Women and Philosophy: A Reflection on Recent Events

women and philsopohy

This is a post occasioned by Justin Weinberg’s recent post at the Daily Nous, occasioned by this post on why a trans woman philosopher feels compelled to leave the profession (tl;dr – those transphobic witches).

Given that this is an intra-professional post, I’m going to do my utmost to abide by disciplinary convention and be less biting and sweary than usual (advance apologies to those of you who come for the jokes and the cussing). I’m also going to do my utmost to be measured and calm, despite the fact that I’m actually very very angry, and the fact that I’m addressing the profession, and hence feel the need to be measured and calm about something I’m enraged about is, in fact, central to what I’m about to say.

Let’s get to it:

The letter written by the anonymous ‘t philosopher’ is principally an emotional appeal to vulnerability, an intent to share the philosopher’s “pain and anger about being forced out of a career that I once loved.” The argument is, essentially, ‘allowing these women to express their views makes me feel so intolerably bad I have to leave, recast as ‘being forced to leave’ (a.k.a “you made me do it”?).

There are several things we can say about how this appeal might be received, and how that might relate to the sex of the speaker and listeners, and how our gender conventions are informing those interpretations.

1. The first thing I want to note, is that Justin responds to this appeal as if it describes an entirely foreign vulnerability. There are several instances of this:

“But most of us are fortunate enough never to have had our toughness tested in this way.”

“For most of us, our well-being is almost never jeopardized by our work environments.”

“Most of us have not experienced what t philosopher has experienced.”

I picked Justin up for this on twitter, because, of course, as is immediately evident to anyone who is not a white man, this is not a foreign experience to some of us at all. (Note: I am not claiming that trans philosophers’ experiences of marginalization are the same as women’s, that is not something I could ever know. I am merely noting that the idea of being ignorant of what it’s like to be mentally jeopardized by our work environment is a statement that could only be made by white male (and probably straight) philosophers.) In response to my tweet Justin has clarified that that is why he wrote ‘most of us,’ and has since amended the post to reflect the recognition that the profession is 70% male and 85% white. I still, however, want to underline what is going on here. We are having a conversation about whether some women should be effectively muzzled in the profession, and the person writing the post is male, and the audience he is imaginatively addressing is also male. That is, the men are talking about whether a few women should be silenced, without acknowledging anything about how the men’s sex is affecting their understanding of the situation, and how that might be different for the women they are discussing – the women who, implicitly, are the ‘problem’ here.

2. One thing that is incredibly striking to me about this is that the men are extending a degree of concern and empathy to the experience of t philosopher that is completely foreign to how I, as a woman, have come to understand men’s reactions to women’s experience of philosophy. We work in a profession which has built an entire metaphysical edifice on devaluing the rationality of women. We come into the profession knowing that most of the men around us, more or less explicitly, think we are not in possession of the logos, and that any expression of emotion or vulnerability on our part will almost certainly be taken as evidence of our unsuitability for our chosen work. The culture at large, as is reasonably well recognised, is littered with images of ‘hysterical’ ‘angry’ ‘vengeful,’ women. Any expression of women’s needs which refuses to comply with male people’s desires or demands is frequently characterised as wanton aggression (which is highly relevant to the emotional force of the image of the TERF). And any expression of the damage that has been done to us will be used to posit us as hysterics and undermine our credibility. From this is follows that:

a) As we know how expressions of our vulnerability or anger would be taken, the very idea of our writing a post like the post written by t philosopher is inconceivable to us. The assumption that the expression of our pain might “stir some of you to greater action” rather than simply being an extreme professional liability is, in itself, a product of the system of gender as it is brought to bear on the authority and priority granted or not granted to those of certain sexed bodies. And this is one of the reasons why we maintain it is important to be able to point to sex, why the attempt to disallow the identification of sex as ‘misgendering’ is pernicious, and why us pointing to sex is not simply a wanton desire to cause harm – because yes, I am claiming that the very fact that t philosopher thought expressing her pain in this manner was a potentially effective political manoeuvre, and that people responded to it as such, is something to do with her not being female. (Kate Manne would not like this, but to those of us on this side, it seems obvious that what is going on here is, in fact, a version of ‘himpathy’ (and we should note, women extend greater sympathy to male people as well, that’s what female socialisation is for)).

b) The fact is, therefore, that those of you who are male do not know a great deal about female people’s experiences of harm in the profession, because we do not tell you, and we may, furthermore, go to some great lengths to conceal it from you. I am wrestling with myself right here and now about whether I should write a list of some of the shit I have experienced, both in academia in general and in philosophy in particular, and how I consider this to have severely impacted my progress in the profession. (I would not claim that these issues are the only reason I have decided to practice as a philosopher outside the academy, but it is one of the major strands. Maybe I should write a blog called ‘Why after 10 years of training I never even tried to enter the profession’? I wonder if you will find it ‘heartbreaking’?).

Perhaps then, against all my inculcated instincts, as an experiment, I will give you a taste.

  • A few weeks after I arrived in Stony Brook, one of my male colleagues threated to glass me for not believing in the univocity of Being (for those of you who don’t understand the gendered metaphysics going on here, I’m not going to go into a digression about sexual difference feminism, but I am going to assume many of you don’t understand, because frankly, until all of this blew up, most of you were quite happy completely ignoring what feminist women were talking about).
  • Around about the same time, one of my female colleagues – a woman who had encouraged me to apply to Stony Brook – weighted herself to the bottom of a lake, at least in good part because she had been made to feel so inadequate in a profession that she was, in fact, extremely gifted at. After her death, there was some discussion among the grad students about possible gendered aspects of what had happened, but nothing was recognised at an institutional level – and this, I should underline, was in a department I had uprooted myself to study in, because it was supposed to be one of the most hospitable places for feminist philosophers in the Anglo-American world. After this, several of the female students fell into a deep depression, and one of them, who was, to my mind, one of the most talented philosophers I’ve ever met, never made it through the program.
  • I was told at the end of my undergraduate training in Cambridge that my ‘intellectual trajectory’ was ‘unfortunate,’ and left the academy for nearly ten years, before I worked out that the reason my thought was being so utterly dismissed by the person I was meeting to discuss my academic future, was gendered.
  • I have had to deal with the fact that I could never get any funding for my work in my own country – despite having a first class degree from the best university in the UK – because I work in continental feminism, which is doubly marginalised, and, moreover, there are very few departments here that would even consider my work to qualify as ‘philosophy.’
  • I have, on several occasions, had to deal with men who feel threatened by women who refuse to conceal their intelligence, being extremely belittling and aggressive to me in professional contexts. I have experienced a fair amount of male violence in my life and have a hair trigger for men trying to dominate me. Maybe you could imagine struggling to hold onto the thread of your argument and keep your voice from breaking while your body floods with adrenalin and shame and rage because some insecure man has felt the need to put you firmly back into your place in front of a room full of your colleagues? It really is super-fun. Especially when you fail, and leave feeling like you’ve been punched in the stomach, and that everyone now thinks you’re a hysteric, and you decide that you probably don’t need to go to that reading group on that thing you’re really interested in after all.
  • And perhaps I’ll end with the fact that over the last few years I was participating in professional contexts, men with a great deal more power than me started to wave Judith Butler or trans politics in my face every time I tried to make any observation about women’s oppression, or critique any masculinist bias in something we were reading. Which was GREAT.
  • Note: I’m aware that having done what I have just done is something of a performative contradiction. What I am going to say is that I think I only feel able to do it, because – partly due to the stance I have taken on these issues, as well as several other factors – it turns out my path is to make my way in the world without needing many of your professional approval, or you giving me a job.

3. These issues surrounding the non-expression of women’s feelings also relates to the fact that we are trying very hard, in this situation, not to let anyone see how distressing this whole conflict is to us, because we have no confidence that it will not simply be weaponised against us. (Justin for example instructs us in the manner we should respond – cordially, calmly, although the whole conversation is precipitated by an extreme – and some might think, manipulative – expression of emotion which is, nonetheless, being given enormous, uncritical, weight). And this very much relates to the fact that the balance of sympathy, and the balance of the assessment of harms, as it relates to the present conflict, are extremely uneven. While Justin’s post stops short of agreeing with t philosopher that we should be unilaterally muzzled (what is the philosophical equivalent of the Scold’s Bridle I wonder?), the distribution of identification with who is being harmed and who has legitimate interests here, is entirely asymmetric.[1] (Some might think that a group of people sitting around discussing whether we should be run out of the profession was a harm in itself? But of course, we have brought it on ourselves by committing wrong-think, and, after all, we could so easily have just complied with what we consider to be our own erasure.)

Trans activists frequently assert some version of the claim that we are playing academic or intellectual games with other people’s lives, or, as in the excerpt from Talia Mae Bettcher, that the current discussion is not to be undertaken as an equivalent of “investigations into the question whether tables really exist.” I just want to stop here and ask you to really try and consider the claim that discussions about the nature of the being of women might be in some way academic or impersonal to women, and further, to consider, therefore, the basis of the claim that what is motivating us could only be animus towards trans people, as if we do not have some kind of interest or investment in the definition of the class of persons to which we belong. (This, among many reasons, is one of my objections to the label TERF, or even, in Justin’s amendment, to calling us ‘trans-exclusive.’ It centres our position on the effect it has on trans women, and hence refuses to grant recognition that we are concerned about the definition of women and the functioning of female spaces because we care about female people. That is, calling us ‘trans exclusive’ is to refuse our intent to define ourselves through the act of centering ourselves, and to define us solely on the basis of the effect we have on male-born people. It is not then, as Christa Peterson claims ‘camouflage,’ it is, rather, refusing to allow women to be reduced to agents of male service, which is, in fact, the core mechanism of patriarchy).

Anyway, the point here is that the entire conversation – at least with respect to Justin’s exhortation for empathy with t philosopher, and this is very much mirrored by the ease with which gender critical women are being publicly monstered – is being focused around trans people, and specifically trans women’s needs and feelings, while refusing to grant any recognition to the fact that women also have needs, interests and feelings here as well.[2] We are not playing games with other people’s lives. We are engaged in a debate about our own lives, a debate we consider to be of massive existential importance to us, and which is deeply and unerringly distressing – because we keep being told that we should accept our existence being redefined, and that the definition of our own existence is of far less consequence than trans women’s – that is, male-born people’s – feelings. If you are familiar with feminist analysis you should know that we consider that our culture constructs women through male people’s projections, and that one of the central practices of feminism is to define ourselves in our own terms, and to refuse male people’s definitions. If you understood feminist analysis you might also have some sense of how horrifying it is to us to watch male people colluding with each other in determining how we should be defined, and how painful it is to be confronted with such an extreme instance of the ease with which asserting our right to self-definition is cast as an act of extreme hatred (while somehow, also, just an academic game). If you understood feminist analysis then you might start to appreciate that we, too, are persons in our own right here, that we have our own interests, and that we are doing this because we care about women and girls’ needs. You might start to recognize that while we are not, in fact, disputing the existence of trans people (rather, we are precisely arguing for recognising that they are trans), the trans rights movement is actually attempting to erase female people as a political and legal class, and that there might be substantive reasons for us to oppose that which have nothing to do with malice, or heartlessness, or, least of all, intellectual entertainment. Because I can assure you, this whole situation is the very opposite of fun for us.

