Stickers posted in all-gender and women’s restroom stalls beginning in mid-August across the University of Richmond campus prompted a discussion about gender, sex and sexuality among members of the UR community.
The stickers promoted the gender-critical feminist movement, which refers to itself as a woman-centered, radical branch of feminism, according to its Reddit page. The movement’s ideology relates to the belief that biological sex is binary and cannot be changed, and that feminism is only for women who were born with XX chromosomes.
Erika Damer, program coordinator for women, gender and sexuality studies, disagreed with this gender-critical definition of feminism.
"Gender-critical feminism is a word that people are using in the sticker campaign that doesn't accurately represent feminism,” Damer said.
Feminism discussed in WGSS was more inclusive.
“Our feminism that we talk about when we talk about feminism in WGSS is intersectional and it is trans inclusive,” Damer said.
Flyers promoting gender-critical feminism were also posted in locations across campus by a student who agreed to an interview with The Collegian based on the condition of anonymity.
The student’s flyers read: “Women were not denied the vote based on ‘gender identity.’ Biological sex matters. Women are female.”
The student said gender-critical feminism was the belief that biological sex, which could not be changed, was not linked to a person's personality or interests.
"Essentially, a person's sex doesn't say anything else about them except what their reproductive capabilities are," she said.
The flyers also included an email to contact a campus-based radical feminist group, which is small and specific to UR, the student said.
The student who posted the flyers did not post the stickers and is not affiliated with them, she said.
“I was pretty shocked to see the stickers, but then the thought was that there's someone else on campus who has at least somewhat similar beliefs,” she said.
In response to the sticker campaign, WGSS created posters promoting the idea that transgender people are welcome and vital members of the UR community, Damer said.
Two of the posters hung in Weinstein Hall were written over by the student, who said they were inaccurate.
"Broadly speaking, feminism is for the liberation of females,” the student said. “It doesn't have to cater to anyone beyond that."
Ladelle McWhorter, the Stephanie Bennett-Smith chair in WGSS, said the statements written over the WGSS posters were incorrect.
“What was written on it was that gender is constructed, but sex is binary and there's no way to change that,” McWhorter said. "Well, this poster does not say that sex is non-binary. It says nothing about sex.
“The position that we were taking, implicitly at least, is that gender is what matters when we talk about social interactions,” she said. “It's not what your body looks like or what chromosomes you have, it's how you interact, how you're perceived, how you feel about who you are."
Damer added that feminism had always advocated for gender equity and had critiqued binary gender for over 50 years.
The intention behind the gender-critical flyers was to recruit people, the student said.
“I was tired of being tired and afraid and I wanted to meet other women who are hopefully open-minded, willing to think critically, to hear out beliefs they don't have — that was my main goal,” the student said.
Sophomore Katie Wilson said gender-critical feminism was exclusionary of transgender and non-binary people. Wilson referred to the movement using the acronym TERF, meaning trans-exclusionary radical feminism, which is a name adopted by critics of the movement.
Senior Jeff Lowe, president of the LGBTQ+ Coalition, said he had seen a sticker in a single-stall bathroom in Weinstein Hall on Sept. 3.
"I literally had to read it multiple times to figure out what was happening because I think I was really confused at first,” Lowe said. "And then I kind of started to panic almost. I was like, 'Why is this happening?'"
Lowe said he had sent a picture of the sticker to Lee Dyer, associate director for LGBTQ+ campus life, removed it and notified the other executive members of the LGBTQ+ Coalition.
Lindsey Paul, president of the Westhampton College Government Association, and Mike Laposata, president of the Richmond College Student Government Association, released a joint statement on Oct. 28 to reaffirm the efforts of student government in assisting to foster an inclusive campus community, according to an email sent to the student body.
Lowe said the statement was powerful for Paul and Laposata to make.
"I thought that was really great of them to do,” Lowe said. “As a person who is trans, for people who are cis[gender] to step up to the plate and actually make a statement about that feels really important to me and demonstrates the allyship that Lindsey and Mike are bringing to the table.”
A statement released by email the same day by the Institutional Coordinating Council echoed the student government’s reaffirmation of the Transgender Inclusion Student Initiative. The ICC invited members of the campus community to demonstrate support for all members of UR’s LGBTQ+ community by participating in events during the week of Nov. 18, Transgender Awareness Week.
Many of the stickers have been scratched out or written over by students and were later removed by University Facilities, McWhorter said.
The student said she had agreed to an interview with The Collegian because she had wanted to address the portrayal of radical feminists in the media and socially.
“Radical feminists and people who are gender critical, even to some degree, primarily when they are women, are very much slandered and demonized,” the student said. “There's this image that having even slightly these beliefs is inherently linked to bigotry, racism, alt-right Christianity.”
The student said she was none of those things, and is not religious, holds leftist views and is a member of the bisexual community.
Cynthia Price, associate vice president of media and public relations for UR, wrote in an email that the stickers were disparaging of trans-identified people.
Price said UR officials, along with other campus groups, were considering opportunities for broader education and engagement regarding the well-being of UR’s trans community.
Contact news writer Morgan Howland at firstname.lastname@example.org.