This is my favorite excerpt from my favorite chapter, Abortion, from my favorite Andrea Dworkin book, Right Wing Women. I have manually formatted the text, which required removing the many footnotes; to see them all (and read the rest of this great chapter or the whole book) download the free PDF here. –NPFull text by Andrea Dworkin
February 28, 2019
In July of 2018, Arcadia, a cafe in Urbana, announced on Facebook an “Art Salon” at which my new film would be screened. The next day, Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen commented on Arcadia’s event page: “She’s a transphobe. I will never attend your events now.”
My crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric: “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” At various times I have also shared such contentious views as, “women don’t have penises,” “sex is not gender,” “woman means adult human female,” and “everyone is free to identify however they wish, but not to force me to identify them the same way.” Nonetheless, “If a person has a penis he’s a man” is continually quoted as my greatest hit of so-called ‘hate speech.’ It is also a fact.
When asked by other commenters why my stating biological facts was ‘transphobic’ and grounds for no-platforming, Ms. Nguyen replied “I’m the chair of Gender and Women’s Studies. I know what I’m talking about.” Speaking not merely as an individual, but in her capacity as a UIUC faculty member, Ms. Nguyen threatened a local business and libeled a community member and encouraged others to join in.
Arcadia promptly cancelled the event.
That October, my film, Seder-Masochism, screened to enthusiastic audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival. In attendance were film scholars Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, frequent speakers at past Ebertfests, who loved the film and emailed Ebertfest director Nate Kohn to recommend it. Kohn replied they already knew about Seder-Masochism, and it was at the top of their list. Which makes sense, since it’s by an Urbana filmmaker (me) whose last film was a star at the festival (Sita Sings the Blues) and contains my late father’s voice, which is known to much of the festival’s audience (Hiram Paley used to be Mayor of Urbana, as well as a math professor at the U of I). Later that Fall, I turned down an invitation to judge a major film festival in Buenos Aires, because its dates overlapped with Ebertfest. Since Seder-Masochism was “at the top of (their) list,” I didn’t want to miss it. In January, I emailed Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert to ask if in fact Seder-Masochism would screen. For over a week, they didn’t respond. That same week, I was attacked by a Twitter mob accusing me of ‘hate speech,’ once again for having said “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” Then all trace of my film was removed from the website of a women’s film festival in Belgium, after they were bullied by a Belgian transactivist. Still awaiting a response, at the end of January I emailed Ebertfest again. They replied: “Sorry, we don’t have room for it.” (Update 3-28-2019: Chaz Ebert confirms Ebertfest’s decisions had nothing to do with my no-platforming in Urbana and Beligium, and they were unaware of any controversy. ) I’m not entitled to be at any film festival, and the decisions of Ebertfest – a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media – are made behind closed doors, preventing any hope of accountability. But going from the top of Ebertfest’s list to “sorry there’s no room” in the midst of libel campaigns is consistent with the blacklisting and no-platforming of feminists at universities nationally and internationally. From the banishing of noted feminist speakers like Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel; to the suppression of ‘politically incorrect’ research at Bath Spa University and Brown University; to secret blacklists of female academics uncovered at Goldsmiths University, the speech-suppressing behavior at the University of Illinois is consistent with unsavory developments around the world.
In 2017, the U of I adopted “Guiding Principles” on Freedom of Speech and Civic Engagement. I list some ways they are failing to uphold these principles:
- “We have a duty to vigorously and even-handedly protect community members against conduct that falls outside the First Amendment – including true threats, pervasive harassment, incitement to imminent lawless action, and libel…” Ms. Nguyen’s accusation, “she is a transphobe,” is libel. I do not fear or hate trans people. Although it shouldn’t be anyone’s business, I have had trans friends and lovers, and stood for the human rights of trans people, since before Ms. Nguyen entered college.
- ”We will create conditions for a safe and robust exchange of viewpoints.” This has not happened at the U of I. While one-sided policies of “preferred pronouns” dominate, no voice is given to those who use English sex-based pronouns over newly imposed “gender identity” rules.
- “In all matters involving freedom of speech, the University of Illinois system will endeavor to maintain a high level of transparency.” I am confident anti-feminist blacklisting occurs here, as it does on many other campuses. Blacklisting is by its nature non-transparent and unaccountable, but its effects are devastating.
- “We will not condone shouting down or physically obstructing or threatening a speaker or the speaker’s audience.” Does this include on Social Media? Because Facebook is where Ms. Nguyen did just that, and got my event shut down.
