Quashing the rights and free speech of one group will not liberate us

Maya Forstater

It’s official. Men who identify as women have more rights than actual women. It sounds like the plot of a dystopian horror-comedy, but this is the world we live in. A world in which liberal trends trump workplace equality, and women may not speak the truth. In the name of “equality,” we are demolishing our own fragile liberties by undermining freedom of speech. This does not bode well for society.

In 2018, the Center for Global Development in London declined to renew Maya Forstater’s contract after she used Twitter to question the idea that males can become female. Forstater’s statements were subject to investigation, and she was told her appointment as a tax policy researcher would not be renewed. Forstater had tweeted things like: “Men cannot change into women,” and “I am perfectly happy to use preferred pronouns and accept everyone’s humanity and right to free expression. Transwomen are transwomen. That’s great. But enforcing the dogma that transwomen are women is totalitarian.”

Forstater sought protection from the London employment tribunal, but a judge dismissed her claim, determining that her opinions were “not worthy of respect,” setting a new precedent for suppressing free speech.

In his ruling, Judge James Taylor stated:

“Even paying due regard to the qualified right to freedom of expression, people cannot expect to be protected if their core belief involves violating others’ dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them.”

Taylor concluded that:

“… The Claimant is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

This judge, whose verdict prevented exactly zero dignity violations in the line of taxation duty, seems to have forgotten that Forstater is also a human being, deserving of dignity and protection from “hostile, degrading, humiliating, and offensive environments,” in, for example, the workplace (if she still had one) and her environment (media-driven defamation and online abuse, anyone?).

For a judge to publicly declare a woman’s “belief” that men are male “not worthy of respect” (and, consequently, limit her freedom of speech, not to mention her career prospects) is one thing. To do so in the name of respecting hypothetical men, and their right to believe whatever they like, is ludicrous.

Why was Forstater’s right to freedom from “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environments” considered unimportant, in comparison with the fragile egos of hypothetical future clients or co-workers, who may (or may not) feel offended by Forstater’s rather traditional belief that biological males are biologically male?

Restricting the rights and opportunities of women like Forstater will not expand trans rights. Moreover, silencing women for having “inconvenient” opinions is not conducive to promoting gender equality and freedom of speech, both of which are crucial in cultivating a fair society.

Will firing an opinionated woman from her place of employment make life better for trans-identified people? Or will it simply create division among those who might otherwise work together towards the common cause of human rights advocacy?

After the ruling was made public, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling stood up for Forstater’s right to free speech and workplace equality, tweeting:

“Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”

Rowling was punished by critics, fans, and high-profile celebrities — accused of being “transphobic” and a “TERF,” despite the anti-discriminatory nature of her tweet.

Ricky Gervais responded to this travesty sarcastically, tweeting:

“Those awful biological women can never understand what it must be like for you becoming a lovely lady so late in life. They take their girly privileges for granted. Winning at female sports and having their own toilets. Well, enough is enough.”

Strangely, Gervais was not abused online, fired, threatened, or cancelled for his tweet. He went on to MC the Golden Globes, where he made more controversial jokes about sensitive issues, with no serious repercussions.

The current Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been criticized more than once for his positions on trans politics including statements he made on Twitter. Yet, no one has attempted to silence Morrison for his views, and he wasn’t fired.

Donald Trump has also gone after LGBTQI+ rights, but has yet to be fired.

Maya Forstater has no real political power to speak of, yet her views are deemed unacceptable.

Men seem to not only be able to get away with what women cannot, but be celebrated for it. When men criticize trans activists, a common response is, “Where are the feminists on this!?!” Meanwhile, women have been shouting about this for some time, and been ignored, punished, and punched.

On January 26th, Rowling returned to Twitter, post-cancellation, quoting Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism:

“… If a patent forgery… is believed by so many people, the task of the historian is no longer to discover a forgery. The forgery is being believed. This fact is more important than the circumstance that it is a forgery.”

Twitter users responded with typical vitriol, blind to the irony that ignorant malice en masse serves only to reinforce Arendt’s words, and Rowling’s point.

Arendt herself — best remembered for her ideas on the banality of evil — was no stranger to being unfairly criticized and misinterpreted. Many of her contemporaries claimed Arendt viewed the atrocities of the holocaust as banal, in order to undermine her credibility.

In truth, Arendt argued that evil is not a grotesque monster, with sharp teeth and devil horns. Evil can appear in the form of a meek civil servant, a bureaucratic process, an unthinking man who speaks in clichés and thinks he has done the world a good service. Evil is what occurs when a society clings fanatically to a particular ideology, and decides that anyone outside this ideal must be silenced, punished, or eradicated. Evil is not in the doer, but in the deed. And what better way to spread the fungus of evil than through the atomized masses? The only cure to this insidious brand of evil is rational thought and logical enquiry, both of which are stifled when free speech is suppressed.

