Notes and Comment Blog

“We evolve to truly claim gender markers as our own”

Oct 24th, 2015 11:03 am | By

A friend pointed out this set of tips by Katie Dupere on how to be a good ally to trans people.

It’s irritating stuff, of course, but it very quickly goes from merely irritating to reversing everything we’ve learned about the hierarchical system that is “gender” over the past few decades.

For the merely irritating –

For those in socially disempowered positions, being able to define how you’re spoken about can be really powerful, Stryker says. But in addressing language that can be non-inclusive, it is important to move toward a goal of education — not alienation.

“It’s about creating a space so you can go deeper into the issue, rather than trying to police speech in a way that shuts down learning and awareness,” she says. “The ally has to not be defensive. They have to say, ‘Oh, I just said this thing that othered you. It’s interesting that I enacted my privileged position. I just learned something — thank you.'”

Give me a break.

I can see “oops,” I can see “oh, sorry” – assuming the “educator” is not an asshole, which is a risky assumption in situations of this kind. But I can also see “the language keeps changing, I can’t keep up,” with laughter or annoyance or both. I cannot see “Oh, I just said this thing that othered you. It’s interesting that I enacted my privileged position. I just learned something — thank you.” Anyone perfected enough to utter those three sentences is far too perfected to other anyone or enact a privileged position even by accident. No one else on the planet would utter those three sentences.

Number 1 is about pronouns – the word “preferred” is out, because it’s not about preferences, it’s about what people really truly literally are, absolutely, no ifs ands or buts, unequivocally, no more to be said, don’t you dare pause to think about it, shut the fuck up, die cis scum.

Number 2 is where we breezily throw feminism overboard and proceed on our voyage into the paradise of True Gender.

2. Saying someone was “born a boy/girl.”

No matter how old a transgender person is when they come out, it’s important to acknowledge they may feel their gender has always been the same one they are just now publicly claiming. To explain this concept, Stryker quotes Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Stryker explains that nobody is truly born a boy or a girl; rather, we evolve to truly claim those (or other) gender markers as our own. Saying someone was born a boy or girl suggests they were inherently one gender, but chose to be another.

“We are all assigned male, female, or intersex at birth, and become the people we are,” Stryker says.

See what she did there? One, she completely reversed the meaning of Simone de Beauvoir’s line, and two, she said we all claim gender markers as our own. That is such a crock of shit I can hardly believe my eyes.

This isn’t being a “good ally,” this is trying to be more Catholic than the pope.

Guest post: Transcript of Newsnight interview with Germaine Greer

Oct 24th, 2015 10:25 am | By

“Amateur” transcript by commenter eigensprocketUK.

Newsnight 23 October 2015

STUDIO INTRO: Kirsty Wark, presenter of BBC’s “Newsnight”.

KW: Dr Germaine Greer has always been outspoken, but never before has she been “no-platformed”. A petition has been launched asking Cardiff University to cancel a lecture she’s due to give next month entitled “Women and Power – the Lessons of the 20th Century” saying that her views – on something else, transgender people – are problematic.

KW: She believes that men who transition can not then be “women”. And Cardiff Student Union Women’s Officer has said that her views towards transgender women are misogynist. The university’s vice-chancellor has said that the university is committed to freedom of speech and open debate.

KW: Well I spoke to Germaine Greer this afternoon at her home near Cambridge and started by asking her why she thought she’d been no-platformed. During the interview she employed some forthright language.


GG: I was going to talk about women in power, the lessons of the 20th century, because I think there’s a lot of triumphalist talk that masks the real historic situation. And apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative trans-gender men, i.e. M-to-F transgender people are ‘women’, I’m not to be allowed to talk!

KW: But surely if a man who feels that he actually would like gender reassignment to make him…her be more comfortable in her body, then that’s what should be done – that’s … they should be allowed to do that.

GG I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure. What I’m saying is it doesn’t make them a woman. It happens to be an opinion. It’s not a prohibition. Carry on if …if that’s what you think it is you want to do.

GG I’ve been accused of inciting violence against transsexual people – that’s absolute nonsense.

KW But do you feel that the transgender community has too big a voice now? It seems to me you’re saying that that they’re becoming what you might… what feminists were often called – ‘strident’?

GG (LAUGHS) Yes but they very seldom were strident, alas. I think that a very great many women don’t think that, um, post-operative or even non post-operative transexual M-to-F transexual people look like, sound like, or behave like women. They daren’t say so.

KW But just because they daren’t say so doesn’t mean that person can’t feel like that and feels more comfortable with themselves.

