Remember women? Of course you do, even if you’re afraid to say so lest your woke friends shun you as if you’ve just announced that you hate kale. At the New York Times, Pamela Paul makes a point that I’ve raised in various contexts between the right and left, and why the former is obvious while the latter is insidious.
Because the far right and the far left have found the one thing they can agree on: Women don’t count.
The right’s position here is the better known, the movement having aggressively dedicated itself to stripping women of fundamental rights for decades. Thanks in part to two Supreme Court justices who have been credibly accused of abusive behavior towards women, Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 years a target, has been ruthlessly overturned.
The point isn’t whether “credibly accused” is a meaningful phrase, whether two justices make a majority, or whether being anti-abortion is evil. The point is that the right makes no bones about it. Their positions are open, flagrant and obvious, so no one will be tricked into embracing them, only to later figure out that they are no better friends to freedom and liberty, but hide it behind pretty phrases and good intentions.
Far more bewildering has been the fringe left jumping in with its own perhaps unintentionally but effectively misogynist agenda. There was a time when campus groups and activist organizations advocated strenuously on behalf of women. Women’s rights were human rights and something to fight for.
This isn’t entirely fair, as the left still sides with women when the issues are framed as a battle against men, even if their position usually infantilizes women as too fragile to manage while calling them strong and fierce.
As reported by my colleague Michael Powell, even the word “women” has become verboten. Previously a commonly understood term for half the world’s population, the word had a specific meaning tied to genetics, biology, history, politics and culture. No longer. In its place are unwieldy terms like “pregnant people,” “menstruators” and “bodies with vaginas.”
Planned Parenthood, once a stalwart defender of women’s rights, omits the word “women” from its home page. NARAL Pro-Choice America has used “birthing people” in lieu of “women.” The American Civil Liberties Union, a longtime defender of women’s rights, last month tweeted its outrage over the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade as a threat to several groups: “Black, Indigenous and other people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, young people.”
It left out those threatened most of all: women. Talk about a bitter way to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
Again, to be fair, it’s not as if the modification of many common words and phrases to make them longer, more unwieldy and generally silly, doesn’t happen in may contexts. After all, there are people who absolutely insist, to the point of violence, that calling someone a “person with prior felony convictions” will humanize them, and they will no longer be viewed as evil, but just human beings who made a mistake.
But the elimination of the word “women” is not done for such a salutary reason, whether it works or not. Rather, it is the acquiescence of the majority to the feelings of a very small minority to avoid offense. There is no greater requirement of existence than avoiding offense. There is no greater wrong than to offend. If someone claims offense, and they are above you on the hierarchy of marginalized persons, the duty becomes clear.
The noble intent behind omitting the word “women” is to make room for the relatively tiny number of transgender men and people identifying as nonbinary who retain aspects of female biological function and can conceive, give birth or breastfeed. But despite a spirit of inclusion, the result has been to shove women to the side.
This, yet again to be fair, is noble, as in a signal to others, that a person or organization recognizes the hierarchy of marginalized persons and has adjusted accordingly to accede to its requirements. But you get no woke points for this nobility, as it’s expected, no demanded, of anyone who claims to be on the side of goodness and equity. You don’t win a prize for adopting the accouterments of social justice, as it’s merely how every moral and decent person is supposed to be. You are moral and decent, right?
But fail to comply and woe befalls you.
But here we go again, parsing women into organs. Last year the British medical journal The Lancet patted itself on the back for a cover article on menstruation. Yet instead of mentioning the human beings who get to enjoy this monthly biological activity, the cover referred to “bodies with vaginas.” It’s almost as if the other bits and bobs – uteruses, ovaries or even something relatively gender-neutral like brains – were inconsequential. That such things tend to be wrapped together in a human package with two X sex chromosomes is apparently unmentionable.
“What are we, chopped liver?” A woman might be tempted to joke, but in this organ-centric and largely humorless atmosphere, perhaps she would be wiser not to.
Those women who have made this argument have been attacked and reviled as TERFs and transphobic.
Those on the right who are threatened by women’s equality have always fought fiercely to put women back in their place. What has been disheartening is that some on the fringe left have been equally dismissive, resorting to bullying, threats of violence, public shaming and other scare tactics when women try to reassert that right. The effect is to curtail discussion of women’s issues in the public sphere.
Is there any room for women in today’s “War of the Sexes”? Well, perhaps there is still a place where it’s safe to be a woman.
But women are not the enemy here. Consider that in the real world, most violence against trans men and women is committed by men but, in the online world and in the academy, most of the ire at those who balk at this new gender ideology seems to be directed at women.
As long as it’s used to point out that men are the real enemy of both women and transgender people, there is a safe space for women.