TERFs Harm Women

I hate loose threads. There was something I had to brush past in my last post, because I didn’t know much about it and I was already over the 2,000 word mark. It kept bugging me, though, enough to prompt me to do my homework. Now I realize why this was the first bullet point in that TERF apologetics post:

Associating our intellectual position with a far right-wing one, because some far right-wing thinkers would agree with us in some of our conclusions, and insinuating that our position is all the worse because of it, is an ad hominem. Ad hominems are widely recognised as inappropriate in philosophy. […]

Equally: the fact that person shares a conclusion with a far right-wing person could never show, on its own, that the conclusion was false. It is likely that every single person on the planet shares several hundred (true) beliefs with any given far right-wing person. In brief: this strategy, and any which are structurally like it, is rhetorical guilt-by-association. It has no place in responsible argument.

If we’re playing fallacy cards, then I pull out the Fallacy Fallacy. If it’s a coincidence that TERFs and the religious far-Right agree on several positions, that is indeed an ad hominem. If instead they agree on the same positions because they’ve directly convinced one another of the truthhood of those positions, then it is fair to link the two. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if their positions were true, but if they’re instead an incoherent mess used to harm others then we have an entirely different story. If I can establish such a link then I can lay the harm caused by one group at the feet of the other.

[Read more…]

The “Summary” That Wasn’t

Remember that letter from eight days ago? Emphasis mine:

On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. $ 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

This prompted a lot of discussion of Barr’s memo; follow that New York Times link, and the headline declares it a summary. CNN called it a summary too, as did the Washington Post, Vox, The Atlantic, Business Insider, the CBC, and so on. Three days ago, or five days after he released his first memo, Barr released a second.

Also, I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019 supplemental notification as a “summary” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report. For example, Chairman Nadler’s March 25 letter refers to my supplemental notification as a “four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s review.” My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.

Wait, so that original memo wasn’t a summary? Then what was it?

… an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions”—that is, its bottom line.

Any reasonable person would treat “summary” and “summarize its principle conclusions” as synonymous, and conclude Barr was releasing a summary. Barr is trying to pull a Bill Clinton and push a specific interpretation of specific words that’s at odds with their general understanding. As a lawyer, he almost certainly chose those words deliberately and with that intent.

That’s barely the start of what was wrong with Barr’s original memo.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observes that “he is likely pushing back because calling it a ‘summary’ suggests that the letter accurately summarizes the entire report, and it does not do so.” Moreover, by hiding even the length of the report in the first letter, Barr helped President Trump perpetuate the assertion that Mueller hadn’t found much of anything. If it took almost 400 pages to lay out his findings, we can bet there’s plenty of interest to the American people.

Other Justice Department veterans agree that Barr is playing defense. “I think he’s clearly a bit stung by the criticism he’s gotten this week, and this letter was his attempt to look like he is committed to transparency without actually making any new commitments,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller.

Note the timing as well: Barr’s first memo was released two days after he announced he had the SCO report, when the media was desperate for any scraps and would eagerly blast them to the public. His second memo was released on a Friday night, when the media was less likely to notice and report on it, and long after everyone had already called the first memo a summary.

Then there’s the issue of redactions: Barr identified two types of information he’d like to redact in his first memo, info related to ongoing investigations and “matters occurring before a grand jury.” In the second memo two more categories pop up, “material … potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods” plus “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

All but the first of these four categories are problematic. […]

“This is not how things are meant to happen,” said Professor Neil Katyal, Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, who drafted the special counsel regulations, on MSNBC on March 29.

In connection with Barr’s unwillingness to release the unredacted report to Congress, Katyal said: “The fact that he won’t do that is really suspicious and tells me that there is information in the Mueller Report that Barr doesn’t want to come out. I don’t think it’s for up-and-up reasons. I think it’s because it’s embarrassing to the president.”

As that Forbes editorial points out, this wasn’t a problem with past Special Council reports. Ken Starr finished his report on a Wednesday, and Congress was given a full, unredacted version of it the same day. It too contained grand jury material, but Starr merely had to consult with a judge to get that released to Congress. The public themselves got restricted access two days later via the internet. The turnaround was so rapid because, as Special Council, Starr knew his report had to be delivered to Congress and the public. He’d done the hard work of working out the redactions while drafting the report, so the publication would proceed as rapidly as possible.

Yet Barr is implying Mueller had no idea he’d be submitting his report to Congress or the public, and offloaded that work to Barr. Tack on the fact that Barr’s job application included an unsolicited memo which claimed the President was immune from prosecution, and his past work was stopping the Iran-Contra investigation by pardoning the key players, and this stinks of a deliberate cover-up. No wonder the House Judiciary committee is preparing the subpoena cannon.

 

Happy Emmy Noether Day!

Whenever anyone asks me for my favorite scientist, her name comes first.

At a time when women were considered intellectually inferior to men, Noether (pronounced NUR-ter) won the admiration of her male colleagues. She resolved a nagging puzzle in Albert Einstein’s newfound theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. And in the process, she proved a revolutionary mathematical theorem that changed the way physicists study the universe.

It’s been a century since the July 23, 1918, unveiling of Noether’s famous theorem. Yet its importance persists today. “That theorem has been a guiding star to 20th and 21st century physics,” says theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek of MIT. […]

Although most people have never heard of Noether, physicists sing her theorem’s praises. The theorem is “pervasive in everything we do,” says theoretical physicist Ruth Gregory of Durham University in England. Gregory, who has lectured on the importance of Noether’s work, studies gravity, a field in which Noether’s legacy looms large.

