Derogatory Language in Philosophy Journal Risks Increased Hostility and Diminished Discussion (guest post) (Update: Response from Editors)


The following is a guest post* from Sophie Allen (Keele), Elizabeth Finneron-Burns (Warwick), Jane Clare Jones, Holly Lawford-Smith (Melbourne), Mary Leng (York), Rebecca Reilly-Cooper (Warwick), and Rebecca Simpson, concerning two articles recently published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

The articles in question appeared in a symposium in the journal earlier this year (Volume 96, Issue 2) on How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley (Yale). They are “The Epistemology of Propaganda” by Rachel McKinnon (College of Charleston), and Stanley’s “Replies“.

(UPDATE: The editor of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Ernest Sosa, responds here.)

Derogatory Language in Philosophy Journal Risks Increased Hostility and Diminished Discussion

by Dr. Sophie Allen, Dr. Elizabeth Finneron-Burns, Dr. Jane Clare Jones, Dr. Holly Lawford-Smith, Dr. Mary Leng, Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, and Dr. Rebecca Simpson

We write to register in public a complaint with a recent issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (PPR). Two papers in this issue, the first by Rachel McKinnon and the second by Jason Stanley, used the term ‘TERF’, which is at worst a slur and at best derogatory. We are extremely concerned about the normalization of this term in academic philosophy, and its effect in reinforcing a hostile climate for debate on an issue of key importance to women. Furthermore, one of the papers also included a false empirical claim which misrepresents an ongoing disagreement between trans activists and gender critical and radical feminists. Here we’ll stick to those two points; we are currently working on a longer essay that elaborates upon our philosophical concerns with McKinnon’s article. We emphasize that our complaint is with PPR: proper oversight would have seen the term ‘TERF’ replaced with a neutral counterpart, and checked the accuracy of the empirical claims.

“TERF” is widely used across online platforms as a way to denigrate and dismiss the women (and some men) who disagree with the dominant narrative on trans issues. The acronym stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist”, and historically marked a difference within radical feminism. Although its usage is becoming ever broader, one of the groups it targets are lesbians who merely maintain that same-sex attraction is not equivalent to transphobia, another is women who believe that women’s oppression is sex-based, and are concerned about erasing the political importance of female bodies. Anyone who is in any doubt about the way this term is used should consult the following pages, which compile examples from Twitter and other online platforms: https://terfisaslur.com/https://lesbian-rights-nz.org/shame-receipts/.

Obviously, whether “TERF” is a slur depends on your preferred theory of slurs. McKinnon’s article provides an account of the origin of the term, and then suggests that because it was coined by “cisgender radical feminists” the idea it is a slur—indeed, a misogynistic slur—is “ludicrous” (p. 484)—although it’s not evident that origin rather than evolved usage should determine the meaning of a term. She also claims that thinking “TERF” is a slur because it is used to denigrate women is “‘absurd”’ and “‘nonsensical”’ (p. 485). However, the linguist Debbie Cameron argues that for “all the criteria that have been proposed for defining a word as a slur, [TERF] does meet most of them at least partially”. She adds:

My personal judgment on the slur question has been particularly influenced by the evidence that TERF is now being used in a kind of discourse which has clear similarities with hate-speech directed at other groups (it makes threats of violence, it includes other slur-terms, it uses metaphors of pollution).[1]

We’re aware, from recent Tweets of McKinnon’s and from other sources, that McKinnon’s paper was contested prior to publication, with people pointing out to PPR’s Editor Ernest Sosa that “TERF” is a slur and suggesting that a more neutral term, for example “gender critical feminists”, be substituted. Sosa and the other editors were given evidence of the offensiveness of the term; fielded complaints from the members of the groups it targets; and yet persisted in publishing the piece regardless. Furthermore, if McKinnon herself didn’t intend it as a slur then it’s hard to see why she would have been so adamant about keeping it given this contestation. We can’t think of another paper published in an academic philosophy journal that deliberately uses a term widely known to be offensive to those it targets, when uncontested alternatives are available.

