Vox needs a fact checker

  • “I feel scared for women who don’t “see” sex and only see gender. It makes it that much easier for men to exploit them. You think that man won’t hurt you because he’s wearing make up? You think feminine mannerisms erase abusive tendencies? I grieve for the day men prove you wrong.” - @overpow_erin_g

Katelyn Burns — notable for thinking rape is funny[1], insisting that men be incarcerated in women’s prisons on request, and suggesting that it might be abuse to restrict internet access to one’s own children[2] — recently contacted us for comment on a prospective Vox article. It’s come out, and mainly addresses the question of our filing of an amicus brief (PDF) in the case of R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Aimee Stephens (U.S. Supreme Court Docket No. 18-107). It is what might be expected.

Here are some points that might have been made, and errors corrected, before publication, if Burns, or Vox editorial staff, had been competent in their handling of this topic. Some selections follow, with our responses after.

Content note: Several screenshots of upsetting social media posts, including text and graphic incitement to violence, as well as sexual violence against women, are presented alongside the text.

Burns: “Groups like WoLF are commonly referred to as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs.”

It might have been noted that this term is considered a slur, and that it’s routinely used to call for violence against women. This was the case when the site, terfisaslur, was first posted. It was the case last year when memes were posted of a hanged “TERF.” It’s still the case this year, when the gaming icon Sonic Fox posted grisly Mortal Kombat montages of a man murdering a woman under the label “TERF,” and a Vancouver women’s rape shelter was graffitied with death threats by gender activists.

That the gender identity movement benefits from this under-reported stochastic terrorism against women, or the way it’s been used to unperson feminists and other thinking humans as quasi-Nazis, is beyond reasonable refutation. Unless you simply ignore the topic. Like cowards.

Burns: “They alternate among several theories that all claim that trans women are really men, who are the ultimate oppressors of women. Most of their ideas — like trans women are a threat to cisgender women’s safety — are based on cherry-picked cases of horrific behavior by a small number of trans people.”

Men, as a class, oppress women, as a class, through violence and other forms of coercive harassment. Burns is not-all-menning this basic premise of feminist theory like a champ, here, as if a central theme of the women’s liberation movement were some sort of fantasy. This is a belief that many men have, but it’s not a variety of feminism, it’s rather a rejection of it, whole cloth.

He might as well write that, “not all penises rape.” Which is both literally true and also misses the point of a class analysis of systemic oppression.

Burns: “Above all else, their ideology doesn’t allow for trans people to have self-definition or any autonomy over their own gender expression. … The key to understanding why a self-proclaimed radical feminist group would side with conservatives arguing for the right to force cisgender women into skirts at work is to understand who TERFs are and what they’ve been up to for the last 50 years. …”

We don’t care how any of you dress, barring compliance with equitable and proportional safety or health standards, or other constraints as permitted by law, and set by people who think about clothes way more than we do.

But plaintiff Aimee Stephens did not even attempt to mount a challenge to sex-based dress codes, nor is he asking the Court to strike down such codes. He brought the case to insist that he be allowed to wear a skirt while working with his employer’s clients, under the theory that his claim of gender identity entitles him to comply with the sex-based dress code designed for women.

In other words, if your employer’s legally permitted, sex-based dress code says that women must wear skirts and men must wear pants, the plaintiffs want to win the right for every person to identify into the sex class that’s required to wear the clothing that they prefer. This seems convoluted to us, and we would much rather be talking about a challenge to sex-based dress codes, which we aren’t fans of. Yet to no one’s surprise, we weren’t consulted.

As we noted in the brief that hardly any of the gender activists commenting on it seem to have read: “If Aimee Stephens wished to challenge the legality of sex-specific dress codes under Title VII, he could have done so. Instead, he is attempting to redefine the term “sex” to mean “gender identity” under federal civil rights law, and potentially throughout the U.S. Code, and for every person in the U.S.”

This case has been presented by several commentators who should know better as being about whether women can be fired for not being “girly” enough. Yet sex-based dress codes, per se, are not questioned in any of the plaintiff’s challenges or lower court rulings. 

Here’s what’s really being decided in Harris: Is sex the property by which an animal is male (producing small, motile gametes,) or female (producing large, immobile gametes,) or is it a state of mind with no possible objective definition, that any person can claim at will?

