No, I Don’t Want Germaine Greer Beaten

Or Andy Lewis or mariamaclachlan or Maria MacLachlan (if those latter two are different people).

Sometimes I despair of getting this world right. I walk a pretty thin line in refusing to condemn self-defense specifically while abhorring violence generally. If we eliminated all violence except that which occurred when someone legitimately thought they were acting in self-defense we would still have far too much violence.

Existentialist radical feminists, the main feminist group from whom the categorical statements about defining women in ways that forever exclude the possibility of trans* self-determination regularly flow, do indeed spread a bunch of bullshit. gmcard, for instance, says that the definition of women has been “people without penises” since time immemorial. This is, decidedly, not true.

If you want to get nit-picky, the word “woman” with its current pronunciation has only been around for a few hundred years. Good luck with tracing a word with the same spelling back much farther, since english has only been a written language for a couple hundred years more than that. There is literally no possible way that the word “woman” as-is could possibly have been around for more than 1500 years, and indeed multiple sources list wiffmann or wiffmonn as the etymological root that didn’t begin transforming into our current word woman until after the Norman conquest in the 11th century. Please note that monuments, memorials, and even written history go back well before this.

Of course, you could say that gmcard obviously wasn’t saying what gmcard’s words actually mean. Perhaps gmcard was saying that there has always been a category of persons defined by the lack of a penis, and that category has been stable over time and has always been identifiable with a single word in the applicable local language and that in modern english that word is woman?

But no. There is a boatload of evidence that shows this simply isn’t so. There is a complex history of castration and penectomy not placing a person in the category woman but rather in special categories – so called third genders – as well as persons with penises considered by their local societies to belong to the category named with the only word that might otherwise be analogous to our word woman. There is also significant history showing an ability to cross categories into the group named analogously to our word man for certain persons with bodies that did not have penises and were very likely if not certainly biologically female and fertile. These possibilities did not exist in all times and places, but they crop up repeatedly throughout history, much farther back than any modern trans* movement.

So gmcard and persons like gmcard are either lying about history or are arrogantly ignorant of the facts about how humans have categorized each other over time. Moreover, although part of what motivates them is probably a genuine desire to help non-trans women, they participate in a movement that clearly is willing to sacrifice the health, the sanity, and sometimes the life of any inconvenient trans* person.

This is terrible.

This must be opposed.

And yet, I can’t remain sanguine about the endorsement of violence in response to such a movement. They seem contemptuous of any expression of concern for the harm they might do to trans* persons, and yet others who would, like me, oppose this movement are expressing contempt for any concern towards harm done to persons in that movement. Is this who we are? Are we no better? For what reason do we oppose such a movement if not its indifference to human harms?

I’m a pollyanna, I get it. And I’ve written elsewhere about how I don’t think I can entirely separate the way depression causes me to devalue myself from my willingness to non-violently stand before the violent, accepting the blows which fall in order to demonstrate the fundamental moral bankruptcy of my opponents. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone can march on the Dharasana Salt Works.

But we must somehow articulate why we oppose people. Obviously gmcard is simply wrong about facts, but there are tons of people wrong about facts every day. We don’t simply oppose an Andy Lewis because of a factual error. Something more is going on here. I thought we were defining ourselves in opposition to the unsympathetic tribalism that renders ERFs indifferent to the harms they cause trans* folks or Westboro Baptists indifferent to the harm they cause non-Christians, women and queers or Nazis indifferent to the harm they cause, well, everyone.

It has disturbed me how easily some have embraced the phrase “Punch a Nazi”. It disturbs me more to see folks apparently indifferent to the idea of harm done to the Maria MacLachlans of the world. I can’t know if Maria MacLachlan was intending to use the footage she was taking in a way that would harm any particular person. I can’t “know” whether the assault on MacLachlan was indeed self-defense – though the court verdict gives me good reason to believe not.

