It has been a while since I have done a bit-by-bit response piece, but this weekend Radio New Zealand journalist Kim Hill interviewed Professor Judith Butler on the conflict between trans activists and “TERFs” and I have a lot I would like to say about it. Needless to say, I was practically crippled by the frustration I felt listening to not only the mischaracterisation of gender critical women, but also of the issues themselves. Professor Butler speaks with much more clarity than that with which she writes, but even so the interview was a catastrophe of false equivalencies, obfuscation, and wilful misrepresentation.
I was sent the transcript of the interview which I understand was done by Caz Murray. Thank you Caz for enduring the interview multiple times in order to get it all down.
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Right, where to start? Even this short introduction contains falsehoods so significant that they set the interview off on entirely the wrong the foot. In the first instance, I question what is “threatening” about the term ‘gender ideology’? If they’re going to argue that ‘TERF’ is a mere descriptor — as they do a little further on — they can hardly characterise ‘gender ideology’ as some kind of threat.
Gender ideology simply describes a belief system in which people conceive of themselves of having an internal gender identity much the same as Catholics conceive of themselves as having a soul. Gender ideologues believe people can be “born in the wrong body” and can literally change sex. They do not believe that gender is socially constructed; they believe it is innate! They believe that a person’s gender is so in-built that a child who says their gender does not match their biological sex should be put on sterilising puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
It is in fact the awful “TERFs” or gender critical feminists (GCFs) who understand gender to be socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Gender is the sets of stereotypes, roles, and expectations we impose upon each of the sexes. It is constructed by society and enforced by it. However, sex is biologically determined. GCFs do think “boys are boys, girls are girls”, but also that the biological reality of our sex should not have the oppressive shackles of gender imposed on it. Males will always be males and females will always be females, but anyone should be able to wear dresses, paint their nails, play football, or become a plumber.
As to the notion that Gender Trouble revolutionised attitudes towards gender…well, I would take that even further. In my opinion, Gender Trouble and Butler’s other work have been foundational in the early twenty-first century destruction of women’s rights. Having been owned, used, and oppressed by men since the beginning of recorded history simply because of our sex, women spent the 19th and 20th centuries transforming our relationship with society, fighting oppressive laws and practices, and tearing down obstacles to equality. This work was based on the understanding that by virtue of our sex alone we had suffered these indignities and injustices and required law and society to recognise that female people are entitled to rights and protections. However, no sooner had gains been achieved, in waltzed the most privileged of women into academic institutions to tear it all down. Wielding postmodernism, academics like Judith Butler set about dismantling the meaning of the very words that had been used to construct the legal protections around women. Professor Butler has been so successful in her mission to destroy the meaning of the words that describe us that we are now put through the agony of having to listen to people debate what a woman is.
But, this ‘debate’ is all a game for those most fortunate in society. The world knows what a woman is. When the wealthy want to ‘hire a womb’ to bring their child into the world, they know what a woman is. When choosing which infant child’s genitals to cut off, sew shut, and mutilate, they know a girl from a boy. When murdering a baby just after birth for being the wrong sex, they know she is a girl. They know who to banish to menstruation huts; who to expect to raise children, wash floors, and wipe arses. It is no coincidence that it is women and girls who are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence while very, very rarely the perpetrators. Likewise, of all the bodies trafficked, sold, and prostituted, most are female. No religion requires a man to cover himself head to toe and somehow there is no confusion about which of the sexes to throw in prison for removing a headscarf. When a 12 year old child is being married off to a man 3x her age you can be sure everyone involved knows she is a girl and when a person bleeds to death after bringing a life into this world you can be damn sure everyone knows she is a woman.
It is all very well, when you have Professor in front of your name, to wank on about Derrida and Foucault and act like that has any bearing on the material reality of real-life sex-based experiences, but to have the audacity to act like you’re doing right by women? No, Professor. Your work is being used to dismantle every single protection our foremothers fought for. But, yeah sure, let’s hear what you have to say.
Can I just respond in gifs from now on?
