When people go live on national radio and talk absolute nonsense
I have stopped reading, watching, and listening to a lot of the discussions about Speak Up For Women in the media and online. I certainly keep abreast of the rhetoric being peddled, but I think it would destroy my spirit if I forced myself to consume it all. Lies and misinformation that start in secret Facebook groups and are then disseminated on Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and more, are now being uncritically repeated by mainstream media. Without an iota of commitment to journalistic integrity, New Zealand media are amplifying unfounded and ridiculous claims about our group. This has resulted in the making of a monstrous hate-phantom of us that does not even exist.
Since those who relish in defaming us are unwilling to engage in any public discussion — and because simply ignoring them has allowed them uncontested attacks on our reputation — I find myself again doing a written response. It is my hope that perhaps Wallace Chapman and his colleagues at Radio New Zealand might stumble across it and be spurred to do some independent thinking on the issue. Maybe a foolish goal, but Wallace does say he wants to make up his own mind as he plays the devil’s advocate in this interview.
The following is a transcription of The Panel on Thursday 17th October 2019 on RNZ. Wallace Chapman is hosting Dr Ella Henry and Steve McCabe and they are discussing how Massey University has cancelled our venue booking for our Feminism 2020 event.
Wallace Chapman: Massey University has cancelled an event called ‘Feminism 2020’ citing health and safety risks. The university told the events organisers — Speak Up For Women — to find an alternative venue for its event. The university had decided to cancel based on legal advice, now…ah it’s said that Massey was committed the values of academic freedom, freedom of speech etc. but Feminism 2020 had created significant disruption to students, staff, and operations. Speak Up For Women said the event will discuss the silencing of women and the censorship of its speakers who have been banned or censored from Twitter including Meghan Murphy, a controversial feminist author, umm who is a Canadian feminist blogger and believes transgender rights endanger women. Speak Up For Women has been accused of being anti-transgender, but the organiser denied that saying “we are not a hate group or an anti-transgender group”. And a petition to cancel this event attracted nearly 6000 signatures. So look, around The Panel, ahhh, less perhaps about the issue…can we just park the issue of TERF and transgender, but more about the role of the university, Ella, as a place for a contest of ideas — a place of debate…a centre for robust discussion. You both work in the tertiary field, your thoughts?
This is a pretty decent summary. Meghan Murphy’s position is more nuanced than simply “transgender rights endanger women”, however. Like Speak Up For Women, Meghan believes everyone should have the same human rights protected and should live free from discrimination. It is not their rights that Meghan believes are an issue; it is the demands coming from activists that make substantial changes to how we organise society and in particular to our ability to protect women’s safety and rights. There is an important difference between the charge of being “anti-trans rights” and advocating for conversations as to how society can balance the rights of all.
Dr Ella Henry: First I have to say, I would refute any group that uses the word ‘feminism’ — and I went to my first feminist gathering in 1970 with women’s liberation…that was 50 years ago…though I defined myself as a feminist and the whole point of it is that is about enhancing women’s emancipation and power..ah and recognising the effects of discrimination. So for any group to discriminate against any other group and call themselves feminists is I think a disgrace and flies in the face of the idea and philosophy of feminism. So that’s that, park that up. Um I think universities have a role to provide a space for…freedom…intellectual freedom. However, I think that they are also managed by people who have the right to choose what is going to happen in their grounds and so in this instance I personally agree with Massey because of my argument against the group calling itself ‘Feminism 2020’ but you know, they are private grounds and they have a right to decide what happens within them and if enough people feel strongly about it within that academy then change will occur.
While I have the utmost respect for the women who have been fighting for women’s rights for longer than I have been alive — and I have condemned trans activists who discredit any woman over the age of 40 — I do not think that longevity of experience affords Ella the feminist throne. Ella and I disagree on the definition of feminism, however there are some definite similarities. In my view feminism is plainly and simply the movement for the liberation of women and girls and the protection of our rights. A key part of that is definitely recognising the discrimination towards women we experience by virtue of our sex and while this probably makes us better placed to recognise other forms of discrimination, it is not a requirement of feminism that women be champions of every other cause.
Dr Henry unintentionally supports our position when she says “for any group to discriminate against any other group and call themselves feminists…” Our position is that as feminists our focus is women not “any other group” and, as Ella demonstrates, transwomen ARE another group. We are distinct. However, I dispute the notion that we are discriminating against transwomen by protecting women’s rights. An analogy I often use is that it is unreasonable to condemn the Breast Cancer Foundation for not centring people with brain cancer in their movement. There is no question that the BCF still cares about people with brain cancer and they definitely do not hate them, but everyone realises that it is appropriate for them to be exclusively focussed on breast cancer patients. Why then is there a bizarre requirement for women to move aside for other interests in our movement?