GG Yeah, but so what? That’s not my issue. I don’t even talk about it. Not everybody does feel comfortable, by the way – post-operatively. There’s been a couple of cases I found very interesting where the actual accepter of the procedure has felt that it’s been a disaster.

KW But for those who do not feel it’s been a disaster and feel more comfortable then do you understand that they might feel that you are being hurtful to them?

GG (SHAKES HEAD) People are hurtful to me all the time. Try being an old woman! For goodness sake – people get hurt all the time. I’m not about to walk on eggshells.

KW: So you believe in free speech really – no matter what?

GG Well not quite ‘no matter what’. You don’t have to say everything that’s in your mind. You do use tact in the usual way. I would for example, with someone who wished to be known as female, use female speech forms. As a courtesy.

KW: Now though, people who are intersex are feeling a little more confident about coming forward and … and, a level of acceptance. But for example a woman, who outwardly has female genitalia but who inside has testes and doesn’t wish to have them rather than accepting that she has them – she should be allowed, shouldn’t she, and offered the chance to remove these inner testes?

GG We remove undescended testicles … from men, because they’re dangerous. I’m sure they wouldn’t be allowed to just lurk because that would be – I think – that would be a problem. I mean physically a problem. But then it’s also a problem if what you have to do after sex, er, gender reassignment, is use steroids [SIC, IMPLIED HORMONES?] every day of your life. That’s not a happy outcome either.

KW But it may be a happy outcome for them and they may feel that you are in a way denigrating them for taking that road.

GG I don’t even talk about them. They’re not my issue. I don’t … haven’t published anything about transgender for years!

KW So how do you feel that Newnham College, your own college, is considering not giving you an honorary doctorate –apparently– because of what you said about the transgender community?

GG There’s been two votes at my college about whether I should have an honorary degree and I’m , um, I’m not going to get one. They’ve been turned down. Which is thought by some to be astonishing. But not by me.

KW So someone like Caitlyn Jenner, for example, who’s been …/

GG /…must you? ! …

KW /…yes, who’s been on the front of lots of magazines and apparently is – I think I’m right in saying – is getting an award for being kind of glamour woman of the year. What do you think about that?

GG I think it’s misogynist. I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this. That a man who goes to all of these lengths to be a woman will be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman.

KW But are people, you would say necessarily, born a woman, or born feeling female. And if he feels more female …? (OPEN HANDS QUESTION GESTURE) …

GG It seems to me that he … that, ah, what was going on there is that he … he/she … ah, wanted the limelight that the other female members of the family were enjoying. And has conquered it – just like that!

KW Will Young apparently has a new video out, I don’t think you’ve seen it, in which a transgender person is going down the road and is abused. Reasonable position?

GG Ah, am I mistaken in thinking that this individual is naked … /


GG / …and running down the street with just a hand over his/her genitals?


GG You try running with your sagging breasts down the middle of the fucking street! And see what people will … throw a… a…a blanket over you! And grab you and call the police! For fuck’s sake! It is simply not true that intersexual people suffer in a way that other people don’t suffer.

KW Would you ever consider saying something more – ameliorating?

GG No! I’m getting fed up with it, you know. I’ve had things thrown at me, I’ve been accused of things I’ve never done or said. People seem to have no concern about evidence or indeed even about libel.

KW If a man who is gender reassigned, and outwardly – and he feels, inwardly, is a woman – in your view can he be a woman or not?

GG No.

KW Do you understand how some people feel that’s insulting?

GG I don’t care! People get insulted all the time. Australians get insulted ever day of the week.

KW Finally – if your safety is guaranteed, will you go to Cardiff?

GG I’m getting a bit old for all of this. I’m 76, I don’t want to go down there and be screamed at and have things thrown at me. Bugger it. It’s not that interesting, or rewarding.

KW Germaine Greer, thank you very much.


If men had babies

Oct 23rd, 2015 6:13 pm | By

What’s wrong with Ireland:

When Helen Linehan found out in 2004 that there was something fatally wrong with the 11-week-old foetus she was carrying, she was advised to have an immediate termination, because doctors knew there was no chance that the baby would survive longer than an hour after birth.

The foetus had a condition known as acrania, which meant that its skull had not closed over the brain. Although it probably would have survived inside the womb, it would not have lived once it was born, and doctors were clear that termination was the only option. Accompanied by her husband, Graham – writer of the television comedy series Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd – she had an abortion three days later in a hospital near their home in London. “It was terribly sad and devastating, but it was handled well,” she said.

Some months later, they moved back to Ireland, where they discovered that, had they been living there during this first pregnancy, Helen would have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term, or face a 14-year prison sentence for procuring an illegal abortion.

