So, in the light of the events in Toronto of the last few weeks, and especially the decision by Toronto City Council to review how the the library could possibly have let the evil. terven. speak, I got back into thinking about the work that analogies between gender critical feminism and Nazism are doing in this conflict.
We have to reflect on how incredible it is that a city council can vote almost unanimously to review library policies with the intent of ensuring that women speaking about their sexed-based rights ‘doesn’t happen again,’ and that nobody even stops to interrogate the basis of why these women should be censured. And this unthinking willingness has a great deal to do with how effectively trans rights discourse has convinced many that it’s completely normal to aggressively besiege women talking about their rights in libraries on the basis that such talk is hateful, and represents a ‘literally violent’ harm to trans women. I have talked elsewhere about some of the – totally implausible – ways this claim of harm has been filled out by trans ideology. But I was today reminded that a lot of the intuitive appeal is also resting on the analogy with Nazism and other forms of far-right or nationalist thinking.
So, anyway, while the actions in Toronto raise a pretty terrifying spectre of actual democratic abnegation, I thought I’d post the text and visuals from the talk I gave in Reading earlier this year, on the subject of why accusing feminists of being Nazis is a load of propagandist, totalitarian bullshit….
Access to the full PowerPoint presentation here.
Good evening everyone, thank you all for coming, and thank you especially to the University of Reading for hosting this event. Under the present political circumstances I think it’s vital that we continue to model public academic discourse, and the university’s commitment to that is immeasurably important, so yes, thank you to everyone who’s worked to make this event possible.
So, following on from Holly’s paper, I’d like to bring our attention to the way this debate is being both explicitly and implicitly structured by what we might understand as ‘metaphors of sovereignty,’ or what I’m going to call here, ‘the sovereign imaginary.’ I’m using ‘imaginary’ here in the Lacanian, or more specifically, Irigarayan sense, to talk about the way discourse is underpinned by certain spatialized images or topologies which express certain metaphysical assumptions, and which therefore function to structure our thinking about certain issues. And my general claim is that a great deal of what is happening in the present conversation is being determined by a set of metaphysical assumptions embedded in a particular imaginary, or, rather, in the rejection of a particular imaginary, and that we might be able to unpick some of the bad-thinking going on here if we can unpack that a little.
So, what I want to do here is basically two things.
First, I want to trace the structure of the sovereign imaginary for you, and explore the role that it’s playing in this conversation, with particular attention to how the left- wing rejection of the sovereign imaginary is underpinning the apparently unimpeachable moral imperative of ‘inclusion,’ and how this also helps us understand the intuitive appeal of the prima facie implausible claim that the political thought of left-wing radical feminist women is now indistinguishable from that of the Pope, Conservative Evangelicals, the alt-right, the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church.
Secondly, I want to explore why it is gratuitously inappropriate to posit that female people’s desire to be protected from males is an expression of the sovereign imaginary, and should be legitimately censured as such by all decent right-thinking people. As we’ll see in more depth, as well as being the animating principle of right- wing nationalism and its nostalgia for primordial ethnic purity, the sovereign imaginary is the fundamental ontological infrastructure of patriarchal masculinity. Women’s bodies are the territory on which male fantasies of purity and virginity and invasion and conquest are played out. And the meaning of those fantasies is evidently very different for the women whose bodies are marked by them, than for the males who enact them, unless, of course, you’ve forgotten that women actually exist in their own right, and have their own experiences of the world distinct from the projections of the masculine imagination.
So, as some of you know, my background is in French post-structuralist philosophy, and in particular, in the Derridean and psychoanalytic feminist strand of post- structuralist thought. As I’ve discussed in some detail on my blog, another of the tropes of the present conversation is the tendency to attribute the erasure of materiality we see in trans ideology to ‘postmodernism’ or ‘post-structuralism,’ understood as a kind of ‘discourse all the way down’ idealism. To my mind, however, post-structuralism is principally an ontological project aimed at critiquing the metaphysical structure we are discussing here today under the sign of sovereignty, although that is only one of its many possible manifestations.
