Last Sunday, thousands marched through London in support of freedom of speech. You wouldn’t know it to look at most national papers. The rally featured a range of speakers including libertarian-left Scot ‘Count Dankula’ (best known for being convicted and fined for teaching his girlfriend’s pug to perform a Nazi salute on video) along with alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and former EDL leader, Tommy Robinson.
Not a nice bunch, for the most part, if you’re of a generally leftish persuasion. Fine. But here’s why gender critical feminists should stand with Tommy Robinson, who has been permanently banned from Twitter for posting material critical of Islam. Because when it comes to defending free speech – even for abhorrent views – provided that speech stops short of inciting violence, he’s right.
The mealy-mouthed phrase ‘Oh of course I believe in freedom of speech, but…’ is heard ever more often among those who wish to be seen as nice, progressive, normal and appropriately leftish. And as it creeps further into normal language, it is increasingly not just those on the fringes of the Overton window who fall victim to the ever narrower definition of what is and is not acceptable speech to make freely.
Having mobilised free speech arguments to challenge the status quo from the 1960s onwards, the New Left has by now (for all that it lost the economic one) comprehensively won the culture war. But, having won, the New Left has gone on to develop an ideological immune system to consolidate that victory, and to prevent any insurgent ideas from threatening its hegemony.
One might characterise this immune system as a determined collective capacity to ignore, mock, smear, misrepresent, delegitimise and where necessary deploy more forceful methods of silencing any voice on the fringes of public discourse that challenges its orthodoxies. Adherence to these orthodoxies is enforced – on pain of expulsion from ‘polite society’ – every bit as pervasively as was regular churchgoing once upon a time. Nowhere is this more clear than in the trans juggernaut.
Not content with its admirable achievements in promoting equal treatment for all humans regardless of race, sex or faith, the New Left continues on a relentless pursuit of personal ‘liberation’ for each individual from all restraints of social convention, faith or even pragmatic common sense. Lately, it transpires, we must all go even further, and be liberated even from settled biological fact: men can be female, and women male; all humans must be freed to transcend their own embodied state, to be whatever they feel they are. To gainsay any individual’s personal identity is, now, to commit an act of intensely personal and cruel violence against an individual’s very sense of self and freedom.
The majority of the left sees this straightforwardly in terms of the next civil rights struggle, now that the one for lesbian and gay equality has been won. It is not enough that we have the Gender Recognition Act, which attempts to balance the right to gender self-expression against the rights of women and children to single-sex spaces. Rather trans activism seeks to force into accepted orthodoxy the notion that biological sex is meaningless, and instead all individuals have a ‘gender identity’, which can be changed in law by a simple administrative procedure (I’ve written about this here).
Women who dare ask questions about how this will impact sex discrimination regulations, gendered violence data gathering, pay gap data gathering, women’s shelters, prisons or changing rooms must be treated as though this new shibboleth is already orthodoxy: they must be silenced, utterly. Doxxing, threats of violence, physical assaults, lobbying Parliament to have the phrase ‘trans-identified male’ reclassified as hate crime are some of the tactics in common use. Mumsnet – one of the few online spaces where critical discussion around transgender activism is not heavily moderated – has seen its advertisers targeted by trans activism keen to pressure Mumsnet into implementing a more forceful moderation policy.
Within the more mainstream politics, a 19-year-old intact male who identifies as a woman was elected as a women’s officer; at least one Labour member objecting to this have been expelled from the Labour Party following a frankly disturbing Orwellian interview; hundreds of women have resigned in protest and the general response of the left appears to be ‘ok fine, good riddance, bye’.
Women are being silenced. Left-wing women. Nowhere is this more painfully clear than in the push to deplatform Linda Bellos, a veteran lesbian feminist and founder of Black History Month. The mechanisms employed are the same ones as are used to silence other wicked, excluded voices: smears, harassment, and – wherever possible – the levers of law, power, government. And, because the left long since abandoned its previous spirited defence of free speech in favour of protecting its cultural victories via a policy of selected censorship (‘curated speech’ instead of free speech) left-wing women now have no defence against these parasites hollowing out liberation politics for their own purposes. Those feminists protesting at the female-bodied collateral damage that is starting to pile up up in the cause of freeing men to ‘be women’ are instead facing, at the hands of their former comrades on the left, the same tactics that the left has long since used to consolidate its cultural hegemony.