4. The last thing I want to point to is the relation between the way Justin erases us in the opening descriptions of how foreign the vulnerability of marginalization is ‘to most of us,’ and the way he erases us in the discussion about what we should do in response to t philosopher’s testimony. (As an aside here, apparently our dismissals were in the register of “mock[ing] what she says,” while I would rather characterise, say, Kathleen’s response, as ‘knowing what coercive control looks like and refusing to be emotionally blackmailed.’ A diagnostic protocol, which, I wager, is probably more familiar to women than men.) Anyway, the point here is that Justin characterises those of us who were inadequately moved by t philosopher’s account as saying “deal with it,” and then goes on to note “But here’s the thing: we’re the it.” Which is staggering. Because you’re not the ‘it’ Justin, we are, and we’re not you. Indeed, as your opening erasure makes more than evident, you really don’t have the first clue what being a woman in philosophy is like. To return to where we started, what then happens is Justin has a conversation about “our practices and speech” and the fact that they’re “up to us,” which is addressed, in effect, to an implicit audience of other men, without acknowledging that the ‘problem’ they are talking about is not, actually, all of us, but is, rather, a particular group of women and whether those women should be allowed to express opinions about the definition of ‘woman.’ Moreover, he doesn’t acknowledge that while this might be taking up a lot of discursive space in the philosophical world right now, if it should be decided that women should be barred from expressing opinions about the definition of ‘woman,’ it’s really no skin off Justin Weinberg’s nose, because Justin Weinberg actually has no substantive interests at stake here, other than concerns about the disciplinary practice of philosophy. All of which would be evident, if any of this conversation was ever conducted around the recognition of women’s interests in this question.

5. Further to this, I’d like to ruefully note how convenient it is that male philosophers suddenly want to take responsibility for the ‘heart-breaking’ effects of marginalization in philosophy when it turns out that the people allegedly responsible for that marginalization are a bunch of women. We have been trying, without appeals to emotion, but in the way feminists do, diligently, by accumulating arguments and data, to try and get you to pay attention to the marginalization of women in philosophy for, oh, I don’t know, the last fifty years? You were about as interested as you were in the fact that we dismantled patriarchal metaphysics around 1973. (Yes yes, carry on talking about desire as if it only exists in the masculine why don’t you? I’m sure we’ve never had any pertinent thoughts on the matter *flat stare at Lacan, Foucault and indeed, Butler*). What this comes down to is the fact that to deal with the marginalization of women in philosophy the 70% (or more) of you who are male would have had to seriously interrogate both your behaviour, and also, in many respects, your philosophical and disciplinary assumptions. And you have never shown the slightest inclination towards doing so. Now, however, you can demonstrate your exquisite concern for the suffering of the vulnerable, and it actually demands nothing of you. Because what’s being asked of you is whether some uppity women should be made to shut up.

Which, from where we’re standing, makes this whole sorry mess look pretty much the same as it ever was.

[Final caveat: I want to acknowledge that a few male philosophers have been very vocal and steadfast in their support of us, and we are profoundly appreciative of it].


[1] This asymmetry is also mirrored in Justin’s presentation of the way in which “some of the most visible philosophers challenging the self-understanding and liberties of trans persons have engaged in behaviour that can most charitably be described as juvenile.” Note that a) our position is again characterised as all about being ‘anti-trans’ rather than about the interests of women, and therefore mimics the presentation of the issue by the trans-ideological side, and b) the emphasis on who is behaving badly is uneven. Justin does go on to recognise that there has been some “hostile rhetoric” directed at “some of us,” but only after extending empathy for the trans philosopher who is forced to share professional space with her “tormenters” (because we’re not trying to make a philosophical point in women’s interests, we are just trying to cause pain because we are in some way enjoying it?). On this I just need to note that we have been described as “cockroaches” by Rachel McKinnon and a Facebook post we engaged in was described as ‘terf-infested’ by Rebecca Kukla. I’d really like the other members of the profession to tell me when we started turning a blind eye to colleagues comparing each other to vermin, as if we don’t know where that kind of rhetoric goes, and I’d challenge anyone to find anything resembling this coming from our side, such as Justin’s asymmetric emphasis might be justified. Moreover, Holly Lawford-Smith has been called “a bigoted piece of shit” and a “vile fucking human” by Keyvan Shafiei and a “cunt” by Rebecca Kukla, and again, I’d like examples of equivalent ‘violent rhetoric’ that we have used about our opponents.

At this point I’d also like to underline that at present, in the UK, two gender critical feminists have been physically attacked by trans women in the course of this conflict. In both cases the trans woman was a male under the age of 30, and the feminist was a female over the age of 50. This is male violence against women, it is being used in a political context in order to try and stop us exercising our democratic right to assemble, and I am sick to the back teeth of people making false equivalences and handwaving literal violence.

[2] This issue of the relative balance of sympathy, or whose interests are being recognised and whose are being erased, is also replicated in Jonathan Ichikawa’s recent twitter thread, especially with respect to the effort to use standpoint epistemology in order to give priority to trans women’s claims. Putting aside for a moment the infuriating spectacle of a man using an element of feminist epistemology designed to explain why we might grant authority to women’s claims in order to undermine women’s claims, the question must transparently be, why are trans women’s claims to harm and epistemic authority with respect to this question to be prioritised over female people’s? (I asked Ichikawa this question. He declined to answer, noting that on the advice of loved ones he was withdrawing from the conversation, which, in itself, is an artefact of male privilege. Note also, Ichikawa claims to specialise in rape culture, as do I. I asked him, given this area of expertise, why he was apparently tone deaf to why women might be feeling increasingly distressed and angry about a group of male people ganging up together to coerce their boundaries. No answer has been forthcoming.)


A Dialogue Between a Trans Woman and a Feminist Who Isn’t Just A Figment of The Trans Woman’s Mind

Painting by John William Waterhouse

Well now. Isn’t this nice. In the middle of a huge fight in which I spend a great deal of my time trying to persuade male people that we’re not just projections that exist in their heads, but are actually, y’know, whole real people in our own right, the trans philosopher Rachel Anne Williams has decided to resurrect an ancient philosophical device and treat us to some imaginings about us.

Let’s see what we say shall we?


If you’ve ever had the pleasure of getting into an internet debate with “gender critical” feminists when it comes to issues surrounding gender, you’d know that one of their constant demands is for trans women to define “woman”. This is their ultimate “gotcha” — their best attempt to prove that trans activists are full of bullshit.

  • Yup, that’s right, our concerns about the definition of the political category to which we belong and your attempt to erase it, must, of course, be all about you. How could we have any interest in our own self-definition that was about us and our own needs, given that we’re just some walk-on characters in the philosophical movie you are running in your mind? Nope. Of course we’re only bothered about whether women exist because we’re trying to fuck you over. Of course.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +1

Suppose you did attempt to define “woman”. It might go something like this:

Trans woman: A woman is someone with the gender identity of “woman.”

GC feminist: That’s circular! The term “woman” is in the definition itself but you haven’t defined what “woman” means!

Trans woman: Ok, well, women are those people who tend to display [certain traits].

GC feminist: Ahh! You sexist! You’re trying to say that all women act or look a certain way! You’re reducing the concept of womanhood down to a set of stereotypes.

Trans woman: Ok, well, how would you define “woman”?

GC feminist: Well, naturally, woman are adult human females.

Trans woman: But what do you mean by “female”?

GC feminist: Females are those creatures that, under normal circumstances, produce large gametes.

Trans woman: Ok, but why would you want to define woman as “adult human female” and define “female” like that? That excludes trans women.

  • We’re not trying to exclude you from the category of female. You just are excluded. Because you’re not female. It takes no effort and no desire whatsoever on our part to get to that conclusion. What, however, would take a great deal of effort and desire is performing the conceptual jiggery-pokery with the meaning of the ontological and political category we belong to in order to include you, which we’re not going to do, because it’s a harm to us, and because the only reason for doing it is to service your feelings, and mate, we’re feminists.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +2

GC feminist: Well, yes, of course — trans women are men and should be happy existing as just feminine men.

  • Yeah, some of us think you’re men, quite a number of us think you’re transwomen. What we all agree on is that you’re not female, and that you are not, therefore, straightforwardly women. It’s interesting that a bunch of people who are allegedly so committed to ‘smashing the binary’ cannot conceive of a category which exists between ‘men’ and ‘women.’ But of course you can’t, because your need is to fully appropriate our existence, and it doesn’t serve your narrative to recognise that some of us would meet you halfway if you just backed the fuck off.

If we don’t carve out a political category for women that focuses on our biological sex we will not be able to organize politically. You trans activists want to redefine what it means to be a woman in terms of some nebulous concept of “gender identity”. But I don’t have a “gender identity”. I don’t “identify” as a woman — I am a woman! Because I am female.

Trans woman: I think the problem here is you have a limited understanding of what it means to “identify” as something.

  • Oh, do we now?

For example, I identify as pansexual. But I could say, just like you do, that I don’t “identify” as pansexual, I am pansexual. Because being pansexual is an intrinsic part of who I am. But it’s both an intrinsic part of who I am and also something I identify as. So why not think gender identity is similar? You are female but you also identify as female.

  • No, I don’t. I’m a woman, and I’m woman-identified, which is a political identification. But I do not identify as female any more than I identify as having curly hair. And your need to impose an identification on me that I do not experience is all about your needs. And, while we’re here, given that I have experienced a life-time of discrimination because I’m female, you telling me that I have effectively identified into that discrimination is also politically reprehensible.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +4

They are not mutually exclusive. This is why a lot of trans activists don’t even talk in terms of gender identity. They will say “I don’t identify as a woman, I am a woman.”

  • Not in any sense that a female person is.

GC feminist: But that’s different. When you say you “identify” as a woman you can’t even explain what that means! You can’t say you “identify” is someone with large gametes because that’s ridiculous — you don’t have large gametes. If I identify as seven feet tall, that doesn’t make me seven feet tall.

Trans woman: That’s true.

  • Well Rachel, congrats, that may be the first time in this whole protracted interaction in which I’ve actually heard you say something that appears to recognise reality.
  • For that I’ll knock half a point off your narcissism score: +3.5

I do not have large gametes (nor am I seven feet tall). But since I see myself as a woman, I think that’s all the more reason to abandon your definition of womanhood in terms of gametes. I’d prefer to try and find a definition that is inclusive, or better, yet, give up on the very quest to define womanhood itself. Perhaps some things cannot be given definitions.

  • Are you fucking shitting me??? It was all going so well for a moment there, and then you went and totally trashed it with, “seeing as material reality doesn’t fulfil my own projections and needs I want you to abandon your useful objective definition of the political category to which you belong and replace it with some airy-fairy definition because ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.”
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +8.5

GC feminist: But if we don’t ground the definition in terms of objective, biological sex, the concept of “woman” will be meaningless and just anyone will be able to identify as a woman. After all, you trans activists are constantly saying that gender cannot be reduced to any physical trait, manner of dress, or behavior. You just keep talking about some nebulous concept of “gender identity” but can’t even explain what that means! All you have are a set of circular definitions.

Trans woman: Think of gender identity like consciousness. Consciousness is experiential and has a first-person aspect. It cannot be so easily defined.

  • Yeah, except all of us experience consciousness, and we have ways of communicating different aspects of our phenomenological experience with each other. And I know you don’t understand this because you apparently live in that mirrored-hall known as your brain, but we don’t experience gender identity, and we literally have no idea what you’re talking about. What that means is that whatever the experience is that you’re calling ‘feeling like or being a woman’, isn’t an experience we share with you. We are women. And if we tell you that your experience of ‘being a woman’ is meaningless to us, then, whatever it is an experience of, it isn’t an experience of being a woman.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +9.5

GC feminist: Sure it can! To be conscious of something is to be aware of something.

