The Moral Bankruptcy of Gender Critical Definitions of Man & Woman

This post will rely on a single individual as an example of so-called “gender critical” thought: Holms. Holms writes frequently on FtB, and has been engaging in a long back-and-forth with myself and many others over on Mano Singham’s blog recently. (This conversation is happening on the same blog post where Mano suggested the value of discussions of horizontal hostility.) I have been growing steadily more uncomfortable with the exchange because it long ago veered away from any discussion that might illuminate how and why horizontal and intra-community hostility develop within a particular group. While Mano has made no move to shut the conversation down or even to express any specific discomfort over the thread, I think it is respectful to a blog owner to have the conversations suggested by a post, and to start your own thread somewhere else if you want to have a different conversation. Thus this post.

The phenomenon I want to discuss begins with a discussion of Holms’ definitions of “man” and “woman”:

I have actually said that ‘man = adult male human’ and ‘woman = adult female human’ are the current meanings as determined by common use.

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Hell is Hope Hicks

As you may already be aware, the NY Times just published an Maggie Haberman essay on Hope Hicks’ most recent dilemma: should she break the law (again) or should she obey the requirements of a congressional subpoena?

The NY Times and Haberman advertised the article on twitter this way:

Now, some took issue with the glamour photo shoot that the Times commissioned for this piece. To the extent that criticism has any validity, it’s not about merely displaying a photo of Hope Hicks, it’s about the fact that they clearly spent significant resources in order to craft an artificial image that comports with Haberman’s editorial depiction of this former Trump aide (and those critiques that mentioned the photo without including this more detailed objection run the risk of communicating an anti-feminist message that what is important in media coverage of women is the photo shot editors choose to run). The lavishing of resources emphasizes the PR function of this effort; it is, in short, not a news story.

And yet, this wasn’t featured in the Times’ lifestyle section. It was featured in “Politics” which, when it is not overt opinion (which should be confined to the OP/ED pages anyway), is supposed to be news. So what is the news story here?

That leads us to the other criticism that many have already made: choosing to comply or not comply with a legal order is not an existential question any more than choosing to print up a few million dollars’ worth of counterfeit bills. Both lawyers and philosophers (mainly ethicists) took issue with this ridiculous and inaccurate description, so it’s not surprise that I, too, found it risible. The philosophers mainly focussed on the misuse of “existential questions” in a way that Sartre would have found condemnably ignorant even if it did tend to validate his assertion, “Hell is other people.” The lawyers had a different take, not so much emphasizing the “existential” part, but focussing rather more on the “question” part. One lawyer, Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly), put it this way:

Most existential questions have no clear answer. What is my purpose in life? What happens after I die? Is there a higher power guiding my destiny? Does my dog have a soul?

Other “existential questions,” however, are answered by 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 & 194. Compliance is mandatory.

Yet, despite my laughter when I read that and my sympathy to those who would call out the Times for bad philosophy and bad law, my most significant problem with this story and the promotional tweet is neither of those. Instead, read this tweet from Sam Wang @SamWangPhd:

“Should a federal employee obey a lawful order, or stay loyal to an individual? Here at @nytpolitics, we can’t say. It’s just all a partisan game! We’re not going to make a value judgment! We have great portrait photographers though.”

The NY Times isn’t doing something new in this story. They are treating compliance with the law as entirely optional for the rich and well connected even as other stories, say, stories about a famous woman who went to jail for defying a subpoena, don’t include the same PR efforts or gosh, who can say whether it’s fair that someone obey a subpoena support for lawlessness as the Hope Hicks profile.

The Times is doing what the times always does: it’s opposing accountability for the rich and powerful who have the most motive and opportunity to destroy US democracy, while insisting on strict accountability for those who break the law in a principled stand on behalf of what they believe to be a necessary resistance to the subversion or destruction of democracy. Thoreau-like, I can believe that Manning subscribes to the maxim

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

But the proper response for those of us on the outside is not to scream, “Yeah, lock her up!” at democracy’s defenders and, “Let’s all sympathize with the lawless,” as they attack that democracy. Believing that we have reached the point where the true place for a just trans person is in prison is not to believe we have accomplished something wonderful that must be perpetuated.

