All posts filed under: Activism

Understanding the Propaganda Campaign Against So-called ‘TERFs’

“TERFs and what everyone needs to know about trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” ran the title of an article in Cosmo last month. TERFs—a term of abuse that means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”—are a “minority group who usually stick to online forums,” it explained, though they also hand out “transphobic leaflets.” Under the guise of protecting women, they spread the idea that “trans women are a threat because they are men, attempting to gain access to women’s spaces such as bathrooms and trick lesbians into having sex with them.” Many are, apparently, “funded by anti-abortion and evangelical groups.” Some call themselves “gender-critical” to seem more “palatable to the general public.” But, the article argues, it would be best to call them what they are: “anti-trans activists.” The same themes appeared in an article published a few weeks earlier by Vox, entitled, “The rise of anti-trans ‘radical’ feminists, explained.” So-called TERFs, author Katelyn Burns wrote, are anti-trans bigots and anti-feminist; funded by conservative Christians; a small online cabal in thrall to gender stereotypes. Burns also set out, in some …

How the Trans-Rights Movement Is Turning Philosophers Into Activists

On July 3, I received an innocuous-seeming email from the Digital Content Editor of a London-based arts organization called the Institute for Art and Ideas. She asked if I might set out my views on the question, “How can philosophy change the way we understand the transgender experience and identity?” As the expected response was supposed to be only 200 words in length, the task didn’t seem particularly demanding. So I agreed, and sent along a brief answer in which I focused on the now common assumption that everyone has a “gender identity.” I provided some (necessarily) brief objections to the concept as it is currently being advanced by some trans rights activists, and ended by commenting that philosophers can help people to “understand what a gender identity might be, and whether it’s a fitting characteristic to replace sex in law.” The gender wars in philosophy had been heated since May, igniting with University of Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s Medium post asking why academic philosophers—feminist philosophers, in particular—weren’t contributing to the discussion about Britain’s Gender …

In the U.S. Campus Speech Wars, Palestinian Advocacy Is a Blind Spot

In 2015, a group of undergraduates applied to establish Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a club at Fordham University in New York City. In accordance with the school’s policies, the students submitted paperwork stating that their goal was to “build support in the Fordham community among people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds for the promotion of justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the indigenous Palestinian people.” The applicants also stated that the club would participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In 2016, Fordham’s Dean of Education denied the club’s application on the grounds that it would likely be polarizing, singling out its support for BDS. The students took Fordham to court. In August, a New York judge struck down the Dean’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious.” The court’s verdict was a win for the Fordham students. But the fact that setting up their club required four years and a lawsuit is telling. As the judge noted, Fordham has clear rules about creating clubs, and they don’t …

Yaniv’s Other Racket: How a Single Gender Troll Managed to Get ‘Hundreds’ of Women Thrown Off Twitter

The Canadian human-rights litigant formerly known as Jonathan Yaniv—a trans woman who now goes by the name Jessica, but whom we will refer to simply as “JY”—is a unique figure among those who follow the debate over transgender rights. In 2018, this self-described “global internet personality” and “social justice warrior” contacted numerous Vancouver-area aestheticians seeking Brazilian-wax services—a process Wikipedia describes as “the removal of all pubic hair from the [female] pelvic region, vulva, labia, perineum and anus, while sometimes leaving a thin strip of hair on the mons pubis.” As reported by Joseph Brean in Canada’s National Post, JY seems to have sometimes used the name “Jonathan” when first making contact (an act of self-“deadnaming,” as it were), revealing only later in the conversations that the “Brazilian” in question would be performed on a client who is legally a woman, albeit a woman who has a penis and testicles. Predictably, some of the aestheticians indicated that they either didn’t have the expertise to perform their trade on such a client, or resisted the idea of …

Gamers are the Easy—But Wrong—Target After Mass Violence

The recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have resurrected old panic over violence in video games. President Trump, among others, used language linking games to mass shootings and other violence. Such links have long ago been disproven and, fortunately, most people kept their heads and pushed back against these nonsensical claims. But despite this, a more subtle narrative has developed. Is gamer culture itself toxic, catering to misogynists, racists and angry, mostly white, males? As the moral panic over violent content ebbs, I’ve witnessed a wave of comments either disparaging gamers as a group, or insinuating that while certain types of games might not directly cause violent individuals, they do cultivate negative attitudes, such as sexism, militarism or white supremacy. From an empirical standpoint, such claims tend to be long on anecdote and speculation and short on hard data. The latest such argument comes from Brianna Wu in the Washington Post, where she argues that gamer culture is inherently angry, racist and sexist, and “encourages hate.” Video games don’t cause mass shootings, …

