Gender

How misogyny polarised politics

People who are working the hardest to erase women as a discrete sex class honestly believe they are the goodies in this story, says Wendy Cockcroft.

Women are being left politically homeless as their parties and institutions adopt female-exclusionary language and policiesthen cast them out when they complain…

“Do you want your daughters to share a shower with a male-bodied stranger just because that person believes they are a woman?”

The Stanliand Question, as it is known, is the red line for most women because, for us, the answer is a hard “No.” I’m not the only person to be told that saying no to this is “extremely hateful and harmful.” Indeed, the assumption that the “no” comes from a place of outright bigotry is the basis of the ongoing exclusion and isolation of women from mainstream politics as well as civic, educational, and social institutions. “Trans women are women” is the shibboleth test; if you repeat the sacred mantra, you’re golden, a good cult member. If you say, “No, they’re biological men,” expect to be shown the door, you evil transphobe. It’s bad enough that men are doing this, but the number of women who have blocked me for pointing this out is ridiculous. The pervasiveness of this situation has left me with three questions:

  •  Why are they doing this?
  •  Why are prominent academic feminists doing this?
  •  What can we do about it?

In my search for answers I found that misogyny is at the root of it all and that it’s so embedded in our society and culture that the people who are working the hardest to erase women as a discrete sex class honestly believe they are the goodies in this story.

Why are they doing this?

The first place to look for answers to this question is in the writings and statements of the people who are pushing for acceptance of the notion that trans women are actually women. At the Labour leadership hustings in 2020 Lisa Nandy MP had this to say:

“If you deny the right of trans people to exist and deny their very basic human rights then no meaningful dialogue is possible at all. …[I disagree with those organisations whose statements] cause deep, deep hurt to people who have the right to their existence recognised. …the job is not to pit some women against other women, but to… keep people safe. …a young girl who I’m currently supporting …who has been going through this Gender Recognition Act process… on that very fundamental aspect that that young person is going to hear nothing from me …that gives her any idea that she has anything other than my complete compassion and support. I will not move.”

This was her response to Julia Long after telling her that the child rapist Christopher Worton, who raped a teenage girl five times, but has since self-identified as a woman, should a) have his crimes recorded as committed by a woman & b) be housed in a women’s prison. If she’s all about keeping people safe, what about the women Worton is housed with? Are they not people, too? Notice that she mentions “the right to exist” twice, as if saying no to Worton would cause him to disappear into the aether. While she pays lip service to women’s need for protection from male violence, she’s unwilling to do much about it once the T-word is mentioned.

YA fiction writer and trans woman Juno Dawson wrote in Time magazine:

Let’s be clear: there is no evidence that trans-inclusive laws lead to a rise in criminality—assaults, stalking or harassment—in single-sex spaces. In 2018, peer-reviewed journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy concluded that “fears of increased safety and privacy violations as a result of non-discrimination laws are not empirically grounded.” 

Dawson forgets that “non-discrimination laws” are putting male rapists in women’s prisons with predictable results. These fears are entirely empirically grounded. Dawson continues by downplaying the stats for violence against natal women while playing up the stats for violence against trans women. After throwing the dead cat of “most people know their rapists” on the table to distract us from the fact that “trans women are women” is as far from empirical as it can possibly be, Dawson then cries, “we’re terrified too.”

And here we have the Women’s Institute policy on transgender women:

Can crossdressers join the WI?

No—only those living as women can join the WI and take part in all WI activities.

Can we ask for written evidence to prove that someone is a transgendered individual?

No—this could be very offensive and hurtful. 

Schrödinger’s trans is simultaneously a “cis male” cross-dresser and is living as a woman, but don’t ask about it in case they are offended by the question. The misogyny here is outrageous. In each case, women are told that to be a good womanand indeed a good feminista woman should first be nurturing and protective, then accepting, obedient, and silent where her own rights as a member of a discrete sex class are concerned. 

Look again at Nandy, whose concern for Worton outweighs her concern for the female prisoners that the violent child rapist is housed with. See Dawson claim that trans women are women, dismiss our concerns about the Wortons that Self-ID would allow into women-only spaces, then say, “We’re terrified too” as if it’s the duty of women to protect Dawson. Then the Women’s Institute tells us that only people living as women (whatever that means) may join them but not to ask about it in case the person asked is offended.

