I am on a journey back to a form of feminism that I am not sure exists. Many women like myself, stopped identifying as a feminist when our suburban lives ceased bearing any semblance to the goals spouted by the angry weirdos at the forefront of western feminism. While I was busy running a grown woman’s life, raising girls, running a business, caring for sick family and being happily married, feminism began to sound like angry little girls complaining about the boys. I’m getting the feeling it’s time for the women to stand up and have a little talk to the kids.
When I was at university, I took a course that has been superseded by gender studies, called “women’s studies”. In the old days, women’s studies was establishing itself in Humanities departments and critically engaging with histories of “big men and big deeds”. Feminists were unapologetically bringing domestic politics, sexuality and the history of domestic labour into the fore and claiming they were legitimate topics of historical study.
Feminist historians and philosophers argued that we cannot understand women’s position in society without looking at our own past as women. This inquiry involved a variety of histories, including the history of gynaecology and childbirth. Of particular interest to me was the clinical management of women’s health. The saving of women from death in childbirth, is as significant historical process as any major battle, not just for women but for all humanity.
Feminists philosophers like Nancy Tuana have been maligned by the anti-woke critics of critical theory, but her work has come back to my mind recently regarding the regressive ideas coming forward about female biology. I have not read Tuana’s work for years, as it seems to have gone the way that work does when stuck in a university. However, in the 1980s she wrote of the way ancient patriarchal philosophers, particularly of Aristotle and Galean, had an enduring impact on the medical research of women’s sexual and reproductive organs. Ideologies of the power and sexual essence of men and women, had real effects on the poor health care women received, and the slow advancement in gynaecological science. She argued that “The accepted belief in woman’s inferiority can be shown to have affected, in various scientists, the process of observation, the interpretation of data, and the justification and defence of theory” (Tuana, 1988).
What reminded me of her work was seeing a trans activists argue that female reproductive organs are the exact opposite of the male reproductive organs, or that the clitoris was like a small penis. These now seem to be quite common ideas in the twittersphere, and reflect a similar misunderstanding to the 2nd century Galen idea that the male and female organs are the reverse of each other. “Turn outward the woman’s, turn inward, so to speak, and fold double the man’s, and you will find the same in both in every respect.” — Galen, 2nd century A. D. Misrepresentations of female genitalia and reproductive organs are being re-hashed in popular gender ideology to diminish the importance of genitals in sexual definition and attraction.
If you need evidence that popular held regressive ideologies have had an impact on women’s health and mortality, look no further than the brave Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865). Semmelweis made Lifesaving discoveries regarding unhygienic practices in childbirth in the mid 1800’s. He found that with simple handwashing and sterilisation procedures, maternity mortality rates plummeted from 18.27% to 1.27% immediately. But there was resistance to the widespread implement of the practice by male doctors, while midwives readily embraced the practice. Doctors became so notorious for the disregard for birthing women’s lives, that women opted to birth at home if they couldn’t get a midwife attendant in hospital. This superior expertise of midwives as birthing specialists has endured to this day.
The historical accounts indicate the male doctors lagged on these practices because of egos and politics, which is easy enough to understand. However, there was an enduring misunderstanding of the complex female reproductive organs and their susceptibility to infection during childbirth by the men who dominated the practice of obstetrics. This has led to countless dead mothers, not “birthing people”, not just “women”, but specifically “mothers”, heavily impacting both male and female people (husbands, sons & daughters).
I highlight the word “mothers” here in light of the attempt to replace “mothers” with “parents” this week by in the US House of Representatives. The words we use for women and our roles is vital in defining and situating our value both historically and in current public record. These are not just words laden with stereotypes, but important descriptors of the power and value of women in the family, society, economy and culture. In fact it is hard to see these redefinitions as anything but an attempt to downplay this value and power.
Semmelweis died disillusioned by the ongoing resistance to his clinically proven theory. Official sanitation procedures were not mandated for obstetrics in many western nations until the 1980s. Men like Semmelweis, and many men and women today in science and government, are vital in standing for truth-telling over legal and ideological fiction. When you look at history, you can easily see that science has almost never been free of ideology. The separation of ideology from science is very much a 20th century practice, and one worth fighting for. This includes the social sciences, as pointed out by the great patriarch of sociology, Max Weber, in his lecture “Science as a Vocation” (1917).
