According to research on the "cancellation" of conservative thinkers in academia, gender-critical academics are the most beleaguered of all. In his recent Quillette article, "The Threat to Academic Freedom: From Anecdotes to Data," University of London professor Eric Kaufmann writes, "just 28 percent of American and Canadian academics, and barely a third of British academics, would have lunch with someone opposed to the idea of transwomen accessing a women's shelter. Alongside evidence that gender-critical feminists have been no-platformed more than any other group, this suggests that they face the highest level of discrimination of any political minority in academia."
It is one of the great ironies of contemporary culture that "gender critical" feminists, who represent what most of us would consider normative feminism, a rights movement whose raison d'être is the promotion of the rights and protection of women as a sex, are now lumped in with conservatives. In fact, they are feminists who remained true to feminism in its existential incarnation, which was at the time considered very left-wing.
Now the gender criticals are considered radical reactionaries, reviled by trans activists and their allies, who have concocted a delicious new flavor of Kool-Aid which turns the drinker from a rational feminist into a woman who considers her biological sisters' safety and equality secondary to the interests and ambitions of biological males who wish they were biological women (but aren't).
So many of the daughters of the 1970s-era feminists have drunk this Kool-Aid that they won't even have lunch with a feminist who believes in sex-based rights. Or even with common-sensical women of no ideology, who wish trans people well, but also believe they and their daughters have the right to privacy, safety and—in sport—a level playing field.
One could understand this betrayal of women by women if it was purely a generational thing, and it was only young feminists who put trans activists' interests before their own. After all, they have been indoctrinated in universities to believe the science-denying mantras that gender is fluid, that biological sex has nothing to do with gender, and that where rights are concerned, gender must always trump sex (which they believe is also fluid, but isn't).
It is harder to give a pass to the old feminists, the Second Wave women who were passionate about women's rights when women meant biological females, and who worked so hard to entrench women's rights into law. When you see those women turning their backs on the gender criticals—and worse, punishing them in public, tax-funded forums off the campus, in settings meant for all women—well, that just sucks. It's outrageous. Which brings me to last week's International Women's Day (IWD) conference sponsored by the Canadian government.
Under the patronage of Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality (WAGE), our government held a, remote-access, two-day summit to mark International Women's Day (March 8), titled, Canada's Feminist response and Recovery Summit. The promotional material observed that women have faced steep job losses during the pandemic, and shouldered the burden of unpaid work at home. Therefore, #FeministRecovery was to be Canada's theme for IWD 2021.
If this summit had been held ten years ago, it would have sailed along very smoothly. But in 2021, the very idea of a "women's" summit has been—as the woke like to say—"problematized," as the organizers probably should have anticipated it would, but apparently didn't.
Early on Day Two, participants received an email informing them about "an incident that took place yesterday." During presentations in the LGBTQ2+ session, the Chat feature of the meeting room had been opened, and so there had been…chat. According to the email, "Unfortunately and unacceptably, some attendees made the choice to post disrespectful, transphobic and homophobic comments. We are appalled and disappointed by these posts and deeply regret that this incident occurred."
The email did not state the nature of, or replicate the allegedly harmful comments. The organizers only warned that "[d]isrespect will not be tolerated at any WAGE event and anyone who engages inappropriately, including posting transphobic and homophobic messages, will be removed swiftly from any future event."
I learned the content of the March 8 "incident" from the woman at the centre of it. She is a newcomer to Canada, whose first language is not English (ironically, the Summit's statement on "inclusivity" made a special mention of "newcomers")—and she expressed her distress in a letter to the Summit organizers. ID (her initials) wrote:
"I was excited to attend your summit… but attending two different group sessions has left me utterly distraught… I attended the LGBTQ2+ session and asked a couple of questions:
- "Should feminism include male trans and queer people or only female trans and queer people?
- "I just want to understand how we define feminism. I definitely include transmen [but] not sure if we should include transwomen.
- "Not sure how to phrase this correctly; I am just asking do we define on sex or gender, as I believe as a sex, women have different issues than based on gender, relating to our bodies being female."
