I wrote a piece recently in which I suggested we dump the phrase ‘gender critical’. Someone who read it messaged me and said “so what shall we call ourselves instead?”
First, let’s look at the issue…
What’s wrong with ‘gender critical’?
I had been wondering, but others were ahead of me, pointing out that you are ‘critical’ of things you want to alter, or even polish, not things you want to destroy. I know critical theory is a big thing at the moment – critical race theory etc – but that’s all conflicted stuff, awash with post-modernist confabulations, and opening the door to right-wingers who really want to slap down both anti-racist and anti-misogyny activism.
So what is feminism?
Feminism is an analysis and defence of the status and rights of the female sex. A woman is an adult human female. Gender is a set of ideas a sexist society imposes on men and women, to keep them in their places in an oppressive system.
Surely, feminism is by definition a challenge to gender. Would you call an environmentalist ‘pollution critical’? “I say chaps, that’s a really bad way to do pollution, you should pollute like this, not like that.” Sounds daft, doesn’t it? It is daft.
Here’s the article where I discussed this, after listening to Julia Long and Dennis Kavanagh, and a lot of feminists far, far more experienced than me…
My dictionary says feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality”. That involves a heck of a lot more than defending the sex-exemption in the Equality Act. It involves challenging the very foundations of our society, which are so imbued with institutional racism, sexism and classism that very few women can thrive at all and yet, when someone says “I am a gender-critical…” they automatically add ‘feminist’, regardless of whether they have thought much about the institutional nature of sexism, and how it interacts with class and race oppression, or what they need to do to counter it, beyond the (obvious) need to challenge sex-self ID. Apart from anything else (and there are other issues) it’s the lack of understanding and analysis of the problem that leads people to lazily assume ‘gender critical’ means ‘anti-trans’.
If you understand what gender-based thinking has done to all concerned, it’s not that hard to see that the gender ideology movement is sexist to the core, harming women, harming trans people, harming society. Seriously, anyone who can’t see that is not paying attention, and is certainly not a feminist. Just look at the way the so-called ‘trans rights’ campaign has been run – it depends almost entirely on intimidating as many women as possible, in an attempt to stop them arguing their case. How do they get away with that? They get away with it because society is riddled with sexism, and so the status quo supports slapping down feminism, or anything that sounds like it. Therefore, real feminism is automatically going to stand against all things gender-derived, isn’t it.
The fall of the Labour Party
I was a Labour Party CLP officer when this all broke out in UK politics. The test at that time was this: we all knew there was a desperate left-right battle going on in the Party, but it would appear that only real feminists noticed the other struggle that was going on. I saw branch after branch fall to the gender ideology, always with a fair number of women muttering, silently disagreeing, or shouted down when they questioned it. Many party branches just let those women leave, and didn’t know or didn’t care.
The exceptions were the branches where there were confident, feminist women in positions of note, who stood up right at the start and said “but this is all sexist nonsense.” Many of them were later hounded out of their roles, or left the party in disgust at the bullying and manipulation that went on around it. People noticed those who stayed to slug it out, because it became impossible brush aside as ‘women’s issues’. Many called it ‘transphobia’ or the ‘trans rights issue’.
It was inevitable because gender ideology is directly and unavoidably in opposition to real feminists, so there you are – if you believe sex exists, and it matters, and that the primary job of feminists is to do battle against sexism, you are a feminist, pure and simple.
If someone responds (as some do, these days) by saying “ah, but you should be more intersectional – include black women, disabled women…. male women…”
If they do that, first off tell them to stop being racist and ableist (how dare they imply black and disabled women are not welcome in all feminist work!) and above all, tell them to stop being sexist. Why on earth do they think a dressed-up male is a woman? Sure, some people will ‘treat them as though they were women’, but feminists can’t do that, can we, because we’re not in the business of treating women differently. It’s sexist.
We are feminists
Just say we are feminists. If there is doubt, say real feminists. If someone asks what it means, point them to organizations like FiLiA – women, all kinds of women, working with and for women all over the world. Yes, we have got ourselves backed into a position where I need to explain that ‘all kinds of women’ means anyone who’s female. That’s what feminism means. It needs no suffix. I question how many of the people calling themselves ‘gender critical feminists’, and being called ‘terfs’ are actually feminists.
An example: FiLiA 2022, Cardiff – feminists in action look like this. What colour are they? What age, what nationality, what kind of women? You tell me…
Thanks to Pauline Makoveitchoux for the photos
[NB like most big conferences, FiLiA’s annual conference is open to visitors so you may well see a few males about the place – but as any feminist conference should be, it’s a conference by, for, and about, women. That’s the whole point.]
“Be kind, be more inclusive”
This, frankly, is nonsense, and insulting nonsense at that. Why do people suppose that anyone – especially socialists and feminists – need a special instruction to be kind to trans people? I personally do my best not to be unkind to anyone, don’t you? As to ‘inclusive’, I think that has become the most mis-used word in the language. To repeat a much-wrangled over story from my Labour Party days, why oh why did parts of my CLP insist on holding meetings at a hotel our Disability Officer had major difficulties getting his wheel chair into? Because it had a nice bar, that’s why. That is exclusionary or, in laymen’s terms, downright rudeness.
By contrast, if you hold a family gathering, you’re going to invite your family, aren’t you. Not friends who you aren’t related to. No-one is going to accuse you of being exclusionary for that. If you’re religious, and hold a prayer meeting, no-one is going to be surprised if you don’t invite friends who aren’t religious, are they? There is nothing remotely abnormal about feminists gathering to talk about issues affecting the female sex, and only inviting female people.
So, drop the fancy labels. Those women who succeeded in getting the women’s sex-based rights issue onto their political groups’ agendas right at the start did so by saying, “no. We are feminists, and this self-ID stuff is sexist. We won’t tolerate it, because we are feminists.” That’s all we need to say.
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