The ideological attempt to separate the definition of women from their biology, has become the seminal point at which I am returning to feminism. I don’t fit exactly into a feminist school, certainly not the contradictory mess that is intersectional feminism, and I have talked about that before . I follow a lot of Gender Critical (GC) feminists, but am not actually against gender, or even gender stereotypes. Contrary to modern beliefs, our society has been resisting the imposition of gender norms on children for a long time.
Gender Critical feminism for those who live offline, is a school of feminists that are essentially gender deniers. They advocate for women as a sex and argue that women can be masculine or feminine or live a life as a cat in a box, but they are still women, and as such are subject to the vulnerabilities and discriminations that women are subject to as a sex. So, for the GC feminist a trans man is still subject to many of the issues faced by women and would include them as part of their feminism.
LGBTIQ has made a few mistakes to empower the GC movement, which it is now essentially at war with. The first is to come against lesbians. Gender ideology elevates gender above sex, and its adherents are openly declaring that lesbians should accept a lover who is a “trans woman”. By repeating the Dorothy-like mantra that “Trans women are women” (TWAW), they blindly insist on the inclusion of male born “lesbians” in dating spaces and in lesbian communities.
Taking it another step, as they do, last week I saw a trans history being situated in an ongoing war lesbians have with straight women and society, starting apparently in the 80s. The idea here is that excluding trans women from female spaces is exactly like excluding lesbians. This narrative tries to establish a kind of sisterhood between lesbians and transwomen, rather than accepting that the sexuality of women doesn’t alter their biological reality and legal status as women.
Lesbians are finding not only that their spaces are disappearing, but that young girls who may latter identify as lesbians, are getting caught in gender ideology and starting to identify as trans men and medically transitioning. This problem has been highlighted in the case of Bell Vs Tavistock in the UK. Keira Bell was subject to state funded medical transition at the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic. From the age of sixteen she was put on puberty blockers then cross sex hormones and then had a double mastectomy when she was twenty. Her lawyers successfully argued that she was not adequately informed of her options, and that she was too young to consent to puberty blockers.
Kiera, like so many young people, was exposed to an education and medical system infected with gender ideology. Kiera herself argues that she was not sufficiently exposed to the idea that the presentation of masculinity in girls is not a problem that requires medical intervention. She also claims that she had deeper issues that required further investigation and support. Instead she was subjected to the, now widespread, Gender Affirmative Model for treating gender non conforming young people.
Of course, not all masculine girls are lesbians, and not all girls getting caught in gender ideology are masculine presenting. The problem is that the state has become involved in the gender and sexuality of children, without mandate and without scientific or public health justification. Aside from the risks to children, it is causing a lot of fights.
In the face of the gender nonsense, a movement of gay men and lesbian women are opposing the gender ideology imbedded in the powerful and influential LGBTIQ groups like Stonewall and Mermaids. LGB Alliances have been popping up in various locations to fight for the rights of same sex attracted men and women to define themselves and the boundaries of their spaces. They are being called “hate groups”, transphobes and bootlickers of the Christian right. The vilification is an attempt by gender ideologues to situate all opposition to their movement within traditional power structures, and maintain the fiction that the “queer theory” doesn’t maintain a stronghold in modern culture and government.
Having said that, bizarre connections do seem to be the 2021 theme. Getting myself involved in GC twitter arguments, I found myself defending witches. A guy named Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect), was arguing on twitter that the burning of witches was not just women’s history but also men’s history and trans history, because there was documented cases of witches being gender non-conforming or male. I don’t know anything about witch history, I have no dog in the witch history fight, but when Chu went on to link the persecution of the gender non-conforming witches with the persecution of mixed race African Americans under Jim Crowe, I could see where the narrative was going.
I am not a scientist, or a biologist, I have a humanities degree. I studied the history of theory, argument and thought. For this reason, when I added the dangerous lesbians, to the transgender witches, to the remarkable online transitioning of Joan of Arc, I found myself right back in the feminist trenches. If we critically engage with this kind of narrative, it is very easy to see that the historic transitioning of strong dissident women into trans-men, and feminine men into trans-women, we are dealing with an ideology that is slavishly devout to gender stereotypes. Joan of Arc was a woman subject to the vulnerabilities and the persecutions of the female sex. If Joan of Arc was gender non-conforming, then she was subject to the persecutions of a gender non-conforming woman.