The ramifications of changing the definition of a fundamental social concept like sex are many. Much of the time, they don’t matter, and this is why most of the time a straightforward ban on sex discrimination makes sense. But when they matter, such as in every case where the legislatures and courts have ruled that there can be exemptions to formal equality, they tend to matter a great deal.

If you’ve ever requested a medical practitioner of your same sex to perform an intimate exam, or to chaperone such an exam, or have been glad that security patdowns at the airport are conducted by someone of your same sex, congratulations! You have engaged in legally exempted sex discrimination, currently permitted under a bona fide occupational qualification, and you clearly understand exactly why such a thing exists, even if you wouldn’t have called it that ten minutes ago.

Such exemptions will be erased if the law is rewritten, either by court ruling or legislative action, to replace sex with gender identity.

Burns: “Many anti-trans feminists today claim [“TERF” is] a slur, despite what many see as an accurate description of their beliefs. They now prefer to call themselves “gender critical,” a euphemism akin to white supremacists calling themselves “race realists.” …”

This is the part where a progressive, and, by extension, his commissioning editors, sanctions calling us a version of the insult, “feminazi.” And what do we do to Nazis, folks? Right.

The term gender critical is not a euphemism, but a recognition that not every person who disbelieves in the doctrine of human sex change is any kind of feminist, let alone a radical feminist. Radical feminists, for instance, don’t believe that men can be feminists. Many of our male allies call themselves gender critical, therefore, in support of both our stance on this issue and our right to reserve feminism for women. 

But the term is also incorrect on its face. Radical feminism is a theory and practice of fighting for the rights of all women and girls, regardless of whether they self-identify as transgender, and regardless of their ethnic origin or political beliefs. 

Burns: “After those early flash points, the dispute between trans people and gender critical folks simmered for the next 20 years. One exception is the high-profile conflicts at the Michigan Womyn’s Folk Festival, or MichFest, which caught plenty of attention. In the 1990s and early aughts, pro-trans festival attendees organized “Camp Trans,” a space specifically welcoming to trans women who were otherwise banned from attending the event. The two groups clashed for a number of years, until more artists and organizations boycotted MichFest and organizers chose to end the event in 2015.”

Burns fails to mention that one of the men who used to lead the Camp Trans protests of MichFest ended up murdering a lesbian couple who used to attend the festival, and their son, and attempted to burn the couple’s house down to cover his 2016 crime. Dana Rivers, formerly David Warfield, is awaiting trial for this triple murder, allegedly in a women’s facility.

It seems likely that if any trans-identifying men had come to such grievous harm at women’s hands, Burns would have mentioned it in what’s supposed to be a historical retrospective of the dispute between women, and men claiming to be us. Especially if it had involved people so directly involved in this specific conflict. Instead, the only thing he describes as “violence” is a few threats made by women, which all came to nothing, from an era where political left activism was regularly convulsed and discredited by terrorist plots, kidnappings, murders, bombings, rapes, heists, and would-be revolutionaries who publicly idolized dictators.

Further, if someone Burns had named as a “TERF” had committed such a crime against a trans-identifying man, there’d have been no question about presuming a motive related to this ideological conflict.

Burns: “TERFs treat trans women as predators and trans men as victims of the patriarchy”

Edited, feminists treat men as an oppressor class with whom we need to be able to establish boundaries for our privacy and dignity, and women as victims of this oppression.

Because human beings can’t change sex.

The closest thing to a medical argument for any other position is that some people are distressed by their sexed bodies, and it helps them feel better to act as if they were something that they aren’t. This is still not an argument that people can change sex. Unhappiness isn’t a sex class, nor a type of gamete.

Burns: “However, trans men themselves have pointed out that the argument fails to take into account the bodily autonomy of transmasculine people and it is therefore not a feminist position. Trans author Jay Hulme recently described in a recent blog post why and how gender critical feminists work to get trans men to “return to womanhood” and ultimately detransition.

“As a trans man, I am, and always will be, belittled, disrespected, spoken down to, and patronised, by transphobes,” wrote Hulme. “After all, they think I have been brainwashed and fooled into ‘thinking I’m a man,’ what could I possibly know? What value could my words or experience possibly have? … This is, again, anti-feminist — the idea that trans men are just foolish women whose words cannot have any value is deeply troubling, and mirrors partiarchal behaviours towards ‘silly girls,’ no matter how old or how accomplished the women in question actually are.” …”

None of that makes any sense unless everyone knows, as we all do, that human beings can’t change sex. Women complaining about getting treated like women should consider becoming feminists, and working to change what it means to get treated ‘like women,’ rather than insisting on their own, very special exemptions.