It is perhaps the most lazy of tropes to resort to casting GCFs as conservative Christians. This is a conversation about the tensions between feminists and trans activists and she has done a triple-summersault straight into the pool of easy ways to disregard women’s politics. This is so irrelevant to the topic at hand. I’m sure there are GCFs of various different faiths, but our positions on gender ideology are nothing to do with the Bible or religion.
No, Professor. I do not agree that the category of women has changed over time, nor that it is historically changeable. ‘Woman’ has always been the adult female of the human race. She is not woman because she performs certain roles and tasks. She is expected to perform certain roles and task because she is woman. It is not that hard to understand.
It is indeed a fact that we are born a sex and remain that sex for the entirety of our lives. We aren’t “assigned” anything — that is manipulative language. Nowadays we are observed in utero as one sex or the other. Chromosome testing and ultrasounds are the most common means by which we discover the sex of our offspring. We certainly don’t have some bloke show up with a Sorting Hat to assign sexes at will.
As to being forced to live in ways that are unacceptable, GCFs argue against this vehemently. We do not believe that people should be expected to live certain ways or in specific roles simply because of the sex they are. Regardless of sex, humans should be free to dress, express, and live authentically. Butler is trying to make gender and sex inextricable. They are not. It is patriarchal construction of society that determined that biological sex must adhere exactly to gendered roles. Butler is being terribly regressive.
TERF is a slur. It is a pejorative used to accompany abuse and threats directed at women who challenge gender ideology. It is used in the place of the usual slurs spat at women — witch, bitch, whore, cunt. Male TRAs (Trans Rights Activists) relish being able to partake in near constant maligning and abuse of women with total sanction from the woke. It may once — for a short time — have been descriptive, but that time is long past.
Additionally, the acronym taken literally is not an accurate descriptor for GCFs. We are not trans-exclusionary. We are male-exclusionary when appropriate. We understand that despite identifying otherwise, transmen share our sex and so suffer many of the same oppressions. We have no ill will towards them and it should be noted that those who do detransition know that despite being turfed out from the trans or queer community, they can turn to GCFs.
It is boringly hyperbolic to suggest we want to remove transgender people from the public domain. We are simply asserting that it is important for reasons of safety, privacy, dignity, etc — the same reasons that saw feminists fight for us to have these laws in the first place — that certain spaces and opportunities remain sex-segregated. We don’t hate or wish harm on transwomen anymore than we hate or wish harm on men. The logic hasn’t changed. The need hasn’t changed. Statistics and all of history show that males can be a significant threat to females and so as societies we have made provisions to keep females safe. Statistics also show that a transwomen retain male-typical rates of criminal and violent behaviour despite self-identifying as women.
If I had a dollar every time a trans activist misquoted or misinterpreted Simone de Beauvoir I would have enough money to start suing the organisations ignoring our human rights.
Simone de Beauvoir was not leaving an historic breadcrumb for trans activists to find in the deranged early decades of the twenty-first century when she said “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” De Beauvoir was describing how we are not born with innate gender roles and expectations baked in. We are born female and then crafted by society into the feminine. It is another reflection of the core understanding of GCFs that sex is biology and unchangeable, whereas gender is constructed and sociological.
I can see what Butler is meaning when she says “we have changed the meaning of what it is to be a woman” because we have changed what is expected of women and the role we are supposed to play in society. However, the idea that women gaining liberty and opportunities somehow proves that males can now be women is terribly flawed.
I really don’t know what the last bit is about. I will just say; feminism is for females. Males cannot be feminists though they can be excellent supporters. You don’t advocate for better treatment of pensioners by making it all about the youth. Do you?
Credit to Kim Hill for reading out my message. I didn’t think she would, but now I can tick off ‘have Judith Butler not answer my question’ from my bucket list. I just wanted to know if she had any thoughts on the consequences of making words devoid of meaning. I mean, she and her colleagues have exposed a pretty lethal flaw in our legal systems — that the meaning of words within laws can be forcibly changed by activists and thus the meaning of the laws changed as well. But of course, Professor Butler ignored my question and ploughed into an outrageously racist soliloquy as only a woke academic elite can.
