Sunday, April 10, 2022

Are Terfs really any better?

If you were to set out the basic traditionalist position on sex distinctions it would look something like this:

1. We are born male or female

2. If we are born male we are connected in our nature to the masculine; if female to the feminine

3. Masculine and feminine are real qualities. If we wish to fulfil our own created nature, we will seek to embody the better qualities of the masculine if we are men, and the feminine if we are women. In doing so, our self manifests a transcendent good that helps give meaning and purpose to our existence.

I got into a debate yesterday with a group of Terfs on this issue. These are "trans exclusionary radical feminists", i.e. feminists who do not believe that males can suddenly declare themselves to be women. They insist, just like traditionalists, that a woman is an adult human female. They would agree with traditionalists on the first proposition I set out above, namely that we are born male or female.

What struck me during the debate, however, was not the common ground but the vast gulf separating these Terfs from my own politics. I came away thinking that they had extraordinarily awful beliefs about men and women. I think it's useful to set out the reasons why I came to this conclusion.

a) Terfs still reduce the category of womanhood to a point that it becomes meaningless

Terfs might agree with traditionalists on the first proposition, but they entirely reject the next two. What this means is that they define a woman as someone who has female reproductive organs, but that is it. For them, a woman (or a man) can be absolutely anything else that they choose to be. Being a man or a woman has no further relevance to anyone's life, except for the fact of reproductive organs. So why then think it important? What is the point of the category itself if it is irrelevant to anything we might do or be?

In short, Terfs still hold very strongly to the distinction between sex and gender. They accept the fact of biological sex, but they think any sex based characteristics are merely "gender" that is socially constructed and oppressive. 

When I suggested that these Terfs were reducing the category of womanhood to something meaningless, these are the type of responses I got:

As you can see, the Terfs were very firm in asserting that being a woman has no meaning apart from the fact of being born female ("women just exist", "individuals with a female body", "just existing in a way they want to", "a matter of biology and nothing else", "being born female...the beginning and end of how to be a woman"). When I challenged them about whether this was a meaningful category, they gave the only answer that they logically could, namely that the biological facts of menstruation and pregnancy gave a point of distinction between men and women. This, it seems to me, reduces women, as women, to something like "walking wombs".

b) Terfs still pander to transsexuals

Despite the fierce animosity between Terfs and transsexuals, the Terfs are still willing to go to extraordinary lengths to remodel the world so that transsexuals might better fit in.

Their idea is as follows. Let's say you have someone who is male but who wants to be female. What the Terfs want is for our concept of "male" to fully embrace what is female. In this way, the transsexual would not need to transition. Being male would incorporate the desire to be female. 

They are serious about this. Look at the following tweet:


What do the Terfs think we need to do to make transsexuals feel more comfortable in their own bodies? The answer: completely sever any connection between our biological sex and our masculinity or femininity. We are just supposed to "exist with a male body" or "exist with a female body" and nothing more.

I would hope my traditionalist readers would understand by now why I think the Terf position is a complete non-starter for us.

c) The Terfs associate masculinity and femininity with negative life outcomes

The Terfs might argue along the lines of "be whatever you want" but when drawn out in debate they revert to the idea that masculinity and femininity are oppressive social constructs that lead to terrible life outcomes, such as domestic violence, rape and misogyny.

This, of course, raises the problem of what younger people are meant to do in response to these beliefs. Imagine you were a 14-year-old girl and you really believed that your own femininity and the masculinity of the boys around you were going to lead to violence and rape. Would it not potentially destabilise your psychological and emotional development? It seems to me to be a kind of mental trap that is difficult to escape from. If you cannot be feminine, and it is equally wrong to be masculine, and if there is no hope of ever having a happy relationship with the opposite sex (because masculinity is tarnished by its association with rape and violence), then along what lines is positive development into adulthood supposed to occur? Is it any wonder that so many young women are developing psychological issues?

Here is just a sample of what "Alliecat" had to say in relation to masculinity and femininity:

You can see that for this woman "gender" has been cast in the most negative terms. Given that it is such a core aspect of life, you can only imagine the detrimental psychological effects that such a worldview must have.

Something else occurs to me here also. For men to love women, they need to be able to form an idealised view of women as having admirable feminine character traits. Men don't need to believe that women are perfect, but they do need to uphold an image of women as being caring, sympathetic etc. But if young women are led to believe that such feminine traits are merely a path to oppression, then they won't be cultivated. Even worse, if young women are led to believe that womanhood is defined merely by reproductive organs, then this even further shifts the emphasis in relationships from love to sexuality. You then start to get the complaint from men that all women are offering is sex appeal.

d) In spite of all of the above, the Terfs are not neutral between men and women but promote radical female superiority

If all this wasn't enough, some of these Terfs are also committed to the idea of a matriarchal future, in which men have a very limited role in society.

This might seem odd, given all the complaints about patriarchy and misogyny and the like. You would think that the Terfs would envisage some form of sex-blind equality. Instead, you get self-descriptors in their Twitter bios that read "unironic Matriarchy proponent". What does this mean? Here is an example:

They are arguing that the family should be a female sphere over which men should exercise no influence, but should merely support financially. The children are hers alone, she should transmit her culture and values and not him, she should be the one to spend the money even if she does not earn it.

If these Terfs really want to live this way they could move to Japan. My understanding is that Japanese men are expected to work long hours, hand over their money to their wives, receive a small allowance and have little to do with the domestic sphere (Japanese men will often spend the hours after work socialising with other men rather than returning home).

