Why are activists erasing JK Rowling?

Why are activists erasing JK Rowling?

In 2016, Ruth Barrett published Female Erasure, a collection of essays by women speaking out against gender identity politics with the aim of exposing the harmful effects of this novel belief system on the lives of women and children. In a prologue to the book, Barret assumes a male voice to illustrate how male appropriation of womanhood works first to silence and ultimately to erase women:

Because I am a woman, therefore you must treat me as if I actually am, otherwise you are transphobic. As I insist on participating as a woman in your groups, gatherings, or spaces you also must forgo discussing anything about your female socialization, female anatomy, or female functions because it hurts my feelings. It hurts my feelings because I was neither socialized as a girl nor am I capable of experiencing what the female body experiences from cradle to grave. But if you speak about this I am then reminded that I am not female and therefore not really a woman. My experience of feeling like a woman must not be invalidated by your experiences of being a woman, therefore I will shame you for being female, teach you in university to estrange your body from your mind, make your distinct physicality and oppression that is specific to your sex irrelevant in the laws of the land or anything that names our differences until there is only the mind. Now only how I think about your body is real … My word is now more real than your mitochondrial DNA. Accept that by my word, you really don’t exist.

The problem of female erasure is directly linked to the control of language. Women who may no longer observe the reality of biological sex are deprived even of the words they need to communicate distinctly female experiences and perspectives.

Since the project of erasing women is unreasonable on its face, trans activists avoid debate and instead rely on intimidation and insults to silence women. Germaine Greer, a long-standing opponent of the claim that “transwomen are women”, was among their earliest targets.

In her 1999 book, The Whole Woman, she framed her objections to "governments that consist of very few women” hurrying to “recognise as women, men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it” as fundamentally inconsistent with a proper understanding of what a woman is. Greer argued that these (predominantly male) governments can only co-operate with the claims of trans activists because they “see women not as another sex but as a non-sex”. Greer has advanced this same orthodox feminist argument – that women are not defective men or “non-men” – in many fora and with varying degrees of delicacy but sticking faithfully to her central point: “[cutting off your penis] doesn’t make you a f**king woman, it makes you a man without a c**k!”. Unable to counter the logic that women are female (and transwomen are not), activists instead attempted to deny Greer a platform.

In Australia, similar censorship efforts were directed at Holly Lawford-Smith, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University, when she launched a website inviting women to submit their personal stories of how their use of women-only spaces has been impacted by legislative change that replaces sex with gender identity. As the website explains:

Advocates insist that there is no conflict of interests [i.e., between biological women and transwomen]. But governments are not collecting data on the impacts of this legislative change. We're worried about the impacts on women of men using women-only spaces, including but not limited to: changing rooms, fitting rooms, bathrooms, shelters, rape and domestic violence refuges, gyms, spas, sports, schools, accommodations, hospital wards, shortlists, prizes, quotas, political groups, prisons, clubs, events, festivals, dating apps, and language. If we can't collect data, we can at least collect stories. Please tell us how your use of women-only spaces has been impacted.

In a move which ironically confirms the point Lawford-Smith was trying to make, almost 100 of her academic colleagues signed a letter demanding that the University of Melbourne take “swift and decisive action” in response to her “transphobic” website, which, they warned, potentially put the university in breach of its own guidelines on research integrity and inclusion. Apparently, even allowing women to speak amongst themselves about their experiences as females is forbidden. 

Twitter trolls have been hanging out on JK Rowling’s twitter feed for some months ready to unleash a torrent of fury and outrage whenever she points to the fact of biological male/female difference. Their efforts to silence Rowling – or, more accurately, to erase her from the picture completely – took a proactive turn in February when The New York Times ran an advertising campaign showing a reader, “Lianna”, imagining the Harry Potter series without the books’ author. What is this, if not a graphic illustration of imagining, dreaming of, wishing for, female erasure? The underlying message is that the world really would be a better place without uppity women who won’t budge from the fact of biological sex.

For the record, Rowling acknowledges that gender identity might vary from biological sex and that there are “innumerable gender identities”. Her objection (and her unforgivable crime, for people like “Lianna”) is that Rowling has been immovable in insisting that gender identity does not erase biological sex – it should not be the only consideration guiding public policy:

“The question at the heart of this debate is whether sex or gender identity should form the basis of decisions on safeguarding, provision of services, sporting categories and other areas where women and girls currently have legal rights and protections ... Using the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably obscures the central issue of this debate”.

Rowling has also expressed her solidarity for women, such as British tax specialist Maya Forstater, whose contract was not renewed over disputes about her gender critical tweets:

“Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who'll have you. Love [sic] your best life in peace and security,” wrote Rowling. 

“But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”

Regrettably, not all women’s advocates are prepared to brave activist fury as courageously as Rowling. Last week, a Sydney women’s health centre issued the following grovelling apology for having dared to copy one of Rowling’s essays to its social media pages:

“Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre is sincerely sorry for the offense (sic), distress and hurt to the trans community, caused by the uploading to Facebook of the JK Rowling article on Sex and Gender. This article has been retracted. It was inadvertently uploaded to Facebook without approval.”

What would the suffragettes say to such a sorry display? Since when were women prepared to be so subservient and submissive?

Since biological sex is a fact that will not be going away anytime soon, women only need a little encouragement and the ability to ignore insults and accusations of “transphobia” to prevail. But for as long as the bullying tactics of trans activists are rewarded, we can expect to see more of their attempts to intimidate women into silence and to reimagine a world where biological sex is invisible, where women have been erased.

This is not a drill.

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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