Being a feminist should never mean ‘sitting down and shutting up’

Yesterday, actress Rose McGowan published an angry post on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner being honoured at Glamour’s Woman of the Year Awards. During the event, Jenner quipped that “one of the hardest things about being a woman is deciding what to wear.” In a since-deleted post, McGowan wrote:

“Woman of the year? No, not until you wake up and join the fight. Not by a long fucking shot. Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all. You want to be a woman and stand with us — well learn us…

…We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you.”

Unsurprisingly, McGowan was accused of transphobia and bullied into taking down the post. She responded today on Twitter:

The idea that a person cannot say anything critical about trans people, trans discourse, and trans politics, is insane. We are feminists and we are thinking people. It is our responsibility as citizens and as people working towards social change to think through ideas, politics, ideology, and discourse before accepting it.

Yet, when it comes to trans people or trans politics, we are being told to “sit down and shut up.” If we dare question a single word said by or about a person who happens to be trans, we are called “transphobic.”

Recently I was told that a line I wrote in a post about ageism in feminism that argued that reinforcing sexist ideas about innate femininity and masculinity was “old-school” and “out of touch” was “anti-trans.” Why? The idea that women and men are “naturally” feminine or masculine is something feminists have worked very hard to disprove for decades because it naturalizes the gender hierarchy and, more broadly, sexism.

Many of you will recall that a mass campaign to have me fired and no-platformed was launched in the spring. While those behind the campaign were pro-prostitution advocates who were angry at my ongoing criticisms of the sex industry, in an effort to justify their attacks, they claimed their attempts to destroy my life and livelihood were justified, in part, on account of what they called “transphobia.”

The accusation was, likewise, laughable. I had written a very short post, making a point I’d made hundreds of times over, with regard to women and empowerment, this time, with regard to discourse surrounding a nude photo shoot with Laverne Cox. I criticized The Cut’s framing of a nude photo shoot in a beauty magazine as “radical self-acceptance” for what I believe should be obvious reasons, but nonetheless ones I’ve explained in detail, repeatedly, for years. I elaborated later, responding to some of the libel published about me and explaining what the beauty industry was really about and who owned magazines like Allure, the magazine that was supposedly responsible, now, for “radically empowering” marginalized people.

These anti-capitalist, feminist (also very basic) criticisms of neoliberal discourse were deemed unacceptable and, in fact “bigoted” and “hateful” simply because a trans woman was the subject of this discourse.

Naturally, the same thing is happening with regard to Caitlyn Jenner, a person who has done, quite literally, nothing for women’s rights and, in fact, is working to set us back by saying sexist things about what womanhood really is about (outfits!).

We, as feminists, are consistently critical of this kind of discourse, whether it comes from men, women, or trans people. Sexism is not acceptable or empowering no matter who is perpetuating it. Feminist ideology does not change and bend simply because Jenner now identifies publicly as transgender.

Feminists should be able to make basic feminist critiques without being accused of “transphobia.” We should be permitted to think critically about discourse without being told to “sit down and shut up.” Not only should this be acceptable because what we’re talking about is simply encouraging critical thought and intelligent debate, but because there is a long history of silencing women that should be, from a progressive perspective, no longer acceptable.

No one is immune from critique. Most certainly not wealthy republicans or the oppressive, capitalist fashion and beauty industry.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.