Purity Spirals, Political Alliances, and Movement Building

I know I said I was going for a while, and I will be going for a while, but I said that before the news broke from the US. And it is both horrifying, and horribly clarifying.

There has over the last week been another painful eruption of a rift that has been erupting intermittently for the last four years. This rift is not, for me, a personal or individual matter. My concerns are not about personalities or power or recognition, or trying to shore up the power of a group of ‘elite’ women against the voices of ‘ordinary’ women. It pains me enormously when women feel their contributions aren’t valued because it is not true that the only work that matters in this movement is the sort of stuff that gets you good marks at school.[1] I know many women feel wounded around that, and I understand that women do not get enough recognition in this world, and often have to struggle damn hard to even have a chance of becoming what they have the potential to become. Which is part of why I fight for us and why I have said, and mean it with every fibre of my body, that all the work is valuable. There is nobody in this movement who is nobody. We have created, together, the most living, breathing, vibrant, colourful, powerful, political force I could ever have hoped to be involved in. And every single thing that every woman does, matters.

For me, this rift is about politics not personalities. It is about building a political movement, and about whose political interests that movement represents.

Because when it comes down to it, that is what political movements are about.

The movement that I have been involved in – that I have tried to contribute to us building together – is, first and foremost, about representing the interests of women as a class. It is about defending the political existence of women as a sex class, the rights and resources that flow from that, and about resisting the harm destroying women as a political class will do to female people, especially the most vulnerable among us. It is, secondly, about defending the rights of gay men and lesbians to draw boundaries around their same sex attraction, and because we are a pro-women movement opposed to male dominance and male coercion, it is particularly about defending lesbian women’s sexual boundaries. Lastly, because we are women, and many women are mothers, it is also about defending children and the developmental process that enables them to reach mental and sexual maturity. Grounded on gender critical feminist principles, our concerns rest on critiquing the conservative imposition of patriarchal gender norms on children and preventing the medicalisation of gender non-conforming children, many of whom will become gay men and lesbian women. As a pro-woman movement, we have a particular interest in the staggering increase in young trans identifying females, and in drawing attention to the harm being done to GNC and lesbian girls, and all the young women traumatised by going through puberty in a violent patriarchal society that turns them into sexual objects when they are barely even pubescent.

I do not think there is anything ‘academic’ or ‘theoretical’ about this.

I think it is about defending women against manifest harms to them, and harms to their children.

I think it is about representing women’s political interests, and the political ground we are defending those interests on.

There is a lot of talk out there at the moment about purity spirals and purity politics. I understand why, and I agree with a lot of it. We are up against a political movement which is basically the incarnation of a medieval puritan witch hunt. We are dealing day-in day-out with a bunch of pious narcissistic assholes who are smashed out of their heads on self-righteousness and spend their time running around raising Twitchfork mobs because someone who claims to be ‘A Member of the Elect’ once sat in a pub next to someone who once liked a tweet by someone who follows J.K. Rowling. We are dealing with a totalitarian cult that demands complete and total compliance with every single one of their bullshit claims, bullshit analogies, and all their bullshit hyperbole and emotional blackmail. That mandates that none of the many staggeringly harmful implications of their reality denying batshittery is so much as mentioned, let alone interrogated, and accuses anyone who mentions it of being every kind of political monster in human history.

It is important to all of us, I think, that we are not a cult. It is important that we oppose the authoritarianism of contemporary trans rights politics, and the abject political intolerance and piety of the ‘social justice/wokeist’ left more generally. It is important that we allow people to express their political opinions freely, and to respect the fact that we don’t all have to agree about everything. It is important not to replicate the black and white ‘us’ vs ‘them,’ ‘goodies’ vs ‘baddies’ binary bullshit that is being constantly churned out by the people who are always piously lecturing us about smashing the fucking binary.

There is a type of negative politics that is about ‘us’ vs ‘them,’ and hatred, and projection, and ‘othering’ and intolerance. But there is also a form of positive politics that is about standing for certain groups of people’s actual material interests in the world. The trans rights movement has tried to silence and censure us by positioning us as all about hatred and othering, by claiming we are ‘anti-trans’ Nazi bigots. In response, we have consistently argued that we are not ‘anti-trans,’ but ‘pro-woman.’ That what we are doing is defending the political interests of women, and the analysis of the oppression of women as a sex class, and that if a bunch of people come along a start telling us that women’s political interests are a hate crime, they can kindly fuck the fuck off.

It is, of course, possible – and indeed, desirable – to talk to people who do not share your political opinions or political interests. It is possible to not think they are entirely bad people, and of course, there are very few people who are entirely bad. It is not necessary to piously sneer at people you have fundamental disagreements with, or completely rubbish them as humans, or paint them as monsters, or get your rocks off by posing around about how pure and good you are and how terrible and evil they are, as if that does anything to really improve how badly the world treats people anyway. And it is not acceptable to try and stop people expressing their political views, to try and get them fired from their jobs, or to manipulatively leverage a distorted discourse of safety and harm in order to enforce your political project on the rest of society without due democratic discussion and political scrutiny of its tenets or implications.

