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Posts Tagged ‘morality’

 

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Where were we?

Post 1

Post 2

I’m going to veer a bit from my original “plan” on these posts, and jump ahead to a conclusion of sorts. And then next week or over the weekend, I’ll move back and elaborate. I just want to describe the landscape and what I’m reacting to.

Let’s summarize what I was attempting to communicate in those last two posts (found here and here.)

Human beings come in two sexes, male and female (noted: intersex conditions.) 

Gender is not the same thing as sex, but is intimately related and rooted in what male and female are about: procreative roles and powers.

Beyond that, we should be wary of identifying traits as “feminine” or “masculine.” That type of discourse can certainly help in exploring our personalities and identities, understanding the challenges in relationships and building community.

But, taken even an inch too far, fixating  on and defining “feminine” or “masculine” can become confining, limiting, exclusionary, confusing, oppressive and harmful.

There’s a deep mystery about the human person, including about sexuality. We seek to understand it, but always in humility and awareness of our own limitations.

As I wrote in those posts, I come at this from two angles: first, looking at the contemporary cultural and pop spiritual scene in which there are strong movements to associate spirituality with femininity or masculinity. I’ve said that many are helped and built up by that – and that’s great. But if you are a woman or man who can’t imagine attending a Catholic or Christian women’s or men’s conference or study group – that’s great too. That was really just a side point.

But – and this is the more important point – in observing the broader culture, I’m astonished, puzzled and increasingly angered by this paradox of living in a time in which I thought we were supposed to be past gender stereotypes – but finding that, in fact, gender stereotypes are quickly becoming pathologized.

Last year, ITV aired a series called Butterfly about a male child with gender dysphoria. Sarah Ditum wrote about it and what she said echoes what I’ve been trying to say:

Butterfly, though, is storytelling. It’s emotionally appealing. It’s accessible. It’s simple. In fact, it’s very simple indeed, which is why it’s quite boring, and also why it’s dangerous.

That’s a strong word to use of a primetime drama, but consider what Butterfly is telling its audience. It offers a starkly segregated version of childhood: boys do active, sporty things and girls are decorative and pretty. Max’s parents first of all try to “fix” him into having the appropriate interests – his dad with corporal punishment, his mum by treating the “girly” things as a shameful secret to be kept to the bedroom – and, when that fails, they solve the problem instead by recategorising him as a girl. The possibility that Max, like 60-90% of children with gender dysphoria, might simply turn out to be a boy who likes pink, isn’t given house room here.

And so here we are – in this transgender moment.

Now, wait. It’s a tiny percentage of people who identify this way, you say. Why take time to pay attention? Why comment? What’s the big deal?

A couple of reasons.

First, it’s interesting. One of the aspects of history in which I’ve long been interested in is social movements. I did a lot of work in graduate school on the 19th century woman’s movement, especially in relation to religion. I’ve studied feminism, and this is a crucial moment – it really is fascinating to see assumptions and ideologies flipped around in this way.

What we’re seeing in this moment, thanks to transgenderism, is a deep, even violent clash between social movements and ideals. It’s startling, to be honest. Some look at what is going on with a sort of Schadenfreude  – “Always entertaining to see the Left eat its own.”

And, well – I suppose there’s some of that.

But what’s going on deserves more serious attention than that – and it deserves it even from those of us who aren’t directly involved and see ourselves as distant from or unsympathetic to these concerns and issues.

Because what is going on is not just a squabble between interest groups or a struggle for acceptance and tolerance. The outcome is going to impact the law – in fact, one of the major explosive points in this conflict has come, precisely, because of a battle over law and policy in England over the past year – and the policies of organizations from Girl and Boy Scouts to your local high school and health club.

And we owe it to the truth to be thoughtful and clear-headed about the issue, and not get wrapped up into sentiment.

So what am I doing? I want to talk about what’s going on with this issue and share what I think are possible consequences – and help folks make sense of it, in whatever way I can.