In my work I have chosen to discuss this figure under the sign of sovereignty because this points us most clearly towards the intertwining of power and authority with the incision of space. Sovereignty is a spatial, or territorial, structure, and, as Wendy Brown points to here, it comes into existence only through the creation of demarcated borders, axiomatically imagined – because of the invulnerability imperative which drives sovereign logic – through the image of high, impregnable walls.
The ontology of the sovereign imaginary thus has several notable characteristics, the first of which is:
- Boundedness – A defined or delimited spatial area in which the inside is clearly demarcated from the outside.
- Internal self-identity. According to the ideal of the sovereign imaginary, and, to underline, we are not talking here about the composition of actual sovereign states, we’re taking about a sovereigntist or nationalist imaginary, the area inside the border is marked by a perfect and pure homogeneity. It is a realm of absolute sameness. Which therefore also implies.
- External exclusion. In order for the inside to be perfectly self-same, everything outside, or other, must be rigorously excluded. The crucial point to grasp here then is that the sovereign imaginary is the fundamental figure of all purity logics, in which the purity of the inside can only be maintained by excluding anything other or different which might pollute or contaminate it.
Okay, so I think it’s fairly evident how this kind of spatialized purity logic is at play in the drive to sovereignty which is presently fueling the right-wing populism of both Trump and Brexit, and specifically, the tendency to respond to economic insecurity by retreating into the fantasy of absolute territorial security promised by enclosing the homeland within impregnable borders. The President of the United States has never given a cogent account of why the Great Wall of Trump will ‘Make America Great Again’, just as the Brexiteers can’t actually explain why unplugging us from our economic matrices before we’ve rebuilt our domestic economy will cure a malaise that is fundamentally economic in nature, but the whole point is that they don’t actually need to provide a cogent account of anything, because the power of their discourse relies entirely on the sovereign imaginary, and the networks of anxiety and invulnerability it mobilizes.
My own intellectual interest in the sovereign imaginary has a lot to do with how fantasies of invulnerability necessarily involve a denial of dependency and the way that leads, more or less inexorably, to acts of domination, colonization and appropriation, whether that be of ‘unconquered’ territory, or ‘unconquered’ bodies. What is primarily at play in this debate, however, is the somewhat more straightforward observation that the drive to ”keep the outside out” as Derrida would say, is often about those on the inside needing to evacuate their anxiety by xenophobically projecting it outside themselves, onto the other, as is manifestly the case with respect to Brexit and Trump. And it’s this structure – and the instinctive left- wing antipathy to this structure – which is, I’d argue, undergirding a number of crucial claims in this debate:
1. That all acts of ‘exclusion’ are always and only motivated by the projection of anxiety or fear. That such fears are necessarily irrational, and that any reasons given for exclusion are always and only a pretext for the psychological benefits accrued by the projection of fear and/or hatred, i.e. they are scapegoating. This is where the claim that any expression of women’s political interests in this conflict is in fact transphobia gets all its traction from.
2. From this, it would follow that there are never any legitimate grounds to exclude, that ‘inclusion’ is a universal moral good, and ‘exclusion’ a universal moral harm. It’s worth noting here that there moral opprobrium denoted by the word ‘TERF’ inheres entirely in the word ‘exclusionary,’ despite the fact that advocates of trans ideology will happily argue that queer, trans and people of colour have the right to exclude, an inconsistency which effectively amounts to the denial that women are oppressed qua women, more of which later.
3. The left-wing recognition that these sovereigntist mechanisms are inherent in all forms of atavistic and ethnic nationalisms, as well as all discourses of ethnic and racial purity or superiority, is, moreover, providing the intuitive infrastructure of the claim that someone like me – a Marxist, post-structuralist, radical eco-feminist – is, in fact, a white supremacist neo-Nazi.
4. And it’s this association between gender critical feminism and various iterations of right-wing ideology which is further giving credence to the claim that our speech is hate speech, that it is ‘literal violence,’ that by expressing our views we are harming trans people and inciting harm against trans people, and that, therefore, it is legitimate for our speech to be censured.
So, we’re just going to look a few examples of how this plays out in the discourse, and to be clear, as always, the principle object of my concern is the discourse as it’s being practiced out there in the public sphere, rather than in a purely academic context, so all of my examples here will be from twitter.
