MODERN feminism is divided, with those who support the extension of transgender rights locked in a toxic debate with those who are critical of gender theory.
Scotland could be seen as a microcosm of the issue, during the passage of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill the furious discussion intensified, and the feminist movement was left more disjointed than ever before.
Gender critical (GC) activists have argued that the issue for them is around fears of the impact of self-identification on single-sex spaces, but have been accused of transphobia by supporters of the reforms.
We previously told how one group, For Women Scotland, shared a stage with the right-wing anti-abortion Scottish Family Party, who frequently stand outside of the Scottish Parliament with signs that read: “A man can’t become a woman, simple.”
In February, scores of LGBT activists held a counter protest in George Square after Gender Critical YouTuber Posey Parker held a demonstration against Scotland's gender reforms.
Roxane Gay, a queer American author who writes on feminism and other cultural issues, is one of many who have waded into the debate. An intersectional feminist, she believes that there is space within the movement to include transgender women and others in the LGBT community.
The US writer has previously criticised JK Rowling for her views on transgender people, adding that she believes the Harry Potter author had been “rightly vilified” for her comments.
Bad Feminist, released in 2014, heralded an intersectional era of feminism and Gay became well-known for her views, calling for more pluralism in the movement. How does she feel now, almost a decade later, with the rise in GC feminism?
Scotland's gender reforms sparked a toxic debate (Image: PA)
The National asked Gay, ahead of her first visit to Scotland this month, if she thinks that the schism in the feminist movement could be healed.
“I don't know,” she said. “I think it's a good question that we have to not only be asking, but we have to try and answer because this schism is only going to grow.”
Gay argued that both sides are “quite attached to what we believe” and would be unlikely to back down easily, leading to the stalemate the movement is currently seeing.
“Gender-inclusive feminists, of which I am one, believe that we have room and strength within feminism and as women to be inclusive of women across the gender spectrum,” she added.
“That we can separate gender from biological sex, because biological sex should not be so deterministic.
“I think the most important thing starts with listening, and I don't think that either side is particularly good at that because we are so deeply entrenched in what we believe.”
Gay said she hoped there would be a way forward that recognises the concerns of both sides, but queried if it would even be possible.
She added: “I don't know, because I just, whenever I see people having these debates, I’m always, I'm just struck by how dehumanising they are, and how quickly we forget that we're talking about other people.
“And how quickly people use anecdote as a means of supporting really ludicrous claims. So it's a problem, and it's only going to get worse, and that is disheartening.”
Gay is an intersectional feminist and believes transgender people should be included in the movement (Image: Supplied)
Following Scotland’s gender reforms being blocked by the UK Government from becoming law, the media turned its attention to the case of convicted rapist Isla Bryson, who identifies as a transgender woman, and where they should be housed on the prison estate.
A Sunday National investigation found the story was picked up by American right-wing conspiracy websites including InfoWars. Infamous alt-right "agitators" Andy Ngo, Jordan Peterson, and Matt Walsh also waded in on the story as it spread.
Gay said the right-wing were very good at finding a “kernel of their point of view” that is otherwise unrelated before “bastardising it to the point of incomprehension”.
She added: “It's really kind of terrifying, how they do this thing, how quickly they work common sense, generosity, humanity, empathy, in service of what?
“What surprises me so much about gender-critical feminists is how easily they're willing to surrender to the right wing.
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“It's like, okay, so you disagree with gender-inclusive feminists, I hear you, but you are going to throw in your hat with the white supremacists? Which lets you know that it's not really about trans women, it's about being exclusionary, and surrounding themselves with like minded and looking people.
“I also think that's important to unpack because anytime you see a feminist getting in bed with a conservative, racist person, you're like, perhaps you're really not a feminist.”
Scotland is also dealing with another issue emboldened by the American right - an increase in anti-abortion campaigners targeting women’s health clinics.
There is a private members bill, from Gillian Mackay of the Scottish Greens, on the way to tackle the issue, aiming introduce buffer zones outside of certain healthcare providers, a topic which has found support amongst all creeds of feminists, including GCs.
“I think that highlights how incoherent their ideology is that they can rationalise these very irrational and incompatible ideologies,” Gay said.
“It's just ludicrous, and that they're given any sort of, that they're taken seriously, despite these massive, I mean, we all inhabit contradiction, but these are massive, fundamental ideological contradictions, and they are fine with reconciling them and they're irreconcilable.
“I wish that we would discuss that more.”
Gay will perform her show Roxane: With One N, in a Q&A format at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on March 9.
THE NATIONAL SCOT
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