Like other western countries Australia is normalizing “gender identity” at an institutional and governmental level. And as usual, the best-resourced critics of this process are in the right wing media. A recent example is the article All-new female formula, just add anyone (paywall) appearing in the conservative newspaper, The Australian, 26 May 2020. It says:
The Australian Academy of Science, whose president John Shine is seizing on COVID-19 to campaign for accurate science against “made-up stuff”, has quietly adopted a definition of a woman as “anyone who identifies as a woman”.
The academy’s formula includes transgender people whose “personal gender identity does not correspond with sex assigned at birth” and who remain biological males.
The Academy, notes the article, has a “10-year ‘Women in STEM’ plan to achieve ‘gender
equity’ by inspiring girls to study these disciplines. A glossary at the end of the taxpayer-funded report redefines what it means to be a girl or woman…. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel backed the academy, saying he supported ‘an inclusive culture within science’”.
In Britain the Conservative Party is sophisticated enough to have embraced gender ideology’s benefits for the capitalist class. In Australia this part of the neoliberal agenda has largely been left to the Australian Labor Party. In 2013, The Australian article notes, national human rights law was changed by the Labor government “to allow people to make complaints of discrimination on the basis of their ‘gender identity’, regardless of whether or not this inner feeling fits their biological sex. Labor’s then attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said at the time he was satisfied the definition of gender identity was ‘meaningful’”. The Australian goes on:
The change in the Sex Discrimination Act [my link, FL] flowed through into federal public service guidelines, and “gender identity” has come to overshadow biological sex across many institutions from universities and schools to sporting organisations and big corporations.
The Australian also discusses the current Labor Government in Victoria. This passes for
left wing in the Australian context, but like its national counterpart it is neoliberal (eg privatizing the Port of Melbourne) and this guides its approach to gender ideology. From 1 May this year, the article notes, Victorians “have been able to change their official birth sex” by “paying $110.50 and filling in an online declaration.” (There is also provision to change the legal sex of a child.) The Equality Minister, Martin Foley, “has argued that doing away with the requirement for sex-reassignment surgery allows transgender people to have ‘their true self reflected’ on birth certificates.”
Drawing on gender critical feminism
The Australian cites the concerns of gender critical feminists, including radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys:
“Whilst women and feminists seek to unwrap the boa constrictor of gender roles from around the necks of women and girls, the notion of ‘gender identity’ supports and maintains them,” said political scientist Sheila Jeffreys, arguing against Labor’s bill.
“Persons who wish to express a gender identity not usually stereotypically associated with their biological sex need to be accommodated in ways that protect them, but do not conflict with the rights of women.”…
“Some women’s groups,” the article adds, “argue that the privacy and safety of women and girls in toilets, change rooms and dormitories are put at risk by the poorly understood injection of a nebulous gender identity into laws and policies.”
Where The Australian is coming from
Needless to say, the paper does not share Jeffreys’ longing for women’s liberation. It cites her to make a cynical appeal to progressive women who are concerned about gender sexism, but this is not the overall thrust of the piece. It brackets radical feminists with Christians, ie with groups committed to chaining women permanently to the family and the mountain of unpaid work that goes with it. It also quotes at length from evolutionary biologist Madeleine Beekman: she objects to the Australian Academy of Science’s redefinition of women on deterministic grounds, saying that biology explains, for example, why men are “more willing to pursue careers involving extreme competition… We’re just another ape — can’t we just stick to the facts?”
It talks of “the rights and protections enjoyed by women on the basis of their biological sex”, but the need for such protection is not linked to women’s oppression within current society; rather, the article lets readers fall back on “common sense”, traditionalist ideas of women’s inherent, eternal frailty.
A division of labour
The Australian is the national flagship of Murdoch’s empire down under. While it is busy calling gender identity “nebulous”, the other Murdoch papers, locally based in Australia’s states, are working hard to support and normalize gender identity. For recent examples see here and here on the news.com.au website, which carries articles that appear in these state-based media outlets. (Even state-based columnist Andrew Bolt, a notorious right wing warrior, supports gender identity theory.)
This contradiction reflects, I think, the different charters of the national and state outlets, as previously discussed. The mass-circulation state papers have a brief to connect with ordinary working people and win them to right wing views. At a time when traditionalist views of women have less traction, they have embraced the new sexism of gender ideology, and “educate” the mass of working people to accept what is still an unpopular notion.
The Australian on the other hand caters mainly to a smaller audience of committed right wingers who do not need their sexism reinforced. It expresses conservative complaints that the trans trend has over-reached, and that most of the elite has conceded too much ground to a socially disruptive trend that has gone too far and is heavily entangled with the left. As I have argued elsewhere, conservative media bosses want the trans trend to be nothing more than a handful of celebrities and kids tucked away in suburbia, enough to justify born-into-the-wrong-body stories that update sexism for modern times, but which supplement rather than challenge traditional prejudices. So, beyond the apparent contradiction between the national and state papers, the same purpose is being served.
The right remains an enemy
Progressive minded people who are uneasy about the sexism of gender ideology have few places to turn. Gender critical pieces in the right wing media may often be the only places that articulate their concerns. Yet these articles are not published to push back sexism, but to reinforce old ideas and win people away from the left. At the same time they are used by pro-gender leftists to paint us as right wing, biological determinists. These articles should never be cited without also being attacked.