I think this is a deeply important moment, and because of the power of rapid communications and the quick and harsh power that interests group can yield now, we need to pay attention. There’s a middle ground between:

  • Seeing this as an issue that crazy people over there are squabbling about and since I don’t like most of what they are saying anyway, I’ll just point and laugh

and

  • Blindly acceding to the nice-sounding  slogans of acceptance and diversity of the moment

 

Oh – and a warning. The material I’ll be linking to and quoting will, at times, be pretty out there and contain what some might find offensive language. And of course, I don’t agree with every other point made by writers and activists I’ll be citing. Just know that going in.

Here’s my entry point, and I think this pretty succinctly summarizes the current situation. The writer is a leftist feminist academic. Her field is not gender or sexuality, but I think this is a helpful summary of the core issues – it was published in 2015, but is still valid – again, her starting definitions are not those I necessarily share, but stick with it:

Transgenderism bastardises the core feminist insight that “woman” is a politically defined social category generated by male violence and the exclusion, expropriation and colonisation of female human beings. Rendered as a Leftist wedge issue, this insight becomes the distorted proposition that “woman” is a flexible human “identity” with which any individual might associate themselves – even fully-grown rational male human beings.

Rather than being a designator of subordinated social class membership, “woman” is a feeling that can swell in any man’s breast. Acting on this feeling, he might adopt sex-stereotyped clothing and behaviours, and others must hold these caricatured displays in high regard. Female pronouns must be used, and laws and policies must be changed to newly recognise women, not as an historically vulnerable social group, but as the product of an individual man’s inner thoughts and feelings.

The Leftist purge of women who refuse publicly to declare allegiance to such ideas of transgenderism is proceeding apace. It takes the form of the “no-platforming” of feminists at speaking events, the petitioning of conference venues to drop bookings from feminist groups, the public harassment and ridicule of dissenters, and lobbying for women to be removed from jobs and positions of public profile.

So what is she talking about in that last paragraph?

Basically, the war that has broken out, at least in English-speaking countries (that I’m aware of) between feminist, lesbian and transgender activists. It’s not a small thing.

The controversy exploded last year with proposed changes to the British 2004 Gender Identification Law – the changes would loosen the requirements for determining gender. The following is taken from an opinion piece by two scholars opposed to the changes:

One of the main reforms proposed is that anyone should be able to be formally recognised as a member of the other sex purely on the basis of self-identification. Therefore, the sole criterion for determining that a person is a woman would be that person’s belief (or stated belief) that they are a woman. Anyone who wants to be a woman would have to be viewed as one.

The effect of this proposal becoming law would be to erode the very concept of woman. It will erase women’s lived experiences, and undermine women’s rights. Being a woman is about sex and biology, in that our bodies determine so much of our experience, and also about the way we are constructed socially, which also helps determine our lived experiences. It is not about how a person feels or what they claim to feel.

Self-identification will allow anyone to access women’s spaces at any time, having self-proclaimed that they are a woman. This is  problematic for women accessing women’s spaces and services whose lived experiences (such as surviving sexual violence) or protected characteristics (such as religion that requires sex-segregation for certain activities) make it essential that women’s spaces remain sex-segregated.

Self-identification is also open to abuse by men seeking to access women’s spaces and women’s bodies. We are already seeing people who were born and still live and present as men claiming that they are trans-women in order to gain access to women’s spaces, including convicted sex offenders demanding to be housed in women’s prisons; individuals videoing women and girls naked in women’s changing rooms; and individuals seeking to join all-women candidate lists in local or national elections. Allowing self-identification of trans people will enable and embolden these types of activities.

There is clearly a conflict of rights and interests at the heart of these discussions. This conflict needs to be aired and discussed.  

So what is happening?

Essentially this:

In organizations, movements and platforms throughout the English-speaking world, women who question and challenge transgender ideology are being pushed out, excluded, and threatened.

The nature of the questions and challenges range across various concerns:

  • Transgendered individuals participating in girls and women’s athletic events.
  • Transgendered individuals being admitted into all-women spaces, ranging from prisons to shelters to, of course, restrooms.
  • Transgendered activists redefining women and aspects of female physiology.