The first is from a human rights activist from New Zealand. At the time this was tweeted I got into an exchange with the writer, both because I was struck that she could go through this thought process as if she was having an entirely original insight, given how rhetorically well-worn these associations are, and, as we’ll see in the next part of my argument, because of all the reasons why it is inappropriate to apply this analogy to women’s exclusion of males.
Here’s some more examples making evident the way the rejection of a sovereign logic of exclusion, boundedness, purity and corruption is underpinning the moral opprobrium being mobilized against gender critical women, and how frequently that is expressed through analogies between gender critical feminism and racism.
Further examples of the association between gender critical feminism and fascism or racism, from two people of note in this debate, the transactivist Canadian politician Morgane Oger, and the transactivist philosopher and cyclist Rachel McKinnon, as well as a tweet from the philosopher Jason Stanley linking ’hysteria’ about trans women to fascism.
I’d like to take a moment here just to underline the inaccuracy and absurdity of elements of these statements. McKinnon’s claim that gender critical women are always white is just factually untrue, and is an erasure of Black radical feminists and the women from the global South who are resisting the arrival of trans ideology in their nations. Oger, hilariously, seems to think that Nazis had some kind of leftish political aversion to being called Nazis. And Stanley gets close to implying that anyone who criticizes Judith Butler is probably a fascist, which I’m sure is news to Martha Nussbaum. We’ll come back to Stanley’s work on fascism a bit later.
A couple of really explicit invocations of the critique of sovereign purity logic from a conversation I had with Morgane Oger.
This was quite an interesting exchange… given that I wrote my PhD on sovereigntism and its connection to sexual and colonial violence, I was kind of like ‘yes Morgane, I have considered it.’
Lastly, a variety of tweets linking ‘TERF’s with Nazism, racism, white supremacy, and the Ku Klux Klan, including a number of tweets justifying violence and censuring of gender critical feminists on that basis.
Okay, so, as I I’ve suggested here, I actually have a great deal of time for the critique of the sovereign imaginary. It was developed by French philosophers, many of them Jewish, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and it is, indeed, an incredibly useful analytic for understanding the mechanics of ethnic fascism and racial supremacy, among other things. However, as I’ve also intimated, my problem here is that applying this analytic to the position of female people in a patriarchal culture is wildly inappropriate, for several reasons I will go on to elucidate.
First off, the main reason that I, as a feminist philosopher, spent the best part of my training studying the structure of the sovereign imaginary, from its early Greek appearance in Parmenidean Being and the Platonic idea, to its rebirth in modernity in the figure of the Cartesian cogito, is because, as well as illuminating the mechanics of ethno-fascism, the sovereign imaginary is also the fundamental ontological infrastructure of patriarchal masculinity. It’s not an accident that along with ‘the metaphysics of presence,’ and ‘the economy of the same,’ one of the philosophical epithets for this ontological infrastructure is ‘phallocentrism,’ or, in Derrida’s memorable coining, ‘phallogocentrism.’ The sovereign imaginary is, I’d argue, the architecture of that impossible fantasy of narcissistic omnipotence, mastery, and impenetrable potency that psychoanalysis calls ‘the phallus’ – the figure of the phallic-ego, which, according to Lacan, is ”symbolized in dreams by a fortress.”
Okay, so, before I go on with this next part of the argument I just want to stop and do a little more unpacking of how the sovereign imaginary is structuring this conversation, and specifically, the gendering and sexualization of that structuring.
So, to return to our sovereign circle as the representation of the bounded incision of space.
First off, evidently, we are fighting about access to spaces, and we can include in this actual physical spaces, as well as virtual, social and conceptual spaces. It’s worth briefly noting here that the language we use to talk about the determination of meaning is also explicitly spatialized, we talk about de-fining, and de-lineating concepts. And it’s worth further noting that while I am a great advocate of both/and thinking, and of not thinking things that are not spatialized spatially, we are here talking about access to spaces, and that means that we are dealing with an either/or choice – either spaces and resources are provided on the basis of sex, or they are provided on the basis of gender identity…that means that in this case, rights are actually a pie, and for the trans rights movement to insist that changing the basis of the allocation of spaces has no effect on female people is, at best, extremely disingenuous.