  • I watched this conversation, you were having it with one or two people at the most, one of whom was a sceptic not a feminist, and none of whom were philosophers, because frankly, when you decided to throw consciousness into the mix to try and prop up your nebulous crap, we were too busy rolling our eyes. As Andy told you, if you want to change our civic infrastructure from being organised on the basis of something as objective as sex to something as wishy-washy and potentially regressive as gender identity, you better do better than ‘change all the laws on the basis of a subjective state which is only meaningful to trans people.’

Trans woman: But what does it mean to be aware of something?

GC feminist: To sense that thing.

Trans woman: But sensation and consciousness are two different things. You can put a sensor on a robot but that doesn’t make the robot conscious.

GC feminist: Ok, so conscious awareness is sensation that you experience.

Trans woman: But “experience” is just another way of saying “consciousness”.

GC feminist: Ok, I see what you’re getting at. Consciousness is a tricky concept. But that’s consciousness! Gender identity is different. Gender identity is just a bunch of nonsense. Consciousness is a mental phenomenon and mental phenomena have an irreducible quality.

Trans woman: But don’t you see? Gender identity is also a mental phenomena and it has an irreducible quality as well.

  • Wow, this GC feminist in your brain is pleasingly slow on the uptake isn’t she? I refer you to my previous point, why should we a) make laws b) change our entire understanding of our own political class, because of your phenomenological experience?

That’s what makes it so hard to define. Saying “Consciousness is about experiencing the world” is like saying “Womanhood is about identifying as a woman.”

  • Yeah, but again, this is what womanhood means to you. That’s not what it means to me. In fact, ‘womanhood’ has no meaning to me at all. I’m not a woman because I have woman-essence. I’m a woman because I’m female. That’s it.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +10.5

When I say I “identify as a woman” it’s really hard to define what that means exactly without resorting to cultural stereotypes about womanhood. It’s not about clothes. It’s not about makeup. It’s not about how I act. It’s just this feeling I have that “woman” is the right conceptual category for me to be in. Thinking of myself as a man just feels so wrong! I can’t explain it.

  • You’ve actually said something honest here. Because this is a description of dysphoria. Which is what makes you a transwoman. Let me tell you what’s happening here from my perspective; you have taken the experience of dysphoria – which I accept is a real phenomenological experience – and reified the proposed explanation, i.e. that dysphoria arises because of a mismatch between gender identity and sexed body. In order to ground the claim that you are a woman in a manner continuous with the way we are women, you then posit that we all have a gender identity, and the only difference between you and us is that our gender identity matches our body. That is, your ideology is committed to imposing an experience of gender identity onto us, in order for you to claim continuity with us, despite the fact that we keep telling you that we do not recognise this experience and consider the concept politically pernicious. But what you have told us here when trying to give an honest description of your experience explains exactly why we do not recognise your experience. Because you have dysphoria, and we do not. And not having dysphoria is not an experience of gender identitybecause experience has to have some content.

GC feminist: That’s just it! You want to replace the hard facts of biology with mere feelings! That’s hogwash! I don’t “feel” like a woman. I am a woman! Because of my biological sex. It’s not a feeling. It’s reality.

Trans woman: But are not feelings a part of reality? When I feel pain, does that pain not exist? Just because it has an experiential element doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. My feeling of pain is as real to me as anything else in this world. And my feelings about my gender are as real as anything else in this world.

  • Yes, they’re real to you. Which is not quite the same as ‘anything else in this world’ which is also real to people who are not inside you.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +11.5

GC feminist: But if we start to define womanhood in terms of wishy-washy feelings, anyone will be able to identify as a woman and the category of “woman” will start to be filled with a bunch of men who are identifying as woman for nefarious purposes in order to infiltrate female spaces and take advantage of the wishy-washy definitions of womanhood. Unless we ground the political category of womanhood in biology the doors will be open for just any ole man to “identify” as a woman, especially since you can’t even define clearly what that means! It’s not like the old days when trans women were transsexuals with gender dysphoria and medically transitioned and had surgery and took hormones and blended into society as women. Now you have all kinds of perverts and freaks who don’t even have dysphoria “identifying” as woman. Don’t you see how dangerous that is for society?

Trans woman: I think you’re confusing that fact that, in theory, any kind of person can identify as a woman with the fact that not everyone will identify as a woman, because although, yes, it is hard to define gender identity in naturalistic terms, that doesn’t mean just anyone will identify as a woman.

  • The fact that you will not for one second take seriously what women understand about the lengths male people will go in order to abuse us is just straight up contempt Rachel. Seriously. Fuck off.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +13.5

Afterall, gender identity is an intrinsic part of who you are, and is in fact ultimately grounded in the brain and the brains of people who identify as women are different from the brains of people who identify as men.

  • FEMALE BRAIN KLAXON. You’re going to need some trans brain studies that have controlled for sexual orientation and don’t show that once that’s done the only variable is the bit of the brain that deals with body imaging.

In this way gender identity is quite like consciousness. It has a personal, experiential element — there is something-it-is-like to be conscious just as there is something-it-is-like to identify as a particular gender, consciousness is mysterious and hard to define, gender identity is mysterious and hard to define, and yet we have a first-person understanding of both.

  • You do. I only have a first person understanding of consciousness. I have no first person understanding of gender identity. As I keep telling you. How come I can recognise that your experience is true to you, but my claims about my own experience don’t seem to register with you at all? I have a vague inkling there could be a structural reason for that. Now what could it be?
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +14.5

GC feminist: But how are we going to ground a political movement protecting females from the oppressive forces of patriarchy unless we have a specific set of terminology that refers specifically to our reproductive biology?

Trans woman: You can still use “female”.

  • Gee, thanks. Except actually that’s not what is happening is it? We’re being called ‘uterus havers’ and ‘bleeders’ instead.

Most people will understand the anatomy of cis females to be paradigmatic for that concept. For example, when you think of “bird” you typically think of a bird like a robin who can fly. Robins are paradigm examples of the category “bird”. The penguin is still technically a bird but less paradigmatic for the concept. Cis females are paradigm examples of the example of “female” but trans females are like penguins — they are still females but not a paradigmatic example because it’s not the first thing in people’s mind when they think of “female”.

  • What is it with you people and the terrible analogies?? Birds are an entire class of animals. There are over 10, 000 different species of birds, with vastly different body types, ranging from wrens to goddamn ostriches. Females are not a class, or a clade, or even a species. They are a sex. Which occurs across species. And is defined by their capacity to produce large gametes. And in no universe is a male actually a female because penguins are not the same as robins.

GC feminist: But the bodies of trans women are nothing like cis females! If the term is to mean anything it must be a scientific concept that refers to objective reality, namely, the objective reality of everything associated with large gametes.

  • The thing is, ‘produces large gametes’ is just what female means. And if trans women want to claim that they are female, then we’re still going to need another word for the class of humans that produces large gametes and we’re still going to insist that producing large gametes is not accidentally related to our oppression.

Trans woman: We already established that gender identity is an intrinsic feature of someone and realized in the brain.

  • I do not think you know what ‘established’ means.

Therefore, there must be brain features specific to having a gender identity of a woman that distinguish it from having the gender identity of a man.

  • There is no ‘therefore’ about it. Christ, this really is the Judith Butler school of ‘let me build a pile of tottering crap on ridiculous premises I never actually demonstrated.”

Why not include these as part of the cluster concept of “female”?

  • Because you. are. not. female.

We can recognize that large gametes are paradigmatic of the category “female” while also recognizing that trans women are also a kind of female and when we want to be specific and distinguish between the different types of bodies we can use the term “trans female”.

  • ‘We can recognise that females are paradigmatic of the category female while also recognising that males are a kind of female.’ Yeah no. We can’t

GC feminist: But why not just realize that trans women are males who identify as females? Isn’t that easier?

Trans woman: I mean, yes, in a sense, that is perfectly coherent.

  • Yeah, isn’t it?

The problem is ideologies like GC feminism are hellbent in saying that men are adult human males which would make trans women men.

  • Nope, I’d be perfectly happy with ‘males who identify as women’ and I accept ‘males who identify as women’ might be something different from just ‘men.’ It’s annoying when you have to deal with what we actually think isn’t it? So, given that you’ve admitted it’s perfectly coherent and I’m also happy with it, I think we have a solution to the whole sorry mess, transwomen are ‘males who identify as women.’ Deal?

But that’s the fundamental claim that we disagree with. I believe that trans women are women because I think whether you are a “man” or a “woman” depends on how you identify, as per my original definition.

  • No, you believe trans women are women because you want to believe you are a woman despite the fact that women keep telling you that they do not recognise your experience of ‘being a woman’ and that your making our being women dependent on an extrapolation of your own subjective experience in persistent disregard of our own experience is about the most narcissistic entitled masculine thing we could ever conceive of. For the hundredth millionth fucking time: We are not an idea in your head.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +19.5

GC feminism: You’re just going to open the doors to any pervert to wake up one day and identify as a woman and that will magically make them a woman.

Trans woman: You talk as if the process of identification is shallow when in fact to truly identify as a woman is a deep and meaningful psychological process involving a kind of commitment. It’s not the kind of thing you just wake up and do on a whim. It requires a kind of authenticity.


GC feminist: But you cannot empirically measure that authenticity. In places like the UK, they want to get rid of the gatekeeping measures in place that require you to prove you have deep-seated dysphoria and replace them with this nebulous concept of self-identification such that just anyone could self-ID as trans and then be legally granted access to female spaces. Can’t you see how dangerous that is?

Trans woman: You still have to make a sworn statement that you identify as a woman. I think you underestimate the resolve it would take to walk before a panel of legal experts and publically swear you are a different gender.

  • I think you underestimate the fact that men decide to spend their entire lives as priests or gym teachers or sports coaches so they can abuse children you fucking selfish asshole.

I just don’t think there is any evidence that predators are going to use this particular legal pathway to abuse women.

  • There is. And you know it. And every time we point to the evidence you just scream hate-crime. What you don’t, in fact, think is that women’s safety matters as much as your damn feelings. And that, dear Rachel, is because of male entitlement.

The benefits of getting rid of arduous gatekeeping outweigh the risks.

  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +119.5

There are many downsides to gatekeeping.

  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +169.5

It does not lead to the best trans healthcare, a vulnerable and marginalized population.

  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +189.5

Besides, what do you think gatekeeping is? Gatekeeping is nothing more than having a conversation with a trans person — it’s not about medical testing. The only “test” — even with gatekeeping — is relying on the self-report on the trans person, which is itself a kind of self-ID.

  • I dunno, I like to think that they used to try and weed out the people with raging NPD.

GC feminist: But women are marginalized moreso! And there are much more of them!

Trans woman: Yes, but the problem is not trans-identifying women or trans feminine people. The problem is cis men.

  • I’m so glad that you’re the expert on our problem Rachel. Because of course, heaven forfend that we would allow female people to make judgements about which male people they consider to be a problem, or – perish the thought! – believe that female people could correctly perceive gargantuan levels of mansplainy condensing narcissism in someone who does not identify as an entitled condescending mansplainer.

For all your concerns about needing precise language to organize politically, the term “cis man” is perfectly precise when it comes to pinpointing the vast bulk of the problem when it comes to dismantling the patriarchy.

  • You love, are the patriarchy on fucking crack.

This is why trans women and radical feminists ultimately have the same goal: to dismantle patriarchal structures that target women and create the conditions of liberation for all genders.

  • Yeah, you’re doing a grand job of demonstrating your commitment to it here.

