Mischaracterisation of WoLF continues full throttle in outlets like the Washington Post, which has refused to correct hypocritical assertions from critics.
On February 1, 2020, the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) hosted an event at the Seattle Public Library called “Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity.” It was a bit of a struggle to get there. Proponents of “gender identity” fought hard to get the library to cancel the event, but the library stood its ground (as it was legally required to do). When the day of the event arrived, hundreds of protesters, many affiliated with Antifa, stood outside the library, shouting things like “FUCK TERFs” and “TERFs GO HOME!” and “TERFs OUT!” For their safety, event speakers had to be escorted by library security and local police to a nearby car. As the car sped away, protesters continued to shout and bang their fists on the car.
In the lead-up to the event, it received some coverage, which the Post picked up, and the Post ultimately published this piece, on February 7, 2020.
The headline is horrible, and the media in general needs to be taken to task for framing the issue of women’s rights as being against anyone. But setting that aside, the piece makes some good points. It begins by highlighting the recent testimony of WoLF board chair Natasha Chart in South Dakota:
She introduced herself to a room full of conservative lawmakers as a bisexual woman, a longtime political progressive and the leader of a radical feminist organization.
Listening to Natasha Chart through a Skype call were more than a dozen South Dakota state representatives, most of them Republican, considering a bill to criminalize medical treatments for transgender children.
“Doctors shouldn’t help kids take out their sadness and anger on the only bodies we can ever have,” she said in her testimony to South Dakota’s House State Affairs Committee on Jan. 22. “Please vote yes to forbid the sterilization of these young people.”
Yes, horror of horrors! WoLF is against the needless sterilization of young people!
It goes on to explain the radical feminist critique of “gender identity,” and goes as far as citing radical feminist pioneers Mary Daly and Janice Raymond:
Mary Daly, a self-described “radical lesbian feminist” who taught at Boston College, argued that transgender women aren’t women, because “no male can assume female chromosomes and life history/experience.” Her student, Janice Raymond, wrote the 1979 book “The Transsexual Empire,” pushing the belief that transgender women reinforce outdated gender stereotypes and pose a threat to gender equality.
It also accurately notes that women who stand up for women and girls have been kicked off of social media, excommunicated from social circles, and fired from jobs for expressing our thoughts on “gender identity,” all of which is true. To be clear, that should be shocking. Women are being kicked off social media, excommunicated from social circles, and fired from jobs simply for standing up for women and girls? Yes, it is true, and it is bizarre for some of us that this gets very little mention in the mainstream media. It is almost as though women are not being allowed to speak. What century is this?
But, importantly, the Washington Post gets a few things wrong, and badly.
For example, she claims that “Chart and other radical feminists are helping to bolster [conservatives’] message, creating the perception of bipartisan support in a polarizing social debate.”
WoLF is not bolstering a “conservative” message by fighting for the rights, privacy, and safety of women and girls. WoLF is not confused about the history of conservative opposition to women’s rights. We know about the Hyde Amendment, for example. WoLF is bolstering a feminist message by insisting that women have the right to set boundaries. And why shouldn’t we?
A more insidious example of the Post’s refusal to accurately describe WoLF’s positions (because accurately describing our positions would undermine its ability to paint WoLF as extreme or fringe) is this statement, and its subsequent unwillingness to correct it:
[WoLF] also filed an amicus brief in one of the most consequential Supreme Court cases of the year, arguing that sex-based discrimination protections in the workplace should not apply to transgender people.
This is wildly inaccurate. WoLF has never once argued that “sex-based discrimination protections in the workplace should not apply to transgender people.” Anyone reading the WoLF brief in the case of Harris v. EEOC, which the Post itself cites (but possibly never bothered to read) can see exactly what our arguments were.
The day the story was published, we asked for a correction by text message.
No changes were made.
So, we requested a correction by email. On February 8 (the day after the piece broke), we wrote the following note to the author:
In your piece, you say, “It also filed an amicus brief in one of the most consequential Supreme Court cases of the year, arguing that sex-based discrimination protections in the workplace should not apply to transgender people.”
This is false. We discussed this already. You asked me if that is an accurate statement, and I told you that it is not. That is not what WoLF argues in its brief. WoLF argues that sex-stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation both constitute unlawful sex discrimination. This needs to be corrected.
She dismissed us based on her continued misreading of the law:
As for the amicus brief, the crux of the question being taken up by the Supreme Court is whether sex-based workplace protections should apply on the basis of gender identity — that is to say, whether they should apply to transgender people. Your amicus brief argues that federal law should not recognize “men and boys who claim to have a female ‘gender identity'” as a discrete category worth of civil rights protection. I feel that my characterization of your stance on the case is not inaccurate.