Massey University is publicly funded and as such is subject to regulations that dictate the service they must offer the New Zealand public. The grounds of Massey University in Wellington are also not “owned” by the university or indeed the Crown. The campus sits on Te Āti Awa land and a kuia from this iwi wrote to VC Jan Thomas to express her support for Speak Up For Women and condemn the silencing of wahine. She did not receive a reply.
“Massey University is proud to acknowledge the mana whenua of its three campuses. Mana whenua refers to the iwi and hapū who have traditional authority over land. We respect the tikanga (customs) of each mana whenua and seek to work collaboratively with them recognising the kaitiakitanga (stewardship) each has for the land our campuses sit on.”
WC: Ok, that’s your opinion there, Ella, and yours Steve?
Steve McCabe: Fffirst of all, tautoko[?]…Ella said about feminism and the lack of support for transgender, I’m absolutely behind you on that, but I’ve gone in a slightly different direction, you know, we have had a lot of criticism recently of universities not caring for its students. Think of Mason Pendrous the poor lad who was abandoned to die alone in Canterbury…you’ve got Sophia Crestani, the outcry about what happened to her in Otago…universities don’t do enough to protect the wellbeing of their students. Massey come along and say “we’ve been told that this will harm the wellbeing of our students — we are acting upon it”. Well now, you’re censoring freedom of speech! You can’t do right for doing wrong at this point. Massey should be congratulated for actually listening to students who are saying “we feel frightened, we feel threatened — we are an oppressed group to begin with and now we are going to be even further oppressed”. Massey should be applauded for supporting them.
From the word go I was irritated by Steve. I will admit it! He begins by comparing allowing a group of women to hire a private venue on campus OUTSIDE OF TERM TIME to two recent tragic deaths of young students. Both of these students suffered real harm — death in fact — but to suggest the universities were responsible is a terrible idea. These were young adults with agency and independence and universities are not babysitting facilities. The comparison is also ridiculous because the harm that we as a group are supposed to be able to cause has not been articulated. Women speaking at a relatively small event about the impact of all sorts of things on our rights does not harm anyone except those who are opposed to discussions about women’s rights. That the event was scheduled out of term time and yet the whole decision to cancel us is based on alleged harm to students and staff is quite incredible.
The problem with McCabe’s assertion that universities should act on students demands if they say they are “frightened” or “threatened” is that this provides no boundaries for students wanting shut down events or speakers they don’t like. Subjective feelings are not a solid foundation for policy governing such a large amount of people. I am also deeply concerned that young adults who are just a few years away from entering the workforce are so fragile as to not be capable of tolerating an event taking place while they are off campus. And that older adults in positions of power are indulging them! For goodness sake read The Coddling of the American Mind.
WC: The Free Speech Coalition comes out and says, to quote “whoever thought we’d see the day when feminism is banned…on the banned list at a New Zealand university…”
SM: — It’s not feminism being banned it’s transphobia!
Sorry Steve, you don’t get to decide what feminism is. Though if you want to provide some actual examples of our alleged transphobia that would be helpful.
EH: Yes I refute the right of that group to call themselves feminists because true feminists understand the nature of discrimination and you know, this whole kind of bourgeois American white women notion that they can label themselves feminists and do what they like is as far as I’m concerned, fatally flawed.
True feminists reject the notion that women are responsible for everyone’s issues and must put them above their own. We are saying, “no, this is about us for once”.
Further segmenting society along identity lines isn’t helpful. Regardless, this statement does not apply to us. We are a diverse group of New Zealand women and do not discriminate as to which women — poor or rich, black or white etc — deserve a say on women’s rights.
This is a behaviour Dr Henry has a history of past form in and I struggle to see where she found such a high horse.
WC: uhhh can you not see — I’m just trying to think of this debate — can you not see umm that we’re becoming such a polarising age where uh even that ah even if you have very differing views we can’t get together at a place like a university and have a robust debate. Don’t you find that sad, to either of you? To both of you who are in the tertiary sector -
It is clear Wallace is very nervous and with good reason. If he was honest he would say he was quite aware of how he would be treated if he inadvertently said the wrong thing. He doesn’t want to directly stray from the doctrine of gender identity, but still wants to challenge his guests. His questions are identical ones we have asked. All we want is conversation and the exchange of constructive dialogue.
EH: No, I agree.
WC: we can park our outrage, we can get a hall and actually have — I want to know about both sides, but I’ll never get to –
This is a direct invitation to Wallace Chapman — I will happily meet with you and talk you through our story and our positions. We are an open book and we want everyone to have the chance to hear not only our perspectives, but the many other perspectives being silenced in this conflict.
