I want to be careful with this post. I’m a cis-man and have quite a bit of privilege, so I’m an outsider in this discussion. I don’t want to mansplain, but I thought I’d weigh in with my 2 cents. Please call me out if this is bullshit. This is not supposed to be authoritative in any way.
I get most of her points, and have no issue with most of them. She has every right not to identify with/not use the term “cis.” However, I think it’s a shame (and slightly ironic, but not surprising) that “cis” is understood by so many people as a derogatory term. I use it, and I think it is most useful this way, as a descriptor, relatively neutral, like trans – a way to describe non-trans people in an efficient, elegant way and without resorting to definitely problematic words like “normal.” I don’t think, however, that “cis” is one essential gender definition. “Cis” is also a term with a broad spectrum of different gender representations, etc.
I even think that I am not “cis” in the same way Caroline Criado-Perez is (under my definition as not-trans) Gender categories are that different for cismen and ciswomen that “cis” could be said to have different meanings for women. Being cis for a ciswoman comes with (or rather includes) so many rigid, subjecting, misogynist baggage that it can have a different effect. It is way, way easier to be cis as a dude, obviously. I would still say that “cis” is a useful category, word. As a “non-trans” category, as plain and descriptive as word can be in this context.
For me, a feminism (or other anti-discriminatory activism) that is too essentialist in its categorizations and approaches is really problematic, basically bullshit. This could be reason for (cis)women and trans/non-binary people to work together, not against each other. This is not a naive call for “unity” that dismisses very real and valid disagreements, not at all. But in principle, working together could work fine.
Cis-privilege, the concept Criado-Perez rails against the most (and I would too if I understood it like she does) is relative privilege. It doesn’t make any of the problems, bodily and not, that come with being a (cis)woman in our sexist societies magically disappear or turn into sunshine and sparkles. It “just” means ciswomen don’t have a set of problems that trans*, non-binary people have. I’m a white cisman from a upper-middle-class background, that makes me quite privileged. That doesn’t make the issues that I have, like my mental illness problems, disappear – but I don’t have problems that other people have, from cis feminists in England to trans women of color on the other side of the world.
Criado-Perez also writes a lot about being scared. Receiving insults and threats is scary. These threats and insults are a tactic that is really problematic and wrong – and extremely similar to tactics and rhetorics employed as silencing attempts by people in positions of greater hegemonic power: Misogynist men. I think a lot of the backlash Criado-Perez gets comes from trans*/non-binary people who are also scared (and/or angry) for good reason. Also scared to death (too often literally!) in societies that reject them. Trans*/non-binary people can be vocal, for better and sometimes worse, on social media and in certain circles. But they also do not have hegemonic power. Trans women who lived “male” before usually also didn’t live as hegemonic men either.
There is a lot of anger and bitterness between feminists like Criado-Perez and trans/non-binary people/activists. And that’s a pity, because these two groups could punch upwards together a lot better than at each other. (As far as I know, Criado-Perez isn’t actually rejecting the existence of transgender people. If she is actually a trans-erasing radical “feminist” things are a bit different..)
As far as I can tell from my outside perspective, a central problem in this discourse is that people still use binary concepts, essential dichotomies, too much. I do think a lot of these problems could be reduced by getting rid of too essential binaries – especially a rigid man – woman binary – without negating the existence and lived experiences of both transgender people and (cis)women like Criado-Perez. Nor should the blurring of binaries mean that hegemonic, sexist, transphobic men (positions, institutions, …) get away free. That still exists and still is a massive problem we should work against. The field is just more complex.