Men can do the most outrageous, disgusting things and loads of people – mostly men but also women – will inevitably come to their defense even when the facts are damning. This can only happen in a culture that supports and worships male power, and devalues females. These two biases are self-reinforcing and serve to ensure that whatever men do, they’ll escape punishment and whatever women do, we’ll continue to be exploited, disbelieved and harmed. Sure, men are being called out, but rarely do they actually get the justice they deserve. The actions of celebrity men are highly visible, but how many average men have done terrible things and gotten away with it? Just from my experiences alone, I can list dozens.
Journalist Deidre Olsen recently published a shocking (not so shocking) thread on Twitter about the creepy advances that ‘Prince of Pot’ Canadian activist Marc Emery allegedly made to her when she was just 17. Further along the thread, she provides details and shares the stories of other women.
The entire history of @CannabisCulture is that of an Old Boys Club where middle-aged men worked alongside vulnerable teenage girls and young women and watched as Marc Emery groomed, harassed, assaulted and exploited them.
Emery has admitted to being a pervert but insists no one has ever complained to the authorities about him. That’s a solid defense because we all know most sexual assaults are reported. Right?? Well, Marc, maybe no one spoke up before but they sure as hell are now. He went on to say:
I’ve never had sex with anyone under 19 ever, so this idea that I’m grooming young women is not true
Emery may be a greasy sleazebag, but I’m sure he’s smart enough to know this doesn’t wash. Do all instances of sexual abuse involve actual intercourse? Of course they don’t. It remains to be seen what will come of the recent allegations but things don’t look good. Despite this, many are rushing to his defense. Just check out the incomprehensibly asinine comments of support posted under Emery’s statement on his Facebook page. Apart from the current allegations and those that have apparently been floating around for a long time (Jian Ghomeshi comes to mind), there’s plenty of evidence that makes it clear what kind of man Emery is: an egotistical chauvinist who enjoys debasing women and encourages other men to dominate and abuse them too. Like Roosh V and James Sears, Emery likes to bond with other men by humiliating women. Shall we review the evidence?
Yeah, dude. We could have told you famous men have always preyed on vulnerable women and girls. That’s because we live in patriarchy, not because it’s okay.
…But he’s not a pedophile, you see, because they’re probably of legal age. Nothing wrong about a middle-aged man getting turned on by girls, taking their picture while their backs are turned, and posting it on social media so other pigs can objectify them too. Please proceed to the next exhibit with caution. Emery is one sick fuck…
So do I believe that this violent vacuum of humanity tried to groom a 17 year-old girl on the internet, and has probably done and said a lot of other disgusting things to women and girls over the years? Yeah, I do.
There’s always been a backlash to political correctness. Many behind the backlash say they’re sensitive to the legitimate concerns of disadvantaged groups but things have gone too far. More often than not, when you dig a bit deeper, their solution is usually something like: why can’t we all just relax and treat everybody the same way? Well yeah, that’s the point – but the question is, who isn’t being treated fairly and what’s being done – and by whom – to keep these people from achieving social equality?
There are some people who’ll never believe that by virtue of being members of certain groups based on shared ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc., individuals are vulnerable to mistreatment and often are mistreated on that basis. They might do a bit of research and number-crunching to support their views, but more often than not, they just don’t care. Even if it could be unequivocally shown that certain groups in society are disadvantaged, they wouldn’t change anything about their own behaviour. It rarely seems to be noted that for every offense taken by SJWs, there’s an equally-vocal group who instantly become offended that someone is offended. These types relish in the notoriety of holding controversial opinions whether they have a genuine belief or familiarity with the ideology that underpins them, or not.
