What are the radfem debate sticking-points and why do we care so much about them?

The gender debate is becoming ‘too hot to handle’. Speak boldly on the matter only if you would also boldly enter a witness protection scheme afterwards. So, naturally, the whole thing has become juicy new ideological land for journalists and the media to approach bluntly and incompetently and then profit off the ensuing anger and venom. Enter the ‘genderquake‘ debate.

The debate was a furious hour of spitting words out, talking over each other and trying to sting each other with witty quips. Emotion plays a central, important and magical role in debate. They say that if you knew all the physical laws and present whereabouts of every atom in the universe, you’d also know everything that ever has and will happen. If you know people’s emotional landscapes and what jerks their emotional knees, you will know why they say what they say and, if you still disagree, know how to lay out the other side of the issue to them. The centrality of emotion in debates and decision-making is not a bad thing, it’s just a powerful thing, because it’s the key.

The genderquake debate was a perfect example of how not to handle the power of the emotions in debate. No-one had a chance to explain their points properly and thoughtfully, because we either had to cut back to Caitlyn Jenner or to adverts. Cathy Newman’s approach felt under-researched; choosing to begin by asking everyone to say ‘how they identify and what their pronouns are’ immediately seeps the debate in the language of the opposite side, and we already have to spend extra energy getting an even ground to fight on in the first place. Cathy should already know that we don’t believe in ‘choosing’ identities, ‘changing’ gender, or even investigating what it ‘means’ to be a woman when it’s a bog standard word with an objective definition, but I get that they’re intellectually zingy soundbites.

Worst of all in this debate, our emotional landscapes and motivations were grotesquely misconstrued. We are not driven by transphobia, we are driven by an awareness of contexts which are not so immediately apparent to our opponents. I’ll go through our main principles here, complete with some context, where I can’t be interrupted by men or cut to go to adverts.

  1. Men are dangerous, thanks to their socialisation.
    Why do we care so much about sticking by this? Because it keeps women safe in toilets, prisons and shelters and doesn’t let men off the hook. We are aware that you see us coupling together the words ‘transwomen’ and ‘perverts’ in the same sentence as a deliberate malicious coupling to smear transwomen. It’s reminiscient of how black people, Jews, and gay people have been treated in the media over the decades. But this is different, because even regardless of the evidence that it does happen, we believe that the mechanism behind how we internalise who are the oppressors and who are the oppressed is based on how we’re treated and how we’re raised – aka, our socialisation. Men perceived as men when growing up cannot escape their socialisation, where they are ingrained with messages of disrespecting women as though they’re objects. This is a core tenet of feminism and I find it really shocking how the context of male violence is slowly disappearing from feminist analysis. It really is a privilege to forget about how many men are assaulting, killing and raping women every single day. Men who use their own children to emotionally torture their wives or ex-wives will absolutely take advantage of identity-based entry laws to female spaces.

    The mechanism behind socialisation is really where the crux of the debate is, but that wouldn’t bring as many fireworks to channel 4.

  2. You don’t have a right to identify however you like. 

    Why do we care so much about sticking by this? Because we think that adopting identities can actually do harm to yourself and others. We know that you see vivid descriptions of the soothing pleasure that respecting someone’s pronouns brings them, such as this one:

    “As someone who uses them/they/their pronouns myself, I can tell you that when I am referred to as a “he”, it’s like a punch of anxiety, and I feel shackled by the expectations of masculinity that have pained me my whole life. Being referred to with my correct pronouns is like being immersed in a lavender bath – it relaxes the way I operate in social space, and makes me feel seen for who I am.”

    And you think to yourself – what kind of petty axe-grinder goes around taking that away from people? Well here’s the thing, we wish it were that easy. It is not our fault that it’s not. It’s not our fault that blokes will wolf-whistle at you even if your pronouns are ‘they’, and we are resolute in calling that kind of behaviour misogyny, regardless of what you are calling yourself. It’s not our fault that even those pandering to you, on your side, the very same enlightened people hosting the Genderquake debate, treated you in ways congruent to your sex, not however you identify. So this is where we get shirty, because we are right to point out this kind of behaviour, and when you demand that instead, we should be respecting a quirk of yourself as an individual, you are pretending to be bigger and more important than a system which is doing a lot of harm to a lot more people than just you. Some of us want everyone to enjoy the lavender bath of the shackle-free life, not just ourselves.