In addition, the term “TERF” likely doesn’t refer to any existing person, but rather caricatures a wide range of feminist positions and gives opponents an easy way to pigeonhole and dismiss them. Gender critical and radical feminists are not an organized group and do not share a homogeneous set of opinions. The exposition that McKinnon gives of “TERF” beliefs is somewhat unclear, but includes, according to her, the belief that the inclusion of trans women in natal women-only spaces constitutes rape (p. 484), that trans women should be denied medical treatment or protection from discrimination (p. 486), and that trans women are sexual predators (p. 485) None of us hold these beliefs, but we have all been called “TERFs” online, some of us frequently, and indeed, one of us by McKinnon herself in a series of Tweets. Apparently, under the present conditions, holding any of the following beliefs is more than enough to attract the label ‘TERF’: believing that humans are sexually dimorphic; that it is not evident that “self-identification” is a sufficient basis for determining that someone is a woman; and that we should be able to discuss changes to law and social practice which impact women’s sex-based protections.

Whether or not it’s a slur, it is undeniable that”‘TERF” is a term used to harass, shame, dismiss, and denigrate women’s ideas and opinions. The fact that PPR has printed two papers that both deploy, rather than merely discuss, this term is unacceptable. It sets a bad precedent for other journals, and it signals disrespect to members of a group that is already underrepresented in academic philosophy, namely women. The conventions of academic discourse demand that radical and gender critical feminists, like anyone else in our profession, be free to state their professional disagreements and be engaged with in a way that is courteous and respectful. Ad hominem attacks are neither, and there are legitimate concerns about normalizing a term which many women feel is instrumental in creating a hostile and intimidating climate in this debate, and is stifling academic discussion of this issue.[2]

Our second main concern is with a dubious empirical claim made in McKinnon’s paper. On p. 485, in the context of arguing that women’s concerns about sex-segregated space are “unfounded’ and “based only a flawed ideology,” she asserts that “there’s never been a verified reported instance of a trans women [sic] sexually assaulting a cis woman in such spaces”. (Indeed, she insists that the reverse is true, without providing any sources.) The spaces in question are “bathrooms, changing rooms, shelters and rape relief centers, colleges, music festivals, mentorship programs, sports, and so on.” One major issue here is distinguishing a trans woman from someone falsely claiming to be a trans woman, when trans activism is committed to self-identification as the sole criterion of determination. In 2014, for instance, a serial sexual offender “pretending” to be a trans woman was convicted of sexually assaulting women in two women-only homeless shelters in Toronto.[3] In July 2018 it emerged that a trans woman had sexually assaulted four female inmates at a prison in England.[4] If we broaden out to sexual offences more widely: a trans women was charged in Idaho in 2016 for taking secret pictures of an 18 year-old woman in a changing room;[5] a trans woman was segregated for making inappropriate advances to fellow inmates in a UK women’s prison in 2017[6], and in May 2018 a group of nine women brought a suit against a homeless shelter in Fresno, CA, where they were required to shower with “a person who identified as a transgender woman who made lewd and inappropriate comments, and leered at them while they were naked.”[7]

One sex-segregated space that women are particularly concerned about preserving is female prisons. There is increasing pressure for trans women to be housed in the female estate, and yet there are real concerns about doing so. A recent freedom of information request in the UK revealed 48% (60/125) of the known-trans population in UK jails to be sex offenders.[8][See * note below]. This matters for several reasons: first, because sex offenses are disproportionately offenses against women (even if they don’t happen in women-only spaces); second, because only 3% of the female population in UK jails are sex offenders (128/4035), so this is evidence of male- rather than female-pattern crime;[9] and third, because 1/3 women in prison have been sexually abused, usually by males, making it especially traumatic to share space with offenders against women.[10] Women’s prisons have few facilities for segregating sex offenders (unlike men’s prisons), which means that when trans women are housed in women’s prisons, natal women pay a serious cost. Trans women should be provided with safe space in prisons, but housing them with natal women should not be assumed to be the obvious answer.

None of this shows anything about all trans women in general, just as pointing to the prevalence of male violence against women doesn’t show anything about all men in general. But it is to say that McKinnon’s claim is demonstrably false. She implies that it’s unreasonable for natal women to worry about male-pattern violence from people self-identifying as trans women; it’s clear that it isn’t and more empirical research should be done before self-identification is sufficient to gain access to women’s spaces.

