Month: November 2018

‘Burble burble intersex burble social construct burble burble trans women are women!’ Sally Hines on Woman’s Hour

So, as promised, here is an annotated transcript of yesterday’s feminist death match between Sally Hines, Professor of Sociology and Gender Identities at the University of Leeds, and our very own Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, very ably adjudicated by Jane Garvey.

I’ve done kind of what I do when I annotate most texts. Sarcasm, interrogation, incredulity, and analysis….welcome to my marginalia…

We all know how it went, but, enjoy the re-run…. 🙂


JG: What are sex and gender and what explains the current argument around them? *Introduces Kathleen and Sally*

JG: Okay Sally, in simple terms, I’m starting this one with you, what are sex and gender?

SH: So, sex, I would argue, is a very complex mix of chromosomes, hormones, and genitals…

Shall we talk about gametes or reproductive function, Sally? No, best not eh?

So, we are talking about biological factors, but we’re not talking about anything at all which is straightforward…

It’s COMPLICATED peoples!

So, we’re talking about a complex mix of factors which especially in the West have often been seen in a binary framework…

JG: Hang on, sorry, *slight incredulity* binary framework?

SH: So, sex is believed to divide people into two categories of male and female.

Sally Hines, Professor of Sociology and Gender Identities – THAT IS NOT A FUCKING BINARY. I have sneaking suspicion I am going to spend the best part of the next five years screaming ‘That is not a binary’ at clever-stupid people. A binary is a conceptual hierarchy which is formed by taking a term with a dominant positive value and creating a subordinate value by negating the privileged qualities of the dominant term. Masculine/Feminine is a binary. In fact, it is the ur-binary, to the extent that ALL of the binary pairs which structure Western thought (mind/body, reason/emotion, thought/sensation, universal/particular, one/many etc.) are gendered, and without exception, the ‘positive’ pole of the binary is masculine. Male and female is not a binary, it is a natural difference. The problem arises because Western thought is so thoroughly gendered that it seems people are incapable of thinking the difference ‘male/female’ without thinking it’s cultural hierarchization, or, to return us to the point we keep making – our opponents don’t seem to be able to think sex without gender. (We might think here of another natural difference, say ‘light/dark,’ which is thoroughly saturated with hierarchical value. But let us all agree, despite the fact that this pairing has always been given within a system of binary value, we can all recognise that there is such a thing as ‘light’ and ‘dark,’ and that they exist outside of that system of value, as a natural difference). The fact that binary hierarchies are an axiomatic feature of Western thought is largely where this batshit idea that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are Western constructions is getting its traction from, I think. There are human societies in which the relation between pairs has been thought in a more horizontal and interpenetrating way that in the West – the Taoist image of the Yin/Yang would be an instance of that. But we should, however, note, that cultural systems that have been less hierarchical in their thinking of pairs have still thought those pairs on the basis of the ur-pairing ‘male principle/female principle,’ because the sexual difference between males and females is universally given, not culturally various, and is the fundamental structural distinction of all human society, evah. So please, for the love of the goddess, stop saying that Westerners or ‘colonialism’ invented male and female people. It’s ahistorical Western myopism, unfathomably stupid, and racist as fuck.

JG: Go on

SH: Okay, so, and gender, um, is the way in which a society understands or experiences these sex differences…

Hold onto that thought Sally. You can do it!

Again in the West, these have largely been understood until quite recent times in terms of a binary framework…

Hurrah, she said something correct. Well, except gender still is…again, not thinking the difference…

….so, male and female


JG: And these understanding are…less well understood, or more widely challenged, how would you define it?

SH: I think that when it comes to sex many scientists are arguing, um, have indeed argued, but but, more so are arguing…that that the binary framework…

Liking the stammering here, could it be because you’re about to talk total crap?

…the simple reading of male and female, is quite a simplistic and very reductive way of understanding a very *complex* procedure

It’s COMPLICATED people! Repeat to fade.

I wonder Sally, if it’s so complicated, how you might explain, how all human societies, for whom we have cultural records, seem to have been able to make this distinction, mmmm?

Um, similarly…

No, NOT similarly

The way gender has been understood in contemporary society has broadened out, and young people especially, are experiencing and understanding their gender as more diverse than a binary male female [DOH] framework allows for…

It’s like the 70s and 80s never happened.

Also, can you STOP with this constant appeal to the ‘young people’ to leverage your baseless idea that this crap must somehow be revolutionary and anti-status quo. Firstly, as suggested above, it’s ahistorical. These kids did not invent gender fucking. It’s been going on in cycles throughout history. Second, it ends up descending very quickly into patriarchal ageism, and is being deployed in concert with a thoroughgoing trashing of the legacy of second wave feminism, which is anything but revolutionary, and relies on the age-old fracturing of genealogy between younger and older women. Thirdly, these kids have been brainwashed Sally, and you are participating in that brainwashing.

JG: *no nonsense voice* When a baby is born, the first thing that happens…anyone who’s had a baby will know this…the first thing that happens, is…obviously you ascertain that it’s alright, and then, you find out, it’s biological sex.

SH: Yup

You sound a little aggrieved there Sally, or maybe I’m imagining it?

I mean, I think, using the term ‘assigned female or male at birth’ okay, rather than ‘male or female at birth’ is a really useful way…

You seem to be confusing ‘useful’ with ‘obfuscating for ideological purposes’ there Sally.

…of looking at the ways in which sex can be understood as something social…so what’s that’s doing then, is arguing, is kind of pointing to the ways in which someone, um, usually a doctor, in this instance, is making a decision, they’re making a presumption, about what sex, um, that baby is, um, and as we’ve seen, um, with intersex, that’s clearly not always the case.

This is a GREAT illustration of what work the intersex issue is doing here, and exactly why they have appropriated the ‘assigned’ linguistic structure. Because it is only in the very few instances that sex is not readily observable that this batshit idea that sex is not simply ‘observed’ but is in some sense ‘decided’ or ‘constructed,’ seems able to gain ANY traction.

JG: *exasperated exhale* Okay, I think a lot of people will take issue, including, I suspect, Kathleen, so, off you go Kathleen, tell us.

KS: Well, I agree, there is, we are increasingly good at understanding er, intersex variation, so, disorders of sexual development, um, and a very very small number, a subset of people with those disorders, are atypical chromosomally, or sometimes, for a very small number, of particular disorders, namely AIS [Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome] and CAH [Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia], you might get an XY male with a feminized genitalia, or you might get an XX female with a virilised genitalia, so, that’s not the 1.7% of people we are always being told are intersex…

For an excellent breakdown of Fausto-Sterling’s highly dubious 1.7% statistic, see this thread by @mrkhtake2.

JG: It’s tiny

KS: It’s a very very very small number, like, one in twenty thousand I think for CAH, and and, but I think it’s the wrong way to think of it that a doctor looks at a child, a neonate, and say, ‘okay, I’m going to assign a sex.’ What they do is they do genetic testing and blood testing and they work out which variety of disorder this child has, and then there’s a standard, um, y’know, for the vast majority of intersex children there’s an absolutely standard route to recording male or female sex…

JG: But as you say, this isn’t a common problem this, it happens, we know it does…

KS: But it’s also, sometimes, in the rhetoric of ‘sex is a spectrum,’ um, and the assigning of sex, as if it’s a social decision on the part of the doctor, it’s to gloss over the medical procedures, that are pretty well understood now, which result in predicable outcomes for whether this child is going to be counted as male or female.