But here’s the thing, even if it was self-defense, or even if the person(s) who assaulted MacLachlan honestly believed this was an instance of self-defense, we don’t have to be unsympathetic to the harm done to MacLachlan, and in the absence of such sympathy, I’m honestly uncertain as to whether folks are committed to ending the tribalism and out-group fear that makes shitty movements possible.

I think each of us needs to seriously question why they oppose movements like neo-Nazism, Christian Dominionism, or TERF. What are the essential qualities that make these movements worthy of opposition? And once you’ve determined that, you cannot continue to maintain a coherent ethical framework unless you oppose those qualities within yourself.

In Islam there is sometimes a distinction between the “big” or “more important” jihad and the “small” or less important jihad. The latter, when the distinction is made, refers to the physical confrontations with those who would seek to hurt muslims or suppress Islam. The former, the big jihad, is the internal confrontation between each person and that person’s own harmful impulses or harmful habits of thought.

The question for today is this: if you defeat everyone that you currently perceive to be your enemy, will the world be rid of the evils that caused you to oppose them? If not, then perhaps it’s time to open a new front in your struggle.


  1. says

    If I knew the authorities would fall like a ton of bricks on someone who tried to harm me I’d be much more opposed to violence. When the authorities might be the ones who would harm me, or support those who would, not so much.

  2. says


    I thought I was clear before: I’m saying I do not oppose violent self-defense. However, when people say,

    I feel no guilt at all for punching that Nazi. I was afraid for my safety, and if the physical activity of the Nazi alone would not have resulted in a punch from me that’s only because espousing Nazi ideology makes others reasonably afraid for you and will inevitably cast ambiguous actions in a worse light

    that is completely different from saying,

    I’m glad Person X punched Nazi Y. That’s what Nazi’s get.

    I don’t want people to feel guilty for punching Nazis in self-defense. I don’t want people to feel glad that a Nazi got punched.

    In a similar way, if someone espousing trans*-hating ideologies or with a past of behavior that increases risk to trans* persons engages in ambiguous behavior that, because of the context of that person’s expressive behavior or past actions is interpreted more threateningly than the same behavior from someone else, that context can and should be taken into account when deciding the morality (and legality) of a trans* person’s claim to self-defense.

    But even the most awful person in the world – and I don’t think that either Germaine Greer or Maria MacLachlan is literally the most awful person in the world – getting punched doesn’t elicit a reaction of joy from me. Go ahead, engage in self-defense. But if something devolves to the point where physical self-defense is necessary, then for me that’s a tragedy not something to celebrate, no matter how much I may dislike the actions of the person who provoked the self-defense.

    …and, of course, if self-defense wasn’t necessary it’s a tragedy on a completely different level.

    This isn’t opposition to others’ violence per se – at least not when it occurs in the course of self-defense. It’s an opposition to the dehumanizing tribalism that allows us to be glad a Nazi got punched.

    If it’s necessary, punch a Nazi. However don’t expect me to feel good about it afterwards.

  3. says

    Speak for yourself.

    I consider those “people” to be an imminent threat to not only my safety, but the safety of millions of others. They SHOULD be slapped silly, until they grow some fucking clues.

  4. jazzlet says

    Hitting people is not an effective way of making them learn anything except that you are prepared to hit them.

  5. Knabb says


    Exactly. Which, in the context of dealing with a violent fascist movement emboldened specifically by the idea of their impunity from others not being willing to hit them even as said movement tries indirectly to kill them is a valuable message to send. “Bring on violent conflict, we’ve got all the will to fight” is a growing idea in the right, and instilling in them knowledge that we’re prepared to hit them helps squash that.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    @6 Knabb,

    No, no, no. Many of these Nazis and white supremacist types obviously get a real thrill out of fighting. (This is obvious from the videos about the Proud Boys in New York.) Isn’t it a popular stereotype of rednecks that they go to bars with the express purpose of starting a fight, because that’s how they let off steam? So if the left says they plan to retaliate with more violence, that will be an enticement for more to join these movements, not a deterrent. I have a hard time imagining there are many leftists who get a similar thrill just from seeing their fists land in someone else’s face — and if there are, I don’t think I want them in my movement.

