Personal Vendettas Have No Place in Gender Critical Activism

Attacking other women who have different approaches to you isn’t productive. Let them do their thing.

I am affiliated with the movement loosely referred to as the “gender critical movement,”. Among ourselves, we talk about being “GC.” While it has been occasionally claimed by our ideological opponents that we are a “cult,” we are in fact a diverse group of people who vary in backgrounds and politics, all motivated by various concerns about gender ideology. Most of us support gender non-conformity and diverse expression, and are not conservative in that regard, as our critics try to claim. Most of the people I work with are left wing, pro woman, pro expression, pro LGB. What we generally agree with is that we can and should express “gender” in ways that break stereotypes, but that doing so does not change one’s sex. Nor should it change one’s legal identity, or the sports team one plays on. What we agree on is that sex based classes exist and matter, and that gender ideology harms all of us by pretending that superficial differences, often based on stereotypes, can constitute legal classes that should be allowed to replace sex in law. Almost none of us think that the variety of expression in gender itself is bad, just that pretending that those differences are useful categories for law or rights.

In the GC community, I see some argument among us as to what it means to be GC, with people fighting over ideological purity. Some believe that you must read certain feminist theory and papers to qualify as being GC. Some claim that feminine men set a great example by being gender non-conforming, others question whether they are in fact engaged in harmful stereotyping or “performing femininity.” Some people who accept transsexuals as a third class consider themselves GC, and other people claim that gender critical people must only undermine all “trans” status. Other disputes include whether or not you can like certain sexist celebrities or shows, or have ‘trans’ friends, or wear make-up while claiming to be gender critical. I support discussions about these issues in feminism and in GC activism. It in fact demonstrates the ways in which we are diverse, free to debate, and not dogmatic. However, I have some serious concerns about some of the value of some of the infighting I see occurring. That is, I see people who use these questions to instigate pile-ons, snark, gossip and nit-picking aimed at those with whom they differ on some of these matters. While I agree that the “questions” are valid, those who make those questions personal and punitive towards women working among us, and that isn’t good or productive.   

Most of the people who I meet who are doing incredible work in the gender critical community do NOT meet strict GC or radical feminist standards. Many who may not have been brought here by theoretical feminism are often still here for pro-woman reasons: they are fighting against real-life changes that impact them or their families, such as replacing sexes with gender identities in legal provisions, sports, and spaces. Among those of us who DO know about, and fight “patriarchy,” most of us have learned from experience that in a world full of harmful sexism, gender stereotypes, consumerism, and social injustice, we have to prioritise certain goals over others. That is, most people involved in grassroots and online activism do not have the time, drive or focus to be radical in all aspects of their lives. I would argue that, in terms of numbers, there are far more among us who make lifestyle, spending, and ideological choices that not all of us would approve of, while still being valuable contributors to this and other causes.  When I see “feminists” targeting other women personally in our community on social media for perceived ideological imperfections, I shake my head. Why would you want a smaller tent, with fewer people fighting these ideologies, than a larger one? Whether you are primarily interested in GC work or promoting feminist ideals more broadly, personalising ideological conflicts are seldom productive.

While theory is important in driving critique of an ideology, most people in activism cannot and don’t live up to “theory” as well as they could, and that policing each other at the activist level can be harmful. Not only is this presumptuous and counterproductive, it is also often mired in misogyny. Sometimes I see women (and yes, it’s most often women I see in activist infighting) engaged in abuse of other women online, trying to pass it off as “critical thinking” or “not making compromises.” More often than not, however, when I see women commenting on other women’s personality, or ideological impurity, I  see women motivated by competition, pettiness, personal irritation, or defensiveness (the need to have others hate the same people as oneself in order to affirm oneself.) This last one is a sign of a personality disorder, folks, and is a key indicator of someone who is intent on using activist communities for their venting rage and personal affirmation, not to further the common goal of defeating gender or helping women.

Some of the high school antics that “women” should be ashamed of include  pile-ons, posts about “mutuals” you disapprove of stating publicly “if you follow so-and-so unfriend me now.” Others include posts to kiwifarms to discredit other women they don’t like, calling women who have trans friends MRAs or branding other people bad feminists. Recently, I was invited to a private group where I watched women vilify other women, not present, for everything ranging from their appearance and personality. I saw a considerable amount of mischaracterising what the not-present women stood for or said, as well. I left the group without discussing my concerns, for the same reason that most women don’t speak up when they see this behaviour: they are afraid they will be next.

Be aware that secret gossip doesn’t stay secret for long, because the women who don’t speak up often talk among themselves and take screenshots of their own, usually to warn the person involved or other friends of who they might need to stay away from. This leads to mistrust and further division among us as people feel the need to “pick sides.” Quite frankly, I am becoming more and more inclined to block the gossips and the infighters among us, not because they don’t have a right to do what they want on their own timelines, but because it interferes with my work and my peace of mind.