Yet trans activists want to have it all the ways, as usual. On the one side, they will insist that women can be men. But men who have the right to lecture us about feminism, because they’re women, and everyone knows it! On another side, they will use our feminist sympathy for other women to argue that we should affirm the false claims of these women that are anathema to our movement.

But feminism is in many respects a demand that women be allowed to tell the truth as we see it, without regard to how upsetting it may be to others. While it’s disappointing when we aren’t believed about male violence, leveraging that disappointment in order to guilt us into supporting lies is unconscionable.

No reasonable concept of personal autonomy can include, as a right, the power to make other people say things they know or believe to be false, or to affirm or agree to something that’s contrary to material reality, or contrary to their constitutionally protected beliefs about material reality. Nor does personal autonomy entitle one to use the power of the state to silence feminist critique. Not only can people not change sex, it’s legally protected to believe that people can’t change sex and to state that most forms of “gender transition” are sexist and physically harmful, and it’s constitutionally forbidden to compel speech contrary to protected beliefs.

From the Supreme Court’s 1943 Barnett decision, as quoted in our brief, “[i]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Burns: “TERFs often point to the case of Karen White. White was in prison for sexual assault when she came out as a trans woman and applied for a transfer to a women’s prison. Once there, she allegedly raped several fellow prisoners before she was eventually caught. Prison officials later admitted that they did not follow existing safeguarding procedures in granting the transfer. 

“As a rape survivor myself, I find White detestable and am outraged that prison officials were so lax with their procedures and allowed White access to a vulnerable population of women. Where I differ from gender critical feminists is I don’t agree that White is representative of all trans women; gender critical feminists essentially believe the existence of trans women’s penises in a women’s space represents an automatic risk of rape.”

As an initial matter, Burns glosses over the fact that the UK prison system’s official policy granted full discretion to prison governors to place men like White in the women’s facilities, with no bright-line prohibition against even a convicted rapist–and that such policy is precisely what is demanded by trans activists in both the UK and the US. 

The Geneva Conventions on the rights of prisoners of war state that women must be incarcerated in female-only facilities, not because the authors — hardly feminists, anyhow — believed that every man was a rapist, but because they understood, as all feminists do, that men as a class pose a risk of rape to women as a class.

This is, once again, a not-all-men argument that Burns is making. If a man says he’s a woman, this claim goes, then he’s no longer a sexual violence risk towards women in the way that other men are.

This is a sweeping and readily falsified claim, also made irrelevant by self-identification standards that allow any man, at any time, for any reason or none, to say that he’s a woman. There’s no objective way to determine the difference between a man and a “trans woman” under the standard that “I say so” must be recognized as a legally enforceable mandate, binding upon both the government and one’s fellow citizens, alike.

Men shouldn’t be in women’s prisons. If men want to address male sexual violence towards other men, and they absolutely should, this needs to be handled amongst themselves, and not by using women as body shields.

Burns: “This supposed concern for cis women and children has become the primary method for radicalizing gender-critical feminists, similar to how Islamophobes play up threats of gang rape of white women by Muslim men, or white supremacists have historically painted black men as sexual threats to justify segregation. Defending the purity of white womanhood has always been a significant axis of common bigotries, and gender-critical feminism operates in the same fashion. With “stranger danger” drilled into the heads of women and girls from a young age, anti-trans feminists can easily paint “the other” as a constant sexual threat — despite the fact that studies have repeatedly shown that women are most likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they already know.”

Here, Burns essentially says that women’s fears of sexual abuse by strangers is a type of racist panic. Such fears can certainly be leveraged into racist attitudes when it’s implied that some classes of men are more dangerous than others.

Still, this is part of why we insist that all classes of men need to abide by the same set of rules that recognize the particular threat of sexual violence that women face from men, along with the attendant risks of pregnancy. We don’t presume that white men are less dangerous, as a class, than other men. Not even if they wear dresses and call themselves Karen.

