Activism, Top Stories, Women

How Britain’s Feminist Grass Roots Turned the Tide Against Gender Extremists

In the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and a series of massive protests over racist police brutality in the United States, one might find it hard to believe that an author’s common-sense views on human biology would make headlines. Yet everywhere you look, you’ll see coverage of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who’s now being denounced as “transphobic” for speaking plain truths about the differences between men and women.

In fact, so much attention has been focused on Rowling that some have missed the more significant British news in this area: The country’s Conservative government is distancing itself from proposed legislative reforms that would have enshrined gender “self-identification” over biological sex. Though Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, likely won’t be releasing the government’s policy response till July, leaks confirm that “self-ID” (as it’s widely known) will not be introduced. Moreover, Truss says she wants to protect gender dysphoric children from making “irreversible decisions” in regard to their bodies, and would allow women to create and maintain safe single-sex spaces free of male-bodied individuals. This is a huge win for so-called “gender-critical” activists, who lack the deep pockets and institutional influence of the far more fashionable trans-rights lobby—even if there is still a long way to go to repair the damage that’s already been done.

At less visible levels of policy-making, too, there have been substantial changes. The National Health Service (NHS) has changed its advice on paediatric transitioning, which now reflects the fact that there is scant evidence to support aggressive therapeutic options at an early age. NHS resources also now warn parents in regard to the possible negative effects of some therapies on brain, heart, and bone health. Under threat of litigation initiated by a 14-year-old girl, the Crown Prosecution Service withdrew a hate-crimes directive that would have enlisted teachers to bully girls into accepting males in their bathrooms. The fact that anyone thought this was a good policy in the first place shows how thoroughly trans-activist extremism had permeated official agencies.

To understand why it has taken so long for these policies to be rolled back, it is important to consider the outsized influence of websites such as Pink News, which purport to advance mainstream LGBT news and attitudes, but in fact have been co-opted by a highly motivated faction of (mostly male) trans activists. This vocal minority attracted little opposition when transgender anti-discrimination provisions originally were implemented to protect a few thousand British transsexuals (as many then commonly self-described). But things changed when legions of middle-aged men suddenly began insisting that they were women trapped in the wrong bodies (not to mention a massive surge in adolescent girls laying claim to the opposite path). Women who spoke up about this were systematically pushed out of any public square—the same treatment that some are seeking to impose on Rowling. But thankfully, times are changing.

Because of Britain’s system of devolved political administration, the situation is still in flux, however. Scottish officials, in particular, have suggested they may impose a policy of self-ID on their own initiative, despite receiving low public support in two separate rounds of consultation. But even in Scotland, I’ve observed women organizing at the grassroots level to oppose male encroachment on their spaces—the only option we had before Rowling and other mainstream media figures began speaking out openly on our behalf. Ultimately, what motivated us wasn’t ideology, but safety. It should never be a hate crime for a woman to say, “I just don’t want to share a swimming-pool changing room with men.” Yet that was where things were headed.

In late 2019, trans activists protested feminist Meghan Murphy’s appearances at libraries in Vancouver and Toronto, where she discussed how all of these issues are affecting the safety of Canadian women. These confrontations became national news in Canada, and Toronto chief librarian Vickery Bowles was lauded for her principled decision to permit Murphy’s event. What is less known is that something similar played out in February 2020, when the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) no-platformed a feminist group called For Women Scotland (FWS), whose members wanted to discuss the proposed implementation of self-ID policies. At first, the feminist group was told that the library was cancelling the booking to repair a leaking roof. GWL then denied the group an alternative date on the basis that they were fully booked. Eventually, GWL confirmed publicly that they’d cancelled the booking because FWS’s “values” did not align with those of their institution.

Think about that: A “women’s library” tells its supporters that it is refusing to hold an event dedicated to protecting actual women—out of deference to self-identified women whose claim to womanhood is based on filling out a form on a government website.

Needless to say, FWS members were appalled. And this is part of a pattern: Whenever women have attempted to meet to discuss the impact of gender ideology-driven public policy on women’s rights, venues are bombarded with tweets, calls, emails, and other forms of pressure from trans activists who claim that giving an audience to the other side of the debate is inherently hateful. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, activists have led a genuinely McCarthy-esque campaign of blacklisting against dissenters.

The Scottish Poetry Library deserves credit as one of the first British institutions to take a stand against this bullying. In February, it released a statement decrying “bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers in events programmes and in publishing”—a move widely interpreted as being directed at gender extremists seeking to excommunicate local feminists. Approximately 500 writers and readers, including novelists Joan Smith and Lionel Shriver, added their names to an open letter applauding the library for defending freedom of expression.

