Notes and Comment Blog

Those fiends

Oct 27th, 2015 5:41 pm | By

Terrible awful horrifying news from Ensaf Haidar:

I was informed by an informed source, that the Saudi authorities have given the green light to the resumption of Raif Badawi’s flogging. The informed source also said that the flogging will resume soon but will be administered inside the prison.

It is worth mentioning that the same source had warned me of Raif’s pending flogging at the beginning of January 2015 and his warning was confirmed, as Raif was flogged on 9th January.

While I do not understand this decision especially as Raif’s case is still being reviewed by the supreme court according to a senior source in the Saudi Ministry of Justice and according to the statement of UK Foreign Office minister, Tobias Ellwood, who told the House of Commons in July that my husband’s case was still being examined by Saudi judges.

I call on his Majesty King Salman to gracefully end my husband’s ordeal and to pardon him. I also appeal to his Majesty to allow him to be deported to Canada to be reunited with his family and children, who have been deprived of their father for more than four years.

I take this opportunity to remind Mr. Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian Prime Minister, of his promise to support Raif badawi and ensure his release. I plead with him to give Raif a White Passport to enable him to be reunited with his family in Canada.



A politer way of saying “witch”

Oct 27th, 2015 11:25 am | By

Helen Lewis has a brilliant piece at the New Statesman about the attempt to no-platform Germaine Greer. Read every word.

It’s interesting that it is Greer’s views on gender that are the flashpoint, because she has been flat wrong about many things in her career – FGM, for example, which she has defended given its “cultural” element – without anything like the same backlash. Put simply, trans issues are the new dividing line for progressive activism; the way for younger activists to kick against their foremothers in the feminist movement.

And by god they do, with loathing and contempt.

Think about that for a second. Young feminist women – not all, obviously, but depressingly many – loathe and scorn old feminist women.

Well what does that say about the prospects for feminism? Feminism isn’t going to work if it applies only to young women, you know. If even feminist women hate old feminist women, then what hope is there that misogyny will ever fade away? If misogyny is that available and that pervasive and that irresistible…what hope is there?

I’m not sure there is much.

With gay marriage now legal in America, there is also the sense among online social justice communities that trans rights are “the new civil rights frontier” (as Time magazine wrote next to a photo of Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox). Social media has acted like an accelerant on this fire: sites like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post’s LGBT section offer uplifting tales of transgender children’s achievements and famous adults coming out, alternating with occasional three-minute hates for “TERFs” (trans exclusionary radical feminists), a group who are said to be inciting violence against trans women by refusing to accept them as women. Sharing such articles has become a badge of progressive correctness. The word “TERF” is sprayed around like confetti, with very little understanding of what it means. I’ve been called a TERF, even though I think trans women are women and absolutely have a place in feminism. I think it’s become a politer way of saying “witch”.

And what is a “witch”? An evil old woman that we have a license to hate. We see her plastered against utility poles and trees everywhere at this time of year, having ridden her broomstick into one and crashed. All women are future old women, and we all hate old women, so how can we agree with feminism? We all reserve the right to hate women, dammit.


Trans  activists, tired of being treated as objects of curiousity, fear or pity by outsiders, have decided to seize control of the discourse and develop their own ways of talking about how they feel. This is understandable, but it also means that everyone is constantly making mistakes. This would be OK – in everyday life, people slip up and get corrected, and the world keeps turning – but because it’s happening in the crucible of social media, where women’s opinions carry a higher cost, censure for those mistakes is distributed unfairly. There are phrases that a man could say – “female socialisation” springs to mind – with no comeback, but would be read as Deep TERF Code coming from a feminist’s mouth. I’ve lost count of the number of times that male friends have expressed surprise that their normally quiet, polite Twitter experience suddenly turns into a hornet’s nest if they chat with me about a controversial divide in feminism.

It’s not men who get demonized and hounded out, it’s women. It wasn’t two men that Improbable Joe “warned” me about on Twitter DM, it was two women – Helen Lewis being one of them. There are no outcries or “warnings” about TEMRAs – as far as I know TEMRA isn’t even a thing.