Somewhat distinct, but of even more pressing concern is the impact of this on children and young people: encouraging children who are confused and – as most children and young people are – uncomfortable with body changes, fearful and confused about identity and the future – to latch onto gender stereotypes, accept hormonal treatments and surgery to “become” another gender.

I’m going to go into these in more detail in later posts. It’s easy to find all sorts of related news everywhere, but there are a few cases that interest me in particular.

What I wanted to focus on in this post is the impact on social movements – feminism and gay activism, in particular. You may not think it has anything to do with you, but think again. We should all know by know how quickly these demands develop.

One of the things you quickly – immediately – notice – is that the movement in this area is all in one direction:

Men identifying as women demanding access to traditional women’s spaces and activities.

It’s never the other way around. The pressure, the hate and the violence – yes, the violence – is emanating from men demanding to be identified as women.

And the pressure is on.  Here’s a good summary from Meghan Murphy – a Canadian journalist who this past week filed a lawsuit against Twitter for banning her – for saying, basically “men aren’t women.”

This is a long excerpt – and I encourage you to go read her entire piece for many more examples.

The statement that “Men aren’t women” would have been seen as banal—indeed, tautological—just a few years ago. Today, it’s considered heresy—akin to terrorist speech that seeks to “deny the humanity” of trans-identified people who very much wish they could change sex, but cannot. These heretics are smeared as “TERF”—a pejorative term that stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist—and blacklisted. On many Twitter threads, the term is more or less synonymous with “Nazi.” 

In many progressive corners of academic and online life, it now is taken as cant that anyone who rejects transgender ideology—which is based on the theory that a mystical “gender identity” exists within us, akin to a soul—may be targeted with the most juvenile and vicious attacks. “Punch TERFs and Nazis” has become a common Twitter tagline, as is the demand that “TERFs” be “sent to the gulag.” (This latter suggestion was earnestly defended in a thread authored by students who run the official Twitter account of the LGBTQ+ Society at a British university. The authors went on to say that the gulag model would, in fact, comprise “a compassionate, non-violent course of action” to deal with “TERFs” and “anti-trans bigots” who must be “re-educat[ed].”)

The reason why engagement with the most militant trans activists is fruitless, and yields only a slew of empty mantras and false stereotypes, is that one cannot argue with religious faith. At the core of transgender ideology is the idea that the old mind/body problem that has bedeviled philosophers for centuries has been definitively solved by gender-studies specialists—and that a female mind can exist within a male body and vice versa. Moreover, we are informed that these mystical phenomena are invisible in all respects, except to the extent that they are experienced from within—which means the only reliable indicator of supposed bona fide transgenderism is the self-declaration of trans-identified individuals (many of whom seem to have made these stunning discoveries as part of a sudden social trend).

Like other women who have been sounding the alarm about these trends, I regularly get accused of spreading moral panic, and of attempting to vilify trans-identified people as inveterate predators. But my issue isn’t with “transgender people,” per se, but, rather, with men. There is a reason certain spaces are sex-segregated—such as change rooms, bathrooms, women’s shelters, and prisons: because these are spaces where women are vulnerable, and where male predators might target women and girls. These are spaces where women and girls may be naked, and where they do not want to be exposed to a man’s penis, regardless of his insistence that his penis is actually “female.”

The internally experienced mystical conceits of a man’s mind do not affect any of the reasons why sex-segregated spaces were created in the first place. Female firefighters in Canada had to fight for years to have their own facilities like locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers, after suffering regular harassment in previously shared spaces. Such are the gains that the radicalized portion of the trans-rights movement wants to roll back. Generations of feminists have made it their life’s work to help women feel safe in historically male spaces. But in the name of ideological fashion, that has been flushed away in the name of male demands for “inclusivity.”

In May, nine homeless women signed on to a lawsuit against Naomi’s House in Fresno, California, after they were forced to shower with a biological man who, while claiming to be a woman, made lewd, sexually inappropriate comments to them, and leered at their naked bodies. In Toronto, similarly, Kristi Hanna filed a human rights complaint against the Jean Tweed Centre, which runs Palmerston House, a shelter for female recovering addicts, after she was told she must share a room with a hulking, plainly male-bodied individual claiming to be a woman.

….

