All posts filed under: Women

I’m a Feminist Mother. But I Don’t Need a ‘Feminist Birth’

When my first was born—a bit early, just shy of 36 weeks—he couldn’t breathe. He let out a brief, warbled cry, then fell silent. He was taken from my grasp in seconds, before it felt like he had ever really been with me at all. He required resuscitation. I held him again, for a few seconds, when he was stable and wearing a continuous positive airway pressure mask. Then he was taken to another floor of the hospital. There were a lot of things for a mother to be upset about. My labour included medical interventions, including intravenous medications, that I had no say about. I was confined to bed to allow continuous fetal monitoring, making labour—which took place without analgesics—more painful. I didn’t see my son for over two hours after he was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. He never breastfed well in the months that followed, possibly because he was given a soother and feeding tube without my consultation or knowledge. “Mommy” blogs and other online fora are rife with similar …

The End of an Era—A Feminist Firebrand Looks Back

After 9/11, I felt as if the Afghanistan I’d fled so long ago had followed me right into the future and into the West. That distant and dangerous country began to dominate American and European headlines. Muslim women started wearing burqas (head, face, and body coverings) and niqabs (face masks) on the streets of New York City, London, and Paris. As global violence against women gained horrendous momentum, many Western feminists became increasingly afraid to criticize that violence lest they be condemned as colonialists and racists. This fear often trumped their concern for women’s human rights globally. This was not the universalist feminism I helped pioneer. We favored multicultural diversity; we were not multicultural relativists. We called out misogyny when we saw it and didn’t exempt a rapist, a wife beater, or a pedophile because he was poor (his victims were also poor) or a man of color (his victims were often also people of color). We had little sympathy for a perpetrator because he had suffered an abused childhood (so had his victims). Fighting for abortion …

How a Feminist Prophet Became an Apostate—An Interview with Dr Phyllis Chesler

Dr Phyllis Chesler has never been afraid to be unpopular. During 60 years as an academic, feminist campaigner, and psychotherapist, she has frequently courted controversy. Her new memoir, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, details her experiences as a leader of the Second Wave feminist movement in the United States. Readers are introduced to a star cast that includes household names such as Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem, as well as women such as Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Mary Daly, and Shulamith Firestone, women who produced influential work that is now often forgotten, or else misremembered by Third Wave feminists keen to distance themselves from their feminist foremothers. But Chesler refuses to be misremembered. She’s here to give her side of the story, and she doesn’t pull her punches. We spoke over Skype from her home in New York. Chesler in conversation is just the same as Chesler in print: warm and razor-sharp. At the age of 78, she is both a prolific writer and an energetic campaigner. Most of her campaigning interests are concerned …

The Life of a Transgender Prisoner

Last month’s school shooting in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, claimed the life of an innocent child. Eight more were injured. In the way that this crime affects the victims and their families, the tragedy is similar to many previous incidents. But it also uniquely highlights a criminal justice challenge that has been the subject of debate: what to do with transgender criminals? In the UK, where prisoners are classified primarily according to a policy of “self-identification,” recent controversy has focused on Karen White, a violent transgender woman who was moved to a male facility in 2018 after being accused of sexually assaulting multiple female prisoners. In the United States, where prisoners generally are classified according to their biological sex, the issue has been less prominent. However, that may soon change. One of the two suspected shooters in Colorado is listed in court records as Maya McKinney, a 16-year-old female. However, the suspect now identifies as “Alec,” and has asked that male pronouns be used in all official proceedings—even though Alec is being housed in …

It’s Time for Progressives to Protect Women Instead of Pronouns

On my way out of Edinburgh University last week, where I’d just delivered a speech on how feminists should resist male violence, I was attacked by a shrieking “transgender person” (to cite the term used in a Scotsman headline). Had it not been for the three burly security guards surrounding me, I would have been punched. I usually use female pronouns to refer to trans women, as a courtesy. But this is a courtesy I won’t extend to someone seeking to hurt me physically. This was a man—specifically, a misogynist who’d become notorious under the (since deleted) Twitter handle TownTattle. He was deeply offended that I’d been allowed to speak. That’s why he wanted to hurt me: for being a woman who opened her mouth. The event at which I’d appeared was called Women’s Sex-Based Rights. It focussed on the threat to women-only spaces and organizations posed by gender activists who seek to erase any legal distinction in regard to the treatment of male- and female-bodied individuals. In the run-up to the event, trans activists …

