On December 8, The Atlantic published a piece titled "The Secret Internet of TERFs" (previously titled, "Reddit’s Banned Hate Groups Are Still Here") which discussed the banning of r/GenderCritical from Reddit and subsequent feminist efforts to rebuild our online communities.
I spoke with the author, tech reporter Kaitlyn Tiffany, in great detail for the piece including twice on the phone and multiple email exchanges. Tiffany asked me to reply to many of the claims she included in the article against the Gender Critical community over email. However, my responses were often left out of the piece.
Tiffany also interviewed two admins of Ovarit, the feminist Reddit alternative that is the focus of the piece. The Atlantic excluded their responses from the final article, despite the fact that they are more involved with Ovarit than I. This was communicated to Tiffany multiple times—I was only a developer of the site prior to it's launch and am not a moderator or admin. With their permission, I've uploaded and included their conversations with Tiffany here:
I've taken the liberty to publish my full email correspondence with Tiffany following our phone calls, which includes my responses to many of the false claims perpetuated in the article against the radical feminist community. They have not been edited. (Timestamps will vary depending on the timezone of the sender/recipient).
Update 12/16/20 - The Admins of Ovarit have published their official response to the article, which can be found here:
My email correspondence with Kaitlyn Tiffany, following our two phone calls
On 2020-11-23 11:43, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
hey! just working on the draft today and had a few smaller things to follow up with you about:
- Do you know if the original creators of r/GenderCritical are involved in Ovarit?
- Do you ever hear criticisms that Gender Critical is in some ways aligned online with the alt-right (because of the free speech anti-Big Tech point of view)?
- I know we talked about this a little bit already, but how do you respond to Reddit banning r/GenderCritical for hate speech?
- There are some threads on Ovarit that do seem to go a little further than just detached conversation about feminist principles, more into the space of mocking and anger. Do you worry at all about these? (I'm thinking specifically of a recent thread about Trans Remembrance Day: https://ovarit.com/o/GenderCritical/9532/trans-remembrance-day) thanks again!
On Mon, Nov 23, 2020 at 1:39 PM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
Thanks for following up. To answer your questions...
1. I can't say for sure, as I'm not positive who the original creators of r/GenderCritical are. GirlUndone would know better than me on that one. I can say for sure that some of the creators (not including myself) were Mods for many years there.
2. Of course, we hear this criticism a lot—but it's simply untrue. Free speech is a classically liberal point of view. Activists for social justice movements have long recognized the importance of our civil liberties to the ability to create positive change in society. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke passionately about the importance of free speech and our other First Amendment rights in the very last speech he ever gave. It's actually my training in Kingian Nonviolence and civil disobedience that made me aware of how very important free speech is to progressive action. Likewise, my resistance to "Big Tech" comes from a leftist point of view. I am against centralized, proprietary software because this software infringes on our freedoms. I prefer Free and Open Source (FOSS) alternatives because they put the power in the hands of the people. This is why Spinster, Ovarit, and all my projects are Free Software (and this is a difference you'll notice with most "right-wing" social media alternatives, like Parler - they are not FOSS). My software freedom activism is also very much informed through a Kingian perspective, which I wrote a bit about here. FOSS advocates have historically been called "socialists" for promoting open access to technology, so it's very ironic that we are somehow now associated with the right
3. I think Reddit banning r/GenderCritical for hate speech demonstrates that male-run, centralized, and proprietary platforms can not be trusted to have women's best interest at heart, and that we must create our own solutions. It is also a symptom of wider misogyny in our society that women speaking up for their sex-based rights, the very rights our feminist foremothers fought for, is considered in any way "hateful". This is made even more clear when compared to content that is allowed on Reddit, such as violent pornography
4. As I'm not a Mod of any Circles on Ovarit (besides o/bugs, but that was just for development testing), I don't feel I'm in the best position to comment on specific content. More generally, though, I think humor and anger are both very common ways for people to deal with pain and oppression on a huge range of issues. Women (especially black women) are often criticized for being "too angry" when they speak unapologetically in defense of their rights or against systems that oppress them. I personally find more civil dialogue to be very helpful when approaching the issue publicly, but I will never hold it against a woman to nonviolently express anger, resentment, or humor when she is discussing the patriarchy. Why would we expect women to be "detached" from these issues that mean so much to us personally? There's been a lot of good writing and some research on "moral anger" as a force to propel social movements, specifically around racial justice, which has shaped my perspective on this
Hope this is all helpful! Looking forward to the story :)
On 2020-12-01 12:50, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
hey, sorry to keep following up but a couple more questions for you:
-- I just want to dig in a little bit more on the last question from my previous email. Speaking to a trans scholar on the topic, she pointed out that trans-exclusionary feminism is also feminism that wants to eliminate trans women by stopping surgeries and therapies and recognition of their identity, etc. I understand that you don't consider this hateful, but was hoping you might be able to explain that a little bit more. I don't want to mischaracterize your beliefs.