It’s one thing to transition historical figures, but for Keira Bell, and children like her, we are medicating perfectly normal presentation of masculinity in girls and perfectly normal presentation of femininity in boys. It is an ideological infection of medical science, and we have seen it before.
This has nothing to do with the rights of individuals to live in society as the opposite sex, or of transgender people to access treatment and acceptance. Feminism does not resist people who want to live a gender non-conforming life, quite the opposite. Nor should it resist women who want to wear a dress and carry food in a basket on their head.
I can’t sit silent while governments and oligarchs preside over the official re-definition of women, and embrace an ideology where women’s bodies are again subject to regressive stereotypes. Women’s risks, safety, mortality, and life chances have always been linked to our biology. The increasing attempt to talk about women’s body functions like childbirth, menstruation, menopause, and female orgasms, as if they are separate from the female sex, is not only strange, it is offensive and dangerous.
Women are being called “people who bleed”, “vulva owners” and “cervix havers”, which is being met with almost universal scorn by women themselves. We are not seeing the corresponding issue with men. Men’s identity and power in popular mythology and culture has always been connected to their stronger bodies, to their “testicles”, “balls” or the size of their penis.
With the influence of 1960-80s feminism, there had been a corresponding body positivity movement about women’s organs, including rather more talk about vaginas than many of us were comfortable with. Our culture also recognises the power of women to grow humans, to bring forth life and endure the pains of menstruation and labour. We now face the cultural knife of the gender surgeon, rendering us sexless and free of the organs that have the power to both kill us and birth all of humanity. In their place we are given an essence, a feeling, a bag of the stereotypes that we had been successfully shedding ourselves of for many decades.
I understand the attraction of gender ideology. The idea that maybe we are all just the same, that there are some men who are internally just like us. If gender exists on a spectrum then some men are so feminine they are really just women with a male body. We have all seen anecdotal evidence that some men are so feminine they seamlessly integrate into groups of women. More than that, women frequently seek out the company of feminine men as safe companions. So, if transwomen are just the next step, what is the harm in acnowledging the reality of gender expression? Well it’s a faith based belief for a start.
The idea that femaleness and maleness exist on a spectrum, or that there is an “inner gender essence”, separate from sex, is not scientific. Debra Soh in her book “The End of Gender” goes so far as to say, that it is simply not true. Soh indicates that there is strong evidence that homosexual men, are “born that way”, and there is evidence that there may be social factors that lead to homosexuality. She then points out that, while this is interesting, it is neither here nor there for the definition of male and female, or the politics of gay or transgender rights.
In the same way people may be gay for a variety of reasons, Soh indicates people identify as transgender for a variety of reasons. There is no evidence that that people feel like the opposite sex to their biological sex because they have some kind of opposite brain or opposite soul to their body.
In line with the principles of the secular state, science, medicine and individuals need to be able to come to their own conclusions on matters of sex, sexuality and gender. The influence of regressive gender ideology on science, culture and government is just as harmful as Galea’s regressive beliefs were on 18th century science.
The legal fiction of self ID brings the transgender rights not only in full and open conflict with gay and lesbian rights, but women’s rights as well. There are real risks for women when there is a legal mandate to include men who self-identify as women in single sex spaces, or as “female” health providers in intimate care. There are debates and considerations to be had, but that is different from religiously embracing the legal fiction that TWAW.
The existence of the natural and biological occurrence of “masculinity” and “femininity”, and the desire to play these out in ways separate from sex does not free us from our sex. Gender does not free us from sex, it has never freed us from sex, and it never will free us from sex. The embracing of any ideology that denies this is robing women of the language they need for advocacy. We are being fought on this front by men’s rights advocates who want to argue that women don’t need advocacy as a sex, and trans rights advocates who want to live in a fictitious world where gender is free from the confines of sex. Both are chipping away at the reality of female vulnerability in history, law and science. So, I am back in the feminist camp, but it seems we have a new tent.
 Tuana, Nancy “The Weaker Seed the Sexist Bias of Reproductive Theory”. Hypatia Vol. 3, No. 1, Feminism and Science 2 (Spring, 1988), pp. 35-59 (25 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/3810050?read-now=1&seq=22#page_scan_tab_contents
 Soh, Debra (2020) The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society. Simon & Schuster