Glory be! Here we have Pamela Paul, a new opinion columnist for the New York Times (she was editor of the NYT book reviews for nine years and has written eight books), actually criticizing the extreme Left—the part of the Left that won’t use the word “woman” unless it includes transsexual women. (She also criticizes the Right, too, because, after all, this is the NYT.) But to see a NYT bigwig like Paul go after the “progressive” Left for their language policing, and what she calls their “erasure of women” does my heart good.
Just look at the title of this piece! Click to read (and thanks to the many readers who sent me this link). What Paul writes about the bad behavior of the progressive Left toward women, and their “making nice” to extreme trans activists instead of debating them, instantiates what I’ve called “MacPherson’s” rule, after reader Diana. It goes like this (I believe she suggested a version of this in a comment):
“Whenever the Left is caught between two conflicting ideological positions, and one of them involves women, the women always lose.”
That holds for the treatment of women under Islam, it holds for transwomen’s desire to compete with cis-women in athletics, and it holds, as Paul shows, in the craven acceptance—and avoidance of debate—of extreme claims of trans activists, including their denial of biological women as a real category.
The denigration of women, or their reduction to their reproductive organs, is a well known tendency of the Right; that’s what the “pro life” Republicans and their new laws are about. But Paul sees the Left as aping that behavior, too: “women” are now defined by their bodily functions, and biological women must immediately accept the claims of that group of women born as biological men.
But let me quote Paul instead of paraphrasing her:
The right’s position here is the better known, the movement having aggressively dedicated itself to stripping women of fundamental rights for decades. Thanks in part to two Supreme Court justices who have been credibly accused of abusive behavior toward women, Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 years a target, has been ruthlessly overturned.
Far more bewildering has been the fringe left jumping in with its own perhaps unintentionally but effectively misogynist agenda. There was a time when campus groups and activist organizations advocated strenuously on behalf of women. Women’s rights were human rights and something to fight for. Though the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, legal scholars and advocacy groups spent years working to otherwise establish women as a protected class.
But today, a number of academics, uber-progressives, transgender activists, civil liberties organizations and medical organizations are working toward an opposite end: to deny women their humanity, reducing them to a mix of body parts and gender stereotypes.
As reported by my colleague Michael Powell, even the word “women” has become verboten. Previously a commonly understood term for half the world’s population, the word had a specific meaning tied to genetics, biology, history, politics and culture. No longer. In its place are unwieldy terms like “pregnant people,” “menstruators” and “bodies with vaginas.”
Planned Parenthood, once a stalwart defender of women’s rights, omits the word “women” from its home page. NARAL Pro-Choice America has used “birthing people” in lieu of “women.” The American Civil Liberties Union, a longtime defender of women’s rights, last month tweeted its outrage over the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade as a threat to several groups: “Black, Indigenous and other people of color, the L.G.B.T.Q. community, immigrants, young people.”
It left out those threatened most of all: women. Talk about a bitter way to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
And don’t forget when the ACLU put out a pro-choice tweet with the words of RBG, but with the word “women” and “her” actually omitted! Remember this?
With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, we lost a champion for abortion and gender equality. And on the anniversary of her death, the fight to protect abortion access is more urgent than ever. pic.twitter.com/vIKadIHouN
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 18, 2021
Paul is of course no transphobe, but she’ll be called one for saying stuff like this:
Women didn’t fight this long and this hard only to be told we couldn’t call ourselves women anymore. This isn’t just a semantic issue; it’s also a question of moral harm, an affront to our very sense of ourselves.
It wasn’t so long ago — and in some places the belief persists — that women were considered a mere rib to Adam’s whole. Seeing women as their own complete entities, not just a collection of derivative parts, was an important part of the struggle for sexual equality.
But here we go again, parsing women into organs. Last year the British medical journal The Lancet patted itself on the back for a cover article on menstruation. Yet instead of mentioning the human beings who get to enjoy this monthly biological activity, the cover referred to “bodies with vaginas.” It’s almost as if the other bits and bobs — uteruses, ovaries or even something relatively gender-neutral like brains — were inconsequential. That such things tend to be wrapped together in a human package with two X sex chromosomes is apparently unmentionable.
“What are we, chopped liver?” a woman might be tempted to joke, but in this organ-centric and largely humorless atmosphere, perhaps she would be wiser not to.
That last sentence is excellent!
Paul then turns the language of the Purity Patrol back on them:
But in a world of chosen gender identities, women as a biological category don’t exist. Some might even call this kind of thing erasure.
For that she well could have been kicked off Twitter. But she removed herself this April (see her explanation here).
It’s heartening to see someone of Paul’s stature at a paper as influential as the NYT pushing back on irrational wokeness. Is this a trend now? Will it go away? I doubt it, but voices of dissent from Leftists themselves are beginning to be heard, and this article—I’ve quoted only a bit of it—is one. I’ll just add her ending:
Tolerance for one group need not mean intolerance for another. We can respect transgender women without castigating females who point out that biological women still constitute a category of their own — with their own specific needs and prerogatives.
If only women’s voices were routinely welcomed and respected on these issues. But whether Trumpist or traditionalist, fringe left activist or academic ideologue, misogynists from both extremes of the political spectrum relish equally the power to shut women up.
I expect that Ms. Paul knows what she’s in for, but she gets only kudos from me.