It’s clear to any decent, honest person who isn’t a misogynist that Baby it’s Cold Outside is a manual for sexual harassment, its easy acceptance by most people a horrifying signifier of women’s oppression. It doesn’t take much effort to see the problem. The machinations of gender are clear: we see how femininity has conditioned not just the woman in the song but women as a class to be nice, to do everything possible to avoid hurting men’s feelings, to give in to their pressure; and how masculinity has given this man such a sense of entitlement to this woman’s attention and body that he feels totally comfortable taking advantage of his greater size and strength, and the woman’s desperate attempt to balance her internalized duty of politeness with her own instinct for self-preservation. Over and over again, she says no – but he has a smarmy rebuff each time. How, then, can there be a critical mass of people who feel no shame in whining so much that radio stations felt they had no choice but to put the rape apologist song back on the air? All this in the era of #MeToo when there are literally countless examples of male violence exposed for all to see. You can prove in the clearest terms that these problems exist, how they work, and how to eradicate them. But facts don’t matter when you don’t have power.
It’s within this context that I’d like to discuss recent news that Coop les Récoltes, a bar and co-operative at the Université du Quebec à Montréal, banned white comedian Zach Poitras from performing there because he has dreadlocks. Their public statement can be read here (in French). I think there’s a debate to be had about the current climate of safe spaces and censorship at universities in Western countries, but this is a legitimate issue that won’t go away for good reason.
I approach this case with two main questions in mind:
Is it justifiable for private establishments to ban someone who engages in cultural appropriation?
Is this an example of cultural appropriation?
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that white people who wear dreads are engaging in cultural appropriation. What should we do about it as a society? We can’t force the offenders to stop, so some form of social censure is required if we agree that this practice is rude at best and harmful at worst. Is it fair to exclude cultural appropriators from certain events and spaces out of respect for black people who also wish – and deserve – to enjoy those same events and spaces? To me, it turns on one fundamental observation: there’s been ample debate for some time now that white people who wear dreads can’t possibly feign ignorance to the fact that many black people say it’s insulting. Why isn’t that enough to make them stop? Why is their personal aesthetic more important than the right of black people to be treated as equals? There are two rights here, and in my mind one is manifestly more important than the other. People shouldn’t engage in practices that are disrespectful to a disadvantaged group unless they have a very, very good (i.e. rights-based) reason for doing so. Individual style doesn’t make the cut. So consequences should be expected, and reasonable, which I would define as decisions that don’t violate fundamental human rights. I don’t think this is one such example, so Coop les Récoltes had a right to make the decision they did. That being said, I get why it’s controversial.
As to whether this case is indeed an example of cultural appropriation, I think an honest, robust analysis leads to a fairly easy conclusion that it is. I saw many comments on the Facebook post that are lazy and shallow. One person linked to a Wikipedia page which says:
During the Bronze Age and Iron Age, many peoples in the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, East Mediterranean and North Africa such as the Sumerians, Elamites, Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Amorites, Mitanni, Hattians, Hurrians, Arameans, Eblaites, Israelites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Medes, Parthians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Georgians, Azeris, Cilicians and Canaanites/Phoenicians/Carthaginians are depicted in art with braided or plaited hair and beards.
This point is irrelevant. Braids and plaits aren’t the same as dreads and no skater dude, stoner, new ager or anarchist is trying to emulate an Indian sadhu or Aztec priest. Dreadlocks as a concept and style are known in the West primarily and specifically as a result of the growth of the Jamaican diaspora. Ask any random person what springs to mind when they think ‘dreadlocks’ and they picture a black person by default.
There are two main reasons why dreads are typically worn by members of the subcultures I’ve listed here: (1) they presumably give one an earthy, ‘ethnic’, ‘hippie’, ‘alternative’ kind of look; and (2) they’re a symbol of resistance popularized by Rastafari, most famously by Bob Marley. Another person who comes to mind is Zack de la Rocha, formerly of Rage Against the Machine. White people, and other non-black people, adopt the look because this connection conveys for them an ineffectual, cool, edgy image.
Dreads and cornrows are firmly located within black communities and are meaningful from a black liberation perspective because black people – and by extension, black hair – have been so heavily stigmatized. Just like the afro and the comb, dreads are an unmistakable symbol of black pride more broadly even if dreads are ultimately attributed to Jamaican culture specifically. How is a white person treated and regarded when wearing dreads, compared to a black person?
