The Left Has Not Abandoned Us. Gender Ideology Has Abandoned The Left.
During the question and answer session following a recent talk I and other feminists gave at Bristol university, the following question was asked by an audience member. I paraphrase:
“Women have been betrayed and abandoned by the left. What now?”
It’s a good question. A necessary question. Not least because so many feminists challenging the current narrative around sex, gender, and women’s rights have backgrounds in the trade union movement, the left leaning media, and the environmental and social justice movements of previous decades. Despite constant attempts to portray and dismiss us as bigoted right wingers in an effort to avoid any engagement with the fact that dissent among women on the left is gathering apace, we know who we are and what we stand for.
So what now indeed for those of us displaced and made politically homeless? For those of us heartbroken by old friends and allies who imagine that after years of shared hopes and values we might suddenly have woken one morning to find ourselves morphed into literal fascists?
And my answer is this: It is not the left that has abandoned us, but proponents of gender ideology that have abandoned the left.
Bear with me and my oversimplification. There can, I know, be so much more to say regarding men’s misogyny across the political spectrum. The view of women as private property by the right through the lauding of the traditional nuclear family, of marriage, and strict reproductive control; then as public property by the left with its worship of prostitution and pornography, coupled with an insistence on reframing women’s suffering within these industries as free and authentic choice. As though the sex industry ever existed for the benefit of women and choices were made in a vacuum. But whether seeking either to tightly restrict sexual access to women, or insisting loudly on sexual access for all on demand, misogyny itself has little interest in party politics. Certainly I don’t care what flavour it comes in. Women do not exist for the benefit of men and that is the end of that.
But I do know who I am, and what I stand for. And so I want to make clear:
There is nothing left wing about gender ideology.
Gender identity politics are rooted in an aggressive individualism, with an ever increasing kaleidoscope of identities based in unique, personal, and subjective experience. With identity being subject to definition only by the individual, it therefore becomes inevitable that one persons understanding of what it means to be trans, or non-binary, or femme, or polygender, will always end up anothers murderous oppression. And so we become ever more fractured and disconnected, each making up our own oppressed group of one. I do believe it was Margaret Thatcher who said there was no such thing as society.
In direct opposition, leftist thought has always been rooted in collectivism, in class politics, in solidarity. It understands the mechanisms by which dominant classes of people exploit and appropriate the labour of oppressed groups. Male people have sought to control and dominate female people in order to exploit and appropriate their reproductive, domestic, and sexual labour for centuries. Gender stereotyping, rampant domestic and sexual violence, low pay, lack of affordable childcare, and the removal of reproductive rights all serve to prop up this system of oppression. Crucially, it does not cease to exist because some women might experience infertility or some men and boys become victim to sexual violence. In other words, the exceptions do not disprove the rule. Class oppression does not disappear because Alan Sugar.
These are not left wing values.
Gender theory provides no such structural analysis — no comprehensive, thought through ideas around who exactly is oppressing who, and how, and why? Actual systemic oppression becomes conflated with individual experiences of discrimination, prejudice, and the failure of others to be sufficiently agreeable. We urgently need to ask ourselves who has the power and who does not when female people can be told at a moments notice that our biological sex is no longer of any social or political significance, that we no longer need a word to describe the material state of being a female person, that spaces we have relied on for safety and privacy in a culture where male violence runs rampant will now become mixed sex whether we like it or not, and that if we dare to kick up a fuss we can expect some serious consequences. We need to look at who benefits when an oppressed group, recognised as such by law, has their rights and resources taken away; their complaints and concerns dismissed.
These are not left wing ideas.
Gender ideology effectively disappears and denies the existence of an entire axis of oppression. For in the absence of distinct male and female sex classes — when anyone can, in theory, opt in and out dependent on their individual identity — sexism, in other words the subjugation of women by men because we are sexed female, becomes impossible to name, grasp, or fight.
Feminism was born of the left and will always have its roots in left wing thought. And so leftist, feminist women can (and must) say no to gender ideology whilst still holding tight to our wider principles. We can stand for more investment in public services, and for a fairer distribution of the wealth we all help to create. We can support trade unions and workplace rights. We can fight for an end to homelessness and the poverty that disproportionately affects women and children. We can demand better services for women, and for specific services to support trans people where necessary. And we can stand firm for an end to oppression based on race, class, and sex.
Because we know who we are and what we stand for.