Even trans people who do not have the “correct” opinions feel worried about broaching the subject; I know a group of “gender critical” trans women who are castigated regularly as “TERF tokens” and “Uncle Toms”. (Putting paid to the flatulent piety so often circulated on social media: “Why don’t you just listen to trans people?” Because it turns out, O Wise One, that minority groups are not homogenous.)

Ok so it has to be “Why don’t you just listen to the right trans people?”

In my Pollyanna-ish way, I hope that all of these questions can be resolved with respectful negotiation; but there will have to be compromises between competing interests. It’s not – as many people on Twitter seem to believe – as simple as identifying the group you feel is most fashionably oppressed and sprinting to shout: “Solidarity!” And God save us from all the progressive men who will never face the sharp end of such questions – who have never had to think about rape shelter policy, for example – using this issue to show how right-on they are. Come on, feminists, they chirrup without self-awareness. Stop being so uptight!

Be like us: not talking over the marginalized!

But here is a list of things which can get you called a TERF, if you are a woman with a public profile: a) believing that biological sex is different from gender, ie that the penis is a male sex organ, even when attached to someone who identifies as a woman; b) believing that being raised as a boy gives you a different experience of life to anyone raised as a girl; c) believing that you need to transition using surgery or hormones to be trans (a recent Buzzfeed piece was headlined “This Trans Women Kept Her Beard And Couldn’t Be Happier”) d) believing that someone who transitions at 45 has not “always been female”.

I’d argue that those positions are far removed from the hateful, discriminatory behaviour and speech which most of us would accept is transphobic. And it is entirely possible that some or all of them will seem completely outdated in 50 years as our ideas about sex and gender move on. But they don’t seem to me to be in themselves vile or beyond the pale.

From the trans perspective, I can understand the feelings that the gains the movement has recently made are both recent and fragile, and the desire to set the terms of the debate after so long being treated as objects of pity or ridicule. After all, the challenges of transition are a daily task for many people, not a theoretical debate. But the subject has become part of a society-wide conversation; to move on, it must be something that ordinary people, outside the charmed circle who know that trans no longer takes an asterisk, can have an opinion on.

It also needs to be something that’s not a pretext for attacking feminist women.

This battle against Germaine Greer is driven, at least in part, by sexism. After all, the world is full of academics with bad opinions, happily going about their business. Richard Dawkins, for example, is obsessed with proving that a teenage Muslim American boy suspended for bringing a clock to school should not be an object of pity and is instead a cunning hoaxer. David Starkey went on an extraordinary rant on Newsnight a few years ago about how “whites had become black” (i.e. were getting involved in street violence). No one is trying to ban him from talking to British universities.

The same students who tried to stop Julie Bindel from talking about free speech (the irony) at Manchester university this autumn did not simultaneously attack her fellow speaker Milo Yiannopolous, even though his views on transgender people are more extreme than hers. (He believes they are mentally ill and should be denied surgery.) Brendan O’Neill writes almost weekly on the Spectator website that transgender politics is “hocus pocus”. Where’s the NUS motion condemning him?

Exactly. Why is it women? Why is it feminist women? Why is it people who see themselves as progressives leading the charge?

It is ironic that this debate has focused around the idea of accepting trans women as women, because it also seems to me that we have a problem accepting non-trans women as fully human – a mixture of good and bad, wrong and right. Because, of course, Germaine Greer wasn’t even booked to talk about trans issues at Cardiff: the title of her lecture was “Women and Power in the 20th Century”. As with other feminists, it is assumed that her bad opinions on one subject render her persona non grata on everything else.

Tell me about it.

But in better news – she has an update at the end:

Cardiff University have been in touch to say they have subsequently spoken to Greer’s representatives, and the event is still scheduled to go ahead next month.


Settled or not settled

Oct 27th, 2015 10:40 am | By

There’s a sub-conversation about “double standards” in the comments on A matter of simple semantics. That’s a conversation that’s basically going on all the time, with just about anyone who has moral or political views on things. The putative double standard boils down to: You think Question X is settled, while you think Question Y is not. You think there is room for discussion on Y but not on X. You think anyone who denies or disputes X is reprehensible, while you don’t think that of people who deny or dispute Y.

