A personal perspective on the ACA repeal vote

I think it’s difficult to understand, if you’re from a country with somewhat functional universal healthcare system, just how devastating is this week’s vote to repeal the ACA. No arguments: the UK’s NHS isn’t perfect (& I haven’t lived elsewhere to experience it firsthand.)

When I needed access to mental health coverage two years ago, I had to call a long list of doctors, provided by my insurer, to find someone who could see me in the next three months. I made countless calls to my insurance company to see who was covered and for which services. I finally went private because I was lucky to have the resources to do that. People I know and love have had to fight their insurance companies over coverage for lifesaving medications. Many Americans face a real risk of bankruptcy if they get seriously ill or injured. It’s the last stress you need when you are already sick.

Now it looks like, if I ever move back to the U.S.–especially as an entrepreneur/freelancer–the cost of my insurance will more than quadruple (if I’m insurable at all) due to my pre-existing conditions.

It’s been super rad to be home in the US this week and I’m happy to see all my friends. I can’t really be glad I have some shelter in the UK, because I know so many of them don’t. (I’ll leave for now the issue of the Tory government eroding away the NHS in the UK.)

Anyways–fuck the GOP, fuck you for not voting Hillary, fuckity fuck this country.

That’s my current mood.

What radical women want

it's time for a radical conversation

When I launched PWMR a couple months ago, I had no intention of centering gender politics. I defended Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie because I saw a prolifically wise woman getting shut down by her sisters. Trans allies were saying, ‘Trans women are women. Period.’ and I wrote about why rational, informed and compassionate radical women might disagree.

That post got far and away the most views and shares (look Ma, I’m famous!) So clearly we need another way when talking about gender and biological sex.

I’d love to devote more time to less divisive, less potentially hurtful women’s issues. But I personally believe that if we don’t defend women’s rights to speak out freely, then we risk all the progress of feminists before us.

So why are gender politics so important to so many?

Here are three of my concerns (in no particular order) out in the sunlight. I don’t claim to speak for all women, or all gender-critical people, or even all radical feminists. Others will want to add or respond to this list–please comment or tweet me @pwmroundup.

The radical feminist perspective has never been popular. We’re asking for the same thing that women have always asked: to have our concerns taken seriously. Trans allies can help by acknowledging and owning the problems emerging on the fringes of the trans advocacy movement.

1. Our children deserve a fair shot at growing up without surgery and a lifelong dependence on hormones.

A liberal feminist friend asserted that doctors wouldn’t advocate transition if they weren’t ‘1000% sure’ a kid was trans. But that’s not how it works today. More and more doctors and ‘gender therapists’ advocate hormones & surgery for teens.

I was a dysphoric kid myself. I grew up to be a happy, healthy, and reproductively in-tact bisexual woman (as many do.) We need to be cautious about the narratives we employ. We need to support research and understand implications for kids.

Oh, and we definitely need to stop shaming parents who resist the ‘trans’ label for their gender-non-conforming kids.

2. Protect the definition of ‘woman.’

By changing legal protections to enforce them per gender identity, rather than sex, you disempower women from challenging men who enter their spaces. You risk the legal protections and the space we’ve created for girls to compete in sports. Regardless of the intentions of most, certain males will always take advantage.

3. Lesbian women deserve respect.

Challenge people who shame lesbians who aren’t attracted to male genitals. Would you tell a gay man he has to have sex in or around a vagina, and like it? It’s homophobic.

And please, stop reclaiming the identities of lesbians for the trans movement simply because they didn’t perform to gender stereotypes.

Conclusion: the caricature of radical women

Trans allies regularly equate denial of free access to women’s language and spaces as a denial of human rights and bodily autonomy for trans people.

That’s disingenuous. It paints a caricature of radical feminists, it discredits us as ‘TERFs’ and ‘bigots’ and ‘transphobic’ worthy of the same scorn applied to bigots and sociopaths.

There must be a third way that respects the experience of trans women without dismissing the valid concerns of women. If you’re an ally, be bold enough to help us find it.

WEP to women: get in line

Women's Equality Party??

You almost have to feel sorry for the Women’s Equality Party. Somebody from WEP Bath typed “InterSectional” [sic] into Google and stumbled onto Everyday Feminism. She was lured in by the soft-focus “diversity” stock photos. She felt a rush of self-righteous inspiration that numbed her capacity for critical thought, and she took to social media.

