Women should agree to disagree

Feminists should forget about pronouns and labels and tackle the real issues of women’s lives

This article is taken from the February 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I remember the moment I fell out with feminism. Two girlfriends and I had launched a tiny network to support women in the postgraduate study of religion when the question came: “are you including trans women?” An insignificant speck we may have been, yet our intersectional credentials were already under surveillance. 

Perhaps, in my naivity, I expected at worst a few indifferent glances. Instead I was immediately put on the spot to ensure our tiny collective did not disrupt the intersectional hierarchy of oppression. Feminism, it seems, has become less about women coming together to assert positive change and more a spew of hollow sloganeering. 

The ineptitude of this feminism was made most clear to me when I returned to university with my four-month-old child for a postgraduate research open day and could not find a baby changing unit. 

While the feminism of the academy and workplace HR departments convulse over their definition of “woman” and the latest batches of pronoun badges, worries about loss of earned income and pensions are designated “low status”. 

It appears these concerns contain a heretical belief that female biology impacts upon the reality of their lives. Why, after all, would you deserve support for committing such a heinous act of biological essentialism?

What a relief then, when I saw the launch of Fairer Disputations, a new sex-real feminist collaborative. It was born out of the growing number of dissident feminist voices who have been seeking to defend the integrity of the female (and by extension, male) body. 

This new journal is genuinely intersectional in the way the current “intersectional” feminism can never be. It has women with significant philosophical differences taking part in the same discussion. Catholic feminists Erika Bachiochi, Abigail Favale and Angela Franks contribute alongside secular campaigners such as Louise Perry and Helen Joyce (right). 

Think what this means: one of contemporary feminism’s core demands — bodily autonomy — is eschewed in return for true allyship. Think on the threat we’re therefore facing. And don’t be surprised by who it’s coming from.

These women realise that while they may have different views on contraception, abortion and fertility technologies such as IVF, they should not be taken as an ultimatum. Liberal feminism claims the political right, especially in America,to wield abortion as a “wedge issue”. This is disingenuous as any critcism of abortion for them assumes anti-choice alignment, rather than thoughtful critique. 

American bodily-autonomy ultra-feminists would do well to look at the Brits on abortion, where we’ve come to an imperfect, mucky via media of it being the lesser of two evils. Sure, it still attracts criticism on both sides, but then it takes only a glance towards (some) American women to confirm our sanity. 

There is acknowledgement then in Fairer Disputations that it’s best for every woman to take a seat at the table and that fetishising bodily autonomy (as a compulsory shared opinion) is unconducive to producing practical outcomes for women. Which is where insisting on trans privileges has got us.

“Self-identification” is a blatant affront to sex-realism, so it is no wonder its most vocal proponents are keen to emphasise this disembodied paradigm of choice. Appealing to control over the body looks indispensable in the abstract, but of course, any serious sex-real feminist ought to be sceptical about the extent to which we can, any of us, actually enact bodily control. 

My position on hormonal contraception has remained static from my atheistic adolescence to my more recent Christian homecoming, which is one of scepticism. Primarily I took offence at the idea that my body needed to suppress its natural functions in order to have sex with men “risk free”. 

It was not uncommon to hear of some of the more unpleasant effects of different contraception: suicidal thoughts from the contraceptive pill, weeks of bleeding with IUDs, to monitoring bone density from the contraceptive injection. Just hearing of these reinforced my decision to avoid it all. 

Medical interventions interfere with how our bodies are supposed to work

Moreover, medical interventions interfere with how our bodies are supposed to work. This was key to my realisation that choice over my body would always be limited, that my body is always going to be a bio-political frontier. The question, then, to ask with regards to contraception is whose interest does it serve? 

Both Louise Perry’s The Case Against the Sexual Revolution and Abigail Favale’s The Genesis of Gender confront the consequences of contraception. It is impressive that both are unafraid to tell women the freedom sold to us has not been the paradise we were promised. 

Perry’s book properly interrogates the question of whose interests contraception serves: the answer, which is quite painful for many feminists to admit, is a small number of elite men. 

Maybe there are women who can detach themselves from sex, but I wonder how many women can honestly say it was worth the hurt? It’s long past time feminism got back to being for women, and not men in any guise. 

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