Bob Jensen (the bespectacled bro there on the left whose furrowed brow is signaling just how worried he is that you’re doing feminism wrong) is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Nobody likes him, and activist communities have done what they can to distance themselves from his hateful, intellectually worthless rhetoric against sex workers and transgender people.
Because of where he works and who he knows, I guess, he still manages to get published from time to time. On Thursday, the Austin American-Statesman published an opinion piece from Jensen wherein he blames feminism (but not his feminism, which is the correct feminism) for making Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s “bathroom bill” seem like a bad idea. (The bill, which is fundamentally unenforceable, would force people to prove their genitalia corresponds to the restroom Dan Patrick thinks they should use.)
Patrick has marketed this bit of legislation as the “Women’s Privacy Act,” and Jensen takes up his cause in the pages of the local paper. Jensen begins, even as in the immediately preceding sentence he identifies Dan Patrick as a “relentless publicity seeking politician,” by buying (and selling) Patrick’s premise and framing of the “bathroom bill” as being about some kind of deeper gender identity issue:
“The core question: If someone is born unambiguously male as defined by chromosomes, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics but claims to be female (or vice versa), what does that actually mean?”
There are all kinds of questions behind Patrick’s bill, but at the “core” of all of them is not the question of what it means to be transgender, but rather what it means to be the kind of asshole who’d rather fabricate a panic about people peeing than address any number of pressing public issues. (The fact that foster children are dying in the custody of a state that purports to be “pro-life” and that Texas’ maternal mortality rate resemble nothing so much as a war zone are a couple I’d be interested in having my elected officials explore with rather more urgency.)
Gender identity is in no way at the “core” of what Dan Patrick is trying to do; Dan Patrick is trying to make sure Dan Patrick is a name we’re still talking about in two, four or six years. For a professor of journalism at one of the finest public institutions of learning in the world to take Dan Patrick’s framing at face value — and not only that, to do the work of promoting that premise for Dan Patrick — is laughable. It devalues the institution of journalism, and it devalues the institution which employs Bob Jensen.
The barest investigation of Jensen’s claims exposes his astounding intellectual inadequacies. That he’s proud enough of this appalling wankery to pitch it to a newspaper — well, it would be sort of adorable if it weren’t so goddamned dangerous.
I don’t think what Jensen has written deserves a response, but if journalists and editors are going to take his (and Dan Patrick’s) bullshit seriously, I guess those of us who don’t want to see trans people assaulted by bathroom vigilantes who feel empowered by the Dan Patricks and Bob Jensens of the world are going to have to engage.
So let me engage.
Jensen writes: “This is a serious question about biology and reproductive-based sex categories, and the transgender movement has yet to offer a coherent answer.”
- There is no such thing as a singular “transgender movement.”
- On the subject of coherent answers to the question of assigned sex and gender identity, I suggest Bob do a Google. He will undoubtedly be frustrated by the results, which are, on the whole, not going to tell him what he wants to hear, which is that none of the foremost feminist intellectuals on the subject either subscribe to or give a shit about what Bob Jensen thinks.
Jensen: “People’s internal subjective experiences may feel coherent to them, but the assertion of such an experience does not constitute an explanation, and public policy should be based on claims that everyone can understand.”
- Instead, one supposes, public policy should be based on Bob Jensen’s explanations of the internal subjective experiences of total strangers, and if those experiences fail to satisfy Bob Jensen, he will holler in the newspaper about it.
Jensen: “But such a feminist challenge to the social norms of institutionalized male dominance doesn’t require asserting that a male human can become a female human.”
- This essentialist drivel follows your general Feminism 101 stuff about how gender roles are malleable bullshit. If you can make sense of it, good job to you, I hope you are doing important work like figuring out how we are going to live on Mars someday and not wondering what the fuck is the matter with Bob Jensen.
Jensen: “A more radical feminism — one that doesn’t shy away from challenging male dominance — offers a different approach.”
- Let us take a moment to appreciate the irony that this revolutionary approach to “challenging male dominance” is coming from a wealthy white dude who got his ass published the local newspaper of record. Why? I guess because it was easy enough for the op-ed desk at the Statesman to say yes to a guy with “professor of journalism at the University of Texas” after his name, or, more likely, nobody at the op-ed desk at the Statesman cares or knows that what this fool has to say is dangerous, steaming twaddle.
- Hello, Statesman op-ed page editors! I hope you’re enjoying the part you’ve played in disseminating the kind of silencing, hateful transphobic rhetoric that gets real people killed.
Jensen: “I’ve heard many stories from women about men following them into public restrooms and being threatened, a strategy some men use to harass and sexually assault women.”
- It is true that many men spend their lives thinking of new and disgusting ways to harass, assault and demean women, and I do not doubt that one method of doing so is creeping on women in public restrooms.
- Sexual assault is illegal.
- Even if you do it in a public restroom.
- And (PAY ATTENTION TO THIS ONE BOB, IT IS THE IMPORTANT PART, I DID THIS IN ALL CAPS SO THAT WHILE YOU ARE SKIMMING THIS POST AND BEING MAD AT THIS HERE MOUTHY BITCH YOU WILL NOTICE IT) claiming to be transgender is not a defense to prosecution for sexual assault.
- So, I fixed that for you?