Let me make this abundantly clear, when I refer to women I am always referring to adult females. Race does not come into it. Every race on this rapidly deteriorating planet has males and females. I cannot fathom what has to be wrong with a person for them to think that when we speak about women we are implicitly excluding the females of certain races. It is dehumanising. Get a fucking grip.
Accusations of racism are another of the lazy tropes TRAs use to paint to a caricature of GCFs as evil and hateful. They fail to see how their back to front faux-progressivism has become terribly racist instead. Just as a critical reading of Robin DiAngelo leaves one wondering if she has indeed ever had a meaningful friendship with someone from another race, so too, one has to wonder that of someone who thinks like Butler. We often get told by TRAs that pre-colonial indigenous populations didn’t understand binary sex until the white fellas showed up. Presumably they were only able to procreate when a be-penised individual tripped and fell between the legs of a vagina-haver. Can they not see how paternalistic this way of thinking is? Every human society has known the difference between male and female. Sure there has been variance in the gendered expectations and roles imposed upon the sexes, but the existence of biological sex has never been a secret only whitey knew about. Even ‘third genders’ were connected to binary sex in that they were usually reserved only for males who lived outside of the gender expectations of their sex.
The GCF movement is incredibly diverse. All that we have in common is our sex and even then we are supported by many men too. The label of ‘White Feminism’ is so glaringly inaccurate when you look around the world at all the women involved. In the UK, for example, it is women of colour who are leading the legislative challenge to gender ideology — Maya Forstater, Keira Bell, and Allison Bailey are brave women who are disrespected when their movement is called ‘white’.
Intersectionality is something that I would suspect most GCFs subscribe to whether they realise the academic roots of it or not. I personally really like the roots of intersectionality, I just don’t have much time for the contemporary mutations. Kimberle Crenshaw’s original model of intersectionality highlighted the way sex, race, and class link and intersect. I find this useful as these are the three identity markers that tend to make the most profound difference to our lives. However, the new and ever-evolving models of intersectionality that posit ugliness on a par (in terms of impact) with impoverishment and display hundreds of intersections are nonsense. A model that enabled academic discussion of the compounded oppressions of women based on their race and class has been coopted by privileged individuals to suit their social engineering aims.
The intersectional analysis that I apply shows me that the harm done by eroding women’s rights in law and policy will disproportionately affect Māori and Pasifika women in New Zealand. In other countries it will also usually affect indigenous women and women of colour disproportionately. When academics and woke activists erode the meaning of ‘women’ so that we can no longer have sex-segregated prisons, domestic violence shelters, public facilities, sport, scholarships, and more, it is these women who disproportionately pay the price. I know my privileges. I know that I am unlikely to go to prison (unless the bastards make it illegal for me to talk about this shit). I am fighting for the women in prison who are helpless and unable to refuse to be housed with males.
The last part of Professor Butler’s answer to my question just looks like waffle to me. She talks about rights when she won’t even acknowledge that women exist as a group that has distinct rights in the first place. I just can’t figure out if she actually believes her own spin.
Kim Hill raises a valid point. The view that one can simply shed oppression or power in the act of declaring themselves the opposite sex renders virtually all feminist analysis false. Therefore how can anyone call themselves feminist while promoting an ideology which fundamentally undermines feminism?
The language Butler continues to use of “assignment” in regards to sex is an intentional distortion of reality. If we are to understand that sex is “assigned at birth”, we must accept that there is some subjectivity in the act. The language infers that doctors or the state or some kind of global conspiracy choose the sex of each newborn. As we all know, the reality is the sex we are born is due to the most non-discriminatory process — chance. Nature’s coin toss.
The problem is that Butler so thoroughly confuses sex and gender that her valid points about the gender expectations imposed on the sexes are lost among the nonsense that humans can change sex. We agree that people should live authentically and not be tormented for not adhering to societal expectations of gender and stereotypes. We disagree that gender non-conformity means one should change their sex legally or be sold the falsehood that they can literally change it biologically via medicine and surgery.
