Use the words or else

Naomi Cunningham at Legal Feminist on the pronouns campaign, one front in the larger Gender War:

There are two sides in this war. They call each other various names, but we can call them – fairly neutrally – genderists and gender criticals.

The genderists claim that sex doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a man or a woman depends not on your body, but on your inner sense of identity. A male person who says that he is a woman should be treated, referred to – and even thought of – as a woman for all purposes; and vice versa.

Meanwhile, though, the rest of the world will go on treating women the way it always has.

Gender criticals think biological sex does sometimes matter: for healthcare, for safeguarding, for everyday privacy and dignity, for fairness in sport, and so on. They think sex is determined by whether you have a male or a female body, and that it’s no more possible literally to change sex than to change species. 

In other words one could swap genderists/gender criticals for fantasists/realists or loonies/not-loonies.

The attentive reader will have noticed that the “gender critical” viewpoint is made up of commonsense propositions that until about ten minutes ago no sensible person – whether on the political left or right – would have dreamed of contesting. The genderist beliefs are novel, and surprising.

And – this is important – wrong.

So what about pronouns?

This takes us to the manner in which genderist beliefs have been promoted. You can’t defend irrational beliefs with reason. By and large genderists don’t try: instead, their strategy has been to attempt to leapfrog over the usual campaigning, lobbying, arguing, persuading phases of bringing about profound cultural and legal  change, and to pretend instead that the desired outcome is already accepted by all right-thinking people – and to silence dissent by visiting dire consequences on anyone who questions that claim. That, I believe, is the whole reason for the vitriol and toxicity that surrounds this subject. Anyone who points out the absurdity of propositions like “some women have penises” must be howled down as a bigot, shamed, no-platformed, hounded from her job, kicked off her course, etc.

Yes, it’s easy to see how that would work in theory, except for the fact that so few people would be motivated to promote the genderist beliefs in the first place.

Kidding. It turns out way more people than I ever realized are susceptible to this kind of cognitive engineering.

The more insidious part of the strategy is the first part: the pretence that the contentious  propositions that form genderist beliefs are already accepted without question by all educated, right-thinking people. Genderists make determined efforts to weave their claims seamlessly into our language and the fabric of our workplace culture, with the aim of converting contentious claims into the kind of tacit knowledge that doesn’t even need to be stated or formulated. 

And that’s where the stupid “pronouns” come in. Nudge nudge, shape shape, warp warp.

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