By Rachael Wong
The vicious demonisation of Warringah Liberal candidate Katherine Deves is the latest attempt to silence women who speak out about the impact of harmful gender policies and practices on women’s sex-based rights and the welfare of children.
During her first week of election campaigning, the Save Women’s Sport Australasia co-founder and mother of three daughters has been subjected to relentless, coordinated media attacks for past comments related to her advocacy around the rights and safety of women and girls and the reality of biological sex.
Many of those fuelling the attacks against Deves and trolling her online, are the same people who campaign for women’s ‘safety’ and ‘respect’ and complain that ‘we need more women in politics’, especially in the Liberal Party. But as usual, it is clear that such sentiments are reserved only for women they agree with, which ironically does not include those concerned about issues like the erosion of women’s safety and privacy as males identify into their sports and spaces. The horrendous treatment Deves has received (including threats of dismemberment and burning at the stake) would not be tolerated in any other context.
Aware of Deves’ tireless efforts to highlight the unfair and unsafe participation of trans-identifying males in women’s sport, and to protect single-sex sport for women alongside advocates like Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler, trans activists have been trawling the internet for anything they can use to tear her down and bully her out of the election.
While ‘cancel culture’ is an established part of the trans lobby’s modus operandi, the attempt to censor and shut down debate is even more concerning in the lead up to an election. Every comment of Deves’ has been twisted, taken out of context, and attacked with such ferocity so as to hamper any opportunity for meaningful discourse around some of the most important issues affecting women, and to ultimately shut down Deves herself. Such attacks only serve to validate her comparison with totalitarianism, one of her many comments distorted by the media.
One of the most controversial comments involved a photograph Deves shared last year of an American teenager who had had both her breasts removed as part of ‘gender affirmation surgery’ — a procedure that has been approved for girls as young as 15 in Australia and 13 in the US. Rather than outrage being directed at those encouraging and facilitating children to cut off healthy body parts, the trans allied media manufactured misdirected outrage at Deves for her entirely accurate, if not blunt, accompanying tweet about “vulnerable children being surgically mutilated and sterilised”. Her opponent, independent MP Zali Steggall (a former Olympian who one would expect to support Deves' bid to protect women's sport), slammed the comments as “appalling and divisive”, and the Greens have used the opportunity to call for ‘gender affirming surgeries’ to be funded by taxpayers.
What is “appalling”, is the disgusting harassment of Deves, and the experimental and highly problematic ‘gender affirming treatments’ being carried out on children and young people. Deves is far from being alone in her concerns.
Top trans doctors in the US have spoken out about harmful hormonal therapies and irreversible surgical interventions, and countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and France are hitting the brakes on such ‘treatments’ in favour of psychiatric care and psychological support. Recently, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists also indicated a shift away from a ‘gender affirmative approach’.
This all comes in the wake of an unprecedented spike in trans-identifying teenage girls, which experts believe is linked to peer and social media influence. Women are also overrepresented in the growing number of detransitioners and those who regret their transition, many of whom associate their dysphoria and transition with trauma (including sexual trauma), mental health conditions, homophobia, misogyny and other issues that were often overlooked or ignored. The stories of irreversible damage done to these women are heartbreaking.
Deves has since apologised for the language used in some of her comments, but would the resulting backlash really have been any different if she had used more sensitive language? Unlikely. One only has to look at the abuse levelled at detransitioners like Kiera Bell in the UK, a lesbian woman who was attacked online and called a bigot after publicly sharing her own damaging experience of gender transition and the regrets that followed. The reality is, that it is not Deves’ language, but her coherent critique of the harms of extreme gender ideology on women and children that is offensive to trans activists.
And when it comes to the medical abuse of children and the threat to the rights and safety of women and girls as a result of biological males identifying into their language, sports and spaces — including bathrooms, prisons, shelters and hospital wards (all of which have seen women sexually assaulted by trans-identifying males, and yes, Deves was correct regarding UK statistics that show "half of all males with trans identities are sex offenders, compared with less than 20% for the rest of the male [prison] estate") — it is a critique that the majority of Australians would wholeheartedly agree with.
Indeed, the tide seems to be turning. A recent survey has found overwhelming public support for laws to protect women and girls from being forced to compete against trans-identifying males in sport. Even left-wing women who have found themselves politically homeless as their parties shut down debate on gender ideology are saying they will vote Liberal for the first time in their lives, because women like Deves and Chandler represent the best opportunity for their voices to be heard. Lesbians, who like many women feel as if they are being erased by gender ideology, are feeling similarly abandoned. There are also trans people who are worried that radical trans activism is harming their cause.
Perhaps this explains why the pile on against Deves has been particularly brutal – her advocacy is resonating and making an impact.
It is in this context that Scott Morrison’s response has been particularly disappointing. Instead of standing by his pick for Warringah and condemning the vicious attacks on her, the Prime Minister back flipped on his initial enthusiastic support. He distanced himself from Deves as well as Senator Chandler’s Save Women’s Sport Bill, which would give effect to the protections the two women have been advocating for.
It is not, as some Liberal members who have called for her disendorsement suggest, Deves who is “hurting the Prime Minister”, but his own lack of courage and conviction on these issues (indeed, a new poll reveals that the vast majority of Australians appear to support Deves getting a fair go). Morrison’s announcement that he will not be dropping her may not be enough to correct this perception.
In contrast, Deves has taken a stand on some of the most critical issues affecting women and children in our country and throughout the world today, knowing that she would inevitably be attacked simply for telling the truth. Having already being subject to vitriolic abuse, including rape and death threats (women have been the recipients of the vilest attacks), and observing the persecution of other women who speak up, she was aware that in stepping into the political arena, such abuse would only be amplified. This is the kind of courage and integrity we should only be so lucky to see more of in politics.
All over the world, women are being gaslit to believe that we are the ones who are bigoted and transphobic when we are simply trying to defend our own rights and speak the truth about biological sex. We are sick to death of it. If nothing else, Deves has put front and centre the clash between gender ideology and women’s and children’s rights and welfare. It has come at a personal cost to her, but we are inspired by and grateful for her bravery.
Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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