Blog: The Aunt Lydias of academia
Anyone who gets embroiled in squabbles with trans rights activists (TRAs) will be familiar with certain canards that crop up time and again. Like a child’s set of plastic skittles, it doesn’t take much to topple them but, wearisomely, there is always someone willing to put them back up to be knocked down yet again.
In a recent article on the BuzzFeed News site, LGBT Editor Patrick Strudwick could have scoured TRA Twitter and come up with the exact same input from common or garden Twitter numbskulls as that provided by the five sociologists he calls – and this is the only touch of humour in the article “leading feminist thinkers”: Akwugo Emejulu, Sally Hines, Tracey Jensen, Alison Phipps and Vanita Sundaram. If you’ve only been a feminist for a few decades, you’ll be forgiven for never having heard of them.
I suspect that no academic worthy of the name would bother responding to the article. Why would they when the Professors’ “arguments” – for want of a better word – could be refuted by a teenager without a single GCSE? On the other hand, the article is a good example of the sheer dishonesty as well as the cultish thinking of the transgender lobby. As such, I think it’s worth including in that very tiny and select group of articles that I refer to on this site because they are so unbelievably bad.
I came across the article because I’d started writing a different blog, for which I needed to check whether I was up-to-date on the definition of a certain word as it is used by anyone who promotes transgender ideology. It was a search I’d done many times before and had always come up short. This time was no different. It is a word for which the trans lobby have no robust and useful definition. The word is ‘woman’.
This, of course, is why arguing with a TRA often feels like underwater dancing with an eel. They are generally averse to defining words. Once a word is defined in a way that is useful and non-circular, their argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This is because they expect us to accept things that are easily shown to be falsehoods. This is why they can never win and resort to lying, smearing and trying to silence critics instead.
By way of introduction, Strudwick argues that the protest at the London Pride 2018 by a group of women fighting against lesbian erasure was “isolated” but was to “atomise into a national backlash”. No. The backlash started well before then and was personified by campaigns like #ManFriday, meetings being held all over the country as part of Venice Allen’s We Need to Talk project and by A Woman’s Place UK and by some fantastic campaigning work by groups like Fair Play For Women and Transgender Trend. And let’s not forget the significant contribution of convicted woman beater Tara Wolf and sycophantic District Judge Kenneth Grant. The topic was already being extensively covered in all media – that’s why hundreds of links to news stories, features, blogs and videos were added to this site in the first half of the year.
Strudwick’s article and the academics he quotes in it frame the protest at the Pride and the massive backlash against transgenderism that started well over a year ago as “anti-trans rights”, thereby confirming the point made by the protesters and every feminist who’s been part of the backlash that women’s concerns don’t matter, lesbian autonomy doesn’t matter.
The literature handed out by the group made their aims perfectly clear and it is typical of the duplicity of the trans lobby to present the protest by those women as “anti trans” rather than fighting to hold on to lesbian rights. The allegation that transgender ideology is lesbophobic is at the core of protests by lesbians but it isn’t even touched on in Strudwick’s article.
Anyway, onto those “leading feminist thinkers”. From the article:
I selected this quote because it encapsulates the problem with not defining your terms. The globally accepted definition of ‘woman’ is ‘adult human female’. In the absence of any improved definition offered by these “thinkers”, that is the definition I go with, ergo those who are called ‘transwomen’ aren’t women because they are adult human males, commonly known as ‘men’.
Now why should feminists be advocating for men, however marginalised they are? What is this new definition of feminism that I am unaware of, one that holds there is a group of men that is more marginalised than vulnerable women in prisons and refuges, women who trafficked and pimped?
Nor do they define what they mean by ‘trans rights’. Thus a lot of time gets wasted with stuff like this:
Is anyone saying trans people aren’t people? No, of course not. Do they have the right to “define their own identities and live as the person that they are.” Absolutely! I am not aware of any feminist who would deny trans people the same human rights as everyone else, including the right to present themselves however they like. That is not what the conflict is about. The key question, which is, “Do they have the right to force others to accept them as if they are actually members of the other biological sex and have access to their sex-segregated spaces, sports and occupations?” doesn’t even get asked.
The main conflict between rationalists (and I include an increasing number of gender critical transgender people in that category) and the painfully irrational transgender lobby (which includes a great many people who are not transgender) occurs when demands by male transgender people impinge on the existing rights of women.
We are not told what these “problems that are not of their making” are but, in any event, how is it humanly possible for anyone to be “baffled” about why women are angry in light of what’s been happening over the past couple of years? When government started making plans to change legislation that directly affected women without consulting a single women’s organisation? When feminists and anyone else who challenges transgender ideology – including some trans people themselves – are subjected to repeated abuse and attempts to silence us? When we see more and more men displacing women in sports events and medals tables? When we’ve heard of more and more crimes committed by men who “identify” as women and of more and more of them being sent to the female estate?
Is sex a binary?