The anti-democratic limits on acceptable discourse accepted and propounded by the Times must be opposed. The Times and Haberman and her editors are not worthless and thus irrelevant. The magnitude of this mess is only appreciated by accepting that the Times has an impact on the policies and practices of justice (and other things) and have great value to those that benefit from advancing the Times’ skewed view of proper accountability. Ignoring the Times is not a principled and logical and effective way to deal with their anti-democratic trolling. Instead, the Times must be countered each and every time they embrace the ideology of an accountability-free elite. We must never forget that the Times isn’t portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they are working honestly or even diligently to divine the best possible response to problems of Gordian convolution and unsolvability. The upper ranks of the Times (including Haberman and her editors) are portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they, too, believe themselves better off in a world without accountability for the US elite.

This ideology must be opposed wherever it presents itself.

 


Although I originally titled this “Hell is Hope Hicks” I later thought that perhaps it would be better titled, “Hell is the New York Times”. Ultimately I decided not to change it, though there are certainly reasonable critiques of making Hicks the focus of the title when the main critique is not of Hicks’ disdain for the law (which exists and is critiqued in passing), but instead the NY Times advocacy of disdain for the law – or at least advocacy for the idea that we must consider disdain for the law to be a reasonable position which might be reasonably held by reasonable people in a democracy.

Follow up to the Punisher cops: Logo Lawyer is Troubled

And FREEZE PEACH activists, for that matter.

One of the things that struck me the hardest in that story, at least after excluding the revelation that cops had actually placed punisher logos on their patrol cars anywhere, ever, much less huge logos covering nearly the entirely of the hoods, was the DeepThoughtsing™ of batshit dingleberry Roy Gutterman, head of the Syracuse Tully Center for Free Speech.

What did this “expert on communications law and the First Amendment” have to say that could help us appreciate precisely what had happened in Catlettsburg, Kentucky?

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Useless Vanity. Or Not.

Over on the PZ post “Let’s Smoke Out Some More TERFs” a discussion developed in which Susan Stryker & Sandy Stone were mentioned. In that thread, I mentioned being one person of, I am sure, many who were forced independently to coin “transfeminism” when the “trans-” prefix trend was emerging. From people like Sandy Stone and Sylvia Rivera who were adult activists while I was too young to control my bladder to youngsters like, well, me, a lot of work had been done incorporating feminism into trans* activism by the 1990s. However, it was always in a haphazard, highly individualized way. There wasn’t a broader and explicit call to make our trans* activism feminist or our feminism trans* inclusive. The movements were largely separate, both nominally and functionally, even if philosophically they were closely related in myriad ways.

In response to this observation that I was doing transfeminism before there was a word (or at least a publicly recognized word) for transfeminism, HJ Hornbeck asked if I was involved in the early transfeminist movement, even if neither I nor anyone else could ever be called a single originator or even indispensable to the movement. In response, I wrote a small personal history that after some thinking I decided I might want to be able to find again. So, I’m preserving it here in its own post even though both of my readers have probably already seen it on Pharyngula. Call it an exercise in personal vanity. Or call it oral history of an interesting time of transition. Call it whatever you like, but if you haven’t read it, here it is.

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Your Moment of Zenlike

Over on a post of PZ’s, zenlike has a particularly insightful comment. The OP is criticizing some bullshit commentary on Fox News about how trans folk are destroying the entire species of Homo sapiens:

We’re not talking about people who want to simply do a bit of reform here and there, add a new category. They want, they must, in fact, destroy whatever is in order to replace it with what they think should be.

[T]he trans people have taken it one step further because by abandoning gender altogether, not simply re-writing it, they’re basically trying to use social engineering to create a new species.

[presented out of order, because I think it’s easier to follow the logic that way – cd]

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OMGOMGOMG, Have You Heard Trump Talk Lately?

This quote from a Pi Day press conference is just precious:

if we had a proper wall, which we’re building now as we speak, and we’re getting a lot more funding for it, as you know, with what we’re talking about with the vote today, whether it’s positive or not, I’m vetoing it, unless I don’t have to veto, I think that’s unlikely, I’ll do a veto, it’s not going to be overturned. But we have done a great job at the border through apprehension.

The whole thing is a glorious clusterfuck of rhetorical fail, but I love the bit that benefits from interpretation as a Freudian admission he’s using fear mongering: “we have done a great job at the border through apprehension.”

And, of course, “whether it’s positive or not, I’m vetoing it, unless I don’t have to veto, I think that’s unlikely, I’ll do a veto”. Seriously. Every single day is like a celebration of the 25th to this guy … and I’m not talking Christmas.

 

 

The Incomparable Corrupting Influence of Judy Blume (Also: Call Your Senators)

It’s Banned Book Week! And I haven’t written anything about it yet! You must therefore read my Blume babbling! Let’s get started, eh?

