I’ve seen more than a few people trying to subvert criticisms of ‘biological essentialism’ and shoehorn them into trans ideology, and pretend that this somehow makes it compatible with radical feminism. Somehow, ‘your genitals should not dictate how you get treated by society’ has been mutated into ‘your genitals don’t determine whether you’re a man or a woman’, and this eventually becomes ‘you’re obsessed with genitals’, usually in the context of men of varying genders trying to guilt lesbians into having sex with them. Thus gender gets detached from sex, loses its connotation as a hierarchy which naturalises the oppression of females, and allows males to identify as women; and saying that sex exists is now supposedly oppressive.
This is sexist drivel, as a simple analogy makes very clear. Sorry, but radical feminists aren’t that stupid.
Black people are justifiably tired of having race used as the analogy for other forms of oppression, so I apologise in advance for doing it yet again; unfortunately women’s oppression is still seen as normal in society, and sometimes comparing it to something we all recognise as oppression is the only way to get the point across.
So here goes with my analogy, which is, of course, imperfect, but nevertheless illustrates the principle very well.
White people used to enslave black people and put them in chains (other peoples have been involved, but this is the most egregious and familiar example in the West).
So although the colour of their skin said nothing about their value as human beings, it was the locus of the black people’s oppression, the thing that white people used as an excuse to mark them as inferior and enslave them.
Second-wave radical feminists fought for the equivalent of the abolition of slavery. Strike off the chains, free the slaves, embrace both black and white as fully deserving of humanity. They never tried to pretend that black and white didn’t exist, simply that it should not determine how people were treated by society. The goal was not a society in which no-one was recognisably black or white, it was a society in which the colour of your skin did not affect your freedoms, status, opportunities and social acceptance.
Late capitalist transactivism, with its ‘trans women are women, or else’ mantra, is the equivalent of:
- leaving the slaves in their chains
- ‘amelioratively’ redefining the word slave to mean: anyone who wears chains/identifies as a slave
- letting the whites dress up in chains too, because they fetishise the oppression of the slaves. They don’t do any of the shit labour, but boy, do they wear those chains well.
- demanding that whites who identify as slaves have access to the slave huts, the one place where slaves were previously able to escape their masters for a while
- claiming that the chains, and not their skin colour, is the locus of the slaves’ oppression, even though the slaves can’t identify out of being slaves
- accusing the slaves of being cis-slaves who oppress the trans-slaves
- refusing to tolerate any discussion of skin colour because it ‘others’ the trans-slaves
So the slaves are still slaves, but now they can’t name the locus of their oppression (the colour of their skin), or organise against their oppressors (the whites).
In the same way, if you go down the transactivist rabbit hole, women are still women and still oppressed for being female, but now we can’t name our biology as the locus of our oppression, can’t organise separately from men, and can’t even retain the word ‘woman’ as a descriptor of ourselves as a sex class. We have been linguistically and socially obliterated.
From the excellent Not a Zero-Sum Game blog:
Sex exists. Gender – a hierarchy of the fully human and the merely animalistic, the properly intellectual and the merely emotional, the realised individual and the objectified Other – instrumentalises it. It does not depend on it. It is not directly – ontologically or otherwise – driven by it. But it is an inescapable fact of gender that its organising principle, its plausible cause of oppression, its fig leaf of necessity, is sex.
To theorise sex out of existence is to deny that sexism can exist. It is to refuse to accept that a class of human beings exist who have been economically exploited, raped, murdered, forcibly impregnated, exchanged as chattel, denied a history, a language and a right to their bodies since (literally) time immemorial. If we deny these people an identity based on the root of their oppression we are saying they, as a class, do not exist. Have no shared history. No conceivable political mission. No right to recourse. No community. No grievance. No hope.
A more obscene act of woman hatred than to simply refuse to admit that women exist is hard to imagine. Tidier and cheaper than wholesale extermination, more economically self serving than foregoing the reproductive labour extracted from them, the profound hatred of women qua women such an argument betrays is breath-taking. That it is an attitude espoused sometimes by women themselves is no counter-argument, but a – relatively minor – entry in the ledger of the brutalising effects of patriarchal oppression.
And that is why postmodernism and in particular queer theory are justifiably criticised as tools of patriarchy rather than in any way antagonistic to it. Making gender out to be performative rather than hierarchical obscures the axis of male/female oppression and makes it unsayable, rather than confronting it head-on. It erases women as a sex class and prevents us from organising to end our oppression. It deprives us of our most basic protections against male violence. It should be no surprise that under this backwards and regressive ideology, trans-racialism and trans-ableism are gaining support, or that a rich, conservative white male who identifies as a woman is elected to give a speech on ‘diversity’.
Radical feminism seeks to create a society in which sex does not determine your freedoms, status, opportunities and social acceptance. It does not seek to obliterate sex or pretend that male and female don’t exist (this would be a level of science denial which makes climate deniers look positively rational!)
None of this says that we should not be deeply sympathetic to people with dysphoria, or seek to help them and ensure that they have access to facilities and healthcare. But they’ve been hijacked by a viciously misogynistic ideology. (Unsurprisingly, transsexuals are starting to object to this, but that’s another story).
As The New Backlash says:
I am a woman and a feminist. I fully support the human rights of transsexual people. (I fully support the human rights of all humans!) However, “transgender” identity politics are not about the human rights of transsexual people. Transgender identity politics are about men weaponizing the suffering of transsexual people in order to destroy women’s boundaries and undermine basic feminist analysis.
