This piece starts with an explanatory note and story about the article to follow. The article itself – which is about gender authoritarianism – begins below the italics, if you prefer to skip.
On November 30, I wrote this article at the suggestion of a well-known columnist, who passed it on to New Zealand Herald editor Murray Kirkness on December 3. I resubmitted the piece myself on December 5, and was told, “The piece is being considered for publication. We will be in contact if we intend to use it.”
With time ticking away, I sent my article to Stuff and withdrew it from the Herald. By December 10, I received an e-mail from a Stuff editor reading, “Hi Renee, Just wanted to let you know that we will run you op-ed today. Thanks for the submission. Great piece.” By the following afternoon, the piece was still not published, and when I followed up, I was told it had been ‘passed around to a few people’ and cancelled. I hung up the phone.
I am fed up with being talked about, alluded to, and misrepresented on social media, transactivist websites, right wing websites, and mainstream media throughout New Zealand whilst allowed no space at all in public discussion to represent my own arguments – feminist arguments on sex self-identification. I am absolutely and completely over it, and anyone in this country who either advocates for ‘free speech’ or rallies against it in the interests of minority voices is a hypocrite: a hypocrite for allowing women to be silenced on this issue of sex self-identification, a hypocrite for saying nothing about our silencing, or for participating in shutting us down using slurs like “TERF” and “bigot,” while we try to speak truth to power.
My blog contains an interview I did in May with Radio New Zealand that I was told “just dropped out of the system,” after it was recorded (I recorded my own copy). In March, I had done an interview with Access Radio and the interviewer, Don Franks, was given a warning that the piece might be censored; two months earlier, The Women’s Studies Journal had requested this article from me – for free, I always work for free – and then refused to publish it. In July, several articles I had written for Scoop, like this one on the ‘transphobic’ nature of legislative proposals promoting sex-self identification, were simply removed from their website, without any prior consultation with me, and without the editors having the decency to even notify me after the fact. There has been no acknowledgement, no apology.
Later this year, I made posters celebrating women’s suffrage and these were banned for distribution by Phantom Billstickers. Petition platform ActionStation saw fit to misrepresent my work in several emails sent to a mailing list of about 14,000 in order to fundraise for a retaliatory poster campaign with the company that banned me. They were able to publish an article in the Herald on December 7, on request, while mine was still being passed around like a hot potato. Their piece opens with the line, “The missing voices in your “trans debate” are trans people.” Anyone with their eyes open can see that this is total bollocks: the only people who are treated as legitimate contributors to the ‘gender’ ‘discussion’ are the likes of Lexie Matheson, Scout Barbour-Evans, Gavin Hubbard, Kate Weatherly, Ahi Wi-Hongi, Emmy Rakete and Felix Desmarais – trans-identified men appropriating lesbianism and taking over women’s sports, and trans-identified women telling the world how they, for instance, “sliced” their “tits off,” in the words of Barbour-Evans.
I have not gone into the wider backlash I deal with, trying to discuss this issue critically. The dismissive and offensive responses I have had from editors responding to my pitches, who think it fit to promote prostitution and gender to audiences, targeting young people, without offering any critical perspective; and who don’t care about my voice precisely because I do not have any institutional power, while transactivists have no end of it. I have not discussed the online pact circulated against me in 2016, that was signed by 120 people, and not removed by Facebook or NetSafe. The piece below is also a response to MP Louisa Wall, but she is only one among many politicians who try to intimidate women in general and me in particular, out of this discussion.
I have not discussed the impacts this has had on my life, here: on my income, my job prospects, my relationships. I have not discussed fact that there is no recourse: not from the Media Council regarding censorship; not from NetSafe regarding intense ongoing online harrassment; not from the Human Rights Commission regarding the political and sex-based discrimination that I have faced in being barred from every kind of platform: from poster distribution, from Twitter, media, even from the Wellington Zinefest and a recent abortion rights rally.
I will add that those who participate in and endorse this silencing always arrogantly decide that “Twitter isn’t the best forum” when they are challenged there by feminists, because it is one of few places feminists still have a degree of freedom to speak. Liberals who rely on social media constantly, will suddenly turn their noses up at it when confronted by feminists to whom they cannot respond, because their arguments falter. After turning their noses up about Twitter as a suboptimal platform, they then continue to chase feminists off every other platform, so as not to be challenged with robust arguments.
Enough harm has been done. At this point I can say with full confidence, that I deserve to speak. Cancelling my articles, deleting them, ‘losing’ them, and dismissing pitches – it’s not just editorial prerogative. At this point, it is censorship. Every time. The media is not meeting its obligations for balance with regard to gender, nor public interest journalism. At this point, I deserve a right of reply, personally – and New Zealand deserves to hear from feminists who reject the ideologies of both gender identity and so-called “sex work.”
I am appalled at my country. This one-sidedness is cowardice, it is dangerous, it is irresponsible, and it is hypocrisy. Whether you are for free speech, or for restricting speech for the sake of those it can harm – you are a hypocrite, a massive hypocrite, if you are not paying attention to who gets to speak and who does not on this issue. Those of us women who are trying to speak have something urgent to say, and the backlash and repression we face when standing up to those in power harms us, harms women, and harms our society.
Here is the article I sent to Stuff and the Herald.
What do we call it when politicians start going hell for leather after activists, journalists and members of the public for thinking wrong thoughts?
Last time I checked, this was called authoritarianism. These days, it seems to be considered “progressive.”
On November 18, Labour Party MP for Manurewa Louisa Wall saw fit to make an exclamation about “f***ing TERFs” in a public meeting about next year’s Pride Parade. After being questioned in media about a recording of her outburst released by the group Speak Up For Women, she dug her heels in. Wall has made clear that she was referring to a particular “small, but vocal” group of feminists – lesbian feminists in particular – who should no longer be welcome at Pride.