I shan’t quote anyone directly, but I see the hurt, frustration and rage boiling up. ‘What the fuck do you mean, we’re on the wrong side of history???’. How fucking dare you other, marginalise, smear, delegitimise us, who have so long been dutiful soldiers in the noble cause?
And yet, there it is: without the free speech argument, this will continue. It will get worse. The purges will continue within the left. Maybe we’ll see new orthodoxies starting to creep in that don’t even sound very left-wing at all, but can be justified with reference to liberation, equality, discrimination.
I decided to take this out of my replies to some tweets and do a thread because this ‘Paedophile Manifesto’ is so chilling it needs its own analysis and exposure. I’m only half way through as it is just making me so angry.
— Dr EM (@PankhurstEM) May 1, 2018
I was passed a ‘Paedophile Manifesto’ entitled ‘The handbook’ published 2015 on https://t.co/dIh6IunAPd to have a look at. It spends pages and pages talking about how to normalise what they refer to as ‘Adult-Child Sexual Relationships’. pic.twitter.com/o4RwegIksc
— Dr EM (@PankhurstEM) May 1, 2018
Look, I get it. If you’re a gender-critical feminist, you’re possibly a radical feminist. You’re 99.9999999% likely to be pretty left-wing. The cultural revolution is your baby. But babies grow up, and without checks and balances this one’s growing up mean.
The no-platforming, harassment, mockery, ostracism starts out being just for people you don’t like, and don’t agree with. So you don’t speak up. Then they’re gunning for people you thought were basically okay, but maybe you were wrong and anyway you’re afraid to speak out in case you get blowback. Then, suddenly, they’re coming for people a whole lot like you, to stifle an issue you actually really care about.
This isn’t just about saving women from a misogynistic campaign to abolish legal recognition of sex differences in the name of a spurious freedom to ape the behavioural stereotypes imposed on the opposite sex. It’s about retaining, for the left, the ability to save the left from itself – an ability that looks worryingly to be already hanging by a thread. Gender critical feminists are the canaries in the left-wing coalmine. Without a spirited defence of free speech – yes, even for Tommy Robinson – the left will incrementally be taken over by and for interests a long way from the oppressed, the powerless, the voiceless whom the left claim to wish to represent, lift up and defend. Misogynists; paedophiles; those who seek to reintroduce blasphemy laws. It’s all coming.
Gender critical feminists: this is bigger even than a battle to keep the rights women have won. It’s a fight for the soul of liberation politics. Without a spirited left-wing defence of free speech – and let’s face it, this is a pretty radical suggestion nowadays – the left is a sitting duck. For while its immune system is effective at purging antagonists, it is defenceless against parasites. Transgenderism is just the first of many ideological parasites: it has already colonised most mainstream LGB lobby groups. More will follow, each dripping with the magic aura of liberation, open-mindedness, toleration, equality, justice, inclusion and an end to discrimination. Opposing these parasites will mean falling foul of the prohibition on any thought, speech or action that can be painted as discriminatory, intolerant, exclusionary or bigoted.
The only such defence that stands the test of time is the free speech defence, and that means defending it even for those whose views we dislike. It’s time to hold your noses and stand with Tommy Robinson.
The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.
Liberalism lacks a profound sense of evil.
Inclusivity is a word often heard in today’s political discourse. In the latest brouhaha, the UK government asked for the phrase ‘pregnant women’ in a the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to be replaced by ‘pregnant people’, in order to be inclusive of women who identify as transgender men, and subsequently become pregnant. Following an outcry, Theresa May has hastened to insist that ‘pregnant women’ is ‘acceptable‘ (oh, really, how very kind of you to say so) but the pressure to be ‘inclusive’ is powerful, and now deep-rooted in the culture.
Feminists are plagued with demands that they be inclusive. Indeed, an entire website, with the presumptuous title Everyday Feminism, is devoted to spooling out clickbait articles hectoring would-be feminists on all the different identity groups they are obliged to include, and the ways in which they are constantly failing to do so. So wonderful is inclusivity, that even men must be included in feminism – provided they identify as women. In fact, intersectional feminism should include everyone.