Who among us hasn’t been there? Benefit of the doubt. But then WEP Bath’s Facebook account had to go and respond to the concerns and frustrations of their base.

Here’s some of WEP’s text from the (now-deleted) Facebook thread:

“Really I see a bunch of man  haters labeling trans people as frauds, I mean really?!? demonising a minority is awful!! all of you are so blind”
“… this page is not a breeding ground for Trans Exclusionary feminists to have a tea party”
“I am revolted to see so much hate on this page”
“The comments on this post are incredibly offensive and go against our values as an intersectional, inclusive party. So you are all aware I am going to delete this thread.”

Look: some feminists are concerned about granting males unchallenged access to women’s spaces. You can absolutely respect trans people without erasing the biological basis of womanhood, or vilifying your sisters who do. WEP chose to erase and to vilify.

TERF is a slur

Just to be clear: the use of aggressive slurs is a male tactic to silence “uppity” women who insist on defining their rights and boundaries. 

Of course, being an outspoken feminist has never been popular. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Or Germaine Greer. Or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Maybe a political party must make certain concessions in the interest of broadening its base.

But whether or not it was a strategic decision, there is no call to shout down and shame the measured concerns of your membership. WEP, of all organisations, should know better.

Making amends?

WEP Bath did issue an apology to its membership. Although, they stopped short of condemning the term ‘trans-exclusionary feminists.’

Reading further down in the comments, not only did this apparently rogue moderator delete the thread, she banned the members involved. Those members have since been restored.

Hopefully WEP’s future actions include not only social media training, but educating activist volunteers on opposing views. And, maybe someday, even a space to debate these issues in the light of day.


Ed. note: this post updated 14.4.17 to include WEP Bath’s response on their FB page. Thanks Helen Saxby for the heads up.

#TDOV: I was a gender dysphoric kid

Published in honour of Transgender Day of Visibility 2017 #TDOV. A longer version of this post describes my arrival at radical feminism.

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a man. Out loud, grinning, I told teachers and friends that I would grow up to be a wrinkly old chap in a leather armchair, beside the mahogany mantle of some Trumpian country club, swilling scotch and ashing my cigar. Even as a kid I knew where the power in this world lies.

But I wanted to be a man in more quiet ways, too, ways I never told my best friend, or my mother, or even the therapist she sent me to see when the panic attacks wouldn’t stop. After I spent the night at my best friend’s house and realised I wanted to touch her how I had never touched anyone. To hold her. No, that can’t be right. I’m not a lesbian. I can’t be. I was twelve: I was obsessed with making myself normal.

For the same reason, I did not permit the word “transgender” between my ears. But I remember looking down at my lap, wondering if something else ought to be there. Feeling like it already was. Something powerful was. What if I was just born wrong?

Nobody ever told me a cunt could be powerful.

From unfeminine kid to feminist woman

I was six feet of angles and limbs. I remember prodding my pitiful budding breasts in the mirror, willing them to grow voluptuously huge, like a porn star’s, or not at all. What woman hasn’t stared in the mirror, hating pieces of herself? Feeling like a prisoner in her own body?

I was always awkward in groups of girls. Sisterhood was out of reach, incomprehensible if I could not master wearing makeup and chasing boys and gossiping over magazines: the performance of womanhood. My mother wasn’t any good at it, either. I hated her for not possessing a tangible femininity, nor passing one down to me.

Even after dysphoria passed, I felt “different” from other women. I saw “women’s interests” as frivolous, making them complicit in their inferior status. Only when I entered the workforce and encountered inescapable sexism–regardless of how I dressed, or the jokes I made to distance myself from other women–did I come around to feminism, via Ariel Levy and Betty Friedan and then countless others.

Feminism finally taught me that it was patriarchy to blame. Only then could I place disappointment where it belonged. Femininity was no evidence of womanhood. It was gender, not women, who had let me down. I cannot overstate how liberating it has been for me to recognise the biological basis of women’s oppression. Because in naming it, we can fight it.

Will fluidity set us free?

An LGBT+ meeting on campus brought my personal past to a public head: could we theme our conference around gender? The ways it constrains us, the way fluidity sets us free? What if we can all be whatever we want to be?

That always-passive verb, “triggered,” is such a cliché.

My chest tightened. If that is our theme, I said, then I would respectfully recuse myself. Gender is a topic between me and my therapist.

I can’t help it. My face always grows hot to hear people talk about how liberating and freeing it is to call themselves a woman–a real woman, a woman who knows the fullest extent of what womanhood means. A trans woman giddy to tell me she’d been interrupted in a meeting and mistaken for a secretary. I try to feel happy that so many have found peace in femininity.