White people mimicking black people is nothing new, but the argument can’t rest on comparisons alone. Either a practice is right or wrong on its face. Otherwise, we’ll continue to go in circles forever, failing to recognize that these are not isolated, trite issues. You’d have to know all of this and not care about the message you’re sending as a white person wearing dreads, especially if you want to socialize with people of all backgrounds. I’m sure Poitras has met black people who’ve told him he’s alright and his hair doesn’t offend them. Several responses to the Coop les Récoltes’ announcement say as much. Then again, I’ve also met women who hate lesbians and think all women should have children, so…
I don’t think so. I’m a socialist and I still don’t think so. In fact, it’s because I’m a socialist that I think it’s a bad idea.
We all know that housing costs in Canada – Toronto and Vancouver in particular – are crazy. And when I say Toronto, I’m essentially referring to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) because as prices have risen exponentially in Toronto proper, many people have migrated further and further outside of the city, trying to snatch up homes that aren’t cheap but still somewhat affordable. This drives local prices up to such an extent that people who’ve lived in peripheral cities as far out as Guelph are saying that if they sell their houses, they won’t be able to buy a another one in the same community. Everyone is getting priced out everywhere. In Hamilton, for example, residential real estate is still significantly cheaper than in Toronto, but home prices have shot up 70% according to a recent report by the Canadian Real Estate Association.
Minimum wage won’t get you very far in these circumstances, and the fact that the Progressive Conservative government headed by Doug Ford cancelled an increase from $14 to $15 which was planned by the Liberals doesn’t help. But we knew they were going to do that before Ford was elected Premier. What we didn’t know – because they said they wouldn’t do it – was that they would cancel the Ontario Basic Income Pilot. I think it’s unethical and irresponsible to renege on a campaign promise, especially when people will reasonably make important life choices based on that promise. There was no warning, and as far as I’ve been able to determine, no alternative support system implemented to help people who are going to have serious problems as a result. What happens to a person who signed a new lease and now won’t be able to afford the rent? Whatever one’s assessment of the effectiveness of the pilot in alleviating poverty, the about-face was dirty.
I read a news story about a Hamilton couple who found out they were accepted for the basic income pilot in May 2018. At this point, Justine Taylor had already found out she was pregnant and the couple say they were having trouble finding work. They say they wanted to go back to school and start a business. I don’t know if this is the sort of thing people say to reporters to make it look like they’re trying to be gainful contributors to society, but owning a business isn’t a right. Most of us – me included – don’t work for ourselves, nor do we have the resources to do so.
Again, it was wrong for the government to cancel the pilot in July 2018 without warning, knowing that families would have put plans in place to move, have a child, etc. But I actually don’t think the Liberals should have started the pilot to begin with.
Let’s take a closer look at this couple from Hamilton. They failed to use birth control, both preventative and retroactive. This is Canada, where all the reproductive health care one could want is available. Birth control really isn’t that expensive between two people. Condoms exist – and the morning after pill is available over the counter in drug stores if something goes wrong. This couple already had a nine-year old child and were struggling financially. Their decision to have another child was a poor one, made well before the pilot was an option. Why should people like myself subsidize these choices? As it is, I’m not exactly thrilled that I have to contribute funds for education and medical services for children I’ll never have. As a child-free woman renting alone in the north end of Toronto, I have a hard enough time paying the rent, utilities, bills, and saving for a home and retirement all by myself.
Quality full-time work is hard to come by, but there’s always someone hiring. When I graduated from university, I couldn’t find work in my field and worked as a cashier to make rent. I didn’t want to do that. I was ridiculously overqualified, bored and disappointed. But the truth is that there are jobs out there, just maybe not the ones we want. Two people can find full-time jobs in Hamilton and find a decent apartment for a lot less than I’m paying on my own.
There’s so much emotional rhetoric around the issue. Taylor comments that the pilot is “making people realize that we are people, too.” Who’s saying they’re not people?