- “We must always strive to be valued local partners, learning from and collaborating with the communities that are home to our universities and programs.” Bullying a local venue into shutting down a screening by a local artist achieves the opposite of that mission.
- “We owe our students opportunities for substantive civic engagement so that they graduate not only prepared for personal success but also knowing what is expected of them as productive global citizens.” Certainly the University has already failed its students and faculty by refusing any open discussion of genderist ideology and policies. This failure to foster free speech has spilled beyond campus and into the surrounding cities of Urbana-Champaign, harming the community.
Many local residents were looking forward to the event at Arcadia. Due to the bullying by Ms. Nguyen, representing the University of Illinois, and her associates, the event was cancelled. Many more locals hoped Seder-Masochism would screen at Ebertfest this year. Now, they will not see it.
Many in this college town are afraid to voice support for me, or express any gender-critical thought, for fear of being branded “transphobic.” Academics who even question ‘gender identity’ have been disciplined or denounced in open letters; those who express fully gender critical views have lost their jobs. Between that and the imposition of ‘preferred pronouns,’ requiring the speaker to suppress their correct recognition of biological sex in favor of compelled speech – that is, lying – University employees, their spouses, and friends, feel compelled to keep quiet.
So, instead of the “opportunities for substantive civic engagement” promised in the University’s Principles, the University instead fosters a climate of fear and silence in the wider community.
Beyond this harm to our community, I have been harmed personally as well. I can’t calculate the cost this has had on my professional reputation, career, and livelihood. I have certainly suffered psychological harm: being falsely accused and shut down in my hometown, with no accountability for the accusers, evokes a despair I had previously only read about in books like “The Crucible” and histories of witch trials.
The University needs to protect speech.
I acknowledge the University is in a bind. Recent State interpretations of Title IX have – perhaps unwittingly – redefined ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ As long as Title IX fails to uphold its original purpose – protections based on sex – and instead protects incoherent, ill-defined, and fundamentally sexist concepts of ‘gender identity,’ it is at odds with the First Amendment – and with itself.
The University’s Student Affairs web page states:
“We will continue to protect and treat all students according to their gender identities and gender expressions, honoring chosen names, pronouns, and restroom access, as is current campus policy.”
‘Preferred pronouns’ are compelled speech, forcing the speaker to contradict their own recognition of another’s sex. This compulsion violates the First Amendment. But ‘preferred pronouns’ also violate Title IX itself, insofar as it still protects sex. Although trans activists vehemently deny this, there is ample evidence that some trans-identified males are autogynephiles – that is, fetishists who are sexually aroused by imagining themselves as women. Being forced to call such men “she” is forced participation in sexual activity without consent. That is just one way privileging ‘gender identity’ over sex is institutionalized sexual coercion.
‘Sex’ and ‘gender identity’ are fundamentally mutually exclusive; you cannot protect one without delegitimizing the other. The University considers failure to use ‘preferred pronouns’ harassment against the individual who imposes them. But ‘preferred pronouns’ themselves are harassment, including sexual harassment, against individuals compelled to use them.
My plea to the University is to reaffirm its commitment to Free Speech and acknowledge the untenable and inconsistent demands added to Title IX by the redefinition of sex. It is tragic that the former integrity of Title IX, which has been instrumental in providing sex-based protections and opportunities for women and girls, is now in opposition to the First Amendment. Free Speech is important. Sex-based protections are important. Redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity’ is an assault on both.
On an immediate and practical level, the University should:
Assure the right of all employees and students to use whatever pronouns they see fit;
Assure the right of all students and employees to question and discuss current “gender identity” politics without fear of libel or punishment, and;
Host meaningful discussion on this subject. Feminist Journalist Meghan Murphy is available to debate anyone on the topic, “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” The University would do well to host such a debate here.
Finally, having lost two screening opportunities in my hometown because of the University’s negligence, I would like the University to sponsor a screening of my film Seder-Masochism for the community.
The short answer is I use SEX pronouns, not GENDER pronouns.
What activists call mis-gendering is in fact correct-sexing. What “preferred pronouns” demand is mis-sexing, which requires a lot of mental bandwidth.
Like most mammals, I can’t help but identify someone’s sex with +99% accuracy. (A tiny minority of humans intentionally “pass” as the opposite sex, and others are ambiguous. I know a few women who refuse to perform gender entirely, and that confuses some men. Women, I think, are better at identifying sex than men, either due to instinct or conditioning for survival, since males pose threats to us [physical overpowering, rape, impregnation] they don’t pose to other men.)
