Tweet Follow @Jeggit
By Jason Michael
IN A PREVIOUS ARTICLE discussing the trial of Marion Miller in Scotland, a gender critical feminists charged with threatening and abusive homophobic and transphobic behaviour, we mentioned the similarity in the language used by the anti-gender movement and other movements. It would be useful now to explore this a little further in an effort to ascertain whether or not a relationship exists between these movements and so ask — if such a relationship exists — what this might mean with regard to how we think of and engage with gender critical feminism.
Given that there are few academic publications by gender critical theorists, it is not exactly easy to furnish the reader with a comprehensive definition of what gender critical feminism is. Gender critical activists will no doubt scoff at this and say it is exactly what it says on the tin — feminism which is gender critical. But this is something of an empty signifier. As a theory or set of theories broadly situated within the philosophical realm of radical feminism it produces very little that can be described as a critique of gender. Aleardo Zanghellini, a professor of Law and Social Theory at the University of Reading, addresses this lacuna in Philosophical Problems With the Gender-Critical Feminist Argument Against Trans Inclusion (Sage Open, 2020), where he comments:
Gender-critical interventions … have tended to take the form less of scholarship published in academic outlets than shorter online pieces in websites such as The Conversation, the Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog, and Medium.com, as well as contributions on Twitter. While academics often treat nonacademic online platforms as dissemination fora complementary to their academic output, the use of these platforms by gender-critical academics in the recent debate on gender recognition has tended to replace scholarly production.
This problem is compounded by the reality of the online gender critical ecosystem; there is a chorus of writers and theorists (qualified to widely varying degrees) producing articles and blog pieces on a plethora of topics and themes related to what is collectively accepted to be gender critical feminism. What we have then is an eclectic, often non-communicating, corpus of ideas and positions. Some common themes are present throughout, but there are as many contradictory and mutually exclusive ideas. Some deny the reality of gender altogether; seeing transgenderism as sexual deviance, fetishism, or as an attempt by some men to colonise women’s bodies. Others view transgenderism in a more nuanced way, attempting to differentiate between ‘genuine’ transgenderism and the malicious and dangerous transgenderism of men seeking access to women’s spaces.
We can discern in this a parallel with the logic of anti-immigrant racism; there are those who wish to keep the nation pure by the exclusion of all foreigners and there are others who try to justify their position by allowing for exceptions — the good or acceptable foreigner. At best, then, we can say that the anti-gender movement is precisely that, a movement with a wide array of opinions and a wider sympathetic or allied audience which acts to propagate the ideas coming principally from popular bloggers, writers, and activists. In the main, this is a deeply conservative movement which has been rejected by mainstream and radical feminism because of its strict insistence that the category of woman and/or female must be centred on bodily biological sex. ‘In response,’ writes Zanghellini, ‘feminist critics of gender-critical feminism insist that we have no unmediated access to biological realities: they too become cognitively significant to us through discourse, including the discourse of biology, which is itself (like any other discursive domain) structured by political values.’ Reducing ‘women’ or ‘females’ to their biological sex, as gender critical feminists do, accroding to mainstream feminism, is a political choice.
Social media — effectively the sole vehicle for the spread of gender critical ideas — has both amplified the most alarmist and extreme expressions of gender critical feminism and driven it deeper into bubbles or echo chambers which serve to create the impression among participants that this is mainstream feminism. Gender critical feminism is not mainstream feminism.
As is the case with all groups and communities, social movements develop their own unique language; a particular vocabulary, terminology, and style of speaking. Howard and Jane Giles, in their chapter ‘Ingroups and Outgroups’ (in Inter/Cultural Communication, 2013), explain it:
An important characteristic of the in-outgroup dichotomy is that groups mark their identities communicatively by the distinctive language and speech styles they create and use, the dress codes they adopt, and the festivals and pageants that highlight their unique traditions and rituals, and so forth.
The anti-gender movement has by innovation and borrowing manufactured its own in-speak, a language and vocabulary that at once fosters among its members a sense of belonging and provides them with a particular phraseology by which to communicate and articulate the ideas of the movement. This, of course, is useful to the observer in that it permits us to identify strands of thought which are native to the group, inherited from the wider group or groups from which it emerged, and those that it borrows from or shares with other groups which are influencing it.