ID told the Summit that she was called "transphobic," "hateful," "transmisogynistic," a "TERF (a derogative word that is known to be on the same level as sorry to use the word…c*nt). ID said she ended her chat post with: "Very disappointed that it is construed to be transphobic… if feminism is for females. Women have been and still are discriminated against because of our sex. Saying that feminism is a female movement is not being transphobic."
ID states that she "did not get any direct answers from the session's moderators but was removed from the session without explanation." And she concludes, "I respectfully request you clarify precisely what I said in the above comments as considered intolerable language by WAGE and Canada's government. I am apprehensive and worried that if I have inadvertently used intolerable language, I will no longer be welcome to stay in Canada…"
As of March 16, ID had not received any response to her letter.
Another woman whom I will identify as CM was so disturbed by what she heard about the LGBT session on Day One (she had attended a session on Disabilities) that she recorded the Day Two Sustainability session, along with the Chat. The panelists' topics—effects of the pandemic on the economy, globalism, jobs, child care—had nothing to do with gender, but the Chat bogged down into gender factionalism pretty quickly. A few of the women, including CM, took the gender-critical view that conferences billed as feminist should deal with issues affecting biological women. Trans allies were determined to block them.
CM: many women including myself think feminism should be female-based…I just want to know what I am allowed to say here."
Kaila: It has nothing to do with female. It's about women... I hope that the organizers can see that the transphobia is starting here again if they can please do something about it.
CM: How do we then address the specific needs of women and transwomen? There are needs for both groups that are not the exact same.
Kaila: They made it clear. This is so frustrating.
(Note: they did NOT make it clear. Nobody in these situations EVER makes it clear, because it cannot be made clear. Trans beliefs are inherently resistant to objective clarification. That is the problem.)
Emmanuelle: @CM, please do not use the term females. And as we speak of women's rights, trans rights are women's rights...
Lynda: Drawing the line arbitrarily at 'cis are the only females worth engaging' invisibalizes (sic!) many of the different needs of any group of women.
(At this point ID is kicked out of the session for asking questions alluded to in her letter to the organizers above. The organizers issue a statement about "disrespect" not being tolerated.)
Megan: I don't see [ID] being disrespectful….she's asking what the appropriate language is. Not everyone knows what defines the word 'disrespectful'.
Kaila: People told her multiple times and she insisted on focusing on female, so sorry no.
CM: How do we speak about issues that only affect females? FGM, pregnancy, menstruation, etc?
Kaila: We are being respectful towards WOMEN. Their sexual organs (AKA female) are not important…
FC: I'm so confused as to how I can speak about women's rights without offending someone.
Emmanuelle: Some men also have menstruations.
It goes on in this incoherent vein, with the two parties—those who believe that biological dimorphism exists (it does!) and those who have drunk the gender-fluidity Kool-Aid who pretend it doesn't—talking past each other. CM asks pertinent questions about female-only issues, and her questions are deflected or condemned as transphobic.
CM rightly asks: "How come using the word female is wrong? It specifies issues that are still there. How can we discuss these without using the terminology needed?" Excellent questions, but projected into a purposeful void.
CM finally disengaged. She wrote to me that she felt shaken by the experience, which I could well understand, since the word "female"—reference to ineluctable biological fact —has now become toxic in all discourse that is supervised by our institutional bodies. And with it, important female-specific issues of the kind CM noted.
And so the government-sponsored erasure of women's rights advances, with alleged feminists carrying the heavy water to make it happen. It should strike any observer as rather bizarre that at a conference aligned with International Women's Day, participants cannot feel free to discuss concerns that preoccupy most women in the world precisely because they are biology-related.
We are to believe that it is "respectful" of women to say that "[Women's] sexual organs are not important," but it is "disrespectful" to bring up the scourge of female genital mutilation or sex-selective abortion, or pre-eclampsia, a foremost cause of death for pregnant women without access to high-quality medical care.