Well, yes. I do think some Question Xs are settled, or should be treated as settled.

Consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example. That’s a charter for establishing certain basic Xs as settled, for everyone.

I consider genocide a settled question. Slavery; forced “marriage”; judicial punishment for “blasphemy”; murder; rape; child abuse. I could go on.

It’s not surprising or shocking to consider some things more contentious than others. It would be strange to think of all things as exactly equally contentious.

Or to put it another way, this is the old “yes or no” issue again. Some questions can easily be answered with a yes or no, and others can’t. That too is not surprising or shocking.

Bodies are for peasants

Oct 26th, 2015 5:28 pm | By

Glosswitch has thoughts on Germaine Greer and the hatred of old women.

She starts with bodies, and how vieux jeu it has become to take them seriously.

Once upon a time, people thought that there were bodies that gestated new life and bodies that did not. That there was a way in which you could tell – not always accurately, but generally so – which did which. This led to people being given different names on account of which of the two categories their bodies appeared to fall into, categories not based on any complex chemical or neurological detail, but just on the question “does your body look like the kind of body that can get pregnant or doesn’t it?” Because reproduction – the mechanics, the ownership, the ideology – matters, or at least it used to, back when bodies were a thing. Back when we understood gender as power – patriarchy/matriarchy, paternity/maternity – and not as each individual’s private domain.

Today we know that to be old-fashioned nonsense. Who thinks it still? Old people. Old women, to be precise. Creaky, decaying second-wavers like Germaine Greer, who, the righteous legions of Twitter inform me, will in any case be dead soon enough.

I’m always curious about people who look forward to the deaths of women they dislike, so I clicked the link. It’s a Twitter “activist” I’ve seen before, who calls herself Germaine Queer haw haw.

Germaine Queer ‏@infurioustoo
True fact, Germaine Greer is 76 and will therefore be dead sooner than most of the rest of us.

Activism at its finest.

Old women who refuse to think themselves beyond the body. Watch out, younger women. Stay vigilant, don’t mention those vile secretions, don’t mention the work, or this could one day be you.

No no. Today’s wonderful young people will be the first generation in history to not age. They will be 24 forever, and perfect forever, and more right than anyone else forever.

“Biological life,” note Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “impinges directly on the group activities of production and play.” To lay claim to having a female body is to be behind the times. Didn’t you get the memo? Don’t you know that they don’t have to make women like that anymore? Mother Nature is, as the Tampax advertisements remind us, a creature to be outsmarted. Don’t be the girl who leaks rust-coloured blood on her new white skirt. Don’t be the employee who gets pregnant, the carer who falls outside the markets that matter, the woman who dares to have pubic hair and odours and wrinkles, all those things that might make you more than an idea.

Barbie dolls forever.

One more disaster

Oct 26th, 2015 11:22 am | By

Massive earthquake in Afghanistan.

More than 200 people have died, mostly in Pakistan, after a magnitude-7.5 earthquake hit north-eastern Afghanistan.

Tremors from the quake were also felt in northern India and Tajikistan.

At least 12 of the victims were Afghan schoolgirls killed in a crush as they tried to get out of their building.

Facebook has a Safety Check where you can look for your friends. I see from mine that Gulalai Ismail, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, Lauryn Oates, and Emmanuel Enoch are safe.

Buildings in the Tajik capital Dushanbe were damaged by the tremors.

Local media report that a staircase at a school in Tajikistan’s Yavan district collapsed, injuring 14 children.

There are also reports of injuries in a stampede at Khorog state university in Tajikistan, as a building was evacuated.

They felt it in Delhi, too.


A matter of simple semantics

Oct 26th, 2015 10:42 am | By

Hilarity on Twitter today, from a familiar source.

Where it began:

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 5 hours ago
Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.

Ah you know that’s not going to go well. Not good enough. You’re not allowed to have a “no” anywhere. You’re not allowed to have an “if” anywhere. You’re not allowed to make distinctions.

And then his unfailing clumsiness – to put it politely – makes it all the worse. “Out of courtesy” might as well be “to humor” her.