Hope that helps.
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). 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.
Update: I have now been recognised as human again (a first for Twitter! Women are human! Who knew!)
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I expect that’s just in time for me to get suspended for being gender-critical…
I have failed the Turing Test; Twitter thinks I’m a bot, not a person (which is pretty much how they think of most women, I think) and has locked my account (@radicalhag). It will let me back in if I type in the code they will send to my UK prepaid sim card, which I threw away when I got back to South Africa.
I’ve logged a ticket and will hopefully get this resolved. In the meantime I’m tweeting as @Women_Say_No, so please follow.
It’s been an interesting few days in the Land of Transactivism. UK Labour have done two things which, apart from probably being illegal, are viciously and irredeemably misogynistic. Continue reading
This is a useful article on the invalidity of the criticisms of science emerging from post-modern thought.
Rational criticisms of scientific bias are reasonable and should be acknowledged. We are just beginning to find out, for example, how much disease research has been done on male subjects, with the assumption that the findings will transfer to females. Unsurprisingly, given our profound genetic differences, much of it doesn’t, and women have been getting a bad deal in healthcare as a result. Continue reading
A contemplation of the “trans women are women” mantra from 2014, again from the excellent Culturally Bound Gender.
“I used to use “she” to describe MTF trans people. I used to use “he” to describe FTM trans people. I will no longer engage in this practice, except for when directly speaking to trans people who could conceivably direct violence toward me. Make no mistake, trans folks: many people outside your movement, even the ones who nod in agreement with the statement “trans women are women,” don’t really believe it. When they are women, they have been trained to spare your feelings and to avoid potential conflict with males—especially those who are backed up by other males with violent tendencies. I hope your pronouns feel like a hollow victory, wrested as they have been from the mouths of women who know the wrath they face for saying any other words but the ones you told them to say.”
Another very good post from Culturally Bound Gender on the outrageous claim that women have ‘no shared girlhood’ and therefore may not organise without men:
“Women shouldn’t have to prove anything, including a “shared girlhood,” to be able to meet and organize with other female-born persons without being harassed. The fact that liberal feminists are buying into this idea–that without a universally shared experience, it’s illogical and bigoted for a group to be able to define itself and exclude non-members–is a sign of how far feminist analysis has fallen since feminists started “doing” feminism online.
Why has this happened? Because the internet’s the ultimate proving ground that women talk differently when they have to talk around men and be subject to men’s criticisms all the time. The changes that have occurred to feminism since feminism became part of the blogosphere have been the exact kinds of changes you’d expect to see when women are having to do feminism in front of men. The environment that the second wave operated in was, in some ways, shitty for what it excluded, because the fact that feminist monographs, zines, and so forth were being distributed primarily among white, middle class women left a lot of women out. However, men also basically didn’t give a fuck (except when they were reacting with horror to out of context bits of Intercourse), so women in academia were left to talk and debate about feminist issues without constant comment and intrusion from men declaring a need to be heard and dialogued with.
The internet changed all that. Now, everything has to be released male-ready–or else. Positions determined to be too radical are sanded down, and it’s de rigeur for third-wave feminists to angrily declare that they’re not like those other feminists who are mean and nasty to men, the man-haters, the bra-burners, the TERFs, the Andrea Dworkin, whoever’s the boogeyman identified by men in the comments sections and subreddits where women are trying to do feminism today.
So again and again, you see women taking pains not to offend any men with what they write, because we know what happens to women who write on the internet–especially, gracious me, under their own name!–and who don’t toe the party line. Talk about sexism in video games, get rape threats. Talk about feminism and the oppressiveness of gender roles, get rape threats.”
I’d forgotten how good and thought-provoking a blog called Culturally Bound Gender is. This post discusses autogynephilia from the point of view of an ex-phone sex operator. I can relate to this; I used to be a hotline counsellor, and we got our fair share of men phoning in to masturbate, including many who wanted validation of their femininity. (That there were rapes, DV cases and other traumas in the call queue didn’t seem to bother them).
“When someone who idealizes women in this way transitions to living as a woman, they often talk a lot about losing privilege. What they are actually doing is, very often, nothing of the sort. The trans activists who started out as Silicon Valley nerdy “forever alone” types (who comprised a huge number of callers over the years!) were economically and racially privileged men, but when it came to the patriarchy, they were being shit upon by traditional masculinity. Instead, they’re seeking to move up, not down. They want to move into women’s spaces, where their male socialization will make it easier for them to get ahead, be assertive, and be at the top of their social hierarchy with other women talking to them and ensuring that they don’t feel lonely. Instead of hating the gazed-upon, this kind of person decides that the only freedom from the gazer’s existential loneliness is to become the gazed-upon. Once in the territory of the gazed-upon, the person who has been socialized as a gazer can switch at will in their relationships with women, both sexual and otherwise, a privilege not afforded to female born persons.”
The always-excellent Meghan Murphy has written a great article on prostitution and the myth of choice for Verity magazine.
“The argument against prostitution is fairly simple: Women should not have to have sex with men they don’t desire. Women should be able to survive and thrive without having to accommodate male desires and abuse in order to pay their rent or feed their children.
It’s worth thinking about what it says about a society that believes sex is something a man should be able to buy—what does it say about our culture? Continue reading