Women have legitimate reasons to be worried about male violence, and the analysis of male violence has long been a central plank of feminist political practice. Resistance to male violence is not merely confined to a “radical fringe” of feminist women, nor is it a pretext for an agenda specifically targeting trans women. Women are being asked to accept, as a point of principle, that because a male person identifies as a woman, they immediately cease to belong to the class of persons who exhibit male-pattern violence, and should be allowed into women’s sex-segregated spaces on that basis. We consider that in the interest of proper oversight, this claim should be settled on the basis of thorough empirical analysis, and that it is unreasonable to stipulate that women give up their well-grounded concerns about male violence because it is mandated by a conviction in the power of self-identification. At present there are several documented instances of trans women who have been found committing crimes which are characteristic of male-pattern violence. To underline, this doesn’t give women reason to worry about trans women in particular, but it doesn’t give them any reason not to, either.

The reason this whole debate is so tense at the moment is that the UK and New Zealand are considering a shift to self-identification for gender identity. It follows from the belief in gender identity as the sole and sufficient determinant of whether a person is a man or a woman, that a male person does not have to undergo any form of transition in order to become a woman, but simply has to identify as one. In practice this means that anyone who claims to be a woman, regardless of their appearance, would be able to access women’s spaces, and there would be no basis by which women might question that access. Self-ID would thus undermine women’s ability to question male-presenting people entering women’s space, and also raises issues regarding the possibility of men cross-dressing as women in order to enter such spaces. It is notable that in her article, McKinnon reads a quote expressing concern about “men claiming to be transgender” directly as a claim about “[t]rans women as sexual predators.” (p.485) It is important to underline therefore that our concerns are not directed at transsexual women who have transitioned under medical care and acquired a Gender Recognition Certificate. Rather, the issues are around the intent to change the protocols for trans women to one operating on the basis of self-identification, and the way that could make women’s sex-segregated spaces de facto inoperative.

To conclude: There are many extremely complex theoretical issues raised by the current thinking that underpins the transgender rights movement, and many implications for the safety and rights of women as a class of persons subject to sex-based oppression. It is our experience that the current framing of these issues by the transgender rights movement has sought to restrict the possibility of debate by casting women’s concerns and objections as motivated solely by hatred, and hence as beyond the pale of legitimate democratic discussion. For the reasons outlined above, we wish to register our concern about academic philosophical discourse becoming a forum for legitimizing, reinforcing, and disseminating that framing. No journal should allow the term “TERF” to make it through to the published version of a paper.

NOTES:

[1] https://debuk.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/what-makes-a-word-a-slur/

[2] https://medium.com/@kathleenstock/anonymised-responses-from-other-academics-to-my-articles-on-sex-gender-and-philosophy-f1cc0db04554

[3] https://torontosun.com/2014/02/26/predator-who-claimed-to-be-transgender-declared-dangerous-offender/wcm/fc2c70f0-b1a1-41e2-85db-bec9d0012ce5

[4]http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5964539/Transgender-prisoner-female-jail-sexually-assaulted-four-women.html

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/us/target-transgender-idaho-voyeurism.html?_r=0

[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4856268/amp/Transgender-rapist-moved-women-jail-segregated.html

[7] https://abc30.com/amp/homeless-women-harassed-in-shower-lawsuit-says/3514544/

[8]https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/08/is-the-bbc-scared-of-the-transgender-debate/

[9] Ibid.

[10] Rumgay, J. (2005), Twice Punished: When victims become offenders. Criminal Justice Matters. The centre for crime and justice studies: 16-38

[Note from JW:] A reader has uncovered a possible problem with this statistic. He writes: 

This figure has been called into question by the BBC’s Reality Check Team. The BBC team demonstrates in that article that the 125 transgender prisoners only includes those who are on longer term sentences, and that it’s likely that many fewer than 48% of transgender prisoners are, in fact, sex offenders. This matters because in the original post on Daily Nous, the 48% figure is compared to 3% of the female population in general. The latter figure is taken from the whole prison population, not just those serving longer term sentences. I think that the promotion of this misleading figure without in-text correction, runs the risk of perpetuating harms to the trans community, and, in particular, to those trans people in prisons, who are among the most vulnerable members of that community. It seems very important that the figure be appropriately qualified. 


