What is behind this clash between the feminist and transgender movements?
Meghan Murphy, a journalist who covers issues of women’s exploitation and abuse, has been accused of transphobia and hate speech for her insistence that women’s sex based rights matter.
Meghan joins me on Crossroads for a critical and thoughtful discussion on women’s rights and the state of third wave feminism.
Listen to the complete podcast:
Full transcript below.
“It’s removing our ability to speak the truth, right, so if language doesn’t mean anything, if these words don’t have definitions, if language can change from moment to moment, then we’re prevented from speaking the truth and having rational, purposeful debates.”
Sasha: Today I’m speaking with Meghan Murphy, a Canadian writer and journalist. She founded the site Feminist Current, which covers feminist issues from an angle that’s heavy on critical thinking, especially on topics that are controversial within the mainstream feminist community. There have been attempts to silence her through deplatforming and threats, but she remains outspoken.
Recently, Meghan, you were on a panel here in New York. It was called an evening with cancelled women, it was meant to be scheduled at the New York Public Library. They ironically cancelled it, but it was still able to be held somewhere else. And then just the other day there were protests at a panel you were on in Seattle. This past Saturday, February 1st, you were on a panel at the Seattle Public Library which did not cancel, but it was protested quite passionately. So first of all, what was the purpose of this event, and what was the objection of the protestors?
Meghan: The event in Seattle was organized by WOLF, Women’s Liberation Front, and they called it, I think it was the New Misogyny, a Feminist Critique of Gender Identity. Which I guess is sort of self explanatory, but in essence, perhaps for those listening who don’t know, within feminism there are different ideologies I suppose, so they say. Coming from those who might identify more with radical feminism, they have a critique of gender identity, in part because they have a critique of gender itself, from a feminist perspective, that says women are not inherently “feminine,” men aren’t masculine, people can be free to be themselves, to behave in and dress in ways that make them feel comfortable. Women don’t have to wear high heels and pantyhose and makeup, all women aren’t passive or inherently nurturing, or irrational, or overemotional, all those stereotypes that are attached to femininity. Same goes for masculinity; all men are not inherently aggressive and dominant and violent, and they can be nurturing, they can be emotional, they can certainly be irrational–
S: As we well know.
M: So yeah, what I talked about mostly in my talk at that event was the feminist movement. And consciousness raising, and the fact that consciousness raising happened through women getting together and talking amongst themselves, which really was the catalyst for the second wave of the feminist movement. And we understand in feminism that certain conversations can only happen among women. When women got together at that time, during the 60s and 70s, they were talking about their shared experiences of sexism, their shared experiences of male violence and domestic abuse, of rape and sexual harrassment, of being treated differently in the work place and so on and so forth, and realizing, oh this isn’t just me, this isn’t just an individual problem or experience I’m having, this is something that’s common to all women because of the way that women are treated in our society or have historically been treated in our society and experienced discrimination because they were born female.
And yeah the protestors–I mean to be honest I don’t think the protestors have any idea what we were talking about inside for the most part and that was evidenced by some video–there was a video clip posted by Benjamin Boyce, he’s a YouTuber who attended and covered the event. And his film crew asked this guy “why are you here, what are you protesting,” and he was like, “I don’t know, I don’t really know what this talk is about.” Which is pretty typical and I’ve said this many times, that if you listen to what the protestors are yelling about outside at the various events I’ve been a part of, if you look at their signs, it’s very clear they don’t have any idea what it is that we’re talking about. Because they accuse us of things like hatred, and of violence and of bigotry, of wanting to take rights away from trans identified people. And really, what’s said on the inside of the buildings that they’re protesting out[side] of is not all that controversial, and it’s certainly not hateful. For the most part we’re talking about women and women’s rights, the need for women’s spaces, the importance of women’s sports, the history of transition houses, things like that. There were a lot of really angry men, and it was quite scary to be honest. I’m always a bit nervous at these events that something might happen.
S: And they actually interrupted the event inside, is that right?