I believe the intention of allies has been pure. Dysphoria is painful. I know. I am fortunate that mine went away on its own, like it does for a vast majority of teenagers, many of whom grow up to be well-adjusted homosexual or, like me, bisexual adults. To come to terms with womanhood took me much longer.

A compassionate way forward

Believe it or not, I do want to stand beside the trans movement. Every kid suffering from gender dysphoria should have access to real dialogue and reliable statistics on desistance, as well as the success rate and side effects of social transition, hormone therapy, and/or gender affirming surgery. I hope they come to the decision to transition as informed adults, under the guidance of qualified and compassionate medical and mental health professionals. I want them to feel accepted in the identity they choose.

But I won’t abide by a movement that fights to make potentially-sterilising hormones available for young girls and boys. Because I am a radical feminist, yes–but more than anything, because I see too much of myself in these kids.

Rachel Dolezal is the future liberals want. So let’s talk about it.

Rachel Dolezal in interview

I’m not Black. Not even the most generous liberals would indulge claims to the contrary. I wasn’t born Black, I wasn’t socialised Black. My hometown was over 90% White and less than 2% Black. I can’t speak for the identity of Blackness or what it means to be Black.

Today I live in an ethnically diverse city with friends of all backgrounds. Still, most of what I understand about the experience of Blackness comes from seeking out writing and art from contemporary Black voices. I look to Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Colson Whitehead, Kendrick Lamar, and countless strong Black voices on Twitter. Even so, I can only imagine what it’s like to be born Black. To come into awareness of one’s Blackness, to grapple with what Blackness means for you.

Blackness is not a monolith, either. Young Black people write about finding their Black identities. They write about being chastised in school for speaking in AAVE or goaded by their friends for sounding “too white.” Reni Eddo-Lodge writes in The Good Immigrant, “It is up to you to make your own version of blackness in any way you can – trying on all the different versions, altering them until they fit.”

So I can understand why Black Twitter has a lot to say about Rachel Dolezal. It must be disconcerting to listen to a White person with a tight perm, too much bronzer, and a book deal talk about how she’s always just “felt Black.”

What does it mean to be ‘transracial’?

Trans activists are upset by Rachel Dolezal’s “transracial” claim. Some say she trivialises the experience of gender dysphoria. Meanwhile, many gender-critical radical feminists question whether there’s a difference at all.

There are parallels: like race, gender is a social construct. Like race, gender is used to subjugate a class of people who tend to share certain physical features (dark skin, secondary sex characteristics). Like race, gender forms a critical component of identity. And some group stereotypes, which once served to reinforce oppression of the out-group, become points of unity and pride.

Now Rachel Dolezal has packaged those stereotypes up as the “essence” of that group, and she defines herself in relationship to the fictional monolith she calls “Blackness.”

I hope that people on all sides–White, Black, man, woman, trans people–can see why this resonates with many women. We are women born female. We have grappled with what this identity means. And we’ve been policed to death for being “too feminine” or “not feminine enough,” sometimes in the same sitting.

To have someone adopt all the stereotypes of that identity and to say, “yes, this is me, I am this! I have always felt this way!” It feels like my identity has been flipped on its head. All the things I spent my whole life unlearning–the feeling and the performance of femininity–others now use to define womanhood.

The future that liberals want

Liberals embrace the right of anybody to identify in a way that feels authentic to them. This is the question we’ve ignored for too long: how do we respect the individual’s right to self-identify, while also respecting the experience of people in the oppressed class?

It’s evidently reasonable that people like Rachel Dolezal acknowledge the privilege of growing up White, even when they choose to identify as “trans-racial.” Gender-critical feminists will seize this opportunity to highlight the parallels and ask for the same respect.

A postscript

If you like what you read here (or just came for the Dank Meme Stash) please consider liking PWMR on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks fam!

When white men get no-platformed

white nationalist Charles Murray

The libertarians are at it again. Frank Bruni wrote an NYT op-ed entitled The Dangerous Safety of College, in response to a campus that no-platformed “controversial” social scientist Charles Murray. Bruni suggests a worrying trend of “safe spaces” shutting down dialogue on college campuses.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. The “right to free speech” doesn’t mean people have to listen to you. It is the right of a community to deny you access to a community platform. Nobody owes you space to talk.

