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LBC (a national talk and phone-in radio station in Britain) recently broadcast an exchange between presenter James O’Brien and Kellie, a listener who phoned in, covering the issue of transwomen’s access to female changing rooms in clothing stores like Topshop. The exchange was recently discussed on the genderwipesthefingerprints blog and the Fair Play for Women website, which included a link to the transcript of the exchange. The interviewer, like the interviewee, had to talk on the spot with no chance for considered replies. But the interviewer’s comments articulate a range of arguments made more generally by other left-liberals. These arguments work against women.
The far Left has by and large failed to challenge these arguments. It has been dragged right-wards by the transgender trend.
Here are some of the key points at stake, discussed in relation to extracts from the transcript.
James: …why would you feel uncomfortable getting changed in the room next to me? Or on the other side of a curtain from me?
Kellie: Well, because you’re a man!
James: But what do you think I’m going to do?… I’m respecting your privacy… that’s why the curtains are drawn, so what are you worried about?… If I was as paranoid about this as you are, I’d probably hold it shut.
Behind the issue of transwomen’s access to women-only spaces is – only half-hidden – the sneering question of why females need male-free spaces at all. It is as if this demand could only come from mental illness, man-hating, or daintiness.
The Left has, or has had, a longstanding tradition of defending women-only spaces, for example women’s rooms on campuses. For left-liberals this has probably been a matter of supporting feminism. For Marxists it raises the need to challenge every form of oppression in order to unite the working class. You do not unite working people by papering over the particular burdens imposed on women, blacks or any oppressed group, but by explicitly recognising and fighting those forms of oppression together.
How does this apply in Topshop change rooms? The political argument is so obvious that it’s embarrassing and incredible that it has to be made. Females are conditioned over a lifetime to be unassertive, apologetic. They are stared at and judged on every detail of their appearance. An incident of ogling will call up many previous incidents over a lifetime, making the woman feel ashamed, violated, dirty. They are very much aware that rape and groping happen, and that females’ testimony still tends to be disbelieved in the event of harassment. In the context of this oppression, males’ typically superior strength and speed become significant when females face close, closed-in dealings with men who are strangers.
Obviously transwomen face their own discrimination which needs to be recognised and discussed when working out a policy on use of women-only spaces. But when a transwoman with male musculature, free from the burdens of female socialisation, appears in these spaces, the discussion also needs to include a full and explicit recognition of why women might be worried about it – of the politics of women’s oppression. This is precisely, and amazingly, what most of the Left is now refusing to do.
Stereotypes: now a minority concern
James: …if you feel passionately that you want to do all of the things that are traditionally associated with the other gender, life is really really tough and this mission it seems to me, is… designed to make life easier for those children and I can’t understand why we’ve ended up in a place where people get cross about trying to make life easier for troubled children.
James: there’s thousands of these children now are finding the courage to come forward. I think it’s 0.1% of the general population, so you don’t need to get too worried…
We are talking, then, about a very small minority of “troubled children” who “passionately” want to go beyond chromosomal stereotypes: by implication, 99.9% of us are a snug fit with the stereotypes we were born to. This idea is precisely why the trans trend is so heavily supported by the big business media (see here and here) and capitalist governments. Even the more right wing media outlets support the trans trend, moderating their line only to stay in touch with socially conservative readers, or more rarely in the face of pressure from trans-critical feminists.
Until recently, the Left talked of sex stereotypes as an issue affecting everyone. It is still occasionally posed this way outside the context of the trans trend, eg in campaigns against stereotypic toys for kids. But by and large opposition to stereotypes are now seen as a minority issue for trans and gender fluid people. The role of other people is simply to support them. The Left has been dragged rightwards.
The inner you
James: ….[children] want to decide for themselves, they don’t want you to decide… what they are.
James: …inside, they’re absolutely, absolutely, female… Fox Fisher who’s … an activist in this field… he was born a girl and he had explained to me in painstaking detail how he always knew he was a boy. So I just want you to tell me what you think he’s doing. Is he lying or is he… being brainwashed by someone? Or, because if you told me something about your… innermost soul and self…
This sort of gender essentialism comes from the internalisation of the sex stereotypes that we all absorb from earliest childhood onwards. As stated elsewhere on this blog, the process is so pervasive, and often so subtle, that “gender identity” seems to come from the innermost psyche. Cordelia Fine points this out in Delusions of Gender. While “millions of marketing dollars” are “spent promoting a pink, frilly world to girls”, and this permeates girls’ peer culture, it might still come as a shock to politically correct parents when their daughter demands pink frills; they begin to worry that their efforts to resist stereotypes in her upbringing were just holding back their daughter’s inner self (page 226, London : Icon, 2010. edition). Once you see femininity and masculinity as mystical essences, mysterious things-in-themselves rather than social constructs, it is a small step to believing that they pop up now and then in the wrong body.
This is alienated thinking. Marxists would normally refute such ideas but in the context of the trans trend they go quiet. This is presumably because swapping your gender identification defies biology-is-destiny sex roles, and that is progressive in itself. But the alienated concept of an inner, gender essence is now being used on a mass scale to entrench sex stereotypes in the female population at large; to tell females that love of pink frills comes naturally.
Soothing left-wing sensibilities
James: … in the context of this, these stories that we’re discussing, it means that they are children who, you know, feel, well happier and more comfortable doing the things that tradition tells us girls do. This is really I think about challenging what is a mere tradition like pink and blue… and toys and, and games and experiences that we see as being essentially masculine like playing cowboys and indians or soldiers and essentially feminine like playing dolls and hospitals. The idea is that every child should be free to do both…
Why indeed shouldn’t “every child” be freed from traditional role expectations? This sort of statement functions to reassure left wing readers and listeners about the progressiveness of transgender politics.
But it is said “in the context of… these stories that we’re discussing”. The soothing reference to “every child” is a momentary thing, it is not built on. Only transgender and gender-fluid people are presented as the agents who defy tradition. There is no message of hope, no call to action, for the millions upon millions of working class women who are expected to do housework, childcare and aged care free of charge, and who have internalised a sense of inferiority and an expectation that they should be nurturers and human relations managers in every family.
Most of the far Left strains to create the idea of a flow-on effect: the trans trend will lead over time to a more general challenge to role stereotypes. I have addressed this argument here and here. The biggest problem with this sort of argument is that it entirely ignores the huge, continuous outpouring of propaganda in the mainstream media, and its reinforcement from public and private institutions of neoliberalism, that drive home the most right wing elements of trans thinking. Indeed, the Left does little or nothing to attack these arguments or even mention that they exist.
A recent tweet on the James O’Brien interview, from @GirlScout72, said “women are sick and tired of having our views distorted and our voices shut down by the mainstream media, particularly LEFT WING journalists. Where are the male allies on the Left?” Where indeed.