In the certain knowledge that the baby born of the pregnancy would die at birth. Ireland considered it right for Helen Linehan and the baby to go through that, rather than closing down the process early.

The shock of that revelation has prompted the couple to speak out about their experience for the first time, as part of a campaign by Amnesty Internationalcalling for decriminalisation of abortion in Ireland. The fact that abortion is illegal in Ireland, even in cases where there is no chance for the foetus to survive, makes Ireland “a dangerous place to be pregnant”, said Graham. “I don’t think it is safe for women in Ireland to be pregnant. Abortion is an important medical procedure and when that’s taken off the table, then you’re not safe. A place without abortion puts two lives in danger, not one,” he said.

Bishops are cruel men.

Helen said she was prompted to make the film by a sense of outrage at how she could have been criminalised for a difficult decision had she not been living in England at the time. She would have found it very hard to have been forced to carry a baby to term in the knowledge that it was going to die as soon as it was born.

“It would have been life-changing. To endure the full-term pregnancy, and to come home empty-handed and with the physical changes that come with pregnancy – it would have been awful. I don’t know how I would I have got through that, mentally or physically,” she said.

She described Ireland’s abortion laws as “abusive”. “It is a form of abuse against women. We need to have our own choices,” she said. “If men had babies, the laws would be very different.”

But men don’t have babies, so the law is what it is.

There has been growing demand for the Irish government to allow a referendum on legalising abortion, and last month thousands marched through Dublin to show their support for decriminalisation. The death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, after she was denied an abortion when she began miscarrying, focused attention on the issue, as did reports last year of the treatment of a young asylum seeker who had been raped before coming to Ireland, who was refused an abortion by the Irish health service. When she tried to escape to England to have an abortion, she was arrested and deported back to Ireland, where she was forced to go ahead with the pregnancy. The baby was given up for adoption.

If men had babies, the laws would be very different.

Stop the silencing

Oct 23rd, 2015 11:17 am | By

But there’s a counter-petition.

There is a petition to Cardiff to cancel Germaine Greer’s talk. I find it abhorrent that I must make a counterpetition so a second wave feminist isn’t silenced by those who could just as easily not go to the lecture yet instead have decided to try and no platform her, to silence her. They’ve given no evidence in the petition either, just slurs.

This reactionary tactic of calling a woman a ‘transphobe’ is no different than calling someone a ‘commie’ in 1960’s America during the cold war. It’s a slur that contains no analysis, just an emotional response that is primarily used against women who talk about women’s biological realities, not gender identities.

Greer centers females/women in her work. I fail to see how anyone who centers women is encouraging violence against anyone.

Her position on gender doesn’t make anyone unsafe. The very marginalized group that Greer talks to and about is women. We are a protected class. Silencing her is silencing us.

Enough is enough.  Stop  no platforming women who only want to talk about women’s rights and women’s lives.

Mixed company

Oct 23rd, 2015 11:03 am | By

God I hate finding myself agreeing with Brendan O’Neill…and not just for political reasons, but because he’s so transparently and irritatingly a Self-conscious Preening Contrarian. But it can’t be helped: for once Preening Contrarian has a point.

If you want to know how crazy, even Kafkaesque, this young millennium has become, consider this: yesterday it was reported that a person with a penis — Caitlyn Jenner — will be named Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year, while over at Cardiff University a woman who has done more than most to secure the liberation of womankind — Germaine Greer — was denounced by a swarm of Stepford Students as ‘transphobic’, someone who should make all right-minded people feel ‘sick to [their] stomachs’.

Does it irritate me that Caitlyn Jenner has been named anybody’s Woman of the Year? Yes, it does. I think there are far better candidates, many thousands of them. I don’t think anything Caitlyn Jenner has done is significant enough or valuable enough for that title. And yes, I also think Caitlyn Jenner won enough titles and trophies and fame as Bruce Jenner competing in a sport that was closed to women; I don’t think Caitlyn Jenner is now somehow magically a great hero or role model to women.

Alarmingly, Cardiff’s feminist students are running the campaign to shut Greer down. The petition for her lecture to be cancelled was started by the student union women’s officer, who says Greer’s views have ‘no place in feminism’. What a spoilt, ungrateful generation, hilariously unaware that their very ability to speak their minds and rouse some rabble is down to decades of intellectual and social agitation by people like Greer. She helped give them a voice; they try to silence hers.

That is, indeed, a big part of what makes it so galling. They contemptuously dismiss us old trouts as “second-wave” while flourishing on the possibilities that feminists like Greer made possible.