*Pom poms* This is an EXCELLENT point, and one it’s worth underlining. The whole rhetoric of ‘assigning’ depends on a historic set of procedures for dealing with intersex children, which, as we know, were coercive, invasive, and traumatizing. My understanding from listening to the intersex advocates is, as Kathleen points to here, that these subjective and coercive determinations are no longer clinical practice, and that, far from developments in science showing us that ‘sex is a spectrum,’ increased scientific understanding has allowed us to more accurately determine the sex of children who are born with some degree of ambiguity in their sexed phenotype. It should also be noted, that the very existence of ambiguity in a tiny number of instances, and the fact that they occasion clinical procedures, is also evidence of the fact that in the vast vast majority of cases, no such ambiguity exists, and in such cases, the phrase ‘assigned sex/gender at birth’ is meaningless ideological garbage.

JG: Sally

SH: Okay, okay, yeah, I mean, um *awkward laugh* neither I nor Kathleen, um, are scientists…

Well don’t call on scientific ideas to buttress your ideology then lady.

…there are many scientists however that are pointing to the simplistic understanding of sex,

No, there isn’t. The majority of scientists and medical professionals are having no truck with this nonsense. You have a few ideologically motivated people in the sciences that are invested in troubling the male/female difference, and you endlessly regurgitate and appeal to this, for political reasons, against the preponderant weight of scientific thinking. It’s been said before and it will be said again – you are the climate change deniers of the left.

…um, in the way that that Kathleen’s just talked about…

You’re confused there champ. You said something vague and sweeping while constantly appealing to the term ‘complexity.’ Kathleen said something precise and detailed, and in the process, handed you your ass. And now you’re scrabbling to find it. Understand this: Your vague use of the word ‘simplistic’ carries as much logical force as your vague use of the word ‘complex.’ You don’t get to win an argument by arrogating complexity to yourself and simplicity to your opponents. ‘Show not tell’ Professor Hines.

…okay, and this has also been long recognised in many non-Western countries, um, who have understood that people are often not simply male of female…

TWO-SPIRIT KLAXON. Misrepresentative, appropriative, racist bullshit. HOW THE FUCK HAS THE UNIVERSITY GIVEN PEOPLE WITH TUMBLRISED-BRAINS CHAIRS??????? (Neoliberalism, customer service, ‘impact,’ student satisfaction burble burble)

…and just to say that it doesn’t kind of affect very many people, or it’s a minority problem, or disorder, um, I think is kind of, that’s ignoring the way that lots of young people now are experiencing their lives and their sense of gender, um, as something which is non-binary, which is neither male nor female…

JG: Okay, I can see that you’re struggling with that Kathleen, very briefly if you can.

KS: Well, we’ve moved there, Sally’s moved there, from talking about a medical issue to a social issue, and whether young people feel non-binary or not, that’s got absolutely nothing to do with intersex, those two things are completely distinct.

Well, QUITE. But hey Sally, look on the bright side, you have very usefully exhibited what is at stake in the attempt to undermine the existence of sexual dimorphism. You are invested in an ideology that wants to define the determination of the being of men and women on the basis of identity, and it follows from that that you must undermine the idea that that being depends on sex. (Can someone rustle me up a Guardian journalist or two to come and mansplain to me about how nobody is trying to undermine human sexual dimorphism?) To do that, you must try to unsettle the difference between male and female, and – accompanied by Judith Butler and stoopid notions of social construction that seem to think that because concepts are social constructions everything they name is a simple construction as well – the instrumentalization of intersex conditions is the main way you try and go about that (so yeah, it’s not an accident you came out with intersex burble, is it, really?) Ultimately, the aim is to be able to make people believe that male people can be female people (and female people male – although, if that was all this was about, none of this would be happening, because, y’know, sex and power and shit, we’ll get onto that shortly…). And so, you have to insist that the difference between male and female is one that we can move around at whim, according to our own desires. We can’t. And to believe we can is the very opposite of ‘progressive.’ It is a form of absolute idealism which arrogates to humans – and the power of human naming – the ability to bring the whole world into existence. It is, in short, a god-complex. And an age-old patriarchal one at that.

SH: I’m not talking particularly about intersex…

KS: Well you were originally


SH: But I used it as an example of how sex itself can be diverse…

And as we’ve demonstrated, it doesn’t do what you want it to do. So, Stop. Appropriating. Intersex. People. Already.

JG: I appreciate that you both feel very strongly about this, I worry, somewhat, on behalf of our audience, that we’re getting up a cul-de-sac, that very few people will actually travel down in their real lives. What we do know is that the lives of women, on the whole, can be rather challenging Sally, and sometimes more restricted, and frankly, women can often feel more vulnerable, than their born male counterparts, that is simple fact, isn’t it?

SH: *pause* It depends who you are including in the category of woman, okay?


So, there you’re saying, are you saying that trans women are not women? Um, yeah, women, cis women, okay…


JG: Cis women, a lot of people don’t know what that means, what do you mean by that?

SH: Okay, so I’ll explain, so so, women who are assigned female at birth…? Okay?

OKAY!!! Love the rising intonation here. Yeah Sally…Jane, Kathleen, and the assembled women of the nation all think you’re talking shit…

Um, women who haven’t transitioned, okay? Yeah? Absolutely, have a lot of difficulties in society, but arguing for trans rights, and arguing that trans women are women, doesn’t take away, from recognising that we live in a patriarchal sexist society…

It doesn’t take anything away from that recognition, even though I am apparently unable to appear on the most important womens’ programme in the UK and straightforwardly affirm without hedging, introducing trans women, and calling women by a prefix that they have repeatedly and clearly rejected, that women are oppressed as women.

Also while we’re here, let’s note that for people who proclaim to be all about smashing binaries, you have yourselves created a new binary – the cis/trans binary. The cis/trans binary, unlike the female/male difference, is, actually, an axiomatic binary. It is axiomatic in that the category ‘cis’ is formed entirely by inversion from the category ‘trans.’ Thus, while trans people have a gender identity that ‘doesn’t match’ their sex, we have one that ‘matches.’ Trans ideology therefore imposes a gender identity on non-trans people, despite the fact that we keep telling them we don’t know what it means, have no experience of one, and reject it on theoretical and political grounds. And the nature of this attribution gives the lie to the claim about the hierarchy of power at work in the ‘cis/trans’ binary. Ostensibly, the cis/trans binary names the power cis people have over trans people, and it works in that sense to flip the hierarchy of oppression between male and female people, posit female people as the oppressors of trans women, and hence invalidate women’s political claims and resistances (it is this mechanism which allows the trans rights movement to analogise women with white supremacists, and to claim our exclusions are of the same type as segregationists). However, binaries always work by the ‘inferior’ term being formed by negation of the privileged term, and by the social group identified with the privileged term possessing the power of naming and constructing the binary. That trans rights has successfully created a binary which imposes a name on the ‘other’ term against their wishes, in a manner which they expressly consider to be a misrepresentation, and which functions to give social capital to the group associated with one term and to delegitimise the social group associated with the other term, tells us all we need to know about how power is actually operating in this instance…Or, to cut a long story short, people with penises get to name and define people without penises. AGAIN.

So anyway yes, you were telling us about how cis women are oppressed but not really…. Or maybe we should give the mic to Kathleen instead?

KS: Well, I’m very happy to recognise that we live in a patriarchal sexist society…

THAT’S how you do it.