This is the politician who legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and says she otherwise wants everyone at Pride. “I want Auckland to go, I want New Zealand to go,” she told Guyon Espiner on Radio NZ.
I’m not an enthusiastic Pride goer myself, for the record. Columnist Rachel Stewart says she is not either, because she loathes the sound of brass. Personally, I can do without seeing men running around in jockstraps and adult-sized baby onesies much like they do at the rugby Sevens. Being unwelcome at this particular public event isn’t the issue, per se.
The issue is whether politicians should feel licensed to dictate what members of the public, and women in particular, can and cannot do – on the basis of what we think.
As a feminist blogger, I’m half expecting Wall to turn up on my doorstep one day soon with a checklist of books, a lighter and some gasoline. My Story – British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst’s memoirs – may well be the first book snatched from my shelf for the “TERF” bonfire. Since a “TERF” is apparently any woman who does not accept that mammals can change sex at will, meaning that men cannot become women – Pankhurst was one of our kind. The suffragists Wall and other politicians are making so much noise to celebrate this year were never ambiguous about fighting for the female sex. If the suffragists knew any “transwomen,” those people could already vote.
If any of what I have said so far sounds bewildering, let me clarify. Those who have read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (if you haven’t, it’s time), will have come across the term “Newspeak.” Newspeak is Orwell’s phrase for the manipulation of language by state authorities to stifle dissent. It is the only way this new millennial language, featuring words like “cis” and “TERF,” can really be understood.
Wall told Espiner that “cis” means a woman whose “sex is female, and she identifies as a woman.” In the dictionary, that’s just a woman. “The difference with transwomen,” said Wall, “is that their sex at birth is not female, but they identify as women.” In everyday speech, those people are simply men who identify as women. “TERF” stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist,” but really, the slur is levelled at any female blasphemer who doesn’t accept the gender NewSpeak.
What this language ultimately tells people, including children who are increasingly exposed to it in schools, is that biological sex is not a fact of nature, but something that should come with a flexible returns and exchange policy. In a consumer culture, not having “choice” about something – your car or your toothpaste, but also your hair colour and genitalia – is the ultimate insult. So now, the idea of “fluid” gender identity is replacing immutable sex, and those who object are branded heretics.
This isn’t just a schoolyard scrap, either – these are our lawmakers, talking this way, and they are currently pushing legislation to match their mythology. The Births, Deaths and Marriages Bill is due for its second reading any day now, and this bill, which the New Zealand public have not been informed about, will make it possible for anyone in the country to change the sex marker on their birth certificate through a one-step administrative process.
The government should be consulting with all stakeholders on this bill, which Wall admitted on Q and A is a “profound change.” Since the bill significantly distorts the definition of sex, all sex-based protections will be affected by it, and these are particularly important for women. One only need to look at the case of Karen White (formerly Stephen Terrence Wood) who was rehoused in a women’s prison in the UK last year, and attacked four women within days. In New Zealand, men are also already being moved to women’s prisons – “Jade” Follett was rehoused to Arohata women’s prison in 2015 after being sentenced for stabbing a man, and six assaults have taken place in women’s prisons since January last year as a result of such policies. The government is about to make these relocations even easier – in the name of keeping people safe from violence.
Another thing that the government is facilitating access to is sex reassignment surgeries. Politicians like Wall are doing this because “trans people are five times more likely to self-harm.” In 2013, three quarters of youth self-harm hospitalisations – and there were 2,866 in total – were actually female, according to Statistics NZ. Apparently, normalising double mastectomies is the latest in harm reduction.
Instead of consulting women about our needs, concerns and critical views in relation to sex identification, and our concerns about potential changes to the law, a number of politicians including Wall are working to ensure that the climate is too hostile for women to voice critical opinions, in the hopes that we stay silent and swallow the Newspeak. And while authoritarianism is the new ‘progressive’ and men are the new ‘women’ – excluding women from discussion about profound changes to our legal rights is the new “inclusion.”
It is also “inclusion” to banish lesbian feminists – most of whom have come across men who chortle, “I’m a lesbian too,” more than once, and aren’t having it – from the Pride Parade. According to Wall, they are not welcome because Pride is about “coming together as a community… in all our forms, in all our varieties.”
Wall also says that the point of all this is greater “trans visibility.” In 2014 there was a 400% spike in media coverage on transgender issues in the United States, and New Zealand seems to be trying to outdo these efforts. I don’t know about you, but I would actually quite like to open a magazine or turn on the television one day and not see a man in a dress.
In spite of this state and media bombardment, one Green Party co-leader has also accused feminists of “trying to silence us. They never will.” Why are politicians talking like this to members of the public? We are not Guy Fawkes devotees, we are trying to be heard – it’s called democracy. Wall does not seem to understand the principle, though in her current predicament she may well insist on a right of reply to this article.
Why do those who are tasked with representing the public interest suddenly think it is okay to make enemies of women trying to exercise our democratic rights? Who is really abusing power, here?
Rather than advocating for a “variety” of people, as Wall claims to be, she also consistently prioritises one group of people these days: “transwomen.” They are male, even by her own definition, quoted above. Wall’s attacks are contributing to an environment in which groups like Speak Up For Women are forced to remain largely anonymous. When one member appeared in a NewsHub segment recently, she wore a black hood and her voice was muffled. Because, while men should be able to gain more “visibility,” falsify historic documents and claim to be lesbian in the name of dignity and freedom – wrong-thinking women should no longer expect to be able to engage in political discussions or attend public events without fear of reprisal.
Last time I checked, this kind of double standard was called sexism. Looks like it’s called “feminism,” now. So what’s next?