‘Trans-exclusionary views should have no place in… society’, says the Greerphobic petition. Who died and made the jumped-up Joe Stalins of student bureaucracy into the gods of what can be said? Greer, and anyone else for that matter, should be free to say whatever they want about trans politics, to critique it and even mock it, to argue that it’s pure hocus pocus to claim someone can change his or her sex simply by declaring ‘I have changed my sex’. Blasphemy is a hard-won right, and we should be free to blaspheme against both the old religions and new ones like transmania. We should be as free to doubt the womanhood of Caitlyn Jenner as we are to doubt the divinity of Jesus.

Of Caitlyn Jenner, yes. Of trans women with fewer advantages and privileges than she has – which would be pretty much all of them – maybe not. Preening Contrarian oversimplifies, as always, but in this case there’s room for him to get some things right.

This is not really a point for debate

Oct 23rd, 2015 10:13 am | By

But don’t worry – Huffington Post UK has a post by another Cardiff student who explains why it’s such a good idea to cancel Germaine Greer’s lecture.

So, notable second-wave feminist writer and scholar Germaine Greer is transphobic (more specifically transmisogynistic).

That’s the first sentence. It made me want very badly to stop reading. Why? That stupid “second-wave” shit. That label makes it sound as if Germaine Greer simply stopped thinking around 1975, and morphed into a statue that can be wheeled out to say 1975 things but nothing else.

Also, of course, the “transphobic (more specifically transmisogynistic)” part, which I have learned to be deeply suspicious of.

But maybe the student, Payton Quinn, goes on to make a case?


This is not really a point for debate because there is a plethora of accounts from her talks, books and articles, where she’s been clear about her position on trans women and by extension all trans people.

Five links there. Let’s check them:

1. Pink News reporting on other students at another university citing her “transmisogynistic words and actions.” Worthless.

2. IBTimes including these two paragraphs in a long article:

Some feminists, however, have maintained an anti-trans stance. In The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer compares trans women to rapists: “When he forces his way into the few private spaces woman may enjoy and shouts down their objections, and bombards the women who will not accept him with hate mail, he does as rapists have always done.”

Earlier this year, Greer claimed there was no such thing as transphobia, suggesting trans women are not women because they do not know what it is like to have a “smelly vagina”.

3. A 2009 piece from a US feminist blog, quoting two paragraphs from a Guardian article by Greer:

In plainer terms what the academic feminists could be taken to be saying is that (a) you’re a woman if you think you are and (b) you’re a woman if other people think you are. Unfortunately (b) cannot be made to follow from (a).

Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.

4. A piece from Green Left Weekly rehashing the same material.

5. A 404 Error.

Not remotely what it purports to be, a plethora of accounts from her talks, books and articles – rather, four quoted paragraphs, and a lot of secondary comment – in short, four paragraphs and a bunch of recycled accusations. I’m well familiar with this tactic – this recycling of each other’s accusations and cries of outrage and treating that as evidence of something. “Look how loudly we’re all shouting about her! Obviously that means she’s as bad as we say, and worse!”

Payton Quinn goes on:

If you believe that trans women are women, as you should because they are, then what Germaine Greer is espousing in her campaign against them is misogyny and surely no feminism should include any form of misogyny.

Her premises are wrong, and her conclusion doesn’t follow from them in any case.

Hopefully you’re still on board so far, because if you’re not it can be assumed that no matter how measured and reasoned my position on no-platforming is in this instance, you’re not going to agree.

Well that settles that then.

I won’t inflict much more of Payton Quinn on you, but near the end there is this also-familiar trick of blaming a feminist woman for violence against trans women – yes specifically trans women, not trans people:

When we’re living in a climate where trans women (particularly trans women of colour) are being murdered with little to no repercussions, are not even allowed to use the correct bathrooms, are harassed in their own home and hate crimes against them is still on the rise – do you think that debating Germaine Greer once again on whether or not trans women deserve basic human rights and protection is the key to a resolution?

For me the answer is clear: The safety of trans people outweighs the right of cis women to question the validity of their gender expression.


It’s always about the cis women, and making them shut the fuck up.

They urge Cardiff University to cancel this event

Oct 23rd, 2015 9:36 am | By

Another one.

A petition, by a student at Cardiff University, to Cardiff University, demanding that it cancel a scheduled lecture by Germaine Greer.

The lecture is scheduled for November 18 and according to the CU blog it’s fully booked.

Academic and broadcaster Professor Germaine Greer will deliver this year’s Hadyn Ellis Distinguished Lecture on Wednesday 18 November 2015.