Friends sometimes tell me that I shouldn’t worry too much, because Twitter “isn’t real life.” But online fights have an effect on “real life.” Last month, Canada’s Greystone Books, with which I’d been working on a manuscript for almost three years, told me they were dropping my book. The manuscript had just been completed, and I’d agreed to all the suggested edits with regard to the material on transgenderism. The email sent to me by the owner of the company was completely out of the blue, and explained, “I cannot and will not accept a manuscript for publication at Greystone which is hurtful to individuals or groups because of what they believe about their own gender.” When I responded with shock and confusion, he declined to explain what it was about my analysis that suddenly had become “unacceptable” to him. Presumably, he was just late getting the memo about “TERFs.”

We are indeed in an era of social panic. But this panic isn’t directed at trans-identified individuals, who, in fact, are now called on to lead parades. Rather, the panic is directed at anyone who claims that 2 + 2 = 4. After stickers with the words, “Women don’t have penises” appeared on campus at Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Jennifer Dyer, interim head of the gender studies department, blamed “TERFs.” And university president Gary Kachanoski responded immediately with a statement that called the stickers “transphobic” and “hateful.” Bailey Howard, director of external affairs for the Student Union, saidthat not one, but two meetings were being planned to “discuss next steps.” An anchor for NTV, Newfoundland’s provincial news program, labeled it a “hate crime.” All of this hysteria was set in motion by a set of stickers that express a sentiment endorsed, at least privately, by most members of our society. It feels like a Monty Python sketch come to life.

I was angry to have lost a Twitter account with tens of thousands of followers. I was angry to have lost a book deal. But I will recover. I am resilient, if nothing else. I will find another publisher and other ways to communicate with the public. I have countless supporters, and my career is far from over. Certainly, I don’t plan on shutting up.

But this isn’t just about me. It’s about a cultish movement that is flexing its muscle on campuses, in civic organizations, at public events, and in the back offices of social-media companies, to strike down anyone who dares point out that the gender emperor wears no clothes. It is about our ability to debate important issues and speak the truth in the public realm. It’s time for all of us—not just women and feminists, who are now taking the worst of it—to put their collective foot down and demand a return to sanity.

 

TO REPEAT:

You can look at all of this  and say, Hahaha – what do you expect from progressives? Feminists getting a taste of their own medicine!

I suppose you can do that. But it’s not a serious response. For this isn’t a battle being fought only on Twitter and in academic departments. We’ve seen how quickly the social landscape changes.

For this can, in a way, be a teachable moment, can’t it? It can be an opportunity for us to take a deep breathe and indeed reconsider what it means to be a person, a woman, a man – and consider whether or not certain old truths still might be…true.

I mean, look at the bolded paragraph section up there. And think about, compare it to this article asking – is the soul sexed? 

…..

Fair Play for Women is a UK-based organization that has all the resources you need to get started. 

Here they are on Twitter.

We are concerned that in the rush to reform transgender laws and policies women’s voices will not be heard. Run entirely by a team of volunteers with skills in many different disciplines, without any corporate sponsorship or formal funding, we have worked hard over the past year to bring this issue to public attention.

Women get called transphobic for simply asking questions. Women are afraid to speak out and fear for their jobs and reputation if they do. We provide the safe platform necessary for women and men to voice their concerns, share their real-life stories and expert knowledge.

4th Wave Now looks at it from another angle:

The purpose of this site is to give voice to an alternative to the dominant trans-activist and medical paradigm currently being touted by the media

Twitter.

Jane Clare Jones is a writer with a strong voice. She blogs here. Her most popular post is “The Annals of the TERF-wars” found here. Again, warning for strong language.  

 

Trans activists: So hey, when we said we’d like you to treat us like women that wasn’t right, because actually, we ARE women and we demand that you treat us exactly like women because we are women and that you to stop violently excluding us from all your women things.

Women: Um, we thought you were male people who had to transition to help with your dysphoria?

Trans activists: No, that is out-dated and pathologizing. Women are women because they have a gender identity which makes them women.

Women: Um, we thought we were woman because we’re female?

