Bill C-16 misunderstands what gender is and how it harms women under patriarchy

Yesterday, I testified alongside Hilla Kerner of Vancouver Rape Relief (and a few others, who oppose Canada’s “gender identity” legislation for various reasons not aligned with radical feminism), against Bill C-16, Canada’s “gender identity” legislation. We were allotted five minutes to present; a question period followed. Here is the presentation I made to the Senate Committee*:


A key problem with this Bill is that it proposes to amend something as important as the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include something that is not even definable.

According to Justice Canada and The Ontario Human Rights Code, “gender identity” is defined as “a person’s internal or individual experience of their gender.”

But this definition misunderstands what gender is. Gender is not about internal or individual experiences — it is a social construction. It exists as a means to reinforce stereotypes and oppressive ideas about men and women. Gender does not mean male or female; it means masculine or feminine.

A century ago, gender determined that women should not be allowed to vote or be counted as persons under the law in Canada. Gender says that men are inherently violent, aggressive, independent, assertive, and rational whereas women are inherently passive, delicate, nurturing, irrational, and emotional. These ideas have been disproved, thanks in large part to the feminist movement, yet, today, in creating and supporting the idea that one can have an internal “gender identity,” we are regressing. No one is born with a “gender.” We are born male or female and gender is then imposed on us through socialization. Women do not know they are women because they are born interested in high heels or the colour pink, they know they are women because they are female.

Treating gender as though it is either internal or a personal choice is dangerous and completely misunderstands how and why women are oppressed under patriarchy, as a class of people.

Patriarchy was invented in order to control women’s reproductive capacity and gender was created in order to naturalize and reinforce that hierarchical system. Women and girls around the globe are killed, prostituted, raped, and abused every day, not because they wear dresses, have long hair, or behave passively, but because they are female, and under patriarchy, females are said to be less than — things that exist for male use, to be owned, bought, sold, and looked at. Women’s rights exist on this basis — because we, as a society, understand that women are discriminated against and subjected to male violence regardless of their clothing, body language, or behavior (which is now, apparently, is defined as “gender expression”.)

The idea that women could simply express themselves or identify differently in order to escape oppression under patriarchy is insulting and provably untrue, yet this is what ideas like “gender identity” and “gender expression” communicate.

If we say that a man is a woman because of something as vague as a “feeling” or because he chooses to take on stereotypically feminine traits, what impact does that have on women’s rights and protections? Should he be allowed to apply for positions and grants specifically reserved for women, based on the knowledge that women are underrepresented or marginalized in male-dominated fields or programs and based on the fact that women are paid less than men and often will be fired or not hired in the first place because they get pregnant or because it is assumed they may become pregnant one day?

The way men “feel” “on the inside” does not change that they hold power and privilege in this society and the way women “feel” “on the inside” does not change their experience of sexism. I don’t “feel” as though I should be called misogynist names, objectified, abused, or sexually harassed, but these things have happened to me anyway. I did not choose to be treated as a woman under patriarchy and I have never felt comfortable with femininity. Does this make me a man?

Dissolving the categories of “man” and “woman” in order to allow for “fluidity” may sound progressive, but is no more progressive, under the current circumstances, than saying race doesn’t exist and that white people don’t hold privilege in this world if they don’t “feel” white or if they take on racist stereotypes attached to people of colour. If a white person did this, we would rightly call it cooptation and denounce the behavior. Why do we accept that if a man takes on sexist stereotypes traditionally associated with women he magically changes sex and sheds his status as male in this world?

The rights of women and girls are being pushed aside to accommodate a trend. Bill C-16 may sound persuasive in its efforts to be open-minded and inclusive, but it rests on very shakey ground. I implore you to further consider the consequences and implications of these ideas, this language, and this legislation, before jumping on this bandwagon.

*Thanks very much to Purple Sage for editing and published the video clip of my presentation. To see the full webcast of the meeting, including questions and responses, visit the Senate of Canada website.

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.