Butler’s description of lifelong suffering and what is called “gender dysphoria” is also a misdirection and lie by omission. There are those who feel acute incongruence with their biological sex from a young age and who eventually benefit from socially expressing opposite-sex-associated characteristics and performing some of the roles and expectations imposed on the opposite sex. However, as evidenced by the vast and increasing number of terms included under the category “transgender” by rainbow organisations, these people are just one ‘type’ of transgender person. Trans activists often use these lifelong sufferers of gender dysphoria as a shield for the increasing number of males who after living for decades as often super-masculine men, transition later in life. These transwomen are described by Dr Ray Blanchard as autogynephilic. They are heterosexual and usually have been married and had children. They often have high-powered careers having benefited from their wives raising the children. Autogynephilia is the paraphilic sexual arousal to the thought or image of oneself as a female. Not only do these males benefit from a lifetime of explicit maleness, upon transition they cultivate a new power — one that requires society to partake in their autogynephilia and validate it. They do not seek to shed their privileges, they weaponise them.
The existence of different transgender typology does not negate the need for society to protect transgender and gender non-conforming people from discrimination. The commonly understood and empathised with gender dysphoric transgender group do often benefit from medical intervention of some kind as adults. The problem is that people like Butler expect us to change laws and the way we structure society based on the image of just this one group. The destruction of safeguards that ensure sex-segregated spaces exposes women to anyone who declares themselves transgender including those who are literally aroused by presenting femininely. Part-time crossdressers are included by charities like Stonewall under the category of transgender for goodness sake.
It is important that women are able to express our concerns and assert our rights without being bullied and guilted by Butler and TRAs who mask the unpalatable types of males who declare themselves women behind those who genuinely experience gender dysphoria.
Once again, why can’t we just accept that our biological sex is unchangeable and is sometimes relevant and accept that people can adhere to or reject whichever gender stereotypes they want?
It isn’t a mischievous question at all. It is quite a valid one. If we can choose our sex — because it sex that they change on their birth certificates, not gender — then why not race or age? I can no more change the date I was born than I can my biological sex. I am 29 years old and that brings with it physical realities. It also has social implications, for example I can drink alcohol, vote, and gamble, but I cannot collect a pension.
Butler can say it isn’t a choice as much as she likes, but the self-identification law changes being pushed all over the world make no distinction between those who have always had an innate discomfort with their sex and those who simply decide to declare themselves women for any other reason. The social and legal changes being demanded by TRAs destroy all protections for women from the creeps who will use self-identification with nefarious intent.
As for the rest of Butler’s ‘answer’ to this question — it is more waffling about race and false equivalencies with sex.
This section of the interview probably enraged me the most. It isn’t just shitty liberal feminism, it is out right antifeminist bullshit. How dare Professor Butler tell a survivor of abuse to “rethink her views about anatomy”. Are we seriously pretending that males aren’t responsible for virtually all violent and sexual crime? Is Butler seriously invoking the MRA and incel arguments that women commit crime too so it is unreasonable to focus on the utter dominance of males in these statistics? Is Butler seriously gaslighting and disrespecting the significant number of women against whom a penis has been used as a weapon? And what about the women who haven’t been sexually assaulted but, knowing other women who have been and the statistics that show the prevalence of male violence, are uncomfortable with a penis in their changing rooms?
As for “I know a whole lot of people with penises who’ve never threatened anybody”, how is this any different to men? I trust a number of men with my life and know they would never harm a woman, but we still need to protect women from those who are violent. We segregate spaces based on sex not because all men are violent raping monsters, but because the small number who are inflict a lot of harm. Transwomen are no different. Even though most are decent people with wish to harm women, they retain male levels of criminality so we need to protect women against the small number who are a threat.
I also reject Professor Butler’s attempt to piggyback transgenderism onto gay rights and women’s rights movements. The illiberal and anti-women demands of TRAs also harm gays and lesbians. I have been called all sorts of names for daring to be a lesbian and refusing to accept that transwomen can be lesbians. Almost all transwomen retain their male genitalia, but even if they have had surgery there is no way to artificially create the female body. It is a repackaging of homophobia to force a lesbian to base her sexual orientation on the self-declaration of others. Nowadays it is common for rainbow organisations, lobby groups, and government departments to define homosexuality as “same-gender attraction” not “same-sex”. This undermines all of the progress made by LGB activists towards societal acceptance. In both gay rights and women’s rights, the bullying tactics of TRAs has had a detrimental effect. We cannot work together until they cease redefining us and sanctioning homophobia and misogyny.