How the Hong Kong Protestors’ Tactical Brilliance Backed Beijing into a Corner

Since Hong Kong’s momentous anti-extradition bill protest on June 9th, tensions between the protesters and the authorities have continued to escalate. The demonstration on August 12th which forced the closure of the Hong Kong International Airport suggests that the protesters are unlikely to back down anytime soon, even as the People’s Armed Police of the mainland Chinese government gathers forces in Shenzhen, preparing to possibly use violence to end the protests. The current conflict arose from the introduction of a bill allowing alleged criminals in Hong Kong to be extradited to China which is widely seen as a brash attempt to erode the “one country, two systems” principle. While the Hong Kong government has refused to meet the protesters’ 5 demands, likely under pressure from Beijing, the protesters have successfully forced Carrie Lam to suspend the extradition bill. Effectively killing the bill is a significant achievement, particularly considering the fact that Carrie Lam, at least to a significant degree, represents the interest of Beijing, which is firmly against legitimizing any kind of political opposition. One …

The Campaign to Destroy Equal Voice

Even during Question Period, it’s unusual for every seat in the Canadian House of Commons to be occupied. But, over four days in April, a not-for-profit organization called Equal Voice Canada held its second annual conference there and filled the chamber with politically active young women from every region of Canada. The taxpayer-funded event, entitled Daughters of the Vote (DotV), was intended to encourage women’s participation in electoral politics. After the youthful delegates took their places in the handsome chamber-room, with its ornate wooden panelling and stained glass windows, they were welcomed by the Hon. Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only female prime minister. (Campbell, a Conservative, served briefly in 1993 when she inherited a faltering administration from Brian Mulroney.) The National Observer reported that, of the 338 young attendees, 146 “identified as a visible minority” and 39 were Indigenous. “Many of you,” Campbell acknowledged, “are activists…for issues about which you feel passionately…who want to make changes…to fulfill your vision for the country.” But, she warned, anyone serving in Ottawa must remember that everyone else …

The Bigotry of Environmental Pessimism

Democratic Presidential candidates and the New York Times rightly condemned the use of inflammatory words like “invasion” by President Donald Trump and Fox News hosts to describe the desperate people coming from Latin America to seek a better life in the U.S. Such language is irresponsible and may very well have contributed to the motivation of a man suspected to have killed 13 Americans, eight Mexicans, and one German in El Paso last week. In a manifesto he posted online before the attack, the suspect also used the word “invasion.” While they are at it, they should condemn the inflammatory rhetoric used by environmentalists, which also may have contributed to the motivations of the El Paso shooting suspect. The suspect justified his mass shooting of people in a Walmart by arguing that “our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country.” The suspect writes, “y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of …

The Rise of ‘Drag Kids’—and the Death of Gay Culture

Last month, the CBC—Canada’s public television network—ran a lavishly publicized documentary about “four kid drag queens as they prepare to slay on Montreal stage.” This was marketed as child-friendly content. Indeed, the CBC promoted the documentary, titled Drag Kids, on its “CBC Kids News” channel as a fun look at children who “sashay their way into the spotlight.” For me, as a gay man, watching the documentary was traumatic. The interviewed parents defend themselves against accusations they are abusing their children by encouraging them to dress up in drag. But to do so, the parents must purport to separate drag from sex and sexuality, which is simply ahistorical. They define drag as “a way of expression,” and assure everyone that “there’s nothing sexual to it” (a premise that the CBC clearly embedded in the marketing around the documentary). The kids themselves are very much on message. One remarks, “I was called gay-boy, but I did nothing but dress up.” That last remark actually brought tears to my eyes—though not for the reasons you might think. …

In Defense of Political Hypocrisy

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has come under fire for not paying staffers the $15 minimum wage he promotes—and for using the private health-care system he often criticizes as immoral. Similar scorn is being hurled at environmentalist-minded celebrities who recently traveled to a Google climate-change conference via private jets, and even yachts. I am far from being ideologically aligned with Sanders or most Hollywood stars. But I will use the occasion to make a broader point about those who insist we all practice what we preach politically. Simply put: It’s petty to weaponize the spectacle of political hypocrisy to score points and avoid taking the other side seriously. As George Orwell put it in his essay about Rudyard Kipling, “a humanitarian is always a hypocrite”—since his or her standard of living is dependent on practices that he or she deems criminal. But that doesn’t mean we can simply ignore their arguments. The first and most obvious problem with targeting a political opponent’s hypocrisy is that the practice always is applied selectively. Libertarians—and I’m including myself—sometimes scoff casually …