Professor Greer is widely considered one of the most influential commentators on 21st century life. She has made her presence felt on everything from Newsnight Review to Celebrity Big Brother. A former professor of English at Warwick University, Professor Greer became a household name when she published The Female Eunuch, attracting praise and criticism in more or less equal measure. She has since highlighted injustice against women in Asia and Africa, and managed an area of rainforest in her native Australia. On a raft of contentious issues, she takes a refreshingly practical view where others mire themselves in political correctness.

So the petition says No, undo all that; tell her to stay away, because she’s Dangerous.

On the 18th November 2015, writer and academic Germaine Greer is scheduled to deliver a lecture at Cardiff University entitled ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’.

Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.

Trans-exclusionary views should have no place in feminism or society. Such attitudes contribute to the high levels of stigma, hatred and violence towards trans people – particularly trans women – both in the UK and across the world.

While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.

Universities should prioritise the voices of the most vulnerable on their campuses, not invite speakers who seek to further marginalise them.

We urge Cardiff University to cancel this event.

Do I believe that Germaine Greer contributes to violence against trans people? Not for one second.

Friends in high places

Oct 22nd, 2015 5:01 pm | By

Ensaf Haidar shared a selfie on Facebook:

It seems to be only defending pornography that brings them out

Oct 22nd, 2015 4:43 pm | By

Michael Moorcock talked to Andrea Dworkin for the New Statesman in 1995.

Michael Moorcock: After “Right-Wing Women” and “Ice and Fire” you wrote “Intercourse“. Another book which helped me clarify confusions about my own sexual relationships. You argue that attitudes to conventional sexual intercourse enshrine and perpetuate sexual inequality. Several reviewers accused you of saying that all intercourse was rape. I haven’t found a hint of that anywhere in the book. Is that what you are saying?

Andrea Dworkin: No, I wasn’t saying that and I didn’t say that, then or ever. There is a long section in Right-Wing Women on intercourse in marriage. My point was that as long as the law allows statutory exemption for a husband from rape charges, no married woman has legal protection from rape. I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse–it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman. I said that when we look at sexual liberation and the law, we need to look not only at which sexual acts are forbidden, but which are compelled.

The whole issue of intercourse as this culture’s penultimate expression of male dominance became more and more interesting to me. In Intercourse I decided to approach the subject as a social practice, material reality. This may be my history, but I think the social explanation of the “all sex is rape” slander is different and probably simple. Most men and a good number of women experience sexual pleasure in inequality. Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I don’t think they need it. I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality.

It’s important to say, too, that the pornographers, especially Playboy, have published the “all sex is rape” slander repeatedly over the years, and it’s been taken up by others like Time who, when challenged, cannot cite a source in my work.

That’s how it’s done.

Michael Moorcock: You have been wildly and destructively misquoted. I’ve been told that you hate all men, believe in biological determinism, write pornography while condemning it, have been censored under the very “laws” you introduced in Canada and so on. I know these allegations have no foundation, but they’re commonly repeated. Do you know their source?

Andrea Dworkin: Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and lobbying groups for pornographers. Some of the lobbying groups call themselves anti-censorship, but they spend so much time maligning MacKinnon and myself that it is hard to take them seriously. And it seems to be only defending pornography that brings them out. I would define illiteracy as the basic speech problem in the US, but I don’t see any effort to deal with it as a political emergency with constitutionally based remedies, such as lawsuits against cities and states on behalf of illiterate populations characterised by race and class, purposefully excluded by public policy from learning how to read and write. Fighting MacKinnon and me is equivalent to going to Club Med rather than doing real work.

It’s much the same with the war on “TERFs” – like looking for the diamond under the streetlight instead of where you dropped it.

Spotlight on Saudi Arabia

Oct 22nd, 2015 12:03 pm | By

Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, reminds us of some facts about Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record is getting media scrutiny, thanks in part to news that Saudi authorities plan to lash 74-year-old Karl Andree, a British cancer survivor, 350 times for possessing homemade alcohol. Flogging in the kingdom entails a series of strikes with a wooden cane, with blows distributed across the back and legs, normally not breaking the skin but leaving bruises.

In other words Saudi Arabia plans to commit a heinous crime in order to punish a 74-year-old cancer survivor for possessing some alcohol. Saudi Arabia is the criminal here, and by a wide margin. Hitting people with sticks is a very bad thing to do; possessing alcohol, on its own, is not.

In other words Saudi Arabia’s priorities are horrifyingly disordered.

This ruling comes after a year of bizarre and cruel punishments meted out by the Saudi judiciary, including the public flogging of liberal blogger Raif Badawi in January and a death sentence for Ali al-Nimr, a Saudi man accused of protest-related activities allegedly committed before he was 18 years old.

Campaigning for human rights is a crime there. Violating human rights is fine, and campaigning for them is a crime.