I started to question the value of this project while reading news articles that described the changes people were able to make in their lives as a result of the pilot. Some were on disability, barely scraping by, so the extra cash made a huge difference to them. But shouldn’t the government instead focus on fixing disability support programs so that people who truly can’t work are getting enough money to live dignified lives? This seems to me to be a classically liberal attempt to put a band-aid over systemic economic problems. I don’t support the PCs; I’m critical of their decision to scrape back welfare payments and freeze the minimum wage. I also think that the welfare system as it exists doesn’t provide enough incentive for people to find work, and there are all kinds of people collecting social assistance who shouldn’t qualify. Rather than patching up a broken system, we need to rebuild it so that it works for everyone.
Who pays the price for an inadequate social assistance regime and minimum wage? Workers. The basic income pilot was a gift to employers, especially large corporations. They don’t have to pay their workers a decent wage and invest in good benefits – taxpayers will do it for them. This shifts the onus of compensating for an exploitative financial system from the capitalist class – those who control and benefit from it – to those who are less so, but nevertheless, also exploited by this system. This isn’t progressive policy.
I actually agree with Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod that we shouldn’t be paying people for doing nothing, that it sends the wrong message that you can get free money and not be expected to work for it. There are many people who will put that money to good use. There are also a lot of lazy, careless people who will piss it away. Why should anyone bankroll that? One individual said she was using her installments from the pilot to pay off her credit card. Maybe she accrued that debt because she didn’t have any other way to pay legitimate bills. Or maybe not. I read another report (can’t find it now) in which someone said she used the extra income to lend money to a friend. Does this sound like a fair, responsible program?
The basic income pilot was a program that helped some deserving people, made some people feel virtuous, and encouraged waste and the perpetuation of a broken system. Making promises and then pulling the rug out from under people made things worse, but it didn’t get us to where we are now.
I logged into my Meetup account today because apparently someone sent me a message. I didn’t recognize the name. It was from a man named Ben who is also a member of a nature group. I’ve never attended an event.
Ben thought it was imperative to tell me he thinks I’m looking good. He’s grey-haired, looks like he’s maybe in his 50s and is seated beside a woman who’s wearing a wedding ring and seems close to him. Maybe she’s his sister?
FYI – I look like I’m about 25.
I joined the group because I want to see trees. Not dicks. If I wanted to be looking at dicks instead of getting some wonderful fresh air, I’d be looking at dicks. It’s not all about dicks.
Women are people. Not objects of conquest, robots, blank slates, holes, brainless zombies standing around waiting to be interrupted by a perpetual teenager. When I’m waiting for the bus on a given day, I’m thinking about the errand I have to run after work, what to make for dinner, or that weird dream I had last night. All of those things are exponentially more important than what Mr. Macho Mouthbreather has on his mind. Nothing says “you’re my property” like assuming your intimate thoughts are important enough to spew to a woman you don’t know.
Of course, it’s about power – not attraction. Sometimes men feel the need to tell a woman that they don’t want to rape them. Like that’s supposed to make them sad.
Almost every day, another allegation surfaces of a powerful man who made a woman feel like garbage because he could. Far too often, a woman is assaulted by a strange man or (more likely) assaulted or killed by a male partner. We’ve gone too far now in mainstream culture to pretend that this is acceptable.
There are some issues that divide feminists. This isn’t one of them. There are two sides in this debate and they’re clear: either you’re committed to challenging male entitlement or you don’t value the lives of women. Call it what you want. Even if you’re watering it down as “sexual harassment” instead of male violence, it’s front and centre in the media now and there are just too many fed up women to let this go.
At around the same time I joined the nature group, I also joined a women’s hiking group. Everyone has been friendly and respectful. Some women met each other on hikes and are now dating. I’ve been an active member for months and have never gotten a creepy message.
To me, women’s spaces aren’t about avoiding men. They’re about connecting with people I feel safe around and realizing how much power women have when we get together.
