By Pauline Cooper-Ioelu
I seem to miss all the fun these days. Meghan Murphy, the outspoken gender-critical feminist was in New Zealand recently and, disappointedly, I wasn’t.
Murphy has been on my radar for a while now for her abolitionist position on prostitution and more recently for her unwavering criticism of predominantly western countries to push through gender identity laws. Like many other gender-critical feminists, she's faced an unrelenting campaign against her that can only be described as harassment and bullying for merely holding the view that transgender persons are not women, and advocating for sex-based rights. Twitter – the self-appointed moral compass of the internet and the “woke” left – even permanently suspended Murphy’s account for deliberately using the wrong pronoun.
When it was announced that Murphy was speaking in New Zealand, I thought, yes, this is the country I grew up in. An enlightened and tolerant nation where, even if we resoundingly disagree, we could at least have a hearty conversation about the controversial issues decently and respectfully, and then still go off to the pub and have a drink - no hard feelings. Even better, Massey University had agreed to host the event – an entirely appropriate forum for conversations of this nature.
But apparently, I was wrong. Due to pressure from activist groups, Massey University pulled out at the last minute and inevitably denied Murphy, and other feminists including female academics, the opportunity to contribute to this conversation.
So, what was so entirely scandalous that Massey felt they had to pull the plug? Well…to quote Murphy in a recent interview on news hub, being a ‘woman isn’t a feeling, it’s a fact”. She goes on to outline her very sensible and legitimate concerns around the repercussions for women if gender identity laws are enacted; “rights” will be granted to people who merely announce they are the opposite sex. These laws, Murphy argues, could be exploited by predatory males to prey on marginalised women. This is not to say that transgender persons are predatory, but rather that laws allowing anyone to self-identify could very easily be used for malicious purposes. Just this year Victoria passed a law which allows people to change their gender on their birth certificate by a mere statutory declaration. It's easy to see how such a simple process could be abused.
One just has to look at the comments on any post about this topic to see that many believe Murphy is overreacting. Yet there are already many examples that demonstrate she is spot-on in her evaluation of how these laws will impact women. Take the example of women’s prisons. In this space, there have been several high-profile cases of men “self-identifying” as women to gain access to women’s prisons. Take the case of Karen White, a transitioning male, who was allowed to gain access to vulnerable women despite previous convictions for indecent assault, indecent exposure and gross indecency involving children. White sexually assaulted two women after being incarcerated at New Hall prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
In other areas of social life, we are also beginning to see the very real implications of gender identity ideology and legislation. Jessica Yaniv, a trans-identifying male, harassed numerous Vancouver beauticians who refused to provide waxing services because they were not trained to wax male genitalia. Yaniv cried, “discrimination!” and proceeded to torment and slander these women and businesses. He even caused several of them to go bust. His most recent outrage was at being refused treatment by a gynaecologist.
Yaniv has also been accused of repeated attempts to groom young girls on social media. One girl complained he made comments of a sexual nature to her and sent her profane images. His predatory behaviour has been well documented - he’s entered changing rooms and toilets and expressed a nauseating interest in women’s changing habits, asking, for instance, how much he’d get to see if he managed to get access to these spaces.
Men like Yaniv are actively using these laws to prey on and abuse women. It’s misogyny at its best; men’s feelings are prioritised over the genuine and rational concerns of women. Such cases are precisely why Murphy has fought so stridently to have these conversations, even enduring harassment and slander herself.
Yet how do these conversations occur if we, as a society, are happy to exclude anyone who expresses a thought different to our own in the public sphere? This is not a characteristic of a democratic and free society.
Perhaps the harder conversation is what are rights and when do we grant them? If we are willing to subscribe to relativistic notions of what rights are – that rights are based on empty notions of choice alone, live and let live - then we are doomed to fail. Eventually, the choices of others will start to infringe on others’ ability to choose, as has happened here regarding the protection of the right to free speech and safety. We have got to the point where those who shout loudest, bully, intimidate and engage in hashtag activism have a monopoly on the conversations we have as a society and frankly, that is not healthy or progressive and neither is it socially just.
As Obama put it a few years back, “Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention … then you can’t just keep on yelling at them. And you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position. The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room.” We need to have the hard conversations for society to progress otherwise the only other option is a regression.
There is no doubt that trans people deserve respect and dignity – the same respect and dignity that should be extended to women, men and all people. I believe that as a society we are capable of maintaining respect and dignity towards trans people without silencing or abusing the legitimate concerns of those who believe that these laws are a genuine threat to women’s rights and safety.
Pauline Cooper-Ioelu is an academic from Auckland, New Zealand. She has an interest in radical histories including trade unionism and feminism.