M: Yeah so there [were] several disruptions, there were I think three men–I couldn’t really tell what was happening actually when it was happening because I was too far away, but just from watching the video after and talking to people after–three men who started–one of them was playing a flute, which was odd, and then yelling things like “transwomen are women.” I think one of them told me to go back to Canada. Sure ok, I will tomorrow. And “you’re a horrible person Meghan Murphy!” To which I responded, “no I’m not.” And they just wouldn’t stop, and so the event was just never going to happen, they weren’t ever going to stop, we couldn’t talk, so eventually I actually went and told security to have the cops remove them. They were trying to give them another chance and you know, I have a lot of experience doing these events and I was like, no you give everyone [a warning] ahead of time and you say if you disrupt you’ll be asked to leave, that’s it, you can’t disrupt–if you choose to disrupt, you’re also choosing to be asked to leave, but there’s no second chances. We’re here to have a conversation, we’re not here to watch your drama or be screamed at, or listen to bullhorns or whatever. And their whole goal is to ensure the event doesn’t happen and the conversation doesn’t happen, and I’m just not going to let that happen. So the cops did go up and ask them to leave, they refused to leave, a couple of them kind of went limp and so were carried out and handcuffed. So I think a couple of them were arrested and I don’t know what’s happened beyond that. I know one woman was assaulted outside of the event by a protester. I think actually I heard maybe more, I saw a video of one woman, so that’s what I heard.
S: Yeah I saw that one.
M: So you know, the event itself was great. The panelists were all great, I thought the Q&A was interesting, I always appreciate when there’s some disagreement or pushback in the Q&A and I think that happened a little bit. You know, when people ask critical questions, I’m not interested in just having a conversation where everybody just agrees with each other. There were some interesting questions I thought about working with right wing women and nonpartisanship. Katie Herzog asked a question about WOLF’s decision to push back against drag queen story hour at libraries and whether or not they saw that as kind of hypocritical because they’re fighting for space, and they’re fighting for their free speech, and they’re saying you know, you can’t cancel our events at this library, yet they’re trying to cancel these events, I thought that was interesting as far as critical conversations go. All in all it was a really great weekend.
There was a bomb threat about an hour before the event, so that was pretty scary. I mean we all know that really they just do these things to try to shut down the events, not seriously, but it’s still nerve wracking, and they had the bomb squad come through. I mean these people just waste public money right, they’re wasting cops’ time. They’re wasting all this money, they’re wasting all these resources just because they don’t want women to be allowed to talk about women’s rights. The whole thing is just ridiculous.
S: It really does seem to come down to that issue of–that the conversation is being stemmed. Which is why I think it’s so important to talk about it, because really any conversation that’s being stemmed is probably one that should be had. I do want to talk more about censorship in a few minutes, but first can we give a little bit more background to your entry into this topic? So from what you said you were doing work about consciousness raising and feminist spaces and women’s spaces and then there was a lot of backlash. So how did you originally start being involved in this debate around trans ideology?
M: I think most of my work prior to getting involved in this debate around gender identity ideology was focused on violence against women, pornography, prostitution, objectification. And I really wasn’t all that interested in the gender identity debate, I hadn’t paid too much attention to it. I feel like it didn’t seem like necessarily that much of a threat to me. But because of getting connected with Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (so they’re in Vancouver, I’m in Vancouver) I was in contact with a lot of women involved in that collective because they do a lot of–I mean they do a lot of really important work on male violence against women–but also around prostitution and things like that. And they were getting attacked over their woman only policy. So I was defending them but I also felt that in order to defend them I needed to really understand the history and politics and theory surrounding women only space. So I talked to Lee Lakeman about that and learned about that history and learned about a court case that they went through when Kimberly Nixon, who’s a trans-identified male, back in 1995, filed a human rights complaint because he tried to come to a training group for counselors–so women who will counsel the women coming through the transition house. Women who’ve been raped, battered, prostituted, etcetera. And the women on duty that night said sorry, we have a political view that women and girls share a particular experience under patriarchy; you haven’t had that experience so you can’t train to be a part of this group. They run on a peer counseling model at Rape Relief which means that women who’ve been through the transition house for example, can train to become counselors and counsel other women. So they all have this shared experience, there’s not a hierarchy of expert versus non expert. Women are counseling other women and so it’s really important to them that they understand each other in that way and the reality is that men don’t understand what it’s like to be women. I don’t understand what it’s like to be a man either. But women and men are treated differently in this world and we do have different experiences and unfortunately some of those experiences involve sexual harassment and sexual abuse and domestic abuse.
And so I think that was when I first started becoming interested in this and concerned about it and then of course I was seeing more and more feminists who were challenging gender identity ideology get attacked for their critiques and their critiques made sense to me. What they were saying about men not being able to transition to women and that it was offensive to say if you just put on a dress and makeup that makes you female, that those stereotypes are what defines a woman. And I felt like I had to defend and stand with those women who were getting attacked so much and no platformed and threatened. You know, women like Julie Bindel, Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer.
