Dear Chase Strangio...
We can play a society-wide game of make-believe that sex doesn't matter or we can speak clearly and defend women's rights when those rights are under attack. We can't do both.
I wouldn’t normally waste my time responding to Chase Strangio—one of Twitter’s most shameless traffickers in dishonest hyperbole and outright bullshit—except that this bizarro line of thinking—if we can call it thinking—is rife among woke progressives and represents a fundamental misunderstanding between trans-Kool-Aid chuggers like Chase and gender-critical feminists like me.
So let’s talk about pretending: who is being asked to pretend, about what, and why? And where does all this pretending lead?
We’re supposed to pretend everything we know about sex is wrong: that legislatures never knew just who they targeted when they denied women the vote. That pimps and johns never knew whose bodies they sold. That the reproductive potential of child brides is pure guesswork. That the burdens of human reproduction settle, if not evenly, then at least mysteriously across the population.
It’s an interesting conceit, in a revisionist-history ‘what if the Mongols had taken Vienna?’ kind of way. It’s also, as everybody knows—no matter their claims to holy ignorance—bullshit.
When everything is going well, some people can afford to pretend. But as with every game of make-believe, there’s a limit. Eventually, wishful thinking runs up against a hard fact. Roe going down and what that means for female people, regardless of how they identify, is a hard fact.
We can argue about whether it makes sense to reorganize society on the basis of individuals’ personal identification with gender stereotypes, but whether we recognize sex or not, whether we name it or not, whether we like it or not, sex will continue to matter. Half the human race bears the burden of human reproduction. That means that these people—even if the language that keeps these people together dissolves in an acid bath of ideology—share experiences, needs, and interests. We used to call these people ‘women’ and the feminist movement used to center these very issues. Now mainstream ‘feminism’ has become a mixed-sex movement that prioritizes male identity claims over female realities, while self-identified feminists attempt to defend women’s most basic rights to determine the shape of our own lives by reducing us to “birthing bodies,” to reproductive functions and services. As if treating women like walking wombs isn’t what got us here in the first place.
Somehow, the ‘inclusive’ neologisms for the female sex class invariably reduce women to 'birthing bodies,' uterus-havers, gestators, reproductive functions and services… this is the logic that leads to abortion bans—because what are ‘birthing bodies’ for, anyway?
Chase, tell me, honestly, how do you defend the personhood of a 'uterus-haver'? Is your life or mine such a crabbed, insignificant thing that it can be rendered in such terms? What purposes does language like this serve?
What’s happening here is that women are trying to speak clearly about sex and you’re taking words out of our mouths. We’re trying to apply a clear analysis to what’s happening to whom and why, and you’re trying to take it apart, to ‘queer’ sense into senselessness. But magic words and magical thinking will not transform what’s coming in a post-Roe America.
You suggest that women like me want you to pretend you don’t exist. But—believe it or not—the solution here isn’t more pretending. What do we want from you? We want you to stop pretending and stop asking the rest of us to pretend on your behalf. We can play a society-wide game of make-believe that sex doesn't matter—reinforced with severe social penalties for noncompliance—or we can speak clearly and defend women's rights when those rights are under attack. We can't do both.
Stop pretending some inner sense of identity matters here. Only some people believe they have an inner sense of gender identity but everyone—including every woman and girl who has ever lost her life in pursuit of an abortion—has an inner sense of who they are: what matters to them, what they want from life, what they have to offer the world. The point is that—when it comes to abortion and whether it’s safe and accessible and legal or not—identity is wrapping paper. Help us rebuild a feminism that cares about what’s inside the box. You’re keen to specify how the rest of us should talk about you—but I’m more interested in how we talk about us, in the first-person plural. How do we advocate for what we uniquely—and, yes, exclusively—share and why it matters?
Women who refuse to play your game of make-believe when our most basic rights are at stake are not asking you to pretend you don't exist—much less wishing you didn't exist at all—so cut the hyperbolics. We're asking you to put the toys away. We’re saying it’s dangerous to pretend not to know what everybody on earth knows: mullahs, pimps, Supreme Court justices, legislators with trigger laws in their back pockets, abortion vigilantes. As our political opponents know full well, successful organizing requires clear-sightedness and clear speech. We can’t afford any more pretending.
This article was first posted on Writing Behavior by Eliza Mondegreen.