On 20 February, conservative lobby group Family First New Zealand launched a campaign called Ask Me First, in response to the “growing trend in both New Zealand schools and public places to allow men to enter women’s spaces — female toilets, showers, changing rooms, camp bunk rooms, and sports teams.” A key campaign video amplifies the voice of an 18-year-old high school student called Laura, who is concerned about female-only spaces being opened up to males on the basis of “gender identity”.

Laura explains that at her all girls’ high school early last year,

we got news that this student wanted to be in this school, this guy. And the school granted him access. As the year progressed, he wanted access to the female bathrooms. At that point, I was like “No, this isn’t right.”

Cue the liberal backlash. Journalists on the left are completely ignoring the implications to girls’ and women’s safety of opening up female-only spaces on the basis of identity politics, being too busy scrambling to profess their “love” for trans people and hatred of “bigotry” to think about girls. They are so rushed, in fact, they can’t even stop to define the terms of their own arguments. The Herald‘s Lizzie Marvelly cannot cough up a definition of a “girl” to back up her choice to ride roughshod over a young woman’s legitimate concerns about her rights to consent, privacy, safety and speech.

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If seeing more women move politically rightward is not something that liberals want, they are going to have to do much, much better than labelling a girl’s defense of safe, sex-segregated spaces “vitriolic barf” and “unfounded bigotry”. This kind of behaviour will do the left no favours.

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In her Ask Me First interview, Laura clearly articulates her concerns regarding the policy changes at her all girls’ school. She states that she is not “anti-trans”, but has her own boundaries. The kind of boundaries that liberals always claim to want girls to assert.

Girls going through puberty and stuff, it can be quite stressful and embarrassing. And knowing that there could be a guy that could walk in, it’s a little bit terrifying to think about that… Another big issue is younger girls coming to the school, especially for the first time: you don’t know what their background is, if they have sexually abused or not. And walking in and seeing a guy in the toilets could set off something, could trigger something. And what happens if someone misuses that [policy]?

The Ask Me First campaign also includes a video interview with Kate, a woman who has witnessed the abuse of bathroom policies Laura fears. She describes bringing her daughters into a swimming pool changing room to find a “man in a woman’s one-piece swimming suit, standing in front of the women’s showers, just watching the women and every once in a while looking down at his phone, and typing.” Kate was shocked, and froze before reporting the man’s behaviour to reception. Staff responded by telling Kate that this man had “every right to be there”, leaving Kate to feel violated and unsafe, in his favour.

Laura has been treated in the same fashion – as though her concerns are irrelevant.

What my principal told me, was, that if I didn’t want to use the girls’ bathrooms, then there are other toilets I could use. As in, the unisex toilets. I don’t have to go in the girls’ toilets.

Thats when I thought – hold on a minute. I’m in an all girls’ school with these girls’ bathrooms. And you’re telling me that if I don’t want to use them [with a male], then I can go to the unisex toilets? It doesn’t make sense!

This is a gross double standard. The rights of one male to have his feelings validated, have trumped the rights of 600 girls to consent to matters that affect them directly. 600 is the approximate number of girls enrolled at Laura’s all girls’ high school, and they were never consulted on the school’s changing policies on gender. On the flipside, school management e-mailed transactivist Lexie Matheson when the newly enrolled trans student was cast in a school musical. They were “wanting to check they had done everything they could to make her as comfortable as possible”.

“I am not anti this guy,” says Laura. “I am against the school for making these [policy] decisions without our approval.”

This is not a bigoted statement. It is a young woman’s request, in an all girls’ school, for respect, consultation and consent.

Perhaps liberals know that Laura’s concerns are not bigotry, but find them too difficult to deal with. Many are simply dealing with Laura by writing her out of the picture altogether. Commentators like Alison Mau and Marvelly have dismissed Laura herself as “exploited” by Family First, in order to sidestep consideration of the concerns she raises. Auckland University academic equity leader Lexie Matheson even bluffs that this “exploitation” actually “worries” him.

If liberals really worried about “exploited women” – where are they for women like Rosalie Batchelor, Rae Story or Kate Eliot, who have all been stuck in New Zealand’s sex trade? These women, who first experienced prostitution at a young age, have a daily battle with liberals desperate to claim that “sex work” is a woman’s “choice” of path to “empowerment”. They have a daily battle with liberals who suggest that to claim the sex trade is “exploitative” is to deny women’s “agency”. But since Laura is speaking on a platform offered her by Family First, and since liberals find Laura’s own views inconvenient, suddenly, we have an “exploited” woman on our hands.

Interesting.

Attendant to this is another double standard, in the concepts of “violence” liberals employ to discuss women’s safe spaces, versus women’s experience of the sex trade, for instance. Kate Eliot is a woman who has been stuck in New Zealand’s sex trade for fifteen years, trying to draw attention to its harms. She makes the point she herself is often labelled a “whorephobic bigot” for speaking out about having to be raped for money – to the left, the men who exploit and use Eliot are not violent. But Laura, just for speaking, is violent.