Although the nature of the oppression is different in virtue of not having identical biological functions, there is still much that overlaps.

  • Until you have the first idea about the fundamental psycho-ontology of patriarchal domination – clue Rachel, look in the Hall of Mirrors – I suggest you don’t lecture me on my oppression.

Trans women are at risk of violence from cis males. We can still get assaulted, raped, and killed. We are at risk of legalized discrimination in the form of healthcare, housing, the workplace, etc. We have objectively worse mental health outcomes on account of social prejudice. We are also subject to unconscious bias and prejudice at an interpersonal level.

  • ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. Yeah, we get all that too. And we get it from you as well.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +195.5

This is why we focus on intersectional feminism.

  • No, you focus on intersectional feminism because you’ve twisted it to undermine the definition of the class of women in order to insert yourself into it.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +205.5

The discrimination we face as women intersects with the discrimination we face for being trans, just like the discrimination black women face as women intersects with the discrimination they face for being black.


cookie monster

Although our experiences are not the same, why should we expect that all women have the same experiences? Is not our tapestry more rich when we include the voices of trans women?

  • You’re not asking to be included. You are asking to be centred. You are asking for all our language to be changed in order to obscure the ways in which we are not the same. You are asking us to give up our analysis of our own oppression so it fits your ideology, you are asking us to relinquish our rights to self-definition and self-organisation, and you are using a whole panoply of coercive methods to achieve those ends. You are, above all, exhibiting the belief that your needs and your feelings are the be all and end all of this matter, which is to say, you are exhibiting the core psychic mechanism of male dominance, with all its attendant coercions and condescentions, with its complete and unrelenting inability to recognise that we. are. our. own. people.  To be absolutely blunt Rachel (and I’ve told you this more than once already, but shockingly, you do not hear it), if you wanted to convince us you were women, this display of self-centred bullying is possibly the least effective means you could ever have come up with. Our tapestry is doing just fine without you, we have no intention of letting it become all about you, and we’re going to need you to go and make your own.

Final Hall of Mirrors’ Score: +205.5



Dearest dearest all,

This is just a brief note, to say thank you all for your notes and emails and outraged tweets… I wont lie, I feel a little sick, but I also thought it was a matter of when not if, so I’m in an odd state of very-shocked-not-really-shocked.

I’ve appealed. I wrote a damn essay in the form about the difference between directing hatred at a group and directing political critique at political behaviour. Who knows. As we know, twitter is at best a crap shoot, and the game is fucking rigged. I’ll write something more on the three times I was scalped and the bullshit involved each time shortly. In the meantime, the essay from late last summer when it first became clear that they were coming for us.

Twitter and Trans Rights Totalitarianism

Solidarity sisters!

ETA: The reason for the suspension is here

Here’s the essay-ette I wrote to twitter:

You have suspended my account. The tweet concerned was a political critique of the use of repetitive mantras in order to disseminate political ideas.  We appreciate your concern to make sure that vulnerable individuals are not targeted in a way that silences them, and to protect people from being attacked for being members of particular groups that have been historically marginalised. My tweet, however, was not addressed to an individual, but to a political organisation. I was not threatening them or attempting to incite violence against them, and I was not making any comment which was derogatory to them with respect to who they *are.* I was, rather, commenting on an aspect of their political behaviour, which, I would strongly argue, is within the purview of legitimate political critique within a democracy. As I mentioned above, the behaviour I was criticising was disseminating a political view through the use of repetitive slogans because it bears a resemblance to cult-like brain-washing techniques, and is therefore something about which we may have legitimate political concerns. I want our public discourse to consist of robust and open debate, and I am deeply worried about the way our political lives are becoming dominated by sound-bites and slogans that close down discussion and thinking. As twitter is a forum for political discussion, I hope also that the value of political critique is one you share with me. Indeed, in your guidelines you say that you are concerned to make sure that everyone can express their political ‘opinions and beliefs without barriers.’ I would hope, therefore, that you will reconsider in this case, and recognise that I was not directing hatred towards a group because of their identity, but was expressing a political opinion with respect to an aspect of a political organisation’s political behaviour.


OMG. I am flattered and that is FREAKY.


ETA3: If you want to subscribe to the blog, please use the follow button on the side menu.

The Institute of Feminist Thought

Over the last few months I’ve received quite a few emails from people expressing their frustration about the lack of feminism they are receiving in their university studies, or asking me if I would be able to offer any teaching… and it got me thinking…

So, to mark International Women’s Day I’m announcing the first phase of The Institute of Feminist Thought, an online feminist school offering courses in feminist history and philosophy, which I hope will grow into a forum for all kinds of feminist thinking…

I hope as many of you as possible will join me on the journey.

Header display

Why British Feminists Are Such a Bunch of Evil Witches

dead terfs 2

The New York Times, happily peddling hate-speech.

So, before we look at this car-crash, I just want to note that someone came up to me on Twitter on Saturday morning and told me this was in the works, and knew the person writing it. I suggested she ask the author to get in touch and talk to us before she did, which seems not unreasonable by, y’know, normal journalistic standards… I mean, it’s clearly best practice to just make up a load of old cobblers about what people believe and not even bother talking to them first right? Anyway, I’m sure Sophie Lewis was just working in the interests of getting to the bottom of this whole mess and that there’s nothing remotely ideological going on here at all.


Anyway, are we sitting comfortably my lovely crones?

Last week, two British women stormed onto Capitol Hill in Washington for the purposes of ambushing Sarah McBride, the national press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.

Ms. McBride, a trans woman, had just been part of a meeting between the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council and members of Congress when the Britons — Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, who goes by the name Posie Parker, and Julia Long — barged in. Heckling and misgendering Ms. McBride, the two inveighed against her supposed “hatred of lesbians” and accused her of championing “the rights of men to access women in women’s prison.”

Okay, so, I don’t want to revisit this in a great deal of detail. Along with a number of others, I made my thoughts known about it last week, and as we’re all aware, the resulting fall out made it a pretty unhappy few days for most of us. I do, however, want to just note the use of overblown rhetoric here – Posie and Julia went into a room and door-stopped Sarah McBride. We might disagree about the use of the tactic, but we might also want to ask whether it merits the description ‘ambush,’ accompanied by a load of ‘barging,’ ‘heckling’ and ‘inveighing.’ Socrates made a lifetime-career out of going up to people with power and being an awkward little fucker. He was executed for his trouble by the Athenian state, and in the process, philosophy was gifted its founding story, so….

Ms. Parker, who live-streamed footage of the harassment on Facebook, contended that she had come to Washington because “this ideology” — by which she presumably meant simply being trans — “has been imported into the U.K. by America, so, to stem the flow of female erasure, we have to come to its source.”

Seriously, if the best you’ve got is to ‘presume’ that the ideology of the trans rights movement is the same thing as ‘being trans’ you really have no damn business writing an op-ed about this issue in the New York Times. To repeat, had you bothered to talk to us we would have explained that our opposition is to an ideology committed to the legal and political erasure of sex, which is not the same thing as simply ‘being trans,’ and that further, we have a significant number of trans allies who are also opposed to this ideology. But of course, you didn’t actually want to know anything about that did you?

If the idea that transphobic harassment could be “feminist” bewilders you, you are not alone. In the United States, my adoptive home, the most visible contemporary opponents of transgender rights are right-wing evangelicals, who have little good to say about feminism. In Britain, where I used to live, the situation is different.

That’s right. We’re mostly left-wing feminists, we’re academics and unionists and health workers and teachers and lawyers and fire women and programmers and artists and students and mothers and women’s sector workers and activists and pretty much all manner of other women and lesbians and gay men and concerned parents and trans people, almost none of whom are the Pope or evangelicals. IT’S WEIRD.

There, the most vocal trans-exclusionary voices are, ostensibly, “feminist” ones,

If you want to suggest we’re fake feminists, you better actually make a decent argument, and not rely on throwing shade with quotation marks and ‘ostensibly’s. I thought you were all about the sanctity of self-identification? But you’re perfectly happy to refuse recognition to the fact that this resistance is both feminist, and left-wing, because it doesn’t fit the contours of the ideological narrative you’re selling, even while pretending it’s not ideological in the least.

and anti-trans lobbying is a mainstream activity. Case in point: Ms. Parker told the podcast “Feminist Current” that she’d changed her thinking on trans women after spending time on Mumsnet, a site where parents exchange tips on toilet training and how to get their children to eat vegetables. If such a place sounds benign,

Oh seriously, fuck off with your bullshit misogynist stereotype that mothers are required by patriarchal fiat to sit around looking ‘benign’ while doing nothing more political than mushing carrots and making cupcakes. I am so sick of this endless idiotic pearl-clutching about Mumsnet. Newflash people – mothers are human beings. They’re fully sentient creatures in their own right, and the fact that the people pushing this ideology – while simultaneously putting ‘female erasure’ in quotation marks – have no damn respect for mother’s humanity and political will, or the life-making role they fulfil, is pretty much exemplary of the whole damn problem here. It is not in any way mysterious why a group of women who have pushed new humans out their vaginas, and then dealt with the social experience of mothering in this culture, would be remarkably unreceptive to an ideology claiming that their sex is politically irrelevant. It is also deeply un-mysterious why a biology-erasing thought-system shot-through with a frankly terrifying transhumanist fixation on denigrating the ‘meat-house’ of the body, would treat mothering in general, and Mumsnet in particular, with such consistent contempt. As I’ve said more than once, this is all just so much revamped techno-Platonist mind-over matter body-denigrating dependency-denying bullshit. Seriously people, you are embodied minds, born through women’s bodies, and you’re all going to die someday. For the love of the Goddess, come to fucking terms with it.

consider the words of British writer Edie Miller: “Mumsnet is to British transphobia,” she wrote “what 4Chan is to American fascism.”

So, am I going to examine what the women of Mumsnet are actually saying? No, of course not, I’m just going to wheel out a quote by another pearl-clutcher tidily stringing together the epithets ‘transphobia’ ‘4Chan’ and ‘fascism’ with no justification but hey, who cares, all I need to do is make it absolutely evident that THESE WOMEN ARE EVIL NAZI WITCHES. Babe, you’re writing for the NYT here. This is sub-basement Twitter discourse. Up. Your. Game.

The term coined to identify women like Ms. Parker and Ms. Long is TERF, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

You wanna say anything about either the history or use of this word? Would you like to say anything about the way it’s been used over the last five years to dehumanise, vilify, and socially coerce any person – woman or man, feminist or non-feminist – who asks any questions about trans ideology or its effects? You wanna try and outline what the beliefs or purported beliefs of the evil witches are, or why they should be burned, or why dehumanising and vilifying your critics without even bothering to engage with their arguments is totes how progressive social movements behave? Nah, guess not.

In Britain, TERFs are a powerful force.

This is some mad Star-Wars-come-Star-Trek shit. I swear they chose the word TERF because it has the same plosive all-caps hardness as the BORG. Makes it so much easier to dehumanise us as some kind of evil monolithic hivemind, spreading its dark powerful energy all across the galaxy.

In fact, of course, we’re just a bunch of middle-aged women and crowdfunded activists who aren’t inclined to be bullied by this juggernaut of an ideology, which, you should note Sophie, is currently being promoted by the largest LGBT charity, a host of other organizations, is being rolled out all across our schools and other public institutions, has convinced all the main political parties, is supported by big business and the spymasters general, and is presently going about using police-forces up and down the country to intimidate people who have the temerity to not comply with its precepts. So, yeah, tell me again who the ‘powerful force’ is here.