On the matter of blocking, I saw people complaining recently about having been blocked by someone, who has taken a lot of abuse from some GC feminists because she takes a softer tone than many of us would on a few issues. Quite frankly, this person has said things that I disagree with and annoys me. She is arguably over-sensitive and a bit block happy. But, so what if that is so? A lot of us are stressed out, high strung, and not here for criticism from people on our own side. I’ll take her hard work and over-sensitivity over the women fighting with her, any day. Her work, even if I find it imperfect in one aspect, is still much more effective than those of her critics. She reaches a large audience and makes a good case for some of the goals I really support. Criticising her on her own timeline is NOT going to move her or her followers closer to our firmer stance. Furthermore you are not OWED access to the timeline of others, and they can and should block you if they want, especially if your criticisms are stressful and unproductive. You were blocked by mistake? Well reach out via a third party or move on. Why complain that someone has blocked you? Why not move on with your work while they move on with theirs? Attempts to get others to collude with you in discrediting them for may feel good but speaks poorly of you and doesn’t really accomplish much. 

There is a difference between being a critical thinker and being snarky because it feels good. Most people are all biased towards supporting people they like, not necessarily people who are doing good work. We also tend to punish those who we don’t like without noticing (or caring as much as they should) about whether that punishment is counter productive. I know that myself, I have struggled with dislike of a few online personalities in the GC world and have come to the difficult conclusion that my feelings about their likeability are subjective, imperfect (we think we really know what these people are like but we don’t), and irrelevant. I challenge you to share the work (or posts) of people based on the actual value of their work, not based on whether you personally like them. 

One of the divisive issues in the community is how we should deal with male trans GC allies, or TiMs – trans-identifying males. I understand the controversy in our community about whether or not TiMs are helpful or not. I follow and admire people on both sides of this debate. I agree that affirming “trans” status of any kind is problematic. I would like to eliminate any talk of “transition,” and reframe the dialogue in terms of gender non-conformity and dysphoria, not a third class of people. However, given the fact that transsexuals have been recognized in law in many places for some time, I know that many disagree with me. There are times when I cannot hope to sway someone on how “trans” status is problematic altogether, but I AM able to successfully argue that whatever it is, it is NOT womanhood. Instead of arguing for the hard line with everyone, I argue for the hard line when I can, and at other times I raise my concerns without vilifying the people in the middle. It is not a problem that is going to be solved by popping up on women’s timelines and telling them they can’t use the word “trans,” or that they are bad feminists because they have trans friends. Calling a woman who campaigns against self-ID but not transsexuals an MRA may feel gratifying, but it doesn’t change any minds. A better tactic would be to continue to support those women on the issues that you agree with her on and continue to point out how elsewhere that  transsexual status and exceptions are problematic. In my case, I continue to post a great deal of material that trans-friendly GC people consider quite harsh, while still staying on decent terms with those of them who understand that my critiques are systemic, not personal. 

As for the men themselves (the TiMs among us), the reality is that whether you think they are problematic or not, they are a class who the media and the world care about and listen to. They do us an enormous service when they say publicly that they are not literal women and they don’t belong in our spaces. It is my belief that every time a TiM says publicly that TW are men (whether they have ulterior motives or not), it helps us. Also, when TiMs with dysphoria talk about the differences between their issues (HSTS) and autogynephilia, it raises the issue of AUTOGYNEPHILIA to the members of the public who are not aware of it. The more people talking about autogynephilia and raising awareness about it, the better. I know that the existence of men in feminism makes many women mad, as well as jealous that they get more attention. While I am sympathetic to people talking about how it is problematic to centre males in feminism, I also believe that raising awareness about GC questioning is more important than who “gets attention” or credit. Furthermore, there are a number of women who hate one TiM in our community so much they mischaracterise his position on the GRA, which he does not support. We do not further our aims with dishonesty, and by the way, this kind of treatment of the TiMs generally leads to people being MORE sympathetic to them, not less. 

If you accept that the biggest challenge in gender politics is making the public aware of the harms of gender ideology, then you should be able to see that it is not helpful to harass women who work with these people to that aim. I’m not here to pressure you into retweeting or being nice to that TiM you don’t like. I understand that some of the fawning over some TiMs that we see can be very, very annoying and tacky. I understand those of you who don’t want men centred in your activism. I understand people who block content or people they don’t want to see or deal with. That is fair enough, I’ve done that myself. However, try not to let the rage over the tacky nature of that adoration blind you to the fact that they may actually be helpful. Especially don’t blind yourself to the fact that some of the women who are on the fence or who support TiMs are not all fan-girls and handmaidens, and what THEY are doing might be pretty helpful. Consider that they have made a different calculation than you and that, in terms of raising awareness and moving the public critique of gender forward, they may be doing as much as you. They might in fact be doing MORE than you if your work is limited to preaching to the already converted. This is especially true now as thousands of people who are concerned about Democrats’ recent actions are seeking us out to hear critiques of the ideology, not of each other. 