…I think we do, and since we do, I think we need to retain categories and subcategories that do important explanatory work, and one of those is ‘women,’ ‘natal females,’ you can call them cis if you like, but, if cis is taken to mean ‘happy with the socially imposed gender stereotypes that are put on them as soon as they’re born,’ then most women do not feel cis, if you mean some really strong feeling of being a woman, then most women do not feel like that, they don’t, they just are, they don’t feel…It’s really really difficult in these discussion to find some commonality that all trans women for instance, and all natal women, share, that could explain, how they were both simultaneously members of the same group… and, the even more radical claim that’s being made by you Sally, that there’s no underlying differences, between those two groups in terms of social treatment. And it’s my view that being female, um, being socially, um, perceived as a woman, imposes a significant causal predictor on you, to be the subject of all sorts of discrimination, we see this in the sexual violence statistics, we see this in the pay-gap…it’s not a gender pay-gap, it’s a sex pay-gap, it’s to do with reproduction, which is something that women bear…

SH: I fundamentally disagree

Of course you do. And this is the absolute screaming core of the problem. Because you are committed to an ideology that means you cannot recognise that there is any difference between trans women and women, and therefore, you cannot recognise that female people are oppressed qua female people – that is, on the basis of their sex. And that makes you, simply, an un-feminist. Because my dear Professor, like everything, being a feminist is not actually a matter of identification, it’s a matter of practice.

JG: Why do you disagree Sally?

SH: I think I think trans women um, also, um, if not sometimes more so suffer harassment, suffer violence, suffer sexual disadvantage, um, in society…

1. But not because they are female.

2. Stop it with your baseless hierarchy of suffering lady. You think playing people’s wounds off against each other is going to get us somewhere good, you dangerous idiot???

….and for me regulating the category of woman, arguing around, y’know, who can, and who can’t belong, um, to that category, based on an idea of gendered authenticity, or realness, is not the way forward…

Male people commit violence against gender non-conforming people, and especially against perceived femininity in male people, because of the structure of patriarchal gender. It has not now, and had never, had anything to do with feminist women believing that mammals are sexually dimorphic and that women are oppressed on the basis of their sex. Stop blaming women for men’s violence and stop blaming feminists for patriarchal gender.

Also, this thing about the hierarchy of real and fake. Again, this is a conflation of a cultural hierarchy with a given difference. Yes, there are instances in which we have distributed value by constructing some things as more authentic than other things, and then there is the fact that there just exists a difference between real things and imitations. Fake fur is not somehow real fur, and diamanté is not somehow real diamond, because you have decided to believe that all judgements about ‘realness’ and ‘fakeness’ are only cultural hierarchies of value. I actually agree with you that it is unhelpful, and unnecessarily derogatory, to frame the difference between trans women and women as that between ‘realness’ and ‘fakeness’ or ‘imitation.’ However, it is in your interests to insist that the difference must be framed in that way, and then to use that to claim that anyone insisting on a difference is being derogatory.  I would simply say that there are female people, that there are male people who identify as women, that male people are not female people, and that sex is politically important. These are not attributions of value. They are just empirical facts.

Lastly, you have absolutely no empirical proof that this derogatory system of value is the reason for male people’s violence against trans women. Why should we accept that this violence is created by the belief that trans women are ‘fake’ women (which then allows you to apparently blame feminists for male violence), rather than the belief that these are male people who are performing femininity in a way that violates the first rule of patriarchal masculinity? (which would mean that gender abolitionist feminism would actually ameliorate violence against trans women, a fact which could, and should, be the basis of our solidarity)

JG: Yeah, again, we’ve got to make this conversation relevant to everybody, and I’m particularly aware that many of our listeners have had tough lives for one reason or another, they may well be even now still facilitating the lives of others, possibly they’ve done nothing but that for the last fifty years, and, it’s hardly surprising that many of those women feel that their hard won rights are somewhat vulnerable at the moment Sally to the progress of some other, for example, trans women. What do you say to that?

Top marks to JG for all of this, especially for bringing the issue of the sexed distribution of care work into the conversation here. I am reminded of this quote from a feature on Martine Rothblatt, in which it was made pretty obvious that the woman with the vagina was still the one responsible for looking after everyone’s material (and probably emotional) needs.

SH: I completely disagree…

That female people do the majority of unpaid domestic and emotional labour in the world? That’s not a matter of opinion Professor.

I think, y’know, gender politics and progressive politics can’t, y’know, be kind of based on a hierarchy of difference in this way…

How many times do we need to tell you this??? Differences are not hierarchies. They’re differences. If you refuse to recognise difference you refuse to give recognition to the particularly of individual lives, and the way those lives are shaped by membership of social groups, and the needs and political interests of people who belong to those social groups. That is not progress and it is not justice. It is erasure and domination.

…y’know, and we’ve seen this before, it’s very very dangerous, we’ve seen this before in feminism, in relation to the position of Black women, and in relation to the position of working class women, y’know, I think we absolutely as feminists have got to move away from a politics which is based around perceptions of realness, and that white, cis women such as myself, such as Kathleen, have got to give up some privilege here…

Let’s unpack some intersectionality burble then shall we Sally? First, the imputation that Black women and working-class women are a subset of women whose womanhood is ‘less real’ that white women’s womanhood is bullshit, and politically motivated and offensive bullshit. There have always been and remain tensions within feminism along race and class lines, and there probably will always be, because these intersections are massively important political and social differences that cut though the body of women. We will, I hope, always continue to wrestle with these issues, to give them space, and to endeavour to work with them in order to best articulate our shared interests as women, and to allow for the expression of our differences. As I have said before, it is not easy, and it shouldn’t be. None of this translates into an idea that Black women or working-class women are somehow not women, and Crenshaw never intended intersectionality to be used to fracture the class of female people in order to include male people. The fact that Black females are female does not mean that male people are female, and you really need to stop and have a long hard look at yourself and what the fuck you’re saying. Frankly, this makes my blood boil. And I know from listening to many Black women that they find it enraging – both because their womanhood is being undermined, and they’re being used as a political prop in an argument, and maybe even more so, because it’s being done with a veneer of woke anti-racism, while being fucking racist, and the women doing it won’t listen to them when they call it out.

Secondly, can you imagine anything more white and middle class and privileged than thinking you can avoid sex-based oppression by identifying out of it? What kind of life have you lived, that you respond to a well-grounded observation about the distribution of care-work (let alone femicide, or poverty, or lack of education, or FGM, or forced marriage, or sexual slavery, or any other of the number of sex-based violences that disproportionately affect women with less economic and racial power, or from cultures with more rigid patriarchal practices than our own), and turn around, and say that you are fighting for the interests of working class and women of colour by denying the analysis of the basis of their exploitation????? This whole towering pile of bullshit is precisely an artefact of privilege. Walk into any Gender Studies class in the country if you have any doubts. Over to Kathleen…

KS: I am exactly here to fight on behalf of the interests of Black and working-class female women, it is them that bear the disproportionate brunt of inequality in our society, and if we lose the ability to name those people as such, and to talk about the causal factors that lead to their predicament, then we won’t be able to fight for them, so it’s precisely dangerous, the kind of rhetoric that’s coming out of the new gender identity doctrine…

JG: Sally, can I just, I mean, if it were a level playing field, why do we not hear as much from trans men as we do from trans women?

BOOM. Answer that question while avoiding granting recognition to the political importance of sex if you will Sally?

SH: *Sharp intake of breath through nose* I think, trans men are often ignored, okay


JG: Well, we don’t ignore them…

I’m a little bit in love with JG by this point…

Well anyway, carry on…

SH: I think that trans men are not seen to be a threat…

Correct. Because they’re not. Because they’re female.