And as luck would have it, today was the day she was born. So read up on why she’s such a critical figure, and use it as an excuse to remember other important women in science.

The Feminist Mein Kampf

Check your local laws, before going much further. If you’re in Russia, for instance, Mein Kampf is banned on the grounds that it is extremist propaganda. Most other countries are more liberal, even Germany; new copies couldn’t be printed, you couldn’t buy an old copy, and libraries couldn’t stock any copy until 2016, but owning or reading that book has always been legal. In Canada, Mein Kampf was even a bestseller in online bookstores, which made electronic copies available for one dollar.

Still, fair warning that I’m about to print a little bit of Mein Kampf. Brace yourself, and stay safe.

Fifth, though change may come in stages, feminism cannot limit itself to half-measures in solidarity or be selfish. These manifest under choice feminism (Ferguson, 2010), for example, by placing emphasis upon a so-called objective standpoint (cf. hooks, 2000, p. 8) or through pursuit of aims that appear feminist but actually support neoliberalism (Rottenberg, 2014, 2017). Though what constitutes justice is itself multifarious and pluralistic, only a single-minded alignment with solidarity for effecting the goal of justice will suffice (cf. Hirschmann, 2010; hooks, 2000; Patel, 2011; Russell & Bohan, 2016). That is to say, under neoliberal approaches, society will not be made “feminist” in the true sense (Rottenberg, 2014; pace Snyder-Hall, 2010) but only “feministic” with many limitations. This is the state in which we now find ourselves. Neoliberal oppression can only be countered by an effective antidote to neoliberalism — which Rottenberg demonstrated that neoliberal “feminism” cannot provide. Only the blinkering of privilege (cf. DiAngelo, 2011; Dotson, 2014) could underestimate the need for solidarity and regard choice feminism as a workable solution (Rottenberg, 2014, p. 428). Most people are neither scholars nor activists — indeed, few even consider themselves feminists (Houvouras & Carter, 2008). As such, they possess little understanding of abstract theoretical knowledge, and this directs their opinions toward the affective, which is where their compassion and frustration lies. In this sense, individuals are receptive to appeals in one direction or the other but never to a “nuanced” halfway point between the two.

Now, I know what most of you are thinking: Hitler must have been a literary genius, if he could cite books and papers printed over seventy years after he wrote Mein Kampf! That is incorrect, as in reality Hitler owned a time machine. See this documentary for proof.

But the rest of you think I’ve just pulled a fast one. There’s a lot of jargon there, but this passage is just asking for solidarity and education. You can find similar messages everywhere, even in children’s shows. Don’t look at me, though, look at Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose.

We did this as a part of a year-long probe to find out how much certain political biases have taken root within a small but powerful sector of academia. Over the course of that year, we submitted 20 papers to journals that study topics of identity like gender, race, and sexuality, which we feared has been corrupted by a form of political activism that puts political grievances ahead of finding truth.

Seven of our papers were accepted, many in top-ranking journals. These include an adaptation of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” which was accepted by a social work journal.

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We took our experimentation with the idea that we could make anything at all fit some kind of popular “theory” to the limits when we successfully published a section of Mein Kampf as intersectional feminism.

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Three self-styled liberal scholars were given the academic green light for a rewritten version of Adolf Hiter’s Mein Kampf by a leading feminist journal.

“We rewrote a section of Mein Kampf as intersectional feminism and this journal has accepted it,” James Lindsay said in a YouTube video revealing a year-long project he worked on with other self-described left-wing academics, Peter Boghassian and Helen Pluckrose.

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This is the primary point of the project: What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry. That is, it’s a forgery of knowledge that should not be mistaken for the real thing. The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.

This process is the one, single thread that ties all twenty of our papers together, even though we used a variety of methods to come up with the various ideas fed into their system to see how the editors and peer reviewers would respond. […]

Another tough one for us was, “I wonder if they’d publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The answer to that question also turns out to be “yes,” given that the feminist social work journal Affilia has just accepted it.

I pointed out before that the trio have changed their tune about their “Dog Park” paper, but here they’ve gone in reverse. I organized those excerpts from newest to oldest; see how an “adaptation” was formerly a “rewrite?” Now compare that to how they originally described the paper in their methodology. Emphasis mine:

Note: The last two thirds of this paper is based upon a rewriting of roughly 3600 words of Chapter 12 of Volume 1 of Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler, though it diverges significantly from the original. This chapter is the one in which Hitler lays out in a multi-point plan which we partially reproduced why the Nazi Party is needed and what it requires of its members. The first one third of the paper is our own theoretical framing to make this attempt possible.
Purpose: That we could find Theory to make anything (in this case, part of Chapter 12 of Volume 1 of Mein Kampf with buzzwords switched in) acceptable to journals if we put it in terms of politically fashionable arguments and existing scholarship. Of note, while the original language and intent of Mein Kampf has been significantly changed to make this paper publishable and about feminism, the reliance upon the politics of grievance remains clear, helping to justify our use of the term “grievance studies” for these fields.

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. The quip “even Hitler loved his dog” is how historians point out that no-one is truly evil; dig deep enough, and you’ll find something to agree with (even if it comes with strings attached). Bruce Hood would ask his psychology classes if any of them would be willing to wear a sweater that was once owned by a serial killer; few took him up on the offer, and those that did were viewed with immediate suspicion by their peers. Our concept of “moral contamination” developed from a folk understanding of physical contamination, and it has such pull on us that stating “Hitler agreed with X” causes you to reflexively disagree with X, because Hitler.

