In Liberal circles, there is some confusion about why not everyone on the Left is in step with the spirit of the times.
Why do some who call themselves feminist exclude Transwomen?
Digging in your heels on questions of sexuality is a familiar move that tells us someone is old-fashioned. The quick assumption is, they are intolerant and inflexible.
But does inflexibility always indicate intolerance? Which is to say, does firmly holding a line always indicate an outdated mentality?
We have applied these two labels to our political parties, and attempted to shove each and every idea into one box or the other.
We have assumed associations because there are only two choices, and sometimes concessions have been made to fit the narrative of liberal vs. conservative.
Many people’s main exposure to GC ideas is the Gender Critical subreddit, an online radical feminist community. I have been a member for years, and recently watched an influx of new members and the confusion this creates.
Around Reddit and around the Internet, radical feminism is widely misunderstood. We are characterized as “feminists who don’t view trans women as real women and view trans men as ‘traitors’ to the female gender.” As “middle class white cis heterosexual women who leverage their minority status to attack members of another political minority because they want a sense of power.”
"Gender critical feminists are critical of gender as a whole. The main tenet is that sex is physical and gender is social."
Gender critical feminists are critical of gender as a whole. The main tenet is that sex is physical and gender is social. We repeat that we have no issue with men in dresses and makeup. But it doesn’t make them women, because physical sex exists.
Due to this, we are portrayed as behind the times. We are told science has evolved past our “elementary school understanding” that sexual reproduction is reality. A reality that has weighed heavy on women’s fates for ages. Women who are already the most vulnerable in society—victims of domestic violence, women of color, incarcerated women, lesbians and bisexual women—are the most hurt by the change to define sex out of existence. So yes, we resist this change.
The inherited wisdom is that individuals get more conservative as they age. This is often true in the sense of ‘Small C’ conservative—people become more resistant to change the more established they become in their lives. The young are seen as more flexible, if only because they have less to lose in shifting social sands.
When I found myself on the other side of trans activism from my liberal friends, my first question to myself was, “Am I really getting old?” I checked myself on other subjects—I still believe all people are of equal basic worth. I still believe the government exists to manage things we need as citizens. I’m still pro-choice. So far, so liberal.
"To be conservative means to be resistant to change. To be progressive means to be in favor of change."
On the other hand, feminists have long sought to abolish the sexual exploitation of women and girls, for example through rape, porn, and prostitution. Mainstream liberals have recently adopted support for the latter two as part of their platform. Women, it seems, are left behind in the mainstream liberal/progressive narrative. Disagreeing with this will get you labeled a conservative, or worse, a prude.
We have become so simplistic in our politics that we don’t know how to process it when Our Team does something disagreeable. They must not really be on Our Team! We are Team Progress! It appears that many who consider themselves Liberals cherish their idea of themselves as Good People more than independent thought.
But supporting change for change’s sake is not what kind, thinking people do. The mainstream liberal finds herself in a strange position.
It makes sense on its face for those who enjoy things as they are to be unquestioningly conservative. It’s not a terrifically thought-out perspective, because change is the one thing we can count on in this world. But it’s scary, and it’s easy to have some sympathy for those who feel this way. Scientists are even saying this is a temperamental thing, just part of someone’s basic personality.
Forward-looking optimism is baked into our national character. The conservative mind has always been on the Wrong Side of History, ever since the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
Overall, the progression from Feudal theocracy to Individualistic democracy has improved the average person’s life. But this is an oversimplification of the political patterns of the recent past.
"Feminists have found themselves in the awkward position of only being able to write for, speak to, or get funding from conservative groups."
The debate gets muddled when radical feminists and gender critical allies must work with people who are, on the whole, actually conservative. Although free speech and fighting censorship used to be a liberal aim, liberals have now abandoned that goal. Instead, “progressives” fight to silence, no-platform, and shut down debate on issues they disagree with. Conservatives, previously the pro-censorship wing, have picked up the slack. As such, feminists have found themselves in the awkward position of only being able to write for, speak to, or get funding from conservative groups.
Those who attack some feminists for working with conservative groups and individuals, who use it like a "Gotcha!" to discredit us by implying we were really hypocrites all along, don't realize how simple-minded this is. The world is not as easily understood as black or white, in or out, Right or Left.