And at that same time, Canada introduced Bill C-16, which is Canada’s gender identity legislation. I was looking at that and being like no, this is not cool, this is going to undo the basis for women’s rights and I felt it was sexist. I felt that the way they were defining gender identity was really sexist and I didn’t see how can we have sex based rights and gender identity laws? Which says there’s no such thing as sex, sex is just an identity and an announcement, right, and it’s attached to all these sexist stereotypes, how you dress, how you act, how you look. That was probably back in 2015 or so.
S: It was also one of the things that raised a flag for me: the idea that if you don’t want to conform to your gender role, that means you actually are the other sex, the opposite sex. It struck me that that was sort of reaffirming archaic gender roles rather than breaking out of them.
So Bill C-16–you mentioned. What is Bill C-16? I don’t think a lot of people here know about it. Does it involve compelled speech?
M: Bill 16 is super vague. So it’s sort of still up for interpretation, and we’re still learning about the impacts. Bill 16 included gender identity and gender expression in the human rights code and in the criminal code, but it didn’t actually make any clear statements around, for example, men being allowed to access women’s wash rooms and change rooms. It didn’t say so called misgendering is illegal. Misgendering is when you refer to a person using their correct pronouns based on their sex rather than their preferred pronouns based on their proclaimed gender identity. So I refer to males as he even if those males identify as transwomen or have an affinity towards…lingerie.
S: Which is why you think you’re banned from twitter, right, it’s because you essentially called out the emperor’s new clothes. There was a man–and even he was going by male at that time–and you called him a he, and then next thing you know, you’re off twitter.
M: Yeah, I was permanently banned for referring to Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv as he, and like you say, I mean he was using a male profile picture and even his male pronouns, the male name, on social media. On some of his social media platforms he was using both Jessica and Jonathan, but there’s no way of knowing that he was identifying as a woman. I mean even if he would have said that I still would’ve used “he” because I don’t believe in this ideology where a man can become female by changing his pronouns on twitter. But I didn’t say anything mean to him, whether or not he deserved that, as was revealed by all his predatory, violent, exploitative behavior to come.
But the effect of Bill 16 though has been that the laws and policies in Canada have been changing, and people use Bill 16 to defend those changes despite the fact that Bill 16 doesn’t necessarily direct them to do that. So in community centers the change rooms and washrooms are all “trans inclusive” now, which means theoretically that a male could enter into a woman’s change room and not be removed, that we would have to simply accept that. It has meant that males are being transferred to female prisons if they identify as transwomen or women, and it means that a lot–apart from Vancouver Rape Relief, I think most shelters and transition houses across Canada have adopted what’s called gender inclusive or inclusive policies, again wherein if a male demands access to a womens shelter he’s allowed in which has very serious repercussions for women.
S: As does the prison issue which I wanted to ask you about as well.
M: Definitely, the prison issue is terrifying. Yeah so I talked to Heather Mason, who’s an advocate for women in prison, I don’t know, maybe a month ago or something like that on my YouTube channel. And she’s been in and out of prison herself in Ontario, in Canada, and she told me that men were in women’s prisons. Men who were violent, men who were pedophiles, men who had raped and sexually assaulted women and girls and even babies in some cases. And these guys were in women’s prisons and in some cases around women with their young children. There’s already been incidences in Canadian prisons where men have sexually harassed or assaulted women. Same thing in shelters also as a result of these new policies and the government’s really totally ignoring it. They’re totally ignoring the impact of these policies and laws on women. The media’s refusing to cover it, and we here in Canada, a few of us feminists here have been forcing the conversation and been smeared and harassed and threatened and protested over it just because we want to talk about these dangerous new realities.
S: And I think the idea of inclusion really underpins a lot of it because it’s one of the main concepts that’s being used in this argument but it’s also something I think a lot of well meaning people just think is the end of the discussion. Maybe if they haven’t done a lot of research they think it’s just a matter of inclusion, but I think these examples really illustrate why inclusion isn’t the be-all end-all for what feminism should be or what activism should be in general.