Anyway, what I particularly want to highlight here is the extent to which the thinking of spaces, and the meaning of entering spaces, is gendered and sexualized in the sovereign imaginary. That becomes evident, for example, if we think back to a couple of the words associated with the inside of the circle of sovereignty in our earlier diagram. What this comes down to is that the sovereign imaginary thinks bodies as territory and territory as bodies, it thinks sexual penetration through the territorial metaphors of invasion and conquest, and territorial invasion through sexual metaphors. Indeed, this is not a case of merging only in ‘rhetoric and metaphor.’ Acts of invasion are almost always accompanied by rape. And the structure of the sovereign imaginary is at play in why that is the case.
So what we’re going to do now is explore how what we’ve just looked at, which I’d call ‘the metaphysics of penetration,’ plays out in the sovereign imaginary, and in particular, in its most extreme ethno-fascist iterations.
So, the first thing to understand, returning to our Lacanian idea of the phallic- ego as fortress is that patriarchal masculinity is fundamentally structured by the imperative of invulnerability as impenetrability. While, by contrast, women are constructed as penetrable, as either virgin or conquered territory. This, while we’re here, is the basis of the traditional patriarchal horror of male homosexuality, which is driven by the fear of being made woman through penetration.
This metaphoric infrastructure is what is at play in ethno-fascist invocations of foreign or racialized others as sexual threat, figured either, or both, as a threat to the body of the nation or group, or, most often, as a threat to the bodies of women as ciphers for the body of the nation or group.
We see this, for instance, in Islamophobic claims that Europe is in the grip of a Muslim rape epidemic, a trope which recurs in the thought of the Norwegian ethno- fascist mass-murderer Anders Breivik and which I’ve written about previously. We see it in the deployment of fears about Black men raping white women, and the horrendous role such narratives played during slavery and segregation, and we see it in Trump’s charge that Mexican immigrants are rapists and that immigration is the reason why, allegedly, “Women are [being] raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.”
Jason Stanley, who we met earlier criticizing the ‘hysteria’ about trans women, touches on this in his recent book, How Fascism Works.
See above quote.
Clearly, Stanley understands here that fascist rhetoric functions by using the specter of rape as a threat to the purity of the nation in its psycho-ontological interrelation with patriarchal manhood, but his understanding is a little blunt, because, I’d argue, he doesn’t fully grasp the structure of the sovereign imaginary, and crucially for our argument here, how the sovereign imaginary plays out its interwoven sexual and territorial anxieties by projecting them onto the bodies of women. In fact, women – the ‘members of the chosen nation’ who will be raped by the targeted group – have been invisibilised in this citation because, notably, and this is one way of stating the crux of my argument, it’s not women who experience rape as a threat to their impenetrable manhood.
As this image makes almost comically apparent, what is going on in ethno-fascist invocations of rape is, to be blunt, masculine penetration anxiety, and note here also the colour scheme of the escalator and the cliffs, and the way it alludes to the racialised dynamics at work. I’d also like to stop here for a moment and observe that images like this are kind of indicative of why I have such a huge problem with being lectured about how unimportant genitals are, and being told that my concerns are ‘creepy.’ A vast swath of the psycho-ontological infrastructure of our culture is informed by the morphology of genitals and the resultant metaphysics of sex, and until we have taken phallocentrism apart in its deepest aspects, I reserve the right to think that genitals matter very much indeed.
Okay, so, finally, after a fair amount of backstory we get to the point, which is this. All of this projected penetration anxiety about the other as rapist, and the playing out of fantasies of absolute sovereign security on the bodies of women is all about men’s symbolic systems, and has almost nothing to do with actual women’s actual experience of sexual violation, along the entire continuum from unwanted predatory looking and touching to sexual assault. The kind of men who whip up fears about the other-as-rapist are markedly unconcerned, indeed, are usually the first to flatly deny, the existence of any kind of ‘epidemic’ of rape that does not cross racialised lines, because, for them, the crime only signifies within the sovereign imaginary. Such men are frequently extreme misogynists, evaluate women on the basis of a stark hierarchy of sexual purity and pollution, and, as in the case of Breivik, will frequently link immigration-cum-rape to feminism’s alleged emasculation of the nation and corruption of women’s sexual morals. They are, moreover, wedded to a logic of phallic sexual dominance and often, the heroism of conquest by force. It is no coincidence that the man obsessed with the Great Big Wall is also, infamously, the Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief.