…by some sections of feminism…um, in the way that trans women are…y’know, there has been lots of critique of trans men from second wave feminists, such as Sheila Jeffreys, who argued that trans men are simply trying to get, y’know, they’re women who are trying to get male privilege, so, y’know, trans men have been critiqued and attacked by some sections of feminism, but, in the culture that we’re living in at the moment, in contemporary times, um, it is trans women, who’ve become the bodies of fear, um, for some feminists…

Yup. Because this whole situation has been created by feminists and has absolutely nothing to do with the politics of the trans rights movement, the nature of their demands, their attempts to erase women, or their persistent efforts to enforce their agenda by using the immemorial tactics of coercive control. And none of this has anything to do with the fact that many of the people directing this movement are late transitioning people who were born and socialised as males, or that we live in a culture that grants power to those people, precisely because they are male. None of this would be happening were it not being driven by male interests in changing the definition of woman in order to colonise it. Trans men do not have the social power to redefine and enforce that redefinition on men – as is amply demonstrated by the fact that the language around the naming of men remains implacably untouched by this whole situation.  This is precisely a demonstration of the very fact that it purports to deny – that is, the existence of sex, and its political importance. THAT’s the answer you were looking for Sally.

As for the ‘bodies of fear.’ Male people are a statistical danger to women. That is not a construction, and it is not a projection you can nattily analogize to xenophobia. It not an ungrounded fear of the ‘foreign,’ through which women create an illusory sense of safety or security by projecting their fears onto the ‘other’ outside. Nothing about the analysis of male violence serves to make us feel safe, so you can put your garbled post-structuralist misappropriation away right now. Rather, our fear of male people is based on the fact that our lives are blighted and controlled by the violence, and the threat of violence, visited on us by male people, and, as any feminist knows, that violence is not merely accidental or natural. It is structural, inculcated, and used as a form of social control. And if you want to dispute that, you can, any minute now, start arguing like an MRA, and we’ll take what remnants are left of your feminist card back lickity-split.

JG: Okay, last word to you Kathleen, if you can be brief, I’d be grateful…

KS: Well, trans women are not inherently dangerous, and no one on my side of the debate thinks that, but we recognise that they are male, biologically, and socialised as males, and that makes it more likely, statistically, that some of them will be violence, sexually violent, towards females…

SH: I completely disagree, and would say..

KS: Well I know you do but…the stats bear it out, so…let’s go to the evidence…

SH: Trans women are women

You have argument and I have MANTRAS! Take that!

KS: Well, you can keep saying that…

Indeed. And they will, and it won’t become any truer, or have any bearing on the statistics.

But the evidence…I’m not even talking about that, I’m talking about how this is practically, um… realized in society, and we have to make decisions about how to order spaces, how to…

SH: But who makes those decisions…?

Good question Sally! You are supporting a political movement that is insisting that those decisions be made on the basis of an unscientific, ideological mantra, and only in the interests of trans women, and that anyone who questions that, or who claims that this is a rights conflict, or that women should be a stakeholder in the making of those decision, is a bigot. So yeah, who does get to make those decisions? Shall we move on to talking about that?

KS: And to keep repeating ‘trans women are women’ won’t get us anywhere.


prince mike

TOTAL DEMOLITION: That wins you a Prince, Professor Stock xx

The Annals of the TERF-Wars

So, yesterday this turned up in my feed, which struck me as something of an, um, mispresentation… and somehow, I ended up writing my own version of how this whole thing went down…



Prologue: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Transsexual women: We just want some basic human rights.

Women: Okay.

Transsexual women: We have this condition called gender dysphoria and it’s really painful and we need to transition to live as the other sex because it’s the treatment for the dysphoria.

Women: Yeah, that sounds tough. Okay, if that’s what you need to do.

Transsexual women: We’d like you to treat us as women.

Most women: Um, okay. Sure, we can do that if that helps.


Prequel: A long time ago in a lesbian bar that no longer exists

Lesbians: We don’t have to treat you as women for sexual purposes, do we?

Many transsexual women: No, that’s cool

Nascent trans activists: Well, actually, if you don’t want to fuck us then it invalidates our womanhood and that is misgendering and it’s a human rights abuse and you should want to fuck us.

Lesbians: It’s a human rights abuse if we don’t want to fuck you? What the fuck?

Nascent trans activists: Yes, you should want to fuck us.

Lesbians: Even if you still have dicks?

Nascent trans activists: Even if we still have dicks.

Lesbians: Um yeah, sorry, we don’t do dicks. We’re LESBIANS.

Nascent trans activists: You are vagina fetishists with unconscious bias and are gatekeeping your vaginas. We are women and our dicks are women’s dicks. If you don’t want to fuck us, you’re bigots.

Lesbians: We’re not bigots, it’s just you’re male, and we fuck female people.


Lesbians: Um yeah, we’re not really feeling that right now to be honest.

Nascent trans activists: TERF TERF TERF TERF TERF.

Lesbians: HEY PEOPLE! These people are pressuring our sexual boundaries because they say they’re women but the way they’re pressuring us doesn’t make us feel like they’re women…in fact, it makes us feel like they’re men and we don’t fuck men. We’re lesbians, we don’t fuck men. That’s the reason we did all the marching, so that was okay right? RIGHT????

(Nascent trans activists: TERF TERF TERF TERF TERF)

Lesbians: HEY PEOPLE!!! Could we get some fucking help here?

Rest of the LGB community and world: Did someone say something?


Episode 1: The First War Begins. Scene 1: Cyberspace – probably around 2013

Trans activists: So hey, when we said we’d like you to treat us like women that wasn’t right, because actually, we ARE women and we demand that you treat us exactly like women because we are women and that you to stop violently excluding us from all your women things.

Women: Um, we thought you were male people who had to transition to help with your dysphoria?

Trans activists: No, that is out-dated and pathologizing. Women are women because they have a gender identity which makes them women.

Women: Um, we thought we were woman because we’re female?

Trans activists: No, you are women because you have magic womanish essence that makes you women. We have the same magic womanish essence as you, it’s just that ours got stuck in the wrong body.

Feminists: That sounds kind of sexist. Can you tell us what this woman-essence is, and how it gets stuck in the wrong body, because that sounds like a weird metaphys…..

Trans activists: It’s SCIENCE.

Feminists: Science says there’s ‘magic woman essence’??? Are you sure? Because feminism would…

Trans activists: Shut up bigots.

Feminists: Sorry? What?

Trans activists: You are our oppressors, you don’t get to speak. When you speak you oppress us, and it literally kills us.

Feminists: WHAT?

Trans activists: You are cis women, cis people are our oppressors.

Feminists: We’re what?

Trans activists: It’s your new name, it comes from Latin, and means you have a magic gender essence that matches your body, and because your magic gender essence matches your body you are privileged…

Feminists: Hang on a minute, women are oppressed because they are women, we’re not really sure that’s a privilege…

Trans activists: YOU ARE PRIVILEGED BECAUSE YOUR GENDER IDENTITY MATCHES YOUR BODY. Nobody knows the pain of being trapped in the wrong body. It is the greatest pain of all the pains that has ever happened to all of human kind, and everyone who does not know this pain is privileged and is therefore our oppressor.

Feminists: Um, were not really sure we’re oppressing you, we don’t have much social power to oppress you, we’d just like to ask you some questions about this gender identity thing….


Feminists: What? No, we just wanted to ask you…


Feminists: No no no hold on, we’re just trying to ask you a question…


Feminists: What??? We’re like genocidal what??? This is fucking crazy. Can we just try and calm down and talk about this?

Trans activists: NO. There is NO DEBATE. Debating is literal violence and makes us unsafe. Repeat after us – Trans women are women. Trans women are women because they have woman essence, just like cis women. You’re not women because of your bodies. Bodies have nothing to do with being a woman.