More than a dozen Saudi human rights advocates are languishing in prison today for “crimes” related to their “illegal” human rights work; most are convicted for “setting up an unlicensed organization.” These include activists such as Waleed Abu al-Khair, currently serving an outlandish 15-year sentence solely for his work exposing the government’s human rights abuses.

And then there’s the bombing campaign in Yemen, with probable war crimes.

Saudi Arabia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council has not led to improvements in its rights record. Instead, it has used its position to prevent an international inquiry into laws-of-war violations committed in Yemen. Somehow, bizarrely, Saudi Arabia serves as a partner in the U.S. government’s campaign to “combat violent extremism”—despite its longtime failure to address these issues at home in accordance with basic human rights and the rule of law.

Allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom rarely criticize Saudi abuses; one U.S. official even recently “welcomed” Saudi Arabia’s participation at the Human Rights Council. British Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the possible flogging of Mr. Andree by meekly asking Saudi officials not to carry out the punishment.

So we have to keep yipping and objecting. Louder and louder and louder.

Guest post: True but irrelevant, or relevant but false

Oct 22nd, 2015 10:35 am | By

Guest post by Bjarte Foshaug.

Hardly anything has greater potential for introducing absurdities into an argument than using words in a different meaning than your opponent while continuing to act as if you were both still talking about the same thing. Now, obviously words don’t mean anything in themselves, but get their meanings from us. If someone wants to apply the word “fish” to what most people call “bird”, and vice versa, they are free to do so. But then it’s either disingenuous, or stupid, or both, to go on talking as if everyone else were using the words in the same way. It’s as if we were having a conversation about clubs for hitting baseballs (let’s call them “bats(1)”), and I suddenly started talking about flying mammals (let’s call them “bats(2)”) and how you’ve completely misunderstood baseball for failing to consider the relevance of Chiroptera to the sport.

We see this whenever atheists present arguments against the existence of a supernatural, intelligent creator of the universe (let’s call it “God(1)”), and “philosophically sophisticated” theists answer by pointing to the existence of Life, the Universe and Everything (let’s call it “God(2)”), as if this refuted the atheist position. And we see it whenever feminists present arguments for the equality of people with a strong preponderance of certain innate, physical traits more commonly found in mothers than in fathers (let’s call them “women(1)”), while trans* activists try to make it all about people who think or feel a certain way, or subscribe to certain cultural norms etc. (let’s call them “women(2)”).

I am sure we are all familiar with Daniel Dennett’s concept of “deepities”, but anyway: A deepity is an ambiguous statement with two possible interpretations. One of these interpretations makes the statement true but trivial, while the other makes it profound but false. I have identified a similar kind of phenomenon except that in this case the statement is either true but irrelevant, or relevant but false depending on which interpretation you choose. God(2) is no more relevant to a conversation about God(1) than flying mammals are to a conversation about clubs for hitting baseballs. The only thing that makes it seem relevant is the word “God” itself, which clearly doesn’t mean the same thing in the two cases. I would argue that the same thing goes for women(2) vs. women(1).

In both cases there is usually an element of trying – consciously or not – to have it both ways: If challenged, you can always fall back on the “safe” true but trivial/irrelevant interpretation, but for all other intents and purposes you take credit for the profundity/relevancy of the second interpretation. I can’t tell you how many religious people in my experience have attempted to first “prove” the proposition “God exists” TRUE by pointing to the existence of God(2) before changing the definition back to God(1) in order to make the proposition thus “proven” seem profound or relevant.

Trans* activist rhetoric seems to be full of equivocations like this:
• Being a “woman2”, is all about how you think or feel about yourself. Yet if a person who rejects the entire framework of “male” vs. “female” ways of thinking or feeling
 simply calls herself a “woman(1)” as a convenient shorthand for certain physical traits, she is still considered “cis”, which implies acceptance of that very same framework and identification as a woman(2).
• Being a “woman(2)” has nothing to do with physical traits, yet feminists who fight against discrimination of women(1) based on physical traits, are being inconsistent or hypocritical if they don’t change their cause entirely and turn all their focus towards the discrimination of women(2).
• Being a “woman(2)” has nothing to do with physical traits, yet straight men(1) or lesbian women(1) who are attracted to women(1) based on physical traits are being inconsistent or hypocritical if they don’t consider women(2) as potential partners.
• Etc. etc…

A lot of anger at feminists

Oct 21st, 2015 5:33 pm | By

Justin Trudeau says he’s a feminist, and proud to be one.

In an interview, co-sponsored by the Toronto Star, which aired on Monday night before the election (Oct. 18), Trudeau was asked by journalist Francine Pelletier if he would describe himself as a feminist.