I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.
Free speech: a primer
No-platformed? The power of “dialogue”

For Bruni, presumably the Middlebury College student body can benefit from “dialogue” with Charles Murray. But Murray is a white nationalist, who literally argues the genetic superiority of white men. It is a special white male privilege not to understand the link between racist or sexist rhetoric and the real threat of losing physical safety, civil and human rights.

It is telling that white men always show up to shout about civil liberties and constructive dialogue whenever a white man gets no-platformed. Where are these people when it comes to voter suppression and the prison industrial complex? Or all the other ways the poor and women and people of color are silenced daily?

You might call me out for a double-standard about no-platformed feminist speakers. Here, thanks to liberal politics, the framework is backwards. When Julie Bindel can’t speak publicly, it is the male sex class (and those advocating on their behalf) acting to oppress a woman who holds a dissenting viewpoint. In other words, the direction of oppression matters: one is speaking truth to power, the other reinforces an existing power imbalance.

I don’t put much stock in whiny librotarians claiming the right to spout half-baked, mediocre ideas in public. Especially not when those ideas espouse white male supremacist ideology.

All of modern society is a “safe space” if you are a heterosexual white man. Let the rest of us define our own boundaries, thank you.

Feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has forgotten more about feminism than you’ll ever know

Feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Prolific feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came under fire this weekend for voicing an opinion on trans women. Her statement may not sound particularly controversial to people who don’t spend the bulk of their time in modern feminist spaces:

“It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”

But this is very controversial within modern feminism, where “trans women are women” is gospel. Males and well-meaning allies rushed to discredit Chimamanda. Some went as far as to call her “transphobic,” or even a “white feminist.”

Talking about gender and privilege

A lot of the criticism of Chimamanda’s interview rests on the assumption that being a woman born as a woman is a form of privilege. Some feminists hold a radical perspective: that the basis for women’s oppression is our biology; that male sexuality has been historically weaponised to control women and withhold economic empowerment; that “femininity” is a social construct to keep women subjugated in a patriarchal system; and that feminism is centrally about elevating women beyond all of that to achieve our potential as equal human beings. This isn’t a new opinion (holla atcha girl de Beauvoir) but it also isn’t mainstream. It certainly has potential to conflict with the notion of womanhood as privilege.

I want to write more about my personal experiences with gender dysphoria and discovering radical feminism another day. For now I will just say: it is vitally important to be able to engage in thoughtful, even controversial discussion about the nature of gender and its relation to biological sex and patriarchal power structures. And that just isn’t happening today.

Freedom to speak as a feminist

I believe that dysphoria is really hard and really shitty, and allies shouldn’t do anything to make it harder. But I don’t believe in bullying women who want to talk about “women’s issues” relating to biology. And I don’t believe that entertaining the unscientific delusion that biological sex is a mere construct is productive for feminists and trans allies. There is an important place for trans women within feminism. It doesn’t have to come at the expense of women’s freedom to talk about ourselves as pussy-havers or menstruators or whatever else is lately in vogue.

When I look at the vitriol directed towards Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the wake of her statements, I worry. It’s so important that feminists create a space where women feel safe to be who are they are, but also to question dominant paradigms of gender and sex. And remember:

International Women’s Day 2017 Roundup

Statue of a defiant girl standing in front of the Wall St Bull

Happy #IWD2017! Here’s a roundup of some notable stories and inspiration from women around the world. How are you celebrating today?

An asset management firm installs a defiant girl statue in front of Wall Street bull, sending a powerful message to women and girls everywhere. State Street Global Advisors installed the statue as part of its campaign to pressure companies it invests in to add more women to their boards. (via Business Insider UK)

The Guardian’s @LexyTopping live blogs #IWD2017 all day long: https://t.co/GJchZTzv6o

An Ohio Bookstore Flips Male-Authored Books, Displaying Them Spine-Out On Shelves (via HeatSt.com)

The FT is launching a new ranking for champions of women’s careers. Nominations are open to both women and men, in the UK and internationally. The list will be published 27 September, the same day as FT’s Women at the Top Conference. To nominate a champion, go to www.out-standing.org/heroes/ by May 5.

And from Twitter:

Trumpcare is a bad deal for women

We could have guessed the “Trumpcare” replacement to Obamacare–née the Affordable Care Act, for the 1/3 of Americans still unclear they’re the same–wouldn’t be good for women, the poor, or those with pre-existing conditions. Today we have an idea just how bad the damage.