Feminists: Okay, this is sounding nuts now, because we really think our bodies have quite a lot to do with our being woman.

Trans activists: Bio-essentialism!

Feminists: What? Essentialism is bad we agree, but that means thinking people with certain kinds of bodies have to…

Trans activists: No, essentialism is thinking male and female people exist.

Feminists: But male and female people DO exist.

Trans activist: FUCK YOU TERF. DIE IN A FIRE.

Feminists: Woah.

Trans activists: How many fucking times do we need to tell you this cis-scum? Your body has nothing to do with your being a woman. There is no such thing as female biology.

Feminists: WHAT THE FUCK????

Trans activists: The gender binary was created by white heteropatriarchal colonialism.


American trans activists who don’t know the rest of the world exists: Colonialism colonialism duh.

Feminists: How the hell is the colonization of North America responsible for the creation of male and female people? And while we’re here that sounds kinda racist…

Trans activists: Two-spirit people burble burble sex is a spectrum burble clown fish burble burble intersex people burble burble some women don’t have ovaries burble social construct burble Judith Butler

(Academics with cool-girl syndrome and assorted edgelords and wokebros: JUDITH BUTLER!!!!)

Trans activists: ….burble burble, there is no such thing as female biology and women are women because they have magic gender essence and therefore some women have penises!

Feminists: Okay, this is batshit. We REALLY need to talk about this.



Episode 1: The First War Continues. Scene 2: Cyberspace – around 2013-14

*Enter Intersectional Feminists from top, bottom and side of screen….*


Feminists: Hang on, we thought you were feminists. We thought you cared about female people.

Intersectional feminists: Female people are so last century. Only White Feminists care about female people.

Feminists: White what?

Intersectional feminists: All the feminists before us were white middle-class women and they only cared about what white middle-class women care about and they were only interested in getting good jobs for white middle-class women and they didn’t care about Black women and were dried up whorephobic prudes who didn’t realize sex work was liberating and mostly they just wanted to kill trans people.

Feminists: That sounds like some mad-ass caricature.

Intersectional feminists: You would say that, you oppressive old crones. You’re just saying that to maintain your power.

Feminists: No we’re not, we don’t have much power. We’re saying it because it sounds like bullshit. *Starts trying to explain all the things second wave feminism did to help women*

Intersectional feminists: We’re not listening to you, you oppressive bitches. We’ve hidden all your books in the library to protect young minds from them. You are whorephobes and transphobes and racists. We are intersectional. Only we have learned from the Tumblr-oracle how all the different oppressions have different points on a scale that add up to who is the most oppressed and you are white (so are we mostly but we’re pointing at you because somehow that means something, maybe because we have asymmetric hair-cuts and our profile pics give great side-eye) and you are women and that means that you are the least oppressed and that means that your feminism is shit and that means that you have to centre all these other people in your feminism and if you refuse it’s because you’re the oppressors and the most oppressed people are trans women and they must be the centre of feminism from now on.

Feminists: You want us to centre male born people in our feminism?

Intersectional feminists: THAT’S RIGHT BITCHES. And there is no such thing as ‘male-born people.’ That is cissexism and is literal violence. You need to educate yourselves. We don’t have the spoons.

Feminists: Um yeah, we know quite a lot about the history and practice of feminism and we’ve thought quite hard about it and I think we’re going to carry on centring female people if you don’t mind.

Intersectional feminists: OPPRESSORS

Feminists: Female people are oppressed and our political movement…


(Ps – Would you like to try this sourdough bread I made with yeast from my vagina?)

Feminists: Okay. This is getting REALLY fucked up now.

Intersectional feminists: Run away and cry your ‘White Feminism TM’ tears you dried up old witches. And don’t fucking kink-shame us or we’ll shank you.

Feminists: Um, this feminism seems not very…

Intersectional feminists with new blue hair: BIG DICK ENERGY.

*TERF-blocker descends*


Episode 1: The End of the First War. Scene 3: Cyberspace and public sphere, 2014-5

Feminists: *Educate themselves* *Become increasingly horrified* *Start writing articles nobody fucking reads*

HEY PEOPLE! This shit is mental. There are these people saying being female has nothing to do with being a woman, and that they’re women because they have magic gender essence, and this sounds pretty sexist, and they also say that sex doesn’t exist and given we’ve always thought that that’s the reason we’re oppressed we’re pretty worried this is a bad idea for women and feminism, and now these other people who say they’re feminists are telling us we have to centre people who are not female in our feminism or we’re the oppressors and are going on and on about how we shouldn’t say anything because we’re whorephobic bigots and it’s kind of nuts and people are bullying lesbians to have sex with people with penises and they’re encouraging young people to take hormones that we don’t seem to understand the effects of and we think this is all sketchy as fuck to be honest. What the hell is going on?

Trans activists and intersectional feminists: That woman talking over there is making people unsafe because she is an evil bigot and trans people are the most vulnerable people in the world and she is the oppressor and she is oppressing us by speaking and if she speaks then it is literal violence and it will make people hurt us and we will also hurt ourselves and so you have to stop her speaking and if you don’t stop her speaking then you are also an evil bigot and we are going to tell everyone what evil fucking bigots you are and you wouldn’t want that now so you better stop her speaking right fucking now.

Civic institution: Um, what now?

Trans activists: *Pickets* *Inundates with letters and emails and phone calls* *Goes on twitter and gets a massive pile of people to bombard institution*

Civic institution’s PR people: This makes us look bad.

Civic institution: Okay, we won’t let the bigot speak. I mean, she’s just a feminist, right?

Trans activists: Hurray we are safe! Ding dong the witch is dead!

Feminists: What the fuck? HEY PEOPLE! I was just trying to say something because I think there are some questions here and I think we should really talk about it. I’m not sure people are women just because they have magic woman essence and I think there might be some not good consequences of thinking this.

Trans activists and civic institutions: SHUT UP BIGOTS.

Misogynist child with column in major left-wing newspaper: SHUT UP BIGOTS. YOU’RE THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT GAY PEOPLE WERE ALL KIDDY FIDDLERS.

Feminists: Um, lots of us are lesbians actually and the rest of us were totally behind gay rights, like, we’ve always been allies, what the hell are you going on about?

Misogynist child with column in major left-wing newspaper: *Blocks all the women objecting* WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY BITCHES.

Woke bros and assorted leftie-misogynists: *Jumping up and down with excitement* WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY UPPITY BITCHES.

Trans activists and civic institutions and leftie newspapers:  REPEAT AFTER US – Trans women are women. Because trans women are women then trans women should be given all the social resources given to other women and if you don’t accept this then you are exclusionary bigots and we’re going to make damn sure everyone knows what terrible terrible people you are and how you shouldn’t be allowed to live or work or speak or write in public. Have you fucking got that???

Feminists: You’re intimidating and silencing us.

Trans activists and leftie newspapers:  No, we’re not. You trigger people by existing and asking questions and having the wrong opinions. You need to shut the fuck up so that everyone is safe. RIGHT NOW.


Episode 2: Between the Wars. Scene 1: Public sphere, 2015-2017

Feminists: We’re feeling pretty demoralized here…

Trans activists: EXCELLENT. You just sit over there and keep your little lady-mouths shut.

*Organise some more* *Take over Stonewall and all the LGBT+ organizations* *Start sending people into school and institutions to explain that people have magic gender essence which sometimes gets trapped in the wrong body* *Bully, harass and no platform any woman who speaks up*

Hey, government. We’ve got this great idea. You know how people think you’re a bunch of assholes who has been driving the economy into the ground and lining rich people’s pockets while you let vulnerable people starve, we’ve got just the ticket for you.

