On The Rag and who gets to be a feminist
A response to a barely-coherent anti-feminist podcast.
I know I am late to listening to Spinoff podcast On The Rag, but this week a friend sent me the link to this episode from a few months ago with this ominous message to accompany it: “have a listen if you’re feeling masochistic”.
I wasn’t feeling masochistic, but I am incurably curious so I did myself the disservice of listening to the On The Rag episode titled ‘How do TERFs get to call themselves Feminists?’. I geared myself up for 45 minutes of searing “feminist” take downs of women who dare to not subscribe to gender identity ideology, but what I was served was not what was on the menu. After 16 minutes of chat about beauty blenders, plastic surgery, and deciding that anything a woman does is feminist because she has chosen to do it*, we finally are treated to an Agony Aunt style segment in which the pubescent, reddit-fuelled musings of a listener’s teenage brother are discussed. I was just about to give up on the episode when from my speakers I heard probably the single most stupid interpretation of feminism I have ever heard.
“The goal of feminism as well is to celebrate men being men.”
What kind of mental gymnastics do you have to complete to come up with that? Feminism is a movement for the liberation of women and girls. Naturally, because patriarchy is a system that rewards adherence to strict gender rules socially coded to each of the sexes, its destruction will free men of the toxic parts of masculinity. However, this is a by-product; a pleasant side-effect if you will. It is not a goal of feminism. Feminism is not some catch-all that is responsible for absolutely every social ill. Celebrating men and the good they do in the world is fabulous, but it isn’t feminism’s fucking job.
Feeling dejected at the absolute state of liberal feminism, I decided I needed to write this shit down. I knew the remaining 28 minutes of this podcast episode were going to provide a lot of talking points so I started transcribing.
Alex Casey: I’d like to move on to maybe a less understanding group of people. We’re going to talk about TERFs.
Leonie Hayden: BOOOO!
AC: Which makes me feel sick –
I have never heard anyone referred to with such hatred yet in such strangely juvenile language as those of us described as “TERFs”. It is a special kind of dialect used by trans activists that seems to have sprung from white American teenaged idiolect. They resort to descriptors like ‘gross’ or ‘yuck’ and sprinkle sentences with expressive onomatopoeia like ‘ewww’ and ‘boo’. It developed from internet-speak and evolved in call-out threads on Tumblr and Twitter and now it has trickled out into the conversational language of middle-class podcasters all of whom are frankly old enough to know better.
AC: If you don’t know what TERFs are, it stands for Trans-Exclusionary-Radical-Feminists and they exist. They exist in New Zealand. They have been in the news kind of recently. You might have seen in Wellington there were some posters put up by a quite notorious TERF activist um which said ‘Suffragists worked for the female sex, stop rewriting history!’ Which is in regards to the um the for…changing the gen…uh…being able to easily change your gender on your forms. And also just speaking to the entire trans movement as something that was bad.
Michele A’Court: yeah, yeah
Once upon a time I am sure that the acronym was a simple handy way to abbreviate Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, but now it is disingenuous to even pretend that is the case. TERF is used as a slur and as a means to point out a ‘witch’ and silence and discredit her. It is used almost exclusively to describe women who have transgressed in some way against gender identity doctrine. In this case, although they do not name her, they are talking about a friend of mine. She is an amazing woman and fierce feminist, however, due to her insistence that women are in fact adult human females as per the dictionary and every medical textbook on the planet, she has been labelled a TERF.
In addition to the deliberately simplistic description of TERFs, Alex also does a stellar job of illuminating just how little she knows about the context of the sex self-identification issue. To begin with she is conflating gender with sex, a common mistake granted. Sex refers to our biological reproductive markers of female or male. Gender is the socially constructed set of stereotypes and expectations that have been attached to each sex. People can identify as whatever gender they like and changing gender is not a legal matter, however, despite it being a scientifically unachievable feat, it is sex that can be changed legally. Read more about sex self-identification and the BDMRR Bill here.
The ludicrousness of taking offence at the celebration of the suffragists as adult human females, is that the apparently oppressed people that are being “excluded” from the discourse are male and as such were able to vote. This history is women’s history, we were discriminated against because of our sex, not because some feeling in our heads that told us we were women.