If “know your place” isn’t bad enough, we’re being told that if we don’t knuckle down and accept the imposition of this ideology, we could lose all our hard-won gains, e.g. abortion. In America, the choice was between Joe Biden, whose executive order for trans inclusion is causing consternation, and Donald Trump, who had undermined abortion rights and was working to shut them down altogether. In Britain the choice is between the incompetent Conservatives and the misogynist Labour Party, whose persecution of Rosie Duffield has led to women “cancelling” themselves for fear of falling foul of the cult of TWAW, as Laura Marcus explains:

But I had to “cancel” myself because women don’t get a fair hearing from huge tech companies. It’s positively Soviet. Stasi. McCarthyism. They believe the sneaks and the playground bullies. Telling tales works. Okay so no one will cart you off to jail. We won’t get shot at dawn.

But expulsion from social media is today’s equivalent of expulsion from your village or local tribe. You become an outcast. And that taps into our greatest fear – shunned by our fellow human beings.

Yes indeed, we can either accept being labelled “chest feeders” and see male rapists housed in women’s prisons or watch the government appoint cronies to positions of responsibility and fritter public funds away on ridiculous schemes. They’re doing this because they can, because they’re convinced they’re right, and because they don’t care about the impact on women. As I said, misogyny: we’re unworthy of consideration.

Why are prominent academic feminists doing this?

What I find most shocking of all in all of this is that the people we expect to know better actually don’t. Well, they pretend not to. Alison Phipps’s lack of self-awareness in her latest paper is stunning:

Historically, bourgeois white women’s power has been based on ideas of virtue and goodness (Ware, 1992: 37–38): as Hamad (2019: 105) argues, this makes being criticised for bad behaviour deeply threatening. 

So what do they do to enforce TWAW (trans women are women) ideology upon us? Why, threaten us with being cast out into the outer darkness where there is wailing, gnashing of teeth, and the inability to find paid employment. That’s why we’re afraid of being criticised for bad behaviour. What nobody seems to ask is, “Why is it bad to ask these questions and why be offended by them?” The power these women hold is based in ideas of virtue and goodness, and that only they are virtuous and good. See Sally Hines’s response to Jean Hatchet’s complaint that Phipps is “ utilising the struggle of black women …to bash all vocal survivors of men’s violence”:

And the thing is, the main thing, is that you (all) *don’t* get it. You don’t get it *at all*. Not everything is about *you* You make everything about you because you only have the ability to think from within a very particular individual framework. It is defensive and skewed. 

Who’s “you (all)”? Why can’t Hines see that she only has the ability to think from within a very particular individual framework after the drubbing she got from offended Black feminists? She answers the question here:

Politically and theoretically, “Black feminism” does not simply mean feminists who are black. It refers to a particular conceptual moment and political movement in the 1970s/1980s – see Combahee River Collective – through which the framework of intersectionality was developed. 

So “you (all)” are those whose views fall outside of the intersectionality framework as she sees it. Her lack of self-awareness really is jaw-dropping. The grandmother of them all, Judith Butler, declares:

The feminist who holds such a view presumes that the penis does define the person, and that anyone with a penis would identify as a woman for the purposes of entering such changing rooms and posing a threat to the women inside. It assumes that the penis is the threat, or that any person who has a penis who identifies as a woman is engaging in a base, deceitful, and harmful form of disguise. This is a rich fantasy, and one that comes from powerful fears, but it does not describe a social reality. 

…Their abiding and very real sense of gender ought to be recognised socially and publicly as a relatively simple matter of according another human dignity. 

Has she not seen the appalling reports of men doing exactly that? And why does she deny that the penis is widely regarded as a threat by women—and for very good reasons? The only possible explanation for this is internalised misogyny, i.e. that she believes that men (or people with male bodies) are superior to women and their needs are greater and more important than ours; those who don’t accept this on say-so alone are lacking in virtue and goodness. I see this over and over again in the writings of such women. So what do they have to say about misogyny itself? Here’s Alison Phipps:

Political whiteness tends to be visibly enacted by privileged white people (but can cross class boundaries), and can also be enacted by people of colour because it describes a relationship to white supremacist systems rather than an identity per se. It is produced by the interaction between supremacy and victimhood: the latter includes the genuine victimisation at the centre of #MeToo and similar movements, and the imagined victimhood of misogynist, racist and other reactionary politics. 