Adopt political positions that condone misogyny. Never come between a man and his sense of entitlement to sex on demand, especially his “right” to exploit vulnerable women to achieve gratification through the use of violent, degrading, pedophilic imagery. Be sure to remind men that you’re here for them and understand that they can’t help themselves. They’re wired to be visual, sexual predators who inevitably reduce women to objects. It’s in their nature. Do you really want them to go around raping virtuous women instead? Since the only form of female sexuality that’s visible or acceptable is one that validates masculinity and femininity, use this to your advantage. You can preach female sexual empowerment without infringing on boner rights. Win-win!
Tip #2: Look the other way
When a male member of the community says or does something sexist, be careful not to make any bold statements. Remember that these men were gracious enough to tolerate your polite feminism and can cut you off without a second thought. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You can talk about all the shitty things men do, just don’t link that behaviour to actual men you know.
Tip #3: Scapegoat
When the actions of your misogynist male comrades come to light, it’s damage control time! Deflect attention away from the fact that you stood by and gave their behaviour a pass. Remember those women you all bashed together when they dared to call out the misogyny? This isn’t the time to wonder whether they might have actually been onto something. Why change your priorities now? Don’t admit they were right, whatever you do – these women are gross. When they point out that your comrade’s misogyny has finally caught up with him – no thanks to you – don’t worry, you can easily manipulate the situation to your advantage. Just say they’re gloating and lob whatever accusations come to mind at them. Nobody likes those bitches anyway. Slowly and carefully distance yourself from the perpetrator.
Tip #4: Build solidarity with other enablers
The last thing you want is for your complicity to be exposed – that could damage your reputation. Try to limit the scope of discourse by calling for healing and empathy (you’re a woman so you’re super good at that). Be as vague as possible about who deserves that empathy. You might want to save a bit of it for the perp. You’re friends, remember? The community will be reeling from these revelations. Many people will be disappointed and disillusioned. Exploit this. Express compassion for them, talk about solidarity, throw in a lot of progressive buzzwords to show how cool you are, but don’t hold them accountable for staying mum while the misogynist did his thing. You all feel really bad right now. Really, really bad. Tell each other that you and you alone care about the survivor(s). Or, at least you care now. This is a perfect opportunity to double down on the nepotism in your movement and reinforce that the people who saw this coming won’t be allowed in. Like-minded people will flock to you and you’ll all be just fine.
More men are agreeing that there’s a need for consent education and have shared success stories about how it’s improved their own understanding of male-female interactions and relationships. Which is good. It’s a start. But it’s not the solution, as mainstream discussion would have us believe, to male sexual violence against women and girls.
Forgive me if I’m more horrified than encouraged by the fact that men are just starting to have awareness of the issue now, and only because the problem has been dragged kicking and screaming into the daylight. How wonderful it must be to never have to think about a problem unless it affects you directly or someone forces you to pay attention. I have to wonder: these men who finally get it now and are so appreciative of women for enlightening them after repeating themselves over and over and over again – were they going around raping women before? Are we to understand that they were so ill-equipped to understand when they shouldn’t lay hands on someone that they needed guidance? Or is it that they were too callous to accept that responsibility for themselves and were waiting for women (those mystical nurturing creatures) to save them from a life of depravity? Or perhaps women have simply been so beaten down that their pain and indignation is too great to ignore.
Are we seriously supposed to give men the benefit of the doubt? Like, they didn’t have the capacity until right now to distinguish between right and wrong? Poor pets, they were victims, you see, unable to recognize when they were gratifying themselves at the expense of women and girls and exploiting their position. Patriarchal culture simultaneously makes gods of men while infantilizing them for the purpose of rationalizing their violence. We need to give them far more credit. Abusive men don’t lack agency; they’ve always been in a position to know what they’re doing and the fact that they need to be told that they don’t have a right to harm us is indicative of a much deeper problem.
When people supposedly start ‘caring’ because you’ve asked them to, that means they didn’t care before and they still don’t care now. People who truly value the dignity of others don’t have to be convinced to show it. All we’re doing is giving men a new script around which to model their language and behaviour in public. The appropriate time to begin cultivating self-awareness and empathy is in childhood, when human beings are forming their most basic ideas about themselves and their relationship to the world around them. Instead, we’re rearing boys into masculinity and teaching them that females are inferior.