All of this is a million miles away from what rape means to women and why radical feminism is so centrally concerned with the devastation of women’s lives by rape. There is nothing in male discourses about purity and pollution and conquest and invasion that expresses concern for the actual harm caused to actual women by sexual trauma, and the fact that we are damaged not by an invasion of territory but rather, by a profound assault on our humanity and personhood. We are not just bits of land on which men play out their sovereigntist fantasies and battles, we are persons, in our own right, and assaults against our personhood mean what they mean, to us. We are not worried, for example, about non-female people in rape crisis centres because we trying to recreate the primordial tribal purity of women and have, to that end, conjured a figment of invading contaminating males. We are worried about male-bodied people in rape crisis centres because they are highly likely to be a source of trauma to women who have been sexually assaulted by males. To assimilate women’s concerns about compromises to their dignity, comfort, and sexual safety to ethno-fascist discourses structured by masculinist metaphysics, is, therefore, to deny that women have their own experience of the world apart from male symbolic projections, to effectively position women as men, and hence, most fundamentally, to erase the specificity of women’s own existence. It is to insist that women, and especially feminist women, understand and experience male violence in masculine symbolic terms, when our entire political project is precisely about challenging the assumptions of the phallic construction of our social world. To wit, what rape means to feminist women is not the same as what rape means to phallocentric right-wing racist white men, and it’s actually absurd, and exhibits profound disregard for women’s experience, to suggest otherwise.
Which brings me to my second point, one which echoes the argument Holly just made.
It’s no accident that the examples we just looked at of fascist rhetoric all featured white people, and specifically, white men, using sovereign purity logic to construct non-white men as a threat. Indeed, being able to comfortably read an accusation that an other constitutes a threat as an illegitimate instance of ethno-fascist logic depends, in good part, on the accuser being a member of a dominant class attempting to vilify a member of a minority class. Notably, according to left-wing political rubric, if a member of a minority class claims that a member of a dominant class is a threat to them or is trying to dominate them, the tendency is for them to be believed.
By left-wing political logic then, the entire claim that it’s ethno-fascist for feminist women to be concerned about giving trans women unilateral access to our spaces must rely on positing women unambiguously as the dominant class vis-à-vis trans women. Indeed, left wing political thinking accepts without hesitation the claim that minority classes have the right to exclude oppressor classes from their spaces and resources, in order to allow them to organise and congregate away from those who are perceived to be a source of harm.
Given that female people are an oppressed class, and that sex, along with race and class, is one of the three main axes of structural oppression, it is then, somewhat staggering that vast chunks of purportedly progressive people have been swayed by an analysis which only holds if we deny that women are oppressed qua women, and that posits, instead, that we are a dominant and privileged class, and hence, that the protection of our spaces and resources is analogous to the exclusion of racial minorities by white supremacists.
One of the main ways this has been effected, I’d argue, is by the creation of the cis/trans binary, a device which functions to posit all non-trans people, and hence, ‘cis’ women, as the de facto oppressors of trans people. This strategy has been supplemented by a massive amount of rhetoric aimed at underlining the absolute vulnerability of trans people, while simultaneously hand-waving women’s appeals to their own vulnerability and oppression as ‘weaponization’ or ‘scaremongering.’ The result of this is that spaces and resources allocated to female people to protect them from male people, or to compensate them for structural disadvantages incurred by living in a male-dominated society, have been recontextualised as egregious instances of exclusionary privilege which must rightly be taken away without due process or protest. And notably, the cis/trans binary underpinning this works according to exactly the kind of inside/outside, us and them structure characteristic of sovereign purity logic, and posits ‘cis’ women, unequivocally, as the ‘bad other’. The trans rights movement’s claim that ‘cis’ is just an innocuous Latin prefix which merely distinguishes trans from non-trans people is, hence, I’d argue, another instance of extreme disingenuity.