The new plan will keep popular elements, like a ban against discriminating against pre-existing conditions, and letting kids stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. But other key protections are gone, as is the penalty for failing to opt in. They’ll spin this as creating more “choice” for the American consumer and for individual states.

This L.A. times article breaks it down:

As of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted at the federal level. States would have the authority to set them instead. The impact on private, non-Medicaid plans would therefore vary by state. If a state removes maternity benefits, for example, that’s likely to make maternity coverage, among other services, immensely expensive, if available at all.

A tax on women

So what if I’m a healthy 27-year-old man and I don’t want coverage for maternity care? What if my state doesn’t mandate mental health coverage? That’s fine if you’re healthy or you can’t get pregnant. But if you’re living in the wrong state, it could mean way higher premiums for opting into higher risk pools.

So I hope you plan well in advance for that pregnancy–which carries an average cost of around $9,000 in the U.S. And I hope you’re willing to pay more for the possibility. This could be quite a burden for couples who try for more than a year to get pregnant–that’s a lot  of maternity coverage “just in case.”

And if you’re a woman who knows you DON’T want to get pregnant? Good luck with access to preventative family planning resources, as Repubs continue to threaten Planned Parenthood. This week Trump issued an ultimatum to PP to completely eradicate abortion services. Nevermind that abortions are a critical component of comprehensive family planning services for women, and are never paid by federal funds anyways.

Also on the subject of abortion, another lowlight of the AHCA covered in Fox News’ “highlights”:

Prohibits use of tax credits to purchase any plan that covers elective abortions. Currently if a health plan covers abortions it must collect a separate premium to pay for such procedures.

Yet another roadblock for women taking control of their health. Abortion coverage under Obamacare currently varies depending on the state, but plans in progressive states tend to cover the service. In the UK and other developed nations, abortion is covered by national health plans as a matter of course.

‘Trumpcare’ is a big step backwards

We already know that America has the worst record for maternal health of any developed nation. It’s tragic, but not surprising, that the GOP would propose a plan to let this gap widen. We need to be directing resources and policies to fix the problem for our mothers and children–not just redirecting money to benefit the already-privileged. The new AHCA and threats to Planned Parenthood just show how little regard Republicans have for the lives of actual women in America.

Emma Watson’s feminism must be evolving

Emma 2017 vs. Bey 2013
Spot the difference? Emma 2017 vs. Beyonce 2013

You’ve heard the news by now: vaunted feminist Emma Watson posed scantily on the cover of Vanity Fair, somebody (probably a man) tried to gotcha her on her feminism, somebody else (probably another man) tried to get Gloria Steinem to talk shit about her–despite the fact that Ms. Steinem eloquently shut them down on Emma already last week–and twitter went insane.

… it does behoove us as feminists to question the nature of the choices that we make.

Emma Watson says in response: “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality.”

So that’s true: the female body should be celebrated, not shamed. I love showing skin from time to time, and I’m thankful for generations of feminists before me that have made it socially acceptable for me to wear what I like, and socially unacceptable for men to touch and catcall and harass me because of what I’m wearing (or choosing not to wear.)

But I do believe there’s valid rationale hidden somewhere in the criticism–however tactlessly deployed to stir up drama around one particular woman whose contributions to feminism are undeniable. Hell, Emma Watson herself deployed this tactic, calling out Beyonce for her sexualised image in 2014:

“As I was watching [the videos] I felt very conflicted, I felt her message felt very conflicted in the sense that on the one hand she is putting herself in a category of a feminist, but then the camera, it felt very male, such a male voyeuristic experience of her,” Watson said during a conversation with journalist and actress Tavi Gevinson, as published in a 2014 issue of Wonderland Magazine.


Here’s the thing: it does behoove us as feminists to question the nature of the choices that we make. Nobody’s choices are made in a vacuum. If you as a woman are consistently making choices that play into society’s patriarchal expectations of femininity, it’s worth considering potential value in challenging those expectations, both within yourself and in confrontation with others.

But there is a difference between critiquing an individual’s choices and critiquing the dynamics of the patriarchal system. Women didn’t fight for feminism so that we could start modesty-policing each other.

Emma Watson is a feminist warrior AND a babe. There are better ways to engage in criticism of patriarchal constructs than a call-out culture that tries to gotcha women for failing to act in line with anybody’s expectations–regardless of who is setting those expectations.

And as Emma’s own feminist perspective evolves over time, I’ll be looking forward to her apology to Bey.