“There seems to be a lot of anger,” Pelletier asked, “not just at women, but at feminism and feminists. Would you describe yourself as a feminist?”

“Yes. Yes, I am a feminist,” said Trudeau. “I’m proud to be a feminist.”

And not only that…

Trudeau added that the public should pay more attention to developments in popular culture like Gamergate—a long-running controversy about sexism and violence toward women in video game culture.

“The things we see online,” he said, “whether it is issues like gamergate or video games misogyny in popular culture, it is something that we need to stand clearly against.”

And, I’m told, he plans to have 50/50 women and men in his cabinet.

Ok then.

So self-contentedly, exclusively male

Oct 21st, 2015 4:38 pm | By

In 1987, Ursula K. LeGuin sent a letter to an editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich who had asked her to blurb a new anthology of science fiction stories.

Letters of Note

John Radziewicz
Senior Editor
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
111 5th Ave
New York NY 10003

Dear Mr Radziewicz,

I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldiss, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.

Yours truly,
Ursula K. Le Guin

That was nearly 30 years ago. Very damn little has changed.

The smallest minority

Oct 21st, 2015 4:03 pm | By

This is very funny but also painfully true:


Sure, you’re a good person. Each day you learn a little more about the rest of humanity, and just by clicking this link you’ve already shown your interest in being a better ally. But while you’ve living a good life, checking your privilege and learning about people of different races, religions, social orientations and identities, there’s an ally opportunity you might have overlooked. The smallest minority. Me. And while I may be a minority of one, I must remind you that my opinion of you is not based on a measured consideration of your cumulative actions, but a far more easily defined concern determined by how well you, my potential ally, adhere to my evolving set of words and considerations.

This is where we are. “How dare you not take into account my [ ____________ ] whenever you say anything?”

Let’s see…first of all, I don’t even know who you are? You seem to think we’re close, or used to be close, but I have no idea who you are. Your handle rings a bell, but that’s it.

Second…well see above, and then ask yourself, why would I?

Third…there are people who aren’t you?

Fourth – I don’t care.

Fifth – how dare you not take into account my 1-4?

And an infinite regress ensues.

One of the six examples:


Yes, the dropping of the “t” in the word “what” has come to express an increased degree of incredulity. While some take issue with this word as an example of race appropriation, that argument is belied by the racist assumption that this word originated in the African American community in the first place. Instead, “wha” is personally problematic because it reminds me of the two months I had to go to speech therapy in second grade to better pronounce my “T’s.” So be a better ally. Say “what” the way it was intended, and be grateful the 20th letter of the alphabet comes so easily to you.

Exactly, just the way being a woman comes so easily to me and all the women I know.

H/t G.

Guest post: It’s more than the messages you hear

Oct 21st, 2015 11:52 am | By

Originally a comment by iknlast on Without having to go back.

It’s more than the media. It’s more than the messages you hear. The messages we get are all around us, often unnoticed in any real way, subtle.

My father refusing to teach me how to start the lawnmower. His paying for my brother’s college on terms that were much more generous than mine.

Being kept in the dining room on Christmas with the women while the men went into the living room and talked about interesting things. Being the last one served. Being asked to make the coffee at the meeting.

Many of the messages aren’t “girls wear nail polish” “girls wear high heels”. They are subtle; the people delivering them may not realize they are delivering them. The people receiving them may not realize they are receiving them.

It is in the way my major professor in my doctorate talked to me in a fatherly manner, like a pat on the head, while being good buddies with his male students.

It’s in the way my boss peed off the end of the boat the first time they took me out for training (marking his territory?). It’s in the way that another boss asked me, the person with the highest level of education in the entire business, to water the plants.

It’s the way that my current boss has looked at a building in which all but two of the employees are women – and appointed the two males as building captains. It’s in the way that my seniority is ignored at work, and everyone turns to the male who has been there half as long as I have when they want someone with authority (we have equal authority; I just rarely have the opportunity to use mine). These are messages that are often unseen, but have a huge impact.

Change the venue

Oct 21st, 2015 11:27 am | By

Newsweek Pakistan reports:

The death toll from last month’s haj stampede has topped 2,000, according to tallies given by foreign officials, making it the deadliest disaster in the pilgrimage’s history by far.

Saudi Arabia has yet to provide an updated death toll after saying 769 people died in the tragedy near Mecca, home of Islam’s holiest sites. But figures given by more than 30 governments around the world show that at least 2,097 foreign pilgrims have died.

That’s so horrific. It wasn’t an earthquake or a flood or a mudslide, it was just way too many people in one place, trying to carry out a “religious obligation” that dates from a time when Islam was a local religion and the locality was sparsely populated. It was just way too many people, crowding and pressing and suffocating each other, to the tune of over two thousand human beings.