In the meantime, I suggest Wallace, and anyone else who is curious about learning about us, visits our website and checks out our principles:
Principles as agreed by the Speak Up For Women membership
1. Women are adult human females; girls are human female children.
2. Women and girls have the right to live free of violence, including sexual abuse or violence.
3. Women and girls have the right to organise and gather in safe, sex-segregated spaces.
4. Women and girls have a right to reproductive sovereignty.
5. Women and girls have the right to live free from commercial sexual exploitation.
6. Women and girls have the right to economic independence, pay equity, and living wages, including that which pertains to reproductive labour, child-raising, and domestic work.
7. Lesbians are exclusively same-sex attracted females and have the right to assert their same-sex attraction without facing harassment.
8. ‘Sex’ refers to the biological characteristics that distinguish males from females. Sex is immutable. ‘Gender’ refers to the stereotyped roles, behaviours and attributes that society at a given time considers appropriate for males and females.
SM: — this goes back to what I was saying earlier about…about the privilege of being white and being male. No ones going to attack me because I’m at the very, very top of most heaps. I feel safe in any environment, but if I was transgender I don’t think I’d feel quite so comfortable when I’ve got people telling me “your type are unnatural, perverse, wrong — whatever it might be.” [Unintelligible] See to me, I don’t care — it’s water off a duck’s back. When you’ve got a minority group — an oppressed group — it doesn’t wash off them quite so effortlessly and those are the people who need the protection from people like me who don’t need it.
What Steve seems to forget as he waxes lyrical about his privilege is that the people he is railing against are not oppressors. He has a great deal of privilege over us — starting with the ability to go on our national radio station and lie about a group of women who can’t defend themselves without anyone batting an eyelid.
No one from Speak Up For Women is calling trans people “unnatural, perverse, wrong”. It is not a view we hold and we are quite frankly sick of having statements like this put in our mouth. We are supportive of gender non-conformity and believe everyone should be able to express themselves how ever they like. However, we know that the toys one plays with as a child, the colours one wears, and the stereotypes one enacts have no bearing on their biological sex. And we want to have public discussion about what that means for society.
“Sex is WHY we are oppressed. Gender is HOW we are oppressed.”
Perhaps for a better idea of who we are a visit to our website and pieces we have written might be a good idea, Steve…
“Speak Up For Women is concerned about the censoring of feminists and women who speak out against sex self-ID, and against the ways in which gender ideology is becoming increasingly normalised in language and culture. Women must be able to speak out about our bodies and experiences, and about changes in law that will impact on our sex-based rights and protections as defined in the Human Rights Act (1993).
After millennia of women’s sexual, economic, religious and cultural oppression on the basis of beliefs and expectations connected to female biology, trans activists, some left-wing politicians and most third wave feminists are now no longer certain what a woman actually is. Most, however, argue that being a woman is not connected to biology, but is rather dependent on an individual ‘identifying’ as a woman.”
“When we divide ourselves along increasingly narrow identity-based lines we only provide a mirror for our differences, so we only see that which makes us oppositional and are blind to our commonalities. Calling for an end to hostility and abuse towards people you agree with while still propagating it in the direction of those with whom you disagree is awfully hypocritical and only bound to cause more conflict.”
EH: Yeah, I was concerned too that they…one of the arguments they raised — and it’s 2019 so if want to find out about this group I can get online and find out about it. I don’t need to engage necessarily in a public debate on campus but um one of the arguments was that they were concerned that trans um…ah…sportspeople are…you know…transiting from men to women. Um had some kind of unfair advantage and I thought most international sports gatherings already tested trans extensively for things like testosterone. I mean that’s already happening. They don’t have an advantage over other sports people according to the bodies that test for this sort of thing.
Look, Ella, you and I both know you have done no research on us. You’ve made that clear already and I realise you may not want to engage with us in a public debate but is it your right or anyone else’s right to take away that opportunity for others?
Clearly not a lot of research has gone on in regards to transwomen in sport either. It is a highly contested issue and one that the IOC is actively engaging with right now. The existing requirement that transwomen lower their testosterone to under 10nM (without any need for surgical transition) is incredibly unfair to women who on average test at 0.8nM.
SM: Now the usual objection is-is I don’t want one of those MEN coming into my female bathroom and usually that’s as far as it gets from what I have been able to discern. It-it-it basically it is a transphobia.
Steve, you said before that you were lucky enough to feel safe in any environment. Can you not see how grossly misogynistic it is for you to then be disparaging women who do not have that luxury for wanting to have public discussions about activist demands that will impact our lives?
EH: Exactly, and a fear without even trying to understand and that’s why I remain appalled that this group is allowed to call itself feminism.
We have a website and a whole lot of articles, podcast interviews, videos, and events that explain exactly what our concerns are. It is people like Ella and Steve who have been given a microphone and let loose to disregard what we have actually said and done and create a whole new narrative.
And Ella, you can call us what you want at the end of the day. We will continue to fight for women’s rights and to push for constructive discourse. We won’t be bullied into silence.