The reporting/attacking of gender-critical women is stepping up on Twitter and other platforms at the moment, I suspect because we’re again winning some space in the public eye, thanks to, amongst others, the excellent #ManFriday, and the BBC’s reporting of Twitter’s suspension of several accounts for stating biological reality – things like ‘penis is male’ are now enough to get you reported and suspended.
A few people have mentioned trans ideology, and the furious response has predictably been that there is no such thing, just a group of marginalised trans people seeking their rights and being attacked by evil terfs who hate them.
Well, I call bullshit. There most definitely is such a thing as trans ideology (or more specifically, transgender ideology), based on an unhappy marriage of queer theory and some concepts from sexology, and the most obvious way to demonstrate it is to point out that there are many trans people who don’t adhere to it, very often older trans people and transsexuals, who are staunch feminist allies. (The marvellous Miranda Yardley has just been banned from Twitter for fighting women’s corner as a transsexual; here’s some of her writing on trans ideology.)
If people are being reported for actually harassing trans people, fair enough. If they’re stating facts that trans people don’t want to hear, but which are important for women to raise in the interests of preserving sex-based protections, then I think this is censorship.
Trans people exist (and I suspect that even in an ungendered world there would be a handful of people with severe sex dysphoria). They should have full human rights (they already do but are subject to some constraints around the process of changing gender). They are marginalised and discriminated against, and need some visibility and facilities to ensure that they are accepted in society, have public facilities available and have access to healthcare.
None of this makes them the opposite sex or requires that we erase the definition of woman, and it is not transphobic to say so.
But that’s how it’s being construed.
The usual Church of Gender argument (this ideology is more like a religion than anything else) goes something along the lines of: gender is innate and everyone has a gender. This is what determines whether you are a man or a woman, not your sex (queer theorists, like most post-modernists, are very happy to mangle language and obfuscate clear categories to suit themselves). Gender identity need not align with biological sex. Therefore, if you identify as a woman, you are one, and your organs are therefore female, including your penis if you have one. Some women, therefore, have penises.
Many transgenderists also reject the idea that transition is a requirement of being trans. You can be male, keep your penis, take a few hormones, and still be a woman because you identify as one, and this should entitle you to access to all women’s spaces, reserved positions, sports etc.
(No one is ever specific about what it means to ‘identify as a woman’).
This nonsense is usually truncated to the mantra ‘trans women are women’, which I’ve pointed out elsewhere needs to be confronted as inherently misogynistic. This is what we mean when we talk about trans ideology.
It’s nonsense because Mother Nature is a terf (the Mother of all Terfs?). We are sexually reproducing mammals, which means that almost all of us are very tidily sorted into two categories, male (producers of small gametes – sperm – and owners of a hypodermic called a penis to deliver it) and females (producers of large gametes – ova – and owners of a uterus in which to gestate young and a vagina to deliver them through, via which we are also impregnatable). No matter how much post-modernists attack the language around sex, the underlying categories, which are coherent and organised around reproductive capability, are not going to go away. Our reproductive organs are a system organised around our sex, not a random collection of characteristics. A few developmental disorders in the process of making an adult male or adult female do not mean that the two categories do not exist, any more than the existence of people with six fingers means that the number of fingers humans have is ‘on a spectrum’.
This would matter less if women – adult human females – were not oppressed by men – adult human males – because of our sexual and reproductive capabilities. But we were, and are. Women still suffer discrimination, under-representation and the pay gap in the West, as well as epidemic levels of male sexual and domestic violence, harassment, objectification, voyeurism and exhibitionism. In many parts of the world women are still effectively kept captive – forced to marry, given no legal rights and not allowed to divorce their husbands – and marriage was a system of captivity for women in the West until relatively recently (marital rape was not made illegal in the UK until 1991, for example). Many men in the West would like to bring female captivity back, going by the recent incel murders and odious responses like calls for redistribution of sex and ‘enforced monogamy’. So feminists should not rest on our laurels.
Gender is best understood as the social roles and behaviours regarded as appropriate for each sex. So it aligns very well with the mechanisms of women’s oppression, and is used to naturalise such oppression. Men are those males who perform masculine behaviours appropriately, while women are those females who perform feminine behaviour appropriately (this was what Simone de Beauvoir meant when she said that women were not born, but made). And I would speculate that social pressure to conform to gender norms acting on a neuroplastic brain accounts for a great deal of what it’s fashionable to call gender identity.
Gender is thus a) dependent on sex for its existence, not free-floating, and b) better understood as a hierarchy than an identity, with men on top. It is a mechanism for maintaining sex-based oppression and getting women to internalise it.
To fight this, feminism needs, at the most basic level, to be able to name sex as an axis of oppression, to state that women – females – seek liberation from male oppression and control, that we want an end to male violence against women. Feminism is, when all the post-modern fluff and 3rd-wave ‘inclusivity’ is stripped away, a movement in which women seek to gain rights and liberate ourselves from male control, and which is opposed, often violently, by males who wish to retain that control. Don’t kid yourself. Feminism pits women against men, and until men’s behaviour improves, it will continue to do so. As the second-wavers used to say, if men approve of your feminism, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a very good tip.