But why should this be? Inclusivity is presented as ipso facto a good thing, but I never hear anyone making the argument for why this is the case. One way to unpack that is to look at the way the words ‘judgement’ and ‘discrimination’ have evolved over the last couple of centuries. In Alexander Pope’s 1711 poem An Essay on Criticismhe writes:
Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind;
Nature affords at least a glimm’ring light;
The lines, tho’ touch’d but faintly, are drawn right.
What begins as a disquisition on the proper uses of literary criticism develops into a manifesto for taste. Judgement is at its core, and is clearly a positive thing. Where prior to the Enlightenment, judgement was reserved for God alone, with the Enlightenment that spark of divinity descends – potentially at least – into each indi vidual. It is one of the ways in which the Enlightenment view of humanity morphed from something substantially at the mercy of the divine into something substantially autonomous, rational, capable of clear thought and action on that basis.
Now consider the way the word ‘judgement’ is used today. To judge someone is a hostile act, something done to me by people with a full set of prejudices and a weak grasp of the facts of my situation. It is an unacceptable incursion into my freedom to live as I please. Who are you to judge my actions, you who know so little about me? As for ‘discrimination’, which once meant ‘the ability to make finely calibrated distinctions based on a moral framework’, these days as we all know it’s illegal.
Judgement leads to discrimination, which groups people according to a moral framework and excludes them from access to power or resources on the basis of those judgements. This has in the past produced some brutal injustices: examples that spring readily to mind include South African apartheid, or the disenfranchisement of women and the working class. But it is one thing to protest against the exclusion of entire groups from participation in the general political process, and to protest against the exclusion of groups from political subsets within that process. To put it more simply: the devil is in the detail. Who is being excluded, and from what?
I wrote the other day about the way in which the addition of a neverending alphabet soup of additional identities to the lesbian, bisexual and gay rights campaign has not expanded but neutered that campaign, and silenced some of its members:
[O]nce you buy into the idea that the alphabet soup needs to be ‘inclusive’ of the needs of all these people, most of whom have sod all in common and some of whom are actually just straight people who want to feel a bit special, you can’t really, actually, campaign for anything much. And if you try, the reality starts to bite, which is that you’ve created an umbrella group whose members, far from having shared interests, in fact have such mutually contradictory interests in many ways that the only way to be inclusive is for some or all of the letters to STFU. […] It’s like what would happen if you decided in the name of inclusivity to open up the Olympics to competitive sewing, darts, poetry reading, cookery, dance and spelling bees. Suddenly you don’t have an athletics competition any more, you just have a vaguely feelgood sort of village show.
The unspoken rationale for the ever-widening membership categories for identity subsets within the political process is that it gives members access to what Joshua Mitchell in his outstanding essay The Identity Politics Death Grip calls ‘debt points’. That is, within identity politics, political campaign groups are not simply political campaign groups: they are identities, and membership of an identity confers privileges. But while it claims the supposedly laudable goal of inclusivity and political participation, this ever-widening net of victimhood is in fact stifling the capacity of such groups to function as campaigns. To put it another way: while universal inclusion in the political process is something we should all strive to achieve, in the context of political campaigns its effect is suffocating.
The essence of politics, of political campaigns, is this: you define a group, with shared interests, and you use your collective voice to amplify those interests and pressure for their fulfilment. In order to define a group, you have to be able to define what it is not. And you also have to be able to exclude individuals or subgroups whose interests do not align with those of the group overall.
So in order to be politically effective, feminists should be able to exclude those whose interests do not align with those of women, as they perceive them. From the radical feminist perspective, it is not unreasonable to want to exclude men. By the same token, why should a campaign created to advocate for greater acceptance for same-sex relationships feel obliged to fly the flag for those who feel no sexual desire? Their interests have no obvious alignment apart from a vague general rejection of normative heterosexuality. It is difficult to think of a campaign statement that both reflects their common interests and is anything but limply anodyne.
