A British tax expert named Maya Forstater was fired from her job at a think tank over a series of Tweets in which she questioned government plans to allow self-identification of sex while also stating support for women’s rights. Her statement that “men cannot change into women” was declared to be exclusionary and bigoted. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling defended her, which trended this morning on Twitter, as the rage mob descended to call Rowling “transphobic.” Women who think like this are slurred by trans activists as “TERFs,” or “trans exclusionary radical feminists.”
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
But defining womanhood as a feeling rather than a biological fact has implications for protection of women’s rights. Organisations concerned with social justice, international development and human rights would struggle to articulate their goals, policies and research without a word to denote female people. Yet few are willing to stand up for the biological definition of women, or even to hold open a space for clear, calm discussion.
However increasing numbers of feminist activists, academics, sportswomen (and ordinary individual women and men) are voicing alarm at the rapid mainstreaming of the idea that female people no longer need a name, or specific civil rights protections. They are voicing alarm at the compelled speech being imposed by institutions, and at the rapid expansionin the number of children and young people being given puberty blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones and surgery.
Forstater isn’t combative in voicing her concerns, but she sees real danger facing women and women’s rights:
Erasing the category of biological sex undermines the ability to define and protect transgender status as a legal characteristic which requires its own protections from harassment and discrimination.
She’s right — and many transgender activists proved her point by seeking to stifle her speech and drown out her concerns with their cancel-culture demands. As a result of Forstater’s honest discussion, she was fired for her job and took her fight to the courts to defend her right to speak about women’s rights. Yesterday the employment tribunal decided against her, establishing a worrying precedent not only for speech in Britain, but for the recognition of women’s rights. It’s shortsighted to think that the cultural (soon to be political) fallout from this won’t hit American shores.
Forstater is labelled as “transphobic” and so is any woman that agrees with her concerns, including Rowling. The patriarchy is telling women to get back into the kitchen, stay silent, and let the men speak or else face professional ruin. It’s the very definition of sexism, the specter of the ubiquitous Patriarchy come to life. It’s the silence of the female voice that feminists have long warned about — but it didn’t come at the hand of the stereotyped “toxic masculinity” or male Republicans — it came by way of men who identify as women and the activists who support them. Any concern women have about what such policies mean for their privacy, safety, and dignity are disregarded where it concerns restrooms and fitting rooms, fairness in athletics, government protections and programs is discounted.
Over the past year and a half, I have encountered many academics and public figures who have scornfully dismissed my and others’ claims that women, in particular, are losing their legal capacity to discuss what they see as their distinctive nature and interests, in certain important political contexts.
I never thought I would defend modern day feminists, but feminists aren’t the ones trying to silence transgender women and their supporters — it’s the other way around. Stating very real concerns about safety, privacy and dignity isn’t bigoted; asking whether it’s healthy to inject people young and old with powerful hormones without a care for any long term damage isn’t bigoted, but shaming women for the historical record on which their concerns are based is incredibly bigoted.
We are inching closer to such actions in the United States. Women here, regardless their political affiliation, are shamed for their genuine, academically-based inquiries and stated concerns about protections for biological females. The idea that expressing these very real concerns denies the voices of those who identify as transgender is simply false, an illogical argument made to stifle discussion as punishment for asking questions.
Some online shrug their shoulders and say “let the left eat their own,” but that seems counterproductive to the goal of protecting both speech and the female sex. This is bigger than just “the left” or “the right.” I do think Rowling contributed to this problem and is hoisted up by her own petard as a result, but to focus on that misses the bigger picture. Why are women viciously slurred and attacked — not disagreed with, but actually besieged both online and in meatspace — if they speak up for themselves or science?