That also takes me back to the Yaniv case, which is another legal situation now. So Jessica Yaniv or Jonathan Yaniv, this happened in Canada–he wanted to go to a salon and get a Brazillian wax from a woman esthetician, who only does women’s Brazillian waxes, which is different, a different process, and he ended up suing her. You had a very interesting interview with her lawyer, so I was wondering if you could talk a bit about that and about how this was able to be taken to the court and the effect it had on her.
M: So Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv–he filed human rights complaints against a number of local estheticians here in Vancouver because he asked them to give him a Brazillian bikini wax and they declined, saying we only offer this service to females. And he claimed that this discriminated against him as a so-called transgender person. Of course they had no way of knowing that he identified as transgender. He on some occasions messaged them under a male profile on Facebook with male face, male name, so how would they know that he identifies as a woman? And in some cases he used fake women’s profiles, so profile pictures of women who were not him, weren’t under his name, etcetera etcetera, and then when they would I think maybe talk to him on the phone and realize he was male, they would be like, oh no sorry we don’t do this service for men, just women. It was essentially an extortion campaign. I don’t believe that he actually identifies as transgender, certainly in these cases he was doing this intentionally. He has a history of doing this, suing or filing these complaints against various businesses in an effort to extort money out of people essentially. He’s hoping it won’t actually go to court, he’s hoping they’ll just get freaked out and pay him out.
So he brought these women to court. It was an incredibly stressful process for these women. They’re publicly in the media being labelled transphobic, things like that. One of them lost her business, she had to shut down her business. And he lost the case, and essentially it’s been determined that women shouldn’t be compelled to touch men’s genitals just because they identify as women.
But the whole thing is troubling and my perspective on it was this is what feminists were worried about, what we’ve been warning you about. If any man can declare he’s a woman and we have to all accept it, then what’s stopping anyone from being forced to handle a man’s genitals under the guise that he’s a woman if he wants a Brazillian bikini wax? Or what’s to stop a man from accessing a women’s prison? That’s already happening, of course. Male athletes are now competing, demanding to compete with and against female athletes because they identify as trans which is totally unfair and really signals the end to women’s sport. Trans activists are good at refusing to admit that there’s any problem, they’ll say, “oh he isn’t a predator, all trans people aren’t predators,” and of course all trans people aren’t predators, no one’s saying that that is true. But they’re saying that in certain circumstances it’s inappropriate for men to have access to women’s spaces. And certainly that it’s not possible to change your sex.
S: “It’s not possible to change your sex,” which is now such a contentious thing to say that in fact, Maya Forstater was fired from her job for saying basically that on twitter. And when she had an employment tribunal, I thought the quote from the judge was really significant, he said that she–who said that biological sex is immutable–she is an “absolutist in her view of sex… this creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment, and this approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” Which I think really sums up what’s so dangerous about this, that there’s suddenly this viewpoint which is really just an adherence to reality and biological fact, which is now being deemed not worthy of respect in a democratic society. The censorship is getting really powerful.
M: One of the things that frustrates me most about that quote and the way that this is all being talked about now is it’s being framed as a belief. As though Maya has this opinion, she has this belief, this personal belief that a male is a male and you can’t change sex and sex is immutable. But that’s not a belief, that’s a material reality, that’s a scientific fact. It’s not possible to change your sex. A biological male, someone who’s born male, stays male for life. They can get cosmetic surgery, they can go on hormones, they can wear women’s clothes, you know, clothes that are traditionally designated for women. But that all doesn’t actually change your sex. I feel like we need to push back against that, even going along with that kind of language. We’re getting trapped into this cycle of playing along with this irrational, nonsensical language in these debates around misgendering, and to me it’s all ridiculous. What is the problem with referring to a man as he? There are a lot of problems with referring to a man as she. For example we’re seeing media reports where male violence is being reported as female violence and this is impacting statistics. So the government is beginning to record male violence as female violence if that male identifies as a woman. It prevents us from talking about reality, it prevents us from talking about the reality of male violence against women, which in turn prevents us from fighting it.
Things like money, things like funding and grants are based off statistics, so if there’s not really a big problem of male violence against women or men raping women, or if that’s a gender nuetral issue, then women’s organizations who are working on this and supporting female victims of male violence, their funding and their grants and their assistance could potentially be cut.
S: And what about the funding behind the trans lobby, which, given how much there’s this narrative of transgender people being some of the most marginalized people–and by the way, I’m not necessarily referring to transgender individuals, but I’m talking about the movement or the pushing of this ideology. So what about the funding behind this movement? One thing is pharmaceuticals, which is a big one. Can you talk a little bit about the money behind the trans lobby?