Rowling’s choice to quote Arendt in the context of her attempted cancellation should remind us all that to restrict the rights of any demographic in order to provide more rights to another is the first step on a slippery slope to totalitarianism. It doesn’t matter that Rowling isn’t transphobic. The forgery is believed. This is how the fungus spreads. Restricting women’s rights, safety, and freedom of speech will never improve transgender people’s lives, or the lives of anyone else. Yet, a war is being waged between women and trans-identified people. Society is clinging to an ideology, and has decided that everyone who does not buy in must be silenced, punished, or cancelled… I mean, eradicated.

Radical trans activism has deemed the word “woman” discriminatory because it excludes men. What’s next? Banning women from giving birth because it discriminates against people without ovaries?

Removing the word “woman” from our cultural vocabulary (but keeping the word “man”) does not remove sexism or gender stereotypes. It removes women. Women are not the problem; sexist ideas and gender roles are.

Society is (yet again) removing women’s voices and experiences from our cultural narrative, thereby strengthening the patriarchal paradigm in the name of “equality.” Is it any coincidence that coercive control (a form of abuse which, according to international expert on domestic violence Laura Richards, intends to “exploit and dominate and to ultimately deprive the victim of their most basic rights and needs”) shares characteristics with how women are treated by society at large, especially in relation to the aforementioned issues? Coercive control often involves distorting reality (for example, insisting transwomen are biological females), name-calling (TERF), and eroding the victim’s personal narrative and replacing it with that of the abuser, in order to destroy the victim’s “very essence of being, the sense of who they are.”

What better way to erode the female narrative than to replace biological women with men, turn the word “woman” into hate speech, tell everyone who insists biology exists that they are delusional, then threaten anyone who dares to rebel.

The ideology behind certain culturally-fuelled behaviours — particularly in relation to the oppression and erasure of women — is propelled by something other than what it appears to be. This is not about trans rights. This is about perpetuating propaganda that desensitizes humans to a totalitarian regime, with a patriarchal framework in place of nationalism. I’m not even being hyperbolic. Check out Lawrence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism” and tell me you don’t see obvious parallels. Whether they are aware of it or not, radical trans rights activists — along with a rapidly growing number of politicians, policy makers, and Twitter users — are operating under an umbrella of fascism.

The well-known quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is commonly misattributed to Voltaire, but was actually written by a woman named Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in a biography of the philosopher called, The Friends of Voltaire, as a description of his attitude. I wonder how often we would reference this quote today, had it not been attributed to a man?

The real Voltaire — an Enlightenment-era champion of free speech — famously wrote, “Those who make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

Voltaire’s words are as true today as they were in the 18th century. When we fail to recognize the absurdity within our culture, we perpetuate and normalize the resulting atrocities. Insisting “biological sex” be considered synonymous with “preferred gender identity”  in order to uphold the contradictory idea that “biological sex” is irrelevant to “preferred gender identity” is absurd. Punishing women in order to “respect” men, in the name of an argument that contradicts itself, is atrocious. And yet, our atomized society (to borrow Arendt’s term) is doing exactly this, and those who speak out are routinely silenced, punished, and eradicated.

If we really want to support people in breaking through the social constructs of culturally-imposed gender norms, we need to recognize people for who they are, and who they want to be, without squishing everyone into outdated pigeon holes. There are solutions to gender equality issues, but solutions aren’t useful to those exploiting transgender issues in order to uphold their agenda. Fascists love problems, not solutions, because, as per the third characteristic of fascism, “Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause,” problems rally people “into a unifying frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe.”

If you think the trend of silencing women is specific to LGBTQI+ issues, think again. Kobe Bryant, the basketball star who recently died (along with eight others) in a helicopter crash, will be remembered as a hero, but the female journalists who have been punished, suspended, and threatened for daring to discuss or report on the accusations against Bryant, saying he choked and raped a 19-year-old woman in 2003, will be forgotten.

Bryant’s victim (who was silenced years ago, through a non-disclosure clause and public smear campaign) still has no voice. She is not entitled to express her truth. But Bryant is a hero, and must be painted as such.

Why is the world so afraid of women’s voices?

Respectfully voicing an opinion is not a threat to society until it becomes dangerous or difficult for others to refute that opinion, or otherwise engage in constructive social discourse.

Whether or not one agrees with Maya Forstater is irrelevant. When a woman (or any other person) is denied employment for expressing a political opinion (in Forstater’s case, making a politicized statement about sex and gender), discrimination has occurred. It seems ironic (moronic?) to me that anyone fighting to eradicate discrimination against people who express their view on gender would rejoice when a woman is discriminated against due to having expressed a view on gender.

Is the whole Forstater/Rowling hate-circus really about equal rights? Or is it about pitting groups against one another, in an effort to insidiously erode the rights of both, by setting dangerously discriminatory precedents, disguised as gender equality?

The Forstater debacle efficiently reinforced the systemic silencing of women and showed that those in power can discriminate freely, and quash free speech with impunity (and full support) from the misogynistic mainstream. It’s a shining example of how the patriarchal public punish and silence women who speak up.

Nanci Nott is an Australian author who believes in dismantling traditional pedagogy in parenting and education, for the purpose of raising freethinking, compassionate, world-changers.

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