How we are to correctly understand the power relations between women and trans women is a complicated and difficult question. Trans women’s position vis-a-vis women is not straightforward, because they are both and at the same time a vulnerable minority, and, with respect to women, members of the oppressor class. This, to a great degree, is what is fuelling the conflict over the attempt to change definitions from sex to gender identity, because women, and especially women with a developed awareness of male dominance, strongly object to the demand that we must not perceive, and must not name, male people as male. According to the doctrine of gender identity, what I have just said is, in itself, a heresy which constitutes an act of hatred, but I would strongly assert that it is simply a fact, that moreover, in a world of male dominance it is a highly pertinent fact, and that decreeing that women may not even utter this fact is an act of mass gaslighting on a scale I would never have conceived. To wit, women are not concerned about the presence of trans women in women’s spaces because we are determined to mobilise sovereign logic against a demonised sexual minority or are obsessed with the purity of some mythical idea of ‘womanhood.’ We are concerned about the presence of trans women in women’s spaces because trans women are male, and women are oppressed by male people.
If then, as Holly suggests, we emphasise trans women vulnerability vis-à-vis the larger class of males, what we have is a rights-conflict over resources between two vulnerable groups who are both subject to patriarchal violence, and which should be adjudicated as such. If, on the other hand, we emphasise trans women status as males vis-à-vis female people, what we have is members of the dominant class attempting to colonise the resources of the subjugated class. I think there’s truth to both of these readings, but I’d like to underline here that the trans rights movement’s present strategy of trying to aggressively coerce women’s boundaries could not be a more effective method of making us incline towards the second interpretation. And what that means, effectively, is that what the trans rights movement likes to characterise as a dominant class scapegoating and violently excluding a vulnerable minority, we are experiencing as an attempt to resist an act of coercive domination by our historic oppressor. And people wonder why this debate is so toxic.
Before I go onto my final point, with respect to the degree that trans ideology’s moral calculus rests on denying that women are oppressed, I’d just like to pause to look at this exchange, which took place between myself and the Georgetown Philosophy Professor, Rebecca Kukla. The conversation ensued from my responding to a woman who was claiming that because she, as a rape survivor, doesn’t feel the need to exclude trans women from female spaces, then apparently no women should feel that need.
And I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that if you find your ideology necessitates denying that female people are oppressed qua female people, it’s anti- feminist.
What the discussion in our previous point shows then, is that the evaluation of a demand for access to spaces or resources is inflected by our understanding of the power relation between the two parties. A wealthy, largely white, sovereign nation attempting to deny asylum or immigration status to poor, non-white refugees or migrants by casting them as a sexual threat to the purity of the body politic is quite different from say, efforts by Native Americans to resist further encroachment on tribal lands. The fact that advocates of trans ideology would, correctly I think, defend the right of queer, trans, and people of colour to their own spaces, and indeed, are adamant about the necessity of excluding gender critical women from public discourse because it violates their notional ‘safe space,’ suggests that not even those who wield the charge of ‘exclusion’ as if it was an invariant mark of moral turpitude really think it is invariant. Sometimes, that is, there are reasons why excluding people is morally justified.
This becomes even more readily apparent if we attempt to entirely dispense with thinking about this issue from within the infrastructure of the sovereign imaginary. To the trans woman who suggested in the NYT that ‘womanhood’ was like a land she could immigrate to, and that anyone who would exclude her was essentially a Trumpian wall-builder, what I want to say is this. Women, are not, in fact, countries.
And neither are changing rooms, or consciousness raising classes, or rape crisis centers. What we are talking about, when we talk about women’s boundaries, is not first and foremost an incision of space, but an expression of women’s needs. We inscribe spaces and set them apart because doing so allows them to fulfil certain functions and meet certain needs. When we express concern about the presence of male people in female people’s space it is because including male people in those spaces will impact the way they meet female people’s needs. And justice, I’d argue, is a matter of recognizing and adjudicating between people’s needs, not applying some facile rubric of ‘inclusion good’ ‘exclusion bad.’