Pronoun activists are conditioning everyone around them for authoritarianism. That is, they are training everyone to override their own perceptions, and replace them with what they’re told. In order to signal loyalty, friends are required to publicly lie.
That is bad for individual mental health, and the health of the community.
It is crucial to have conscious awareness of our own perceptions. All of the great social catastrophes we are taught about – Naziism, Fascism, the Slave Trade – make us ask, “how could people DO that??” The answer is, BY DENYING THEIR OWN PERCEPTIONS. We lose our ability to resist or think when we deny the reality in front of our very eyes. No matter how well-intentioned, “preferred pronouns” condition exactly that.
Manage your own perceptions; you don’t get to control mine.
P.S. I don’t “correct” anyone for mis-sexing. If a man perceives himself a woman (or animal, or helicopter) I don’t deny him his own perception. If his friends call him “she” I don’t interfere. His friends, however, often aggressively police others, demanding they change their own perceptions. Everyone is free to identify however they wish, but they don’t get to control how others identify them.
Some of the most maladaptive social behaviors I see seem to indicate deep human longings for religion and/or magic. Here’s something I wrote about religion in December. It’s weird. You don’t have to agree.
Religion is like a fungus: seemingly toxic, but an essential part of an ecosystem we don’t understand.
Culture is alive. Just as physical living organisms are interconnected in complex ways, so are cultural organisms.
Our usual approach to Life is to think of organisms as discrete individuals. The plant is one thing, the soil is another, the insects another, and the fungus is some pathogen or pest. The animal is an individual, whose life processes are carried out by its individual organs. A human is one thing, culture is another; an intestine is one thing, gut flora are another.
Only recently have we acknowledged that animal digestion relies on bacteria. Without internal bacteria, animals cannot live. That bacteria is communicated through a complex living environment we remain mostly stupid about.
Religion is like a fungus. Consider Penicillium: a mold that spoils bread. No one wants moldy bread. If our bread is moldy, we curse the mold, and perhaps dream of a world in which mold is eliminated.
Suppose we succeed in wiping out the nasty bread mold. Do we end up with clean, pure bread? No, we open the door to far more toxic organisms.
I am highly critical of established religions. Terrible things are done in their names. They do seem toxic.
But a human mind without religion does not become some pure, rational ideal. The human mind never was and never will be pure or discrete. The human mind exists in a cultural ecosystem we do not fully (or even begin to) understand.
Because cultural ecosystems are barely acknowledged, let alone studied, there aren’t well-developed ways to talk about them. I use the metaphor of soil: human minds are the soil in which culture lives. Culture itself may be “airborne,” like spores. A human mind with permeable ears and eyes will be colonized by music, images, language, gestures, sounds, patterns, and much more we can’t even name. Trying to stop culture from entering a mind by enclosing it just makes the system unhealthy – like wrapping food in plastic. It works for a short time, but eventually traps colonies of microbes, and not the ones you want.
Better to keep the mind nicely aired out, with an open flow of culture around it, so it can stay healthy.
Established religions may protect minds against even more toxic cultural organisms, just as Penicillium makes bread inhospitable for pathological bacteria. For all its faults, Abrahamism may protect minds from even worse ideologies.
Atheism has become very popular in the West over the last few decades. I’m all for it. Except…it has coincided with the rise of some pretty toxic new religions. Foremost is genderism, the belief in an unprovable, indefinable gendered essence (soul) that can be born in the wrong body. Genderism is remarkably popular among professed atheists. Danielle Muscato is a prime example.
This is anecdotal, and I am only one data point, BUT: I’ve noticed that the most toxic, extreme genderists tend to identify as atheists, while many of the most benign and rational genderists I’ve encountered practice a traditional religion (Christianity). They may not even be genderists per se, but they are transsexuals. I speculate their established religion protects them from the worst cultural toxins – misogny, dishonesty, entitlement, violence – attendant to gender extremism.
For all my criticism of religion, I conclude that humans may need it. Killing off religion may be like killing off “pests”: seemingly beneficial in the short term, but having complex effects on the larger ecosystem that can be catastrophic. Healthy soil needs – largely is – fungi and bacteria. Healthy minds – the soil of culture – may require similarly unsympathetic cultural organisms. Like physical Life on Earth, most mental life is “below ground,” and staggeringly complex. The writhing colonies of organisms that live in dark places may disgust us, but our life and health depend on them.