Trans activists: No, you are women because you have magic womanish essence that makes you women. We have the same magic womanish essence as you, it’s just that ours got stuck in the wrong body.

Feminists: That sounds kind of sexist. Can you tell us what this woman-essence is, and how it gets stuck in the wrong body, because that sounds like a weird metaphys…..

Trans activists: It’s SCIENCE.

Feminists: Science says there’s ‘magic woman essence’??? Are you sure? Because feminism would…

Trans activists: Shut up bigots.

But it’s hilarious. And true.

Julia Beck, on Tucker Carlson this past week, describes in this long piece how she was kicked off the Baltimore LGBTQ Commission for calling a guy “he.” 

Our very first meeting was in May. To make the commission “as inclusive as possible,” Mayor Pugh invited applicants to a welcoming reception. When I arrived,  Ava Pipitone, president of Baltimore’s Transgender Alliance, was preaching everyone’s favorite buzzword: “inclusion.” He seemed a caricature of femininity with overtly demure mannerisms and performative vocal fry. At the end of his prepared speech, Mayor Pugh tenderly embraced him, thanking him for being “so brave” at the podium.
….

When I arrived to the first Law and Policy meeting, Ava Pipitone, of BTA, shook my hand and greeted me by my full name. I knew I was in for a show. I asked him what he does for a living, and he gushed about the app he’s developing with engineers in California — “like if Air BnB and OkCupid had a baby” — a dating website based on rental locations, every pimp’s wet dream. It was no surprise to hear him confess later in the night that he’s an agent for the global pimp lobby, the Sex Workers Outreach Project.

Before we could talk about bylaws, Pipitone announced the rejection of my written comments on some new policies from the Baltimore Police Department. He further derailed the conversation by asking me to name his sex. There was no point in lying. I said, “You’re male,” but my Co-Chair, Akil Patterson, a gay man, disagreed on the grounds of gender identity. When I asked Patterson to differentiate “gender” from “sex,” Pipitone accused me of gaslighting. Instead of answering, they deferred: Why does a stranger’s identity matter so much? Why can’t you just support trans people? What does it have to do with you?

I brought up Karen White, a convicted pedophile and rapist who was placed in a UK women’s prison, despite being legally male and undergoing no steps to socially or medically transition, where he then raped two inmates. White’s case illustrates how easy it is for men to manipulate the law, but Pipitone smirked and claimed I was being performative. In delicate tones, he expressed concern with my leadership. He claimed Lesbianism and transgenderism are incongruent political forces (probably the only thing we agree on). Instead of enacting “lateral violence” against transfolk by crashing “our parades,” he argued that lesbians should assimilate with male lesbians to “punch up” at an unnamed oppressor.

Incidentally, Beck’s piece is at the website After Ellen – a lesbian website whose editor is today under attack from transactivists for some reasons I really don’t understand.

****

Several years ago, when I first started observing these movements, the following popped into my head. If you read my first post on this, you know that the thought of Germaine Greer and 80’s era feminists who questioned the impact of reproductive technology on women has been very important to me. What all of these thinkers – as well as pro-life feminism –  emphasized wast the cultural and social temptation to, as it were, castrate women to make them more productive cogs in male-defined social and economic structures – make them easier to sexually exploit, with little fear of pregnancy – and render them more efficient workers. Hence the title of Greer’s book The Female Eunuch. 

So when I started seeing this moment evolve, here is what I thought, and I can’t shake it:

When historians look back on this, they’re going to see the ultimate triumph of  misogyny, enabled by technology: The ideal woman – is a man. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read this over the last day – the first page-turner that I’ve read in a while.

expendable man

No, it wasn’t high literature, but it is a well-written noir of sorts, penned in 1963.  Dorothy B. Hughes was a journalist who wrote 14 novels, the most-well known of which is probably In a Lonely Place, which was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. 

One of the reasons it’s good to read not-high literature from the past is that it gives you a different sort of historical insight.  It’s very difficult to construct an even halfway accurate portrait of the past given the limitations of evidence and the power of presentism.

For me, fiction and travel literature add to the picture. I’ve taken to read a lot of older – 19th-mid 20th century- travel literature to read what writers have to say about the Catholic culture and practices of the places they visit.