What is actually going on here, when we strip away all the sovereign metaphors, is a stand off between two groups of people and their needs. Trans women want to be included in female people’s spaces because it affirms their identity as women and gives them protection from the people who are actually a threat to them, namely men. Female people are concerned about how we may be impacted or harmed by including people who are not female in female people’s spaces. Given that trans women are male, that male people are socialized in a culture which inculcates male dominance, and that female people are oppressed by male people, we maintain that our concerns are not a confection of ethno-fascist scaremongering, that we have every right to raise them, and that full and open consideration should be given to the implications of changing all provision which has hitherto been provided to women on the basis of sex. We maintain, furthermore, that what is actually going on under all this rhetorical sovereign window-dressing, and the reason why progressive people seem suddenly so confused about whether women are an oppressed class with rights to their own resources, is, when it comes down to it, the wide-spread and age-old intuition that male people’s needs should be prioritized over female people’s. Male people have a need and are in pain, female people, as ever, are expected to bend, and accommodate, and give service to that need, even at their own expense, and those that refuse to comply are hateful and unkind, those who insist that women have their own needs, will be persistently, violently and indeed, gleefully, vilified.
Which is all to say, that what is going on here, actually, is just patriarchy as usual. Thank you.
A thoughtful essay that serves to clarify the deliberate obfuscation of trans ideology. Thank you.
This illuminates brilliantly why TRA discourse sounds so insane. If I understand your talk correctly, there seems to be a kind of discursive DARVO going on in transactivism, in that women are being falsely accused by men of behaving according to the same sort of sovereign imaginary that men use as an excuse to control women while we’re actually attempting to escape the harms of that control. I’ve often thought many men view women in a weird, dissociative way, seeing our bodies and empathy as desirable territory whose resources they want to exploit but our personhood and will as border guards unfairly denying access. Trans rights activism seems to be declaring some men endangered refugees so that women’s enforcement of boundaries becomes the equivalent of a human rights violation.
Also, Rebecca Kukla’s assertions that women constitute an oppressed class but the subset of female women do not are a bit confusing. The one formal philosophy course I took as an undergrad was in logic, and my understanding is that if an assertion is true for an entire class, it’s true for any subset of that class. But, then, I’m not a professor of philosophy, and the thing I learned most thoroughly in my own Ph.D. program is that agreement with men is a better strategy than female solidarity for women who want academic careers.
Thank you for this.
“Also, Rebecca Kukla’s assertions that women constitute an oppressed class but the subset of female women do not are a bit confusing.”
It’s TRA logic. I have come to realize that TRAs do not want to be considered equal to women, they want to be seen as more woman than women.
TRAs are extremely misogynistic, and the fact that so many women kiss up to them to show how “WOKE” they are is distressing.
I think your central claim — that people refuse to see women as oppressed — is one that needs more elaboration and airtime. Oppression is victimization and we all know how much people do not want to be seen as victimized, and will go so far as to deny their own victimization. So we are in the realm of psychology. The victim of oppression has her own reasons for not wanting to be identified as a victim; and the oppressor has his own reasons for not wanting to identify the victims as victims. They are not the same reasons. That so many women are propping up this male illusion that they are the victims of totalitarian women speaks to the hatred of acknowledging one’s own victimization. When males see women as totalitarian, it seems pretty clear they are seeing “woman” as “mommy”, since “mommy” is the central and possibly only woman who has ever had power over them. I would suggest the boy child’s view of “mommy” is mediated by the male gaze. He learns to repudiate women who hold power from “daddy”, both literal and figural.
Thank you for such a well-reasoned and eminently sane discussion.
I have to admit I was reading along and drumming my fingers a bit, thinking, “Well, actually …”
But, as usual, you hit it on the bullseye as usual: “What is actually going on here, when we strip away all the sovereign metaphors, is a stand off between two groups of people and their needs.”
It’s been self-evident to me that the whole cis-women-are-privileged BS depends on women being utterly invisible as real humans. But I didn’t see so clearly that the mental trick men use to accomplish this is applying their good old Boys Club, Us-vs-Them mentality. (aka testosterone poisoning?)
The mental image of bunches of boys fighting over territory, which just happens to be real human women they can’t even see, is harrowing.
This is great – I enjoyed the journey you took us along to the inevitable conclusion – wish I could have been at the conference itself to hear Holly’s talk too. Thank you!