So, of course, the next tweet was the inevitable

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins 5 hours ago
@partimetroll Why? What could anyone possibly object to in my tweet? Please tell. I’m sincerely curious.

And on they went:

@RedKaye1 How can you be so wantonly stupid as to suggest that I would suggest such a thing?

@Reverend_Banjo How could that possibly piss anyone off? I’m simply trying to clarify a matter of simple semantics.

@hemantmehta I don’t understand. What’s your problem?

@GenericGooner I am on their side. What makes you think I am not? Do you deny what I said about chromosomes? It’s a matter of simple fact.

@bcaton2 Again that would depend on semantic definition. Do you choose to define by brain or rest of body? Matter of semantic choice.

@TheGayChrist By your definition, which it is your privilege to adopt. I adopt it too for all purposes that matter.

Now I’m getting hate because I stated a wish to be courteous. It means “polite”, “respectful”, “considerate of people’s feelings.” Terrible!

@Miss_Violet2014 Why? You obviously agree that they have Y chromosomes. So IF somebody were to define “woman” as XX . . . that’s all I said

@thebrainofchris English is my native language. I speak and write it competently. The implication you suggest is parsecs from my intention.

Jan Morris’s book, Conundrum, is a beautifully written account of what it’s like to feel you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body.

It’s absurd to use the word “really” to criticise trans people. “Really” means nothing, since the definition is semantic. That was my point.

@HPluckrose Yes, but I didn’t say that. I said IF you define “woman” by chromosomes you’ll get one answer. I didn’t say I did, did I?

Well, who would have believed “courtesy” was a dirty word? Never mind, I intend to continue to be courteous. Sorry if that gives offence.

@VincentGrey1 Perhaps you’re not accustomed to thinking logically and clearly? It takes practice.

@BrookeTLarson OK, that’s fine. I only said IF you define “woman” by chromosomes. I never said I did. Did I? No I didn’t.

It will be in the Guardian and the Independent within hours.

They all contain interpretive traditions

Oct 25th, 2015 5:52 pm | By

Jonathan Sacks is all wrong part 2.

He goes on from his wrong assertion that religion can provide meaning to say that religion (being so good at providing meaning) has returned.

The religion that has returned is not the gentle, quietist and ecumenical form that we in the West have increasingly come to expect. Instead it is religion at its most adversarial and aggressive. It is the greatest threat to freedom in the postmodern world. It is the face of what I call “altruistic evil” in our time: evil committed in a sacred cause, in the name of high ideals.

Well isn’t that just like him. It’s not remotely altruistic; that’s entirely the wrong word. Altruism is concern for others; as a technical word it means concern for others at one’s own expense. It’s concern for other human beings, and if extended, for other animals and the planet. It’s not “high ideals” and it’s not about “a sacred cause.” The evil done by adversarial and aggressive religion is not altruistic, it’s goddy. The two are not the same. Religion is about doing what god wants, not what fellow humans need. It’s misdirection, it’s displacement behavior; it’s not altruism. It’s so annoying the way religions try to corral all the virtues for themselves when in fact they have no truck with most of the important ones.

Yes, there are passages in the sacred scriptures of each of the Abrahamic monotheisms that, interpreted literally, can lead to hatred, cruelty and war. But Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain interpretive traditions that in the past have read them in the larger context of coexistence, respect for difference and the pursuit of peace, and can do so today. Fundamentalism—text without context, and application without interpretation—is not faith but an aberration of faith.

That’s such an easy out. Yes, all the monotheisms are cruel and bloodthirsty, but hey, just ignore the actual words, and interpret them to mean something completely different. Obey god, follow the good old religion, and pretend that all that murderous violence is just a mistake of interpretation.

Not credible.