So in this book, without giving too much away, the issues at hand are racial attitudes and abortion. I wouldn’t read too much about the book before reading it – there’s an element of surprise that makes the first part of the book a somewhat Sixth Sense sort of experience: you say, ah – and have to go back and re-read with the new-to-you information in mind.  I know it sounds gimmicky, but it’s really not, and Hughes’ treatment of her initially-hidden information is interesting and subtle.

I’ll be reading more of Hughes. But first, The Big Clock – I’m basically drifting around, reading short, grabby books that I can find for free ( I checked out a digital edition of The Expendable Man from my library.  The problem with my library systems online catalog is that there’s no way, as far as I can tell, to search only for digital books – I would like to be able to browse those titles much as I can go to the physical library and browse the physical books on the physical shelves.).

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Spoilers ahead. Don’t whine.

As I wrote before, I had some doubts about Better Call Saul, even though I trust Vince Gilligan’s creative vision. Since we know the destiny (up to a point) of the two major characters, the stakes, it seemed to me, were not that high – and stakes are what make compelling drama.  If we know what happens to Mike (death) and Saul (Cinnabon), what is going to keep us coming back to Better Call Saul aside from close calls and ridiculous courtroom analogies?

"amy welborn"Well, even though I do hope that the series ultimately takes us to the “present,” at this point, one episode from the end of this first season, I’m in, and the stakes have been driven in. Firmly, ingeniously and with a huge dose of agonizing heartbreak, which, if you’re driving in dramatic stakes, is the way to go.

The question has always been….where did Saul come from? How did Jimmy McGill become Saul? In Breaking Bad, Saul answers a question about his name with the glib assertion that criminals feel more confident with a Jewish lawyer representing them, but the genius of this new series is that it takes that claim for what it is: the justification of a choice that actually goes much, much deeper.

As the series has progressed, we might have been content in our assumptions that Jimmy became Saul as a way of either hiding from his past or simply taking on less-classy persona in order to distinguish himself from the firm that (sort of) set him on his way in the legal profession.  But you know what? That still wasn’t enough. Why does someone change his or her name? The name they were given as a member of a family? 

Well, with episode 7, aired last night, we get it – you do it when you want to separate yourself from precisely that – your family. 

And it all clicks, so beautifully and sadly into place.

Jimmy McGill, on the verge of actually doing good (in the legal context) in a big way, so anxious to please his older brother, so willing to help that same brother in his illness, eccentric, brash, but endlessly and even ingeniously creative, is slapped down, rejected and yes, betrayed by his own flesh and blood who doesn’t want him getting too close with his JD from the University of American Samoa and who, after years of getting him out of scrapes and trouble, can’t believe that any good can come out of any of this.

You’re not a real lawyer. 

People don’t change. 

One could argue that subsequent events prove Chuck right – that Slippin’ Jimmy is inevitably Saul Goodman.  But the point of view on human existence is just what was expressed in Breaking Bad  – our personal qualities can take is one direction or the other. We have a choice, and as much as the pressure is to make bad choices, we still, at every moment have the freedom to make that choice – and our treatment of others influences their choices as well.

(I long maintained that the most compelling thread of Breaking Bad was Walter White’s perverse master-student relationship with Jesse. His personal corruption in turn, corrupted Jesse – instead of finding this lost former student and saying, “Hey! Let me help you!” He said, “Help me do horrible things!” Original Sin.)

Despite this deep, wounding betrayal, we won’t see Jimmy McGill portrayed as a victim – and that’s what lends Gilligan’s work even more depth – he doesn’t do fated victims with no personal agency. Yes, he could still shake it off and obey his better instincts and pursue the, if not exactly noble path, the path that is not the one to being, as he will tell Walter White a few years down the road, a criminal lawyer rather than just a criminal lawyer  (echoing the important conversation Mike has with the proto-Walter White) – and I’m guessing, just from how this first season has gone, that even though the die has clearly been cast, this won’t be the last chance Jimmy has to run up against that choice.

"better call saul" spain

Seen in Alcala de Henares, Spain.

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