If, in the United States, the mainstream media has been alarmingly ready to hear “both sides” on the question of trans people’s right to exist, in Britain, TERFs have effectively succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around their own concerns: that is, how these rights for others could contribute to “female erasure.”

This is unmitigated bullshit of epic proportions (or to be more blunt, it’s a flat-out fucking lie). I’ve been fighting this battle for over 5 years now. Until the summer of last year, we could get absolutely no traction whatsoever in the mainstream media or with any political organizations at all. When the government came to do the consultation on changes to the GRA, they didn’t speak to a single women’s organization about the impact it would have on them. That is how ‘effectively’ we ‘succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around our own concerns.’ And if we have so ‘effectively’ framed the issues ‘entirely around our concerns,’ maybe you could take time to explain to me why not a single mainstream UK political party thinks our concerns are valid? Why women are being disciplined inside those political parties for expressing those concerns? Why women are being thrown out of the Girl Guides for expressing those concerns? Why women are being harassed at universities for expressing those concerns? Or why the police are visiting women and arresting them for expressing those concerns? Perhaps you could explain to me why the EHRC recently felt the need to make a statement underlining that our speech is lawful, prompted by the spectacular success of campaigns to no platform us in universities and other venues.? Do mainstream political movements who have complete control of an agenda usually require human rights bodies to intervene to make it clear that they do, in fact, have a lawful right to express their opinions? Tell me, please.

Many prominent figures in British journalism and politics have been TERFs;

Who? There is a handful of gender critical journalists at The Times, some at The Spectator, a few of the women who write for the New Statesman, and a couple of the female columnists at The Guardian. Who else? And as for prominent politicians, I’m drawing a total blank.

British TV has made a sport of endlessly hosting their lurid rudeness and styling it as courage;

‘Endlessly’ – citations please. ‘Lurid’ – ditto. ‘Sport’ – ditto ditto. This is all rhetoric and no trousers.

British newspapers seemingly never tire of broadsides against the menace of “gender ideology.” (With time, the term TERF has become a catchall for all anti-trans feminists, radical or not.)

Well, apparently our incessant ‘broadsides’ consist of two links to the same well-argued case made by a left-wing transsexual woman. Um.

The split between the American and British center-left on this issue was thrown into sharp relief last year, when The Guardian published an editorial on potential changes to a law called the Gender Recognition Act, which would allow people in Britain to self-define their gender. The editorial was headlined “Where Rights Collide,” and argued that “women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously.”

Yes, it took us an entire summer of pretty much tireless argument and campaigning to change the political climate sufficiently to make it even possible for The Guardian to publish an editorial which recognised that there is a rights-conflict here. Which is the fundamental point we have been asking to be recognised. Of course, by framing our concerns here as ‘anti-trans,’ you are doing no more that repeating exactly the gesture of refusing that recognition. So much for the debate being entirely structured around our concerns, eh?

Some of The Guardian’s United States-based journalists published a disavowal, arguing that the editorial’s points “echo the position of anti-trans legislators who have pushed overtly transphobic bathroom bills.”

Americans-read-British-politics-only-through-their-own-lens shocker.

A curious facet of the groundswell of TERFism in Britain is that, in fact, the phenomenon was born in the United States. It emerged out the shattered remnants of the 1960s New Left, a paranoid faction of American 1970s radical feminism that the historian Alice Echols termed “cultural feminism” to distinguish it, and its wounded attachment to the suffering-based femaleness it purports to celebrate, from other strands of women’s liberation.

Number one – In what universe can you give a supposed genealogy for a movement when you’ve given no clear account of what that movement is based on, what it believes, and haven’t even bothered speaking to any of its members? What you have in Britain right now is a left-wing (mostly) feminist resistance to a movement that is attempting to politically and legally erase sex and which is concerned about the conservative implications of essentialising gender, and medicalising gender non-conforming children without due oversight. Some of us are radical feminists, and some of us are other types of feminists, and some of us are not even feminists at all. You cannot trace a straight line between what is going on here now, and something that happened in the US in the 70s, without giving a detailed explanation of the intellectual continuity you are positing. Unless, the only intellectual continuity you are positing is ‘people who think that women are oppressed largely because they are female,’ which many of us think is, y’know, just ‘feminism.’ Which also brings us to…

Number two – “wounded attachment to…suffering-based femaleness.” WOW. So, you’ve been reading Wendy Brown hey? I know, isn’t it disgusting, all those women sitting around talking about being oppressed on the basis of being female and how it’s damaging to them? URGH. GROSS. Such victims. Isn’t it much nicer to talk about agency and empowerment and flowers and unicorns?? Lady, if you can’t look male dominance and the damage it does to women straight in the eye, stay away from proffering your opinion on our liberation politics eh?

The movement crossed over to Britain in the 1980s, when cultural feminism was among the lesbian-separatist elements of antinuclear protest groups who saw themselves as part of a “feminist resistance” to patriarchal science, taking a stand against nuclear weapons, test-tube babies and male-to-female transsexual surgery alike.

You wanna shit on the women of Greenham Common while you’re at it do you? Lovely.

In America, however, TERFism today is a scattered community in its death throes, mourning the loss of its last spaces, like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which ended in 2015.

“You lost your women’s festival because you were bullied into closing it down, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. We are the forces of love and light, here to eradicate all the witches, but the witches have no cause for concern, and when they say they’re concerned it’s just proof that they’re evil witches lol.”

And so the strangely virulent form that TERFism takes in Britain today,

VIRULENT KLAXON. It’s always great when progressive people compare their critics to viruses and plagues. Because, we’re totally the Nazis in this equation.

and its influence within the British establishment,

What influence? The one that means the police keep visiting us for committing thoughtcrimes?

requires its own separate, and multipronged, explanation.

Multi-pronged? This better be good.

Ms. Parker and Ms. Long may not know it, but they’re likely influenced by the legacy of the British “Scepticism”

Well, I’m a hippy post-structuralist earth-worshipping witch, but whatever you say. It’s true that some of us are sceptics, many of us are not, and a whole bunch of the sceptics and humanists are currently blitzed on the Kool-Aid.

movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, which mobilized against the perceived spread of postmodernism in English universities as well as homeopathy and so-called “junk science.” Hence, the impulse among TERFs to proclaim their “no-nonsense” character; witness the billboard Ms. Parker paid to have put up last fall dryly defining a woman as an “adult human female.”

You can call it ‘dry,’ or you can call it ‘the first thing it says in the dictionary.’

Such a posture positions queer theory and activism as individualistic, narcissistic and thus somehow fundamentally un-British.

What the hell has scepticism got to do with thinking Queer Theory is ‘individualist’ and ‘narcissistic’? If you make ‘gender’ a defining property of individuals, destroy the analysis of gender as structural power, undermine the basis of women’s class solidarity, and then run around screaming at people for committing the sin of not respecting your sovereign identity, you might well find that people think you’re being ‘individualist’ and ‘narcissistic,’ and it might well have fuck all to do with scepticism.

It’s pretty comedy though that you present British people thinking that ‘narcissism’ and ‘individualism’ might be un-British like it’s some kind of bad thing. FWIW, you might have been in the States too long. And if you fancied following through that thought with a semblance of integrity – and factored in that we also have a pretty noble history of being really unfond of totalitarianism – you might start getting close to answering your alleged question (not that you ever wanted to).

It’s also worth noting that the obsession with supposed “biological realities” of people

Male and female people don’t stop existing because you put the word ‘supposed’ in a sentence.

like Ms. Parker are part of a long tradition of British feminism interacting with colonialism and empire.

I feel a ‘TWO-SPIRIT KLAXON’ coming on.

 Imperial Britain imposed policies to enforce heterosexuality and the gender binary,

Woah, hold up there. Britain used to be a society governed by compulsory heterosexuality. Like the vast majority of other patriarchal societies on the face of the planet. I’m sure you can make an argument that in some places colonized by Britain, there were different sexual practices… I’m not sure what the hell that has to do with the existence of male and female people, except I do, because people of your ideological disposition can’t tell the difference between sex and gender anymore, and so you think the challenge to the gender binary that all of us welcome (and which the destigmatisation of homosexuality contributes to in some significant ways), is the same thing as thinking male and female people don’t exist. Which it’s not. Also, maybe you’d also like to pay attention to the fact that many of the women you’re vilifying here are lesbians, and many others are gender non-conforming. We’re not trying to uphold the fucking gender binary you lemon. We’re trying to stop the political erasure of sex. How many damn times.

while simultaneously constructing the racial “other” as not only fundamentally different, but freighted with sexual menace;

Let’s just throw in the suggestion that we’re all racists. I mean, you’ve done ‘fascists’ and ‘homophobes’ already so you really have to go for the full trifecta of evil-imputation don’t you? I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me in a way that makes a stick of historical sense how thinking male and female people exist is an artefact of white supremacy. (The Black radfems are pretty interested in your answer as well btw). Constructing people as an ‘other’ is a primary mechanism of white supremacy, correct, but thinking male and female people exist is not a mechanism of othering. You know what is a mechanism of othering though, and, arguably, the prototypical mechanism? Refusing to grant humanity to women in their own terms, defining women through the projections and discourses of male people, and vilifying them as evil hysterical witches when they won’t play ball with those projections and start telling you to get stuffed.

With respect to the ‘sexual menace’ of non-white males. This is not women’s discourse. It is a marked feature of racist patriarchal discourses that they are obsessed with the sexual menace of non-white males to white women. (I’ve talked about this with respect to Anders Breivik here and here). This whole discourse functions through a logic of sovereignty in which racist white men tend to read the bodies of ‘their’ women as symbolic of ‘their’ territory – this, for example, is why rape is such a constant feature of territorial invasion, why ‘non-colonized’ territory is described as ‘virgin’, it’s actually at play in the whole symbolic structure of territoriality and invasion and possession which underpins the Western thinking of penetrative sex (see here and here). What has to be understood is this is part of what we would call in French feminist thought, the masculine imaginary. The white men who constructed non-white men as sexual predators were also, let’s remember, quite happily raping their own wives, and, in the context of American colonialism, the non-white women they considered their property. And they didn’t give one single thought to it because only rape committed by the ‘other’ signified any kind of injury in their discursive system (to their own property or territory) which I can assure you, was not how the women subject to their violence experienced it. Which is all to say, you cannot read feminist analyses of male violence straightforwardly through the way men have constructed rape for their own territorial purposes. Unless of course you’ve forgotten that women actually exist and have their own experience of the world. Oh, wait.

The point here is that you are conflating the feminist analysis of rape with the way rape is constructed by racist white sovereigntist men, and placing women in the position of those racist white sovereigntist men (oh hai there cis/trans binary, conveniently flipping the axis of oppression). And what you are effectively doing, therefore, is undermining the whole of the feminist analysis of male violence, which some of us might think is, y’know, not very feminist.

from there, it’s not a big leap to see sexual menace in any sort of “other,”

Trans women are male. That is not an act of ‘othering.’ It’s just a fact.

and “biological realities” as essential and immutable.

So are you going to explain to me how male people are actually female people or not? I am so beyond done with people wheeling out vague critiques of ‘essentialism’ as if the existence of anything in the world was a product of damn essences. And I’m even more done with people handwaving our concerns about the erasure of women while wheeling out vague claims of essentialism to erase women and only women, and thinking that somehow that makes them fucking feminists. (If you haven’t managed to understand that women are human yet, and that the cause of women’s liberation doesn’t reside in pretending such hateful creatures don’t really exist because you subliminally believe that if neither you nor anyone else is a woman then you might get a shot at the human-box then seriously, I get it, but I need you to keep your internalized misogyny the hell away from our politics.)

