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On J.K. Rowling’s TERFy sleight of hand

JK Rowling: TERF

By David Futrelle

In a series of tweets, followed by a sprawling, combative blog post, J.K. Rowling has gone full TERF on us. There’s a lot that’s wrong about the assorted arguments she sets forth in her post — and others have started dissecting its flaws and its dishonesties already in everything from magazine articles to Reddit posts to Twitter threads.

But there is one small part of her essay that I haven’t seen addressed so far, and I think it desperately needs some critical attention.

In the passage in question Rowling uses a simple but effective bit of rhetorical sleight of hand meant to demonize critics of TERFy transphobia and claim the mantle of true womanhood for those on her side.

While the basic rhetorical technique she uses is crude, she pulls off the execution with flair. She sets up her magic trick deftly with a (well-deserved) rhetorical attack on the misogynist backlash of the past decade. But then her argument takes quite a turn.

“Never have I seen women denigrated and dehumanised to the extent they are now,” she writes.

From the leader of the free world’s long history of sexual assault accusations and his proud boast of ‘grabbing them by the pussy’, to the incel (‘involuntarily celibate’) movement that rages against women who won’t give them sex, to the trans activists who declare that TERFs need punching and re-educating, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble. Everywhere, women are being told to shut up and sit down, or else.

What just happened? Let’s break it down.

Rowling is doing three things here. First and most obviously, she’s putting those who fight against transphobia in the same category as the pussy-grabbing president and the murderously misogynistic incels. It’s a rhetorical move that’s breathtaking in its dishonesty, as trans activists, far from being bigots, have been some of the most dedicated and effective fighters of misogyny I’ve run across over the last decade.

Second, she’s erasing trans women speaking for themselves, dismissing them as “men” trying to talk over women. And third, she’s more broadly claiming the mantle of true womanhood not just for cis women but for a particular subset of cis women, those who oppose trans rights, whom she’s claiming are being shut down by an army of men.

But Rowling and her TERF allies don’t speak for all women, or even all cis women. Far from it. In fact, on many of the issues transphobes have fixated on — from bathroom bans to trans people serving in the military — a clear majority of women disagree with them.

Numerous surveys have revealed that cis straight men are considerably more transphobic than their female counterparts. On the bathroom issue, a TERF obsession which Rowling specifically cites, one study of online comments found that cis men were far more likely than cis women to speak negatively about trans women using women’s bathrooms; 72 percent of the male comments in the study’s sampling were negative, as opposed to only 46% from cis women. A survey by pollsters PPRI found a similar (if somewhat smaller) gender gap, with roughly “half (51%) of men support[ing] requiring transgender individuals to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth, compared to four in ten (40%) women.”  

In other words, TERFs not only don’t represent all cis women; they don’t even represent half of all cis women. By using the rhetoric she does, Rowling not only erases trans women; she erases most cis women as well — making me wonder who exactly is trying to make whom shut up.

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Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Rabid Rabbit
In reality, they’d lose nothing, but conservatives (including TERFs) are incapable of understanding non zero sum systems. They think that whenever anyone else gains rights that must be taking away their own rights. In fact, at least in the US the opposite is true: the same action that legalized discrimination against LGBT people in medicine also made it legal to discriminate against anyone who has had an abortion, meaning a lot of women (and such a very feminist thing to do /s).

Moogue
Moogue
2 years ago

Re: Redefining sex discrimination to remove the federal ban against doctors discriminating against trans people for, uh, “personal reasons.”

One thing I’m wondering about is where all the licensing and medical ethics boards are standing with all of this? I would hope they would step in and do the right thing to pick up the slack, but then again, I guess I should’t hold my breath.

@POM

Yikes.

Can’t say any of that is making me feel that the process is less like “selling children”. :/

Snowberry
Snowberry
2 years ago

I’d like to point out that sometimes people *do* lose something when others gain rights – either the ability to act on their supposed “goodness” by abusing certain others, or the ability to raise their children free from openly-displayed counterexamples to their teachings. (An example of the latter: “gay is a sin” is a harder sell if same-sex marriage exists.) It deprives them the “right” (more like privilege) to be the keepers of all that is good and right and just, according to their own definitions.