This framework of understanding our political landscape has been slipping for some time, like the Julian calendar. Caesar miscalculated the length of the year by 11 minutes in 46 B. C. The eventual correction was so drastic, 10 days in October 1582 had to be skipped to realign the paper calendar with the solar one. The calendar we use today is much more complex, and still not quite perfect.
The classic right-left dichotomy that solidified in the 20th century is not a force of nature. Going back to the political philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries, the general theme emerges as collectivism vs. individualism. Some people see society from a bird's-eye view and focus on making more things work for more people. Others are more ground-level and concentrate on improving their own little corner.
Collectivism is seen as the progressive perspective because, historically, mankind has run things the other way.
Greed is an old impulse, rooted in our survival instinct. Throughout history, people have robbed, beaten and killed each other to amass piles of wealth and power. Those who did not were peasants. Plebeians. The unwashed masses. Social mobility meant adopting a cutthroat approach, literally. Those with disabilities, or even differences, were often entirely rejected by society.
That last one seems outrageous to us in the modern West. Until recently, things like orphanages, food kitchens, Social Security, and even dog shelters were little more than a utopian dream. Social Security was popular when FDR passed it because people had seen the elderly eating cat food during the Great Depression. They decided that, in a civilized society, being old and alone didn't mean you should starve.
"Radical feminists are not 'conservative'—we don’t want to maintain the status quo. Not by a long shot."
By a simplistic definition, radical feminists and gender criticals are on the “conservative side” of the Trans Rights debate. We are, indeed, resistant to the change of defining sex out of existence, medicalizing gender non-conforming children, and criminalizing female-only spaces. But radical feminists are not “conservative”—we don’t want to maintain the status quo. Not by a long shot. The overall aim, here, is a collectivist goal—an actually progressive one.
Actual conservatives, those who are resistant to changes in the status quo, including gender roles, do not share this goal with radical feminists or gender critical allies. We know that those who wish to limit women’s participation in the public sphere, criminalize reproductive autonomy, and uphold oppressive gender norms are not the same as us. Any allyship formed with conservatives is temporary, borne out of desperation, necessity, and a shared enemy for the time being.
Rather, we are gender abolitionists. We imagine a world in which individuals are free to be themselves. Where the absurdity of “women’s clothes” is forgotten. Where we can explore who we are without worrying about losing our “man card”. Where we are human above all else, cultivating mutual understanding.
Major social upheaval would result if men and women abandoned gender roles. The beauty and fashion industries would certainly suffer. Pornography would find it difficult to bank on the degradation of female stereotypes. Childhood would become an adventure in self-discovery, without the familiar pressure to conform. We would have to let others speak rather than rely on shallow heuristics to know who they are.
"We are gender abolitionists. We imagine a world in which individuals are free to be themselves."
We resist the idea physical sex is mutable and arbitrary because, had we been born in a different place or time, women know very well how our sex would tip the scales against us. Women have been denied freedom, education, independence, the very basics of adult life, because of the incidental detail of our sex.
To now tell us it doesn’t matter after all is insulting to all women, and the civil progress we have fought and died for. Holding this line makes us conservative in the sense that we resist the change that tells us we don’t matter.
It’s not about being behind the times, because this change is not good.
The demands of trans activists are bad for women and girls. They are bad for children who like the wrong toys. They are bad for those with gender dysphoria who need support to heal. They are bad for gay men and lesbians who are seeing their boundaries eroded.
We are resisting the elements within our own group that work against our goals. Trans Rights is exposed as not a true collectivist—and therefore progressive—ideology by its actions.
They work feverishly to silence opposition, with an Orwellian vocabulary that twists collectivist ideas in bad faith. To get us working against ourselves.
The struggle between the individual and society is real, and has been explored by many more powerful minds than mine. It changes form as we and our society change. It’s not the elementary school understanding of red vs. blue, dirty commies vs. greedy capitalists.
It’s a struggle for power, between the many and the few. Power to decide how society works. Engaging with this struggle requires flexibility to adjust to a shifting paradigm. And women won’t have any power at all if we are defined out of legal existence.
Call me whatever you want. I’m resisting this change. Not all change is good.
CC BY-SA 4.0, Sarah Othokian