If gender identity rather than sex determines whether we are men or women, then this becomes unsayable. Who, exactly, is oppressing who, and who are ‘we’ liberating ourselves from, if anyone can identify as anything? At the most basic level, we can’t answer the question “who does patriarchy?”. We are treated instead to the sort of ludicrous faux drama which played out on Twitter recently, in which a white male who identifies as a woman claimed that a black woman who is also a victim of FGM was ‘leveraging her trauma’ against him, and hence guilty of transphobia, because she pointed out that FGM is a sex-based human rights violation. This is farce; but he had several supporters, and it is his identification as an oppressed woman, and the collusion with the belief that this makes him a woman, which lets him get away with this bullying.
Accusations of misgendering – i.e. accurately naming someone’s sex – make it even more difficult to have any sort of sane conversation around this. We can (and should) be as polite as possible to transwomen, but in order to discuss women’s sex-based protections, we sometimes need to be able to say that they are male. Getting accused of hate speech whenever we do this makes it even more difficult to name sex-based oppression; and anyone who thinks that misogynist lefty men aren’t egging this on with ecstasy needs a bucket of cold water over their head. Wake up. The fact that men support transactivism with such frenzied glee should be a huge warning sign to any feminist.
Queer theory does nothing to address this; in fact it makes it more difficult to fight by making the axis of sex-based oppression invisible. It pretends that transgressing gender performatively will somehow attack the patriarchy; in fact it strengthens the patriarchy immeasurably by making the means of patriarchal oppression and control impossible to name. No wonder it is so popular with men.
It can only be regarded as anti-feminist and anti-woman; a movement for sexual libertines which ignores large classes of oppressed people, and obfuscates their oppression. As Martha Nussbaum said in her wonderful critique of queer theorist Judith Butler’s epic trolling of feminism:
But the boldness is entirely gestural, and insofar as Butler’s ideal suggests that these symbolic gestures really are political change, it offers only a false hope. Hungry women are not fed by this, battered women are not sheltered by it, raped women do not find justice in it, gays and lesbians do not achieve legal protections through it.
Sister Outrider has written another wonderful analysis of the conflict between queer theory and feminism here and says:
The cultural significance attached to the word woman is in a state of flux. As queer politics would have it, womanhood is simply the performance of the female gender role. As radical feminism would have it, the female gender role exists purely as a sexist stereotype of woman rooted in essentialism and misogyny. The only escape queer politics offers women from patriarchal oppression is for all those who are biologically female to identify out of the category ‘woman’. To claim the label of non-binary, genderfluid, or transmasculine – anything other than a cisgender woman, who is naturally suited to her status as a second-class citizen – is the only route queer politics offers biological women to being recognised as fully human.
Women, by queer logic, cannot be self-actualised and have no meaningful inner-lives. We are simply Other to men. It is for this reason that queer ideology has been able to reduce women to “non-men” – to “pregnant people”, “uterus-havers”, and “menstruators.” It is worth asking: does trans-inclusivity depend upon women being written out of existence? While queer theory has reflected upon the nature of masculinity, it has not deconstructed the category of man beyond the point of recognition. Just as in mainstream patriarchal society, man is the normative standard of humanity and woman defined in relation to him. The positive definition of womanhood is treated as expendable within queer discourse.
I recommend you read the entire article, for its wisdom and clarity.
So as a feminist I reject queer theory, and its notion of woman as an identity which anyone can adopt, as sexist and regressive, and as something which is being deliberately exploited to make women, and women’s oppression, unsayable. It is for this reason that we say that transactivism is misogyny, and what we mean is that pushing trans ideology as described above erases women as a sex class, and makes our oppression unnameable and thus unfightable. It doesn’t mean that we think all trans people are misogynists or that they shouldn’t have any rights or facilities. It is not a right to be accepted as the opposite sex class, to the detriment of that sex class, and you will note that in matters of primogeniture and access to the priesthood, male privilege has been carefully maintained in law. It is only women who are supposed to pretend that we are so poorly defined that there is no difference between us and a male identifying as a woman. According to trans ideology, women as a sex class are not even entitled to a word to describe ourselves any more. Please explain how this isn’t the most virulent misogyny we’ve seen in decades.
The combination of self-identification of gender with the removal of sex-based exemptions, which is what transactivists in the UK are campaigning for, also effectively removes all sex-based protections, political positions and offices reserved for women, destroys women’s sports, and puts women in prisons and domestic refuges at enormous physical and psychological risk. No feminist goes along with this. Seriously. Even if you are naive enough to think that transwomen are all as pure as the beaten snow (they aren’t), you have to be brain dead to think that sex offenders wouldn’t exploit this.
So I explicitly place a higher priority on women’s safety and privacy than on the identities of transwomen who may be made to feel dysphoric if there are spaces and roles they are excluded from. This is not because I want to hurt and bully transwomen. It is because it is grossly unjust to put all women at risk to spare their feelings. We can and should make provision for transwomen to have facilities, safety and acceptance. We are not required to validate their identities, and it is sexist to demand that we do so at the expense of everything feminists have fought for. I understand that this is painful for people who experience themselves as women (whatever that means) and I wish there was a way to make everybody happy; but I think the stakes are too high for women. It is entirely appropriate for feminists to take this view. We wish trans people no harm; but our focus is on women’s rights and welfare.
This makes me less a transphobe than a heretic in the Church of Gender. My crime is not hating trans people. My crime is refusing to bend the knee to a distinct ideology, held by a distinct set of activists and their (frequently male) supporters, one which is sexist, regressive, and which erases women, one which tells me that I am a gender stereotype rather than a person with a sexed body, which happens to be female, which makes me a woman. No-one who calls herself a feminist should subscribe to any of this erasure, if for no other reason than that it is male-enforced dogma. And we know where that has always led.