I am currently writing a chapter on the role of social movements for a very exciting book on the transformation of food systems, and thinking about the different elements that will allow us to build a veganic food system. I remembered this comment that I posted to Animal Liberation Currents some months ago and would like to share it here.
I founded the People’s Harvest Forum in 2015 as a way to promote food sovereignty and agroecology, while working within a vegan ethic. I think that if we simply present veganism as the better way to eat or grow food, then advocating for a strict adherence to veganism is fundamentally incompatible with food sovereignty. This is one of the reasons the forum never included presentations on veganism as a necessary solution to environmental, social or public health issues (e.g. veganism as a response to climate change). On the other hand, I think we can stand firmly behind an animal liberationist ethic and promote veganism in the same way we promote women’s liberation and other social justice causes – with all the conundrums these pose and despite the fact that these are also often at odds with the traditions and the status quo of groups with which we interact.
The reason vegans feel the need to make veganism about everything else under the sun is because we are an ideological minority and veganism is very far from being normative, so it stands out in a way that accepted positions don’t. The strategy of the People’s Harvest Forum was to consciously reverse that attitude and treat our empathy towards cows as something no different than our empathy for dogs. So in our panels on agroecology, there was of course an element that went against tradition, however those who promote agroecology will tell you that while they want to maintain tradition in how we grow food – to a large extent – they also want to do away with tradition in regards to relationships of power between men and women. There are vegans who would have liked to help build the food sovereignty movement and have had difficulty plugging in. Some have given up activism, others have given up veganism. Seed the Commons was created as third solution, a place for activists to work towards a transformation of our food system that includes nonhuman animals in our ethic.
Unfortunately, the animal rights movement is mostly focused on individual consumption – even the voices that pass for radical in the movement push the notion of voting with ones dollar. There needs to be a true radicalization of people in the movement (by this I do not refer to extremist tactics but rather to a focus on transformation of food systems instead of the liberal approach of improving structures/corporations). On the other side of it though, I don’t think the food sovereignty movement will easily take on animal liberation because so many people within the movement live off of animal exploitation. For better or worse, the social transformation here is probably going to be led by a more middle class, urban mainstream. As veganism becomes mainstreamed, it will be easier for people within radical movements to advocate for an inclusion of nonhuman animals.
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 YorkCity for example, employers and landlords can be fined for “misgendering” someone. This flies in the face of the separation of church and state.’
These days I’m less connected to the animal rights movement and less present on social media, so I’m not on top of trends, but for a while intersectionality was a BIG THING. It’s always been bullshit, but I thought people had moved onto different framing, different language…. like “radical veganism”. I guess I was wrong. Getting back on facebook has me coming across pro-intersectional posts from vegans, so the bs still needs pointing out.
I see the appeal of the punchy, self-righteous language, but this is empty virtue-signalling. The people who popularized “intersectionality” in the animal rights movement are in no way fighting against ALL oppression. Or even the most widespread oppressions. Who right now is organizing against the wars in the Middle East? What vegans are working with the labor movement? And don’t get me started on how the “intersectional” crowd is purging women who speak up for women from the movement.
These messages are harmful because they shame people away from their activism. Single-issue activism is completely fine as long as it doesn’t serve to oppress others. Yes, your animal rights activism should not become a vehicle or an excuse for racism. This is not the same as saying that if you spend time on animal rights activism you must also spend some time doing anti-racism activism. Basically, this is an All-Lives Matter response to animal rights or whatever other activism is being shamed (typically animal rights or women’s rights; other movements are more often left alone to do the limited good they do).
To allow males to play on women’s sports teams or to access resources for women is a slap in the face of all women who have experienced discrimination on the basis of their sex, i.e. all women.
Earlier this month, the all-female Iranian handball team lost to the Australian team at the Asian Handball Championship. Iranian women were made to fight against a trans-identified male–someone who has the benefit of male physiology. It’s no surprise the Iranians lost; there is a reason sports are usually separated on the basis of sex.
The transgender player on the Australian women’s handball team is Hannah Mouncey, who played on the Austrialian men’s handball team before his transition in 2016. Last year, he played for a women’s Canberra Australian football team, where a woman’s leg was broken as he tackled her. Men are generally bigger, stronger, and have a larger lung capacity than women. Taking estrogen in adulthood does not erase the physical advantages of having gone through male puberty. After Fallon Fox, a trans-identified male MMA fighter broke the skull of his female opponent, the latter said “I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. (…) I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.”