AC: So people started tearing these posters down and there was a bit of a debate with um Phantom Bill Stickers the place that published it and all that. I mean, it pains me that we even talk about this on this podcast because I don’t think they DESERVE the word feminist in their title.
MAC: Yeah (sigh). I was saying before that I don’t like to tell anybody how to do feminism and…but I just…I feel so horrified that this comes out of someone who purports to be a feminist because feminism is…[exasperated noises]…is supposed to be about protecting the most vulnerable –
By “a bit of a debate” Alex means that trans activists harassed Phantom Bill Stickers in order to prevent redistribution of the posters after they had been torn down. It is a classic example of trans activist social justice warriors aggressively targeting businesses en masse in order to incite hostility and ostracism against a particular woman. They have destroyed the careers of many women in giddy glee citing transphobia as a justification to tear their lives apart.
MAC: -and feminism has always…should have always…connected us with all the people that need…um…uhhh…[noises]….pr-protection –
MAC: -You know, feminists have always been involved in the civil rights movement — or should have been –
LH: That’s right.
MAC: -and in the class struggle and it’s…ah yeah…and so shunning…turning your back on transwomen horrifies me and…it’s a weird…characterisation they have of describing a man putting a dress on and saying “I’m a woman and I can come into your bathroom or go to your gym for a workout”. Who does that?
Once again, feminism is not responsible for anything other than the liberation of women and children. Protecting the vulnerable should always be a priority of society, but to deem that the job of feminism is bizarre and ultimately incredibly sexist. We don’t demand that the Breast Cancer Society start using its resources and air time to promote the eradication of homelessness. That is someone else’s realm. Yes, women were involved in the civil rights movement; funnily enough black women are capable of fighting discrimination based on their race as well as their sex and all women are capable of caring about more than one issue at once.
Framing women’s right to set boundaries and acknowledge their biological sex as “shunning” and “turning your back on transwomen” makes the assumption that women are responsible for transwomen. We are not their collective mothers and we are entitled to have spaces and conversations that do not centre them.
If this characterisation of a man putting on woman-face or a costume of femininity is incorrect then what is he doing? It is factual that he is both male and wearing a dress.
AC: Yeah this is what I don’t understand, like they ex..they think that um this movement is gonna cause this uprising of these men but look around us, men are like abusing us, hurting us everyday as men. They don’t need to –
MAC: — they don’t wanna get paid 12% less –
Yes, men are responsible for almost all violent crime and they have always found new ways to access potential victims. From the careers they choose to put themselves into positions of power to the time and energy they dedicate to grooming victims, abusers have proven that they will exploit any situation.
In New Zealand males make up 92.3% of the prison population, 94–98% of child sexual abuse perpetrators are male, and 98–99% of sexual offending against adults is committed by men. On the flip side women make up around 95% of victims of sexual offending against adults that results in apprehension by NZ Police and 24% of adult NZ women have experienced one or more incidents of sexual violence; compared to 6% of men. What’s more, there is no evidence that identifying as a woman reduces the likelihood of violent offending. The opposite is true; evidence shows that male-to-trans people retain similar patterns of male violence as men who identify as men. This article delves deeper into the subject and cites governmental statistics as sources.
The point of sharing this information is to push back against this idea that women are unreasonable and hyperbolic in their concerns about allowing males into spaces where we are vulnerable. We live with the reality of male violence everyday and we know how to recognise it.
As to getting a 12% pay cut, there is also no evidence that male-to-trans people suffer the same wage discrimination as women. In fact, the highest paid ‘woman’ CEO in America is a transwoman. It is a foolish assumption.
LH: really it’s the exactly the same level of ignorance that the sort of incel movement have about women –
[pauses for validation] yeahhhhh
LH: You know these women clearly don’t know what trans people go through. What it’s like to live…to be identified as something that you’re not.
It is incredibly rich of libfems to compare women to incels when they advocate for and support transwomen and activists who promote ‘Cotton Ceiling’ rhetoric. The level of entitlement required to demand that lesbians see males as potential sexual partners just because they ‘identify’ as women is very similar to incel beliefs that they are owed sex from women.