So I recently wrote about a new cartoon, Human Kind Of, produced by Facebook. I love that cartoon in part because the pilot takes on the topics of periods generally and menarche specifically with anything but subtlety and sideways reference. Although I was happy to share the cartoon, and happy as well to be informed my link led to pop-up madness (something I’d missed from having 3 ad blockers in constant use), I was disappointed that no one seemed to comment on the ambiguity in the post’s title An Unholy Pit of Horrors Coughs Up Something Amazing.

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Achievement Unlocked! We don’t know what sexism is!

So in this great conversation we’re having that began with discussing whether TERFs are feminists ultimately required addressing the question, What is feminism? I gave an answer here:

if you work to end sexism, you’re probably a feminist.

After Hj Hornbeck posted a riff on Siggy’s original question (that riff is found here), I felt compelled to create my own post, with failed sarcasm calling this discussion a Fiiiiiiiiiggghht. In that, I repeated my proto-definition of feminism where Hj Hornbeck and others found it, furthering the conversation by discussing the perils of gate-keeping as well as other topics.

But let’s allow those topics to continue being discussed in their original venues. I’m interested in this astute reply to my definition delivered by Hj Hornbeck:

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That Dude Comes Out And Says It

So, a few years back I was wearing my Shirt That Changed The World. My particular version was, of course, the very best version. The logo read, “Transsexual Menace” like all the others, but being from Oregon, the tagline below read, “The Beaver State”. Really, there’s no other Transsexual Menace chapter that could possibly compete, unless there’s a chapter at a university somewhere that uses “Fighting Cocks” as its mascot (no, USC does not count, though being “game” is worth something, sure).

On the particular night I’m discussing, I was walking through Washington D.C. after a hard day’s fighting against violence and for civil rights at a national conference. I can’t even remember which one for certain – and anti-DV conference? An LGBT conference? Let’s let it go. In any case, I walked past the White House & had just crossed 17th, at which point Pennsylvania Avenue politely angled itself to point my ass to the building Trump now occupies. Right there, not two full blocks from the most elite bit of housing in the country, there were maybe twenty people camped out with sleeping bags on the sidewalk. One using a propane stove to heat up a beverage or maybe some soup looked up and upon seeing my t-shirt exclaimed,

That dude’s transsexual!

To which a next-door neighbor replied,

So what? It don’t matter. Just leave it be.*1

Whereupon the first, concerned about being misinterpreted, added,

Yeah, I know, but that dude comes out and says it! *2

In addition to being a pleasant statement on the state of cissexism in at least some communities in the US capital and a validation of Dallas Denny’s thesis that the Transsexual Menace t-shirts were a major turning point in trans/cis interactions, it struck me how such a simple statement of my perspective on the world could have the power to shock, even when absent the statement my perspective would still have been obvious.

That moment came back to me today as I read something Trump said to one of his rallies today:

Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening

Yes, I know: Trump has never hid the fact that he disbelieves reality. Yes, I know that the famous line from Duck Soup has already been used to paraphrase Trump in the past. And yet, there was power to shock in reading that he’d said exactly these words.

Of course, he won’t lose supporters over them. He probably read his audience accurately when he decided that this line would be received positively by the Veterans of Foreign Wars crowd to whom he spoke. Even so, we shouldn’t use the commitment of his followers as an excuse to let the words stand. If one can convince a majority of people that what they see for themselves isn’t true, then that person has constructed an honest-to-goodness, no hyperbole Orwellian state. We aren’t there yet, but the size and intransigence of Trump’s base, even if still a minority today, should galvanize us to fight tooth and nail.


*1: From tone of voice and context, I always interpreted this as a respectful plea to leave the issue of my transsexuality. Neither in the moment nor later did it come across as using the pronoun “it” to describe me in a dehumanizing way. As for the use of the word “dude” to describe me throughout, in that first moment I disliked it, and was about to say something. But after the second person spoke up, I decided that the best thing I could do was simply allow time and space for the first to process the sight of my shirt without any interference from me.

*2: And yes, I do remember all this perfectly verbatim. The moment was quite significant for me as I’d recently been bashed and was startled by the first statement. I paid very close attention to what followed as a way of assessing any potential danger. Fortunately, none existed. Though obviously that’s primarily down to the non-violence and respect of the people I met on that sidewalk, I credit Jessica Xavier with some small part of that: she played a huge leadership role in pro-trans* activism and education in DC in the years leading up to and following my experience.