The “Gender Critical” Litmus Test, And Why It’s Important
A discussion I had with feminist author and “Gender Critical” activist Milli Hill about people’s support for the GC group WDI
Understandably a core part of the “Gender Critical” (GC) movement’s current strategy is to try and sell itself as reasonable to the public. This often means hiding more extreme views behind talks of “concerns” and “just asking questions”. Not only does this make the movement easier to sell to the wider public, but also it allows the movement to contain both moderates and extremists without any tension between them. If you read the phrase “sex matters” as meaning “we shouldn’t ignore how misogyny is a huge political force” and someone else reads it as “all trans women should be banned from the toilet”, it’s in the GC movement’s interest to not explicitly tell either of you that you’re right, in case the other is then put off and a rift forms, weakening the movement as a whole.
I recently encountered a version of a common GC argument that is built upon this strategy from bestselling feminist author Milli Hill, who said:
Interesting how many people are willing to believe that Rowling, me,& literally stacks of other educated women are actually destructive hateful bigots under the surface. Like sirens who lured you in but were not what we seemed at all. Fascinating how that idea comes so naturally.
I didn’t know Milli Hill’s position before seeing this, so didn’t know the best way to approach responding to her argument. Maybe she is someone who really doesn’t realise how vile lots of the people JK Rowling (JKR) promotes are. So to this I replied with two questions with the goal of finding out. Below are my questions, her response and then my response to her.
A) Have you signed the WDI Declaration that calls to remove basically all trans rights we have today? What do you think of people who have?
B) Do you agree with LGB Alliance that every single LGBT organisation in the UK is homophobic?
No I haven’t signed it. I don’t have a view of people who have, I’m not responsible for anyone but myself. I don’t know enough about suggestion re: LGB alliance but I do know lots of lesbians + gay people who find the idea that gender is more important than sex, to be homophobic.
The reason why I think the WDI question is important is because there are obviously a wide range of GC views, and we are going to argue about what is transphobic and isn’t, but the WDI Declaration is so extreme and blatantly transphobic that it’s a good quick litmus test. Generally all GCs sell their views the same way: as concerns for women and gay people. For some people that means they want an honest chat about the specifics of certain laws, for others it means wanting to completely remove all trans rights — “morally mandate us out of existence”. And I find that the extremists are often unwilling to out themselves in conversation, presumably because they will lose support. But equally I find — and this is really particular to the GC movement — that the self declared moderates are unwilling to call out the extremists. It’s hard to understand why without coming to pretty negative conclusions!
Basically what I am saying is that if I knew I was being accused of being misogynistic (which all trans people are every day by GCs) then I would go out of my way to call out misogyny from people who get associated with me, and I absolutely wouldn’t blindly defend them. Can you imagine if half the people I hung around with had signed some document calling to ban healthcare from girls and ban women from public spaces?! I think people would be right to demand I publicly explain why I was doing that, seeing as I’m strongly asserting that I’m a feminist! I’m not telling anyone what they have to do or who they should or shouldn’t associate with. I’m saying there’s probably a reason if you’re unwilling to call out unambiguous extremism. I hope you can understand why trans people might judge GCs who are unwilling to call out the extremists.
The reason I asked the LGB Alliance question is because the point you are making with your OP is one I read years ago and it struck me so hard it’s what caused me to investigate GCism openly and honestly for several years. Of course I’m very anti-GC now so all you can do is take my word for it, but I did, and it’s because someone said “do you really think all these women are suddenly transphobic?” and I just had to investigate for my own understanding and integrity. I would be happy to discuss my journey on that any time, however here I am just asking the same question that clearly has made an impression with you back at you.
All I can really do is ask from you is to consider if you really care about standing against real transphobic extremism, like I do against misogyny and homophobia, or if defending extremist GCs is more important. And secondly if you would be willing to answer to yourself the question you are asking to others!
You can see our discussion here. She hasn’t replied further.
I do think that it is important to not assume that every GC person supports extremist anti-trans positions. Many of them may not realise how bleak mainstream GCism is because of how extensively the GC movement uses dog whistles. Some people really are just here because of “concerns” they haven’t seen the answers to yet. Accusing people of believing things that they don’t is counter productive for everyone. But if they are unwilling to call out extremism then it’s good sign that you’d be a fool to give them the benefit of the doubt. Many GCs will pretend to be moderates in bad faith because they know it sells better, or even because they just want to waste your time.
After replying I was made aware that Milli Hill works with Maya Forstater’s organisation Sex Matters, which has signed the WDI Declaration. So perhaps that’s the answer to her question: the reason so many people think that many GC people like JKR are “destructive hateful bigots” is because at the very least they’re willing to work with organisations that promote removing basically all the trans rights we have today. People who aren’t “destructive hateful bigots” usually find it easy to condemn extremism. If that’s not you then maybe it’s time to start asking your friends some probing questions and reconsidering who you are allied with!