So men are taking women’s spots and winning, sometimes breaking bones in the process. For some people this is a non-issue because transwomen ARE women. End of discussion. But what does that actually mean and entail?
Until now, the words man and women have been defined on the basis of biological sex. A woman is an adult human female, and female is the sex that produces ova. To say that transwomen are women means that we are changing the definition of woman. Gender ideologues do not have a clear, consistent proposal for what this new definition would be and when put on the spot, they opt for the circular “a woman is anyone who feels like a woman” (of course, nobody can know if they feel like a woman if there is no definition of woman to which to refer, but I digress). But the idea is usually that “woman” is to be redefined by “gender identity”, an internal and innate sense of one’s gender that gender ideologues believe we all possess.
Under this new definition, the category of woman includes both people who produce ova and people who produce sperm. The new definition of man is someone whose gender identity is male, and the category of man includes people with vaginas and people with penises. The ramification of this is that someone with a penis, a larger body and more musculature can “identify” into a woman’s sports team and compete against women who are not only substantially smaller and weaker, but who have been historically and systematically disadvantaged because of institutional sexism.
Sports are segregated on the basis of sex because of natural differences between men and women’s bodies, but sex-specific programs and resources also serve to redress – to a small extent – the disadvantages that patriarchy has imposed on women. Being able to compete professionally was until recently denied to women (in the case of tobogganing in Switzerland, as recently as 2018) and women’s sports are still underfunded.
The discrepancy in opportunities afforded to women and men, in sports as elsewhere, has been based on biological sex: someone born with a penis has not faced the same obstacles as someone born with a vagina. When the race official of the 1967 Boston Marathon tried to physically remove Kathy Switzer from the marathon, he didn’t ask her how she identified. He knew she was a biological female and that was the marathon’s official criteria for excluding her.
So where do transwomen fit into this history?
Social justice folks give great importance to hierarchies of oppression, where people who are perceived as the most oppressed are to be centered and prioritized. We are repeatedly told that transwomen are the most oppressed of women (and of all marginalized groups), but this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Let’s start with the observation that we live in a world in which being born with a vagina comes with a host of disadvantages, starting in the womb. In a recent article, Dominican feminist Raquel Rosario Sanchez describes the rise of sex-selective abortion: Female fetuses are aborted and female babies are killed so frequently that in 2018, over 20 countries have documented sex imbalances. A report published by the United Nations Population Fund, titled, “Sex Imbalances at Birth,” says that the masculinization of demographic trends is “not a natural phenomenon but is achieved through a deliberate elimination of girls.”
Nobody knows how these babies identify, nor do they care. They are hated because of their biological sex. As Sanchez puts it, ‘Policy-makers and “gender identity” scholars may not care about biological sex, but it turns out that patriarchy does care very much about the female bodies of women and girls.’ Girls are married off to older men; sold into sex slavery; genitally mutilated; denied an education and the right to inherit property; told they are stupid; socialized to hate their bodies; objectified and sexually assaulted; excluded from careers and public space; all on the basis of being of the class of humans that produces ova. If you disagree with this, you disagree with the very founding premise of feminism. There are plenty of people who believe that females hold privilege over males, but until recently these people didn’t call themselves feminists.
Transwomen belong to the class of humans who produce sperm and were born with penises and XY chromosomes. If transwomen are women, then they are women who did not experience the same oppression as women born with XX chromosomes. If need be – for safety at night or a leg up at work for example – transwomen can choose to hide their “authentic selves” and let the world assume they are men. (A painful experience perhaps, but certainly less painful than being raped for walking home alone) In other words, if transwomen are women, they are women with male-passing privilege. If “woman” is to be a category comprised of “transwomen” (women with penises) and “ciswomen” (women with vaginas), it follows that transwomen are the most privileged of women, not the most oppressed.
When it comes to sex-specific spaces, resources and policies, one’s definition of woman is not really the problem, because changing the definition of woman does not change the rationale under which these spaces, resources and policies were created. If the words “man/woman” no longer relate to sex, then they should no longer be relevant to one’s placement in athletics. If language is to be updated, so should policy: we would segregate sports explicitly on the basis of body parts, in keeping with the whole point of sex-segregation. We’ll have teams and competitions for “people born with penises” and others for “people born with vaginas”.
