Shape-shifting misogyny has invaded mainstream feminism

A trans rights demonstration outside Downing Street in August 2021
(Image: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“What history teaches us about misogyny can be summed up in four words: pervasive, persistent, pernicious, and protean. Long before men invented the wheel, they invented misogyny, and today, as our wheels roll over the plains of Mars, that earlier invention still blights lives.”

My father, Irish author Jack Holland, wrote these words in 2003, less than a year before he died following a short bout with cancer. His book, Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, was published in 2006, but without its author to magnify the book’s message, when the topic became a cultural phenomenon a decade later, it was without his measured and humane voice.

Today, true to my father’s warning, we face a new misogynistic onslaught as the perennial male need to dominate us has shape-shifted once again. This time, it has weaponized the progressive/liberal left’s purported quest for equality, social justice and sexual liberation. These storied struggles — fought for by generations of women at great cost — have been, thanks to the magical thinking of misogyny, alchemized into the erasure of female biology, the invasion of female privacy, and the imposition of men’s bodies in the very places where those bodies are most likely to cause women harm.

I have never really considered myself a feminist and mainstream feminism of the last decade only alienated me. I argued with my father, at length, back in 2003, that male suffering throughout history has been just as bad as female suffering. I questioned the very premise of his book.

But it is the physical and psychic infiltration of womanhood by men who, not content with the political or religious domination of yore, actually claim to be women that brought me back, 17 years after my father’s death, to his last book.

When I see wild falsehoods about biology not only gain acceptance in mainstream conversation but start to underpin actual government policy, then I remember my father’s words:

No other prejudice “has manifested itself under so many different guises,” he wrote. Misogyny has always been “the common sense of society. It was a prejudice that was too obvious to be noticed.”

Today, misogyny hides behind the language of “rights” and “inclusivity,” seemingly unnoticed by all but a few.

Even with his insight into this dark phenomenon, I think my father would be shocked at just how many self-proclaimed supporters of women’s rights have abandoned reality in favour of the lie that men can be women, as if womanhood was simply a costume one could chose to wear, or something that can be bought, along with plastic surgery. Not even he could have foreseen how downright fashionable that bizarre lie has become.

While millions of young self-proclaimed feminist women celebrate men’s bodies as female bodies and cheer on male physical achievements even as they crowd out women in women’s own spheres, down at the bottom of our social ladder, the most vulnerable women are being harmed in particularly nightmarish ways. Now, in places like California, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, male criminals have been classed as female purely on their say-so.

Of all the dire side effects of the elevation of the fantasies of men-who-claim-to-be-women over actual women, the housing of male prisoners in women’s prisons is to me the most outrageous. The mind games being played here can only have as pervasively sinister a force as misogyny at their root.

Amber Jackson is a female prisoner in the California Institute for Women state prison (CIW) who published a fascinating series of articles about life behind bars for the Santa Monica Observer. But it’s her dispatches about the men who have been moved into the California Institution for Women, where she is housed, to live alongside the women prisoners that are particularly upsetting. Men, she claims, who are known to the administration to have HIV.

In particular, a column published in July 2021 calls out California state senator Scott Weiner for the 2020 legislation that brought this to pass. Jackson writes:

“The public at large is unaware of this happening. THE PUBLIC DOES NOT KNOW THERE ARE NOW MEN, WITH PENISES, HIV POSITIVE AND HAVING SEX WITH WOMEN IN CA WOMEN’S PRISONS. Nobody is making this known. Nobody cares about us. We are in danger here. Make no mistake. Prison rape is nothing new. However, until now, there were never live males with full male anatomy sharing showers with us in a group shower room. We have male officers who have to announce their presence when they even walk down the hall! In case we’re undressed! Yet, now men can share our showers.

Call yourself a ‘woman’ all you want. But when you have man, with a penis, that works as it was designed to do, that’s a problem in a women’s prison group shower room. That’s a problem.”