All of us should oppose a discourse of political purity that others and monsters people you do not politically agree with, and even those with diametrically opposing political interests.  All of us should oppose a discourse that seeks to use that monstering to deny anyone political voice, the right to represent their own political interests, and to make their own arguments in those interests. And we should all oppose it because it is inimical to the very fabric and functioning of democracy.

But democracy also works best when there are different groups of people standing for the interests of different groups of people. The movement that I, and I believe many of us, have been so involved in building, is a pro-woman movement based on gender critical feminist principles. It is not political purity politics to assert that people who have just successfully enacted a political act that is manifestly hostile to the political interests of women – and will cause untold harm to women – cannot, by definition, be part of a movement that is about representing the interests of women as a class, and are not, in fact, allies of any movement that is genuinely grounded in representing women’s political interests. The interests of people who know what a woman is and will use that knowledge to take away women’s freedom are not the same as the interests of people who know what a woman is and understand that we need that knowledge in order to defend women’s rights from the kind of people who would take them away.

This is not a matter of just ‘talking to’ people you disagree with, or respecting their rights to speak, or not monstering them like a pious asshole. It is not about which newspaper you read, or write in, or even about what chat show host you speak to. It is about making concrete political cause, in the name of women’s rights, with people who are actively engaged in a successful program to dismantle women’s right to reproductive freedom, and, by the looks of things, will come for gay men and lesbians next. Our opposition to trans ideology is based on the critique of gender, and on understanding that patriarchy works as a system that controls women as a reproductive resource. The right to abortion, and the right to contraception – which is now also under threat in the States – is at the very heart of the political ground we are standing on. The people we have been saying we should not stand in material political alliance with have been engaged in a many decade long campaign to turn women back into male controlled reproductive units. Matt Walsh has ‘theocratic fascist’ on his Twitter bio, and he is not just having a laugh. It is not hyperbole to say that these people are fucking Gilead coming down the pipes.

From ‘Women and the Religious Right,’ Jayne Egerton, Radical Notion Issue 5

The only sense in which we can be ‘allies’ with someone like Matt Walsh and his friends over at The Daily Wire, or the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), or the Heritage Foundation, is if our movement is not actually grounded in being ‘pro-woman,’ and is, rather, as the TRAs constantly tell us, only about being ‘anti-trans’ to the exclusion of women’s other core political interests. We argue constantly with the TRAs when they call us right-wing, Nazis, the alt-right, Christian fundamentalists. We point out correctly that knowing that male and female people exist is as much a sign of political alignment as knowing that the sea is wet. We point out that there are three political positions here, which they keep collapsing into a false binary, and that gender critical people do not object to trans ideology for the same conservative reasons that people like Matt Walsh do. We point out that we are not going to be emotionally blackmailed and gaslit and manipulated into subjugating women’s rights to the demands of the trans rights movement by them constantly calling us Nazis and telling us we are being used as stooges by the Christian right.

But if that is what we say, then it is a matter of political truth-telling that we walk the talk. It is a matter of actually representing the interests of who we say we are representing. The TRAs say we are in alliance with extremely right-wing patriarchal men who are hostile to women’s rights and gay rights and that this shows that our movement is a sham, that it is nothing but a front. We tell them, all the time, that that is a gratuitous smear and a lie they are using to politically coerce us. And it matters that when we tell them it’s a lie, we are telling the truth. It matters because the power and success of this movement, and everything we have won against the odds, has come from the fact that we are speaking truth to power. It matters because we are defending the very structure of reality and the political interests of women that follow directly from that reality. It matters because when we say that women are oppressed as a reproductive sex class, and we are standing against an ideology that will disappear and cover over the interests of women as a reproductive sex class, that is actually what we are doing. It matters that when we say we are pro-woman, that that is the truth.

If that is not the truth of who we are, then I do not believe we will win this political fight.

And if that is not the truth of who we are, then it may be the case that we should not win this political fight, because the harm to the people we claim to be fighting for will be astronomical.

I do not believe that this is purity politics.

I believe it is a matter of standing in truth for the political interests of who you say you are standing for.

This is also not about a tribal politics of left versus right, Tory bad/Labour good. It is not about supporting your political side with the blind devotion of your favourite football team. There are many of us who have come from the left who now feel politically homeless, who feel abandoned and betrayed by political forces that have so transparently and callously placed the interests of males above the interests of women, while constantly gaslighting us about ‘the right side of history.’ The women in the United States are now pincered between two powerful patriarchal forces. Between those who are enacting a foundational form of patriarchal oppression on women’s bodies, annihilating our humanity by reducing us to reproductive vessels, and those who would erase us in law, and will defend our reproductive rights but refuse to recognise our very existence and the fact that it is because of our bodies that we can be subjected to oppression and control in this most ancient and axiomatic of ways.

