Columns

How progressive misogyny works

29 August 2020

9:00 AM

29 August 2020

9:00 AM

It happens a lot lately. Not just in a Twitter DM or an email but in real life. Someone tells me they can’t really say what they think in their workplace any more. What awful things do they think? Mostly that the rights of vulnerable women should be protected and that children should be allowed to express their gender however they like without being whisked to a clinic.

In the café the other day, a woman I vaguely knew from the playground asked me if I had received a letter she had sent to the Guardian. I hadn’t. She needed me to know that she and her friends who work in the public sector are fed up with being ‘silenced’. Note, in all these conversations, transgender folk are barely mentioned, nor is any hostility to them expressed; these chats always centre on women and children but with an implicit fear about prioritising them.

But this is how progressive misogyny works: you campaign vigorously for the rights of a tiny minority of people, ignoring the voices of the many women who say ‘hang on a minute’. You pat each other on the back for saying things like ‘trans rights are human rights’. I agree. So are women’s rights. The holier-than-thous discuss my gracelessness. It’s true I am not very ladylike but when rights collide we negotiate, surely?

Some of us panic because we take nothing for granted. We were not born to power, we clawed our way in and we see what is to be lost. Those incredible images of women in short skirts in Afghanistan in the 1970s? I have one on my wall. Progress is not linear.

Oh, but isn’t it wonderful that London Zoo is raising a genderless penguin? Or that I can identify as moon gender — my gender only comes out at night. Isn’t it all rather wonderful that gender is a spectrum? Look at me, I am so free.

Why then is there all this denial of biology, a deep disgust at women’s bodies? Why are gender-critical feminists subject to violent threats? Why is being a woman now seen as being somehow privileged when every marker of equality (domestic violence, access to childcare, rape convictions, the pay gap) is showing we, as a sex class, are less privileged than ever?


Progressive misogyny, you see, doesn’t recognise women as a class at all; a class whose employment rights need protection. Not believing in a religion is not a hate crime, however much you chant the mantras at me.

But I am non-binary so, nah! As Debra Soh, the sexologist and neuroscientist, says: ‘By non-binary activists’ definition, everyone on planet Earth is gender non-binary.’ To be honest I don’t care much about pronouns and toilets. I would be happy with the Rasta ‘I-and-I’, but the Guardian may think that’s cultural appropriation.

Meanwhile, the bullying continues and I watch horrified. The author Sasha White was fired from some literary agency for tweets on her personal account. Sasha had unacceptable thoughts. These thoughts were that while gender non-conformity is fine, biology is real. She is young but has had these bad ideas for some time. Now she has been fired and — I learnt this marvellous phrase when I was arguing with someone who had tried to get me fired — she has ‘been ratioed up the wazoo’. All this happens on Twitter of course.

So another day, another witch-burning. But women are angry. Does any of this, one has to ask, further the cause of trans people in any way? Why is there always this sudden jump from calling someone transphobic to Black Lives Matter? Doubtless black trans folk who often do sex work are some of the most marginalised people in the world, but this is pure deflection. During lockdown, in the UK five women a week were murdered by their partners. I never saw that in the saviours’ bios.

You can say the word ‘-intersectionality’ as much as you like but, if you do, then defend Raquel Rosario Sánchez, the 29-year-old doing a PhD at Bristol on men paying for sex, who has been bullied for two years because she attends Woman’s Place meetings. Disciplinary hearings were closed down when balaclava-wearing trans activists appeared. Students yelled verbal attacks at ‘Terfs’, chanting: ‘SCUM! SCUM! SCUM!’

This kind of intimidation stops women from speaking and teaching on our campuses. Rebecca Solnit, a writer I admire, wrote an excruciatingly vanilla essay on why San Francisco is cool and why cis women should not fear trans women. We don’t. We fear what we have always feared: male violence, in whatever cosplay it chooses. We fear losing our incomes. We fear that womanhood is such a scary place that some young women will be medicated out of it.

Why all this now? Perhaps because the left, having lost its big battles, is keen on some expulsions and re-education. The Labour party would rather be pure than in power. It’s deeply peculiar.

Gay men I know are rightly worried about the homophobia inherent in some trans activism. Wouldn’t you rather have a daughter than a gay son? Look at Turkey or Iran if you dare. We now have Stonewall supporting the right for trans women to bust the skulls of natal women playing rugby.

We stand back and watch this insanity. How is this progress? My friend Penny Arcade, the wonderful radical performer, recently celebrated the birthday of the legendary drag queen, the late Marsha P. Johnson, who was at Stonewall. She knew him and described him as ‘the embodiment of both male and female energy. One of the great queens of the street, not a “trans woman” but queer as fuck! Not as they who co-opt identities for their agenda portray you.’

God, I miss that allyship. It’s long gone now. Stonewall. Act Up. All of it. Progressive misogyny has blown it all apart in its denial of women’s reality, experience and voices. It makes me sad. But it does not make me quiet. Impure thoughts and the wrong language? That’s my job.

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Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist.

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