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Artillery Row

The new men’s rights movement

For gender-critical feminists, TRAs can sometimes feel like MRAs with a modern twist

In the old days it was Men’s Rights Activism we had to contend with, throwing the “Not All Men” and “Women Do It Too” non-arguments at every suggestion that women may sometimes have a right to keep men out. Recently Trans Rights Activists have given these men a run for their money, albeit under the guise of identifying as feminists, which makes some of the claims even more jaw-droppingly shameless.

Take the subject of the school rampage — the people who shoot or stab fellow pupils and teachers in schools are usually boys or men. It’s a crime, like family annihilation, which is overwhelmingly a male crime, and you would think this would be relatively uncontentious to observe. It was surprising then to read in the media recently that a school stabbing spree had been committed by a female pupil. Some of us were unsure that the reports were accurate — after all, there have been increasing numbers of typically male crimes reported as women’s crimes in recent years, only for us to discover later that the perpetrator was a ‘transwoman’ or, in other words, a man. 

Those of us who expressed surprise at the school story on X (Twitter) were inundated with examples of the Women Can Be Violent Too argument and I lost count of the number of times it was deemed important to remind us of the subject matter of the Boomtown Rats song “I Don’t Like Mondays”. (We didn’t need reminding). The press reports turned out to be accurate in this case: the perpetrator was indeed a girl. Far from proving that women are just as violent as men, this case was notable for its difference to the usual pattern.

Alistair Campbell was in trouble recently for claiming that mixed-sex toilet facilities were a great idea, and once again the responses from women making points about safety and cleanliness were roundly countered with the “Women Can Be Antisocial Too” argument. I conducted my own Twitter poll about toilets: with festival season coming up, I asked the important question: “Queuing for the portable toilets at a festival, if you had a choice, would you rather use the toilet just vacated by a) a man or b) a woman”. I also asked for comments on the reasons why. The final result, from a total of 2,300 votes, was Man: 1.7 per cent Woman: 98.3 per cent. Even in a toilet question where the danger of assault was taken out of the equation, most respondents had a strong preference. The results showed unequivocally that in most people’s experience men are more unpleasant in their toilet habits than women, partly due to biological differences and partly down to socialisation.

Once again, as night follows day, out came the examples of how women can be just as unpleasant as men, as though this was a matter of equality in which women really should be allowed to be as unpleasant as men or it wasn’t fair.

The old feminist argument about gender neutral language was based on a desire to reflect a changing world and to acknowledge the role of women in it: chairman became chairperson or chair, for example, so that women too were reflected in the language of power and achievement as they began to make inroads into this world. The new “progressive” gender neutrality has the opposite effect: to push women back out of the public sphere and to conceal inequality. When we are told, for example, that “child on child” sexual abuse is increasing in schools, the gender-neutral language hides the fact that it is largely boy on girl abuse. We are failing to hear the full story because the media seems to be running scared of using any sexed language at all for fear of getting it wrong and invoking the fury of Trans Rights Activists. This disadvantages girls, whose needs and vulnerabilities are hidden.  

The people making the claim that women are not so different to men in matters of violence and crime do so with the aim of refuting the idea that single-sex facilities are important for women. Single-sex wards in hospitals are the current example in the firing line, as though the feelings of women at their most vulnerable should always come second to those of men who say they’re women. Again, the argument over safety is countered with the Women Can Be Violent Too claim, and the points about privacy and dignity are ignored altogether because “transwomen are women”.

Flattening out the differences between men and women in this way, as though it can make no difference to anyone whether or not the person next to you in a toilet or hospital ward is male or female, is a way of covering up the slipping of a few men into women’s spaces in the hope that no-one will notice (sports is of course the ultimate and most visible example of the technique). It relies on making everyone question their assumptions all the time, about everything: What is a man, what is a woman, what is sex anyway, are men really more violent than women, are women and men really that different? Part of the technique is to make you feel a bit silly that you’ve never thought this through before. 

When I was an art student, we were exposed to a twice-termly crit where that half-term’s work was criticised and difficult questions were asked, challenging everything you thought you knew. It became notorious, that dreaded hour in which your whole worldview would be turned upside down in the quest for creative originality. Everything you had thought or believed up till then must be questioned, nothing could be assumed or taken for granted, everything must be overturned and re-examined. The purpose in the context of the art college crit was to make you think for yourself rather than lazily take on received ideas, but there is a thin line between creative inspiration and mental illness, and the balance wasn’t always achieved successfully. I am reminded of this every time I get involved in a Twitter argument with Trans Rights Activists; but without the creative inspiration bit.

it seems queer theory is just what-aboutery with A-levels

The “queering” of sex and gender, which backs up trans ideology, aims to throw all the balls up into the air, watch them fall randomly and then smugly insist they were there all along, you just weren’t looking properly. If you think “this thing” over here, then what about “that thing” over there? If you assume something is self-explanatory, then what about the other thing which “proves” it isn’t? If you think men are more violent than women, what about this violent woman over here? With its constant what about this, what about that? arguments, it seems queer theory is just what-aboutery with A-levels.

The final absurdity in this forced flattening-out of the differences between men and women is that it is done in the service of making an inner feeling of “gender” a sacrosanct feature of the human condition. It is an insistence that gender be pegged to a sex, and that the sexes are so distinct that it would be cruel to prevent a man presenting as a woman for all purposes if he desires to do so. Suddenly the sexes are so different that it may be life-threatening for certain people if you get it wrong — even other people’s use of pronouns must adhere to the sex you imagine yourself to be because the alternative is extreme danger to your self-realisation.

A decade ago, when such inconsistent arguments were more likely to be coming from the neo-conservative Mike Buchanan’s Justice for Men and Boys than left-wing trans allies like Billy Bragg, we became used to refuting oppositional arguments. We were told that the patriarchal gender order is natural in the family, schools and workplace, at the same time as the claim that women are just as physically aggressive towards opposite sex partners as men. Whilst promoting the idea that the traditional masculine and feminine roles are to be celebrated, there was also the drive to deny women equality in divorce settlements, and when it came to child custody, suddenly the differences between mothers and fathers could be conveniently ironed out. Feminism, we were told then, was driven not by equality but by misandry, whereas today’s feminists are driven by “transphobia”. Buchanan’s “whiny feminist of the month” has been updated to the “Karen” who is always complaining. The old male desire to keep women out of football because “it’s a man’s game” has been modernised to the much more progressive view that women should be competing against men in sport, and if they get beaten it is simply that they are not training hard enough.

You can’t have it both ways. Either women and men are much the same: nothing to see here, no surprises who does what in terms of violent crime or sporting achievement or pissing on the seat; or they’re not. Either it’s just “people” killing other “people”, or “people” winning races against other “people”, or “people” being messy and leaving other “people” to clean it up, or women and men are such a very distinct proposition that if you are one but “feel like” the other, the result is personal torture which cannot be endured, and which society must be organised around. Something that apparently makes no difference when a woman’s safety or privacy is on the line suddenly makes all the difference in the world when what’s at stake is a man’s identity.

Men’s Rights Activists were keen to minimise the differences between men and women when they showed men in a bad light, because they resented any funding going to women’s services. The idea that these services were unfair to men came from a belief that feminism’s aim was female supremacy. Trans Rights Activists similarly do not like to see men shown in a bad light, but this time it is because they want some men to be allowed into facilities designated for women and they must minimise the differences to achieve this. They too see women as having an unfair extra, but this time it’s “cis privilege”.

These two groups may have substantially different reasons to attack women with such venom, but feminists have seen it all before: as far as women are concerned, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two.

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