Asif Khan, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, was pointed in his response when Scottish PEN—a group that ostensibly supports freedom of speech—somehow saw fit to slam the library for its pro-free-speech policy. “It is ironic that on International Women’s Day we find ourselves turning a blind eye to the censorship that is the ultimate endgame of no-platforming,” Khan said of PEN. “My thoughts are with all the women writers of the world who are prisoners of conscience. I’m afraid this might happen here, too, unless freedom of speech is championed.”

It is telling that Khan is a man. For their own part, many Scottish women speak seldom, or only on condition of anonymity, about the abuse and attacks they continue to face simply for being critical of gender ideology in a country that has enabled trans activists to set the tone in literary life. As one anonymous signatory to an open letter to the Scottish Poetry Library wrote, “I know that if I speak out publicly at my [publisher], then I risk not having my contract renewed.” Another wrote, “My publishing house is currently all about ‘diversity’ and I know that if I speak out publicly then I risk not having my contract renewed which, being the sole earner in my home… a risk I literally cannot afford.” Other authors describe how their professional and personal lives were disrupted and curtailed by aggressive trans activists.

It would be wrong to present these trans activists as working together as a single unit, let alone any kind of unified conspiracy. For the most part, this is nothing but a loose network of privileged millennials leveraging their positions within activism, arts, and academia to censor, ostracise, and, where they think necessary, punish women who oppose the idea that a man can become a woman by an act of self-declaration. Like all extremists, they believe their ruthless tactics put them on the side of angels. Unaccustomed to life on the breadline, they believe that any harm to a woman’s livelihood, relationships, professional networks, health, and security to be justifiable collateral damage in what they see as the great struggle of our time—the fight against transphobia.

Eager to please this constituency, certain literary businesses, such as Lighthouse bookshop in Edinburgh, now actually boast about excluding Rowling’s books from their shelves. For its part, London’s Second Shelf bookshop didn’t remove Rowling’s books, but announced that every time someone bought one, they’d make a donation to a lobby group that supports paediatric transitioning. Some activists even fantasize about scrubbing Rowling’s name off the entire Harry Potter universe.

The novelists, librarians, and booksellers circling the wagons to shut women up have been insisting for years that they are motivated by nothing but love and tolerance. And for a while, people took them at their word—including many policymakers and legislators. But all cults eventually collapse under the weight of their own dogma once its absurdity is exposed. And thanks to the grass-roots efforts of women on both side of the Atlantic, that is what we now see happening.


Erin Perse writes blogs at Wild Woman Writing Club, and tweets at @wwwritingclub.

Featured image: Liz Truss, currently serving as UK Secretary of State for International Trade, President of the Board of Trade, and Minister for Women and Equalities, photographed in 2013.


  1. Ironically, the radical trans activists who claim to be fighting against transphobia are causing a tremendous amount of harm to the cause they claim to support. Their tactics are reprehensible – “activists have led a genuinely McCarthy-esque campaign of blacklisting against dissenters” – and their goals are indefensible. In a sane world, J.K. Rowling would be properly recognized as an ally of trans people: like most liberals (and many conservatives), she believes that they should be accepted, respected and supported. But the trans-activist “cult” demands completely fealty to its “absurd dogma,” demonizing and seeking to “censor, ostracise and … punish” anyone who refuses to kowtow to its agenda. Let’s hope that the author is right that the tide has finally turned.

    This kind of extremism threatens to alienate well-meaning people who are otherwise sympathetic to the challenges faced by trans people. Trans activists seem to be care more about ideological purity tests than the well-being of the individuals they claim to represent. Their campaign of intimidation is generating a backlash that’s likely to slow or even reverse the progress that trans people have made toward social acceptance. The activists may have good intentions, but I fear they’re paving the road to hell for ordinary trans people, women who want to retain access to single-sex spaces, and children who may be irreversibly harmed by decisions they come to regret. Thank goodness for brave celebrities like Rowling and for legislators and policy-makers who will not capitulate to the extremists’ demands.

  2. Do not be so foolish as to believe that this is some sort of a victory of feminists over trans. This is a minor victory of sanity over madness. Now that feminists have decided that biology is real after all, they will have to deal with the men they decried for years as patriarchal biological determinists.

    But all cults eventually collapse under the weight of their own dogma once its absurdity is exposed.

    or as I prefer it,

    For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.
    Pslam 33:4

  3. One of the causes of these problems is the tendency of governments to legislate more legal rights than can be exercised without clashing with the rights of others. These become legislated conflicts. As with governments printing too much money and causing inflation, legislating rights for one group without considering the impact on the rights of others creates inevitable rights inflation, leading to clashes of the type we see in this article.

