The Aunt Lydias of academia

Anyone who gets embroiled in squabbles with trans activists will be familiar with certain canards that crop up time and again. Like a 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 trans 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 trans activists. 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 trans activist 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 Allan’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:

Any feminist worth his or her salt should be advocating for the most marginalised,” said Emejulu. “What we know is that trans women in particular face particular kinds of marginalisation.

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:

Overall, BuzzFeed News asked, why do you, as a feminist academic, support trans rights? “Because trans people are people,” began Phipps. “Trans people have the right to define their own identities and live as the person that they are.”

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 trans-identifying people in that category) and the painfully irrational transgenderist lobby (which includes a great many people who are not trans-identifying) occurs when demands by men who claim to be women impinge on the existing rights of women.

Emejulu is “baffled” by the war that has raged among feminists in Britain over this issue – much more intensely than in the US. “I’m not quite sure what the big deal is,” she said. One of the reasons, said Phipps, is “the blame has been put on to the wrong group, and trans people are carrying the can for problems that are not of their making.”

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 trans activists 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:

…an oversimplification of sex and a misreading of gender. First, because the biological reality of sex is far more varied than just male or female.

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 trans-identifying 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:

“The goal,” she said, referring to feminism throughout history, “was always to say that biology was not destiny because that was precisely the argument that people used to keep women in private spaces: that women with their ‘smaller brains’ were ‘prone to fainting’ and are not fit to be in public spaces, such as politics and the workplace.”

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 wondering 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:

For her, many feminists who oppose trans rights also ignore the rights of black, Asian, and other ethnic minority women. These exclusions are related, she said. “This has always been the dark heart of white, feminist politics: a jealous guarding of the boundaries of who gets to be a woman.”

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:

Excluding trans people is a way of keeping one’s position or status. And when it isn’t trans women being excluded, it switches to other groups, such as Muslim women who are viewed, she said, as “a threat to this idealised kind of white femininity”. Hines agrees. Keeping trans women out is, she said, “regulating who can belong to a category in order to close down membership, in order to protect the rights of a dominant majority [white women]”.

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.

A “leading feminist” thought?

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.



Edited to add this discussion on BBC Woman’s Hour, which involved Sally Hines – who is excruciating to listen to – and Kathleen Stock, facilitated by Woman’s Hour presenter, Jane Garvey. The section starts about 2.5 minutes in. Jane Clare Jones blogs it here.

Further edit to add:  Sheffield University professor under fire for asking if ‘transphobic lesbians’ can be ‘shaggable’ The Sheffield Tab 16.11.19

Another edit to add this article about Alison Phipps: The latest gender studies literature is indistinguishable from satire Julie Bindel 26.03.20


Published 27.12.18 

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5 Responses to The Aunt Lydias of academia

  • I really appreciate this website not just intellectually but from my very gut which I have felt being wrenched out of me recently. Having spent 30 years campaigning for Women’s Rights and fighting sexual violence against women I was recently told on BBC Radio Ulster by a young male that “These type of people (ie ME) probably have turned on Trans people as the most vulnerable people in society because they can’t hate Gay people in these days” I attended Gay Rights marches on the streets of Belfast before he was born There was Sean and a few brave Gay men from NIGRA, Women’s Aid, NUPE, and ourselves (Rape Crisis) about 40 of us when “The Troubles” were at their peak. I was told by him I was in minority of Feminists in Northern Ireland because I said that I objected to the term Father rather than Mother being put on the Birth Certificate of a child which had be born of a female who had fertility treatment and who owned a set of ovaries, a womb and a vagina.

    My daughter is a Lesbian and firmly believes that the Transmaniacs are trying to obliterate Lesbians and as a girl who was capped for her country but played until she was 13 on an all boys football team until their “T” set in she says she believes there is a strong possibilty that if she was that age now she may have been influenced to believe she should be male not Gay.

    There are so many governments, universities, voluntary organisations, Unions and even women who I know were decent feminists who either promate the erasure of women or shut their mouths to escape the hate they will bring on themselves if they dare to speak out against this Orwellian nightmare.

    So thank you for this site which has been therapy for me on a rainy Saturday morning. Eileen Calder

  • Thanks for having the patience to read and painstakingly refute all that nonsense, Maria. Circular arguments, evidence-free assertions, legions of straw men, the sheer lack of anything to support the speakers’ opinions … No wonder TRAs rely on aggression and intimidation, when it seems they have nothing else to back their claims.

    Well-meaning people on the left, including the Labour Party, seem to see transgenderism as the modern equivalent of the gay rights movement. But that was never an attack on anyone else, as transgenderism is on women’s rights.

  • Thanks for this so very concise!

  • The far right allegation i think refers to america where hands across the aisle and other feminist groups have pooled resources in the legal fight against the erosion of womens rights. Its inconvenient to them that in uk the only opposition is eiither apolitical or from the left

  • Thank you, Maria. You have a talent for cutting through the obfuscatory fug that infests this topic. I find it valuable and greatly appreciate it.

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