“I was angry about the human talent that was lost just because it was born into a female body, and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one.” – Gloria Steinem
Affirmative action and resources for women exist to counter the effects of the institutional and cultural obstacles that women have faced for millennia. My grandmother, Frances Sarnat Hugle, was a Silicon Valley pioneer at a time when female engineers were an anomaly. Many of her accomplishments were erased or downplayed both in her life and her death; nonetheless, a scholarship for female engineering students was recently set up in her honor. If gender ideologues have their way, male students could be awarded the scholarship if they state that they identify as female, despite not having shared the struggles of women in STEM.
At 16, my grandmother defied the strict gender norms of her time by winning a math tournament. An article from the day illustrates the belief that girls are intellectually inferior: “Pin curls and permanents may adorn the outside of a girl’s head, but they are no sign that all is frivolity inside it. Frances Sarnat, 16, senior at Hyde Park High school, proved this yesterday when she whisked thru 36 sticklers to win the third mathematics tournament sponsored by Wilson Junior college mathematics department.”
It’s been shown that teachers are biased against girls in respect to their math ability, which in turn impedes girls from pursuing careers in STEM. Compare this to the hypothetical situation of a 16 year old transgirl in 1944. This person would have been read as male and sailed through his school years and career, he’d be welcomed in male-dominated spaces and his accomplishments readily recognized as his. After cashing in on decades of male privilege, this celebrated engineer would announce that “she” had always felt like a woman inside. If the IEEE Frances B. Hugle Scholarship is ever awarded to a male student, it will be a slap in the face of all women in STEM and an insult to my grandmother’s memory.
The concern about opening women’s spaces and resources to males is not just about transwomen, but also men who will pretend to identify as trans. There is currently no external criteria to verify who is trans (let alone a coherent and consistent definition of what trans means). Trans activists are pushing for self-declaration to be the only criteria and have made impressive headway in getting policies changed accordingly; from changing rooms to prisons to women’s colleges. It should be obvious that this can lead to men falsely declaring themselves trans to access women’s spaces and resources. This reddit post by a man asking if he should change gender on his ID to access women’s scholarships illustrates the ease and nonchalance with which men will participate in the evisceration of women’s gains.
Men are elbowing women out of our spots as they are increasingly feted as the best of women, like Caitlyn Jenner, a Glamour woman of the year. And at the same time that transactivists lobby for male access to women’s spaces and resources, men’s rights activists are fighting to dismantle women’s scholarships and programs altogether. What differentiates these movements when their activism leads to the same results? More and more it seems that transactivism is men’s rights activism in drag.
Meghan Murphy of Feminist Current has been permanently banned from Twitter for such hateful utterings as “men aren’t women” and for using “he” to refer to a trans-identified male pedophile. Please read her excellent article Twitter’s Trans-Activist Decree.
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.
(For the uninitiated: preferred pronouns are the pronouns you want others to use when speaking about you, which may be different than those that the English language ascribes based on your sex. For example, you might be female but you see yourself as a complex person, not to be confined by one-dimensional stereotypes about women. Because you are also a sexist, you believe that other women do conform to these stereotypes, and in fact, that’s what being a woman really is! So you ask people to refer to you as “they”, a gender-neutral term that indicates that you are neither an archetypical man nor woman, but a full human.)
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.
The heretics of this new religion are mostly female, and the men who vocally reject gender identity ideology are not subjected to the same vilification and abuse. While I rage at the misogyny of this movement, I am more alarmed by the sheer stupidity of gender ideologues and those who support them. This is what Idiocracy warned us about (from Meghan Murphy):
Everything is ID politics, emotional manipulation and histrionics. The capacity for a logical reasoning and rational debate is completely absent. Having only moved to the US in 2010, I can’t say whether this capacity was always lacking in the US or whether this is a recent occurrence. What I can say is that I discovered that in many ways the American “left” now embodies the worst stereotypes of right-wing red state dwellers: populist, anti-science, anti-woman, anti-intellectual…
Liberals guffaw at flat Earthers for prioritizing feelz over facts, but they condone harassing and beating up women who question that a man is really a woman because he claims to have a female soul. And now, while right-wingers aim to take away women’s ability to make decisions about our female bodies, the self-proclaimed left is leading witch-hunts against women who believe that our oppression is linked to being born in said bodies. A mystical belief system is becoming the basis of law and policy, and women are the casualty–kinda reminds me of my country of origin, Iran. And throughout my lifetime, Westerners have also pointed to Iran as backwards. It’s time for liberals to take a hard look at what they are supporting.