Just as I cannot comprehend fully what life as a trans person is like, neither can they understand the experience of a lesbian woman. Everyone on Earth suffers unique hardships, but those hardships do not mean they’re entitled to demand things like legislative change without proper debate and discussion. Democracy doesn’t work like that. I can have the utmost sympathy for the struggles trans people face and still say, “no, I don’t agree that this law change is a good idea…”
And, it is kind of funny how lesbians and gay men get told they don’t understand being “identified as something that you’re not” as if we don’t live life in a heterosexual world that misidentifies us or others us everyday. By virtue of our homosexuality we are gender non-conforming.
LH: and then to go through the pain of that. And [voice gets high pitched] how can you even just look at the statistics among trans kids like –
LH: ya know…the suicide statististis are through the roof. Like how could you look at that and think that a struggling 14-year-old who’s trying to find where they fit in the world is…can somehow be…just a guy wanting to put on a dress. Ya know?
MAC: Yup, yup…
This line about trans youth suicide statistics gets trotted out in every conversation like this and the most appropriate response to it is “SHAME ON YOU!” Shame on those who ignore all advice about discussing suicide in the media and risk suicide-contagion and self-fulfilling prophecy in order to make a lazy point. Shame on those who parrot lines on public platforms without having the intellectual integrity to fact check the statistics themselves. Shame on those who forget that as an entire country we have appalling suicide statistics and that trans people are not an isolated group with mental health problems.
As far as I have been able to tell, the commonly quoted statistic about trans people being five times more likely to commit suicide originated in interpretations of the Youth 2012 survey. In this survey LGBT youth were surveyed and the mental health statistics are indeed alarming, however the statistics that are attributed to trans people alone are actually that of LGBT youths. So when a lesbian says she is only attracted to other females and people scream at her that she is a hateful bigot who is responsible for transwomen killing themselves, those people should remember that the lesbian is included in that suicide stat too. These statistics are often used because no comprehensive study has been completed on adult trans people and the ones available from overseas are not based on hospital records, rather they rely on self-reporting of suicide attempts. This is where the 1 in 2 trans people attempt suicide statistic comes from.
LH: I would frankly…I…I’d…my struggles in life have never matched anything like any of the trans people I know. Any of the bigotry they’ve faced; any of the pain that they’ve been through. You’re right, it’s just…it’s so ah unsisterly. It’s not –
MAC: really unsisterly
LH: I don’t think that’s what feminism is about either.
It is really awesome for Leonie that she has had such a great life and it is completely her right to compare it to her trans friends’ lives, however, the truth is not measured on her experiences alone. She does not get to determine that women as a sex class have easier lives than trans people.
“Unsisterly”. Seriously? Okay, how do we define the ‘sisterhood’ if anyone can just identify their way in? It kind of becomes redundant if that is the case. The feminist sisterhood was initially about shared experiences and shared oppressions for people born into girlhood and womanhood. It is not “unsisterly” to not include males in female spaces because males are not our “sisters” and do not have a right to our spaces. Setting boundaries is our right.
I’m going to go ahead and make the assumption that none of these women are gay. I did some googling, but there isn’t a lot of information out there. I apologise in advance if my assumption is wrong. They just seem to have no understanding of the bigotry that LGB people face. They are entirely concerned about trans suffering and compare it to their own heterosexual experience, but meanwhile, being erased in the middle are those of us who sit outside the norm without the luxury of having our voices heard and centred in every conversation.
AC: And when like…I mean…I can only speak from like trans people that I’ve interviewed and that I know, but the crippling anxiety that even comes from trying to use the right bathroom –
AC: and these stories of people that at school or at uni just give themselves bladder infections because they are terrified…ya know, to walk into the women’s bathroom as a transwoman. It’s like, how could you see that as a threat to your…ya know?
The solution to this is providing safe ADDITIONAL toilets and changing rooms. It is not pragmatic nor morally acceptable to simply allow access to female spaces for anyone who identifies as a woman. Around the world we have seen a growing trend of doing away with sex-segregated facilities all together and having shared spaces, but unfortunately this is puts women and girls at great risk.
“Unisex changing rooms are more dangerous for women and girls than single-sex facilities, research by The Sunday Times shows. Almost 90% of reported sexual assaults, harassment and voyeurism in swimming pool and sports-centre changing rooms happen in unisex facilities, which make up less than half the total.”