It is no surprise that a large number of the accounts (but not all) I see tearing down others have cartoon avatars and appear to be young, not unlike our TRA adversaries. Ironically, their posts are also often peppered with evidence of media, lifestyle, and spending choices that, if critiqued from the same feminist point of view they use to judge others, would not stand up to scrutiny. I see them complaining about the “baby” radfems when it appears to me that it is exactly this group of women that ARE the baby radfems. They are usually the most critical of others while doing the LEAST feminism, they lift up women who are their “friends” only,  and they spend their time shitposting and making funny quips about others that make them feel  “bad ass.” Let’s be clear, making fun of other women who contribute to a cause you care about is anything but “bad ass,” and it’s also not very feminist. I would like to challenge these young women to make positive contributions to the conversation as well, something which is both a lot more difficult and a lot more meaningful.

Regrettably, I DO see a few older women engage in this behaviour too, which disappoints me because they ought to know better and have some self control. One such woman asks disingenuously in her pinned tweet how she is supposed to be “nice” and “gender critical” at the same time. I would answer that it’s not that hard and many of us do just that: we criticise pro-gender policies and aspects of gender ideology we find harmful and we do so without engaging in personal public fights with women or allies on our own side. We create threads about how we disagree with this idea or that choice, without going after someone personally in a way that leads to pile-ons and division.

While petty behaviour goes on in most activism communities and can’t be totally avoided, it’s regrettable to see women who claim to understand and fight misogyny can be engaged in the worst forms of it. Woman-on-woman infighting is the worst kind of misogyny, and one that we are often unconscious of being engaged in. I’m not talking about a disagreement and a mutual online block, but I am talking about the gossip, the pile-ons, the public shaming of others for their tastes, “mutuals,” and trying to stop their work or posts from succeeding. These are the behaviours that teach women to hate other women and make women stop fighting for other women. 

Those of us who have done the readings in feminist theory might be able to argue that women are doing this because they have been socialised this way under patriarchy, but that hardly matters to a women who are turned off of all activism by seeing other women treated poorly. Public snark and silly confrontations do not inspire women to become more ideologically correct, it inspires them to be defensive, and/or leave. It also wastes time and resources as we target each other instead of the men and ideas that harm us. It, in effect, does patriarchy’s work for them.

In my opinion, we need as many voices as possible fighting harmful ideologies from differing points of view, from varying levels of feminist theory ranging from softer to hard core. This is not about being nice and “including” people, but it is about the practical reality: gender ideology hurts us all and not enough people know or understand the arguments against it. Any person who works to educate people on GC arguments is furthering awareness of the issue, even if they differ in some aspects of the argument. We can continue to make the case for the alternative aspects we care about, without vilifying the women who differ with us on approach.

Any feminist knows that women are tired of being told to be nice. I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with being “not nice” when it is called for. Most women among us know that we have a substantial amount of rage inside of us, for a variety of reasons. We are entitled to that rage. However, I would also ask you to be careful about being “not nice” simply when it feels clever or gets a laugh or “like” for you or feels good.  Be careful about thinking that that justified rage (at men and at the system) means you are entitled to be shitty to other women who are doing good work simply because you dislike them or disagree with them on some issues.

This piece isn’t really about me saying that you should “be nice,” and it is also not about making “compromises.” We should never be nice when someone tries to evade our boundaries or erase our sex and we should not make compromises that allow men to access our spaces or rights. It is about how we, especially women, treat other women we dislike or disagree with. It’s not about telling you not to hurt others’ feelings, it is about pointing out that it might not be productive, especially when motivated by anger or spite. It’s about saying that while you have a right to use any tone you want, using it maliciously under the cover of “I’m entitled to it” is being used at times just to excuse bad behaviour. It’s about picking your battles wisely rather than wasting your energy pissing on your own side. It’s about pointing out that we need more people than just radical feminists to be involved in order to defeat this movement, society wide. It’s about calculating the value of having people who are partially on side with us voice SOME opposition to gender rather than voicing NO opposition to gender, and recognising that there can be more a more productive time and place to air differences than in ways that intentionally and unnecessarily alienate them (and the rest of us).  It is time to take responsibility and ask ourselves about our motivations and the helpfulness of this outlook and behaviour.

While it is important for people to continue to write pieces that question problematic choices in feminism and other activism, please be aware that trying to get others to comply with your ideals can be bullying. Personalised criticisms, pile-ons and secret groups where you complain about people you don’t like is not activism but snark, and has a harmful impact. If you like gossiping about other activists, ask yourself if it is usually women that you trash to others, and why that might be. 