The frilly dress she wore

Oct 25th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

Mariya Taher writes about FGM among Asian immigrants in the US:

Female Genital Cutting (FGC). Some refer to it as Female Circumcision; others call it Female Genital Mutilation. As a child, I knew it as khatna. No matter the name, it is the process of removing part or all of the female genitalia. Within the Dawoodi Bohra religious community, a ritual performed on girls. I never knew it violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let alone was a practice criminalized in the United States by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

According to the United Nation’s Children Fund, more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade.[i] Within the United States, the Center for Disease Control, found that in 1990 an estimated 168,000 girls and women were living with or at risk for FGC. In 2000, it was found that an estimated 228,000 women had undergone the procedure or were at risk, resulting in a 35% increase from 1990.[ii]

The practice is categorized as violence against women, yet the community I was raised in, often praising themselves for emphasizing women’s education, practiced it. In graduate school, for my thesis, I sought to answer the question of why FGC continued in this day and age.

When she started her research she was dismayed to find that reports on FGM [I don’t like to call it cutting, which obscures that it’s cutting off] included only women from African countries.

Excluded from statistics were women like me, born in the United States, growing up in a community whose origins were from Asia and knew FGC to be an important tradition. Further, few qualitative studies, depicting the stories of women, American women, who had knowledge of the practice within this country existed. Here then is my story and the story of six women interviewed for my thesis, who live in the United States and underwent khatna.

Her story:

The summer before I began second-grade, my family visited relatives in India. One morning, my mother and aunt took me to an apartment inside a run-down building located in Bhindi Bazaar, a Dawoodi Bohra populated neighborhood in south Mumbai. Inside the apartment, several elderly ladies dressed in saris greeted us. Initially there was laughter and much chatter. Then I was asked to lie on the bare floor. The frilly dress I wore was pulled up to reveal my midriff and my underwear pulled down, revealing parts I had been taught were to remain private. I couldn’t see what it was, but something sharp cut me and I began crying out in pain.

Once the procedure was complete, my mother embraced me and the elderly ladies, trying to be friendly, handed me a soft drink called Thumbs-Up to chase away tears streaming down my face. We then left the dilapidated building and I hid the memory from my conscious[ness] for the next several years.

It is just part of their specificity

Oct 25th, 2015 12:25 pm | By

The student newspaper of New York University Shanghai did an interview with Catherine MacKinnon last March (scroll way down).

Have your views ever changed over the years? Have you ever had to uphold a viewpoint that you do not necessarily believe in for the purposes of achieving some form of legal reform?

CM: My views have certainly developed. They develop every day, with everybody I talk to, everything I hear and everything I see. I don’t know of something I thought in the past that I don’t agree with today…

Certain things that I have had an inkling about have grown over time, for example, concerning transgender people. I always thought I don’t care how someone becomes a woman or a man; it does not matter to me. It is just part of their specificity, their uniqueness, like everyone else’s. Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman. Many transwomen are more feminist than a lot of born women who don’t much want to be women (for understandable reasons), who don’t really identify with women, some of whom are completely anti-feminist. The fact that they’re biologically female does not improve things.

To me, women is a political group. I never had much occasion to say that, or work with it, until the last few years when there has been a lot of discussion about whether transwomen are women. I discovered I more or less have always had a view on it, developed through transwomen I know, and have met, including prostituted ones, who are some of the strongest feminists in opposition to prostitution I’ve ever encountered. They are a big improvement on the born women who defend pimps and johns, I can tell you that. Many transwomen just go around being women, who knew, and suddenly, we are supposed to care that they are using the women’s bathroom. There they are in the next stall with the door shut, and we’re supposed to feel threatened. I don’t. I don’t care. By now, I aggressively don’t care.

Simone de Beauvoir said one is not born, one becomes a woman. Now we’re supposed to care how, as if being a woman suddenly became a turf to be defended. I have become more impassioned and emphatic as I have become more informed, and with the push-back from colleagues who take a very different view. Unfortunately some people have apparently physically defended their transition, also. This kind of change develops your views is a further in response to a sharpening of developments in the world. But the law Andrea Dworkin and I wrote gives “transsexuals” rights explicitly; that was 1983. We were thinking about it; we just didn’t know as much as it is possible to know now.

H/t Silentbob.

The three questions

Oct 25th, 2015 11:49 am | By

The Wall Street Journal has an essay by Jonathan Sacks adapted from his new book that says religious violence is not god’s fault.

Predictably, he says some things that I find irritating.

What the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose.

