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Artillery Row

Addressing misogyny must include addressing trans activism

Against the wokewashing of sexual objectification

Is being “eye-fucked on the escalator” a hate crime? Asking for Paris Lees. As a trans woman, Lees would be protected by the misogyny law proposed by Scotland’s first minister. But would that be validating for Lees or a total turn-off? It’s all so complicated. 

In a memorable article from 2014 — one that deserves much credit in transforming this nation into the TERF Island it is today — Lees endorsed what every leering misogynist has always suspected: women? They love it really! After all, Lees does. 

“Last summer I went to Ibiza,” the article reads, “where I was catcalled, sexually objectified and treated like a piece of meat by men the entire week”:

And it was absolutely awesome … I love catcalls. I love car toots. I love random men smiling ‘Hello beautiful!’ like my mere presence just made their day. I like being called ‘princess’ and ignoring them as I giggle inside. I like being eye-fucked on the escalator and wondering if I’ve just made him spring a boner.

Tee hee! Isn’t being a woman great?

Like many women at the time, my response to this article went through multiple stages. First, “well, of course you think women love this. That’s because you’re a bloke”. Then, “argh! I’m not allowed to say that out loud! Probably not even think it!” And then, “#notalltranswomen. Or even, #notalltrans women — it’s bigoted to miss out the space”. It is a measure of the way in which trans activism messes with women’s heads that all of us knew what that article was saying, yet few felt able to denounce it fully. 

Well, ten years have passed. It’s a terrible article because it’s your bog-standard male idea of what being a woman is. Had it been written by someone called Paul Lees, it would almost certainly have been picked up by the @menwritingwomxn twitter account (the “x” in “womxn” should give you a clue why it wasn’t in its current form). 

It should not need stating that women do not like street harassment. It does not make us “giggle inside”. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft decried “the absurdity … of supposing that a girl is a coquette” and women have been making the same point ever since. The trouble was, when we said we didn’t like being objectified, we weren’t being objective (because women, ironically, never are). You need someone who was born with a penis of reason to adjudicate on the matter — and boy, have we seen a lot of adjudication in recent times. 

It turns out that being “treated like a piece of meat” can actually be quite validating. As Jacob Tobia, author of Sissy: A Coming of Age Story, recounts, “I hear the message over and over again that sexual objectification is categorically undesirable, categorically patriarchal … Yet, here’s the rub: if sexual objectification is so categorically awful, then why do I want it so badly?” Then there’s Grace Lavery, who informs us that “there is something about being treated like shit by men that feels like affirmation itself … to be the victim of honest, undisguised sexism possesses an exhilarating vitality”. Or who could forget Andrea Long Chu, who describes pornography as “a quintessential expression of femaleness … getting fucked is what makes you female because fucked is what a female is”?

Sure, feminists — and other boring old factory-settings cis women — have complained about such attitudes, but that’s just their privilege showing. As Julia Serano noted in Whipping Girlregarded as a feminist classic by any feminist who isn’t actually a feminist — trans women offer feminism “a very different and far more empowering perspective on femininity”:

Over the years, many feminists have argued that femininity undermines women, or that it’s purposefully designed to subordinate women to men. Such a view no doubt stems from the experiences of those women who have felt that the expectation of femininity has been forced upon them against their will.

You don’t say, Julia (not that this stops you from regarding such women as ungrateful witches who “sadly take their female identities and anatomies for granted, or who perpetually seek to cast themselves as victims rather than instigators”). Trans women, thank heavens, recognise how “fucking empowering” femininity is. 

This is useful at a time when men across the political spectrum are surrounded by a pornified definition of women: passive, masochistic, compliant. I imagine it has been difficult, particularly for those on the left, to polish their feminist credentials while also wanking off to women being spat on, choked and beaten. One of the things modern-day trans activism has done is provide a cover for some of the most misogynistic, dehumanising attitudes towards female people — what we think, what we’re worth, whether we matter at all. Male writers such as Lavery, Lees, Long Chu, Tobia and Serano present themselves as offering insider accounts of how women really feel about the abuse meted out to us. “Look,” they say. “We’re women too — the most oppressed women, in fact — and we want it. We hate it but we want it too — don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.” 

To be fair to Lees, in the original Vice piece, an attempt is made to distinguish between the joys of objectification and actual misogynist abuse. It’s not a very good attempt (“I get the stuff about ‘power imbalance’ but it just makes me feel sexy”). Here’s the thing, though, Paris: you may claim “no one should accept harassment”, but when does the actual harassment begin? It starts when a woman refuses to play along, when she clearly isn’t “wondering if I’ve just made him spring a boner”. That’s when she becomes, as you put it in another article (this one on “a new prudishness in feminism”), one of the “elitist cunts”. 

They are, however, the views of trans activism’s mainstream media mouthpieces

If you are reading this and thinking “yes, but those aren’t the views of the young trans people I know”, I can well believe you. They are, however, the views of trans activism’s mainstream media mouthpieces. This is why the category “trans” — which lumps autistic and gay children together with adult males demanding the world endorse their every porn-inspired aperçu — is so unhelpful. Young people who are genuinely suffering provide a cover for dick-swingers such as Jordan Gray, who in turn provide a cover for every man who has ever wanted to claim “bitches love it really” while calling himself a feminist (this is one of the reasons why such men have been so unmoved by the Cass Review. Who wants to let a child safeguarding scandal get in the way of your new-found reassertion of masculine dominance?).  

According to Humza Yousaf, it is necessary for any Scottish misogyny law to include trans women because “if a man threatens to rape a woman, he is unlikely to know if the victim is born a woman or a trans woman”. This is insulting on so many levels. To suggest that women face street harassment because men clock our feminine gender identities, and not our female bodies, is a variation on the “short skirt” excuse. Were it not obvious which people are male, which female, there would not have been so much effort put into re-educating women not to speak out against the presence of males in their rape crisis centres, hospital wards or changing rooms. 

But what really sticks in the craw is that contemporary trans activism, far from standing against the misogynistic, porn-soaked culture which has led to so many young men abusing women in public, has cheered it on. Trans activists have said, plainly and repeatedly, that misogyny is validating. To now claim that laws which seek to protect women from harassment must also cover the subset of male people who have done most to minimise the distress it causes — the very people who have spent the past few years demonising “cis women” who want safety and privacy — is grotesque. 

I am sure that any male person who enjoys the roleplay of “being treated like shit by men” will probably enjoy the roleplay of reporting being treated like shit by men to the police. More and more, laws that should exist to protect women and children are used to cater to the marginalisation fantasies of volunteers. No one cares about the conscripts. Then again, if we weren’t so uptight, I guess we’d enjoy it. If only women were more like the women we’re not allowed to think of as men.

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