Government: *Ears prick up* Tell us more.

Trans activists: Yeah, all you have to do is change this piece of legislation so we can get our sex changed more easily. The current legislation is really burdensome, and we’re really vulnerable, and it would really help us out, and would totally make you look like you care about marginalized people while costing you fuck all.

Government: Well, that does sound like a boon. Is there a catch?

Trans activists: No, not one. It’s just streamlining an administrative process really.

Government: Okay, come and tell us all about it. Is there anyone else we need to talk to?

Trans activists: No. It doesn’t have any effect on anyone, it’s just paperwork really. JUST MAKE SURE YOU DON’T TALK TO THOSE UPPITY WOMEN OVER THER THEY’RE ALL EVIL BIGOTS WHO WANT TO KILL US.

Government: Oh yes, they do sound like terrible people, how awful for you.

Trans activists: Yes, they’re really horrific. And while we’re at it, you might want to think about removing their rights to single-sex spaces from the Equalities Act because it discriminates against us.

Government: Interesting. Okay, when can you come in?


Episode 2: Between the Wars. Scene 2: The Take Over Continues, Labour Party, 2016-17

The left of the left: Austerity sucks! Neoliberalism sucks! WE. WANT. SOCIAL. DEMOCRACY. NOW.

Some of the feminists: Yeah, we want that too.

Other of the feminists: We think these people might be wankers.

Some of the feminists: Noted. Let’s see what they say….


The new leader of the Labour Party: WE. WANT. SOCIAL. DEMOCRACY. NOW.

Some of the feminists: Okay, great….


Some of the feminists: Well, we get what you’re saying, but….


Some of the feminists: This seems strangely fam….


The new leader of the Labour Party: TRANS WOMEN *ARE* WOMEN.


Some of the feminists: Ohhhhhhhhh FUCK…..

Other of the feminists: We told you they were wankers.

Misogynist child with column in major left-wing newspaper: Trans women are women and the only people who disagree with me are those centrist collaborating shills over there…

Some of the feminists: Well THAT’S bullshit.

Momentum, Labour leadership, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN. TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN. CAPITALIST BIGOT SHILLS BIGOT SHILLS BURN THEM BURN THEM…

Bastardi: Fully automated luxury……

Some of the feminists: Yup. Wankers.

Other of the feminists: Told you.

Labour Party women: So, about this trans women are women thing, we just have a few….

Momentum, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: SHUT UP YOU FUCKING TERF BIGOTS.

Labour Party women: TERF-what?

Momentum, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: You are ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.’ That means you’re evil and witches and that people can punch you and it’s not violence against women because you’re witches.

Labour Party women: Um, we’re not sure we’re radical feminists, or that we’re excluding anyone, but we definitely don’t think anyone should be punching women and we just wanted to….

Momentum, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: ZIP IT.

Labour Party women: *in a huddle in the wings, whispering quietly* What the fuck????

HEY PEOPLE! We’re Labour members and this a democratic political party and we think we should….

Momentum, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: WE TOLD YOU TO ZIP IT.

Labour Party women: But…

Momentum, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: TSZUP!!!!! *makes zipping motion*

Labour Party women: Well, we think we want to talk about this so we’re going to go over here and….

Momentum, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: GREAT. FUCK OFF. WE DON’T NEED SHILLS LIKE YOU IN THE REVOLUTION ANYWAY…

Feminists: This is a fucking clusterfuck.

Momentum: We have this awesome young trans woman who we think would make an awesome Women’s Officer because she’s awesome and trans women are awesome and trans women are women and there is no difference in any of their life experience which means they might not understand women’s political interests and anyone who suggests that is a fucking bigot.

General public: Huh?

Young trans women’s officer with variable coloured hair: Hi, I’m Petal, and I’m very petally, and that means I know all about women and their petals and I can represent all the political interests of petals and when I get a womb-transplant I will be even more petally, and if you don’t like my petals…

Labour Party women: No no, your petals are fine, it’s just that you’re very young, and for most of the time you were alive you were….

Petal: I WAS WHAT? I have *always* been a woman…

Labour Party women: Yeah, we’re just not quite sure about that bit….


Labour Party women: Um, we thought you were supposed to be representing us, and actually, it doesn’t seem like you’re really doing very much….


General public: What the hell is going on…?

Feminists: Yeah, we kind of…..

Momentum, trans activists, misogynist child and chorus of brocialists: WE THOUGHT WE TOLD YOU WITCHES TO BE QUIET ALREADY.


Episode 3: The Second War Begins. Scene 1 – Somewhere in Whitehall, 2018

Government: We think we’re going to change the law. Just a little administrative clear up to make life less burdensome for the trans population who, as we know, are terribly vulnerable.

Feminists: You’re going to do what??? Why didn’t you ask us about this?

Government: Yes well, the trans people said it didn’t affect you.

Feminists: THEY SAID WHAT??? Hang on a motherfucking minute.


Episode 3:  The Witches Strike Back. Scene 2: Cyberspace and public sphere, 2018

Trans activists: REPEAT AFTER US: Trans women are women. Trans women should not be excluded from any spaces women have access to. Anyone who questions that is an exclusionary genocidal racist who is in league with the far right. And by the way, you’re not women anymore, you’re cis women, and we want you to stop talking about your bodies, and we’re going to change all the words in all the literature that has anything to do with you so that everyone understands that being female is not necessary to being a woman, and from now on you are ‘mentruators’ and ‘cervix havers’ and ‘pregnant people.’ Got that?

Women: WOAH. You fucking what? We’re cis-what? And we’re not women anymore, we’re menstruators. We don’t think we like this.

Trans activists: It’s inclusive.

Women: Well, it sounds dehumanising as all hell to us.

Trans activists: Shut up cis people, you are the oppressors. These are the new words for you.

Women: Don’t we get to decide which words we use for ourselves?

Trans activists: No, you are the oppressors, if you do not accept these new words you are oppressing us.

Women: We’re oppressing you by wanting to be called women??? What the hell is….

Trans activists: BIGOTS! These are your new words. You are cis women, and we are trans women. We are both just different types of women, except we’re more oppressed than you so you have to do what we say. Look, there’s nothing you can do about it, the government already agrees with us, see?

Women: The government already agrees with you? What?

Trans activists: Yes. REPEAT AFTER US: Trans women are women. The government believes this and is going to change the law so that we can be legally recognised as female if we sign a piece of paper that says we have magic woman essence…

Women: What??? This can’t be right. Surely someone would have said something about this? Where are the feminists? Feminists, is this right?

Feminists: U-huh. We were trying to….

Women: What are the implications of this???

Feminists: *montage of charts and essays* *three weeks later*

Women: Fuck this shit. We need to do something.

Feminists: YES. WE. DO.

Feminists and radicalized women and intersex people and transsexuals and concerned parents and gay men who are realizing something’s up and some straight male allies: EVERYONE HOLD HANDS AND PUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLLLL.

The press: The women seem to be making a shit-ton of noise about something? Why are there stickers of cocks everywhere??? What on earth is going on?

Trans activists and the left-wing press: NOTHING, THEY’RE BIGOTS.

Most of the press: Oh, okay.

A few journalists: *Digging around* What the actual fuck??????



Feminists: Ha, yeah, we’re not so scared of you and your words now are we? There’s a ton of us here. And people are starting to listen. EVERYONE. C’MON. PUUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.


Women and allies: PUUUUULLLLLLLLL.

Feminists watching from around the world: Hell yes! PUUUUULLLLLLLLL.



Government: Lah-lah-lah.

A few journalists: Um actually, we had a little look at this thing, and we think the women might have a point.