    But the larger point is that, in this era of ubiquitous cameras and Youtube, WE ARE ALL SPOKESPEOPLE FOR OUR CAUSES. Punching Nazis has consequences that go far beyond the Nazi being punched — we are also sending a message to the entire country that “As a supporter of my cause, I advocate violence in order to achieve my goals.”

    There really are undecided/apathetic voters in this country — they are, in fact, the ones responsible for putting us in the mess we’re in right now. It may be a flaw in our democratic system, but right now, the fate of our country and our planet rests in the hands of around 20% of the voters who have only the vaguest grasp of the issues, and make up their minds on how to vote based on half-remembered Facebook posts and news clips. So before you punch that Nazi, you need to ask yourself, “If a video of this incident goes viral, is it going to help or hurt my cause with a couple million people who don’t give a rat’s ass about politics?” And if you go ahead and punch the Nazi anyway because it makes you feel better, then you are probably helping his cause more than your own.

  7. invivoMark says

    I think there’s an aspect that differentiates punching a Nazi from punching a TERF. I think Nazism is fundamentally driven by toxic masculinity. Its proponents value things like physical strength, authority through force, intrinsic genetic superiority, etc. Nazis like to imagine themselves as being capable and competent in a physical confrontation. Thus, punching a Nazi pulls the rug right out from under their ideology.

    I’m fairly ambivalent on the morality of punching Nazis (and TERFs, for that matter). I can see the arguments on both sides. But I definitely feel the schadenfreude when it happens. The human instinct to want the bad guys to lose (and then feel really bad about losing) is a powerful force!

  8. says

    How prepared are we for self defense or the defense of others? I can’t help thinking about those three men stabbed in Oregon, two of which died, while standing up for a couple of young muslim women.

  9. says

    roj, you’re clearly cisgendered and heterosexual, and have no basis for declaring that TERFs are not an imminent threat to the safety and lives of trans people. Fuck off.

    jazzlet — Same deal. TERFs are an imminent danger to trans people, and therefore self-defense is necessary.

  10. Callinectes says

    According to the Statute of Westminster 1275 (I have no idea how much of it still applies), “time immemorial” is everything prior to 6 July 1189, the date of King Richard I’s ascension to the throne.

    Although this is probably not what the TERFs mean.

  11. Curious Digressions says

    I’m becoming less sympathetic to the argument that we are all a representative for our cause and morally compelled to take the high road. The violence from the right requires a response other than being willing to take a punch. Various responses have made it clear that the willingness to take a punch is the same as asking to be punched. Bullies will attack an easy target as long as it stays easy.

    I prefer non-aggression to nonviolence. Don’t attack me, and there will be no violence. If I’m attacked, I won’t feel badly about responding with violence.

    With the current change in political and cultural climate. I wonder if that is an aggressive enough stance.

  12. Marissa van Eck says

    At some point, turning the other cheek simply results in a broken jaw. The far right are not really operating on human ideas of reciprocal ethics any longer; indeed, they see that sort of thing as weakness, and they laugh at us for still having morals. Search up “the dark enlightenment” for a small taste of their thinking.

    So I don’t know what to do. An eye for an eye does make the world blind, but when you’re in a situation where refusing to take an eye will get you killed, what then?

    As for punch-a-Nazi…I’d rather publicly humiliate, ridicule, and get fired from their job a Nazi, because what ideologues absolutely can’t stand is mockery. Some of them will take direct violence as vindication of their beliefs, but if you can reduce them to a farce, especially if you can utterly ruin their fucking lives and force them out into the street homeless, that will be far more effective. I used to say I’d never wish homelessness on anyone but I’m willing to make exceptions for these people. If they’re going to view human decency as a weakness, we ought to withdraw it from them.

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