Since almost no-one has read Mein Kampf, almost no-one knows that the unabridged and fully-footnoted version is a thousand pages long. “Mein Kampf” translates to “My Struggle,” which was shortened from “Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice;” in other words, Hitler doesn’t just spend a few hundred pages saying Communists and Jews were evil, he also lays out the foundations of a political movement designed to push back against an indifferent and hostile majority. It would be shocking if there wasn’t a bit of overlap with other minority political movements somewhere in that mess. Result: someone unscrupulous could dig out those overlaps, and exploit our ignorance and flawed instincts.

Put another way, if more feminists had, rather than becoming distracted by seductions of choice, the baubles of neoliberalism, or male approval, implacably guarded the interests of oppressed people — especially those dominated by racism, colonialism, imperialism, ableism, homophobia, classism, and all other manners of oppression that intersect with feminism — and if in matters of remaking society more feminists had avowed only their commitment against all oppressions with equal intensity as they defended their will to female choice, and if with equal firmness they had demanded justice for all those oppressed by systems of power (cf. hooks, 2000), today we would very likely have equality. If during the War the German unions had ruthlessly guarded the interests of the working class, if even during the War they had struck a thousand times over and forced approval of the demands of the workers they represented on the dividend-hungry employers of those days; but if in matters of national defense they had avowed their Germanism with the same fanaticism; and if with equal ruthlessness they had given to the fatherland that which is the fatherland’s, the War would not have been lost.
Sixth, feminism requires recognizing that among the most pressing concerns in any society are questions presently relevant about the consequences of particular causes (cf. hooks, 2004). At present, the concern with the broadest causal importance to feminism is the matter of understanding and defying oppression in multiple and intersecting forms (hooks, 2000, 2014). So long as many feminists forward individuated personal choice and fail to recognize the importance of intersecting power dynamics and their intrinsic capacity to oppress, they will also fail to realize that entrenched and self-reinforcing dominance in power and the reciprocal docility in subjugation are the exact qualities inherent to all unjust social dynamics. That is, groups that ignore the role of power in generating oppression, of which theirs is but a single part, or that benefit from it and thus refuse to challenge it (Rottenberg, 2014), have no ultimate hope of liberation from it (cf. Collins, 1990). This is the basis of a call to allyship with deep, affective, solidifying roots; without a clear appreciation of oppression, and hence the problem intrinsic to privilege itself — even within feminism itself — there can be no remediation (cf. Ferguson, 2010; Rottenberg, 2017). It is the question of power that is key to understanding culture, and power comes from coalition, and coalition comes from solidarity through ally-ship (Walters, 2017). All great questions of the day are questions of the moment and represent only consequences of definite causes. Only one among all of them, however, possesses causal importance, and that is the question of the racial preservation of the nation. In the blood alone resides the strength as well as the weakness of man. As long as peoples do not recognize and give heed to the importance of their racial foundation, they are like men who would like to teach poodles the qualities of greyhounds, failing to realize that the speed of the greyhound like the docility of the poodle are not learned, but are qualities inherent in the race. Peoples which renounce the preservation of their racial purity renounce with it the unity of their soul in all its expressions. The divided state of their nature is the natural consequence of the divided state of their blood, and the change in their intellectual and creative force is only the effect of the change in their racial foundations.

Anyone who wants to free the German blood from the manifestations and vices of today, which were originally alien to its nature, will first have to redeem it from the foreign virus of these manifestations.

Without the clearest knowledge of the racial problem and hence of the Jewish problem there will never be a resurrection of the German nation.

The racial question gives the key not only to world history, but to all human culture.

As for those annoying parts where Hitler talks about racial purity or World War One, just copy-paste something else in! Change “choice feminism” into “the working class,” or “the preservation of their racial purity” to “the role of power in generating oppression,” or “equality” into “World War One,” but try to preserve the verbal scaffold around those concepts so people can still recognize the Kampf. The result is only problematic to the extent that concepts like “equality” and “war” are synonymous, otherwise my doing this …

All great questions of the day are questions of the moment and represent only consequences of definite causes. Only one among all of them, however, possesses causal importance, and that is the question of whether pineapples belong on pizza. In pineapples alone resides the strength as well as the weakness of man. As long as peoples do not recognize and give heed to the importance of pineapples as valid a pizza topping, they are like men who would like to teach poodles the qualities of greyhounds, failing to realize that the speed of the greyhound like the docility of the poodle are not learned, but are qualities inherent in their physical form.

… would have convinced you that pineapples don’t belong on pizza. It was an adaptation of Mein Kampf!! Which was written by Hitler!! You wouldn’t want to agree with Hitler, now would you?!

To call this stunt “sophomoric” is an insult to high-school students. The catch, of course, is that those students would not only have to read the original paper (which few people do), but also spend a few hours comparing it to Mein Kampf, which was written by Hitler! So instead, the students would make the reasonable assumption that Boghossian/Lindsay/Pluckrose had accurately described what their own paper is about. The consequences are predictable.

Still, at least Boghossian and friends wouldn’t mislead us about the reception to their paper, right?

21-Mar-2018

Thank you for submitting your article to Feminist Theory. Unfortunately our reviewers did not feel that this piece was suitable for publication in Feminist Theory. We attach the reviewers’ comments below in order to help you to revise the piece for submission elsewhere.

