We ‘Gender-Critical’ Feminists Pay a Price for Speaking Out. But the Price of Silence is Higher
JK Rowling attending the World Premier of Harry Potter the Deathly Hallows part two on July, 7th, 2011 in London, England / Alamy

We ‘Gender-Critical’ Feminists Pay a Price for Speaking Out. But the Price of Silence is Higher

Libby Emmons
Libby Emmons
8 min read

Disagreement over sex and gender have cleaved the feminist community between those who believe that biological sex is immutable, and those who believe that transitioning sex to align body with brain is not only possible, but a legally binding marker of identity. Courts, social-services organizations and schools all have been pushed to adopt the most doctrinaire precepts of trans-rights advocacy. In some cases, the issue has divided “gender-critical” women’s-rights advocates from strident trans-rights advocates. It also has caused schisms within feminism; and even within families, with some parents split over the best course of action for their kids. While this drama unfolds publicly in legislatures, town councils and on social media, it also takes a personal toll on those who’ve gotten caught up in this unusually vicious front in the culture war.

This includes “Susan” (all names changed), a gender-critical feminist and mother who plans to attend a forthcoming talk on the subject at the Seattle Public Library. An email exchange between Susan and her brother “Craig” recently was shared by the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition (HATAC), a group of gender-critical women who span the political spectrum but are united by their concern over “gender identity ideology” (their term), its impact on children, and the danger it poses to women’s sex-based rights.

The exchange began when Susan reached out to her brother to let him know she would be in town for the upcoming talk, hosted by the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a feminist organization. Scheduled for February 1, 2020, Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity will feature Quillette contributor Meghan Murphy, feminist organizer Saba Malik and WoLF board member Kara Dansky. Because the talk has been protested by Seattle-based pro-trans groups, and the library has been under pressure to disinvite WoLF, many HATAC-affiliated women across North America have planned to attend the event in a show of support.

Susan’s brother had previously, privately, expressed agreement with Susan in regard to her critique of gender ideology. As such, she asked him if he wanted to join her at the WoLF event: “I’m traveling to Seattle at the end of next month for this event and was wondering if you would like to literally brave the crowds and join me…? If you’re not interested in risking your life entering a space being protested by huge men in skirts wielding bats wrapped in barbed wire, I totally understand. But if you are feeling up for adventure, I’d love it if you would join me.”

Turns out, he was not up for this adventure:

I am about to sound like the biggest coward in the world. I can’t go to this with you. I don’t think I have the guts to run through the gauntlet. But more importantly, if my son [“Sam”] knew I was going to an event like that, he’d be appalled. Disgusted. And if he didn’t know, I’d be afraid he would find out. He would turn his back on me. He and I have had some difficult times about this stuff, but things are good now. I think he might have softened just a bit, but mostly we don’t discuss it. He knows I’m a good person, and I think he’s willing to just leave it at that. I am terrified of jeopardizing that. He’s not an ideologue, really. He’s just a typical teenager who lives in Seattle (and on the internet!), and that means he takes certain things as gospel. Believing (or just assuming or accepting) these things is part of what it means to be a ‘good person’ these days. Transwomen are women. Duh, of course they are. Anyone who challenges that, or even asks for nuance or tries to understand what it really means, is the enemy of goodness and truth. To question is to hate. At least once a week, I promise myself that I will stop reading radfem [i.e. gender-critical] blogs, etc. It’s too upsetting to me, seeing how insane the world has become. And seeing how misogyny has been so effectively repackaged as fairness. And seeing how impossible it has become to explain anything, to speak rationally. I know, I know. This is not a good look. I have the luxury of ignoring this stuff (if I can actually bring myself to look away). I think if I was a woman, I would be frozen in despair. Or burning in anger. Or both. So I have to beg off. And I have to make what might be an offensive request: When we see you, can we just avoid the topic altogether? If we talk about it—even if only you talk about it—I will somehow end up in the middle, forced to state my loyalties. I’m even afraid of your nephew knowing why you’re in Seattle. If he knows about the WoLF thing, I’m sure he ‘knows’ it’s ‘hateful.’ Like a true coward, I’m afraid of everything about this. It’s radioactive. I can’t be associated with it in any way. Is this disrespectful to you? Maybe, yeah. Is it disrespectful to my son? Yes, it might be. But I have visions of losing him, of being shut out forever, and I can’t have that. It might be ridiculous of me, but there it is.

Susan was aghast, understandably. She responded: “When Sam and the rest of his misogynist child army have me sent to the camps, I’ll need an editor for my prison diaries. Maybe you could do it anonymously.”

