Greetings fellow heretics. As a once-upon-a-time Very Online Professional Feminist, what I’m about to say to you might be an even bigger apostasy than unbelief in gender ideology. I’m going to write about the ways in which women, and modern popular feminism, have promoted the sickness that has captured so many of our children. Feminists who insist that gender ideology is being pushed only by men and for the benefit of men are wrong. Women are primarily responsible for promulgating gender ideology in our schools and universities, in our workplaces, and online, and for enforcing its linguistic etiquette on others.
When I first tumbled down the gender rabbit hole in 2018, I gravitated naturally to the radical feminist/gender critical analysis, which (crudely summarized) is this: that transgenderism and the invention of the transgender child are the work of male physicians, psychologists, and big pharma who are using the children to provide a civil rights smokescreen on behalf of male autogynephiles and others who want to normalize the public enactment of their sexual paraphilias. In short: (mostly) male physicians who want to experiment on children, for the benefit of male perverts.
While I still think this is a useful critical viewpoint, I have come to see that it’s far from comprehensive. We Professional Feminists have yet to reckon with the enthusiastic collaboration of women in this cult, and we also need to consider how popular online feminist discourses contribute to children’s and young people’s interest in transgenderism. If feminists presented a more positive (and accurate) view of western womanhood, would our daughters be so eager to opt out of it? Would our sons be as fearful of their maturing male bodies?
In other words: let’s resist the black-and-white thinking that this movement encourages and relies on, and engage in some nuanced analysis.
Modern popular feminism: Victims and killjoys
When my daughter came to me at age 14 to announce that she was transgender, I asked her about how she came to this conclusion. I suspected - correctly for the most part - that she was reacting to some internalized misogyny and/or possibly homophobia too, and raised this as a possibility with her. She denied it of course, but I found the published writings of Lisa Marchiano, a feminist Jungian analyst who wrote about treating transmasculine patients and who provided evidence for the kind of internalized misogyny I suspected among the ROGD girls whose stories were beginning to be told. (Marchiano’s work is fantastic—please buy Motherhood: Facing and Finding Yourself, which is a wonderful analysis of motherhood and its meaning in women’s lives.)
I continued to read the analyses of academic feminists working in this field—predominantly Kathleen Stock’s brilliant Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, Helen Joyce’s Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, and Heather Brunskell-Evans’s and Michelle Moore’s excellent essay collections, Transgender Children and Young People, and Inventing Transgender Children and Young People. I also eagerly devoured Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage as soon as it was published in the summer of 2020, laughing, crying, and rolling my eyes in recognition of the social contagion that had ensnared my daughter, like so many others. Shrier made a point in that book which the academic feminists did not, namely, she laid some blame at the door of modern feminism for not giving girls and young women a more positive view of adult womanhood. Shrier is a conservative woman. I don’t know if she would call herself a feminist or not, but her criticism of modern feminism planted a seed in the back of my brain. Could she be correct? Was my work as a Professional Feminist at least in part to blame for so many girls fleeing adult womanhood?
I had noticed in the 2010s that many women in the WEIRD world (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic)—especially academic feminists and journalists—seemed to be in a race to prove how miserable it is to be a woman now. (Critiquing this sensibility is something that journalist and writer Meghan Daum has made central to her podcasts, “The Unspeakable,” and “A Special Place in Hell” along with Sarah Haider. I appreciate Daum’s Gen-X point that if a man said something sexist or grabbed our asses in the early 90s, we just laughed at him—we didn’t cower in fear or complain to HR.) In an era in which the United States was involved in several misadventures in democracy-building in places like Iraq and Afghanistan—and many of my students in the past two decades have been veterans of these wars—it made little sense to me toportray middle-class college graduates as the biggest victims of The Patriarchy.
But still: I was an active online at the time as well as a Professional Feminist, and I felt the pull to complain ever louder about women’s place in the modern WEIRD world. But most of their—of our—complaints were of the micro-aggression kind, not the structural sexism kind that my mother and grandmother knew in their youth. It seemed like we had lost this perspective, and that feminists refused to acknowledge the remarkable victories that our mothers and grandmothers had achieved. How strange that feminism refused to celebrate its own victories. Why is that, I wondered? (And I still wonder. I think this desire to kill the mother is part of what’s leading so many young women to push gender ideology on other young women and men. “Pick-me” feminists and Not Like Other Girls-types are always eager to flatter men by distancing themselves from other women, especially older and wiser women. It’s a kind of intergenerational self-harm that is irresistible to these young women.)
