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Artillery Row

Lefty men’s failures have radicalised women

Don’t pretend that feminists are being “radical” for no reason

Last week, Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch announced that the Conservatives would clarify the law regarding the protected characteristic of sex. As Sonia Sodha later reported, this provoked an “unhinged reaction” in certain quarters, as “lefty men with apparently zero understanding of the implications of this legal ambiguity jumped on the bandwagon to variously label [the proposal] as ‘ghastly’ and a ‘transphobic crusade’”.

As far as these men were concerned, there was no need for any clarification. After all, why hadn’t anyone asked for it before? If there was a clash between women’s rights and trans rights — and these men were very doubtful that there was — wasn’t this to do with the question of gender self-ID? Surely all this fuss about biological sex proved that the gender critical lobby was becoming more and more radicalised. Give them an inch, and they’d take a mile. 

The display was, for many women watching, both infuriating and distressing. Men with little interest in or empathy for women — or whatever it is they call the vagina people — were frothing at the mouth over the very idea of female prisoners or rape victims being granted any space away from males. What was particularly annoying was that there was the tiniest grain of truth in what these men were claiming. Yes, a few years ago, many of us supporting Badenoch now would not have been bothered about clarifying the meaning of sex. Yes, many of us are taking a much harder line on these issues than ever before. 

Here’s the thing, though: it’s not because we’ve been “radicalised” by dark forces stuffing our passive ladybrains with far-right propaganda. It’s because before, we didn’t think we’d need to clarify anything. Before, we trusted trans-identified males not to abuse our goodwill. We trusted “progressive” men not to start pretending not to know basic biology. We trusted that women counted enough not to have our own interests so thoroughly discounted. It turns out we were wrong to be so trusting, and that is why so many of us no longer are. 

It is sad to admit, but it seems lefty men cannot be trusted with anything. I write as one of those weary ex-liberal feminists, who once lived in the fantasy land where the interests of “progressive” men generally mapped onto my own. They hated gender norms? Me too! They found masculinity stultifying and oppressive? Good for them! They were all for “my body, my choice”? Brilliant! 

Sure, there were some areas where I remained a little uncertain (their “respect” for those in the sex industry seemed somewhat suspicious) and they never seemed terribly interested in the more mundane aspects of feminism such as care work or pensions inequality. I never thought these men were full-on feminists, but I did believe they had compassion for women, didn’t view us as walking stereotypes, and would not misrepresent feminist arguments for their own gains. I don’t think any of that now. 

lefty men have had so many opportunities to prove their real-life commitment to rejecting gender norms 

While these men might think of the past few years as a time during which “bigoted” women were becoming “radicalised”, I’ve started to think of it as a time during which lefty men were being tested. Plenty of radical feminists didn’t think it was a test that should ever have been run — and god knows, they were right — but it happened anyways. In the aftermath of the sex positive, queer theory-inspired third wave of feminism, lefty men have had so many opportunities to prove their real-life commitment to rejecting gender norms and renouncing their assigned-at-birth entitlements. They failed every single one. The moment there was any chance to exploit a loophole, or misunderstand a feminist slogan, or prioritise male sexuality in the name of “smashing the binary”, they took it. This is not just in relation to “the trans issue”. It’s in relation to everything. 

Take, for instance, bodily autonomy. “Your body, your choice,” they said. We agreed. How nice, we thought, to find some men so committed to abortion rights. We did not anticipate that they would stretch the slogan to apply to anything the most vulnerable woman could be coerced into doing for them. Her body, her choice! Nor did we expect that, in years to come, whenever we disagreed with them on any issue relating to female bodies and choices, they would tell us we were putting ourselves on the side of anti-abortionists. Male support for abortion rights could be freely given, without self-interest — but in the case of so many lefty men, it isn’t. It is a calculation, a way of seeing if he can reframe his right to exploit female bodies in a way that sounds more progressive. 

We did not anticipate that they would decide this meant the maternal body is a complete irrelevance

Or let’s look at childcare. “Men can be carers, too,” they said. We agreed. How lovely, we thought, to find men who will be willing to pick up the slack. How wonderful that they do not assume that our uniquely female capacity to give birth means we are innately better at changing nappies and cleaning up sick. We did not anticipate that they would decide this meant the maternal body is a complete irrelevance, a thing to be rented out to produce a baby on demand, legally purchased before the cord is even cut. Nor did we expect them to tell us, should we object, that we were conservative, traditionalist, biologically essentialist. We thought they had more basic human empathy than that. 

With the trans question, it hardly needs stating, but to be blunt: we did not think men would take the piss, not in prisons, not in sports, not in rape crisis centres. And if some men did take the piss, we did at least think the average lefty man would speak up. By and large, they didn’t. This is what has led us to the point where sex needs clarifying under law. We all know what a female person is, but we also all know that, if you tell a certain type of man that you value female-only spaces, he will start waffling about genital inspections, clown fish, toxic debates, intersex people, policing people’s femininity and various other gambits which, you sense, he quite enjoys deploying (the birds get so wound up!). 

Personally, I am genuinely sad that so many men — some of them former friends — could not be trusted in the way that I once thought. It feels as though the respect they had for women relied, not on a shared sense of humanity, but purely on in-group social norms, and the moment it became socially acceptable for them to turn on us, they did. Obviously, #notallleftymen — but enough to demonstrate why so many safeguards need to be in place.

We shouldn’t be here, but we are. If some of the “radicalised” are partly to blame — and I admit that we are — it is only because we thought better of the men attacking us now. We thought you were good people and you weren’t. That’s what changed us. That’s all on you.  

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