Guest post: Tactics common in abusive relationships make bad activism

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on All the poles are reversed.

If there is no difference between a cis woman and a trans woman, if “trans women are women” – then it shouldn’t make any difference.

But of course, there is a difference.

Anyway the more I see these stories, the more this runs through my head:

You’ve heard of TERFs, you’ve heard of SWERFs, now introducing the hot new radical feminism, WERFs.

That’s right, Women Exclusionary Radical Feminism, for when you want to call yourself a feminist but think the only women whose voices matter, are those women who have penises.

Do you think it is okay to threaten 60 year-old-women with baseball bats while still claiming to be a radical feminist? Being a WERF is right up your alley.

Are you basically a frat boy who thinks putting on a dress means you get to call lesbians who don’t want to have sex with you bigots? Congratulations, you’re a WERF.

Do you present yourself as the most insulting possible parody of a female, with the barest essentials are “a willing asshole, an open mouth and blank, blank eyes” and think this makes you more legitimate than someone who was actually born female? You’re a WERF mate.

Do you think that harassing female athletes for having doubts about whether male bodied athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports is a good thing to do? That’s why you’re WERF.

Do you think you threatening to commit suicide when feminists say things you disagree with makes their words tantamount to violence? WERF.

Now note: Not all trans people are WERFs. Not all WERFs are trans. Most trans people are much like most other people, and not dickheads about it. One can argue in favour of trans inclusion in women’s sports without trying to silence the opposition.

One can legitimately argue in favour of “trans women are women” without harassment campaigns against the opposition, and calling people bigots because they’re not on the same page as you.

It is perfectly possible to do these things, but doing them requires actually having enough respect for women to be willing to listen to what they have to say. It requires respecting women having freedom to speech, even speech that you might find hurtful.

It requires arguments not dictates. And those are very rare from the trans activist community.

This is not a matter of simple disagreements between the TERF and WERF movements right now – it is a set of tactics which are common in abusive relationships being turned into activism.

We see gaslighting going on where women are dismissed as being crazy for having concerns. We see threats of suicide used as a silencing tactic. We see outright violence occasionally and a lot of harassment.

We see the idealisation of what it is to be female – in a way that a lot of feminists would regard as outright misogynist. We then see feminists who object to this being threatened.

Years ago my view on trans rights was this: I’m not in support of having a situation where people have their genitals checked before they go to the bathroom. I wouldn’t want somebody checking I’ve got a penis before going to a men’s restroom, and urinals are a lot more public than cubicles.

I can respect that people disagree – but I think in practical terms for the day-to-day, trans women should be treated as being women because nobody wants anybody going and looking up people’s skirts or in people’s pants to check.

But my view has warped. I still think nobody wants to institute the gender-police, but honestly trans activism has gone so far that it is now unsupportable.

I don’t believe in “double vision” – I think people are people. The oppressed are not suddenly granted super-perception by being oppressed, people are people, we see what we see, and we all make assumptions of varying accuracy.

My country has been governed by identity politics since 1994, and the result has been some of the highest rates of murder and rape in the world, a unemployment rate of over 29%, xenophobia, our 2019 GDP growth was 0.1%, and we’ve not even had any movement on those identity issues.

I still believe that Thabo Mbeki is the worst president South Africa has had. Not just because of the AIDS crisis, but because of how he handled the crime crisis. Mbeki responded to that crisis by calling the reporters who highlighted it racist.

It’s not worked because it doesn’t treat people as people, but as identities – so we’ve got a government that thinks it has “double vision” and thus ignores a lot of expertise from the old oppressor class, who had a greater chance to become experts due that oppression.

Nobody had “double vision” and now we can’t keep the lights on. Don’t assume you know better because you think you’re oppressed, at best you’re just as informed as your oppressor, maybe just on different issues, at worst you might not even be oppressed but rather feel oppressed and be justifying your own vile behaviour by that. This is why conversations and working together matter, why you should be prepared to listen even when it is something that you find deeply personally offensive.

It is also why you shouldn’t justify things by claiming you’re “punching up”, the people who are willing to tolerate really getting punched aren’t that far up, and all too often are actually too far down to retaliate. There is a reason why in any social justice activism, women are generally more in the firing line than men.

And this is why the trans activist community is part of what is driving situations where leftwing parties are losing – because this dictatorial style where everyone who disagrees is a bigot? It breaks countries. You don’t have to converse politely, mockery and all of that is fine, but don’t think just shutting down the opposition is going to do away with the opposition, you might just be doing away with your support.

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