During a week when Brock Turner has been in the news again, this is a particularly sickening and misogynist smear. 

Burns: “With its hyperfocus on the supposed threat of trans women in women’s spaces, gender critical feminism ultimately lets misogynistic men slide under the radar.”

No. We see you.

Burns: “Online TERFism has infiltrated academia and often manifests into more harassment”

Edited, postmodernist queer theory has infiltrated academia and often leads to campaigns of blacklisting, stalking, or campaigns of sustained harassment and threats against female academics.

It’s clear that a lot of men like to believe that because they’re progressive, or interested in social justice, or understand all the intricacies of sounding woke, that it’s impossible for their coordinated and sustained harassment of women for saying no to them to be misogynist. This is not the case. Lucky for men, no one much cares.

Meanwhile, male transactivists with tenured positions often use their comfortable posts to harass or lie about others who disbelieve their gender narrative, including comparing them to Nazis for no obvious reason, generally without consequence.

Burns: “Though it’s unknown who funds another prominent gender-critical group, Hands Across the Aisle… A web archive from June 2018 suggested that former New Statesman editor Helen Lewis, recently hired as a writer for the Atlantic, as well as the ultraconservative outlets the Federalist, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Signal are associated with the group.”

No one funds Hands Across The Aisle, as is noted on their website, in response to persistent misinformation. It’s not an incorporated organization, and has no bank account. And despite numerous corrections, the blogroll on the site’s footer continues to be mischaracterized as a membership list, when it’s simply a suggested reading list. No formal affiliation is implied with any publication or author listed there, and there are no organizational partners or sponsorships for what is simply a women’s discussion network. 

Helen Lewis has also never had anything to do with the group, as a publication who employed a fact checker of some type might have discovered before publishing such an embarrassing error. We don’t have her contact information to ask her about this, either, which fact alone Burns could have found out by simply asking any of the relevant parties before publication.

Burns: “During the Irish referendum on abortion rights in 2018, some British gender-critical feminists withheld support for campaigners who supported abortion rights, citing the trans supportive attitudes of Irish feminism, going so far as to schedule an anti-trans meeting in Dublin at the height of the campaign season.”

There’s no evidence that any gender critical feminists were less supportive of repealing the 8th amendment over this issue, or that the Dublin meeting had anything to do with that. Women are allowed to have meetings to discuss our political rights whenever we please, and the editors should have insisted on citations or direct interviews to support such a claim.

Burns: “[Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality,] compares the deployment of so-called feminists to oppose trans rights to the white nationalist movement rebranding themselves as the “alt-right” to achieve a veneer of respectability.”

The gender identity movement continually calls opponents Nazis, and every criticism of their ideas or explorations of conflicts of rights is compared to white supremacist violence. You can have grown men posting selfies on Twitter for “Lesbian Day of Visibility,” and if you criticize that, why, you’re a Nazi, or the KKK, or ‘alt right.’

It’s grotesque.

The gender identity movement is blatantly a male-led, male-centered movement that threatens, abuses, and coerces women, then calls us violent for disagreeing with them. Gender activists have no more been victimized by feminism than they’ve been personally targeted by mammalian biology, or the fact that every alert, grown mammal on the planet knows what male and female means.

Pre-verbal infants and animals incapable of speech can discern sex differences between male and female members of their own species, and this is a morally neutral, material fact, existing beyond culture or the possibility of social construction. Threatening women for noticing reality will not make it go away.

Burns: “I sat 10 feet from Julia Beck in the House Equality Act hearing and heard her say the violence faced by transgender women is a myth,” said Branstetter, who noted that anti-trans feminists, like their conservative partners, have begun pushing a claim that trans people do not face much discrimination and violence, an assertion without evidence. “Not 24 hours before she said that, not two miles from where she said that, Ashanti Carmon was murdered on Eastern Avenue in DC. I think it’s telling that they have to promote this trans violence trutherism in order to feel justified in their own hatred.”

The single greatest predictor of danger for a trans-identified man, globally, is being black and working in the sex trade, especially in Brazil, a country which has long been the murder capital of the world

However, all those exploited in the sex trade are at risk because pimps and clients are often violent, dangerous men, with an overwhelming sense of entitlement to the bodies of others. It would be easier to verify the details of these tragic deaths, but the gender movement has treated asking for a trans-identified person’s real name as a hate crime, and much public reporting is now unreliable. The sex trade is very dangerous for women, as well, for those who are concerned about the well-being of women. 