If misogyny is “imagined victimhood,” what of women who experience it? Phipps says:

“It’s because [they think] only privileged white women count as women. So anything that criticises them has to be misogyny. Anybody who disagrees with them must be a misogynist.”

So all the threats of violence and rape can just be dismissed because it’s just folks disagreeing with us. Good to know.

Sally Hines says:

A faculty member in my research described how naming and shaming had been used in her department to make it appear that an abusive staff member was anomalous, rather than emblematic of the culture. ‘Like, you know,’ she said, ‘we can’t allow misogyny to take over the department, we can’t allow this to destroy the reputation of the department.’ As survivors, we might be gratified when our experiences accrue value in the outrage economy, when they are not worth much elsewhere. …But media events can also create the conditions for airbrushing individual perpetrators out of institutions, with little effect on the structures and cultures that enable and dismiss harassment and violence. Institutional accountability becomes individualised.

…The enemy may be ‘special interests’, ‘political correctness’, ‘moral panic’, ‘censorship’ or even ‘carceral feminists’, but what draws these arguments together is that structural critiques of how punitive systems impact on the marginalised are repurposed to protect individual privileged men.

While I agree that structural misogyny needs to be addressed, Hines lets them off the hook here by suggesting that attempts to address the way marginalised people are treated can be used to protect privileged men. Hines doesn’t like to talk about misogyny as a rule, except in unevidenced terms in tweets like this one

I have been in this game for a while now and honest to god, the misogyny of the guys who hang round in GC threads gets more astounding by the day. It really is mind blowing and completely underscores the utter lack of feminist sentiment in GC culture. 

At no point does she ever produce any evidence of this misogyny, she just expects us to accept it while accusing feminists who centre women of misogyny. Does she even know what the word means? Apparently it’s only misogynist to complain about those men who identify as women who lay claim to our feminine experiences and spaces. Any complaints we make about this should be ignored on the grounds that we’re privileged whiners overreacting to imaginary threats.

Judith Butler comes riding to the rescue of lesbians… or does she?

Feminists know that women with ambition are called “monstrous” or that women who are not heterosexual are pathologised. We fight those misrepresentations because they are false and because they reflect more about the misogyny of those who make demeaning caricatures than they do about the complex social diversity of women. Women should not engage in the forms of phobic caricature by which they have been traditionally demeaned. And by “women” I mean all those who identify in that way. 

Ah, ‘tis but the “social” lesbians she cares about. The biological ones, not so much. I’d be interested to learn if she considers drag queens to be phobic caricatures given that LGBT+ groups include them under the trans umbrella (Stonewall, it seems, has disavowed cross-dressers; they were included last year in their definition, but not this year). What interests me is that they can’t fail be be aware of issues like the “cotton ceiling,” where straight men who identify as women seek to cajole and shame lesbians into sleeping with them. Given what I’ve seen so far it seems their views are summed up here:

I care that you don’t bother to interrogate the origins of your phallus-based distaste for trans women, and think about whether it’s actually a dislike of the organ that’s happening here or whether transphobia and a refusal to view trans women as women is involved. 

If this sounds an awful lot like religious gay conversion therapy, it’s because it’s pretty much the same thing. The techniques are similar, and the aim is to push lesbians to accept what amounts to a heterosexual relationship which is then rebranded as lesbian because the male partner dresses and presents as feminine. Look again: exclusive “genital preferences” are deemed transphobic or sinful, depending where you’re coming from. In this brave new world, however, it’s all about the goodness and virtue of protecting the oppressed minorities, so it’s fine. It’s about as “white feminist,” per their own definitions, as it gets. And as misogynist. When I asked feminist Jane Clare Jones to explain to me why these women are doing this, and, when challenged, double down and keep on doing it, she replied,

Hatred of women is not just an accidental characteristic of some men, it’s systemic. It’s a feature, not a bug, of the type of world we live in. We still live in a world which is structured around a male default, and women grow up internalising ideas about their own inferiority. Many of us, especially when we’re young, think that being a full and free human being means identifying with men, trying to be like them. It is very difficult for women to imagine themselves as complete and respected human beings in a world that does not show them respect and so we either pretend we are men, or we pretend the world doesn’t treat women as badly as it does, and we project our anger onto those women who point out the truth.