What it means to me, above all, to say that I come at this fight from the left, is that I come at it from understanding that we are fighting for the material interests of women as a class. That we are fighting against a system of male power that has dehumanised, exploited, and traumatised us, for thousands of years, by using us as a resource to meet male needs and male interests. There is, again, nothing ‘academic’ about this. This is force and violence that is enacted on women’s bodies, all across the planet, all the time, and that is now about to be enacted with blinding, horrifying transparency on the bodies of women who live in a place that pretends to be a paragon of freedom and democracy and progress.

This is, as we have always said, about sex-based power, and about male interests in women’s bodies, and women’s labour, and women’s attention, and women’s compliance. Those of us who have come at this fight from the ground of defending women’s political interests, and the analysis of sex-based oppression, have repeatedly pointed out that left wing men have just as much interest in exploiting our bodies and labour as do right wing men, and that this is not accidentally related to why they are so blatantly stoked about the fact that they now get to erase us and dump all their repressed misogynist resentment, while smugly polishing their woke halos. Women cannot trust, and have never been able to trust, any political movement dominated by men to represent women’s political interests. That is why – that has always been why – we need a women’s movement. That is why males – from both the left and the right – have an interest in colonising that movement and turning it against women’s interests. That is why women who want to court institutional male power are rewarded for colluding in turning our movement against us. That is why, over and over again, we must build and rebuild our movement, from the ground up, on the basis of what women need to lead flourishing human lives, and what women need to be free.

For all the horror and distress of the hard, grinding, traumatising battle we have found ourselves in, the beating, exhilarating heart of what has kept me going all through it, is the energy and rage and passion and joy of women uniting, talking about our lives and what they mean politically, finding ourselves, and standing up for our needs, together. Woman’s Place bringing 500 women together in a church in Bloomsbury in early 2019 was the most electric and electrifying political experience of my life. There were women who have been in the women’s movement since the 1980s who said they had never seen, or felt, anything like it. We blew the fucking roof off that place. And after the long, hard PUUUUUULLLLLLLLLL of 2018, when we were fighting so fiercely against such odds, it was at that moment that I knew in my guts and in my bones, from the shiver running right up my spine, that we could win this thing.

We will win because we are right. Because standing up for the political interests of female people, for our right to be recognised in law, for our need for spaces for our dignity and safety, and to recover from the violence done to us, is just. Because it is unjust for people to try and colonise our existence and subjugate our interests to their own. Because it is totalitarian and undemocratic for people to try and coerce and bully us into getting what they want at our expense. Because reality cannot be wished away with words, and because when people understand the coercion and reality denial and shitting on other people’s needs that are central to the realisation of the project of the current trans rights movement, they will not have it. Our job is to communicate that truth, and we are doing it, very very effectively.

We live in a system of male power, and we need male people to understand the justice of our cause, and to speak up in support. But we have not built this movement by courting the favour of men from the left or men from the right. We have built this movement on the graft and passion and smarts and creativity of women. We have built it with every banner, word, ribbon, costume, T-shirt, stich, sticker, speech, made by women, for women.

We have built it by standing up for the interests of women as a political sex class and defending women against the harm that is done to them, wherever and whenever their interests as a sex class are trampled.

And it matters very much that we are doing exactly what we say we are doing, and that we are exactly who we say that we are.


[1] I know I haven’t always responded well to questions which are framed around this dynamic of ‘academic’ vs ‘ordinary’ women, and I am sorry for it. That is a question of my own wounds.

3 comments

  1. Thank you for all your thoughts here.A couple of things came up:

    1) Were you saying Matt Walsh’s film was useful for the women’s movement, or not useful? I thought he made good points but if he’s distracting from something better, I get that too.

    2) Speaking as a male… I know it’s a daftly broad and old question, but your strong and passionate arguments brought it up in my mind. I work very closely with my wife to check my respect and support and would appreciate your opinion as to whether good men should help or stay out of the way.?

    Thank you again, you’re one of my heroines.

  2. Thank you for all your illuminating clarity. My brain, at this point, just stops at “It’s 2022. I can’t believe I’m still fighting this shit.” It’s exhausting.

    Every day there’s new garbage. Today the NYTimes (the NYT!) published an opinion piece by Pamela Paul, titled “The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count.”

    I couldn’t believe it. Was reality starting to break through even in the US? I hear the comments were quite positive. But everybody’s opinion I have access to was all the same old How very dare she? All name-calling. All false equivalencies. All virtue signalling. There was even a comment slagging her off for being married to an investment banker or something.

    I mean, just how deep into the misogynist tropes do you plan to go before seeing where you are?

    So I can’t tell any more whether there’s hope. I forget to look up.

    As I say, thank you for all the many times you’ve helped me see the horizon anyway.

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