PODCAST: Looking at feminism and trans issues from a philosophical perspective

Early in January, an already heated debate about transgenderism and feminism intensified due, in part, toan article written by Suzanne Moore called “Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger.”  She remarked, in the article,  that women were meant to aspire to extremely unrealistic expectations in terms of what their bodies ‘should’ look like, saying: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”  As a result of her comment, she was not just criticized, but viciously attacked online, to the point where she closed her Twitter account.

Moore responded, saying:

This whole shebang raised a few issues for me that won’t go away. The wrath of the transgender community has been insane. They say I haven’t apologised enough and I probably haven’t. No one has apologised to me for saying that I should be decapitated and I support the English Defence League. The sexual and political confusion is nasty and, while I accept some of it is my fault, is it all my responsibility?

Meanwhile, in an attempt to defend her friend, writer Julie Burchill wrote an article for the Observer, called “Transsexuals Should Cut it Out.” Burchill’s article was promptly pulled (though it was later republished at The Telegraph) due to what many said was hate speech. John Mullholland, the editor of The Observer stated:

We have decided to withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’. The piece was an attempt to explore contentious issues within what had become a highly-charged debate. The Observer is a paper which prides itself on ventilating difficult debates and airing challenging views. On this occasion we got it wrong and in light of the hurt and offence caused I apologise and have made the decision to withdraw the piece. The Observer Readers’ Editor will report on these issues at greater length.

In response to both the articles, as well as the surrounding discourse and the fact that these conversations are extremely difficult to have at times, polarized in a way that often prevents reasoned and respectful discourse, Rupert Read wrote an article called: ‘Don’t throw out the feminist baby with the Burchill bathwater.

Applying a philosophical analysis to the issues, Read argues that it is possible to both acknowledge and address the oppression experienced by trans women without seeking “to dissolve the category of ‘woman’ altogether.”

Dr. Read is a teacher, author, and a blogger, as well as a Reader in the UEA School of Philosophy, Green Campaigner in Norwich, and Chair of the ‘Green House’ thinktank.

I spoke with him over the phone from his home in Norwich. Listen to that interview below.

 

 

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • http://smashesthep.wordpress.com smash

    Thanks for this interview.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Glad you enjoyed it, smash.

  • Sabrina L.

    Amazing how he hasn’t been immediately and virulently attacked by those who go after other pro-feminists who are trans-critical who bring equally nuanced and sensitive arguments.
    Oh, yeah…the attacked ones are women. :(

    • Meghan Murphy

      Exactly, Sabrina. Talk about misogyny.

      • LeighC

        I really appreciated this podcast. There are definitely buckets of misogyny in the attacks on radfems, but I will add that I think there was a difference in delivery beyond the fact that the messenger is male.

        Of course lots of factors here. One, you did an excellent job interviewing and giving him space to repackage the material (now with male approval). Different medium (audio vs web print) makes a difference. He has the luxury of being relaxed because he doesn’t have to deal with the weight of the patriarchy sitting on him as well as the near constant attacks radfems face.

        But there is another factor, which is I think he was able to communicate many times a deep respect for women AND people who identify as transgender. He was able to inhabit the middle ground where one is neither liberal (everything goes) or harshly holding a line.

        I write this as a person who knows that biological sex is immutable, who has deep concerns about how the emergence of trans identity weakens our ability to combat gender as a movement. As a woman who has friends and family who identify as trans that I love deeply and has watched as they constructed the identity around themselves as a shield. I write this as a younger woman who identifies with second wave, but who doesn’t engage much in these discussions because I fear being called a “fun feminist” or having my intelligence challenged when I push back on folks using terms like “tranny,” which is a term folks who identify as transgender find offensive.

        Please know that I am not saying let’s let biological males into sex segregated bathrooms or dissolve the women as a sex class. I’m saying that many folks on the left and radicals have a hard time communicating about things with which the disagree without having a “tone” of superiority, dislike, irritation, etc.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Thanks LeighC! I’m glad you enjoyed the show. I appreciated the respect he showed for both women and trans folks. I wish we could have more conversations like this, but they tend to get shut down very quickly and often simply result in name-calling. I’ve been called transphobic several times simply for asking these questions in interviews/hosting such interviews.