She also wrote about her daughter’s experience at a liberal-arts college, where, she claims, 11 of her female classmates have undergone drastic, irreversible body modification in service to the lie that this would serve to actually transform their sex. Susan did not hide the truth from her daughter, letting her know her own, gender-critical beliefs. While things were rocky, her daughter came around, apparently. Susan writes:

Seriously, if my son were supporting this, it would be just as devastating to me as if he had joined Operation Rescue [an anti-abortion organization] or a white nationalist group. I would feel like a complete failure as a parent for not instilling critical thinking skills and for raising a misogynist. Everyone likes to think they would have been brave in previous totalitarian times, that they wouldn’t have let their kids just join the state-sponsored youth movements of the day. But throughout history, the vast majority of people are cowards. Part of the evil of totalitarianism is that it makes us fear our children, our friends, our co-workers. Part of the evil of misogyny is that it makes nice liberal men think it’s ok for their kids to join anti-woman movements.

For years, women have been hearing the message that they should “lean in,” tell their truth, and speak up against threats to female personhood, from sexual harassment to the perceived wage gap. Social-justice types tell society to #BelieveAllWomen. Yet gender-critical feminists are supposed to keep quiet, acquiesce, give in to those who call them bigots, transphobes and “TERFs.” We’re supposed to believe that we’re the bad guys, and applaud the doctors performing invasive, sterilizing surgery on the healthy bodies of our daughters and sisters. We’re supposed to be “cool” with that, and to make room in our parades for hulking “women” who instruct us on how to be allies, who we should want to sleep with, and what we’re allowed to wear, lest we “exclude” them with, say, a pussy hat, or proclaiming ourselves same-sex-attracted lesbians.

Many women are starting to realize that silence is no longer an option, because this trend is not going away. JK Rowling, author of perhaps the most beloved children’s book series in history, made her views known on Twitter this month, following a particularly appalling case in which a lifelong feminist was legally sanctioned for stating her belief in the scientific principle of sexual dimorphism. Until this time, Rowling had been hesitant in speaking up for women’s right to private space and bodily autonomy, allowing publicists to walk back her words on these subjects. But she is no longer silent, nor hiding. Nor are her critics, such as model-turned-actress Jameela Jamil. Their Twitter fights have become public proxies for the smaller skirmishes playing out within private relationships.

*Unfollows JK Rowling* #translivesmatter #idontwanttostandanywherenearmaya

— Jameela Jamil ? (@jameelajamil) December 19, 2019

And sometimes, the lines between private and public blur. A prominent writer privately confessed last week that she is terrified to speak up about the issue, because she believes it will cost her freelance assignments at progressive outlets. “It’s just insane,” she wrote in a private message. “I’m half tempted to just tweet out full support [for Rowling] on principle, but am totally aware that it’s simply not worth the backlash. I’m literally afraid to express an opinion held by like 95% of the population.”

I am one of those biologically sexed women who has spoken up, and I can attest that this journalist is right to express fear. Those who speak up are too often shouted down, finding themselves both shut out of the feminist circles they once called home and bullied by woke men online. When we publish, we are harassed, called names, get death threats. When we speak up at work, we are reprimanded under cover of “human rights.” Gender-critical feminists have found an ally in conservative women, but this alliance is turned back against us as an ideological weapon by our progressive erstwhile allies.

Conservative women, often derided by the left for their views on family, motherhood and religion, may seem like awkward allies for gender-critical, radical feminists. But there are a few key views that we have in common: women have the right to choose their own path in life, without interference; women and men are different on a biological, cellular level; and children need to be protected from exploitation. This is how we came to extend our “hands across the aisle.”

Opposition to radicalized gender ideology—the false view that stating pronouns remakes your sex—was not something I ever imagined would be my cause. As a former member of the New York City theater world, I wanted to stay isolated in my arts bubble, floating on clouds of audience adoration and the glamour of poetic self-expression. But I found that I could not shy away from it. I could not keep my mouth shut, even though, like Susan’s brother, I really wanted to. For a while, every time I published on trans ideology I felt nauseous, because I knew it was taking me that much further away from the community and artistic endeavors that I loved. But like Susan, and the other women in the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition, I was unable to go on knowing that I had not stood up for women and children.

If you’re out protesting the WoLF talk in Seattle, know that we are at this event not to hurt anyone, but because we have a sense of compassion and responsibility. Our words may be difficult to hear. But words cause less damage than a surgeon’s knife or a life-long drug regime that ravages a healthy woman’s body under the false conceit that a real man will pop out the other side of the pill bottle or the needle end of a syringe. And if you’re on the fence, I say: Stand up, speak your mind, and stop being terrorized by compassionate-sounding nonsense that we all know to be lies—even if it means causing a fight.

Trans ideology is simply a new form of sexism disguised as liberation. It plays on traditional stereotypes about the roles of women, it claims that body transformation is the only way to be who you truly are, and it tells women to be compassionate to others at the expense of their own well-being. Women refused to stay silent before the monolithic oppression of the old misogyny, and we won’t stay silent now. It doesn’t matter if the calls to keep women in their place are coming from the right, as they traditionally were, or the left, where they’re coming from now: We’re going to speak against it, and we’re going to do it loud.


Libby Emmons

Libby Emmons is a New York-based freelance writer.