The daftest thing these sociologists say is that sex isn’t a binary. Anyone who has spent much time sparring with TRAs will have seen this suggestion from a range of people who are willing to promote ideology over truth. The argument that women are oppressed because we are biologically female and that “gender”, which refers to sex stereotypes, is a social construct that benefits the patriarchy is, according to them:
No, it isn’t you damn fools! Do you actually know how babies are made? That alone is the basis on which we are classified as either male or female – on our membership of either one of the two reproductive classes.
What about intersex?
The people with intersex conditions – whom you bring on like circus monkeys to obfuscate the fact that we are a sexually dimorphic species – are still either male or female. They are not a third sex. Good grief! Do some research on intersex conditions/DSDs and then explain exactly what they have to do with transgender people.
Regardless of those barbaric and unethical practices of doctors confronted with rare cases of ambiguous genitalia, it is not helpful to talk of sex being “assigned” at birth when, in the remaining 99.95% of the population, sex is easily observed by looking at the newborn’s genitals. And don’t bother going on about sex being “a complex combination of different chromosomal and biological factors, yada yada yada,” unless you can explain exactly how this means men can be women and vice versa. Enough of the obscurantist twaddle – we’re not idiots!
Is biology destiny?
The next canard is based on a misunderstanding – possibly deliberate – of what biological essentialism is. It beggars belief that any academic, let alone someone who presumes to call herself a feminist would be guilty of it but just look at this:
Using biology, therefore, to further the case for feminism, does not work, she said. “So I find it baffling that people would use these arguments in order to exclude another group of women.”
This is Emejulu again. For a supposed “leading feminist thinker” she seems to be baffled rather a lot by basic feminism and I’m wonder if Strudwick has done her an injustice here. She can’t really have said this, can she? Well, in case she did, I’ll reproduce here what I wrote when dealing with this canard on my Bad Arguments page:
It is not a biological determinist or essentialist view to say that a woman is an adult human female or that if you have a female reproductive system you are a woman not a man, and vice versa. These are biological facts and nothing to do with biological determinism or essentialism, which is concerned with how human behaviour and personal qualities – NOT reproductive organs – are determined by biology.
The reason feminists have always challenged biological essentialist ideas – that “biology is destiny” – is that they lead people to think that women are not equipped to do a lot of stuff that men can do, like politics, driving, piloting planes, fighting wars and much else besides.
These ideas determine what are more commonly referred to as ‘gender roles’ because, unlike sex – which is a material reality – gender roles are socially constructed and these are what the feminists of the 20th century fought against. None of this changes the argument that women have historically and across cultures been oppressed because of our female bodies and our role in the reproductive process, that socially constructed gender roles keep women in ‘their place’. There is still much to be done before women all over the world are liberated.
But then we learn that:
This is unconscionable. It has indeed been the case that feminist thinking in the developed world has been dominated by white middle-class women, not all of whom have cared enough to understand about intersecting experiences of oppression such as those due to economic class, ethnic heritage and sexual orientation. But there has never been any denial of the womanhood of any adult human female and how revealing that they have to go back over a century to find an example of blatant racism in a feminist campaign: a suffragette march on Washington in 1914! The claim that “this continues to the present day,” is, unsurprisingly, unevidenced. What we have instead is a blatant untruth:
Let me fix that for you, Professors. Excluding members of the dominant sex class i.e. men, from the dominated sex class, i.e. women, refusing to allow them to define who can be a woman and to erase the language we need to talk about what it means to be a woman, is a way of preserving the rights gained as a result of the struggles of generations of women – women that you are betraying. And no, there isn’t an “idealised kind of femininity” in modern feminist thought, white or anything else. Where does baloney come from? Post proof or retract!
This may be hard to believe but the article goes downhill from there.
We are told that saying transwomen, being male, can’t be women “mirrors eugenics”. No, really! The supposition seems to be that we treat race the same as sex – as a biological category. Who does that? No feminist I know of. I recall Linda Bellos pointing out that, “white men decided that the colour of the skin of a human being determines their right to liberty and freedom.” In other words, race, like gender, is a social construct.
Enough already! The article, which is nearly 5,000 tedious words long, goes on to downplay the reality of male violence and the fact that some violent men claim to be women. It also downplays the alarming rise in children – especially girls – who seek to transgender. Most shockingly, it makes the completely unsupported allegation that feminists are “making alliances with the far-right”. Liars!
The so-called “thinkers” attack one straw man after another and totally fail to engage with any of the serious arguments made by far better thinkers like Sheila Jeffreys, Jane Clare Jones and Kathleen Stock.
All in all the article shows that, as long as we are expected to accept unsupported assertions that we know to be untrue, there can be no meeting of minds. The last couple of years have shown that there are an increasing number of us with our critical faculties intact who aren’t prepared to be intimidated by the kind of mendacious misrepresentation and unscrupulous smearing done in this article and we will keep pushing back. Time to give it up and engage with reality.
Published 27.12.18 Updated 17.01.19
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