For these reasons, we encourage the abolition of the sex trade, and Nordic model, or equality model, style penalties for clients and pimps, to promote a climate where trafficked persons can best find their way out of the trade. We hope that someday, this violent, degrading, and abusive industry will be nothing but a memory.

Other than that, and unless you consider knowing someone’s sex to be an act of violence, trans-identified men are usually safer than their male peers. In the UK, trans-identified men over the past decade have been about as likely to commit a murder as to be the victim of one, with both types of incidents being vanishingly rare.

Women, on the other hand, are killed all over the world, many a day, for just saying no to men, or being noticed by the wrong man. They’re killed while going to work, taking care of their families, studying for school, going to the post office, or trying to go home; activities that are generally quite safe for men in similar situations. The particular circumstances of the most common types violence against women call for a different response than the most common types of violence against men, and these distinctions should not be flattened out by eliminating the ability of government agencies in the US, or around the world, to know who women are.

Burns: “According to Branstetter, the recent gender-critical wave has largely failed to gain traction in the US outside of the very far-right spheres. “I don’t think American women are buying it,” she said, pointing out that nearly every major US feminist advocacy group is vocally pro-trans rights and inclusion. “It’s because they understand what it means to be marginalized. They understand that any strict rules placed around gender are to the benefit of nobody.” …”

It’s a fact that women in any of those feminist advocacy organizations would be fired within the week for voicing public opposition to gender identity, and every single one of these dishonest, smirking men knows it.

Burns: “Conservative groups, in turn, have made a conscious decision to use feminist language and framing to oppose trans rights, which is how we ended up with some of the most vehemently anti-woman politicians in the House voting against the Violence Against Women Act in the name of “protecting women and girls.” …”

It’s progressives who put language in VAWA that mandates an end to single-sex women’s shelters and prisons. Women told them that it was a bad idea, but they didn’t listen. Now they’re in the position of arguing this on a basis of tribalism and semantic tricks, rather than on the substance of the policies.

Burns: “In the Supreme Court case, WoLF is taking the side that claims employers have the right to mandate that women wear skirts by arguing that Aimee Stephens believes that only women can wear skirts.”

Again, the issue of sex-based dress codes isn’t the grounds on which Stephens’ case is being heard. Stephens is, in fact, arguing that he should be allowed to wear a dress because of his claim to “be transgender,” which is not a category it’s possible to distinctly define. We didn’t argue this, Stephens did. We didn’t decide to bring this case to further cement the use of dress codes that require sex-stereotypical clothing, Stephens, and presumably their counsel at the ACLU, did.

Looks like Burns didn’t read the plaintiff’s arguments any more closely than he read ours.

Burns, in closing: “… WoLF’s argument reveals the big gender-critical lie: It’s more important to TERFs to put cis women in a stricter box and enforce sex-based dress codes than it is to give trans women equal employment rights. And if TERFs prevail, then all women and nonbinary people lose.”

It’s funny how an extremely small handful of women has been built up into this big, scary threat all throughout Burns’ article, again misrepresents the legal question at the heart of the Harris case, and posits our recognition of biological sex as a curious minority belief that sits in opposition to the well being of women … and also men!

Apparently, Katelyn Burns doesn’t think all men have equal employment rights, because they aren’t always allowed to wear dresses at work. Dudes, you can have the damn things for all we care. We’d just rather the discussion were being honestly held on a basis of acknowledging everyone’s accurate biological sex, which everyone understands, even if they’re lying to spare your feelings.

Because human beings can’t change sex.

And simply, Katelyn Burns is a man. He thinks women are hateful for not thinking he’s a very special exemption to our analysis of male power over women, while making women feel bad for talking about our bodies, and setting himself up to be a deciding voice in who gets to count as a feminist on the left.

Hopefully he will discover, as many generations have before him, that pursuing specialness for its own sake is a complete waste of time that you will never get back.

[1] – Katelyn Burns joking on Twitter about a form of rape where a woman’s vulnerability during vaginal intercourse is used as a way to “accidently” [sic] force anal intercourse.

[2] – Katelyn Burns describing internet restrictions on children as “child abuse.”