Reviewer 1: The paper often slightly misrepresents the authors and discussions that it cites. For instance, Rottenberg is cited as claiming that liberalism sought to ‘overthrow its oppressions’ (p.5), which is not only factually incorrect but misrepresents what Rottenberg (2014: 419) actually says, which is that liberalism was an internal critique of classical liberalism’s gendered exclusions (therefore seeking inclusion and recognition rather than revolution, which I see as equivalent to calls to ‘overthrow’ something). I would also add that no page numbers are given in the paper for this claim, and this is often repeated in the paper when clearly specific passages are being interpreted.

Reviewer 2: The tone is declarative rather than explanatory or conceptual, and the author repeats its normative claims again and again (often in the words of other scholars): that feminism needs to fight oppression in all of its forms and that only an inclusive value-based allyship feminism will do. Yet, the terms the author uses are not well enough conceptualized to even really grasp what is being argued for. In other words, not only do I find the declarative and annunciatory tone problematic but there is no real unpacking of the terms.

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22-Jun-2018

We have now received all reviews for the Manuscript … entitled “Allyship Feminism: An Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism” that you submitted to the Affilia and the peer-review process is complete. Having carefully considered the reviewers’ comments, we have decided to decline the manuscript in its current form and invite you to revise and resubmit a new version.

Reviewer 2: “Put another way, if we feminists had, rather than becoming distracted by seductions of choice, […]” Be careful of the way you use language- this paragraph, like others in your article hearkens to a universal, monolithic we (feminists) who are somehow not from the marginalised groups that you then list- in which case we feminists are presumably white, able-bodies, cis-gendered etc…

Author: The language in this section (now on pp. 20–21) and throughout the paper has been modified to reflect the spirit of this comment. We have been very careful to reconsider much of the phrasing and diction in the paper to avoid such exclusionary totalizing, universalizing, and even implicitly othering language such as this and have adopted a more modest and inclusive tone throughout.

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17-Aug-2018

… “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism” which you submitted to the Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, has been reviewed. The comments of the reviewer(s) are included at the bottom of this letter.

The reviewer(s) have been very favorable although there are a few minor outstanding issues to address. Therefore, I invite you to respond to the editorial and reviewer(s)’ comments included at the bottom of this letter and revise your manuscript quickly so that we can move toward publication.

Reviewer 1: In terms of additional revisions, my only strong recommendation at this point is to do one more thorough read of the manuscript, this time watching for those points where your language still allows “privilege” to be a totalizing status.

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21-Aug-2018

We are pleased to inform you that your manuscript entitled “Our Struggle Is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism” has been accepted for publication in Affilia: Women and Social Work.

After three failed attempts in two different journals, and after continually watering down the language to make it less extremist, Boghossian and friends finally managed to get an acceptance. Reviewers in the higher-quality journal correctly spotted how the trio had warped their citations, and spotted the conceptual emptiness distinctive to Mad Libs. All their reviewers were unsettled by the absolutist and totalitarian tone, not the sort of thing you’d expect from “femiNAZIs.” No-one spotted the similarities to a section of Mein Kampf, because no-one reads Mein Kampf. The rewrite was too extensive to be caught by plagiarism detectors, and why would you bother dumping Mein Kampf into the database, anyway? No-one in their right mind would plagiarise it.

You can see why I’m so pissed off by this “hoax;” while Boghossian and friends get to blast out their misinformation in USA Today and New Statesmen, I can only shout from my blog well after the news cycle has moved on. They get to exploit our broken instincts, while I can only plead to your higher brain functions. They’ll likely get away with it, because why would anyone listen to feminazis?

Good Scholarship On Gender

I was recommended a YouTube video, “Transphobia: An Analysis,” and it easily lives up to its name. I noticed an overlap, though, between that video and my own attempts at a similar topic: we both relied heavily on the writing of trans people in forming our arguments. Both Philosophy Tube and I cite a specific article by Talia Mae Bettcher:

Consequently, when a trans woman says “I’m a woman” and her body is precisely the kind of body taken to invalidate a claim to womanhood (in mainstream culture), the claim is true in some trans subcultures because the meaning of the word “woman” is different; its very meaning is under contestation … I understand this in terms of Marı́a Lugones’s concept of “multiple worlds of sense” […]

Once we adopt a Lugonian framework for understanding trans oppression and resistance, we can see a serious problem inherent in both the wrong-body and transgender approaches: they take the dominant meanings of gender terms for granted, thereby foreclosing the possibility of multiply resistant meanings (…). In a beyond-the-binary model, to say that trans people are marginal with respect to the binary is to locate them in terms of the categories “man” and “woman” as dominantly understood. If trans bodies can have different resistant meanings, the decision to say of those bodies that they are “mixed” or “in between” is precisely to assume a dominant interpretation. So the problem is not the rigidity of the binary categories but rather the starting assumption that there is only one interpretation in the first place (the dominant one). Similarly, in the wrong-body model, to become a woman or a man requires genital reconstruction surgery as the correction of wrongness. But this is to accept a dominant understanding of what a man or a woman is.

Bettcher, Talia Mae. “Trapped in the wrong theory: Rethinking trans oppression and resistance.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 39.2 (2014): 389-390.

While there’s a lot of bad reasoning out there too, the best analysis of gender I’ve seen has come from trans people. It also makes the best analysis I’ve seen from TERFs look like “WRONG” crayon’d on a wall. Take Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, for instance; she’s often held up as one of the best TERF scholars, yet I often find her writing drivel like this:

If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is “non-binary”.