Alison Mau even resorted to using blackmail to get this across, in a RadioLive interview with transactivist Scout Barbour-Evans. “While Family First is paying a lot of attention to this young woman’s fears,” said Mau, “they don’t seem to mind much about what damage it might be doing to the young trans person. So – talk to me about suicide stats?”

To be clear. Laura will never, ever be responsible for anybody’s suicide. Mau and Barbour-Evans however, were simply prepared to use suicide statistics as a method to silence her.

“While Family First is talking about toilets,” Mau says, “there are young people who are self-harming and committing suicide at an alarming rate.” Barbour-Evans confirms that 1 in 5 LGBT people in New Zealand have attempted suicide, and those LGBT youth are overwhelmingly trans. Around half of LGBT youth have “felt harmed” before, Evans says (this is no wonder, if “misgendering” constitutes harm). Evans adds that “these harms increase when we have debates like this… We shouldn’t have to have this conversation.”

Supporters of feminism – including men and women who have abandoned gender identity politics, after transitioning and taking cross sex hormones – do not ignore these issues. We bring critical perspectives on gender to the table in light of them. For instance: the fact that suicide rates are high in the trans population, is reason to question whether gender transition can actually worsen dysphoria among young people. It is also reason to examine the causes of dysphoria. Feminists discover those causes in the same patriarchal system that produces epidemic male violence and leaves women abused routinely and suffering disorders like anorexia, bulimia and post-traumatic stress.

None of this is bigotry. Unless of course, you believe that the female experience is inherently pathological – many a nineteenth century male gynecologist, of course, would agree.

Women are increasingly prevented from discussing the root causes of epidemics that affect us, like eating disorders and sexual abuse – because doing so involves looking at the nature of gender as a hierarchical system that men impose on women, on the basis of sex. Even saying this is now considered “transphobic”, because “transwomen are women!”

This claim needs to be unpacked, but liberals fight tooth and nail to ensure that’s not possible. They suggest that the very attempt to question anything about this statement constitutes “literal violence”, and cannot provide any definitions of the terms used to make the claim. There are few liberals left, it appears, who know what a woman is – or indeed, who tampons are for (“menstruators”?), or all girls’ schools, or what a vagina or a penis is, or how babies are made. Goodbye, feminism.

Another dismissive tactic is to minimise the issue as “just toilets”, particularly with the disingenuous refrain “let them pee”. This ignores that the push to substitute sex with gender identity affects everything from changing rooms, to women’s sports, midwifery, lesbian spaces, media reporting on male violence, parenting practices, government policy, reporting, data collection, and women’s rights to protest. A recent axe attack in Syndey was reported as having been carried out by a woman, because the perpetrator was transgender. These shifts have huge implications for women. It is a very special person indeed, whose urination requirements include forcing women to simply ignore all of this.

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The special people are not trans people per se, but those who adhere to a “gender identity” politic. The rights and concerns of girls and women must be “buried” (to use Matheson’s phrase) in the interests of gender identity adherents, who don’t feel inclined to provide any sound basis for their demands. Barbour-Evans’ personal experience of gender is as follows:

I feel like it’s a little bit of a social construct, and I also just feel like I don’t fit into that.

In fact, this experience makes Barbour-Evans as special as anybody else, including every single girl on the planet, none of whom “fit into” the gender category they are forced into on the basis of their sex, their female bodies. Many of us suffer from eating disorders like anorexia because of such pressures, and this is why feminists fight to abolish gender by challenging male dominance.

Liberals distinguish themselves from such “troublesome” feminists by falling over themselves to make emotive proclamations about “love and peace”, whilst neither defining the terms of their arguments nor discussing their serious implications (is it “love”, for instance, to embrace child sterilisation?).

Matheson addressed Family First in The Spinoff with “Unequivocally, love your neighbour. If I could get anything through to them it would be that. Find understanding and find love.” Mau suggested that Family First should have explained to Laura “how she might more open-mindedly react” to having her rights removed, while Barbour-Evans claimed to “have a lot of compassion” for Laura’s “fear”. It’s just that apparently, fear is something Laura “is going to have to learn is not okay.” (Excuse me?!)

Barbour-Evans said this despite admitting never having listened to Laura speak.

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To see Laura’s legitimate concerns dismissed in this condescending manner is nauseating. Given these sorts of reactions, it is also no wonder that women and radical feminists are finding themselves increasingly accepting support from right wing groups.

Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) has accepted funding from The Family Policy Alliance in the States, in order to battle identity-driven attacks on women’s rights at the state level. Rosalie’s Haven is a safehouse recently opened in Palmerston North, funded by the church that helped its founder, Rosalie Batchelor, exit prostitution. Both WoLF and Batchelor are criticised and dismissed for receiving support from conservative, religious groups by the left – just like Laura has been. But where is the left’s support for these women? Because I’m hearing crickets.

Women, whether feminists or not, have very few resources with which to make ourselves heard without the help of either a liberal or conservative platform.

So if the right supports girls and women like Laura to ask questions pertinent to our safety, while liberals hound and bully them for it – those same liberals should be prepared. When more and more women start making political swings to the right, seeing no other options to make themselves heard – liberals will only have themselves to blame.

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