So the organizers had to make a choice: sternly reprimand those trying to shut down the gender criticals and allow open dialogue, or throw the gender criticals under the bus. They chose the latter.
Another irony of this Summit—aside from the fact that taxpayer dollars are being used to discriminate against and punish Canadian women for asking legitimate questions at a conference billed as "feminist"—is that several of the high-profile women whose names were bruited on the promotional material, are well-known feminists with a long history of activism for women's rights, such as: the Honorable Jean Augustine, former Minister for Multiculturalism and Status of Women; and Monique Bégin, Executive Secretary for the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (whose recommendations in 1981 became the basis of women's sex-based rights in the Charter of Rights).
These women did not give the best years of their lives to the cause of women's rights because they believe that female sex organs "are not important." On the contrary, they believed they were so important, and so determinist of women's often disadvantaged estate, that they devoted themselves to enshrining "sex-based" rights into the Charter.
Now they have made a volte-face in the name of inclusivity. And without any apparent self-interrogation. One of the panelists in the Sustainability session, for example, was a progressive journalist, Rosemary Ganley, now 84 and still active in journalism in Peterborough, who in 2018 was invited to serve on the 19-member Gender Equality Advisory Council to the G7 meeting in Quebec City. She self-describes as a "lifelong feminist activist and writer."
I single her out only because she prefaced her remarks with a proud summary of all the feminist causes she had been associated with when the word woman meant biological female. I sent her a media query. I told her that women had been ejected from the Chat room because they had insisted on asking questions about "female" concerns. I asked where she now stood on the issue of sex-based rights versus gender rights, based on her commitment to sex-based rights in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ganley wrote, "Our achievement was significant for Canada. It was also 40 years ago. I believe that societies evolve and that conscientious persons both expect that evolution and are equipped to deal with changes… Most second-wave feminists are not 'defensive' about the situation, and with good will and much dialogue, the movement will move ahead, including all who identify as feminist. Civil discourse, not silencing on any side, is the way forward."
This was a cliché-riddled non-answer. Societies do evolve, of course, but biological facts do not. In the 1970s, feminists declared that women's behaviour was "socially constructed." Well, scientific evidence shows that some of it is, and some of it isn't. There's room for argument there. Yet in affirming the supremacy of transwomen's rights over women's sex-based rights, Ganley has signed on – either actively or more likely passively, without really thinking it through - to the belief that biological sex is also "constructed." Which is anti-scientific nonsense.
I pressed her in a second email: "Will you give me a yes or a no on whether you believe that 'sex-based' rights—that would mean "female" rights and protections—are legitimate areas for discussion at a Women's conference, and raising them is neither harmful or phobic? Do you believe that sex has the greater claim when women's safety and privacy and fairness are the issue—i.e. exemptions from the new laws on 'gender' rights?" She wrote back to say she had "nothing more to say on this matter."
But she did tell me in her earlier email that she had been "educated on this topic from strong trans advocate Morgane Oger in Vancouver," which made my heart sink. Trans activist Oger's name is familiar to many observers of the women-erasure movement for having been a principal actor in the successful campaign to defund the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter because—out of respect for the understandable psychological safety of the traumatized demographic they serve—the Shelter does not hire biological males as counsellors.
Oger's supporters accused the Shelter of "trans-exclusionary" behaviour that signifies "transphobia." Oger would rather see a rape-crisis shelter shut down than show a little compassion for rape victims. Such an attitude strikes many observers as not only the farthest thing from "feminist," but a very near thing to (if not synonymous with) misogyny. So If this alleged "authority" on gender rights is the source from which a former accomplished champion of women's rights is drawing her convictions these days, it is a sad and sobering commentary on the state of women's sex-based rights in the eyes of Canada's "feminist" thought leaders.
And if the organizers of the Summit, presumably channeling the will of their political superiors, did not feel ID's legitimate, good-faith questions—questions hundreds of thousands of other women in Canada are also silently asking—were even worth the courtesy of a response, that deliberate snub may be a portent that the sex-based rights branch on the "living tree" of the Charter is not long for this Brave New World.