Identity politics has used the genuine injustices and exclusions of the past to turn inclusivity into a battering ram that hacks away at the capacity of any political campaign group to focus, define its goals and interests and campaign for them. The self-righteous warriors for inclusion, progress and social justice are, once you strip away the kumbayas, a remarkably effective set of fetters on effective political action. Is it possible that postmodern identity politics is not, in fact, a force for progress but its opposite? By that I don’t mean reactionary nostalgia or conservatism but stasis, nihilism, stagnation. Jordan B. Peterson thinks so:
“The best you can do with postmodern philosophy is emerge nihilistic, at best. The worst case is that you’re a kind of anarchical social revolutionary who is directionless apart from that you want to tear things down. Or you end up depressed, which I see happening to students all the time because the postmodernists take out the remaining structures of their ethical foundation.
Inclusivity is the death of politics, as competing interests are papered over in favour of ever blander general statements designed to avoid offending ever more unfocused and incoherent sets of priorities. (It also murders serious journalism, as Nick Cohen blisteringly argues this month in Standpoint.) goes without saying that the franchise should be universal for adults within a democratic nation, but that is as far as inclusivity need go. To achieve anything beyond a grim staggering on with the status quo, or a chronic submission to the loudest voices, politics requires groups to be able to self-define, to judge and to exclude if necessary. (It also requires a vision capable of inspiring and uniting so as to prevent ever greater balkanisation in the manner of the Judean People’s Front, but that’s another discussion.) In essence, that’s what a democratic nation state is: a group of people, united by geography, tradition, history, shared habits, culture, usually to a degree ethnicity and so on, who have agreed that they share sufficient interests overall that all are collectively willing to abide by the decisions of elected representatives in government even if some did not vote for that party and disagree with their views. The covenant, the overarching agreement to abide by the result until the next election, is key to the coherence and stability of the nation state. It requires a sense of who is defined within our group – and also who we may legitimately exclude.
It is in this sense that advocates for mass immigration know not what they do. While they may be right that encouraging large-scale flows of people into a democratic nation state can benefit that receiving nation economically, there is an attendant risk to the democratic covenant in operation within the country. If three million people arrive in a country of fifty million, and I don’t know what their interests, priorities, histories, allegiances or loyalties are, does the democratic covenant still hold? What about ten million? Twenty? At what point does the web of tradition, expectation, mutual obligation, habit and collective solidarity fray into a sense of anomie? And what happens to that nation’s practice of democracy then?
Back when I was a young thing, it was ‘LGB’ and that was an end to it. Where did the rest of the alphabet soup come from?
LGB made sense. For all that the different groups within it had different interests, cultures and priorities all three had one positive thing in common – a stance that could be summed up along the lines of ‘We hold that romantic and sexual same-sex relationships are and should be deemed normal and healthy for those who wish to pursue them’. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people all have that in common. Easy.
But now add in the rest of the alphabet soup, and what does the whole group have in common? What statement can be made that unites the interests of a lesbian with a late-transitioning, autogynephilic trans-identified male who is attracted to women, and an asexual person who experiences no sexual attraction to anyone? Yet they all (L, T, A) belong – or so we are told – in the same alphabet soup.
LGB is about same-sex relationships. The remainder don’t even necessarily define themselves in opposition to normative heterosexuality. Heterosexual people can apparently be queer, so you can be straight and in the gang. There’s
even an extra ‘A’ in there for ‘allies’ that , the term used in identity politics for ‘people who belong to bad oppressor groups and are low on the victim hierarchy but still buy into our crazy and want to hang out with us, the victim elect, while constantly apologising for their existence and generally being whiny twats in the hope we’ll give them cookies’. What rights are they campaigning for? Why do they need a letter?
Because it’s not a campaign, it’s a club. And apparently these days you can still be in it even if you’re straight. Just say you’re nonbinary, declare yourself asexual, queer, questioning or an ally and you too can join a trendy gang that gives you permission to perform your virtue and special special difference from the normies, to take a nibble on the victim pie, to whip up Twitterstorms on behalf of whichever victim group is flavour of the month and, in a general way, soak up some of that nice righteousness that comes with being in an oppressed group. Even if you’re not really all that oppressed. (Is Jaden Smith oppressed?)
