First, a quick explanation of what this was all about. Womensfest is an annual event organised by the Women’s Rights Officers (WROs) at the University of Auckland. It aims to celebrate and include all women. This year, the WROs thought an ‘ice your own vagina cupcake’ event as well as ‘pussytails’ instead of cocktails would be a great idea. Many disagreed with this stance, including trans women, Campus Feminist Collective, and Feminists of Colour. However, many also thought these complaints were ridiculous and that it wasn’t a big deal. The comment threads ended up in a bit of a mess, with Craccum, the student magazine basically ridiculing the whole thing, and people getting a pretty nasty impression of feminism
To start off with, I’m assuming that everyone reading this is well aware that transgender folk face a lot more oppression than cis gendered people.
Secondly, here’s a quick explanation of trans-misogyny. This is when jokes about trans people are almost always about ‘men wearing dresses’, or ‘men who want their penises cut off’. It’s different from trans-phobia, because it specifically shames women who were assigned male at birth. Trans women are regularly mocked, fetishized and reported on in relation to a hate crime in mainstream media. This occurs due to a cultural obsession with the male/female gender binary and a hatred of anyone who doesn’t fit in to either side.
“But what do cupcakes have to do with this?” I hear you say. If you browsed through the comment thread on the AUSA Womensfest page before it was taken down last week, it should’ve dawned on you that this seemingly innocent cupcake icing event has hurt a lot of people’s feelings. I’m here to explain why this is not crazy, petty or evident of division within the feminist movement.
Womensfest had a chance to normalise trans women, instead it only alienated them further, during the ONE WEEK where we are meant to wave our feminist flags loud and proud. Vagina cupcakes are not bad in and of themselves. If you want to make some cute vulva cupcakes in your own home, or sell them at a bake sale, fine. But this is Womensfest, and it should include all women. These events, whether the WROs intended to or not, marginalise trans women within an already marginalised group. This is not a one-off thing, but evident of a systemic exclusion of trans women from cis women’s spaces. Trans women are excluded from many domestic violence shelters, and some groups such as trans-exclusionary feminists (TERFs) claim that trans women are inauthentic women who are “hurting the movement”.
A common reaction to the uproar surrounding the ‘pussytails’ and ‘ice your own vagina cupcake’ events has been that ‘it’s detracting from the big issues’… Um, are we talking about the same thing here? To quote everyday feminism, (an online magazine), “trans women are not only a reminder to society that gender categories are not fixed, but also that woman hood and feminine gender expression is not something to be ashamed of”. Therefore, having an understanding of trans-misogyny, and the knowledge that trans women’s issues are synonymous with women’s rights is absolutely imperative to being a feminist today.
One commenter on reddit (where this mess of a thread ended up) explained that a grasp on intersectional feminism is basically a prerequisite for being a WRO today, and it should’ve been anticipated that the pussytails and vulva cupcakes would be seen as inappropriate for this. Not only should the WROs have realised this, but they were actually warned off these particular events whilst still in the planning stages by several groups and individuals. Still, the events were put up on facebook.
Just to clarify, Campus Feminist Collective was one of the groups that notified the WROs that we objected to this event prior to it becoming public, and they made the choice to ignore us. This all could’ve been averted if AUSA and the WROs had just decided to show some empathy and admit they were wrong, before it even went public. They had it spelled out to them that the event was fundamentally trans-misogynistic and un-feminist.
Subsequently, this was protested by an even larger pool of people including past WROs, transgender folk, intersex people, as well as UoA Feminists of Colour, and Campus Feminist Collective pulling their events out from Womensfest. This widespread objection received a “sorry you’re offended, but we’re gonna do it anyway”, from AUSA. It was only when TERFs started harassing trans women on the page and the event got linked to reddit that AUSA took down the facebook page. Finally, they got the message and decided to cancel the trans-misogynistic events, but gave no apology to all of the people they hurt.
I was very disappointed to see the Craccum editors had jumped on one notably dramatic comment, as this did not represent the well-reasoned and intelligent debate which most people were engaging in. Saying that we all think vagina cupcakes are ‘literally killing people’ is straw-manning, plain and simple. It misses the point entirely, which is that trans women face enough discrimination in the world already and do not need further alienation in a week meant to celebrate who they are.
What is most frustrating to me about all of this is that it presents feminism as an inherently conflict-filled, divisive topic. There will always be the radical man-haters who revel in causing as much carnage as possible in the name of feminism, but the majority of us just want respect and, you know, gender equality. I think it is now well established that the ‘ice your own vagina cupcake’ implies that you need a vagina to be a woman, which excludes trans women. Yes, the female body and anatomy needs to be de-stigmatised, but even more so does the anatomy of trans people. This could potentially be done with educational events discussing the diversity of genitalia, which would be far more relevant and welcoming. This is the age of intersectional feminism, and it demands we be inclusive. Womensfest is meant to be a celebration of what it means to be a woman through fostering a sense of togetherness and shared identity.
AUSA’s and the WRO’s reactions to this whole debacle were severely lacking and disappointing. It would not have been hard to cancel the event, apologise, learn from their mistakes, and move on. Now it has turned into a big thing that makes us look like crazy bitches who can’t get anything done. This is about placing others before ourselves, being kind and being inclusive. It’s about being a decent fucking human being.
Before anyone else puts their two cents into this topic, please stop and think about the individual people you are disregarding and disrespecting. The trans people I know are not doing this for attention or just to be ‘annoying’. They are genuinely hurt and upset by this, and it is totally unnecessary to invalidate their experiences by saying ‘it’s no big deal’, or ‘feminism is mostly about cis women anyway’. To be quite honest, the trans activists around Auckland Uni have done a shit tonne more for feminism than most UoA feminist groups. They got trans woman Jade Follett moved from a men’s to a women’s prison, are involved in rape prevention initiatives, run the No Pride in Prisons organisation, and maintain a high profile in the news media.
So, to conclude, although the vagina cupcake debacle seems to be trivial on the surface, you have to dig a little deeper, and consider it from the affected people’s point of view. What it all really boils down to is respect and compassion towards one another. To anyone who actually reads this magazine, hopefully, this little rant of mine has made you think twice before defending that damn cupcake event.