(Significantly, many Irish feminists have rejected Britain’s TERFism, citing their experience of colonialism explicitly as part of the reason.)

Oh, well that proves your intellectual gibberish must be true then doesn’t it?

But perhaps the biggest factor in the rise of TERFism has been the relative dearth of social movements in Britain over the past three decades. It’s telling that Ms. Parker thinks it was the United States that exported “political correctness” and ideas like “gender identity” to Britain; it might even be fair to say that she’s right.

In other parts of the world, including America, mass movements in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s around the effects of globalization and police brutality have produced long overdue dialogue on race, gender and class, and how they all interact. In Britain, however, the space for this sort of dialogue has been much more limited. As a result, middle- and upper-class white feminists have not received the pummeling from black and indigenous feminists that their American counterparts have, and thus, their perspectives retain a credibility and a level of influence in Britain that the Michigan Womyn’s Festival could have only dreamed of.

Um, you do realise that we’re all on the fancy new internets now and have been entirely enmeshed with American discourse for at least the last decade don’t you? How did you manage to have this idea in the middle of a paragraph in which you also mentioned ‘globalization’? Do you not remember the bit when American Intersectional Twitter killed Suffragette dead by reading it entirely through an American lens that made no sense to the political context of early twentieth century Britain? Do you not realise that our opposition to trans ideology is heavily indebted to being exposed to this Tumblrised ‘colonialism invented the gender binary’ bullshit for the last however long? Is it ever possible for you people to actually perform any fidelity to thinking or context or history and try and understand what is actually going on here, or do you always have to resort to just making shit up and patronisingly pretending that we would all stop being such evil witches if only we ‘educated ourselves’ better? We educated ourselves. And then we produced reams and reams of explanation about why we think this is ideologically, materiality, ethically, and politically flawed, none of which you have bothered to pay the scantest attention to.

Curiously, Ms. Parker and Ms. Long’s trans-Atlantic jaunt has led to a split in the ranks. Over the past few days, large segments of British TERFism have disowned both of them on social media for their Washington stunt, calling it an “ambush,” and them a “liability.” Whether Ms. Parker and Ms. Long went too far for a movement that, to date, seemingly has yet to hit a low, remains to be seen.

So, you’re not going to say anything about the political context of our movement which explains why the response to Posie and Julia’s trip was not at all curious, and was, in fact, given that we’re left wing, actually rather predictable? I’m shocked I tell you.

It is revealing, however, where Ms. Parker feels she still has friends: On her same trip to Washington, the woman claiming to be a feminist, standing up for the rights of lesbians everywhere, made sure to drop by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

Oh, there it is, the reason, which you completely fail to link to the point above, so very inexplicably. It’s probably just as well to finish on a disingenuous note anyway, full marks at least for your consistency.

Sophie Lewis, a feminist theorist and geographer, is the author of the forthcoming “Full Surrogacy Now.”

Of course she bloody is.

On a Specious Reply

This isn’t a general essay, more the upshot of the ongoing intra-philosophical spats, so it might not be of interest to all of you..

So, anyway, someone calling themselves Dr Specious (ho ho), possibly one of our philosophical colleagues in disguise, turned up and pass-agg pointed me and Kathleen and Holly at this paper, which I haven’t yet read fully, but makes the prima facie sketchy claim that we should assign gender (do you means sex?) not on the basis of ‘facts’ but on the basis of political calculations related to oppression (there’s a lot to say about this in itself, some of which I point towards in what follows, but, yeah, you want us to utterly conflate judgements of fact and value and then rearrange reality so it’s determined by nothing but power – or the alleged critique of power – do you??? What could possibly go wrong????) Anyway, we got into a bit of a back and forth, in which my take was ‘if you wanna run around aggressively calling people bigots you should probably demonstrate that you have decently engaged with their arguments beforehand.’ I sent them a link to this, and was promptly told I didn’t deserve engagement. However, this morning this turned up, along with the proclamation that it was “mostly incoherent and hypocritical drivel.” Well now…


I started typing up a response, which, in the immemorial words of the ever lovely Arthur Chu, got ‘obnoxiously long.’ (Whyyyyy must people insist on thinking in long sequences of joined up ideas?? WE WANT BAD ANALOGIES AND SLOGANS AND WE WANT THEM NOW). Anyway, it got long, so I decided to stick it here. Take and/or make of it what you will 🙂

Numbers refer to the points above.

4. What it means is that second person pronouns are extended to you by another person. The phrase ‘my personal pronouns’ is an ontological contradiction. You do not ‘own’ the pronouns other people use to recognise you, because they are a speech act which marks another person’s recognition of you. When you claim that another person’s recognition of you is something you ‘own,’ you are making a claim to have something akin to a property right over another person’s recognition, that is, you are claiming you have the right to dispose of someone else’s recognition as you see fit, and you are further attempting to give leverage to the claim that is they who have done something wrong if they challenge this right. Other people’s recognition is not the kind of thing over which one can, or should, attempt to claim property rights. Because other people’s perceptions and judgements about what they perceive are fundamental to their own freedom of belief, and are integral to their own right to understand reality as it presents itself to them. Attempting to appropriate them, make specious property claims over them, and enforce those specious property claims through more or less explicit social sanction, up to and including shouting at strangers in public space, is a form of domination. It is also an attempt to exert pressure to undermine their own perceptions – that is, it is, precisely, gaslighting.

(If you’re interested, here is a position on this laid out by our trans allies with which I broadly agree).

9 and 13. I will deal with the nonsense name analogy in a moment. So, to deal with the other issue, yes, social pressure is how we enforce norms, correct.

Two observations:

a) I find it pretty interesting that a political movement framed in significant respect by a critique of supposed anti-normativity, and a clear exploration of the disciplinary nature of norms, and how they function to construct and enforce identity, is suddenly so very interested to defend itself in terms of ‘but social pressure is just how we enforce norms *shrug*’ To wit: radical queer and trans activism is, like, the least queer thing I have ever seen.

b) I’m not actually one of those people who thinks norms are necessarily bad (and I’m pretty suspicious of an intellectual movement that so readily tells us norms are bad when they interfere with men’s sexual gratification (Mr Foucault), but is more than happy to wheel them out to make people conform to queer normativity). Anyway, the point is, I think it’s kind of important not to either accept or reject norms on the basis of the fact that they are norms, but rather, to interrogate them carefully, in each instance, and examine what they are for, what harms they are protecting us against, or what goods they are trying to enact. That is, we don’t just get to say, ‘pronouns are a norm and there is no issue when we use social opprobrium to try and enforce them,’ without interrogating that norm.

Here there are two issues, one of which is to do with the issue of possible conflicts over the harms and goods that issue from the enforcement of that norm, and the other to do with the nature of the norm – and these are both actually interlinked.

i) As your example of the n-slur indicates, one of the issues here is a thorough conflation of judgements of value and judgements of fact. The n-slur is entirely a judgement of value, it is a word that serves no function other than derogation, and derogation that is placed evidently within a historical structure of power. It is the conceit of your political ideology that people’s judgements about the sex of another person is an analogous example, but this relies on the claim that the only reason we might want to insist that someone is the sex that we perceive them to be, rather than the gender their pronouns assert they are, is for the purposes of derogation – and this is actually the basis of the entire tottering pile of normative coercion that you have constructed to enforce your ideology. You seem to be unable to comprehend that some people care about reality because they care about reality, because we think that coercively enforcing norms that do not correspond to our perceptions of reality is the ontological heart of totalitarianism – like, Orwellian is overused, but really, this is Orwellian, to the letter. If you destroy the reality base of norms, or of any shared aspect of social life, you are saying that the only thing that should determine what we all agree to be true, is power. Maybe you want to live in that world? If you do, I can only conclude that you’re either an authoritarian, or an idiot. It is not, y’know, the case, that ‘alternative facts’ are really bad when Trump uses them and totes fine when ‘progressives’ use them,

ii) This conflict over fact and value is also related to the fact that this is basically a conflict over harms. What you will not acknowledge is that we are resisting this because we consider the erasure of sex to be a harm to women. I appreciate that people experience it as a harm when their identity is not validated through social recognition. That is why the vast vast majority of us are happy to extend that recognition on the basis of human decency, and kindness. What has happened, however, is that the trans rights movement has refused to accept the adequacy of freely offered recognition as politeness and turned ‘my pronouns’ into an enforced mandate – including people getting fired from their employment for not complying. (“You won’t be imprisoned” “You won’t be physically forced.” No, you’ll just be called a bigot, socially ostracised, no platformed, the police might be sent around to check your thoughts, and you might lose your livelihood. None of this is in any way coercive, but we are doing it to enforce norms mind.)

At the point at which people started telling us that there was no such thing as male and female biology, and that the being of a man or a woman was determined only by gender identity, you converted a norm that was functioning on the basis of politeness into an ontological judgement that many people do not accept, and then you attempted to use that as the basis by which to demand access to services etc. That is, you took something extended in kindness, turned it illegitimately into a statement of fact, and then used that to try and make rights claims to services already being used by female people, who have reasons to be concerned about the presence of male-bodied people that you are only ever capable of handwaving and dismissing (ps – if you want to talk about norms and harms, you don’t get to pretend that the harms to one group must be given unilateral precedence over those to another group). Which is all to say, you guys have seriously taken the piss. And you’ll find that people cease wanting to be polite and respectful to people who have taken that recognition and used it to try and take their rights away. Strangely.

18. ‘Some feminists believe that the performance of gender doesn’t change someone’s sex…what’s the point here?’ Are you fucking kidding me? The point is that you are trying to mandate that we all agree with an ideology that is committed to the political erasure of sex. We think that sex matters, politically, and that legally abolishing sex is very bad for women. That’s the point.

19. Your ideological movement circles insistently around the claim that all our analysis and objections are illegitimate, and that everything can just be handwaved as an expression of our hatred or phobia. What I mean by ‘this is not a pretext’ is that we want our objections and arguments to be dealt with and not consistently dismissed, and we’d like it recognised that we exist, in our own right, have our own interests, our own analysis of the world, and that it’s not ALL ABOUT YOU. (On this, and re: both the stuff on narcissism we’ll get onto in a bit, and Christa Peterson’s response to our Daily Nous piece, can you, for a second, think about the absolute narcissism of reducing a whole slew of different feminist objections to the acronym ‘TERF.’ Female people will be defined only in terms of what they will not give to male people. How very novel.)

20 a) Indeed we might. And let us also note, that you cannot get through any form of intellectual engagement, even with something as sober as the text I gave you here, without being snarky. I said this to you yesterday, and I will say it again. The aggression coming from you people is staggering, and you’re so high on your piety you are completely impervious to what a bunch of bullies you look like to many of the observers of this conflict. I do not want to be part of any form of progressivism that has pickled its brains in this much Zizek-vibe. To return to the point about ‘feminism,’ it looks like a load of cock-waving Red-Terror-romanticising masculinist bullshit to me.

b) I’ve missed some steps? Or you are just being disingenuous? One of the main justifications for controlling our speech is that we are ‘making people unsafe’ and this claim of ‘unsafety’ is frequently leveraged by the additional claim that the kind of violence that trans people are subject to is in some way produced by feminists. Where are my stats? The stats that prove that patriarchal men don’t commit violence against trans people because they have read too much feminism (or are influenced by feminism)? I think if you want to make that claim, the onus to demonstrate that it’s not the obvious bullshit it looks like is on you. I’ve explored this is detail here.