To defend a false statement with the claim that it “is not inaccurate” is, to say the least, sad. Journalists should insist on accuracy in reporting. Perhaps at this point the author should have consulted a Post lawyer to ask whether the author’s attempt to paraphrase our legal arguments was inaccurate. Anything less than 100% accuracy is opinion. And if you’re writing opinion, that’s fine, but the Post should be honest about that fact, not try to pass off biased opinion pieces as “journalism.”
So we wrote to the Post’s editorial team. We said, regarding the same false claim about our brief:
This statement is factually inaccurate. Our brief does not argue that “protections in the workplace should not apply to transgender people.” Instead, our brief argues that the Supreme Court should define the word sex clearly, and consistently with what the word Congress intended when it included the word in the 1964 Civil Rights Act – the distinction between male and female, and that sex-stereotyping is unlawful.
We were again dismissed. The editors’ response was:
The question being considered by the Supreme Court is whether sex-based workplace protections should apply on the basis of gender identity, which means whether they should apply to transgender people. WoLF’s amicus brief argues that “there is no justification whatsoever for protecting” gender identity in civil rights law. The Post’s summary of the brief is, of necessity, highly condensed, but it is accurate.
At least the editors, unlike the author, appear to aspire to demonstrate accuracy, even while failing to do so. It is fine for the media to condense legal arguments. When it does so, it should do so in a manner that accurately reflects the arguments being made. The Post has whole-heartedly failed to do so in this instance.
We wrote back:
WoLF does not argue that “protections in the workplace should not apply to transgender people.” That is flatly incorrect and it is deliberately misleading your readers into thinking that we seek to deprive some people of legal protection. What WoLF actually stated in its brief is that males like the litigant Aimee Stephens who wish to challenge sex-specific dress codes that prohibit them from wearing skirts to work must do so honestly, as a member of the male sex, consistent with the plain language of Title VII. To state it another way: every single person who claims to be transgender has a sex, and is therefore covered by the same prohibition in Title VII against discrimination “on the basis of sex.”
Unsurprisingly, the Post was not moved, and no correction has been issued. To be clear: the Washington Post is knowingly misinforming its readers about what WoLF argued in its brief in Harris v. EEOC, specifically by falsely stating that we seek to deprive some people of civil rights protections. There is no other way to spin it.
Perhaps the most egregious error in the Washington Post’s piece about WoLF is its characterization of WoLF members as TERFs. To anyone who hasn’t been following, the acronym TERF stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist,” and when it is used, it is typically accompanied by threats of rape, assault, and/or death.
We complained to the author about this on February 8 as well:
We also object to your characterizing WoLF members as “TERFs,” which you do here: “Last weekend, the tensions between the TERFs and transgender advocates erupted at the Seattle Public Library as hundreds of women converged for a WoLF-organized event, “Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity.”
As you know, that term is a misogynistic slur that is routinely accompanied by threats of violence. https://terfisaslur.com/. Its use in your piece is a direct insult.
The response was, characteristically, disappointing:
I intended that sentence to describe these tensions more broadly, between trans rights activists and people they consider to be “TERFs.” I clarify in the story that the acronym stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which is an accurate description of your position as a “radical feminist” organization that denies the existence of transgender people.
It should be needless to say that WoLF has never denied the existence of any people. Rather, we simply reject the “transgender” concept because it is only ever defined (if at all) in a circular manner: “transgender people” are “people who identify as transgender.” The fact that a reporter at the Washington Post has adopted popular trans-activist language, claiming we “deny the existence of transgender people,” demonstrates that this piece should have been published in the Opinion or Editorial pages.
The Post’s steadfast refusal to adhere to basic principles of journalistic integrity here is appalling, but not surprising. Schmidt seems to have written this piece with the intent of refereeing who gets to count as real feminist, as if she worked for a partisan organization like Media Matters. It’s not clear that the Washington Post, or Schmidt, herself, have any particular authority to oversee the purity of the women’s movement. Schmidt retweeted commentary on her article by her Washington Post colleague and business reporter, Rachel Leah Siegel, saying, “Progressives have shunned the Women’s Liberation Front, calling it a discriminatory, right-wing group disguised as feminist.”
Does anyone turn to the Washington Post business section for the final word on women’s liberation politics?
The day the article was published, Heron Greenesmith, quoted in the piece criticizing us, tweeted, “Super proud of [Samantha Schmidt’s] ridiculously in-depth look at WoLF’s increasing utility to the Evangelical-Right’s fight against trans equality.” Schmidt tweeted a reply, “Thanks so much for all of your help!”
Greenesmith was quoted in the article, here:
Heron Greenesmith, a senior research analyst with the social justice think tank Political Research Associates, who tracks the group, argues this “positioning of martyrdom and silencing” is also a strategy to underscore the group’s image as a beleaguered faction of the left, “despite the fact that they’re being platformed by the largest, most-funded legal organizations in the world.