-- Some other experts I've spoken to have characterized the gender critical community as an extremist group. Do you have a response to that?
-- And then lastly, I was wondering if you could comment on whether the tone of conversation on Ovarit feels different to you than the tone on r/GenderCritical. doyou think people are more emphatic about their beliefs now that they're on a site dedicated to them? are there things that get said now that wouldn't before?
if it's easier to talk on the phone I'm available thanks!
On Tue, Dec 1, 2020 at 3:57 PM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
Thanks for giving me the chance to respond! Email is almost always preferred for me :)
1. I just want to dig in a little bit more on the last question from my previous email. Speaking to a trans scholar on the topic, she pointed out that trans-exclusionary feminism is also feminism that wants to eliminate trans women by stopping surgeries and therapies and recognition of their identity, etc. I understand that you don't consider this hateful, but was hoping you might be able to explain that a little bit more. I don't want to mischaracterize your beliefs.
I believe that adults should have the right to identify however they want, change their legal name, and undergo cosmetic surgeries with informed consent.
I believe that in a truly feminist society, men, women, boys, and girls would be able to live happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives without having to change their bodies or how they behave to conform to societal gender norms. This is the society feminists work toward creating.
I do not support denying freedom of speech by legally compelling how someone must refer to themselves or others (this includes protecting the right to call yourself "transgender" if you so choose, and the right for others to not do so).
I also believe that the medical community has an ethical obligation to be fully transparent about the potential risks of these surgeries and hormone therapies, especially when being used on children. Puberty blockers, for example, are not FDA approved for the purpose of gender therapy in children, and the long-term effects of the use of these drugs in this way has not been studied. Just today, a court in the UK issued a judgment against the Tavistock clinic for giving these drugs to children, citing, "immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment, the limited evidence available as to its efficacy or purpose, the fact that the vast majority of patients proceed to the use of cross-sex hormones, and its potential life-changing consequences for a child."
2. Some other experts I've spoken to have characterized the gender critical community as an extremist group. Do you have a response to that?
Policies advocated for by the gender critical community are supported by the majority of Americans. A poll conducted by Spry Strategies on behalf of Women's Liberation Front in October, which surveyed over 3,000 likely voters and received the highest weighting of polls conducted at the same time by 538, found that a majority of voters disagree with policies related to "gender identity".
Some key points from that research:
- Only 7% of voters agreed that male abusers and sex offenders should be placed in women's prisons based on their "gender identity".
- 67% of voters agreed that children should not be allowed to undergo physical sex-change surgery or take cross-sex hormones.
- 67% also agreed that men and boys should not be allowed to compete in women and girls' sports.
- Black and Hispanic voters were more likely to support protections for single-sex spaces, especially on issues such as prison and homelessness (which disproportionately impact communities of color).
These views are utterly mainstream and common-sense to everyday Americans across states as politically different as California and Idaho. The only exceptional thing about the gender critical community is that we are actively talking about and prioritizing the topic, often because of strong personal connections to the issues of male violence, sexuality, or gender-nonconformity. The reality of the normalcy of gender critical ideas may be obscured due to social preference falsification spurred on efforts by trans activists (with all due respect to your experts) to intentionally misrepresent radical feminism and generate a culture of fear and silence on the topic.