M: Yeah, I mean this isn’t something I have particularly done a ton of work on–I know that a woman named Jennifer Bilek has done a bunch of work around the money behind the trans lobby. It’s clear that big pharma would be invested in this. They can really cash in if they’re putting kids on hormones and these kids have to stay on hormones for the rest of their lives, their entire lives. These are large amounts of hormones, men who are going on estrogen to transition or whatever, much larger dosages than women for example who might be taking it to deal with menopause symptoms or something like that. And then of course there’s the surgery aspect, cosmetic surgery, and those surgeons are going to profit big time off of this. These are massive, really invasive surgeries that you have to do more than one for sure, to complete the so called sex change.
It seems like almost every single organization around (and NGO) has caved to this kind of gender identity, gender “inclusive” thing. Especially organizations that are representing so called LGBTQXYZ whatever, but also women’s organizations, feminist organizations, things like that. Even midwifery organizations have caved. And a lot of that does have to do with funding because you won’t be able to get the funding unless you go along with it. We saw that in Vancouver, where the Vancouver Rape Relief lost a $30,000 grant that they’d been getting for years from the city, because they wouldn’t allow men to access their facility too. They won’t go along with this ideology, so they pulled the grant, saying sorry, in Vancouver, in Canada, we’re “gender inclusive” now, and if you don’t change your policy we won’t give you money anymore.
I think there is truth to what women are saying, which is that there are some very wealthy men who are funding the trans lobby–there are a few of them in the US, some really wealthy guys. Jennifer Pritzker funds a lot of the trans lobby in the US, and pushes the ideology. These women’s groups who are fighting it don’t have any money. These are all grass roots women’s groups, or just regular independent women. These events that we’ve been having in Vancouver the GIDYVR events about gender identity, those are just organized by two women who weren’t involved in any organization or group and just were frustrated by what’s going on, and wanted to have the conversation, they were like, let’s organize something. We have a lot of great volunteers helping us out as well, but these are just regular women, you know. We don’t have funding, we’re not attached to any lobby group, or any organization, there’s no one funding us. We fundraise, we crowd fundraise and then we sell tickets and that’s it. These people actually have large swaths of funding and they’re forcing the legislation and policy changes, and ensuring that gender identity ideology dominates the media, and NGOs, all these other organizations, it’s in schools, it’s in healthcare, and so on and so forth.
S: So the women who have a dissenting opinion, rather than it really just being that, a dissenting opinion, it’s become this thing that’s labelled like this evil thing, and we have this acronym, TERF, which stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist, and it’s kind of thrown at women who oppose [any] aspect of the trans ideology. It’s also sometimes thrown at men, which doesn’t necessarily make sense because are they really radical feminists? But TERF–in your first episode of your show The Same Drugs you made a comparison of the targeting of TERFs to a witch hunt, and I thought you made some interesting points around that. Can you talk about what makes that comparison an apt one?
M: So first of all the word TERF really doesn’t make any sense. I mean I don’t identify as a radical feminist, and like you say, this word is just thrown at anybody who disagrees with gender identity ideology for any reason at all regardless of whether or not they’re liberal, left, right wing, feminist, men, women, etcetera. And it’s used to shut down conversation and debate, and to smear and vilify. It’s a means to dismiss somebody and to ostracize them, a signal to other people that they must ostracize them as well because they’re evil, bad people.
The trans exclusionary part of that term doesn’t make any sense either because if we’re talking about radical feminists per se, or feminists, it’s not really about excluding trans identified people from anything, it’s about just excluding males from certain spaces. And it’s not even that many spaces, it’s like, sports, prisons, change rooms, washrooms, transition houses, places where women and girls might be vulnerable. So it’s really misleading and I think it’s intentionally misleading because it plays into this thing where they’re pretending that it’s about transphobia, which again, our critiques and concerns are not about being phobic of trans identified people, it’s about protecting women and women’s rights. We’re not trying to keep females who identify as transgender out of the feminist movement or out of women’s spaces. It’s really just about males. TERF functions as a way to brand women and to sort of put them up as an example. So–she’s bad, she deserves violence. That word is often attached to really misogynistic language like TERF cunt, TERF bitch, die TERF, drink bleach TERF, I’ve heard these things over and over and over again, and it’s defended on the basis that we’re TERFs so we deserve it. It’s really awful, and it’s really dehumanizing. It’s not being pushed back on from the left and even from many other feminists, which is really concerning, because at the end of the day it’s about encouraging male violence against women. These are generally males who are making these threats against females and defending violence against women because these women have a different opinion than them, because these women are trying to protect women’s rights. It says, you know, don’t support her, don’t stand with her, ostracize her, she’s bad, [it] props her up as an example. This will happen to you too, you too will be ostracized, fired from your job, smeared, threatened, maybe punched, abandoned by your political community, abandoned by your friends, things like that.