This basic logical point should be obvious, and yet is denied by most of the proponents of the spectrum model of gender – indeed, it is often met with angry objections from those who label themselves non-binary. But it’s hard to see how this point can be refuted. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then every individual alive is non-binary, by definition. There are not just two points. There is a range of points, and we all of us fall somewhere along the spectrum. And then the label “non-binary” becomes redundant, as it fails to pick out a special category of people.

Or, perhaps, “binary” is an anachronistic label for a large collection of people who cluster around certain behaviors and appearance. We can keep using the term until we think of a better one, so long as we acknowledge that, in the context of gender, the sharp boundaries implied by the name do not exist. The premise that gender occupies a spectrum is compatible with this definition of “binary,” and it permits “non-binary” to remain a useful category.

A graphical representation of the prior paragraph.

If you read forward, you’ll find much of her essay consists of hammering the “binary cannot have multiple meanings” nail over and over and over again, until she gets to her true point.

The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then there are no trans people. Or, alternatively, everyone is trans.

Well yes, if you deny that “binary” can have multiple meanings, and believe everyone agrees the wrong-body model is correct, that conclusion holds. Marı́a Lugones published her work in 2004, so even the latter premise was false a decade before Reilly-Cooper scrawled that article on a wall.

If you are interested in getting to the bottom of what gender is, then you owe it to yourself to check out the work of trans scholars, starting with Talia Mae Bettcher.

As I was pondering [Kathleen] Stock’s arguments, I couldn’t help reflect on the grading I had just completed for the course “Trans Feminist Philosophy.” I wondered whether her essay would have received a passing grade in it.

In this course, we paid particular attention to (non-trans) feminist engagements with trans people, issues, and theory. We used my Stanford Encyclopedia entry “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues” as a guide. It served as the starting point for my lectures and our inquiries. I’ll note that this entry is almost like a little book, coming in at 23,000 words. It also has an extensive and, in my humble opinion, highly useful bibliography that includes literature from the late 1800s until around 2014.

In our discussion of feminist/trans interactions, we began with the expulsion of Beth Elliott (a trans woman, lesbian feminist) from the Daughters of Bilitis San Francisco chapter in late 1972 and then considered the infamous West Coast Lesbian Conference (1973) during which Elliott survived a vote that would have expelled her from the conference. We examined all of the feminist perspectives that were at play at the time—including the pro-trans ones. We then went on to examine Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire (1979), easily the most important work in “gender critical feminism” (although it wasn’t called that at the time). We looked at the emergence of trans studies through the work of Sandy Stone (1991), Kate Bornstein (1994), and Leslie Feinberg (1992). We examined the development of Queer Theory—especially the work of Judith Butler (1990, 1993) and its relation to trans studies and politics. We looked at trans phenomenology (Rubin 1998) and we looked at the FTM/Butch border wars of the nineties (Halberstam 1998, Hale 1998). We looked at more recent feminist perspectives on trans issues (e.g. Cressida Heyes 2003, Gayle Salamon 2010) by non-trans women, and we discussed the development of trans feminism through the work of Emi Koyama (2003, 2006) and Julia Serano (2007). Unfortunately, we ran out of time. We were going to look at some of the more recent debates with regard to gender critical feminism (e.g. Lori Watson 2016, Sara Ahmed 2016, myself). But we had to stop.

Enjoy the dig.

Why TERFs are not feminists

Nah, I’m not trying to start something with Siggy; heck, I too have pointed out the historical connections between TERFs and feminists. Whether one is a subset of the other will always be a secondary concern next to combating the damage they do. Still, I think there’s an argument for the other side, one that’s worth writing up.

Let’s start with a protest I’ve meant to blog about: a number of women attended a men’s-only swim night. Given just that, you can sketch out a rationale for the action. Sex separation for social gatherings has its roots in a time when we believed men and women should never mix, that we occupied separate spheres. The only good reason I know to allow sex segregation is to help victims of sexual assault, who in some cases can relive their trauma if they share a space with someone of a specific sex. Since that isn’t universal, sex segregation shouldn’t be either, and invading a space that wasn’t separated for that reason is a legit form of protest.

Female activists took a group of male swimmers by surprise on Friday evening when they attended a men-only swim session wearing just trunks and pink swimming caps. Amy Desir, 30, was one of the two women to gain access to the south London pool session, as part of a protest against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would enable men and women to choose their own gender.

Both women explained their attendance to staff at Dulwich Leisure Centre by saying they “identified as male” and subsequently had the right to be there. […]

Their actions form part of a nationwide campaign formed on Mumsnet called #ManFriday which encourages women to “self-identify” as men every Friday in protest of the proposed amendments to gender laws, which would enable people to self-identify as men or women.

When we add more information, though, things get twisted around. TERFs believe men and women occupy separate spheres, otherwise they wouldn’t have identified as male; at the same time, they also argue that housework shouldn’t be a woman’s duty and the workplace shouldn’t favor men. They also believe that anyone with a penis is a man, to the point of obsession and despite scientific arguments to the contrary. Because of those points, they believe men should be disgusted and unsettled to find women invading their spaces.

They also used the male changing rooms before going into the session and were later asked by an elderly man if they realised it was a male-only session.