3. And then lastly, I was wondering if you could comment on whether the tone of conversation on Ovarit feels different to you than the tone on r/GenderCritical. doyou think people are more emphatic about their beliefs now that they're on a site dedicated to them? are there things that get said now that wouldn't before
Honestly, and this might sound weird, I don't actually spend a lot of time reading posts on Ovarit! I helped with a lot of the tech during the initial launch of the site, but these days I mostly pop on to just drop a link a few times a month. Because of that, I really don't believe I'm the right person to answer this question. One of the Mods would have a better idea since they spend more time actually engaging with the content.
Let me know if I can answer anything else for you!
On Wed, Dec 2, 2020 at 9:16 AM Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
thank you for this! Kaitlyn
On 2020-12-02 13:55, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
sorry, last question for you, I just want to clarify the timeline of when you started participating in r/GenderCritical—do you remember when that was? (the year would be fine) and then I know you mentioned it helped shape your political views / feminism but was hoping you could clarify the role that the subreddit played specifically. Like, were you going there with questions that still needed answering or were you going there for community after you'd already answered questions for yourself
On Wed, Dec 2, 2020 at 3:11 PM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
I created the reddit account I used for r/GC in September 2017, so that is probably about when I started participating there.
I first found the community while I was still looking for answers, struggling with the contradictions I was facing internally (summer/fall of 2017). The subreddit provided resources, stories, feminist analysis, and helped me realize I was not the only feminist on the left questioning gender ideology. I remained a regular reader and sometimes poster on the sub for about two years. In the summer of 2019, I got more involved in the radfem community outside of reddit through the creation of Spinster and 4W, and stopped using the site as much then as I had new outlet and was building relationships with women in other ways. Despite not personally participating much by that point, I jumped at the chance to help create Ovarit when r/GC was banned a year later in 2020 because I still recognized the importance of the space to many women.
On Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 10:37 AM Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
On 2020-12-04 15:46, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
hi Mary Kate, we're doing our final fact-checking on the story, so my editor and I just had a few things to run past you to double-check.
-- I know you already said that the gender critical community doesn't engage in doxing or harassment, but since it came up in an interview I did for the story, and in a Vox piece written last year, I wanted to give you another chance to respond to that. are you sure you would say that it never happens?
-- In my own recent experiences on Ovarit, I've seen quite a bit of what I would consider hate speech. And I've also seen a lot of "us vs. them" language, which was pointed out to me by a researcher who has been studying the toxicity of communities that are banned from Reddit. He noted that this is often the result of such bans. I know you said you don't spend a ton of time on the platform, but as one of the core developers, do you have any response to that?
-- I know that the term "trans-exclusionary radical feminist" is controversial, and we discussed this a bit already, but do you have any particular objections to its use that you would like to note?
-- Would you agree that women in this community feel persecuted by Big Tech, and by the mainstream media? In our conversation, and in posts that I've read on Ovarit, this stood out to me as a significant theme.
Just to be clear, this piece is pretty invested in the question of how online language that could be considered hate speech should be dealt with, debating the usefulness of bans, and thinking about where tech should be drawing the lines around free speech. So I want to make sure I have as accurate an understanding of your thoughts on these topics as possible.
On 2020-12-04 16:41, Mary Kate Fain wrote:
1. The piece you linked to specifies that the doxxing the author experienced did not take place on r/GenderCritical, although I am still very sorry to hear about this experience. As someone who has received threats and harassment online for my activism (and as I certainly will for even talking to you for this piece), I can empathize with what the author went through. I don't remember ever seeing that post, though, so I really wouldn't know anything about it specifically.
2. Can you provide an example of what you consider "hate speech" that you've seen? I don't really feel I can reply to vague claims like this beyond what I've already said. I do agree that there is an "us vs them" mentality driving a lot of online discourse. I think the era of political hyper-polarization is fueled by this, especially on Twitter and Facebook, and I agree that it's toxic. However, I also recognize that it's effective in building and mobilizing communities - which is this sort of rhetoric persists on all sides of nearly every political issue today.
3. My specific opposition to the term "trans-exclusionary radical feminist" is that it's simply inaccurate. Radical feminism is for females, no matter their identity. This means that our work advocates for the interests of all women and girls, including those who identify as trans. We exclude males, again, regardless of their identity. It has nothing to do with their "gender identity" and everything to do with their sex. Additionally, I have seen how the term "TERF" is often accompanied by violent threats, material consequences for women, homophobia (usually against lesbians), and misogyny.
