Author: Charlotte Shelton

Strange Bedfellows: The Peculiar Alliance Between Centrist Liberals and Radical Feminists

A peculiar new alliance appears to be emerging between trans-critical radical feminists and liberal centrists who are normally critical of radical feminism. Radical feminists’ insistence on the biological definition of “woman” seems to align them with the anxieties of those disturbed by activists’ redefinition of “female” and “male” from objective biological descriptors to self-reported perceptions, as well as with the concerns of non-radical feminists like Helen Joyce who has written cogently on the consequences of denying sex differences. However, radical feminists are beholden to a gender theory of their own, and it ought to be possible to reject the claims of trans extremists without entangling ourselves in another equally dubious ideology. Trans radicalism is not a war against feminism. It is a civil war within feminism, and it is not immediately obvious which side liberals should be rooting for. There is a risk of becoming trapped in radicals’ own mode of discourse. Trans activists advance dubious claims about gender behind a shield of the interests of trans people as a group. There is a temptation …

Theorising Out Loud

Of late, the Left has again become rather taken with the notion that marginalised groups suffer under unfettered speech. Ergo, it is argued, “Social Justice Warriors are the true defenders of free speech,” because selective censorship helps to compensate for power differentials and open public discourse to a diverse range of voices. Those concerned about the stifling of free expression are chastised for their ignorance of this insight into the workings of discourse. But this theory isn’t especially new, and it has a beleaguered history of which its proponents seem to be unaware. Recent progressive suspicion toward free speech has relied for much of its authority upon the writings of feminist philosopher Catharine Mackinnon, who waged a war on pornography during the 1980s along with Andrea Dworkin. Together, Mackinnon and Dworkin wrote and advocated for local Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinances, which redefined pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights, in part because they alleged that pornography raises rates of sexual violence. Mackinnon also argued that pornography more broadly reinforces societal misogyny thereby suppressing women’s …