That misogyny is internalised and expressed by both men and women makes it very hard to combat. This is made even harder by how normalised it is, how much we think it’s just a natural product of ‘boys being boys’ and ‘girls being girls.’ A really good example of this is how hard it is for people to recognise that male violence against women is a pattern, not just a series of ‘isolated incidents,’ and that it usually happens in the context of concerted campaigns of coercive control, not when a good man just suddenly ‘snaps.’ This type of violence against women happens day in and day out, and blights hundreds of thousands of lives, but it is so pervasive and normalised it is really hard to get many people to notice, it’s just the wallpaper; it’s the background of their consciousness.

The intersectional feminists who proudly proclaim their allegiance to women’s rights are too mired in misogynist thinking to notice how blatantly they’re reinforcing the patriarchy they claim to be combatting. They can’t see it because it’s too deeply ingrained in their psyches; it’s so much a part of who they are that they reject any idea that they’re anything other than the feminists they claim to be.

What can we do about it?

GC (gender critical) feminists are already banding together to work on solutions. A host of much-maligned pro-women groups and websites have sprung up, each concerned with ensuring the continuation of sex-based rights and each of which is therefore condemned as anti-trans. Some of them are working with people at the opposite end of the political spectrum on issues where their beliefs intersect, i.e. that the material differences between male and female people matter. This is widely criticised by intersectionalists and radical feminists alike as “alliance with the far right,” when what they’re doing is allying with whoever they can get to work with them on the few issues on which they agree. Whether we like this or not, beggars can’t be choosers. And it can be very useful to work with those we disagree with as this can and does influence them. Nobody likes to be seen as the baddie, after all. 

In the UK, feminists and other women have been working with Baroness Nicholson to promote pro-women policies that recognise the biological distinctions between men and women in both law and commercial policies. These women formed a letter-writing group that focused on writing to MPs, business leaders, and local authorities to make the changes listed above. While we had templates to work from, I personally found it useful to include trans people’s rights in the emails I wrote as many of the people I was writing to are woke. Linking to Twitter searches on the word “truscum” has been most productive as it demonstrates that the people who seem to be pushing trans rights don’t actually care that much about them. It also helps that there are many trans people who are on our side; Debbie Hayton, Kristina Harrison, Miranda Yardley, and Fionne Orlander are the most well-known in the UK, and America’s Scott Newgent, a trans man. The results are most encouraging:

  •  The CPS withdrew its Hate Crimes Guidance for Schools.
  •  Many schools withdrew support for Trans Inclusion Toolkits.
  •  The DfE and OFSTED all but discarded Stonewall, Mermaids and the like from schools.
  •  The NHS rewrote its guidance for the treatment of child and adult trans patients, without ideology.
  •  Liz Truss shelved plans for reforming the Gender Recognition Act beyond simplifying the process.
  •  Mermaids had to abandon its ‘Born In The Wrong Body’ mantra.
  •  There’s an independent inquiry into health care for children and adolescents with gender issues.
  •  The activities of Tavistock Clinic have been examined and judged inadequate in court.

There is still much to do; media outlets still report crimes committed by men who claim trans identity as committed by women even if they haven’t legally changed their names. Needless to say, this is skewing crime stats. Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence have far too much influence over civic institutions including the Crime Prosecution Service; that needs to be dealt with as women are being forced to use she/her pronouns when describing attacks against them in court. Detransitioners and trans widows are largely ignored and women who don’t play the pronouns game are being vilified in the media. Social media platforms are kicking women off for trivial reasons, mostly for “misgendering” or otherwise offending male people who claim trans identities. The vast majority of people on the receiving end of this institutionalised abuse are women. Needless to say, blocking out the voices of such women helps to increase the echo chamber effect and promote a false idea of consensus, thereby further entrenching the misogynist government and corporate policies that circumscribe our lives. Misogyny is at the root of all of this. Until we have identified and tackled it, the polarisation of our political discourse will continue and women will bear the brunt of the effects. 

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Wendy Cockcroft

Wendy Cockcroft is a freelance writer with a background in creative writing and a passion for politics. She has written political pieces for Techdirt, Falkvinge on Infopolicy, and The Pirate Party UK.

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