All very warm and fuzzy, but the upshot of this is that any clear message about gay rights is muffled as fuck. Indeed, once you buy into the idea that the alphabet soup needs to be ‘inclusive’ of the needs of all these people, most of whom have sod all in common and some of whom are actually just straight people who want to feel a bit special, you can’t really, actually, campaign for anything much. And if you try, the reality starts to bite, which is that you’ve created an umbrella group whose members, far from having shared interests, in fact have such mutually contradictory interests in many ways that the only way to be inclusive is for some or all of the letters to STFU. Campaign for contraception? The asexual non-shaggers get hurt feelings. Campaign for same-sex relationship acceptance? Not only do the bisexuals start complaining about invisibility (seriously, get over yourselves), but trans-identified heterosexual men start asserting that they are in fact also lesbians, so real lesbians should put out more. And then the lesbians get annoyed. (Of course here, we can guess who’s going to win the argument. Spoiler: cis lesbians are ugly and boring and their rights are all cool now yeah. So not the lesbians).
But I digress. What’s happened here is not, in fact, an expansion of the campaign for gay rights – it’s the disintegration of that campaign. It’s like what would happen if you decided in the name of inclusivity to open up the Olympics to competitive sewing, darts, poetry reading, cookery, dance and spelling bees. Suddenly you don’t have an athletics competition any more, you just have a vaguely feelgood sort of village show. (Which, coincidentally, is what’s happened to Pride marches, which used to be protests but are now ‘parades’ and sponsored by every virtue-signalling corporate under the sun, expressing nothing but vague, feelgood sort of general leftism with a side order of mild smugness at being a bit more victimy and self-righteous than those lame cishets). The alphabet soupers have in fact stolen the movement from under gay people, and killed it with inclusivity.
Then, the competing interests of genuine minorities (such as – whisper it – lesbians) suitably stifled, we are finding to our amazement that the loudest voices in the new, happy, inclusive alphabet soup movement are the same group as they are everywhere else: heterosexual men. Or, as they are now known, trans lesbians. Now that it’s impossible to campaign for the full range of self-evidently competing interests supposedly included in the alphabet soup, we have to prioritise someone. Who should we choose? I know – heterosexual men! And as new letters get added, and the original gay people start to protest, just watch as the newer ones, like cuckoos, begin to push them out of the nest.
The other day I posted about how I thought it was time feminists abandoned their affiliation with the left, seeing as the left has abandoned all but the thinnest pretense of affiliation with feminism.
But on reflection, that seems the wrong way up. To walk feminism away from the left is to identify the left with the faction that has taken it over, namely the jihadis of identitarian ‘social justice’ – to say that yes, this is the left and the whole of the left, and that Owen Jones is right to accuse those who diverge from its catechism of being ‘centrists’ or even – gasp – right-wing. But it’s not true. There are many sensible, thoughtful, idealistic people on the left who don’t buy into the crazy. Who don’t even buy into identity politics, who are still with Martin Luther King rather than Ta-Nehisi Coates, who see this narcissistic, atomising arms race of special pleading for what it is: the graveyard of solidarity and the end of the left as a tool for real change. As, in fact, a capitulation of leftism to radical individualism, a pampered whingefest for those far enough up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be able to put aside more visceral concerns such as obtaining food, shelter, or safety from violence and focus instead on fine-tuning their exquisitely unique and special identities and the specific oppressions they imagine to obtain from being the uniquely suffering creature they are.
Identity politics could perhaps be characterised as a post-Christian spasm, a 21st century search for meaning in pain. But the competition it engenders between its believers, as they jockey for position as most-oppressed, taking selfies of their own martyrdom, mean that far from being a basis for the kind of solidarity that could change the world, it is deeply inimical to any kind of solidarity. No group must speak for any other; each group fractures ever further into sub-groups, sub-identities; the final result is a universe of lonely sufferers, screaming into the internet void for someone to acknowledge the special intensity of their pain.
It’s hard to effect meaningful political change if no-one can agree on what the change should be, and when everyone is more concerned with their feelings anyway. So instead of left-wing politics you have a thin layer of eternal cultural revolution designed progressively to atomise what’s left of our culture ever further to appease the whingebags. Under that thin layer of revolution lie the same commercial systems and power structures as ever. Pretty shit revolution if you ask me.