Things were very different even for educated, middle-class women just sixty years ago. My grandmother told stories about being nearly sexually assaulted by a date as a widow in the 1950s, and how she caught a neighbor attempting to sexually assault a disabled teen daughter in the 1960s. My mother told me stories of sex-segregated Help Wanted sections of the newspaper in the 1960s, the decade when she finished high school, and about how she was forced to quit her job in a department store credit department when she began “showing” her first pregnancy in 1968. Although she worked in the credit department, she couldn’t get a credit card in her own name there. Another retired family member remembers as a medical student in the 1960s seeing women admitted to emergency rooms with peritonitis, presumably the result of a botched DIY abortion.
These experiences of sex discrimination and assault, as well as the lethal consequences of an adult sex life for women, are not unusual among my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. But I have never in my life had these experiences—not even close! I was never sexually assaulted, never prevented from studying what I wanted to study to the highest levels of university degrees, and never prevented from spending my own money or getting my own line of credit. And that’s because of the fantastic success of second-wave feminism! But in the past few decades, it became the fashion to trash the achievements of the second wave (too white! Too middle class! Too homophobic!), and to ignore their achievements (never mind the Combahee River Collective, or Rita Mae Brown’s ascendence over Betty Friedan—let’s just pretend that the second wave was entirely white, straight, and middle-class. Some women too have mommy issues.)
Enough of the history lesson. Back to the very recent past: around the same time (2017-18), you may remember that #MeToo and the Shitty Media Men list, among other revelations of crimes and public humiliations were being promoted on social media and in our culture. I was uncomfortable with whisper networks being deferred to like Inquisition Courts, without some kind of due process, but I know the way that institutionalized power and influence work, and how it tends to shield the bad behavior of men in positions of authority in academia. Still: it all felt a little too Cultural Revolution-like to me. (I work in an empirical discipline; we are sometimes accused of fetishizing evidence and facts—this has since become my refuge. While facts and evidence can be challenged and even disputed, it’s good to have a professional consensus about their importance.)
In early 2018, Aziz Ansari was publicly accused of sexual assault by a woman who wrote a detailed anonymous essay describing what looked like a bad date. I remember thinking at the time, “this is not good.” We needed to “listen to women,” but not necessarily “believe” in every case their perspective on men’s sexual behavior. But even before then, I thought that #MeToo had revealed itself to be not a movement, but a collection of anxieties and resentments that were packaged as a fashionable social justice cause. Like Occupy Wall Street earlier in the decade, it was only about tearing down, not about building anything. The internet was great for riling people up, but not very good at institution building. None of the great internet-enabled “revolutions” have achieved much—not in Iran, not Egypt, not Occupy, and certainly not #MeToo.
About the same time I started reading and listening to men talking about gender ideology—in particular, Benjamin Boyce’s YouTube channel, Angus Fox’s series in Quillette about teenage male transgenderism, and Joshua Slocum’s podcast “Disaffected.” All three men spoke up clearly about the influence they saw that girls and women had in the transgender movement - and of a particular brand of toxic femininity - that was obviously central to the push of gender ideology into our institutions, if not into our children themselves. Fox, befitting his training as an academic, was much gentler about his insistence about the power wielded by girls and young women as friends of so-called “trans girls,” usually their friends, boyfriends, or brothers. He saw them as key to pushing young men to transition. Many parents who have written essays here have made similar points about their daughters’ or female friends pushing their sons into transgender identification, and playing the role of pronoun enforcers even when their trans child isn’t around.
Boyce explores this theme in his interviews with detransitioners, especially the young men, and in his interviews with those critical of social justice ideology in general. Slocum is a hugely entertaining internet personality with an incisive analysis of Cluster-B personalities and their infiltration of social justice activism in general, and in transgenderism in particular. Some of you might find Slocum too spicy, but I truly appreciate his insistence that it’s women more than men are pushing this poison into the veins of our culture. And of course, this is something that Chris Elston—aka @BillboardChris on Twitter—has been saying for years. Do you ever wonder why we don’t hear about Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy mothers anymore? I think it’s because transgenderism is now the fashionable medical abuse, and it offers these women the means by which to arrest their children’s development and make them permanently dependent on these virtuous, righteous “mama bears.”