    What about the harm we suggest it does to yourselves? Radical Feminists are the only ones taking seriously how truly awful and traumatising adolescence as a female is. No-one else sees it, in the same way no-one else notices that it’s mum doing all the hard work on Christmas day. The experience of female adolescence is getting worse and worse. We are seeing unprecedented dizzying levels of pornification, violence and infantilsation brought straight into girls’ hands constantly. It is not unreasonable to suppose there will be a new level of retaliation and escape in response to it. And young girls are finding it. We have an array of wise old women, detransitioners and trans individuals to discuss all of this, all interested in reaching out to struggling young people. We are not monsters.

  3. Don’t transition kids. 

    Why do we care so much about sticking by this? Because we think this is an ideology which will pass, while children will be left with permanently altered bodies and appearances. We know that you think we look old-fashioned, but honestly you really look alarmingly brainwashed when you try to pretend it’s insane to even be concerned about giving irreversible pills and surgeries to young children. Even if you ultimately believe children can make these decisions for themselves, this should be the easiest one to agree merits debating. It’s so incredibly concerning for us to hear about parents transing their children on the bases of their toy choices, or clothing choices, when we know of gender non-conforming children who have grown into badass and confident crusaders of liberation from harmful gender roles from the side of their true biological sex. Butch lesbians are a brilliant example of this and they are getting slowly squished out of all this progressive ideology, whether it be through pressure to ask themselves whether they are actually men or by being harassed for not sleeping with people who have penises but insist on feeling like women. If you want to be a grubby girl with short hair, do it. If you want to be a boy who dances and wears pink, do it. If you have a child with serious sex dysphoria, they may well grow out of it, be gay or take the necessary steps to transition once they’re at an age they can give proper informed consent to do so.

  4. Words have meanings. “Women” means “adult human female”.
    Why do we care so much about sticking by this? Well, imagine asking Marxist revolutionaries whether they want the phrases “upper class” and “working class” to have clear objective meanings. Do you think they would? Or animals conservationists whether they want “stable” and “critically endangered” to have clear objective meanings? How hopeless would these two activist movements be if those concepts had absolutely no relation to tangible material circumstances? If a man who owns three mansions can identify as poor, or it becomes prejudiced to base the population level of an animal on how many of them there are, how could these movements possibly succeed? On a small scale (of only the individual), we can see why it seems like harmless progression to a more open and laid back society to allow people to’identify’ their way across sex classes and even newly created ‘genders’. But on a large scale, we lose the language and therefore the concepts themselves to speak clearly about the form of oppression we are trying to eradicate.Take the group of people in the world with reproductive systems designed for child bearing. Take the group of people in the world with penises. For some strange reason, the former group of people are made, through the conscious choices of others, to suffer greatly with that reproductive system. What with access to period hygiene products, contraception, abortion and rape crisis centres being limited and restricted, as well as heightened threats of sexual harrassment, FGM and physical violence, this group of people are given a tough time. Despite transactivists claims that we reduce the concept of women to their genitals, it is not us who want to call these people, “the people with that type of reproductive system”. We want to call these people women, so that we can call this horrendous oppression what it is  – sexist hate aimed at women. How could an identity, rather than a material reality, be what makes this kind of oppression relevant to certain people?

    Please note that we are completely and utterly unmoved by what we see as lazy gotcha’s often thrown at us here; intersex people and women who are infertile. Intersex people are exceedingly rare and don’t shatter the binary sex system of humans anymore than people born with more or less than ten fingers shatter the notion that humans are meant to have ten fingers. Similarly, women who are infertile do not shatter the notion that half the population are clearly endowed with reproductive machinery designed for, when everything runs smoothly, creating humans. The patriarchy has absolutely no trouble in knowing which sex category to place infertile women in – no-one checks whether a woman is fertile before assaulting her the same way no-one asks what her pronouns are beforehand either, so let’s not pretend it makes us incapable of knowing which sex category she is in either.

It is admirable to see so many people so willing to push against their initial intuitions in the name of struggles they’ve never personally encountered before, and not want to hold up a revolution just for them to get to grips with it all. But there’s something else we need too, otherwise we just have something a little too much like jumping on a bandwagon in order to look good. We need to just check ourselves, in case there are viewpoints and contexts of which we are not aware just how unaware we are.

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