This is another conflation of sex with gender. Sex is biological, gender is sociological. Butler confuses the two in her description of “interactionism” and, in my opinion, muddles the difference between culture influencing how we interact with science and culture choosing what is empirical truth. It is important to examine contexts around the study of science and medicine. For example, who is making decisions about what science is prioritised and about what is funded. However, we cannot abandon the importance of having agreed upon truths in society that have been thoroughly determined to be proven by science. An example of this is the fact that hippopotamuses cannot fly — we know this to be true one hundred percent — however, if those running our expert science organisations and leading the culture around science collectively redefine what ‘flying’ means so that merely lifting one foot at a time is now classified as flight, the fact becomes ‘hippopotamuses can fly’.
Intersex people are not evidence of a spectrum of sex. It is dehumanising to suggest that they are this category of ‘other’ rather than males or females with disorders of sexual development. Apart from a few people who may coincidentally be both intersex and transgender, the two are not linked in the slightest. This is a strawman argument and one that advocates for intersex people call to be ended. They are not a prop to be used in the culture wars.
Kim Hill hits on a good point here. The way the hyper-feminine and hyper-sexualised is celebrated by transwomen and their allies as not only evidence of their womanhood, but as the apex of it, is the antithesis of feminism. When we have worked so hard to expand the bandwidth of acceptable female behaviour and roles, why is it that so many so-called feminists uncritically accept that by virtue of wishing to dress femininely and take on feminine stereotypes a man must be a woman? Lipstick, wearing dresses, playing with dolls as a child, and wearing high heels are not what makes me a woman so why or how do they make it possible for men to become women?
Again I am struck by the anti-feminist nature of Butler’s answers in this interview. To celebrate modelling in the fashion industry as an “accomplishment” and a measure of one’s “value in the world” is terribly regressive. Have we not spent the past few decades attempting to dismantle the power the fashion industry has on the minds of young women? Objectification of womanhood as a state of ultra-performative femininity and sexuality is harmful to women and girls. We are more than this.
Professor Butler again does not answer the question and address the harm that is being done in the name of transgenderism. She reverts to the cliche that now that transgenderism is being spoken about people feel more free to come out as trans. While anecdotally that may hold some truth, journalists, academics, and scientists like Abigail Shrier, Debra Soh, and Lisa Littman have uncovered worrying trends of social contagion in teenage girls in particular. Just as publicity increases around anorexia in the 90s lead to a spike in eating disorders in teenage girls, the media frenzy around transgenderism and the cultural revolution in education systems has seen an astronomic increase in youth transitioning. In some schools they have experienced as many as 70 children transitioning and entire friendship groups ‘coming out’ together.
Stigmatisation of transgender people is not what I or GCFs are arguing for. But there needs to be a responsible middle ground between stigma and all-out frenzied celebration of transition. This is because when a child is placed on a path to transition it is not a benign and consequence-less one. Puberty blockers are being prescribed off-label in huge numbers without proper understanding of the side effects. We do know that the combination of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones is sterilising children and a prepubescent child is not able to consent to that. I recommend reading a paper by Jan Rivers and Jill Abigail from Speak Up For Women that delves into this much further — Another Unfortunate Experiment: New Zealand’s Transgender Health Policy And Its Impact On Children.
Butler says “we don’t tell gay people to shut up about their sexuality” and that statement is entirely untrue. As I raised earlier in this response, transgender activism is doing exactly that. Lesbians are being told to shut up and get out if we dare to assert same-sex attraction and refuse to accept that a male person can be a lesbian no matter how they identify. And of course, Kim Hill is right, being gay or lesbian does not require one to undertake medical treatment with potentially catastrophic side effects. The comparison does not work.