The first thing that jumps out at us is how stale that is, how automatic, how deadened by repetition. “Science tells us how but not why” – recite clichés much? But setting that aside – you can tell from “What the secularists forgot” (and from previous knowledge of Jonathan Sacks) where he’s going – it’s religion and religion only that can “provide meaning.”

But can it? The “meaning” it provides is the kind of “meaning” a box of tools has – “somebody made me.” That’s not really more meaningful than being a product of natural selection over millions of years, and it can be less so. Who wants to be a hammer or a car or even a lovingly crocheted blanket? What’s meaningful about that?

Sacks continues the banal litany:

Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.

But they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.

That’s not necessarily true. Plenty of people find meaning from science: from doing it, from learning about it, from what it tells us. Sacks is correct that science doesn’t give us a bronze plaque with our Meaning inscribed on it, but who wants that anyway? It’s more interesting and more meaningful to create our own over time.

Where men are telling each other how terrible at being feminists women are

Oct 25th, 2015 11:16 am | By

A forthright response to the no-platforming and demonization of Germaine Greer:

I made the mistake of checking my FB. Which is all “ooh that evil Germaine Greer!”

There’s a whole fucking thread where men are telling each other how terrible at being feminists women are. Seriously what is this shit?

I’ve seen that thread! Or one just like it – the chances are there are many of them. It takes more than one Facebook thread for men to tell each other how terrible at being feminists women are – and to complain about how ugly and old and ugly feminist women like Greer are. The one I saw was at Pink News, and it’s foul.

I disagree with Greer about some things. The day I say she’s not a feminist is the day you need to book me in for a lobotomy because I’ve obviously seriously fucking lost it. The woman who’s written the kind of vital and compelling work for the movement she has isn’t a feminist? As judged by wee boys chatting shite on Facebook?

And again the same argument, “but she says transwomen aren’t women so she can’t be a feminist!” No. They are not. They are transwomen, and that’s not a bad thing (why would it be?) but born women they are not. Also, this is not a criterion for being a feminist, as feminists disagree on this issue.

Yes but the ones who disagree with the Established Truth (of today) are the Evil branch of feminists, and Evil feminists can’t really be feminists, so it is a criterion, if you look at it the right way.

Stamping out the neurosexism

Oct 24th, 2015 5:50 pm | By

An interesting talk at Oxford Skeptics in the Pub next month by Professor Gina Rippon.

There is a long history of debate about biological sex differences and their part in determining gender roles, with the ‘biology is destiny’ mantra being used to legitimise imbalances in these roles. The tradition is continuing, with new brain imaging techniques being hailed as sources of evidence of the ‘essential’ differences between men and women, and the concept of ‘hardwiring’ sneaking into popular parlance as a brain-based explanation for all kinds of gender gaps.

But the field is littered with many problems. Some are the product of ill-informed popular science writing ( neurotrash) based on the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what brain imaging can tell us. Some, unfortunately involve poor science, with scientists using outdated and disproved stereotypes to design and interpret their research (neurosexism). These problems obscure or ignore the ‘neuronews’, the breakthroughs in our understanding of how plastic and permeable our brains are, and how the concept of ‘hard-wiring’ should be condemned to the dustbin of neurohistory.

This talk aims to offer ways of rooting out the neurotrash, stamping out the neurosexism and making way for neuronews.

Gina Rippon is Professor of Cognitive NeuroImaging in the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University. She has a background in psychology and physiology and uses brain imaging techniques such as Magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate the relationship between patterns of brain activation and human sensory, cognitive and affective processes. Most recently her work has been in the field of developmental disorders such as autism. She has served as President of the British Psychophysiology Society (now the British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience).

She also writes and speaks on the use of neuroimaging techniques In the study of sex/gender differences, recently featured in the BBC Horizon programme “Is your Brain Male or Female?”. She is additionally involved in activities around the public communication of science, particularly in challenging the misuse of neuroscience to support gender stereotypes, and in work to correct the under-representation of women in STEM subjects. She has recently been appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association.

I would so go to that if I were in Oxford.


Kirsty Wark talks to Germaine Greer

Oct 24th, 2015 5:20 pm | By

Here is that Newsnight:

“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.