Don’t pretend that any of these behaviours are about “being bad-ass” or “not making compromises” if they are about your own feelings of powerlessness. If you assess yourself and see that it is the latter, I sympathise with you, but I ask you to rise above it. I’m not your mom, and I’m not telling you what to do except to consider your priorities, your motivation, and whether or not it serves you and your goals. For some of you, your rage may be justified, but just consider whether or not you are using it wisely and productively. I’d ask you to be sure you use it to target politicians, men, and organizations, who deny that sex is real rather than sniping at women who agree with you on this major point but disappoint you in other aspects. Especially in the case that the women you target are doing hours of work on a cause you care about, consider giving them a “pass” on their so -called imperfections. Likewise, save slurs like “handmaiden” or MRA for women who literally want men in women’s sports and positions, not for women who do hours of gender critical and/or feminist work but fall short on some standard you hold.

Think about it. Staying on task and making arguments is more effective in getting our voices heard than fighting among ourselves. Use your rage carefully and make sure that the people you target are people who deserve it, not people you are simply mad at. We can stay on good terms with women we disagree with and even don’t like instead of trying to take them down.

It’s not about being “nice.” It’s about being smart. Women thrashing women is neither and we can do better.

8 Comments

    • Not sure where you got that. They are complaining about those who make these disagreements and dispute unnecessarily personal rather than sticking to the issues. They have a good point, if you have a fight with someone, blocking them and moving on doesn’t divide the whole community the way sniping and infighting like brats. I’ve seen enough of it. It divides people and it pushes them away.
      IMHO

      • On the other hand, people who behave like this probably don’t read articles like this and probably don’t engage in a ton of self-reflection.

  1. It’s a bit depressing that the first comment takes that tone and misunderstands what is being said about the difference between general criticism and personal slander and infighting. I agree that the more vendettas of a few are a distraction that would could do without.

  2. I was brought here by a link someone shared, complaining that the “be nice” crowd is meaner than the other crowd. LOL.

    Overall, the essay is a decent attempt to approach the topic without pointing a finger too directly at anyone. If you get your back up about an essay that bends over backwards to say that you don’t have to be nice, you just shouldn’t be an asshole, I wonder immediately if you are the kind of person who engages in the behaviors named.

    If you pick fights with other women, gossip about them on MeWe/discord, write hit pieces on people personally by name, then YOU are not the victim when someone writes a general essay about how these behaviors are harmful.
    If you started personal shit with others, you deserve blow-back. If you made it personal, you shouldn’t be surprised if they direct it back at you personally. Even if they are otherwise promoting a *be nice* mentality.

    The writer makes some good points and does it without naming or shaming. It would be nice if people took a lesson from that.

    • Jenny, I wrote the article and I thought for several days about whether I should reply to you and Penny directly here. I know you as a couple have faced a personal situation in which naming someone who engaged in stalking/bashing was important. Of course, all situations require personal judgement and the article was not a statement that we can never name names of wrongdoers, rather that the infighting over childish matters and ideological disagreements are better made less personal than more personal. In a situation where someone has faced a personal attack already, no one can expect someone to stand down. Communities have these situations and divisions. An article like mine cannot be taken as any kind of directive as to what is best in a serious situation, nor was it meant to be. You can feel free to contact me personally through other channels if you need to talk or need support on this matter.

  3. Spot on! I only care about stopping a kid coming home and announcing she wants a mastectomy, like my niece did. I will promote the voice of anyone from the Tran-ally to Posie Parker if it stops one girl from doing that. I really don’t care about their other personal faults or community politics. To be honest, most people don’t. I don’t know about Discord and the baby gossips mentioned, but I do know that the big squabbles I see on social media are usually started by the same handful of people. Like the above comment, I was brought here by someone who posted the article and complained about backlash they get over being one of that handful. Sorry mate, you can obviously do what you want but if you publicly target other people who are getting the message out you can expect to be unpopular.

  4. I agree with about 85% of this blog post. I’m caught between two fighting camps in the UK GC scene. I love people on both sides, but I also think they both behave very badly. People from both camps were annoyed by this blog post because they think it was critical of them/supported their enemy, and they would think I was taking sides if I shared it. So I haven’t. I wish I could.

    Ironically, I know the writer, an American, who didn’t have that particular UK conflict on her radar when she decided to write this. She was inspired to write this by the gloating about the suspension of another American who was high strung but hard working, as well as the tran accepting/tran exclusionary camps who make life toxic for each other. Uncommon Ground Media invited people to write their own response to an post on that topic instead of griping about it, and the writer did that in good faith! She is a bit agog (alarmed, actually) to see it being used as a proxy in other wars that she did not intend. She’s taking a social media break and asked me not to say anything that would fan any flames if I commented, only to point out that she did not have any major UK GC account or conflict in mind at the time of writing.

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