          • LeighC

            It seems we are of the same mind then. I’ve had both experiences and far more of the ones you’ve mentioned (try to have a women’s only space and watch the sh*t hit the fan).

  • http://dirtywhiteboi67.blogspot.com Dirt
    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Dirt,
      For future reference, I don’t generally like to publish ‘comments’ that are simply links without any comment. Thanks.

  • Grackle

    This was an utterly brilliant interview!! I hope more people hear it.

  • Rupert Read

    Thanks for encouraging comments!
    I have been subject to _some_ flaming. I think a lid has been kept on it to some degree by the _philosophical_ presentation.

    Thanks to Meghan for having the courage to do this. It seems to be working out well.

  • Chuck

    You know who you maybe should have interviewed instead of a philosopher? Maybe… oh, I don’t know… a psychologist, someone with knowledge about trans-identities, brains, hormones, anything relevant. Something to think about for next time.

    • Meghan Murphy

      But this isn’t an interview about ‘brains’. It’s an interview about gender, identity, concepts of choice, and feminist discourse. Did you listen to the interview? I’m not sure how a ‘psychologist’ would have much to say about the ideas discussed…

    • lizor

      I know this is an old thread, but what a great interview!

      Read mentions berdache as an example of transexual cultural adaptations where and when surgery was/is not accessible or even conceived of.

      I think it’s significant to note too that in most cases (ALL cases that I have read about) berdache refers to men who choose at adolescence to live as women – never women choosing to live as men. (I understand that there are examples of this but I have not seen this social phenomenon referred to as “berdache”)

      The berdache would dress as women, took on women’s roles and were generally seen as the leaders in those roles – healer, craftsperson, etc. The Dakota berdache produced the most valued crafts, for example. There was still some stigma around berdache – an anxiety around the breaking of gender binaries, but any assignment of stigma was on the man who chose to live with the berdache, not the berdache him/herself. Also, berdache were not always biological males who felt that they were females. Often they were smaller, weaker males who were seen as physically inadequate to perform masculine social roles.

      So biological men (and “lesser men”) who perform women’s roles are exalted with a social status placing them above biological women. Biological women, it would seem, do not have the same choice of self-defining their gender. Sounds familiar…

  • feminist lurker

    I have not been able to listen to this podcast, the browser format won’t play and the download link doesn’t download. Is this just me or are others having the same problem? I’ve never had this happen with feminist current podcasts before.

    • Meghan Murphy

      That’s very odd. It seems to be working on my end? Have you tried playing it in a different browser, perhaps? Sorry for the trouble!

      • feminist lurker

        I just came home from work and it seems to be working now, so I don’t know what was going on but it seems to have fixed itself. Thanks for looking into though 😀

        • Meghan Murphy

          Oh good!

  • ESK

    Hi Meghan,

    I’m a trans woman who sympathizes with many of the issues raised here and I thank you for trying to have these conversations in a way that isn’t disingenuous and doesn’t dehumanize everyone involved. A couple of nights ago I posted a lengthy reply to Rupert, and I thought you and other listeners might be interested as well.

    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=6662#comment-128944

    Thanks again.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, ESK!

  • lizor

    I know this is an old thread, but what a great interview!

    Read mentions berdache as an example of transexual cultural adaptations where and when surgery was/is not accessible or even conceived of.

    I think it’s significant to note too that in most cases (ALL cases that I have read about) berdache refers to men who choose at adolescence to live as women – never women choosing to live as men. (I understand that there are examples of this but I have not seen this social phenomenon referred to as “berdache”)

    The berdache would dress as women, took on women’s roles and were generally seen as the leaders in those roles – healer, craftsperson, etc. The Dakota berdache produced the most valued crafts, for example. There was still some stigma around berdache – an anxiety around the breaking of gender binaries, but any assignment of stigma was on the man who chose to live with the berdache, not the berdache him/herself. Also, berdache were not always biological males who felt that they were females. Often they were smaller, weaker males who were seen as physically inadequate to perform masculine social roles.

    So biological men (and “lesser men”) who perform women’s roles are exalted with a social status placing them above biological women. Biological women, it would seem, do not have the same choice of self-defining their gender. Sounds familiar…

  • L

    This is so wonderful, thank you for posting this!