Is a Feminist War Brewing Over Gender?
A growing number of feminist women are becoming frustrated, even angry, watching the feminist movement being claimed, renamed and repackaged as just “the movement” by anyone and everyone under the umbrella of “GC” or “gender critical”. There is a battle coming and feminist women know it will be savage. It will divide us and some of us think it should.
For feminists calling yourself a “gender critical feminist” is exactly the same as saying “feminist feminist.” It’s just saying it twice and that’s pointless. Being critical of gender and the accompanying gender stereotyping is just a small part of analysing your position as a woman in a world where women are oppressed by men. Being “gender critical” but not really bothering about other aspects of female oppression doesn’t make you a feminist and no one says it has to. However, neither should “GC” people be assuming that all feminists are happy to be under their brand new, shiny branding simply because they also critique gender.
Around 2018 those outside feminist circles began to wake up to the debate around whether gender should replace sex thereby allowing men to self-identify as women. Suddenly feminism was flung up into the air like a shiny, sexy ball to be caught by anyone who fancied playing with it. Some of those people began calling themselves “gender critical” (or “GC”) when adopting feminist argument on the topic. Feminists were initially glad of the support for something they had been ringing alarm bells about for many years. However, what has since become clear is that “GC” is also being used by an ever-growing number of men, a light sprinkling of racists, one or two homophobes, some supporters of the extreme right, and other groups of people with whom feminist women have no common cause. Of course, not ALL “GC” people are of this type, but some of them are, and that is a problem for feminist women.
We are pretty pissed off about being lumped into a “movement” we never asked to be part of. We already have a feminist movement. It has specific aims and some of them are at odds with the “GC” movement and its single-issue focus.
Feminists have long objected to male-bodied people identifying as women in female spaces like domestic abuse refuges and prisons. We have campaigned hard against the demands of trans ideology, which threaten the rights of women. But this was just a component of our work and focus as feminist women. Alongside this is the commitment to the elimination of male violence against women and girls in all its forms including prostitution, femicide, porn, rape, domestic abuse, etc. We also oppose the structural, political and economic oppression of women by the state including the courts, police, government and media. We look at the intersecting oppressions of race, disability, sexuality and class. It isn’t all about the transgender issue. Making it the single most important issue neglects to centre women. It mostly centres men and their demands.
Feminism is a never ending, constantly expanding and desperate task. It’s like knitting porridge and the majority of us will see little change in our lifetimes. Yes, sometimes men oppress women by shoving their sharp elbows into single sex services whilst wearing a dress, and demanding the women there call them “her” and “Sandra”, and yes, we absolutely must retain the language around women and the rights we have according to sex. It’s vital to all those other areas. But, if that was our only focus then nothing would ever happen about, for example, the 80% of women in prison for non-violent petty crime. That matters too. Many things matter to feminist women that appear not to matter very much to some of the “GC” crowd, especially the men. They aren’t focused as heavily, if at all, on Samira who is sleeping in her car with four children after escaping a violent man because she has no recourse to public funds or Sarah being raped repeatedly by men who buy her in a “managed zone”. Do we ask these critically vulnerable women to wait whilst we spend another day arguing online with Owen Jones? No. Feminist women get on with helping those women as they have done for decades AND they speak out about the trans issues threatening their rights.
The growing body of people calling themselves “GC” are more and more often talking to feminist women about “the common cause”, “our side” and explaining how this should erase or blur the political and sometimes also the personal boundaries between people. However, we may sometimes object to certain actions supposedly undertaken on our behalf as part of the “movement”. We are asked to include amongst our “allies” those whose politics are at huge variance with our own, particularly on women’s rights. We are asked to include men who care little for women’s rights in any other area, with people who are often racist and those who hold other bigoted views. We are told this isn’t a party-political issue and we should hold our noses and be able to work with the extreme right, particularly as some right-wing groups are active on the issue in the US. We are told it is too important to win the trans war that nothing else matters.
Feminist women think it does matter.
Just last week in a podcast interview I was told, rather than asked, “Jordan Peterson, he’s one of your allies isn’t he?” and I said “He’s not an ally of mine.” This shocked the interviewer. I don’t know why because Peterson has previously said that the left doesn’t want to admit that patriarchy is “predicated on competence”. Peterson is suggesting that women are less competent and this is why men reside at the top of the social hierarchy. I don’t need to care what Peterson thinks about anything else.
Men have recently begun to award themselves the term “ally” of women, but feminists don’t have to accept this or agree that men are allies just because they say they are. An ally isn’t a man who thinks women are inferior because female. We are not “on the same side” because for feminists “our side” is women; centring women is our motivating force. Men aren’t feminists. We feel just the same about groups who would curtail the reproductive rights of women. Neither are they “on the same side” as feminist women. The man who would force me to carry a child after I was raped, is very definitely not the same man I would want alongside me as I fight for the right to single sex services.
There are some feminist women who don’t want to include men in their ranks at all and yet a number of “Kings of Feminism” have appeared and are harnessing the work and words of those same feminist women for themselves; just helping themselves to the bits they fancy like low hanging fruit from a really clever tree. If feminist women object to this appropriation by men they are called “divisive” or “troublemakers”. Often by other women. Feminists take it in turn to pass around the eye roll bowl whilst digging their fingers into their other hand to stop them from screaming. Some women can't see Patriarchy and some women are sick of seeing the many forms it takes.
The key issue is not that there is a “GC” movement. It's great to see so many people beginning to wake up to the threat from trans activism. The problem is that the people in that "movement" keep assuming that feminist women are happy to be part of it. For many of us we aren’t. You can’t include us in a group we didn’t ask or want to join. We can’t be responsible for the errors made by those within a movement that we aren’t in. We certainly can’t be responsible for the things that men say or do whether a self-declared “ally”, or not. We also really don’t need men policing us, dictating to us, or using women to do the work that gives them a platform. That smells a lot like Patriarchy to me. Feminist women are working very hard and have been for many years. When some GC people, including women, expect them to help with projects on the single issue they have in common, often without thanks, then those women should not be surprised when feminist women become a bit pissed off and say no.
This is brewing. We can’t all just “play nice”. This stuff needs talking about. Boundaries may need establishing. Some of us aren’t GC. We are feminists. Lots of feminists are calling themselves “GC” when they don’t need to. It's a superfluous definition.
Some men need to step to one side as they are dividing women.
We really need to discuss race and class and how it fits in all this. We do need to discuss political difference and why it may prevent automatic allegiance with some groups. We aren’t one big happy hive mind and we don’t want to keep pretending we are. We need to start the conversation to avoid the war. Yes we need to work together. Just sometimes separately and sometimes differently.
Some of us are even asking what comes next? When the “Gender War” is won or lost what happens to the “GC” movement. Will some women stick around and help with the work inevitably still to be carried on by feminist women. I hope that once the ribbons are fading on the railings and the t-shirts have shrunk in the wash, many of the women I’ve seen take to the streets over the trans issue, which is admirable, perhaps begin to look around for what else they can do for women.
Where will feminists be throughout all this? Helping Samira out of her car and throwing mud at the government who left her there. As usual.