There are a range of opinions in the transgender community — if you can call it that when dissenting voices are banished and called ‘truscum’. There are more and more transgender voices joining the concerned women who speak up about child transition. Although I don’t agree with all of their politics and beliefs, here are just a few names of transgender people and detransitioned people who challenge the TRA narratives: Buck Angel, Scott Newgent, Keira Bell, Charlie Evans, Miranda Yardley, Fionne Orlander, Rose of Dawn. Advocating for medical transition to be restricted to over 18 year olds is considered a dissenting position. It is certainly not what is being pushed at government health decision makers and medical practitioners.
Butler also raises the fact that many transgender people do not seek hormones or surgery. I believe they should not be required to in order to subvert gendered stereotypes. However, this is something GCFs have been trying to raise with those pushing for self-identification. The general population imagines transwomen as transsexuals who have had genital surgery when the reality is most have not. For women this is an important distinction because whether Judith Butler wants to sneer at us or not, most women are aware of the particular threat of sexual violence. We need to have open conversations about this which are not wilfully obscuring the true facts of the situation.
This is the most ludicrous nonsense. I honestly just want to know if Butler is trolling us or if she genuinely is so ill-informed about the conflict and issues surrounding it. We are not angry at transmen! For goodness sake. I personally am saddened by the number of women being told they cannot be a woman and be the person they are. I am concerned about young women in particular who are transitioning rapidly and because of societal pressures rather than a lifelong dysphoria. But I do not feel angry at them. If I am honest the non-binary stuff does wind me up at times though.
This conflict is mostly about the erosion of the rights of women and that is a result of the demands of transwomen and TRAs. It is about male dominance, male violence, and the silencing of females. It is about some of the world’s most privileged individuals — white, male, wealthy, heterosexual — being afforded instant victimhood at the mere pronouncement of transgenderism. We are told we can’t question them or challenge them and we definitely cannot say “no” to them. Despite statistics showing that we are victims of violence, sexual violence, and murder more often than them, we are told we are the oppressors and that no one is more oppressed than a transwoman.
When a topic becomes so muddied with lies and omissions, and laced with toxicity it becomes impossible to have reasonable conversations about it. Women must be able to discuss our own rights and to point out the fallacies in the arguments of TRAs. We must not be prevented from being the stakeholders of our own lives. We are supposed to be past the times where men wrote laws concerning our rights and we were told about them afterwards.
I don’t condone the burning of effigies of anyone, however it is unfair to characterise this as a backlash to her role in the conflict between transgender activists and women. She, herself, says it was about an entirely different issue. In fact, I read into it and the ire she drew from certain groups in Brazil was due in part to her destruction of sex and gender, but more so to do with her defence of incest and pedophilia. Postmodernism is a helluva drug.
Professor Judith Butler’s work, in my opinion, has had a net impact so negative on women’s rights and general social cohesion that we will be working for decades to rebuild the legal protections for women her work has supported activists to tear down. She is the height of American academic elite privilege and her pontification about gender from an ivory tower where she can declare herself non-binary is galaxies away from the suffering of women and girls all over the world, still today, because of their sex.
New Zealand’s media likes to think of itself as a moral arbiter these days. They serve us up fully-formed opinions rather than connecting us with truth and stories for us to come to our own conclusions. They are almost as out of touch as the Judith Butlers of the world as they educate us — the great unwashed — on how and what we are to think. A responsible broadcaster would follow this interview with one with a gender critical feminist. Perhaps if women like me are too lowbrow here in New Zealand they could reach out to Dr Kathleen Stock, Dr Jane Claire Jones, Professor Rosa Freedman, or any of the many other credible academics who could speak on this. But they won’t because we have been deemed wrong by the media powers that be.
This is about power. Women are silenced, bullied, and maligned for speaking up about our rights. Even when corporations, governments, NGOs, educations systems, and virtually all structures of power are singing from the gender ideology hymn sheet, TRAs still claim victimhood and marginalisation. But the blue, white, and pink flag is the establishment now. It is women, half the population, whose rights are marginalised. We are the anti-establishment. We have to listen to shit like this as if our existence as a group of people is a theory to be debated, but only by those who toe the ideological line.
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