I should add at this point that I’m not really in favour of radically transforming anything these days. But if I were a leftist I would be, and in that case I would be getting increasingly concerned about the paralysing effect of identity politics on the ability of idealists to organise, rally others to their cause and effect political change in relation to that cause. As is often the way, feminists have been the canary in the mine, and a growing number of female voices have begun to push back against the stultifying impact of identitarian self-absorption on women’s ability to argue clearly and coherently for those feminist issues (and they are legion) that still need addressing.
The brutality of the vitriol and threats of excommunication feminists have faced from the majority of the left now in thrall to identitarian ideas is a testament to what is at stake here: two mutually exclusive ways of thinking. Identitarian narcissism and class analysis cannot coexist. Where the left has traditionally campaigned based on the power in collective solidarity, identity politics is a movement of radical individualism, whose logical endpoint is a world where each individual identity is defined by its differences from each other identity, and as such class solidarity of any kind is impossible. This is the death of the left. (This is also why the Morning Star is the only periodical that regularly challenges trans ideology – communists sense the danger to their worldview in submitting to it).
As an aside, if you’re reading this as a conservative and thinking great, the left can fuck off and die then, don’t be so complacent. Identitarianism is coming for all the forms of collective identity you hold dear as well. Faith, nation, the family, you name it: the snowflakes want it all to burn on the altar of ‘inclusivity’.
But I digress. Though I’m not really of the left any more it saddens me to watch this tsunami of self-absorption-masquerading-as-radicalism devour, splinter and paralyse a movement that was about social solidarity and transformation for the better. So, as the radical feminists are at the forefront of the fight-back against the apotheosis of SJW madness in the form of transgender rights, I call on them to repudiate identity politics and begin the process of expelling this virus from the left. Take the movement back.
It will mean letting go of the temptation to get into ‘more oppressed than thou’ competitions, fighting the urge to tell people to check their privilege, and ditching the notion that there is any special and mystical about the experience of women that takes precedence over our potential, all of us, to share common humanity. But it also brings a liberatory revival of the ability to talk about human universals, and maybe – just maybe – might offer fresh arguments that can help break the current deadlock between feminism and trans ideology, in favour of something saner, that provides space to be respectful of the distress experienced by trans people without the totalitarian desire to abolish feminism and women, not to mention biology, homosexuality, science and objective fact.
Feminists are wasting their time trying to persuade the left’s revolutionary vanguard not to ostracise them.
Watching a brief Twitter interaction between babyfaced lefty weathervane Owen Jones and Jen Harvey, a gender critical feminist, crystallised this for me.
Jen protests at Owen’s characterisation of ‘transphobia’ as something perpetrated by ‘centrists’:
The splendidly angry Twitter thread that follows asks: how dare you try and purge feminists from the left-wing umbrella for defending our own interests?
It’s a good thread. But she’s wasting her time.
Jones’ claim that ‘centrists’ are ‘transphobic’ is a standard left-wing tactic, designed to push in two directions. Firstly, it speaks to anyone who already knows that ‘transphobia’ is a Bad Thing, to claim the fight against this Bad Thing as quintessentially left-wing; and not just the moderate left but the True Left.
Secondly, it speaks to anyone who has an emotional stake in others continuing to recognise them as part of the Lefty Gang, to let them know if they want to keep their designation as part of the Great Virtuous Tribe of Left Wing Goodies and not be kicked to the kerb as nasty, bigoted centrists, they’d better lay off the transphobia.
So, according to Jones, to be left-wing is to support trans people, and to question trans activism is to renounce membership of the left. If you do that, you might be a centrist, or even (shudder) On The Right.
I see a lot of feminists getting really upset about moves like this, which redefine the legitimate field of operations of radical leftism and demand acquiescence by threatening ostracism. Look, I get it – most feminists see themselves as left-wing, and for most left-wing people (including myself, when I was a lefty) being on the left is an important part of personal identity. Left-wing ideology is all about how the world should be, rather than how it currently is, and it’s frustrating and depressing to try and share one’s vision of a world transformed with people who just tell you exasperatedly ‘but that’s not how the world works’. So lefties tend to band together in groups where they can – to a greater or lesser extent – share visions for how the world ought to be.
The problem with this, though, is that how the world ought to be is a movable feast. As it’s grounded only in hopes, dreams, aspirations, rather than observable reality, there’s nothing to stop my lefty vision diverging from yours. At that point, if these two lefties are to continue feeling part of the same movement, there’s a competition for which vision wins out. It would be nice if this were always conducted as a straight competition for which ideal is the most inspiring, but in practice among radicals the main weapon in the battle of ideas is to accuse your ideological opponent of not really being left-wing, or not left-wing enough. Not pure enough.