Men haven’t been violating the boundaries and bodily integrity of women and girls because society wasn’t telling them that they needed to get permission first. They do so because they implicitly believe they’re entitled to take what they want and do as they wish, particularly where females are concerned because they view us as objects rather than human beings of equal value.
Even when a woman says she doesn’t want to have sex, rapists insist she does. They privilege their own thoughts and desires above hers. What is she, after all, but an inert vessel with no purpose or will of its own? This is what it means to be objectified. The porn men and boys consume is littered with degrading, dehumanizing language and acts, many of which identify that a specific place in the social hierarchy is reserved for racialized women. The problem isn’t a lack of consent; it’s a desire to possess and defile that which is beneath you. Sexual assault is about domination and power. Men who do these things are sadists: violation is the point. They don’t want us to consent. They want to break us.
When we talk about consent, what we’re really talking about is male violence against women and girls. Females as a group don’t need to be reminded not to violate the boundaries of their male peers who are generally physically stronger than them and dominate the social order. Most importantly, telling women and girls that they’ll be protected from sexual assault if men are simply better educated places them in danger because it ignores the fact that a core group of men hate women so much, they’ll hurt us anyway. Meanwhile, a critical mass of men who don’t themselves physically attack women aid them by downplaying and decontextualizing misogyny, letting rape jokes pass, or allowing sexist comments and behaviour to continue unchallenged.
Overt or violent misogynists lower the bar, making men who are chauvinists in their own right, but better at hiding it, look like decent men. They exploit this situation by demanding accolades from women, enjoying the space they can take up as women and girls curtail their behaviour to avoid the threat of male violence, and gaslighting women who dare to call them out. For every man who’s willing to take responsibility, there are more who either vocally protest any suggestion that they’re part of a social class that terrorizes women, or they disguise their resentment and disdain for women behind a mask of anti-feminism and libertarian free speech rhetoric.
If we want to address the root of the problem, we also have to recognize that consent can hardly be described as entirely self-determined and intact in a culture that grooms girls into submissive heterosexual relationships. It’s inaccurate, naive, and ultimately oppressive to say that girls are free to make their own choices when those choices are constrained by an intense pressure to behave within the strictures of femininity so that they’re deemed attractive to boys and acceptable to society at large. Girls need to know unequivocally that they have a right not only to consent, but to refuse.
And finally, when we talk about male violence and misogyny, that conversation should be devoted to supporting and healing women and girls, and ultimately abolishing gender. Not celebrating men, thanking them for not raping us, or spending a fraction of a second worrying about how the topic makes them feel. Are there good men? Honestly, it’s just not a feminist obligation to prove that men aren’t sexist. Given how pervasive sexism is spanning from mild/subtle misogyny to the extreme of violence, it’s implausible that all men don’t contribute to it in some form. I truly marvel at the arrogance of men who fancy themselves special enough to have avoided soaking up masculinity and misogyny. It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine what a man who’s internalized the idea that he’s superior might think of women.
You can’t expect or convince people to care when they have every reason not to. Women are going to have to fight for our humanity, like we always have.
Recent articles (here and here) in the National Post have exposed a dispute surrounding gender identity taking place at U of T, one of many universities trying to navigate this polarizing issue. It’s critical that the public be informed that there’s more at stake than just transgender rights and freedom of expression.
Gender identity is indeed, as Jordan Peterson says, philosophically incoherent and scientifically unfounded. It’s also true that forcing others to participate in affirming one’s self-perception is a violation of individual autonomy. The more pressing concern, however, is not political correctness but rather that gender identity has created a dangerous landscape of competing rights that adversely impacts females. As such, dissension shouldn’t be monopolized by people who aren’t invested or interested in women’s rights.
