Reviews | The Far Right and the Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Matter

Perhaps it makes sense that women — those supposedly docile, agreeable, self-sacrificing, utterly kind creatures — were the ones who ultimately brought our polarized country together.

Because the far right and the far left have found one thing they can agree on: women don’t matter.

The right-wing position here is best known, with the movement having aggressively engaged in stripping women of their basic rights for decades. Thanks in part to two Supreme Court justices who were credibly accused of abusive behavior towards women, Roe v. Wade, a target of nearly 50, was ruthlessly canceled.

Far more disconcerting has been the fringe left to jump on its own, perhaps unwittingly but effectively misogynistic agenda. There was a time when academic groups and activist organizations vigorously championed the cause of women. Women’s rights were human rights and a reason to fight for. Although the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, legal scholars and advocacy groups have spent years working to otherwise establish women as a protected class.

But today, a number of academics, ultra-progressives, transgender activists, civil liberties organizations and medical organizations are working for the opposite purpose: to deprive women of their humanity, reducing them to a mix of body parts and gender stereotypes.

As my colleague Michael Powell reports, even the word “women” has become verboten. Previously a commonly understood term for half of the world’s population, the word had a specific meaning related to genetics, biology, history, politics and culture. Not anymore. In its place are unwieldy terms like “pregnant people,” “menstruation,” and “bodies with vaginas.”

Planned Parenthood, once a strong advocate for women’s rights, omits the word “women” from its homepage. NARAL Pro-Choice America used “people giving birth” instead of “women”. The American Civil Liberties Union, a longtime advocate for women’s rights, last month tweeted its outrage over the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade as a threat to several groups: “Black, Indigenous and other people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, youth.”

He left out the most threatened: women. Talk about a bittersweet way to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

The noble intention behind the omission of the word “women” is to make room for the relatively small number of transgender men and non-binary-identifying people who retain aspects of female biological function and may conceive, give birth or breast-feed. But despite a spirit of inclusion, the result has been to sideline women.

The women, of course, were accommodating. They welcomed transgender women into their organizations. They learned that providing any space for biological women in situations where the presence of men may be threatening or unfair – rape crisis centers, domestic abuse shelters, competitive sports – is currently considered by some as an exclusion. If there are other marginalized people to fight for, it is assumed that women will be the ones serving other people’s agendas rather than promoting their own.

But, but, but. Can you blame the fraternity for feeling a little nervous? To wince at the presumption of acquiescence? To worry about the wider implications? To ask what kind of message are we sending to young girls about feeling good about their bodies, pride in their gender and perspectives of femininity? For essentially giving in to another backlash?

Women didn’t fight so long and so hard to be told we couldn’t call ourselves women anymore. It’s not just a semantic question; it’s also a matter of hurt feelings, an affront to our very sense of ourselves.

Not so long ago – and in some places the belief persists – women were seen as a mere rib to Adam’s whole. Viewing women as their own complete entities, and not just a collection of derived parts, was an important part of the struggle for gender equality.

But here we go again, breaking down women into organs. Last year, the British medical journal The Lancet patted his back for a cover story on menstruation. Yet, instead of mentioning the humans who benefit from this monthly biological activity, the cover referred to “bodies with vaginas”. It’s almost as if the other bits and bobs – uterus, ovaries or even something relatively neutral like the brain – are inconsequential. That such things tend to be wrapped up in a human package with two X sex chromosomes is apparently unmentionable.

“What are we, chopped liver?” a woman might be tempted to joke, but in this organ-centric and largely humorless atmosphere, perhaps she would be wiser not to.

Women who publicly express mixed emotions or opposing viewpoints are often harshly denounced for being assertive. (Google the word “transgender” combined with the name Martina Navratilova, JK Rowling or Kathleen Stock to get a withered meaning.) They risk their jobs and their personal safety. They’re decried as somehow transphobic or labeled TERFs, a pejorative that may be unfamiliar to those who don’t visit this particular Twitter battleground. An ostensible abbreviation of “trans-exclusive radical feminist”, which originally referred to a subgroup of the British feminist movement, “TERF” has come to refer to any woman, feminist or not, who persists in believing that if transgender women should be free to live their lives with dignity and respect, they are not identical to those who were born female and lived their entire lives as such, with all the biological pitfalls, societal and cultural expectations, economic realities and the security issues that this entails.

But in a world of chosen gender identities, women as a biological category do not exist. Some might even call this kind of thing erasure.

When not defining women by body parts, misogynists from both ideological poles seem determined to reduce women to rigid gender stereotypes. The formula on the right, we know it well: women are mothers and servants – the feelers and the givers and the “don’t mind me.” The unexpected newcomers to such retrograde typography are the so-called left fringe progressives. In line with a newly adopted gender theory, they now propose that girls – gay or straight – who do not identify as female are somehow not entirely girls. Gender identity workbooks created by transgender advocacy groups for use in schools provide children with helpful diagrams suggesting that certain styles or behaviors are “masculine” and others “feminine.”

Didn’t we abandon these restricted categories in the 1970s?

The women’s movement and the gay rights movement, after all, tried to free the sexes from the construction of gender, with its antiquated notions of masculinity and femininity, to accept all women for who they are, whether they are tomboy, girly girl or butch dyke. To undo all this is to lose hard-earned ground for women – and for men too.

The rights threatened by women’s equality have always fought fiercely to put women in their place. Dishearteningly, some on the left fringe have been equally dismissive, resorting to intimidation, threats of violence, public shaming and other scare tactics when women attempt to reaffirm this right. The effect is to curtail discussion of women’s issues in the public sphere.

But women are not the enemy here. Consider that in the real world most violence against trans men and women is committed by men but, in the online world and in the academy, most of the anger against those who balk at this new ideology of gender seems to be directed against women.

It’s heartbreaking. And it’s counterproductive.

Tolerance for one group does not necessarily mean intolerance for another. We can respect transgender women without castigating women who point out that biological women are still a category in their own right – with their own specific needs and prerogatives.

If only women’s voices were consistently welcomed and respected on these issues. But whether they are Trumpists or traditionalists, left-wing fringe activists or academic ideologues, misogynists on both ends of the political spectrum also value the power to silence women.


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