Some liberals like to pretend that allowing full equality to all groups is value-neutral. It isn’t. Even ignoring the fact that we don’t literally advocate full equality for *all* people, or at least not on their own terms (for example, neo-nazis, pedophilia advocates, pro-rape advocates, serial killers, arguably young children…), it’s promoting the specific value that full equality for all groups is a good and necessary thing, which clearly not everyone agrees with. Pretending otherwise is just as delusional and/or self-deceptive as we commonly accuse them as being.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Snowberry
Yes, I recognize that. I was talking about this particular instance: trans* people having nondiscrimination protections in medicine does not take rights away from or endanger cis women.
Speaking of which, UK TERFs seem rather confused by what their friends in the US have done; evidently it didn’t occur to them that the leopards eating faces party would eat their faces.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

The TERFs have reached a new level of cultiness around JK:
comment image
The Spanish text translates to “My Goddess ? she is a true fighter for women, not like the trans UN”

Rabid Rabbit
Rabid Rabbit
2 years ago
Robert
Robert
2 years ago

When my husband and I were adopting our sons, the local social services department (branch of the county government) covered all administrative expenses. We were, however, obligated to take and pass a ten-week training program.

I admit to being slightly nettled by assertions that access to adoption by prospective parents is limited by the costs associated; we could no more have paid ten or twenty thousand dollars to a private agency than we could have flown by flapping our arms, but we were willing, indeed enthusiastic, about adopting older children. Both our sons were five when we met them, and both had been in foster care for years.

perplexed
perplexed
2 years ago

I genuinely don’t understand the massive blindspot you have for misogynistic abuse by bad faith agitators acting under the guise of trans rights.

How is this different from gamergate? https://radfemrebecca.com/pov-ur-a-terf/

How is this different from run of the mill MGTOW misogyny? https://medium.com/@rebeccarc/j-k-rowling-and-the-trans-activists-a-story-in-screenshots-78e01dca68d

How do you simply not see that you’re providing cover for the people you’re supposedly exposing? The abusive misogynists have found a word that gives them permission to say and do what they like. As long as the woman they target is a TERF, any abuse is acceptable.

People who should be standing up against it are cheering it on, because they have decided that the targets deserve it. This is shameful.

As for the survey – ask a different question, get a different answer:

https://fairplayforwomen.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/gender_recognition_act-1.pdf

https://www.drg.global/wp-content/uploads/W15176-Wings-Tables-for-publication-v3-080620.pdf

Two surveys showing 80% of UK women don’t want male bodies in single-sex spaces. Single-sex spaces and services that are currently a right, in UK law.

Proposals to change that law are creating a conflict of rights.

Trans people in this country have more rights and protections than  women do in the US, and they have those entirely separate from sex-based protections. Trans rights are not under threat. Not even remotely. Anyone that says Rowling is advocating them being rolled back (such as the links you provide) is either badly mistaken or lying.

She is allowed to talk about it. We all are. You are using bullying, misogynistic language to silence and threaten women you disagree with, based on an issue you simply don’t understand, because you seem to know absolutely nothing about the framework of equality legislation in the UK.

And the links you provide in support are appalling groupthink circlejerkery. For example, the reddit thread says this (via NBC), about the Forstater case:

> in fact it was about whether Forstater should have the right to engage in a sustained campaign of harassment of her trans and cis coworkers.

This is a complete and utter lie.

There was no harrassment of coworkers, nor would her case permit such harrassment were she to succeed on appeal – trans people are already protected under discrimination law. All of the information is in the public domain, and if you investigated this you could find all this out, rather than relying on partisan commentary. She was ousted from her job principally because someone at the Gates Foundation objected to her tweeting and blogging in her private capacity about the conflict with sex-based rights that arises from proposed legal reforms to our Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act. How can a society function if people aren’t even allowed to talk about the rights they currently have?

You are perpetuating a lie against someone who has been bullied out of her job for describing UK rights as they currently are, and vilified relentlessly ever since by people who can’t spare 10 minutes to read her submissions to the employment tribunal, rather than some garbage lie-filled NBC opinion piece by Rachel McKinnon/Veronica Ivy of all people.

At some point, I sincerely hope you and people like you will have a moment of clarity and realise how you’ve been used.

Mini falda
Mini falda
1 year ago

You are female

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