However, despite readily available data and testimonies of the lived experiences of many, many women, those in power across the western world have forged on ahead erasing women’s spaces and plonking useless mixed sex spaces in their place. As women and girls encounter discomfort and fear like that experienced by the mothers and children who were exposed to male genitals strutting around the mixed changing rooms of a swimming pool in Bath they will inevitably begin to withdraw. Young girls will stop using the bathroom at school to avoid period shaming or being heard or seen by the boys as they use the toilet. Then it will be they who suffer bladder infections and missed opportunities at school when they take time off. There does not seem to be anywhere near the same concern about what this will mean for the education of girls and their ability to participate fully in public life. Unisex toilets should be avoided in schools at all costs.
The problem is, time and time again transwomen have deemed mixed sex or fully enclosed single facilities inadequate. That is because despite all the catchphrases of wanting to “pee in peace,” this is not about safety or even actually using the toilet. This is about validation and nothing short of complete access to female spaces will validate transwomen demanding complete capitulation from women.
AC: It uh…it defies belief and it’s incredibly infuriating –
MAC: It just…I…’cause…spend a minute imagining that you woke up tomorrow as (if you’re a woman) and you woke up tomorrow as a man and how that would feel and the places you would have to go and the way you would have to deal with people and the way people would see you and how that just doesn’t fit with your own understanding of who you are. It would be horrifying and…so that’s what they live, all the time.
I’m pretty sure Rob Schneider was in a really awful movie about that.
MAC: and…it’s…I don’t understand why any feminist wouldn’t embrace her trans sisters.
They are not my sisters. I wish them no harm and firmly believe in their entitlement to all of the same human rights protections as the rest of us AND I will still say it is completely false to call them women and my sisters. We disagree on the core issue here which is that I understand that womanhood is a physical biological reality, not a subjective feeling in one’s head while the women of On The Rag see it as an opt-in identity.
AC: Mmmmm and to plaster it around Wellington under the guise of the suffrage –
MAC: I’m pretty sure Kate Sheppard and the rest of the suffragists ah would’ve been very open to all the people who weren’t allowed to vote because they yeah….[panic] to-to anybody who was outside of being a straight white man landowner.
This is my favourite part of the whole podcast episode because Michele quite literally walks herself into a trap of her own making and has to back track rapidly. As she continues to paint gender critical women like myself as psychopaths devoid of empathy and decency, Michele waxes lyrical about how Kate Sheppard would have totally been a libfem and included transwomen in the fight for the vote. The problem is she forgets the very point that my friend was making with her posters: transwomen were already allowed to vote. As she stumbles around trying to recover from her blunder she settles with saying that the suffragists would have been open to anyone who wasn’t a “straight white man landowner”. The irony here is that that is exactly what many of the most vocal trans activists are: wealthy white heterosexual males who identify as women.
Credit to The Spinoff for not editing that part out because it really is a slip up that shows how little critical thought has been put into this issue. Like most people, it seems that Michele is deeply moved by the stories of suffering she has heard and wants to help trans people and be a “good ally” whatever that means. Her passion for the subject probably comes from a place of great care, however that care doesn’t seem to have inspired too much further investigation into the issue. Sure she’s read all the pro-trans blogs and op-eds and has learnt all the lingo, the party lines, but like so many of her peers, she has not critically examined the logic of womanhood being a matter of self-identification. She has not critically examined the power structures and questioned how on earth someone who has won the birth lottery and been born male, white, heterosexual, and into an economically privileged family can sky rocket up the leaderboard and take out the Oppression Olympics simply by declaring they are actually a woman.
Critical thinking simply isn’t a libfem thing. Asking questions is not encouraged. Diverting from the current accepted narrative of gender identity experience is not allowed. Even being seen to follow or converse with someone who has questioned these things is a social crime. Radical feminism asks these questions. We are gender critical and we are not afraid to call out the patriarchy in disguise. My question is if women aren’t the focus of your feminism and you’re willing to allow the patriarchy to ride in on its Trojan horse how can you even call yourself a feminist?
MAC: Well hmmm
LH: Boo TERFs!