21. The name analogy. Proper names are not analogous to words referring to people’s sex. Proper names have no semantic content other than denoting the person to which they are attached (not quite true, to be more precise, they don’t have any denotive content other than picking out a particular person, proper names do of course have historical, class-based, ethnic and racialised connotations and they are sexed (clearly not before 1492, when sex was invented)). However, they do not name any specific material feature of that person’s being (other than denoting also, their sex). I cannot perceive a person’s name by looking at them. I do not walk down the street and more or less consciously perceive the names of everyone that passes me by. If someone tells me their name, there is no basis, prima facie, on which I might dispute that name, because I have no perception of my own of some material facet of their being which may contradict it. And there is no political power structure which is attached to ‘the class of people of x proper name,’ and which has led me to have a certain number of bad experiences which correlates with ‘the class of people of x proper name.’ That is, they don’t function in anything resembling the same way. Apples and oranges as we say in the trade. One more for the ‘big bag of shit analogies.’

22. ‘Conceptually identical’ means, in this context, ‘the same idea as.’ It’s incredibly opaque I know. *Flat stare*

As I’ve said, your analogy is rubbish, but even were it not, calling someone by the wrong name would be an act of impoliteness, and not an act of structural violence or oppression, unless you could demonstrate that there was an entire power structure which qualified for the description of oppression which hinged on illegitimately calling people ‘Becky’ when it was not their name. (We might wonder here whether that this choice of name is entirely accidental. It’s actually interesting right? Because no one is going to argue, given the nature of power, that calling white women ‘Becky’ is a form of oppression. Derision, maybe. Justified derision containing important political critique? In part. A more-or-less conscious way for you to slip in that endlessly-recycled imputation that only oppressive white women believe in sex? Maybe that too).

And while we’re here, what you guys really need to do, is actually work out a coherent account of why people believing something as manifestly true as the fact that mammals are sexually dimorphic is actually the basis of a historical act of structural oppression. And it needs to be an account that actually bears some relation to the historical record, doesn’t rely on ahistorical appropriative racist bullshit like ‘colonialism invented the gender binary,’ and gives a convincing explanation of why the recognition of sexual dimorphism functions in itself (i.e. that doesn’t conflate sex with its social construction through patriarchal gender) as a form of oppression, and is not merely the recognition of a material fact. I have outlined several times, that I fully accept that trans people experience discrimination as an adjunct of patriarchal gender. I have not, however, ever heard an account that convinced me that trans people are oppressed qua trans people as a class by a system that is specifically motivated by the benefit conferred to the class of non-trans people, and I have never heard a convincing account of how that mechanism might hinge specifically on the recognition of sexual dimorphism in itself.  And on that, I don’t know if you’ve clocked it, but your ideology might be uniquely distinguished by being based on dereification rather than reification. You’ve taken the normal functioning of ideology – ‘passing the constructed off as the natural’ – and flipped it, so we get ‘passing the natural off as socially constructed.’ It seems rather apt for the spirit of the age, don’t you think? We like to call it ‘the unconcealment of patriarchal ideality.’

23 and 26. I recognise trans people’ needs. That’s why I think this is a rights conflict, and I want to work out a solution which can meet trans people’s needs without violating women’s rights to comfort, dignity, safety, political representation etc. Quite what solution we could find is going to be a hard road. We won’t start walking it until we we start to recognise that both sides here are people, with needs and vulnerabilities, and start trying to thrash it out. Your move.

It may however be the case that I don’t think that someone else’s needs immediately give them license to something (didn’t we used to have some old idea about other people’s rights ending at my nose or something?). Because we don’t generally accept, say, that people have a right to sex from other people because they need or want it, do we? (Apart from the fact, of course, that your movement actually makes that argument all the time – and specifically in relation to lesbians’ self-determination, and to the question of sex by deception (apparently ‘sexual autonomy’ is not an absolute right when it interferes with trans people’s validation – are you joining the dots about why we think this might be some narcissistic rapey bullshit yet?)) In fact, in general, if we were using a consistent moral calculus, we’d recognise that the right to refuse someone something we don’t want to give generally trumps someone else’s needs. Because forcing someone to give you something when they don’t want to is, um, narcissistic domination (aka, ‘the psychic structure of rape, colonialism and material appropriation in general’.)

Anyway, it’s interesting you should bring up mirrors, because…

25. Wow. You really don’t understand the first thing about the feminist critique of psychoanalysis, object relations theory, French feminist philosophy, or the analysis of patriarchal narcissism, do you? True fact: We think primary narcissism is a retroactive patriarchal construction used by masculinist thinkers in order to obscure the mutually constitutive nature of human subjectivity. We further think that construction is used to reify narcissism as the normative model of human subjectivity, and functions to exculpate and reify the developmental, social, and ontological system which justifies male narcissism and the domination it creates. And we think that when many adults – often of the male variety – dominate other people, often in a modality of narcissistic rage, and refuse to recognise that they can’t always get what they want because other people have needs and have said no, that they actually are, indeed, having a big person’s tantrum.

If you understood this, you would understand how male narcissism connects male violence, the appropriation of women’s bodies, the domination of nature, capitalist appropriation, colonisation and the legacy of racialised violence. You would understand that the anti-sovereigntist critique you have reductively collapsed into the normative axiom of ‘inclusion’ (and then turned into another binary), is, at its root, about the critique of patriarchal narcissism, and that when you make of it another binary (WE GOOD. TERF BAAAAAD), use it to other your critics, and to attempt to coerce and appropriate, I’m inclined to think you haven’t learned a fucking thing from the Derridean strand of post-structuralism. Which is all to say, I am beyond bored of being piously lectured about being a bad feminist by people who don’t actually understand how patriarchy works. Go read some Irigaray. FFS.

28. I refer you to my previous point about your apparent non-familiarity with feminist philosophy’s elaboration of models of relational intersubjectivity, and the critique of patriarchy as fundamentally structured around the narcissistic inability to enact intersubjective recognition. The master-slave dialectic is a reifying masculinist lie, say all the witches and the mothers.

Shall we burn them for it?

Judith Butler: How To Disappear Patriarchy In Three Easy Steps


TRIGGER WARNING: Fucking Pissed Off

So, as many of you are aware, the high-priestess of genderology decided to momentarily descend from her exalted academic plinth and relay her ‘thoughts’ on the ongoing internecine shitshow that she, probably more than anyone else, has helped to create. Except of course that, with her usual intellectual integrity, the thoughts she decided to relay about said shitshow totally ignored what is really going on, in favour of pretending that this is a conflict between the wibbly-wobbly-gender-and-sex-is-fluid-rah-rah-liberation crowd, and, basically, um, the Pope. Despite being entirely predictable, this level of disingenuous erasure, is, nonetheless, pretty staggering. As Judy is actually more than well aware, this is a conflict which turns, fundamentally, on the fault-line in feminism that she, in fact, inaugurated – a fault-line between those of us who think patriarchy is a system of sex-based male dominance enacted through cultural mechanisms which we could call – if we can still stomach the word – ‘gender,’ and those who think that patriarchy is…like, seriously, what the fuck do they even think it is….some kind of free-floating cultural system that has nothing to do with actual bodies or their appropriation and domination, a randomly generated set of signs and signifying practices that shape our subjectivity, a thought which leads, in practice, to staking feminism’s whole liberation project on the epic transcendent power of some spectacularly superficial idea of gender-fucking.

promo colour

Look, I’m a feminist, and a Prince-fan. I like superficial gender-fucking as much as the next woman. (I actually think Prince’s gender-fucking wasn’t merely superficial, but that’s another story). BUT, and this in some sense points towards the heart of the problem here, superficial gender-fucking has fuck all effect on the fundamental patterns of male dominance. As someone said to me yesterday on Twitter, the wires are currently full of male people running around stanning for the absolute progressive power of gender fluidity, who seem to think they are the living breathing instantiation of ‘smash the patriarchy’ because they dare to pair some nail-varnish with their beards, all while acting like exactly the same entitled, narcissistic, dependency-denying, mind-over-matter, female-erasing assholes that they always were. If gender isn’t just a penchant for gold lamé pocketbooks and lace and is actually something to do with the psychic, material, ontological and economic structures which underpin male dominance, then, lo, it turns out you still need an analysis of male dominance if you’re going to actually do a bloody thing about it. And I’m sorry Judy, I know you were traumatized by Dworkin and MacKinnon trying to ban porn, but having an analysis of male dominance doesn’t actually make me, y’know, the fucking Pope.

Yesterday I spent the day studiously ignoring the misogynists over on Benjamin’s YouTube channel screaming all the things misogynists scream when women point – even calmly, while smiling – at male violence and say they really want it to stop. (If anyone wants to do a statistical analysis I’d be interested in the relative proportions of a) NAMALT b) You’re incapable of reason c) Stop emasculating us d) Unfuckable e) She was asking for it f) ‘We hunted the mammoth’). Meanwhile, Emily the Nazi Hunter was posing with semi-automatic machine guns and wheeling off a point-by-point plan for ‘God’s Own Avenging Angel’s TERF Apocalypse’ to a soundtrack of intersectionalibfems excitedly chanting ‘Big Dick Energy.’ (For ripping the thorough piss out of it, I salute you all). And, with the sound of men being emasculated by a razor ad still ringing in my ears, everywhere else I looked, that posturing smug Donkey Kong meme spilled like dick-waving poison out of that damn Twitch thread in which a bunch of glitter-spattered Gamergaters sat around screaming ‘FUCK YOU EAT SHIT’ at Graham in support of the great progressive cause of Suzie Green medicalising GNC kids with absolutely no oversight.

This week there’s a conference going on at Brighton University, in which a load of ‘critical thinkers’ will sit around and think very critically. Judith Butler is doing the star turn. I was supposed to go with a friend, and put on my polite academic face, and listen while she is lauded by room full of people, many of them male, who cannot get over how fucking psyched they are that ‘feminism’ no longer asks them to even acknowledge, let alone challenge, male dominance. I cannot and will not do it. At this moment the thought makes me rage. And so what I want to do, instead, is to sit here, and try and channel my rage into a (partial) excavation of how, and why, Judith Butler performed the magical and much-rewarded feat of making patriarchy – and the critique of patriarchy – vanish from feminism.

Step One: The Erasure of Sex

If Butler had a shred of honesty in her, she’d at least have the intellectual decency, while proclaiming that the current resistance to trans ideology must cease (we all know how much you abhor normative coercion Judy), to acknowledge that the root of this conflict is the effort by trans activism to ideologically mandate the political, social and legal erasure of sex. Trans ideology has thrown all manner of arguments at the task of making male and female people disappear, some of which stem directly from Butler, and most of which she alludes to in places.

  1. The instrumentalization of intersex conditions (that one turns up in Gender Trouble, and was trotted out again in the NS)
  2. The denial of the sex/gender distinction (also in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, and which I took apart here)…Which then leads to…
  3. The idea that because all concepts are human constructions (duh), then everything they name is likewise constructed. As we saw when I picked apart the NS piece, Butler is very fond of making some kind of claim that the determination of sex is historical or cultural, and then moving seamlessly to running sex and gender together as if they are exactly the same kind of cultural phenomenon, which they’re fucking not. ‘Mountains’ are not the same kind of thing as ‘justice,’ and not remotely the same kind of thing as ‘telling male people they mustn’t be a sissy.’ Sorry.
  4. ‘Colonialism invented the gender binary.’ Just fucking no. For all the reasons I rant about here and here.
  5. ‘Intersectionality means there’s not one experience of being a woman because different people’s experience of being a woman is differently affected by different axes of oppression, and feminism used to exclude Black women and that was bad and now it should include male people too because that’s just like including Black women.’ Where to fucking start?
  6. ‘Women can only exist if there is a magic essence of womanhood and women are all different so there is no magic essence of womanhood, and feminism has always been against essentialism so it’s feminist to think that women don’t exist even though you must also believe that trans women are women because they possess the magic essence of womanhood which is also what makes you a woman.’ FFS. Read some Heidegger. Existence precedes essence. Nothing exists because of essences, and the only thing that everyone wants to abolish because it doesn’t have an essence is fucking women.