‘Professor Stock is still in academia,’ writes SkyLark Phillips in the comments below an interview in Feminist Current with Kathleen Stock, a gender critical feminist and philosopher,
…and it has been taken over by gender identity ideology and woke politics. I can see why she would capitulate to trans when it comes to pronouns, calling women “cis”, and why she should would try to straddle the fence so to speak.
In a single comment we see an entire worldview laid bare in the language; ‘identity ideology,’ ‘woke politics,’ and ‘“cis”’ (not cis but “cis”). This is a vocabulary we would not expect to hear out on the street. We are clearly looking at the jargon or lingo of a group. People can be identified and situated by the jargon they use. We shall leave the etymology of these words and terms to another article, but what we will do here is attempt to construct a genealogy for them in order to discover points of contact and influence with other social movements and groups — and we can do that with these.
What is important to note, prior to building a genealogy, is that these terms — ‘identity ideology,’ ‘woke,’ and ‘“cis”’ — are holophrastic; they each express a complex set of ideas within a single word or phrase. ‘Woke,’ for example, as gender critical feminists use it, identifies an entire attitude or disposition towards the world. The ‘woke’ are [typically] young, naive, idealists who position themselves on an ill-defined platform of progressivism and who seek to transform the world without understanding the complexities of tradition and the values of the status quo. We find the same happening with ‘identity ideology’ and ‘“cis”.’
These terms, then, themselves betray an attitude and disposition towards the world in those who use them, and they tend to come as a package of ideas and assumptions — birds of a feather fly together. But what is striking is that not one of these terms (or the manner in which they are used) originated within the anti-gender movement. They have been adopted in a process of collaboration and cross-pollination with the alt- and the far-right.
Many gender critical activists online bemoan the ‘imposed’ use of the prefix ‘cis’ — or ‘“cis”’ — to ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ seeing it as a neologism or a ‘made-up word’ foisted on people who are using language and ‘new words’ to disrupt society. But this is simply not the case. ‘Cis’ and ‘trans’ are Latin prefixes denoting ‘on the same side’ and ‘over on the other side’ respectively, and these have long been used in English and other languages influenced by Latin. ‘Cislunar’ — look it up — just means between here and the moon. ‘Transatlantic’ is something on the other side of the Atlantic. Likewise, cisgenger — when discussing gender (note: this too is jargon) — is the performance of gender related to asigned physical sex and transgender is the performance of gender related to the opposite physical sex to that asigned at birth. It’s not rocket science. Cislunar might be.
Yet, ‘“cis”’ is used by many gender critical feminists in exactly the same way that homophobes used ‘“hetero”’ in the 1980s and 90s: I am not ‘hetero’ anything. I am a [real] man/woman! No one ever suggested that a heterosexual men or woman was anything but a man or a woman, but gay men and lesbians were men and women too — real men and women (they still are). The prefixes ‘hetero’ and ‘homo’ were used when discussing sexuality in exactly the same way ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ are used to discuss gender. A cis-man or cis-woman is still a man or woman. Nothing has changed. The way in which ‘“cis”’ is being used has a direct pedigree from the homophobic language of the past.
‘Woke’ is more disturbing. Not as disturbing as the use of ‘identity ideology’ and its cognates, but still disturbing. It originated within African American culture and came to describe an awareness of the realities of Jim Crow laws and the racist structures of oppression experienced by people of colour in the United States. It has had a long history in Black resistance culture and movements, and has lately found a home in the Black Lives Matter movement. As part of the language of resistance, it means being awake to the dangers of white supremacism in society. In a calculated and cynical effort to disempower this language, white right-wing culture co-opted the term and applied it to what it presented as the ‘regressive left’ and predominantly white middle-class protest movements. The plan was to render it toothless by overuse and ridicule. From the outset, this linguistic and cultural appropriation by the right was a key strategy in the culture war designed to undermine and weaken the language and therefore the cohesion of Black and leftist progressive movements.