According to NatPo writer Chris Selley, resistance to recognizing people’s chosen identity (the list is huge and continually expanding) comes down to a straightforward matter of being a jerk. But consider this: when gender identity replaces biological sex in law, distinct sex categories and therefore sex-based protections for females disappear because any male-bodied individual is considered a woman, or even female, strictly and solely on his verbal declaration. Many Canadians are supportive of transgender protections against discrimination in areas such as employment and housing (as am I) but aren’t aware of this implication. Toby’s Law, passed in Ontario, granted serial sex offender Christopher “Jessica” Hambrook entry into two women’s shelters on the basis of his transgender identity as a woman, where he assaulted at least four women. Despite the exploitation of these laws being well-documented, women and girls are left to question what rights they have (examples include the case of Student X in Minnesota and Colleen Francis in Washington), and we’re supposed to think this is a bad thing because some people don’t want to use preferred pronouns.
Imagine being a female forced to share public showers, change rooms, prisons, shelters, and other protected spaces with males because they claim to have an indescribable internal female feeling, that they can’t be questioned when they say they’re women because they identify with the stereotypes forced on females, or they don’t think they’re men because they don’t identify with masculine stereotypes. Imagine being told that you’re only a woman because you choose to identify as one, hence choosing to be a target of discrimination and violence, even though men who harm women and girls are unaware of and uninterested in how they see themselves and wish to be addressed. If you’re a sexual assault survivor, you’re expected to get over your trauma.
Postmodern queer theory and gender politics have arbitrarily decreed that a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman – end of discussion – and even thinking about asking a question is transphobic and bigoted. Now imagine that this circular logic forms the basis of gender identity laws in many countries, starting from the UN and trickling down, and you’ll be describing a reality few know exists. Women and girls are ordered to be silent, nurturing, and to surrender their boundaries. This is not acceptable. Not ever, not for any reason, even when it’s presented as a remedy for the problems faced by another group of people coping with their own unique challenges.
There are a number of common strawman arguments in circulation. I’ll address three to illustrate the lack of understanding around the issue:
Opponents of gender identity laws are saying that transgender people are inherently predatory.
Opponents think that women and girls will be safe if we don’t let transgender people use the facilities of their choice.
Predators have always been able to get into female spaces, so what’s the difference?
The problem is that a law whose criterion for entry is self-declaration as opposed to biological sex effectively removes all barriers faced by predators who realize that all they have to do is say they identify as female/girl/woman. This loophole is publicized every time an incident is reported in the news. You’d have to be something of a recluse not to have heard about the controversy surrounding transgender bathroom laws.
Sex-segregated spaces were never understood as impenetrable bubbles that deliver absolute protection. They’ve always been intended to provide, as much as is practically possible, privacy and safety for females. It’s irrelevant whether particular individuals who don’t appear to be transgender can pose as transgender to make a political point; sincerity can’t be assessed if it’s unlawful to question one’s stated gender identity. In such a situation, literally any man can obtain unfettered access, whereas before he could be questioned and ejected if necessary. The fact that most perpetrators of male violence are known to their victims and there’s no way to guarantee safety in some circumstances are not valid reasons to expose women and girls to further risk. This should be obvious to anyone who values and respects females. Trying to convince them of what they should be comfortable with is a manifestation of rape culture. If you’re trying to negotiate someone’s boundaries, regardless of why they exist, you’ve already violated them.
There was no question about the need for sex segregation before gender identity was popularized. Until recently, no one was equating it with white supremacist laws in the American south. So why now? Sex segregation isn’t an expression of social hierarchy; it reflects a need and a right for females to participate fully in public life. Shaming people for not wanting to expose themselves or be exposed to the opposite sex against their will is an affront to human dignity, irrespective of whether some people think it’s bizarre or wrong, or feel comfortable doing so themselves.
There are many other ways in which gender identity negatively impacts women and girls. For the feminists critiquing this ideology, resistance isn’t a matter of poor judgement, character flaws or a desire to say offensive things without being accountable. These issues warrant rigorous analysis and discussion in the media and by the Canadian government as they consider the ramifications of Bill C-16.