I run a small non-profit that works on issues where my feminism has no direct relevance (food politics, sustainability, animal rights). Our budget has always been shoestring and my work has for the most part been unpaid. Despite this, I have done a huge amount of impactful and truly revolutionary work over the last few years. Last summer, we lost the only funder with whom I had an ongoing, informal relationship. My organization is completely unique in what it does, so the fact that this funder severed our relationship was directly harmful not only to us, but to the “cause”.
This happened because I’ve openly shared my gender critical views. Namely that biological sex is real and that gender is a social construct. That a man can like makeup and dresses and that doesn’t make him a woman. That women are oppressed on the basis of biological sex and that this is the basis on which women’s rights were fought for. That we must continue to fight sex-based oppression and that gender essentialism and the goals of gender identity movement run counter to this.
The writing with which she took issue is copied at the end of this post, and she found my statement that I don’t use preferred pronouns particularly damning. She did not engage with the analysis that accompanied the statement. Instead, it was taken as proof that I was squarely past the grey zone and in the field of bigotry. Ironically, I wrote about the dogmatism of this movement and her reaction was a clear validation of my point.
To be noted, this woman wasn’t the full-on gender identity activist in this story–someone else “flagged me hard” which led her to read my posts. In a way, this was more offensive because she presented herself as a neutral good-willing party who is distraught by the “divisions” in the movement. She said that while she hates the “I punch TERFs” rhetoric of transactivists… both sides were guilty. This is an incredibly dishonest cop-out when she doesn’t have the ovaries to stand up for women. While she insisted several times that both sides were guilty, she didn’t name anything feminists have done that remotely resembles the violent rhetoric coming from transactivists. Feminists are not punching and harassing transactivists, getting them fired and deplatformed, calling for violence against them or spewing hateful rhetoric. Unbelievably, she (a white woman) tried to educate me on how certain types of discourse can serve to paint “marginalized populations” as dangerous. As someone of Iranian and Muslim origin, I have direct experience and intimate knowledge of this. I told her that my posts had done nothing of the sort, but focusing on my statement on pronouns was her way of dealing with her cognitive dissonance around considering herself a social justice advocate while punishing a female activist for speaking up for women. Under the current dogma, not using preferred pronouns is a clear-cut sign of being “mean”–no more critical thinking required.
Further irony: This woman took over the organizing of the Animal Rights National Conference last year following the #metoo scandals in the animal rights movement, including involving the conference’s previous founder and organizer. The women upholding the edicts of gender identity have no solidarity with their class, no interest in understanding actual feminism, and no integrity. But they’ll get on a platform and take credit for “making change for women” or some such empty soundbite.
In my conversation with the funder, she named three examples of my wrongdoing. The first two are that I stated that I don’t use preferred pronouns and that, in her words, I compared gender identity to “magic” (see excerpt copied below). While I did not say magic, it is correct that belief in innate gender identity is often akin to a mystical belief system. However, this misses the point that irregardless of one’s belief in gender identity, women’s oppression is sex-based. People with vaginas suffer violence and discrimination by and relative to people with penises. Resources and spaces for people with vaginas are necessary on this basis, independently of the inner sense of identity of a person with a penis. Reworking the words man and woman does not do away the oppression of people with vaginas by people with penises.
The third example was a meme I shared on Facebook, with Caitlin Jenner’s quote that the hardest part of being a woman is choosing what to wear, over an image of a maimed woman and figures about worldwide violence against women. This was interpreted as an unfair attack on transwomen by using the ridiculous statement of one privileged person who is arguably not a good representative of most transwomen. But my post was not a commentary on transwomen nor an attempt to paint them all with the same brush. It was a commentary on a gender-identity movement that is erasing and making light of women’s sex-based oppression. Not all transpeople are on board with the gender id movement and many of its champions are not trans themselves, but Jenner’s statement absolutely encapsulates the philosophy of this movement.
The minimization and denial of sex-based oppression is there when pussy hats at a women’s march or mentions of female biology are deemed exclusionary, when women’s prisons and homeless shelters are opened up to men, when men can claim women’s scholarships and compete in women’s sports, when bathrooms are made unisex because transwomens’ fear of male violence is seen as valid but women’s fear of male violence is dismissed as hysterics and bigotry.
We are dangerously sliding backwards when feminist analysis is unspeakable and feminists are punished for advocating for women. And given that many women are active in other social movements, this surge of misogyny is harming other important causes as well. In my post I drew a comparison between Iran and the West, which was deemed unacceptable by an economically privileged white American woman who considers herself a fighter for “intersectional social justice”. The funder belongs to a crowd that urges us to “listen to POC! listen to women! listen to marginalized folks!”–but that only applies to the POC, the women, the marginalized folks that are keeping to script and saying things with which they agree. To truly fight for the disadvantaged and for the planet will require intellectual integrity over easy mantras, to step outside of one’s bubble and engage with a broader set of voices.
‘There is no scientific backing of the existence of an innate gender identity. It is purely a belief – not a fact – about the nature of the human mind or soul. (And even if gender identity were a real thing, why would it follow that we should redefine the words man and woman on the basis of this newly discovered spiritual/psychological attribute?) It’s fine to hold non-scientific beliefs, but believers should not force others to adopt these beliefs or participate in the language or rituals associated with them. To use preferred pronouns is an ideological choice and we should be free to opt in or out of it. I don’t use preferred pronouns because I don’t believe in gender identity, and furthermore I think it is a harmful belief system that reinforces sexism. (…)
To mandate speech that upholds a mystical belief system, and to persecute those who reject or critique that belief system, is religious fundamentalism. While it could be argued that Twitter is a private company and can do what it wants, companies like Twitter and Facebook have effectively taken over the public arena and by censoring feminists, they are excluding feminists from public discourse. And this goes beyond tech companies. In New York City for example, employers and landlords can be fined for “misgendering” someone. This flies in the face of the separation of church and state.’