Does the Japanese model work? I don't think so. Japan has falling birth rates (down to 1.36); very low marriage rates; a growing avoidance of romantic relationships; widespread prostitution; and a problem of young men withdrawing from society (hikikomori). Young men describe not wanting to get married because they see marriage simply as a burden. From a Guardian report:

Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan's giant cities, are "spiralling away from each other". Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.

The Terfs are not thinking things through. If men have no respected role within the family, why would they bother committing to it? It will come to be thought irrational.

I'm sorry that I can't report more positively on my debate with the Terfs. I suppose that I can commend a few of them for being willing to debate and not just name call, but that's the only positive spin I can put on it. They are still peddling wildly destructive ideas, to the point that it's difficult to see them as any better politically than their transsexual opponents.


  1. I see just rewards in sports as the men,and they are men, use the new rules to crush the females who dismantled male sports through title 9. Both are no friend to men or civilization as they discourage good and adequate mating. One by real sterilization and the other by artificial sterilization including school, career, wine, and cats.

    1. Yes, it's ironic that the Terfs define womanhood via reproductive organs, i.e. the capacity for a woman to become a mother, but then promote sterile lifestyles in which increasing numbers of women will never become mothers.

  2. I'd say the difference is that the Trans are at war with reality, the TERFs more or less accept the basic facts of reality, but draw different moral conclusions than we do. We think it's best for men and women that men have a respected role in society, they think it's best that men are marginalised in a female-centric society. This is a major disagreement, but it's a different kind of disagreement from trans-advocate's assertions that a very masculine autogynephile is 'really a woman'. It is possible to seek common ground with TERFs in some limited areas, where we share goals such as eg minimising harm to women. Personally I find that speaking with TERFS, they tend to start off hostile but it is often possible to establish some level of communication and even respect, which I don't think is possible with the post-modernist influenced leftists who deny reality altogether.

    1. I partly agree with you here. Yes, there is some common ground where we might find ourselves on the same side as Terfs. I think I wrote the post, though, as a warning to trads that this common ground is not very extensive and that any cooperation is strategic rather than representing a common view of the world.

      And, yes, Terfs do at least accept a biologically realist view, so you can certainly argue that they are less at war with reality than the trans. However, the Twitter Terfs did not extend the acceptance of reality very far. For instance, if you believe that men and women are distinct because of different biology, then realistically you should also accept that there will be differences in "gender" following from this. It is unreasonable to argue that men and women evolved this distinct biology, which itself is attached to different functions in perpetuating the species, but that this has no further impact on male and female behaviour or interests or strengths or instincts etc. To her credit Professor Kathleen Stock, a leading academic Terf, *is* willing to take this step, but she seems well ahead of the others in trying to think through the issue logically:

      Also, the Twitter Terfs clearly do not believe in the reality of the qualities of masculinity and femininity. They dismiss them as being socially constructed and oppressive. The reality of these qualities is, of course, less immediately apparent than the reality of our sexed bodies. Even so, it is a dismissal of a certain kind of experiential and observable reality within human nature. I was amused, for instance, to go through one of the Twitter Terf social media feeds and find out that 80% of it was pictures of cute animals and the like, interspersed with her vehement rejections of the real existence of the feminine.

    2. "clearly do not believe in the reality of the qualities of masculinity and femininity"

      I think it is more that they are inconsistent on this - and see that as a woman's prerogative. >:) In traditional (ie TERF) Feminism, women are both 'the same' as men, and also 'better' than men.

      My experience of arguing with TERF type Feminists is that they tend to come in very hostile, any man who disagrees with them is 'The Patriarchy', yet it is much more possible to find common ground with them, than with the Trans. Eg TERFs will happily agree that men are dangerous to women, and that women need to be protected from men. They want 'society' (ie men) to do the protecting. What they don't want is for men to get anything back from women in return for protecting them - it's a moral duty with no balancing consideration. I think this is unrealistic and impractical, but it is not at war with reality the way Trans activists are.

      TERF Feminists have a Marxist view of the world, with the male sex oppressing the female sex. Trans activists ironically have a view much more compatible with classical Right-Liberalism, with individuals as autonomous self-creating entities not grounded in human nature. Of course they are inconsistent too. But I find it is possible to debate with a TERF in a way I simply cannot with a Trans activist.

    3. "this common ground is not very extensive and that any cooperation is strategic rather than representing a common view of the world"

      Yes, they want a female-centric order, and they think traditionalists want a male-centric order. I find their main motivation tends to be a great fear of men, often a result of their own personal experiences. They tend to be badly damaged. I think they are misguided, but I generally don't find them truly bad people, more sad people. I think a lot of Trans activists are 'happy warriors' and really are bad people.

  3. It appears that the Terfs follow the older gender theory idea of the complete separation of sex and gender. Thus a woman is born female (i.e. xx chromosomes), but this has zero connection to masculine of feminine qualities. A woman can choose to be a loving mother and wife, a body builder, a business woman or condider Ayn Rand the epitome of "womanhood". Womanhood simply becomes whatever any given individual female chooses at any given time. Women can be "non-binary" or "gender bending" by living more traditional masculine lives, but nevertheless, they remain of the female sex. As you point out, this renders sex distinctions non-existent, in which case the question arises why keep the distinction between sex and gender? It would seem to be a meaningless distinction. And if it is a meaningful distinction, why are Terfs upset if a person with xy chromosomes wants to be called a woman?

    1. Kurt, excellent summary of where things stand.

      One thing I didn't discuss in the post is that what some Terfs think they are losing are privileges in the form of rights that have been granted to women as a political class. If anyone can claim to be a member of that class, then having access to those rights is no longer reserved the way it once was. There is a loss of political status. If you have focused your life meaning on this, perhaps it is felt to be a grievous loss.