Under Stalin the purging of visions of transformation that competed with Uncle Joe’s took a literal and brutal form: arrest, incarceration, execution. Fortunately, at least for the moment, we inhabit a world where Owen Jones has no power to send those he dislikes to the gulag, so he is confined to prattling in the Guardian or on Twitter; but trust me, when he warns his fans off centrism and transphobia thus, the mechanism is the same. If you don’t agree with me, you’re not in my gang. You’re a centrist. A Tory. Excommunicated!
Since the 1960s, the march of progressivism has taken on one cause after another, beginning with racism, sexism and homophobia. On these fronts it has indisputably made the world a better place in some respects: we should all treat one another equally and with equal courtesy. As significant gains have been chalked up on these fronts, new anti-discrimination fronts have opened up, of which the latest is transgender rights. Because progressivism works like the EU’s acquis communautaire, right-thinking leftists are expected to add each new progressive cause to those that preceded it. All must be espoused and vocally supported. And it’s one out, all out: to fail in espousing a single progressive cause celebre is to fail entirely as a leftist. (Outside the proper causes, it’s open season: you can support all the genocidal Soviets and IRA bombers you like. But woe betide you if you put a foot wrong on the progressive causes. Campaign all your life for trafficked women, the welfare state, whatever; if you said a bad thing about trans women once in 1992 we will picket you until you die, then dance on your grave.
The problem radical feminists face right now is that they must either abandon their radical feminism, or be abandoned by the left. Radical feminism holds that gender is not a binary but a hierarchy, one perpetuated by a patriarchal society with the intent of keeping women in a subordinate position. The trans activist position, that gender is a matter of inner feelings and identity, seen from this perspective, is an outrage: if gender is a matter of feelings and individual choice, how can anyone critique the unfair power relations perpetuated by social gender structures? Surely if you’re not comfortable with your designation you should just find an identity that’s more comfortable? Radical feminists argue that it just doesn’t work like that. Identifying as something other than female doesn’t change the fact that I’m female bodied, and being female bodied is where it all begins.
So, radical feminists cannot support the literalists of transgender activism, who put inner gender identity ahead of perceptible physiological materiality and state that to be a woman one must simply identify as one. In circular fashion, when asked to define ‘woman’, the answer is ‘someone who identifies as one’. Thus radical feminists have set themselves against transgenderism, which is the current darling of the left. One out, all out: if you question us on this front, you’re probably a bigot on all the others too. Hell, you might even be a centrist.
A lot of feminists are angry at the injustice of this, as in the thread I quoted earlier. We campaign all our lives for the world as we think it ought to be, and for the sake of a few men in dresses you want to take our leftist identities from us? Fuck you. But this is a waste of time. Why? Because the progressive ratchet is relentless. What started with obvious injustices such as racism seeks out ever more nebulous forms of injustice and discrimination to attack, and ever more authoritarian means of doing so. The revolutionary vanguard of the social justice movement is leaving a trail of bruised, angry former leftists in its wake – excommunicants barred from belonging for questioning – say – the impact of open-borders immigration on the indigenous working class, or whether a male-bodied individual with a bass voice, a receding hairline and a fully functioning penis can truly be a woman. American standup comic Owen Benjamin recently stated in a podcast ‘I arrived in LA as a left-winger, and I’m leaving it with people calling me a conservative. My political views haven’t changed’.
Radical feminists, the left is moving under you. Has moved under you. Your political views may not have changed, but some of them now disqualify you for membership of the left. The next group to discover this will be LGB activists, from the days when it really was LGB and not today’s alphabet soup. Your choice is simple: give up radical feminism, or give up on the left.
Though of course it’s up to your personal conscience, in my view the radical feminist analysis of gender relations is an important one, so I hope you choose the latter. The upside is that if you do so, you no longer need to feel hurt and angry when people accuse you of things which are only a problem if you want people to see you as a lefty – such as being a transphobic centrist. You also don’t need to be in Owen Jones’ gang any more. What’s not to like?