In reality, the most common reaction is puzzlement or a shrug of the shoulders. Just recently, in fact, while running some chores I noticed a guy stopped right in the entrance of a men’s washroom, blankly staring at the “Men’s Washroom” sign as if deciphering some puzzle. I walked past, turned the corner, and sure enough someone identified as a woman was in there. She gave me an embarrassed glance as she hurried out; I rolled my eyes as I continued to the urinal, without missing a single step. Women participating in marathons will sometimes “claim” men’s washrooms, due to a lack of facilities and their greater numbers in these events (at least around here, YMMV elsewhere). I know it happens, because I helped do it once; there were no complaints, no protests, no need for guards, everyone just got on with their business amid a few nervous giggles.

Every premise behind that TERF protest is either contrary to another premise they believe, or the best evidence available. As I’ve pointed out before, TERFs do not have a coherent theory of sex or gender; in contrast, feminists bend over backwards to establish coherency. This solves Siggy’s best argument.

On the flip side, there are also real pretenders to feminism. One of the best known examples is Christina Hoff Sommers, who identifies as a feminist, but who has been a conservative critic of feminism for her entire career. Sommers is one of several public figures who call themselves “equity feminists”, a term that, as far as I know, does not have any real history within feminism, and seems to have been invented by external critics.

So it seems we have a difficult task, finding a definition for feminism that includes TERFs, and yet excludes equity feminists. Ideally, the definition would also apply to feminists of the past and future.

No matter where you stand on Christina Hoff Sommers’ feminism, she has a more coherent theory of sex and gender than TERFs. That is a line of demarcation.

As just hinted at, Siggy’s other main argument is that feminism has historically been quite transphobic. Fair enough, in fact at one point a significant number of feminists opposed any LGBT activism. But pointing out that this bigotry was once part of feminism does not demand that we continue to accept those bigots as feminists, any more than pointing out that astronomy was once astrology demands that we consider astrologers to be astronomers. Words and definitions can change over time. If the majority of contemporary feminists are bullish on LGBT rights, if the majority of them agree that gender identity is a fundamental right, then we can consider transphobic feminists to be anachronisms. To bring up another anecdote, I attended Calgary Pride and was heartened to see half the floats had “trans rights are human rights” or similar explicitly plastered on them. The lead float was trans-inclusive, too, which was welcome given the bullshit TERFs have pulled at Pride marches.

Given that very few feminists are TERFs, and even mainstream society has accepted that gender identity is a thing (on paper, anyway), counting TERFs as feminists muddies what “feminism” means, in my opinion. That may not be your opinion, and that’s cool! Whether we call TERFs bigots pretending to be feminists or bigoted feminists, we can all agree the stress should be on the “b.”


HJH 2018-09-10: Oh dear, I seem to have started something anyway. A small and insightful thing, thankfully. Read Crip Dyke’s posts, especially her second one as it has some good points to make about sexism. I mean, damn:

Sexism = Sex Prejudice + Enhanced Power of one sex relative to another

In the course of it all, though, I’m getting feedback from Siggy and others that suggests I could have done a better job in this post. The crux of it can be handled via a little copy-pasta.

Shoot, I should have explained this point a little better. I don’t argue that having a consistent definition is necessary for being a feminist, instead working towards a consistent definition is the key. You can see this quite clearly with Judith Butler:

Before Undoing Gender, Butler never addressed the T or the I (transgender and intersex) in GLBTQI in any sustained way. In turning her gaze toward what is unthinkable even for many gays and lesbians, Butler has continued to push against the boundaries of the field she had a large part in creating. Undoing Gender constitutes a thoughtful and provocative response to the new gender politics and elegantly employs psychoanalysis, philosophy, feminism, and queer theory in an effort to pry open the future of the human.

Zavaletta, Atticus Schoch. “Undoing Gender.” The Comparatist 29.1 (2005): 152-153.

Compare and contrast with this with TERFs. Confronted with evidence that their definition of “sex” is too simplistic, they discard the evidence rather than update the definition. Bigotry takes precedence over consistency, and we can exploit that to draw a dividing line.

The worst of it seems to flow from that misunderstanding, at least so far.

On Jakiw Palij

You may have heard of this story.

The last known Nazi collaborator living in the United States — a 95-year-old former camp guard who played an “indispensable role” in the murders of thousands of Jews — was deported to Germany from his New York City home early Tuesday morning, completing what the U.S. ambassador to Germany called a “difficult task.”

But I have yet to see a single news report that gives you the full account. For instance, they guy was 95 years old, yet there’s been an active hunt for Nazis for decades. Why did it take so long to find him?

Christopher A. Wray, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, announced that a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., today revoked the citizenship of a Queens resident on the basis of his service as an armed guard at an SS slave-labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and his concealment of that service when he immigrated to the United States. The denaturalization decision issued today by U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross cited admissions and other evidence proving that Jakiw Palij, 79, served during 1943 as an armed guard at the notorious Trawniki Labor Camp, which the court found was created “[t]o further the exploitation of Jewish labor.”“By guarding the prisoners held under inhumane conditions at Trawniki, Jakiw Palij prevented their escape and directly contributed to their eventual slaughter at the hands of the Nazis,” said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Some of the reason is due to Palij covering his tracks well, but if you do some mental math on his age you’ll realize he was stripped of US citizenship back in 2003. So why did it take 15 years to deport a Nazi war criminal?

Palij, an ethnic Ukrainian born in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, said on his 1957 naturalization petition that he had Ukrainian citizenship. When their investigators showed up at his door in 1993, he said: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.” […]

But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, red brick home in Queens he shared with his late wife, Maria. His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years that featured such chants as, “Your neighbor is a Nazi!”