The loss of life in the Sept. 24 disaster far exceeds the 1,426 pilgrims who died in the haj’s worst previous incident—a tunnel stampede in July 1990.

Here is a breakdown of the dead from foreign governments:

Iran: 464 dead

Nigeria: 199 dead

Mali: 198 dead

Egypt: 182 dead

Bangladesh: 137

Indonesia: 129 dead

India: 116 dead

Pakistan: 89 dead

Cameroon: 76 dead

Niger: 72 dead

Senegal: 62 dead

And so on, in descending order.

You know what would be good? Merciful, helpful, compassionate, while still being religiously obedient? If all the top clerics put their heads together and issued a Ruling that now that there are so many Muslims, the hajj is a pilgrimage to the Most Important Mosque in one’s country or region. Period; end of discussion.

If gender is social rather than natural

Oct 20th, 2015 12:21 pm | By

If gender is social rather than natural, change and variability are always possible. Hence continuities also require a social explanation. One important continuity is the hierarchical relationship between women and men, which has persisted despite many changes in the meaning of femininity and masculinity and in the social activities of women and men. While male dominance can and does change in form and degree, it seems that gender hierarchy can coexist with a wide variety of beliefs about gender and with different divisions of labour between women and men. Gender thus denotes a hierarchical relationship between women and men, not merely differences between them. If gender is understood to be social, this hierarchical relationship needs to be explained as a product of social arrangements.

–Introduction to Gender: a Sociological Reader, edited by Stevi Jackson and Sue Scott, p 6

The woman whose life he took is forgotten

Oct 20th, 2015 11:38 am | By

Remember when the interim director of the Berkeley Astronomy department said: ““Of course, this is hardest for Geoff in this moment”?

Now it’s Oscar Pistorius who is “in need of healing.”

[A] justice system serves society with a split purpose. There’s punishment of the perpetrator and an element of rehabilitation (which has been vigorously stressed in this case – the terms of his house arrest include community service).  And there’s also the strong social message that the justice system serves: through its sentencing, it makes a comment on the seriousness of the crime and how profoundly it will be perceived. This is the sticking point.

Judge Thokozile Masipa had to deal with the facts in front of her, and mete out a sentence as appropriate. But the parole board decision to release Pistorius from prison today measures the life of a woman, violently taken, in just a few short months behind bars. The value of South African women’s lives is set at an all-time low.

When the homepage of a major South African news site carries a story saying that Pistorius is ‘broken and in need of healing’, we, as women, are told that the perpetrator of the most violent of crimes is actually the victim, in need of comfort and protection, while the woman whose life he took is forgotten, edited out the story, just another statistic in a justice system that served her poorly.

We must make sure the world remembers: #HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp. And it is her life, not her killer’s, which it’s important to include in our ongoing conversation about global rates of violence against women.

And our ongoing conversation about whether or not women even matter.

Total aesthetic hegemony

Oct 20th, 2015 10:33 am | By

So now North America is wholly ruled by Absurdly Gorgeous Men.

I feel as if I should be indignant about this, because what does Absurdly Gorgeous have to do with governing or administration? Nothing. (Diplomacy though? Different story? In which case maybe not nothing at all to do with governing? Persuasion is a necessary skill in governing, and charisma is part of persuasion. We ugly people are not useful in that way, fairness or no fairness.)

Maybe I’ll be indignant about it next week or sometime, but right now I’m just amused.

Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto. Fotografía oficial.jpg

Image result for obama wiki commons

Image result for justin trudeau wiki commons

Hottie McHotterson 1, 2, 3.

Without having to go back

Oct 19th, 2015 5:22 pm | By

Another thing about that CisPrivilege Check List – item 22.3.1 again:

I was trained into whatever gender was appropriate for me, and so I am prepared to live in my current gender, without having to go back and learn vital skills I was not taught when I was young.

That’s privilege because trans people don’t have that: they were not trained into their “appropriate” gender, so they are not prepared to live in their current gender without going back to learn vital skills.

But isn’t it supposed to be trans-exclusionary for women to point out that trans women who grew up as boys don’t have the experience of being the lesser, the subordinate, the inferior, the feeble, the not very bright sex? And that that’s why sometimes feminist women want to be able to talk to each other about having grown up being the lesser, the subordinate, the inferior, the feeble, the not very bright sex?

Trans women have always been women, we’re told. To say otherwise is transphobic, isn’t it? Isn’t that too what we’re told?

I’m not sure all of this has been carefully thought through.

H/t Mr FP.