  4. Maybe they aren’t really interested in Trans people at all? Perhaps they just want to bully people to fall in line with “the cause”.

    Edit: Here’s a snippet from Douglas Murray about this

    And here we all thought they were trying to help!

  5. I get the impression that feminists are more anti male-to-female trans than they are female-to-male trans.

    Seems biased to me.

  6. Women who spoke up about this were systematically pushed out of any public square

    I’ve observed women organizing at the grassroots level to oppose male encroachment on their spaces

    And thanks to the grass-roots efforts of women on both side of the Atlantic

    Apparently only women have been objecting to this insanity, and only women who speak up are attacked by the mob, and only women have been trying to do anything to stop it.

    Question for the Brits: would self-ID have been held back if Corbyn had beaten Johnson? Or should the author really be thanking a conservative government instead of grass-roots efforts by women?

  7. You could edit this essay by replacing “transgendered” with “feminists” and “feminists” with “Men’s Rights Activists” and make exactly the same points.

    The feminists who now decry the loss of free speech when they are the ones under attack were the same ones de-platforming men for years when they dared raise similar issues. Where were these “defenders of free speech” when men were prevented from beginning a discussion of men’s rights on Canadian campuses? Where were they when the movie The Red Pill was being censored around the world?
    Where were they when men’s right to privacy was discarded so that female reporters could go into men’s changing rooms?

    Where? Firmly on the other side of the issue, that’s where. Then free speech was a tool of the patriarchy to oppress women. Speech became hate, and anyone opposing feminism was committing violence.

    The utter hypocrisy of feminists is simply jaw dropping. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, suddenly those principles of free speech are looking pretty good, aren’t they?

  8. “Primary school disruption over LGBT teaching/relationships education” (link below) was published in October 2019. Boris Johnson hold the office from July 2019, conservative government – from 2010.

    Don’t underestimate grassroots efforts, @GrumpyBear!

  9. It’s about time. What the trannies did was cleverly stow away on the gay rights ferry boat, thinking no one would notice, or rather that no one would dare want to be “on the wrong side of history.”

    Everyone who bought into this should hang their heads in shame. I’m talking to you Obama.

  10. I can certainly see why the trans-lobby is kicking up a huge fuss; intersectionality-wise, becoming a trans-woman is a HUGE upgrade. What with white hetero males at the bottom of the pile, and white gay males not much higher, (roughly at the same level as hetero white women) identifying as a ‘trans-woman’ vaults you into stratospheric heights, previously available only to gay black men! If THAT isn’t incentive enough to buy a set of fake tits, then nothing is!
    As an added bonus, hetero-trans-women get to serve time in women’s prisons where they can put their ‘womans penises’ to good use! They might not even get jail-time for diddling in the girls washroom because it’s a ‘woman’s thing’ right? Upgrade time!

  11. It’s mainly the white woke left that’s lecturing the rest of us, not black people. Black people are watching an intra-white drama.

  12. And here I thought the definition of feminism was ending double standards based on gender to achieve equality for everyone?

    On second thought, you’re probably right. The real agenda of feminism has nothing to do with equality, does it?

  13. Advocates for prostrate cancer aren’t required to bang on about all other cancers that affect women & children as well. Feminism in general is about bringing attention to issues that specifically affect women most recently being domestic violence & sex assault/harassment & rape. Just like Men’s Rights Activists are rightly more advocating for mens issues like custody. Specialisation in concerns usually helps solve problems more than generalising does & doesn’t indicate lack of concern elsewhere.

  14. But these issues are small issues - I mean percentage - I don’t mean small in that they don’t matter. All societies condemn this behavior. (I can say this as I lived in a Patriarchal society and NO ONE, NO ONE likes a wife beater etc.!) It’s not good for any of us. Women don’t own it even if a small percentage of men do it. When I was a child my dad beat the crap out of my Uncle for beating his wife (my mom’s sister). Give him a taste of his own medicine. Worked. Never touched her again. I had a t-shirt that said FemiNest, and my neighbor promptly came over and told me “I was no FEMINIST.” Good Grief. I see problems as universal, nothing occurs in a vacuum. I can tell you when my son’s look at a women they DO see an equal person in all ways. I believe this is true for all young people. Anyone can cherry pick out things. Maybe it’s because I grew up overseas and Western Women, Men… Tans… they all cry too much! Final point, I think the Feminists today are searching for new issues, gotta keep the fight going.

  15. It was a relief, as a lot of them said they were moving to Canada!

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