A few journalists: Now, come on, there is a proposed change to law, and this is a democracy, and they have some arguments that seem quite compelling, and there have been some things that have happened recently that seem to suggest that maybe there’s some substance to their concerns, and it seems like we should think this through.


A few journalists: We’re not sure that’s really helping your case. We think we’re going to start covering this in more depth.



Feminists watching from around the world: PUUUUULLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!

Major left-wing newspaper that has been steadfastly quiet: *ostentatiously clears throat* Um, actually we think the women might have a point.

Women and allies: *BACKFILPS*

Trans activists and allies at home and abroad: OMFG why is the British media so full of evil bigots??????

Women and allies: *Lying in a bundle panting* Whatfuckingever asshats.


On the Being of Female People

So, one of my recent pieces attracted a fairly long piece of critique. I’m not going to respond to the whole thing, but there was a couple of points I thought it might be interesting to get into  – mostly because they touch on stuff I’ve been turning over in general…


Criticism the first: I don’t understand how binaries work

“Jones touches on the erasure necessary to binary oppositions, but fails to grasp what it actually means.”

Okay, so… let’s kick things off with the assertion that I don’t really get what ‘erasure’ means with respect to binaries (ho ho, rightbackatcha). I’ve spent about 15 years thinking about it, but… fair enough, if you’re then going to display your infinitely greater understanding….

“Binaries are bad not just because they’re hierarchical, but because they deny everything outside those hierarchical categories.”

This ‘not just’ is a pretty massive tell… because, as we’ll get on to, packed inside it is basically the whole structure by which female people are oppressed/erased as female people…so yeah, no biggie. Evidently, not granting existence to female people isn’t really very important. What is far more important is that binaries don’t represent multiplicity correctly. This point is half right, but the elaboration is kind of scuppered by the fact that my critic doesn’t quite understand how binaries work…

“If the binary insists that everyone is either X or Y, and that X is superior to Y, then insisting that X people and Y people are naturally different but equal might be a slight improvement, but it doesn’t get any closer to dealing a reality where some people might be X in some ways and Y in others, or might indeed be A, B, C, gamma or theta. To “insist on the reality of both parts of a natural difference” – so, saying that some people are European, and others are African, and both are equally good – is still to reproduce the erasures imposed by colonialism. It obviously doesn’t offer much to, say, Asians or indigenous Australians, but even just talking about Africans, to group them together as “the other pole” is still to deny the existence and diversity of pre-colonial-binary identities.”

Okay… so a binary isn’t ‘X or Y.’ As I’ve said, binaries work by being both a) hierarchical and b) by defining the ‘inferior’ term by negation. A binary isn’t constituted as ‘X or Y,’ it’s constituted as ‘X and not-X.’ ‘European’ vs. ‘African’ is not a binary. The racial binary is constructed by white supremacy, and conceptually it functions around the contradiction, ‘white/not-white.’ So, to look at a specific instance, ‘Blackness’ is constituted by the white imagination as an inversion of the privileged qualities of ‘whiteness.’ (Particularly in this case, ‘civilized vs. not-civilized (primitive)’, ‘rational (mind) vs. not-rational (emotional, sensual, embodied), ‘human vs. not-human (animal).’

This whole thing gets into a right mess here, however, because the gender binary and racial binaries don’t map exactly onto each other. The gender binary is laid on top of the biological difference between male and female people. The racial binary isn’t actually one thing, because the ‘white/not-white’-structure functions in reality as a conceptual relation between ‘whiteness’ and various different ‘types’ of ‘non-whiteness.’ Therefore, you can’t make a straight analogy here.[1] The structure of the gender binary is harmful because it is hierarchical, and because it ties sexed bodies to certain types of acceptable social behaviours, but if we follow through on the analogy used here, what we get is the claim that the ‘real’ harm of the gender binary is that it erases the other ‘natural’ differences it’s laid on top of – i.e. that it erases the people who are neither male or female, which would be, actually, nobody.[2]

Gender Binary

Racial Binary/ies

Conceptual structure Masculine/Not-masculine White/Not-white
Biological difference Male/Not-male (i.e. female) White/Everyone who is not white (with specific contextual significations depending on different types of ‘not-white’)

Racial binaries are also built on far more culturally determined differences because race, unlike sex, is: a) much more spectrum-like b) capable of hybridization and c) what counts as ‘not-white’ is not only a matter of biological features, e.g. Irish, Italians and Latinos of predominantly ‘white’ heritage in the US.

What this confused analogy serves to do then, is to side-step the fact that the principle harm of the gender binary is that it functions to define female people as the negative image of male people, and removes female people’s cultural power to define themselves for themselves. (Which is not to say that there would be a singular definition of what ‘being female’ means to female people, were they to be able to get on with the job of creating their own signification (which we do do, in community with other women, to some degree, although, as we’ll see, nobody seems to much notice…)).

Moreover, to say that female people having the cultural power to define themselves would only be a “slight improvement” in the situation is a frickin joke. Male people ceasing to define female people in their own terms and through their own projections would be the end of patriarchy. What my critic fails to grasp here then, is that the harm of ‘not representing diversity’ in the negatively defined group is itself a product of the mechanism of projective definition – because defining something by inversion necessarily flattens the perception of variation into the uniformity of ‘not-x.’ It is, therefore, ultimately a product of the narcissism of patriarchal masculinity, and it is this structure of patriarchal inversion which was then repeated in the construction of the racial binary (or racial binaries). If you solve the problem of narcissistic patriarchal inversion, you then also solve the problem of the flattening of diversity in general. However, and this is key, my claim would be that the greatest challenge to that narcissistic structure comes from the irreducibility of sexual difference. The issue with ‘multiplicity’ or ‘diversity’ as a simple remedy to patriarchal narcissism is that it very easily collapses into a type of ‘inclusivity’ which tries to include everything inside a new kind of ‘one-ness.’ That is, my wariness about the idea that ‘inclusion’ or ‘diversity’ is a de facto good in all circumstances is very much related to my sense that it is informed by the desire to obviate the much harder work of actually learning how to relate across difference. That is, ‘inclusivity’ is animated by the patriarchal narcissistic impulse to collapse all difference back into sameness (while looking like it’s doing something to undermine it, and actually not).

“Of course, Jones could object that she actually wants “to spend a lot of time thinking through what [colonised people] are”, and that this effort would really mean understanding and respecting the full range and complexity of these identities.”

Woah there. First off, it’s pretty telling that you’re conducting this entire critique using the example of race, rather than sex, because as I’ve suggested, they don’t map exactly onto each other. Secondly, I would never make the statement you have put into my mouth there with your parenthetical sleight of hand. It is not my work to ‘spend a lot of time thinking about what colonised people are.’ Creating signification for themselves is the work of people who have been negatively defined by white power – which they have always been doing pretty spectacularly – and the work of using those significations to challenge dominant definitions is also theirs. This is fucking obvious.

“but if we’re talking about pre/non-colonial cultures, then again we’re back to social categories, not biological differences. And again, in such a case we’d be looking at a range of social identities that don’t fit neatly within a binary, which in turn sounds an awful lot like the dreaded “trans ideology”.