MAC: Booo TERFs
LH: Get off our TERF
AC: Just be a bit more kind as well, ya know?
Yeah, it’s hard to know what to say when you’ve accidentally just realised that transwomen were actually allowed to vote and the suffrage movement was literally none of their business unless you’re going to examine how they played a role in preventing women from obtaining the vote.
AC: That’s what it comes down to…like why are you putting up these walls? We’re all…in the same fight aren’t we?
MAC: Yeah, I still don’t get what they’re frightened of unless it’s a sort of cultural thing about anybody that’s got a penis –
MAC: -and I literally mean that…that’s about anybody that’s got a penis.
Why are we putting up these walls? No. Alex, we want to know why you’re aiding the patriarchy in tearing them down. These women’s spaces were fought for and built over hundreds and hundreds of years. See, we have always known that women need separate facilities for certain things in order to increase our safety, dignity, and comfort. As the western world goes about dismantling safety structures for women, women in many impoverished and war-torn parts of the world are still fighting for these very facilities. The UN recognises that the provision of sex-segregated toilets is one of the most important things they can do in areas where women face astronomical levels of violence and sexual violence. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals pays “special attention to the needs of women and girls,” as “while everyone needs access to proper sanitation to be healthy, for girls and women this is also an issue of safety and equal participation in society.”
Michele, when women make up 95% of the adult victims of sexual offending and men account for 98–99% of the perpetrators it is an act of utter gaslighting to make women seem paranoid or unduly concerned about their safety in spaces where they are vulnerable. The reference to culture is a little vague, but no matter because violence against women is entrenched in every single culture on Earth. In New Zealand a quarter of adult women will experience sexual violence. Sexual violence is a male problem that women pay for in trauma. If you don’t get why women are frightened or maybe just wary or uncomfortable around men in spaces like toilets and changing rooms then I envy the life you must have had. For most women the threat of violence is something we live with our whole lives and we spend a great deal of time worrying, planning escapes, and making safety plans in our heads. Men are biggest threat that most women will encounter in their lives and no matter how much you protest to the contrary, there is no evidence to suggest that men who identify as women have even remotely different patterns of violence from other men.
AC: Ah, you’re not welcome here –
AC: Is that allowed? I mean, we are an inclusive, ya know, welcoming podcast but that means that we, ya know, we welcome intersectional feminists and trans people and non-binary people–
MAC: Racists aren’t welcome here; people who are racist aren’t welcome here –
MAC: and um anti-semites aren’t welcome here and I don’t think TERFs are welcome here.
It’s your podcast, you make the rules. I certainly won’t be returning to listen unless to painstakingly deconstruct more faux-feminism. It does amuse me how overtly “exclusionary” libfems are considering how they spit accusations of TERFism around the place. The social performance of it all, the hyperbolic exclamations of disgust, the condemnations, it all paints a terribly sad picture of a witch-hunt. When I’m feeling particularly unfavourable towards women who do not know me, but vomit bile about me on the internet I describe them as Handmaids or even Aunts. However, truthfully most of the time I am sad for them and deeply worried. I know some of them can see the cracks in the logic, some of them might even be fully aware of how nonsensical gender identity politics is, but they are afraid. Social ostracism is a powerful deterrent. I know from personal experience that I began questioning things the minute I was plunged into the chaos of a Twitter pile on years back, but I stayed ‘in the closet’ out of fear of social consequences. Gender identity ideology is constructed like a cult. Total adherence to ‘party policy’ is compulsory. The rules shift constantly and if you don’t keep up you risk being cast out. I see these women tripping over their own tongues to say the right things and give power to the right people. Their ferocity in condemning me and others looks very much to me like self-preservation. Some times this angers me; why should I pay the price for speaking out for OUR rights while they actively collude to attack me and undermine my work? But at the end of the day, I fight for every woman and I define women as we have done for millennia, as adult human females. I seek to protect the rights of every woman, not just the ones I like. That is pretty inclusive I think.
*(except — SPOILER ALERT — women who dare to chose to stay in touch with material reality and recognise that women cannot have penises).
**Please excuse me if I have attributed quotes to the wrong host as it was difficult to distinguish between their 3 voices at times.