S: Do you think that a lot of the reason this has advanced is because–kind of going along with the stemming of conversation–but the obfuscation of language. So even using the word woman as defined by the dictionary definition, which is “adult human female,” will also get you called a TERF at times. So what’s happening, why is the language being so muddled here, and what purpose is that serving?
M: Yeah, so now to define woman as adult human female is transphobic. Because apparently we can’t define woman as anything at all. If you ask trans activists what a woman is, they’ll say anyone who identifies as one, which is not a definition. If woman doesn’t have a meaning, if it doesn’t have a definition, I also want to know why these people are so attached to insisting that men are women. If woman doesn’t mean anything, why does it matter if you identify or are identified as or “treated as” a woman? What does that mean? They can never answer any of these questions of course. It’s removing our ability to speak the truth, right, so if language doesn’t mean anything, if these words don’t have definitions, if language can change from moment to moment, then we’re prevented from speaking the truth and having rational, purposeful debates. Which I think is intentional, like you say, its intent is to muddle the debate, to ensure we can’t get anywhere, we can’t get to any end in this conversation, it keeps going in circles. What’s a woman? Anything anybody says it is. It doesn’t go anywhere and then the end is usually a threat or a label, or somebody storms off, or you’re labelled a TERF, and the event is shut down. You can’t really get anywhere in that conversation. Trans activists won’t engage with what we’re saying, really. These people are invited to come in and participate in the conversation. I would be very happy if somebody would come to this event and tell me why they think I’m wrong, or why they think I’m bad, or why they disagree with me. But that doesn’t usually happen, usually what happens is that you’re shouted down and threatened and they don’t come to try to participate at all. I don’t think they really have any argument. I think really their aim is just to silence us.
S: And you have had interviews with trans people on your channel, on your YouTube channel, so you’re certainly having the conversation with them when possible, so it’s not a matter of just talking about them instead of talking to them.
But yeah, I mean, how can we have a feminist movement if we don’t have a definition for woman? If it’s not a category of people.
M: Right, yeah exactly. I mean there’s no basis for a feminist movement if there’s no such thing as a woman and we can’t acknowedge that women are different from men and therefore have a different experience under patriarchy. How do we even talk about the root of patriarchy–why does patriarchy exist, why have women experienced sexism? Why does women’s oppression exist? Why are women historically kept out of public life, kept out of universities, kept out of political life, kept out of the work place in some cases? Why do we experience sexual harassment? Why do we experience domestic abuse? Why are there women’s sports, why are women’s sports and men’s sports seperate? None of these questions can be answered and these things can’t be defended. The existence of the feminist movement itself and the existence of women’s rights can’t be defended if there’s no such thing as a woman.
S: In terms of the sports–there’s this podcast called Suffragette City Radio, which is on YouTube, and one of the hosts made a really great comment that maybe this whole sports issue is just because men really want to hear us talk about how much better they are at sports, how much stronger they are. Because what’s happening is we’re having to say, well you know, we’re really not the same when it comes to sports performance, so if we’re competing against men we’re not allowed to actually win, or see who the winner would be, even.
M: Yeah, I don’t know, I do think it’s kind of funny that–yeah, I’ve never had to, in my “career” as a feminist, I’ve never had to go on and on about how much bigger and stronger and faster men are than women, it’s true. This whole debate and conversation has been kind of productive in some ways. It’s really ridiculous and scary and disturbing in a lot of ways, but it’s also like, we’ve had to really think a lot about biology. I’ve had to learn about the differences between male bodies and female bodies and I think that’s interesting and important.
The reality is that men are stronger and bigger than women for the most part, and that we cannot compete. That’s also why male violence against women is a problem, because for the most part women aren’t going to be able to defend themselves against most men. Even men who aren’t particularly strong, who aren’t major weightlifters or boxers or anything like that, and no matter how strong these women are it’s going to be hard for them to fight a man off because they inherently have more muscle mass, and bigger bones, and bigger organs, and they’re just taller, and they move differently, and all these sorts of things.