Compare her words with a tweet from the state legislator in question, Scott Weiner, defending his move to put men in women’s prisons:

“1) Trans women are women and we followed their lead in crafting this legislation.

2) We met with incarcerated cis women & incorporated their feedback.

3) Trans women are brutalized in men’s prisons. You’re ignoring their safety & pretending they’re not women, which is transphobic.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Sen. Weiner has not spoken with Ms. Jackson directly. If I’m wrong, Senator, by all means let me know.

The upsetting reality is that female erasure has been enthusiastically embraced by mainstream feminists, the progressive left and the managerial/corporate class: all of whom pay lip service to women’s rights on every other topic.

Misogyny is adaptable. Misogyny is durable. And misogyny is highly sellable. Even and perhaps most of all to women themselves. How else can we explain this madness?

On the left, there is only one hold-out against this onslaught of misogyny: self-described radical feminists. These women have been the much-maligned minority adrift on a sea of a delusion-affirming, culturally-approved lies. To stand against the broad acceptance of phantasmagorical claims like men can become pregnant or some women have penises is to invite banishment, and even women with huge financial and cultural clout have come under sustained attack.

With all the respect in the world to those women fighting for biological reality, surely this is a sign that something is very, very wrong within feminism itself?

Perhaps it’s the feminists demoralizing focus on women’s bodies being the locus of their oppression, and the incredibly dumb claim that sex is a social construct? Both of these erroneous claims have been the loud and clear takeaways from almost all streams of feminism for the entirety of my lifetime. Is it possible that feminists insistence on female victimhood actually harmed progressive women? That it set up progressive women to be susceptible to the breathtaking doublespeak of, for example, Judith Butler’s comments to the Guardian in 2021: “politically, securing greater freedoms for women requires that we rethink the category of ‘women’ to include those new possibilities.”

The “new possibilities” she euphemistically refers to are, of course, men. The category of women needs to be redefined to include men. Women: your freedom is your capture, according to one of the most prominent feminist theorists of our time.

Feminism is hardly a monolithic ideology in which all adherents sing from the same hymn sheet, and many feminists have criticized Butler and her followers. Nonetheless, a baseline for feminism is that patriarchy is defined by male control and male violence, and both of those are most definitely — in my understanding of their argument — sexed.

Considering this, the ideological contortions required of feminists, so that they may tow the party line, is, frankly, funny.

As Butler said in an interview with the New Statesmen, the “TERF” argument “assumes the penis is the threat, or that any person who has a penis who identifies as a woman is engaging in a base, deceitful, and harmful form of disguise…” She asserts:

“This is a rich fantasy, and one that comes from powerful fears, but it does not describe a social reality…The fact that such fantasies pass as public argument is itself cause for worry.”

I am aware of Butler’s famous “gender is performative” position which privileges construct above material reality. But that is a purely academic indulgence. To say that women are indulging in fantasy if they mistrust unknown men in spaces where women get undressed one of the most misogynist things I’ve ever heard.

I suggest Ms Butler — along with Scott Weiner — ask Amber Jackson about these “new possibilities” of categorizing females, and whether or not the HIV positive individuals with penises housed in prison with her are her “social reality” or some kind of Freudian fever dream.

The men who claim to be women have taken full advantage of this feminine Achilles heel. To say this will no doubt enrage many women with whom I share deep concerns about the erasure of female identity, but it seems clear to me that misogyny has invaded feminism itself. Taken as a whole, feminism has neither fortified society against the voyeuristic encroachment of male fetishists into womanhood, nor has it given three generations of women and girls reason to celebrate the very thing that makes us women: our bodies.

And so misogyny is, once again, the common sense of society.

And it is, once again, the most vulnerable of women who are sacrificed in service to the dark fantasies of the world’s oldest prejudice.

As Amber Jackson wrote last year:

“Personally, living this out, I’m trying not to become depressed by the presence of these men. It’s hard to believe nobody stepped up to stop this?

We’ve been abandoned. We’re now prey for men…”

Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter, now based in the United Kingdom. Follow her writing on Substack.

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