- Oh wait, you’re not actually concerned about women getting raped in restrooms, you’re just here to demonize trans people in general and trans women in particular by advocating for the literal policing of restroom use, because your feminism is bullshit and you are not actually invested in freeing people from white supremacist heteropatriarchy, because actually doing so would mean fewer opportunities for Bob Jensen to play the important public role of Bob Jensen?
Jensen: “Even more common is girls’ struggle with being sexually objectified throughout the culture, which creates a range of difficult emotions around their bodies, especially about being seen by boys and men.”
- Wherein Bob Jensen, Who Is Afraid Men Will Pretend To Be Women, Explains What It’s Like To Be A Girl
- I don’t have a funny thing to say about it, I just want to reiterate that this is a dude writing in the newspaper about how he thinks men will pretend to be women in order to rape women, describing what he imagines it’s like to be a woman.
Jensen: “I don’t endorse Patrick’s reactionary right-wing politics, but I do take seriously the experiences of girls and women who have to find a way to live as safely and sanely as possible in patriarchy.”
- He does not, of course, take seriously the experience of transgender girls and women, and in particular transgender girls and women of color, who are vastly more likely than anyone else to experience physical, emotional and sexual assault and abuse.
- He does not, of course, take seriously fact that his loathsome crap and derivations thereof contribute to increased suicide and self-harm rates among transgender people.
Jensen: “Where possible, the best solution is single-person spaces for maximal privacy for everyone.”
- I have to admit, I am legitimately stunned by Bob Jensen’s admission that his shit stinks.
Jensen: “But in public facilities used by large numbers of people at a time, multistall bathrooms and collective changing rooms should be segregated by biological sex, and we should guarantee the safety of those spaces.”
- Great news, Bob! This happens everywhere, every day, all the time already.
Jensen: “Let me be clear: I am not arguing that male-to-female transgender people are waiting to harass and attack women.”
- Yes you are, you disingenuous buttnoodle.
Jensen: “Instead, this position recognizes that some men will exploit any opportunity to move into female space, and girls and women have a right to be free from the male gaze in such private spaces.”
- Please allow me to redirect you to my earlier statement, wherein I note that 1. SEXUAL ASSAULT IS ILLEGAL 2. NO MATTER WHERE YOU DO IT 3. EVEN IF YOU ARE TRANSGENDER and, bonus, 4. NO RAPIST ON EARTH IS GONNA STOP DOING RAPE IN PUBLIC RESTROOMS BECAUSE DAN PATRICK AND BOB JENSEN SAID THEY SHOULDN’T because 5. THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS CARCERAL AND NOT PREVENTIVE, YOU CONTEMPTIBLE THUMBSUCKER
Jensen: “A feminist critique of the ideology of the transgender movement is not an attack on people who identify as transgender but simply asks questions that shouldn’t be glossed over and asserts the rights of women in a patriarchal society.”
- Supporting legislation that invites, nay demands, vigilante-style policing of people’s assigned sex (in a state teeming with gun enthusiasts) is indeed an attack on transgender people, and if Bob Jensen actually does not know that, his failures as a cultural theorist are deeper than I thought they were.
- The fact that the lieutenant governor of the second largest state in the union is trying to pass a “papers please” anti-trans bill pretty thoroughly demonstrates that nobody, fucking nobody, is “glossing over” Bob Jensen and Dan Patrick’s boring-ass thoughts about what it means to be transgender.
- The fact that the Austin American-Statesman is publishing Bob Jensen’s boring-ass thoughts about what it means to be transgender signals mightily that we are in no way in danger of missing Bob Jensen’s boring-ass thoughts about what it means to be transgender.
- To presume that any of us here on this miserable, doomed planet are in need of Bob Jensen’s boring-ass thoughts about gender identity is the most Bob Jensen premise that ever premised — to wit; where would these poor helpless ladies of Texas be without Bob Jensen to save them from the patriarchy he will definitely dismantle after he shares his important thoughts about the patriarchy, it’s definitely next on his list, absolutely he will get to the ending patriarchy part, just one more thought
Jensen: “The internal subjective experience of transgender people should not trump the objective threats that girls and women experience routinely.”
- I’m tired, can some white dude who took a freshman psych class in the last thirty years or so come collect this dude and his infantile conception of objective reality.
“But instead of falling into a tired liberal versus conservative script for the debate, let’s use the moment to deepen the discussion with a critical feminist perspective.”
- When you’re asking the same questions as Dan Patrick, you can be one thousand percent sure that what you’re not doing is deepening any goddamned discussion.
- Anyone who’s interested in critical feminist perspectives of anything on earth can start by disengaging with Bob Jensen, who is doing the thing dudes do when they don’t have anything interesting to say: Saying whatever they have to say anyway, and telling people it’s interesting.
- Jensen hasn’t deepened any discussion; the questions he’s asking about sex and gender identity got left behind by feminist academics decades ago. He’s a hack and he’s late.
But look, I’m not the thought police. If Bob Jensen believes his wholly pedestrian ideas about gender identity are important (he can’t, apparently be bothered to engage with an entire world of feminist thought on the subject, perhaps because it would require his engagement with people other than Bob Jensen), he’s free to think his goofy bullshit and write about it, laughable as it may be.
But if Bob Jensen actually gave the smallest, steamiest shit about “challenging male dominance” and ending white capitalist heteropatriarchy, he’d do us all the biggest possible favor and shut the entire fuck up, permanently.