Storybook revolutionaries

I filled in this survey the other day. It’s a research project looking into the idea of the abolition of legal gender. The questions are awkward – there’s a lot of confusion and conflation of sex and gender – but it was possible to make comments and present a gender-critical feminist view in my responses. I hope other feminists fill it in.

But one of the questions made me pause – it was something like “Do you agree or disagree that it is a good thing that an increasing number of people are identifying as neither male nor female?”

A few months ago, I probably would have said that it is a good thing. The young non-binary folk were the people in the trans identity movement that I had most sympathy with. They are radical, energetic, ready to shake things up and transform the world. I like that kind of thing.

And I really get the idea of rejecting gender for oneself. I did it for years. I understand the urge to be “not a girl”, to insist that your sex is irrelevant because you are simply a human being.

I was never very comfortable with the strand of radical feminism that celebrated menstruation or talked about womb-energy. And I couldn’t really do the sharing of life stories and sympathising about hopeless husbands that was so bonding for many of my female friends. I am sure I would have identified as non-binary if I had been born 30 years later than I was.

But maybe I’m missing something. Because yesterday on Twitter, I saw dozens of radical young things queuing up to correct Sophie Walker, the leader of the Womens Equality Party, when she tweeted this:


Apparently, she had misunderstood the whole concept:

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She was variously offered further tuition and instructed to behave herself

I found this puzzling, because it seemed to me that what Sophie said was very similar to statements made by Edward Lord in this article, and, most directly, this tweet. For those who (like me) are blocked by Edward Lord, here’s a screenshot of the tweet:


Maybe Sophie is just too… womanly to be non-binary. Some of her uninvited advisors seemed to think so:

Although this, too, was controversial:

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What seemed to be a radical idea – reject the gender labels that trap us into social roles according to what kind of body we are born with – turns out to be something that is impossible to even discuss with any shared understanding of the terms involved. I sympathised with this twitter user, who made a valiant attempt to understand, but found herself defeated:


Because here’s the thing. You can’t get rid of complex hierarchical social structures just by denying that they exist. It’s OK, up to a point, as a personal survival method, but it’s useless as a revolutionary strategy.

The world is full of women who know full well that they are full and whole human beings, but who still have to do the washing up because nobody else will do it. Whether you think of yourself as a girl or not, somehow you will find that you end up doing women’s work. And that’s because gender isn’t an indefinable internal essence. It’s a massive, grinding machine, which gets its teeth into all of us, way before we have started to consider dying our hair blue.

If you are born female, the rules, roles and expectations placed on you have been drumming their way into your head from babyhood. You’re going to need all your sisters with you, to overcome that. You can’t just rename yourself and think that will get you out of it. Patriarchy is not a storybook dragon that can be easily outsmarted by a brave princess.

Sooner or later, we have to confront the thorny question of power. Because the world is still run by men like Brett Kavanaugh, and bluntly, they don’t give a shit how other people identify.

I find it interesting to think about issues of legal gender. I am composing a detailed response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation. But the letter of the law is not the point, just as the minutiae of individual gender identities are largely irrelevant.

The point is that women are raging. With good cause. And if your priority is to belittle, insult and police the speech of women who are rising up, then you are not a feminist.

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