S: So you haven’t done all your work on just this trans issue, obviously. You’ve also done a lot of work on the issue of prostitution. So that’s the other thing I want to ask you about–it’s this other issue over which feminists in-fight kind of violently, the question about whether prostitution is a valid form of labor known as sex work, or it’s a form of mass violence against women–there’s a major divide between those two camps. And you just came out with an article called “Prostitution is already destigmatized, it’s not helping,” and you talked about a man who was released from prison and part of his social reinsertion plan actually included going to prostitutes and then he ended up murdering one. Can you talk a little bit about that question?
M: This has been a long fight in the feminist movement. It’s sort of been relatively recent–since the advent of third wave feminism, a little bit before that, that some so called feminists were arguing that prostitution was an empowering choice, that it was a job like any other, that it needed to be normalized and destigmatized, and that the purchase of sex needed to be legalized, brothels needed to be legalized, etcetera. Most feminists are going to argue that women who work in prostitution should be decriminalized. I don’t want women working in prostitution thrown in jail. But at the same time I think that buying access to another human being’s body is inherently exploitative and dangerous and abusive. Most women in prostitution are there because they have no other choice, they’re marginalized. Indigineous women are overrepresented in prostitution, a lot of women come from histories of sexual assualt, sexual abuse, molestation, they’ve been groomed for this. Their fathers or parents sold them, or an older man took advantage of them and started selling [them] to other men. In general it’s a hugely exploitative, dangerous, violent thing. There are very few women in the world who would say that they want to or enjoy having sex with multiple strange men in a day, for very little or no money. A lot of women in prostitution are handing over all their money to a pimp.
So this guy in Quebec has a long history of violence against women. Why he was let out into the world at all I do not know. But yeah, it was determined by Canada’s parole board that he could be allowed out to visit prostituted women. And he had actually been banned from a “massage parlor” because he had been violent toward some of the women there. So this young woman who was working at the massage parlor agreed to meet him at a hotel, where he murdered her. Essentially it was treated as though he had sexual needs, so that’s why they made this decision.
They acknowledged that he couldn’t be in a relationship with a woman, because he’s a violent man who’s going to be violent again. But he has sexual needs and those need to be met and I guess prostituted women don’t count, that’s essentially what the message is there… are there for men to project their fantasies onto and to do whatever they like to. So that other women of society can be protected. I mean, none of this is true. Violence against women and rape has not stopped because of prostitution and pornography. Prostitution and pornography are bigger than ever, there are multi million dollar industries and growing. In fact what I think it does is it normalizes the idea that women aren’t fully human and that they exist for male use and abuse, and that men should have whatever fantasy they have, they should be able to act on those fantasies, and that it’s all ok, it’s just sex, it’s not real life. And of course it is real life, of course these women are real women and of course these are real women who are getting abused and raped and murdered and degraded. I think it’s a really dangerous thing for the women in prostitution and porn, but it’s also really dangerous and unhealthy for anyone. I think it creates really harmful ideas and normalizes really harmful ideas about sex and sexual relationships between men and women.
S: We’re running short on time, so I’m going to ask you my very last question, which is just if you could tell us some authors who have inspired and informed your own feminism or something that you’re reading right now maybe–a book recommendation for those who want to learn more.
M: I would suggest people look at Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire. She published that back in 1979 and it was a critique of this transgender ideology that’s taken over now. It’s still quite relevant and right on, and she’s been super vilified over that book for decades obviously. So I would encourage people to look that up.
People often ask me about intro books, sort of intro to radical feminism books and this one was actually written by a man. Robert Jenson wrote a book about radical feminism for men that is actually just a really good, basic introduction to radical feminist ideas and arguments, so I’d have to recommend that one as well.
Gail Dines has done really important work about pornography, so I’d recommend looking up her book on pornography. Those are some good places to start.
S: Thank you so much–
M: Oh, can I add one more book? Rachel Moran’s book. Rachel Moran is an incredible writer from Ireland who wrote about her experiences in prostitution and her arguments against prostitution. So that one is quite amazing. I would look up that one.
S: Great. Well thank you so much Meghan, this was great, I loved talking to you, and I will catch you on your next podcast, I will be listening.
M: Okay great, thanks for having me on, it was fun.