Seeing ‘woke’ adopted by gender critical feminists is frustrating, but it is not necessarily rightist. It is most definitely reactionary. Yet, it does expose a point of contact with the alt- and far-right which has been spewing its bile at the ‘woke’ and its cognates ‘social justice warriors’ and ‘snowflakes’ for more than a decade. When it comes to the gender arena of the culture war, gender critical feminists and the far-right (along with conservative Christians) have found common cause and there is no shortage of examples of key personalities on the far-right and in the anti-gender movement collaborating and sharing safe spaces.
‘Identity ideology’ — also ‘gender ideology’ and sometimes ‘trans ideology’ — is truly fascinating. It uses ‘ideology’ as a pejorative, as a bad thing. This is the first sign of its coding, and it follows a long tradition in the west of conservative anti-Communist propaganda. In the US conservative imagination Communism is an ‘ideology,’ and ideology is wicked and evil. It ignores the fact that capitalism and neoliberalism are also ideologies — everything is ideological. The far-right in the US has maintained the Hitlerist take on Communist ideology; seeing in it a hidden ‘cabal (from the Hebrew Kabbalah)’ — a secretive political clique or faction, a conspiracy — of Bolsheviks and Jews. This coding is extremely antisemitic, and it is passed on in this coded thinking.
The relationship between this use of ideology and ‘identity ideology’ may not be immediately apparent, but it has made some rather interesting appearances. Addressing this imagined/feared ‘cabal’ of global elites — internationalists and ‘Big Pharma,’ Scott Howard in his 2020 exposé, The Transgender Industrial Complex, let slip:
The history of transgenderism as we know it is believed to have originated in Jewish circles in early 20th century Germany, but Howard’s research shows that references to breaking down gender in Jewish circles go back to the 14th century, hundreds of years before Martha Baer, a B’nai B’rith member in Germany, became the world’s first ‘sex-change’ operation recipient. There is an interesting anecdote where a Jew involved in gender ideology converted to Catholicism and exposed the movement as an attempt to provoke moral chaos in European host societies.
What we have here is a conspiracist mode of thinking, one which picks up and runs with the Nazi antisemitic conspiracy of an international Jewish plot to undermine and disrupt western society. The Jew — as the imagined enemy of civilisation — is behind ‘ideology.’ The repetition of ‘identity ideology’ qua ‘trans ideology’ within gender critical feminism is a repetition of this far-right conspiracy theory in which a Jewish-Communist cabal is scheming the downfall of the west. Two things worth adding here are the centrality of money to the idea — that this is all about making money — and the fact that one of the first targets of the Nazis in Germany was the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin (6 May 1933), an institute which campaigned on progressive and rational grounds for LGBT rights and tolerance. Its founder, Magnus Hirschfeld, coined the term ‘transsexualism.’ Money? Well, ‘money’ is a common code in far-right and neo-Nazi circles for ‘the Jew.’
Does this mean gender critical feminists are far-right neo-Nazis? Does this mean that the anti-gender movement is a far-right movement? No and no. But in parts yes and yes. Graham Linehan — ‘the king of feminism’ — exposed his own comfort with the far-right. In a discussion on his Substack site about online discussion he remarked:
I think Kiwi Farms does amazing work but it’s not useful as a resource because some of the comments are so grotesque that it just looks like Stormfront or something. They should do a spin off site, properly moderated for hate speech, and show people what they have. It would be like the Wikileaks of the trans scandal.
Sure, he’s not comfortable with the neo-Nazi tone of the comments on the site, but he is aware of the politics of the users it attracts. And still, aware that gender critical activists are using it and that it is interested in the ‘trans scandal,’ his problem is not with it being like ‘Stormfront.’ His problem is that it is obviously like Stormfront. We see this time and again within the gender critical feminist movement, a willing cooperation and callaboration between radical feminists and very open neo-Nazis and far-right activists. It stands to reason, then, that they are influencing each other’s ingroup language. This is something academics across Europe have been picking up on and a recent report by the European Parliamentary Forum, Tip of the Iceberg (2021), has joined many of the dots, showing relationships and funding links between the far-right (globally) and the anti-gender movement (globally). Gender critical feminists may not all be far-right racists, but they are part of a movement that is within the ecosystem of a highly organised and connected — and well-funded — far-right. They are flying with the crows and they are talking much of the same talk.
Gender Critical Antisemitism