The place he was born is now in a different country, and neither Poland nor Ukraine wanted Palij. There was no place to deport him to! And once they did deport him, why Germany?

The German government has acknowledged its moral responsibility to receive Palij, who could not be prosecuted in the US, and whom other countries such as Poland, where he was born, and Ukraine, where the place of his birth is now located, have refused to take in. […]

Palij has never possessed German citizenship. It has emerged that his current legal residency status in Germany is based on a clause of the residency law under which non-Germans can be transferred to Germany if “international law or urgent humanitarian reasons” requires it, or “to protect the political interests of Germany”.

The basic idea is that Germany was responsible for the rise of Nazis, ergo it should be responsible for cleaning up after them. They accepted Palij for humanitarian reasons, to heal old wounds. Though it’s kind of awkward to hold a trial for a frail 95-year-old person.

While authorities in the southern city of Würzburg had been trying to bring a case against Palij since 2016, Rommel said that investigation had been closed because no evidence was ever found linking Palij to any murders.

“His transfer from the USA doesn’t change anything about the state of evidence,” he added. “In theory, prosecutors in Würzburg could resume their proceedings in case something changed, but for that proof would be necessary in particular, which would bring the person into direct connection with the crimes, and that is what has been missing so far.”

Nobody, not even Palij himself denies he was part of the SS …

Palij admitted to officials that he was trained at an SS training camp in Trawniki, which was next to the labor camp, in the spring of 1943, according to court documents. But the documents didn’t say what he did after his training.

“There’s a big gap in the historical record,” Eli Rosenbaum, former director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, tells NPR. And Palij wasn’t talking: “Mr. Palij took the Fifth Amendment and would not cooperate in the search for truth in his case.”

… but beyond showing he was an employee of the Trawniki concentration camp at around the time a massacre occurred, there’s no evidence to close that gap. Palij claims he was coerced into the SS to save his family, which is a common defense of former Nazis, but there are circumstances where that did happen. It was enough to convince a US judge that he should be stripped of his citizenship and deported, but it’s not enough for German prosecutors to bring a case. Arguably, the move to Germany will be a step up for Palij; he used to live on his own in the US, relying on retirement funds he saved. Now:

“Palij will spend the rest of his life here,” an editorial in the left-leaning Taz read. “The Nazi collaborator will now be cared for, receive financial help, a roof, food, clothing, paid for by the state.”

Look, I’m quite firmly on the “Punch Nazis” side of things. But that doesn’t prevent me from also pointing out that very little justice has resulted from this deportation. It’s not something to crow about.

The president used Mr. Palij’s deportation, which came one day after he saluted an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and border agents at the White House, as an opportunity to praise the agency, implicitly challenging those who would denounce it. […]

A few hours later, the Republican National Committee sent out a news release noting that Mr. Palij had lived in the congressional district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among Democrats who has called for the abolition of ICE, is seeking a House seat. […]

At a campaign rally Tuesday night, Mr. Trump invoked Mr. Palij’s deportation during a screed against Democrats, who he said would throw open America’s borders and do away with ICE.

All those headlines about abused children being ripped from their families (almost 500 are still separated, despite a court order to reunite them nearly a month ago) have resulted in widespread calls to dissolve ICE and a movement to reform immigration procedure to make it more humane. Palij’s deportation is a cynical ploy to fight back: since no-one disagrees with deporting Nazis, it follows that his deportation is necessary and therefore both ICE and the current hard-line policy should remain in place.

Jakiw Palij’s deportation is a net plus to the world, but he was a not deported to promote justice; he was instead deported so he could become a political talking point for the Republican party. Like those children, he was not a human being in their eyes but an object to be exploited and abused.

Even when they do good, the Republican party cannot stop themselves from cruelty.

How Democracies Die

My silence is due to a math-heavy post I’m cooking up on frequentism, in case you were wondering. To tide you over, here’s some reading on a topic I’m starting to pay a lot more attention to.

Those who have lived their entire lives in functioning democracies may find it hard to grasp how easily minds can be won over to the totalitarian dark side. We assume such a passage would require slow, laborious persuasion. It does not. The transition from day to night is bewilderingly swift. Despite what many assume, civilized coexistence in a culture of tolerance is not always the norm, or even universally desired. Democracy is a hard-won, easily rolled back state of affairs from which many secretly yearn to be released.

The author of that piece, Uki Goñi, has some relevant experience.

Although I was born in the United States, where my father was posted to the Argentine Embassy, this does not make me a US citizen, since the Fourteenth Amendment excludes the children of foreign diplomats. Yet I grew up as if I were one, pledging allegiance every morning to the flag on the playground of Annunciation School on Massachusetts Avenue. Later, as a young adult in Argentina, I worked for an English-language newspaper in Buenos Aires and reported on the crimes of the bloody military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. As a journalist, I witnessed first the erosion and then the total collapse of democratic norms, and how a ruthless autocracy can mobilize popular fears and resentments to crush its opponents.

According to that author, the key ingredients to flipping a democracy are A) widespread paranoia, B) a slow and steady normalization of brutality, C) ignorance, motivated reasoning, and misinformation, plus D) a feeling that you’ll turn out A-OK.