4. Yes, I would agree with that.
I appreciate you taking the time to try to understand my stance. I know this is a difficult topic, and I know that as a journalist you're putting yourself on the line to accurately report on radical feminism. I would like to once again reiterate that radical feminism does not come from a place of hate, nor anything even remotely near it. Radical feminism comes from a place of love for women and girls, an understanding of patriarchy, and a desire to see the end to the global terrorism of male violence.
Please let me know if I can further clarify anything else.
On Fri, Dec 4, 2020 at 6:09 PM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
ps. I just asked the Mods about the instance in this Vox article. Girl_undone said that when the article was released, they tried to verify the claim and found no record of the supposed event. You should ask her about it directly.
On 2020-12-04 18:09, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
thank you for these! To clarify, when I say "hate speech" I'm talking about language that dehumanizes, slanders, or diminishes trans women based on their identity, so for example, in this thread: a trans woman is referred to as a "creature." I've recently seen people joke cruelly about how absurd it is that they're expected to accept "men in lipstick" as women, and people writing that trans women are mostly "narcissists" or that they're often "pedophiles." In the post I already sent you, several women were making fun of the Trans Day of Remembrance, which is an annual observance for trans people who have been murdered in hate crimes.
On Fri, Dec 4, 2020 at 7:35 PM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
Hey again -
Thanks for providing these examples for context to your question! I think it's a real stretch to classify any of this as hate speech, though. It's telling that you've not been able to find a single instance of actual expressions of hate, calls for or glorification of violence, threats, organized harassment, or doxxing in the gender-critical online community (all things that women experience online daily). Instead, we've got some rowdy feminists making jokes, participating in armchair psychology, and a bit of name-calling that would be considered tame anywhere else on the web. Women put up 1/10th of the fight of men online and we get labeled "hateful"?
Honestly, and I say this with all due respect, the constant classification of feminists' online participation as "hateful" simply because it is not ladylike, or, more specifically, doesn't conform to the patriarchy's current demands, is gaslighting. Patriarchy is what's hateful. I think you're scrounging a bit for examples to justify the narrative that you've been told and that, to be fair, you'll have to re-tell or else risk being called "hateful" yourself. I get it. Being canceled isn't easy.
The truth is, and I think you probably know already this, that there is no way we could disagree with gender ideology nicely enough to be "allowed". It's not about our tone, our crude jokes, or schoolyard name-calling. It's because we disagree with the fundamental premise that a man can become a woman simply because he says so. That is why we are called "hateful". I know this because I was labeled "hateful" for statements that contained nothing even remotely joking, namecalling, or crude. As was JK Rowling, and as were scores of other women.
The reality is that gender critical women, as a whole, are not hateful. Women as a class pose no genuine risk to men as a class; and women do not replicate patterns of male violence either on or offline at any meaningful scale.
I hope this clears that up, but I'm happy to continue to talk it through if it's helpful. The topic of free speech and censorship online is obviously very important to me, so I'm grateful for the work you're doing on this piece to raise the issue.
Have a great weekend,
On Tue, Dec 8, 2020 at 11:26 AM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
Glad to see the article is up! In the first paragraph, could you please correct it from "convinced that gender is fixed" to "convinced that sex is fixed"? I do not believe gender is fixed - I believe it should be abolished. That's the whole point :)
On 2020-12-08 10:59, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote:
thanks for pointing out—disccusing with my editor now
On Tue, Dec 8, 2020 at 11:05 AM Mary Kate Fain wrote:
Thank you! Much appreciated.
Here is an article I wrote over a year ago where I mention this, in order to confirm that this is, and has been since I became a radical feminist, my belief: https://4w.pub/why-i-still-defend-womens-sex-based-rights/
"Radical feminism, by it’s very nature, seeks to abolish gender. Gender is a constructed tool of the patriarchy used to keep women in an inferior state to men. To say that a woman chooses her gender, or has an innate “gender identity” is to say that women are complicit in their oppression, and consent to their inferiority. We do not."