Laura Miles (“The War on Trans”, January SR), argues that there has been no conflict between women’s rights activists and trans activists in Ireland. The article also gives the impression that there was mass support here for gender/sex self-identification laws, similar to that regarding same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
The real story in Ireland is rather more complex. The Gender Recognition Act was passed here in 2015, unbeknown to most of the population, who are only now becoming aware of it. The surreptitious passing of this law was in stark contrast to the very public campaign on same-sex marriage of the same year, where there were months of public debate, followed by a referendum. Having a public debate about same-sex marriage sometimes exposed some unsavoury views, but it had the overall effect of strengthening public support for same-sex attracted people.
Miles writes “when Woman’s Place UK planned a tour of Ireland earlier this year a long list of feminists, socialists and women’s organisations published an open letter making it clear it was unwelcome” (the planned meeting was under the We Need To Talk banner and not WPUK). The fact that this meeting was planned, after discussions with Irish feminists, as well as having an organised opposition to it, shows that there was some conflict in Ireland on this issue, even if gender-critical voices have been largely marginalised by mainstream liberal feminism here.
The infamous open letter against this proposed meeting was an embarrassing piece of ahistorical propaganda. It simultaneously complained that British feminists were not involved enough in the fight for Irish women’s liberation, while chastising them for planning to come to Ireland for a political discussion on women’s rights! In a bizarre sleight of hand, they tried to conflate gender-critical feminists from Britain with British imperialism (“you’re behaving with the arrogance of…imperialism…We have had enough of colonialism in Ireland without needing more of it from you” https://feministire.com/2018/01/22/an-open-letter-to-the-organisers-of-t... ).
I find it worrying that the internationalist SWP chooses to promote this example of stifling, parochial, nationalism as a praiseworthy example of solidarity.
Miles proposes that there is no conflict between demands of Trans activists and women’s rights advocates. But there is a fundamental conflict between the Marxist view of the origin of women’s oppression, and female liberation, and the dominant Trans activist outlook.
Marxists argue that women are oppressed as a group due to their biology and role in reproduction (because capitalism needs workers reproduced as cheaply as possible). This doesn’t mean that Marxists think biology is destiny, but that women’s lives are restricted under capitalism due to their biology.
This oppression affects all women, even childless women, partly due to the promotion and enforcement of sex-role stereotypes, which play a key role in the subjugation of women, promoting the idea that women are naturally submissive, should be the primary care-givers, and so on. So, gender-critical feminists and socialists have, for a long time, seen gender ideology as a tool of oppression which restricts women (and men to some extent), and they think dismantling this ideology is necessary for the liberation of women.
The dominant ideology among Trans activists, on the other hand, promotes the concept of an innate feminine or masculine essence, or soul. They argue for the definition of women (and men, to a lesser extent) to be by affinity and adherence to stereotypes (so masculinity denotes male and femininity female). The criticism of this concept, or the denial of an internal feminine or masculine essence, is seen as bigotry. This is where the fault-line exists between gender-critical people and many Trans activists.
The question gender-critical people pose, and which was not effectively answered by Miles, is: if we don’t allow people to define women as a distinct, objectively defined group, oppressed on the basis of their biology, how can we understand the roots of women’s oppression, and effectively fight for women’s liberation?
Orla Ní Chomhraí