For many Argentines, then, the military represented not a subjugation to arbitrary rule, but a release from the frustrations, complexity, and compromises of representative government. A large part of society clasped with joy the extended hand of totalitarian certainty. Life was suddenly simplified by conformity to a single, uncontested power. For those who cherish democracy, it is necessary to comprehend the secret delight with which many greeted its passing. A quick fix to the insurgency seemed infinitely preferable to plodding investigations, piecemeal arrests, and case-by-case lawful trials. Whipped up by the irrational fear of a communist takeover, this impatience won the day. And once Argentina had accepted the necessity for a single, absolute solution, the killing could begin.

That the guerrillas had failed to occupy any territory for any appreciable amount of time was a fact blithely ignored. The delusion prevailed over reality. […]

… the Nazis’ presence in Argentina normalized their ideology and weakened society’s democratic defenses against the totalitarian ideas they represented. Seeing Nazi flags paraded down the streets of Charlottesville last year, seeing them again in Washington, D.C., this year, makes me realize how different today’s America is from the country where I was born and grew up. It makes me realize how far advanced such a normalization already is in the US.

It backs up what I’d read from other sources. Take this old article, for instance.

When [Milton] Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives. […]

Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.” […]

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

Both pieces go into a lot more detail, so I recommend the detour to read them. Just make sure you’re in a comfortable place; not because there’s a tonne of racism or violence present, but because the echos to the current US climate are so strong.

Watch American Democracy Die, LIVE

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. – Issac Asimov

The far-Right in America has been obsessed with Peter Strzok. He and Lisa Page had an affair at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, which they hid from their respective partners by swapping texts on their work phones. Alas, they turned out to be quite opinionated, privately trash-talking almost every elected official including then-candidate Trump. The texts were discovered, Strzok was removed from the investigation, now under Mueller’s control, and the far-Right latched on to these texts as “proof” that the FBI’s investigation into Trump was crooked.

Strzok eventually got sick of this, and signalled he was willing to talk in public to quell the conspiracy noise. Republicans responded by subpoenaing him for a private hearing which lasted eleven hours, then selectively quoted from the transcript while refusing to release it to the public. Somehow, the Republicans later agreed to a public hearing with Strzok, which is still being broadcast live as I type this.

I could only tune in for five minutes or so, which was good. Watching any longer would have permanently dislocated my jaw.

The small part I saw began with Congress-people shouting at one another: Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the hearing, was demanding that Strzok answer a question that FBI lawyers told him he could not answer, as it pertained to an ongoing investigation. Democrats were shouting that was out of order, while Goodlatte repeatedly insisted it was in order and threatened to hold Strzok in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer. When Goodlatte had bullied his way through that challenge, as well as charges of hypocrisy over his non-action involving a similar situation with Steve Bannon, Strozok pointed out that both his council and the FBI’s council were sitting directly behind him, so he could easily double-check if anything Goodlatte had said had swayed their minds.

Goodlatte said that Strzok could consult with his lawyer, but not the FBI lawyer. The non-Republicans in the room were floored, and Democrats weren’t afraid to tell Goodlatte how ridiculous that request was. One bitterly asked if Strzok’s lawyer could talk with the FBI lawyers and then relay that response, simultaneous with Strzok doing exactly that. There was no change: Strzok’s answer to Goodlatte’s question would compromise an ongoing investigation.

Trent Gowdy jumped in at that point. A Benghazi-obsessed Republican, he spent all of his allotted time harassing Strzok over who the “we” and “it” were in his now-famous message to Page that “we’ll stop it.” Strzok correctly guessed Gowdy’s next move, and offered to also provide additional context and insight into his state of mind when sending that text to Page. Gowdy would have none of it; amid shouts from Democrats that he’d gone over his time limit, Gowdy said he didn’t care about the context of the message, he only cared about what “we” and “it” referred to.

That was all the live content that I saw, which meant I missed Strzok’s blistering response, but I got the gist of the hearing. A Republican would ask a question; Strzok would read the intention behind the question and start to give a careful answer; the Republican would interrupt after a few words, unsatisfied at being thwarted, and ask the same question again. The Steve Bannon motion came to a vote, which went along party lines. Democrats countered the narrative that Mueller had accomplished nothing by bringing posters of the half-dozen people Mueller had earned guilty pleas from; Goodlatte tried to have them removed, but couldn’t cite a procedural rule that forbid them. Democrats threatened to release a cleaned transcript of Strzok’s previous testimony unless Goodlatte can give a procedural rule against it, something Goodlatte again couldn’t do. I briefly tuned in now to check if the hearing was ongoing (it was), and the last thing I heard was a Democrat complaining the Republicans weren’t yielding time to them.

We are now treated to the spectacle of Republican members of Congress threatening an FBI agent unless he answers questions about a pending, secret criminal and counterintelligence investigation. America, 2018. – Eric Holder

There’s no question about it, the Republicans have given up any pretense of being sound administrators. They’re scrambling to protect their asses and defend Trump, railing about conspiracy theories and ignoring reality, even if it undermines the very democracy they live in. And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, Americans can watch their democracy die in real time, from the comfort of their own home.

Dispatches From Enlightenment Now: Sweatshop Feminism

Steven Pinker loves hiding behind other people’s opinions. Remember the bit on voluntary chemical castration in The Blank Slate? Pinker is careful not to say that he’d like to castrate sex offenders explicitly, but by championing the argument and chastising others for not taking it seriously he’s able to promote the idea yet have someone else to blame.

Enlightenment Now is no different; at one point, Steven Pinker brings forward an argument that 19th century sweatshops were empowering for women.

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