Schmidt highlighted part of this quote in her thread announcing the article, suggesting that we’re misleading people regarding how we’ve been mistreated and politically marginalized, by pairing it with Greenesmith’s assertion. Given her exchange with Greenesmith, this sounds like Schmidt using these canned quotes to editorialize.
It turns out, this statement could have used a little fact checking. WoLF has worked on the gender identity issue with only one organization that should be described as a “legal organization,” the Alliance Defending Freedom, and we shared a legal brief with the Family Policy Alliance, though when we contacted Heron Greenesmith for clarification regarding what organizations she meant, she didn’t respond.
The Family Policy Alliance runs on well less than five million dollars a year, as of 2018, and in September of that year, their total liabilities and net assets were $1,107,032. For the Alliance Defending Freedom, their most recent financial statements indicate that their total liabilities and net assets, as of June 30, 2019, were $47,412,853. The Heritage Foundation, where our members have appeared on panels they’ve hosted, isn’t a legal organization, but as of the close of 2018, their total liabilities and net assets came to $294,687,214. This is all more money than we’ve ever seen at WoLF, but the claim was made that we’ve been platformed by “the largest, most-funded legal organizations in the world.”
Maybe that description more properly belongs to another nonprofit mentioned in the article, the ACLU, whose director of their Women’s Rights Project was quoted alongside Greenesmith, to share the same line of attack brought against us by Media Matters last year, that we’re “fake feminists.”
“… Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the partnership a “false alliance” that seeks to divide the LGBTQ community, as well as progressives.
“That’s what’s driving their influence — the false claiming of a feminist mantle and attaching that label to anti-transgender positions,” Tabacco Mar said. “This is not a principle of crossing party lines. This is a principle of exclusion.” …”
This is a strange line of attack against us by an organization that supports free speech for white supremacists, and has worked very hard to ensure that filmed commercial sexual exploitation is freely available everywhere. The ACLU has also worked alongside the Heritage Foundation on criminal justice reform policy, including reductions of mandatory minimum sentences.
The ACLU can support film royalties for pimps, and work with the Heritage Foundation when it suits them, and still get quoted as gatekeepers of real feminism in the Washington Post. They’ll also boldly call us fake feminists for opposing their other work against the rights of women and children, or for working with people that they themselves freely work with in situations of common cause.
More germane to Greenesmith’s point about who’s getting platformed by whom, the ACLU’s most recent financial report, for 2019, for both of their affiliated nonprofits, is as follows.
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, ACLU FOUNDATION & CONSOLIDATED ENTITIES PROGRAM:
Net Assets FY 2019
AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, INC. & SUBSIDIARY PROGRAM
Net Assets FY 2019
Both of the ACLU affiliates dwarf the Alliance Defending Freedom, and well outstrip the Heritage Foundation, which is primarily a policy and education think tank, rather than a “legal organization.”
Put a salary figure next to the name of anyone quoted criticizing us in this article, and it’s likely larger than WoLF annual donations have ever been, based on publicly available salary estimates on sites like Glassdoor, or Paysa. Several women publicly affiliated with WoLF, or gender critical and radical feminist analysis, have lost our livelihoods in recent years, and most of the time, this means losing someone’s voice to the cause.
ACLU staff can criticize radical feminists to their peers, and get us pushed out of work, and they can threaten government officials with lawsuits, but the people who help them do this will turn around and suggest that we’re misleading people about the impact of that treatment because we got help posting our legal opinions in federal court a couple times, and spoke on a handful of panels?
Why is the ACLU so determined to allow boys to compete in and destroy girls’ sports? Who disagrees with them but won’t speak up because of their constant, aggressive threats to sue anyone who thinks that human beings can’t change sex? Why is the ACLU so committed to sterilizing healthy children, or to amputating their breasts or gonads, or to accusing everyone who opposes this of causing the deaths of children?
Why does the country’s, perhaps, most-funded legal nonprofit think that they’re doing women’s rights a favor by tying it to these human rights abuses? These would be interesting questions for a reporter to put to them, but people aren’t exactly lining up around the block to have ACLU staff, or others, publicly accuse them of trying to get kids killed, or threatening to sue them.
Very few media outlets are willing to have an honest discussion about “gender identity,” which is partly why events like the one in Seattle are so important. Because reporters like Schmidt have picked a side already, and they won’t even accurately describe what they think in articles that are supposed to be informing people about our political ideas.
Still, without waiting for the press, women and girls are speaking up, all around the world. In Mexico, Guatemala, Nigeria, and the UK, women are standing firm. Critical to that fight is our ability to name the category women and girls. Men aren’t women, sex is not “gender identity,” and the truth is the truth. We aren’t afraid to say that. Why is the Washington Post?
Kara Dansky and Natasha both serve on the board of the Women’s Liberation Front.