I’ve written elsewhere, and will hopefully do so in more detail, about how a sexual difference reading of Western thought would posit, that, in fact, we live in a culture in which female people, as actually existing human beings, have, in representational terms, never existed. The whole cultural system is a hall of mirrors. An endless series of male projections onto women, in which women’s role is to reflect, to grant recognition, and to serve as an emotional, sexual and reproductive resource. I always used to read this claim of Irigaray’s as a metaphor of the structure of patriarchal male narcissism. Having now seen how easy it was to convince the whole world and his aunt that erasing female people is the path of true liberation, and the total inability of most people to even grasp what we’re screaming about – let alone consider whether we have a point – I think ‘metaphor’ is really underselling it. The point is this, gender, as a hierarchical system of male power, has always depended on refusing to recognise that there is class of human persons who have all the attributes of full human personhood and are female. To wit: “Feminism is the radical idea that women are people.” WE ARE STILL NOT REMOTELY CLOSE TO GETTING THIS.

Anyway, for all you friendly neighbourhood male-dominance-deniers out there, this is all remarkably helpful. If you don’t recognise that female people exist, and that male people exist, then you can’t, necessarily, recognise that there is a cultural power structure in which male people are the default humans, and female people are defined, appropriated, and erased by the cultural projections – and the acts of domination those projections impel and license – which flow from male people towards female people. If you can’t recognise that male and female people exist, then you can’t recognise that all these cultural tropes flying about that we call gender, have anything to do with a power relation between male and female people, with the prioritization of the needs of male people, and with the positing of women as a resource in a way that seriously fucks with their humanity. That is, if you don’t recognise that male and female people exist, there can be no male dominance, there can be no female oppression, there can, in short, be no fucking patriarchy. And there can’t be any female resistance to patriarchy either. Stunning work Judith. Let’s make you the boss of feminism. Back-slaps all round.

Step Two: Power Just Goes About Circulating

As if pretending male and female people don’t exist wasn’t enough to bang this patriarchy thing on the head, Butler has another trick up her sleeve. This comes in the form of the Foucauldian account of power, as I’ve discussed in more detail here. The basis of the feminist analysis of patriarchy is that power functions as a hierarchy, and that it functions, in my French feminist frame, through a simultaneous narcissistic gesture of refusing recognition and appropriation (because you can’t be accused of appropriating something if it isn’t even there can you???). However, for Foucault, and Butler following him, power is not a hierarchy, it doesn’t work in anyone’s particular interests, and it doesn’t have any underlying pattern or stable structure. Rather, power is something which is diffused throughout society, and which, as we will see soon, works to sculpt and structure subjectivity. Foucault himself famously wrote three volumes of the History of Sexuality without ever stopping to consider whether there might be something resembling a stable pattern about the way in which male desire (or entitlement) impacted men’s relations to other people’s bodies. Butler has never considered it (although she has denied it plenty).

Step Three: Describing is Prescribing

The first two steps remove both the material basis for there being any particular relation between the sexes and denies that there could be any stable power hierarchy. Poof goes the patriarchy. Having cleaned up that irksome mess, the third step, which also stems from Foucault – and is repeated ad infinitum by Foucauldian and queer feminists – strikes at the very core of second wave feminist analysis. It follows from the half reasonable claim that social norms function to produce subjects, and morphs pretty seamlessly into the claim that descriptions of social phenomena become normative, and hence actually work to produce the things they describe. When coupled with the belief that there is no basis for an account of ‘the kind of things that are harmful to humans’ (and certainly not one that says anything as gauche as ‘domination is harmful to humans’), you basically end up with an alleged system of critique that has no moral calculus other than ‘norms are BAD.’ (Oh hai there Queer Theory, towering over the academy, not being normative in the slightest.)

What this leads to then, as I documented with respect to Butlerian accounts of rape, is that critiques of domination come to be seen as the sites which actually produce rather than critique harms. And then a funny thing happens to feminism. Instead of spending its time critiquing male power and the damage it does to women, it then spends almost all its time critiquing feminism for harming women by describing the structures that harm them. (Super handy guys, and I’m sure nothing to do with the irresistible rise of porn-bro feminists like Noah frickin Berlatsky). The Butlerian accounts of rape are all about how rape prosecutions are terrible because they ‘reinforce the gender binary,’ and consciousness-raising about rape is terrible because it ‘creates’ victims and describing acts of mass rape is terrible because it ‘undermines women’s agency.’ And this is also how we get to one of the greatest male-violence erasing ruses of them all – the idea that there is no inherent danger posed to prostitutes by men, that prostitution is in no way positioned within an matrix of male sexual entitlement and economic power, and that the entire effort of sex-work activism should be aimed squarely at calling feminists names for creating the ‘whorephobia’ which, allegedly, represents the sum total of what makes prostitution harmful.

This, as with all third wave feminism, is just so much male-pandering bullshit. For reasons I’ve yet to get to the bottom of, I spent a good deal of time trying to work out how the modern-day intersectional catechism was in any way coherent, until I realised that the only thing that held it all together was that it all benefited men. Pole dancing. Porn. Prostitution. Carceral feminism. Trans activism. Individual empowerfulment over class analysis. Denying the existence of female people. And so, what I want to think through here, by way of wending towards the ending of my venting, is what the fuck is going on here? Why are women so eager to buy this self-annihilating male-appeasing bullshit in liberation-drag, and what has any of that got to do with Judith Butler?

As trans activism is fond of reminding us, this is, to some extent, a ‘generational’ issue – the young people ‘get it’ and the old crones like us will be left, where we belong, languishing on the wrong side of history. (Irigaray was right as usual…female genealogy is crucial). If you say something like that to an old feminist hack like me, my response will be, ‘you just haven’t fallen off the patriarchy cliff yet, and when you do, we’ll be here to catch you.’ This, we get. The fall is terrifying, and had other women not been there to catch us, maybe none of us would ever make it. But for some women, it seems, the fear of the abyss is too great to ever face. They never find out that after the fall, you learn, remarkably, to float.

lesbian phallus

Last night, Sally Hines turned up on my Butler thread to snarkily ask why I was calling Judith Butler ‘Judy,’ (*flat stare* it’s irony, remember that?). By way of reply, I dug this out…the 1993 Judy!-fanzine, full of sub-dom eroticization, and a lovely riff on the ‘Lesbian Phallus’ detailing Butler’s awesome ability to make grad students cry (“Judy is the number one dominator…the Phallus masquerading as the Phallus”). I followed a quote about how alienating Butler found lesbian feminism – all that celebrating women’s music, UGH GROSS – to a 1992 ArtForum interview. Here, we get the usual verbiage justifying the necessity of subjection (Freud! Lacan! The Law of the Father says it must be so!) and distancing herself from “naïve” “liberationist forms of thinking.” (Reckon that must be us then). It’s a painful if predictable irony that someone who so doggedly removed the material planks of the analysis of male dominance, must also insist, through psychoanalysis (and her philosophical roots in Hegel), on the psychic necessity of dominance. (There’s a lot of stuff in there about the importance of cross-gender identification, for which read ‘It’s all good ladies! Everyone can have (or not have) the phallus now!’)

read judy

What we would say, what I would always say, is that this kind of phallic-identification, this explaining away the possibility of the otherwise, this refusal to imagine there could be anything other than these mechanisms – now unsexed! – of power and subjection and dominance and submission, is, in essence, Stockholm Syndrome. The fall is terrifying. Anyone who has experienced abuse or has worked with people who have experienced abuse knows this. The mind recoils. It is easier to erase and efface and reify and excuse and normalise and explain away than to look squarely at it and see what it is. There are signs of this recoiling throughout Butler’s work. They show up particularly around male violence and above all around rape. (She never directly acknowledges it, none of her work deals with it, her intellectual mentor – Foucault – was an apologist, her most significant contribution was editing an essay that said women need to ‘change the rape script’ (because if you just stop thinking of yourself as rapeable then you totally won’t get raped)).


In the Artform interview, she flat out admits that “feminism” as “a position which asserts the systematic domination of women by men” is “very scary to me.” Let that just sink in. Then, having entirely recoiled from the recognition of patriarchy as male dominance, she goes on to outline that her opposition to ‘fixed gender positions’ is because that would mean “women’s psyches are nothing but scenes of violation.” (So, we’d better just cover that shit over then, hadn’t we?) I was also reminded here of another of her interviews, in which she says she’s “probably too frightened” to “engage” Irigaray’s texts “that closely” because they strike her as the product of “a certain heterosexual trauma.” (They strike me as the product of a woman who has an unfathomable grasp of the structure of narcissistic male dominance and is fucking done with women being erased, but hey ho). Which is all to say that, basically, the woman who has been elevated as the future of feminism – and welcomed with open arms by a bunch of men who never so much as opened as second-wave text – is a woman who is too scared to even think about rape, and has a deep visceral aversion to women who are not.

How this all relates to the current clusterfuck should be obvious. So much of what is going on in this debate – both at the level of specific concerns, and more importantly, in its core psychic structure – is about boundaries and violation. One of the reasons it is so damn hard for us to get men to listen to us – and one reason they’re all so eagerly jumping on the boundary-smashing bandwagon – is because, when we get down to it, this is about rape, and most men neither want to think about rape, or about the way their narcissism and refusal to recognise our humanity is implicated in its mechanisms. This is not a question of whether trans women are more or less likely than any other group of males to pose a threat to women. It is simply that they are male, that male people pose a threat to women, and that male people posing a threat to women is not a symptom of our hysteria. (Our hysteria was only ever produced by what we could not name, which now, under the banner of feminism, we are being told, once again, we must not name.) But more than all this, more even than the spaces, and who does or does not enter them, more than the fact that women’s boundaries are being piously derided as ‘gate-keeping,’ is the importance of the boundary set by our right to name ourselves, and our refusal to fulfil our historic role as the passive dumping ground of male projections.

I’ve been meaning to write, and will write soon, something on how the left’s current obsession with ‘inclusion’ and ‘openness’ and ‘smashing boundaries’ and ‘deterritorialization’ makes sense only as a critique of the psychic structure of dominance (like, go and tell it to Donald Trump and leave us the fuck alone). It is entirely, gratuitously, inappropriate, when turned against the boundaries of the violated, of those who are raised in a society which leads them to understand – when they are grabbed or catcalled or made to feel like meat – that that is where they are positioned. It is no wonder that a woman who cannot even bear to think about this fact, who prefers to deny the power that frames it, who prefers to think it could all be rewritten by playing games with superficial scripts, would, when addressing the mess that she has made, avert her eyes so resolutely from what this is actually about. Women’s psyches are far far more than ‘scenes of violation,’ but there can be no feminism which refuses its reality, which recoils from recognising that ‘smashing boundaries,’ when used against women as a class, is the absolute axiom of male power, and, at its core, everything happening here is as it ever was.