Firstly, as I’ve said, if you understood how binaries work, you’d understand that all of the variations are subsumed by the binary, because the ‘not-x’ covers everything that is not-x. In the case of the ‘not-white’ of the racial binary, that includes a ton of variation (and how it functions specifically depends on the particular context in which it is deployed i.e. the ‘white/not-white’ structure signifies differently when applied to say, white American/African-Americans than it does to white-Americans/Latino Americans. The crucial point, however, is that in both cases, the non-white group is defined by negation of the white group). In the case of the gender-binary it refers to the cultural meanings attached to female people (and the policing of femininity in male people arises from trying to ensure that the characteristics of the ‘inferior’ class don’t manifest in the ‘dominant’ class). And secondly, yes, the definitions of racial categories are more social than sexual difference. That’s also why you’re using that example rather than sexual difference isn’t it? Glad we’ve cleared that up.

Criticism the second: I believe in ‘eternal feminine essence’

“Jones goes on to assert that “It is, in fact, the existence of sexual difference that serves as the basis for resisting the patriarchal binary, because it is the existence of sexual difference which grounds the claim that the female has its own being, outside the definition imposed upon it by patriarchal opposition.”

We can agree that to resist the patriarchal binary, there needs to be something outside it, but for this something to be “the female… being” we’d need a bit more clarity about what that actually is. If it’s just physical difference, then I’m unconvinced that simply stating that some people have wombs is going to do that much to bring down the patriarchy; but if we’re talking about something beyond simple physical difference, claiming that “the female being” is some kind of eternal feminine that exists outside of patriarchal categories, then it seems like Jones has arrived at the conclusion that gender essentialism is actually good now, which sets her drastically at odds with the feminist tradition – when 1970s women’s lib marchers raised slogans like “biology is not woman’s destiny”, should they in fact have been telling the world “actually, biology is women’s destiny, but a slightly different one from what patriarchy says it is”?”

So, this is actually interesting, and it raises some issues we get into rather a lot on our own side. As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s not a matter of simply stating that some humans are of the sex-class capable of bearing young (I’m not going with ‘having wombs’ (or vaginas even – given the LostVaginaSongs hilarity over the nonsense efforts to undermine the existence of female people)). What it is a matter of is asserting the importance of female people producing their own definitions, and their own cultural significations, for themselves. It should be obvious that this isn’t an assertion of ‘eternal feminine essence,’ but it seems it’s really not. Here it is actually instructive to look at the parallels with race. It is evidently the case that ‘Blackness’ is not only a category constructed by whiteness, but is also a culturally meaningful term to Black people, and is imbued with cultural significations coming out of Black culture (and here there’s issues of the fact that there is not only one ‘Black culture,’ but, nonetheless, there are meaningful cultural histories, tropes, practices and narratives there). When one of my fellow Prince scholars writes something critiquing the way white culture elides Prince’s blackness, or commenting on the way Under the Cherry Moon is a self-conscious performance of Prince’s blackness, do I read him as claiming that there is an ‘eternal Black essence’? Yeah no, I don’t. And neither does anyone else. And it’s worth thinking about why that is.

This also touches on the question we ourselves keep getting snagged up in. I have repeatedly claimed that I consider ‘female’ to be a biological category, and that I consider ‘woman’ to be a biological/cultural composite. When I make that claim, many feminists I am allied with understand the ‘cultural’ dimension to refer only to the definition of ‘woman’ given by patriarchal culture – that is, to ‘patriarchal femininity’ or ‘gender’ in the feminist sense. And, to return to the origins of our own tradition in Beauvoir, it is indeed the case that that constitutes by far the largest part of what ‘woman’ currently means, and that this mechanism of the cultural definition of female people by male people, is, as I’ve suggested above, the central cultural operation of patriarchy. The place where I depart from a straight-forward gender-abolitionist account is that I think we are cultural creatures, and I don’t think the abolition of patriarchal gender would consist of there being no cultural meaning attached to sexed-bodies. I think rather it would consist of a culture in which the meaning of female bodies – and the forms of social life occupied by female bodies – was defined by female people.[3]

That this possibility is not even heard, by both allies and critics, is evidence, I think, of the absolute dominance of masculine signification. We recognise that an assertion of ‘Blackness’ by a Black artist isn’t an assertion of ‘eternal Black essence’ because we recognise that there is Black culture. That we don’t recognise the same thing with respect to a claim about female people signifying the ‘being of female people’ is evidence of nothing so much as the absence of women’s culture, or rather, the extent to which there is relatively little recognition, even among ourselves, of what that culture is, and/or would be. We have had half a century in which feminist women have variously worked at creating, and curating, and narrating that culture. We have poems and plays and songs and the recovered histories of our foremothers. Some of us name ourselves witches, and place ourselves deliberately in a somewhat mythic maternal genealogy with the women who were burned before us. And yet, when I talk about the ‘being of female people’ outside the terms of masculine definition, when I suggest that the whole structure would be utterly upended if female people had the power of signifying their own being, it apparently signifies nothing.

And that, if we think hard about it, tells us pretty much the whole tale.


[1] You could, at a push, argue that the ‘real’ problem with the racial binary is that it flattens the differences between various types of ‘non-whiteness’ – although given that these binaries actually function in specific contexts, I’d still be a little skeptical. What this would amount to then is something like the claim that the ‘real’ problem with the negative construction of ‘Blackness’ is that is doesn’t include Latino/as, and I suspect African-Americans might have some thoughts about that.

[2] I imagine what this person is actually driving at is that the gender binary is bad because it erases the multiplicity of possible gender presentations. They don’t quite get at this using the analogy they’re using for the reasons I’ve suggested…race is a much more social category than sex, the meaning of racial groups isn’t laid on top of such clear biological differences, and there is a multiplicity of those groups in a way there is not in the case of sexual difference. Anyway, to be charitable, let’s just scrap the analogy and take the claim as, ‘the gender binary is bad not only because it is a hierarchy but because it erases multiple gender presentations.’ In that case I’m going to agree. I’m not going to agree with the more-or-less explicit attempt to hand-wave away the hierarchical aspect as something to not get too worked up about…and to a certain extent, contained in this is a kernel of the whole conflict – people who conceive their oppression to reside in the social policing of their gender presentation vs. people who conceive their oppression to stem from gender as a social hierarchy imposed on sexed bodies. However, yes, the gender binary is also bad because of the way it ties certain social and gender performances to sexed bodies. Our claim is that the way to deal with that is not to try and abolish the recognition of sexual difference, but to abolish the system of patriarchal gender. It is further my claim that the way you do that is by allowing female people to signify their being for themselves. And the reason for this is because, as I’ve been suggesting, patriarchal gender functions by a process of inverting masculine narcissism, which cannot allow female people to signify for themselves. That is, if we had what Irigaray calls ‘a culture of sexual difference,’ that would, necessarily, be something completely other to a system of patriarchal gender – a system in which there would be far more fluidity in the types of acceptable expression, because there would be no binary.

[3] It seems that the confusion arises here because what I mean by ‘the being of female people’ is both the recognition that female people exist, and the recognition that female people get to define and elaborate what ‘being female’ means (and to be clear, it would hopefully turn out that what ‘being female’ means would involve rejecting a great deal of what it currently means, and resignifying most of what is left). That is, ‘the being of female people’ is both biological and cultural, because anything we might be able to say about what it means, is, necessarily, cultural. Because it is cultural, that doesn’t mean, however, that just anyone gets to define it. The importance of sexual difference, and the recognition of sexual difference, is precisely about the culture that would be created if female people were given the power of their own signification (which would be, effectively, the biological/cultural composite of ‘woman’ being defined by female people). While the meaning of ‘Blackness’ is cultural, there is still a massive political and cultural difference between ‘Blackness’ defined by white people in binary opposition to whiteness, and ‘Blackness’ as defined by Black people in their own terms. (And note here, when I use ‘Blackness’ here as a binary other of ‘whiteness’ I am referring to a specific application of the binary which refers to the relationship between African-American and white American culture).