An Unhelpful Study about Women in Physics

An article promoted by the American Physical Society (APS, the world’s largest organization of physicists) has claimed a recent study shows that “Yes, Sexual Harassment Still Drives Women Out of Physics.” Unfortunately, the study does not ascertain the severity of the harassment, who engages in harassment, and whether harassment gets more or less severe as people advance in the field. Moreover, the conclusion that harassment drives women from physics contradicts publicly available data on the progression of women in physics careers. Harassment is a matter that we should take seriously, but we should act thoughtfully, and the study at hand does not provide enough evidence to justify alarm. The authors gauged the incidence of harassment by asking approximately 460 students to indicate “Never,” “Once,” “Twice,” or “More than twice” for the following survey items (text verbatim from the article, numbers added for convenience): While in a context associated with physics, someone… …made sexual remarks or told inappropriate jokes or stories …made comments of a sexual nature or tone about your body, appearance, or clothing, or …

The Ultimate ‘Concept Creep’: How a Canadian Inquiry Strips the Word ‘Genocide’ of Meaning

In 208 AD, the Roman warrior emperor Septimus Severus arrived in Britain with 40,000 soldiers, intent on subduing the tribes inhabiting the northern part of the island. These tribes were part of the Caledonian confederacy, which occupied modern Scotland. But to the Romans, most everyone who lived outside the empire was a barbarian, full stop. So when Severus became frustrated by the Caledonians’ (sensible) refusal to submit to pitched battle, the emperor settled on another strategy, which we would now call genocide. In 210, he assigned the job of extermination to his son Caracalla, a mass-murdering lunatic who would later assassinate his own brother Geta in front of their mother. It likely was only Severus’ death in 211 that cut the operation short and saved Scotland from a complete holocaust. Caracalla always is listed by historians among the worst emperors of Roman history. But tellingly, his attempted annihilation of the Caledonians isn’t typically cited in the historical bill of particulars. In ancient Rome, genocide was seen as an acceptable military tactic if it was directed …

Rethinking Abortion Advocacy

Last Tuesday, the Governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America into law. The new law bans abortions even in the case of rape and makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Despite the low probability of this law going into effect, it has provoked a slew of commentary from both sides of the aisle. To call it “commentary,” however, suggests that people are engaging in thoughtful attempts to persuade one another. In reality, the abortion debate has had all the intellectual rigor and emotional maturity of a pissing contest. In an effort to be part of the solution, I’d like to explain why I’m pro-choice. Without doubt, my position will put me at odds with pro-lifers. But it will also put me at odds with many pro-choicers. Indeed, part of the reason I feel motivated to defend my position is because of how unpersuasive I find the central argument of the pro-choice movement. It’s painful to watch a movement use bad reasons …

The Abortion Issue Isn’t About ‘The Patriarchy’

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the most restrictive ban on abortion in the United States. The legislation bans all abortions—even in cases of rape and incest—with exceptions being offered only to pregnant women whose lives are in serious danger. Medical practitioners who perform abortions will be liable for felony charges, which carry a potential sentence of up to 99 years in prison. (Mothers will not be liable.) Alabama has gone even further than other states that recently have passed anti-abortion laws, since those laws ban the practice only after a heartbeat is detected—usually at six or eight weeks into a pregnancy. The Guardian’s headline on the Alabama story—These 25 Republicans—all white men—just voted to ban abortion in Alabama—channelled a dominant social-media meme by putting gender front and centre. Twitter and Facebook were rife with claims that Alabama’s bill, like other anti-abortion laws, was really all about men attacking women’s rights and bodily autonomy. Perhaps the most succinct articulation of this view goes back to 1971, when feminist Gloria Steinem famously claimed: …

A Girl’s Place in the World

Worth mentioning here is the way in which the boy’s plight differs from the girl’s in almost every known society. Whatever the arrangements in regard to descent or ownership of property…the prestige values always attach to the occupations of men. —Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 1935 It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest obsession in history is that of man with woman’s body. —David D. Gilmore, Misogyny, 2001 In the volume Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia, anthropologist Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin recounts meeting a woman who had undergone a male initiation among the Central Iatmul fisher-foragers of Papua New Guinea. One day years back, when the woman was a young, pre-pubescent girl visiting her mother’s village of Tigowi, she had climbed a Malay apple tree to get some fruit. At that moment, two men were blowing flutes in a fenced-off enclosure nearby and saw the girl in the tree. This was a serious matter, as the flutes were meant to be kept secret from the women and children, who were …