I don’t agree with everything these men say—just as I don’t agree with everything any of the women whose work I listed above say either. But I think these men have raised a valuable point about toxic femininity and its undeniable influence in transgenderism today—both in institutions and in the influence they have over vulnerable young people.
What can we do, and are we still feminists?
I’m speaking to other middle-aged feminist (or formerly feminist) mothers out there who have seen the corrosion of reality that transgenderism has wrought in our institutions and our children. I believe it’s critical to speak up in our local environments and make our opposition to gender ideology known. I know this is scary—but something to consider is that as feminists, we have special powers in turning back the tide on transgenderism. This is something I’m just wading into myself these days, but here’s my strategy:
Lay the groundwork & build a network. You have friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and colleagues who respect you and trust you. When political matters come up in conversation, talk about your misgivings about gender ideology. Be specific about what you’ve seen in your family or your local environment, and talk frankly about your concerns. I have found that 95% of the people I talk to like this acknowledge that they have concerns too. When it’s time to take the next step, you’ll want to have some friends and colleagues on your side.
Make your opposition to gender ideology public. You can do this at a school board meeting if your district is considering new policies or if there’s a controversy about a sports team or library book. You can also do this at work if and when gender ideology comes up, especially if you’re in a leadership role. Stay calm and focus on the facts. Not everyone in your network will back you up publicly, but some may be encouraged to come forward to support you vocally.
Focus on a few facts. Think of two or three big points or issues you’d like to highlight, and stick to those. As many people have pointed out, just telling other people about the truth of transgender “medicine,” about Planned Parenthood’s disturbing role in sterilizing young people today, and about the more revolting male sexual fetishists involved in this movement—among other horrors—can make us sound like QAnon conspiricists to people who aren’t following the issue closely. In my work environment, explaining how gender ideology is in conflict with other progressive values like gay rights and how it tends to concretize sexist stereotypes is probably the way to go. Another way of approaching this with people involved in health care or the environmental movement would be to raise questions about the sustainability of transgender medicine with its dependence on lifelong cross-sex hormones and their debilitating effects. You will find your own way of communicating your message with the group/s you want to reach.
Social media food fights are a waste of time. We’re too old for this shit, and if we have trans-identified kids ourselves, it’s probably counterproductive.
Talk about what’s great about being a woman. If you are a teacher or professor, or you have daughters, or you work with young people in any capacity: remind them how far we have come towards sex equality in our society. It’s unprecedented in all of world history! Pick up a women’s history book and read it. To think that this has happened in just sixty years, barely two generations—it’s amazing! Remind your young female colleagues and family members that they are the most powerful people in the world, because they have the capacity to bring forth new life and to nurture the next generation. We need to see motherhood as a source of power and influence, not as a liability or a victim status. That seems like a very obvious feminist goal, one that many so-called feminists today would deny or diminish.
My relationship to feminism is unclear at this point. I don’t want to liberate myself from men, and I very powerfully want to distance myself from the toxic femininity I see among other so-called feminists who are pushing transgender ideology. Besides, I’m a married woman, and together my husband and I made a beautiful daughter. (She has long since desisted, and is a thriving college student now, praise be!) I have an honorable father, a faithful brother, and two loving brothers-in-law. I have beautiful, promising nephews whose fathers are working hard to ensure they too grow up to be honorable, faithful, and loving men. My daughter is heterosexual and will most likely need to find and rely on a good man to make a family with her. How can I liberate myself from men? Why would I want to, when they have made me a better woman, and I have helped make them better men?
This article is too long.
What "modern popular feminists" have been saying isn't feminism in any true sense. I think that it's gotten to this point as part of a backlash against the very idea of women's rights, and waves of backlashes against women's rights movements started very long ago indeed. Can I suggest, if you have time, delving more into women's history and the history of feminist ideas? Feminism is a discipline like any other and can't really be understood on any meaningful level without some study (unfortunately). It's something for good men to study too, as a way to understand the state of male-female relations and how things came to be the way they are for so many. Also recommend studying the history of children/child welfare.