders and gender expressions. We are not the same, but our fight is.
Do we not need the strength of sisterhood, of inclusion to overcome our barriers?
Don’t we deserve community to keep us going, when fighting the same battles, being judged by the same degrading, patriarchal standards?
Don’t we, as women, belong in the struggle, in the community of women?
Aren’t I a woman?