Gender Criticals Are Purposeless Fearmongers

The movement struggles to make a compelling case for its demands.

In recent years, the trans rights movement has made incredible strides in making the conversations around trans existence less taboo, and while the taps are not fully open for a steady stream of empathy to pour over, society at large, has become at least somewhat marginally more accepting of the trans experience than it was even a decade ago. However, that progress did not come without its drawbacks, and the most notable so far has been the rise of a reactionary movement under the umbrella of “Gender critical feminism”. Their goal so far seems to broaden the appeal of an essentialistic view of gender, wherein encroachments upon the existing model aren’t treated as rebellion against oppression maintained by systems of old, but rather an affront to the civil rights that past groups have so painstakingly sought to obtain.

That group puzzlingly happens to be led by women, and specifically of the white variety for good reason–of the many arguments backing a gender critical read of modern social theory, a common trait happens to be a hard-to-overlook lack of intersectionality. Issues are isolated from each other, class barely plays any role, and the racial dimensions of anti-trans bigotry — especially against trans women of color — are underplayed to such a large degree, that it’s impossible not to read them as at least partially motivated by the very prejudice it aims to remedy.

This creates an environment where points of contention are especially conducive to taking on a “culture war” tone in which taking a position for or against something is treated as a literal ideological dividing line between the two sides. For the grand majority of trans people, the democratization of trans acceptance in society is a zero sum game where no ground should be ceded–after all, the sociopolitical stakes are very high. Gender criticals see this differently, but for reasons that are often not-that-well articulated, and quite frankly absurd when the theoretical components of the argument are examined up close.

For gender criticals, the erosion of what constitutes a set boundary between man and woman creates the condition for patriarchy to seep its way into women’s circles, and alternatively, women who’ve shunned their femininity for something different, have conceded to the pressures of patriarchy by becoming a part of it–the issue with this thesis however, is it undercuts so much of what the push for equal rights between groups has historically been about.

When women first were granted the right to vote, it wasn’t so much about emulating male status as it was about claiming a crucial stake in the government’s operation as it impacts them in ways that only men were able to dictate up until that point. The civil rights movement in the ‘60s pushed for a similar revolutionary mindset — at least for the time — in that the negative stereotypes prevalent about a group of people shouldn’t undermine their role in society. In defiance of this spirit, gender criticals choose to ignore newly-conceived literature about the intersection of trans identity with preexisting patriarchal structures and racial prejudice, and instead are zeroing in on what even conservatives in eras past would’ve dubbed as too extreme a stance.

A major disconnect between the gender critical movement and its purported ideals remains the mechanisms through which their ultimate end goals are achieved. If the tenets of the gender critical worldview were upheld, they’d have very little chance of withstanding scrutiny outside of very narrow select contexts–more specifically, those motivating the ideology in the first place, which in the case of a white women-led movement whose victims span the entire spectrum of minorities between religion, race, ethnicity and political affiliation, is quite massive. It’s an “Us vs Everybody” situation unlike any other, and it bears asking the question whether gender criticals have a more developed theory of how the world should work aside from appeasing their very soccer mom-like fears about privacy invasion and the increased visibility trans people have accrued in recent years. Prolific trans writer Rachel Ann Williams summated the paradoxical nature of these pseudo-concerns brilliantly in a post titled “How to be a Gender Critical Feminist”:

If “gender critical” feminists were truly critical of gender they would recognize that patriarchy also enforces cis sexism, the discriminatory belief system that trans people’s identities are not as valid as cis people’s. Thus, to be critical of gender would entail also being critical of these cis-sexist systems of power.

Still, even talking about the fear-activating tone of gender critical feminism — one that eerily resembles that of traditional racism and sexism — begs the question of whether amplifying their concerns is worth it as a way to highlight the ideology’s crucial flaws. It’s one of the questions Whitney Phillips, assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, was long trying to solve with regards to how misinformation even when examined through the critical lenses of a dissenter can exert negative influence on the public discourse. Crowding out the shouts of anti-trans bigotry pushed by gender criticals is a laudable goal, but as Phillips lays out — in the context of any harmful rhetoric — it isn’t always so obvious when the marketplace of ideas — a concept upon which many presumptions about ideas’ staying power are formed — isn’t always abiding by market logic, therefore demanding a strategic silence in response.

As far as cultural stock is concerned, gender critical feminism is an idea that seems new, but was almost certainly the domain of original concerns about trans acceptance back when the leftward political forces hadn’t yet coalesced around supporting it. Now that trans individuals were able to claim some sense of agency back from the overwhelming animosity of the state and the public alike, it seems like the thesis of gender critical feminism is flawed now as it was back then–the only difference being that it is now sprayed over with a new coat of paint, one that claims feminism as its foundational principle, even though the dissonance between the two could not be more pronounced.

It’s difficult to make of gender critical feminism any more than an elaborate trolling attempt at getting trans people engaged in a conversation they should not expend energy in the slightest, but for what it’s worth, it’s gotten the attention it craved. It’s not good attention–but it’s nonetheless increased exposure to an ideology that should’ve been left in the dustbin of history right where it belonged.