UPDATE: Reply from Ernest Sosa (Rutgers), editor-in-chief of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Some weeks ago, PPR received a letter from Dr. Holly Lawford-Smith that leveled two serious charges about the content of an article published in our journal: Rachel Mckinnon’s ‘The Epistemology of Propaganda’ PPR (Volume 96, Issue 2, 2018). We the editors took it seriously enough to deliberate extensively until we reached consensus. The complaints have now been made public in Daily Nous, and we appreciate the opportunity to make our response correspondingly public, which we would like to do as follows.    — Ernest Sosa

Dear Dr. Lawford-Smith,

Thank you for your letter about Rachel Mckinnon’s ‘The Epistemology of Propaganda’ PPR (Volume 96, Issue 2, 2018).

You have leveled two serious charges about the content of this article, and they deserve to be treated separately. 

The first charge, that we have printed an author’s use of a slur in our pages, is a serious one, if correct.  However, this issue did not escape the attention of the editor responsible for the publication of this article, who consulted with several senior distinguished scholars in the relevant field, whose consensus view was that though the term in question might evolve to become a slur, the denigrating uses that you have exhibited are on a par with denigrating uses of ‘Jew’ and many other terms, and quite compatible with its having a descriptive meaning.  Since in any case the question of whether it is a slur is a controversial one that is a matter of academic disagreement between you and the author of this article, it is not the role of the editors to decide this issue. 

Your second charge, that we have printed an article containing multiple empirical falsehoods, also deserves serious consideration.  It is the position of the editors that empirical falsity of claims in an article published in PPR cannot be a condition of retraction, correction, or apology.  And while we appreciate why you interpret the evidence that you have provided as showing that the author’s claim is empirically false, we are not persuaded that it is inconsistent with the letter of the author’s carefully worded claim, and whether it is turns again on an academic issue – namely, who is to qualify as ‘trans’.  Again, when something turns on an academic issue under dispute, it is not the role of the editors to decide this issue pre-emptively.

Thanks again,

Ernest Sosa

For the Editors [Anil Gupta, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio, Ram Neta, Carolina Sartorio, Mark Schroeder, Ernest Sosa, Daniel Stoljar]


[There has been some controversy over whether any of the authors of this post asked for PPR to retract McKinnon’s article. An article about this post at Inside Higher Ed says “There was some ‘back and forth’ in terms of an informal request for a retraction.” I asked Professor Sosa directly about this. He wrote the following to me: “The request we received at PPR was for correction and apology only, not for retraction.”]


[A comment about why I put up this guest post.]


Art: “Trees Bending” by Lili Elbe

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TJ
TJ
2 years ago

Not sure how I feel about the TERF thing. But the false empirical claim seems a real problem. Philosophers often make use of empirical claims, which then are often accepted without question, when in reality they are based in very little at all. This is not good for the discipline, and diminishes how seriously we are taken both inside and outside of academia. Report

TJ
TJ
Reply to  TJ
2 years ago

After having read the editors response, I find their response to the TERF issue okay….I think it would have been better without the comparison to the term “Jew”. Anyway, I don’t think the same about the response to the empirical issue. The claim in question seems demonstrably false, and it does indeed seem within the realm of editorial responsibility to stop publishing papers with empirically false claims, especially when these claims make up an important part of the author’s article. I mean, perhaps the paper could still be published with a note about that claim. While some of the counter examples might depend on how “trans” is understood, there are lots of counter examples and it is a stretch to say all of them do. Report

mj
mj
Reply to  TJ
2 years ago

I don’t think the publisher’s response to the Terf issue is adequate. Although some Jewish people will call themselves a Jew, no woman call themselves a terf. It is not possibly going to evolve into a slur, it is a slur and has been used as one right from the start.Report

Nick Halme
Nick Halme
Reply to  mj
2 years ago

Do you consider “Anti-Semite” to be a slur?Report

Emily Vicendese (formerly beauvoir's baby)
Emily Vicendese (formerly beauvoir's baby)
Reply to  Nick Halme
2 years ago

Nick, “anti-Semite” may not be a slur, but it can be used very effectively as a silencing tool against those who are actually not anti-Semites but who are critical of Israel. Similar for “Islamophobe”. These terms can be used to silence because they mark a speaker for social penalties and they dampen uptake. We may be able to say something similar about “TERF”. Generally, people deploy these terms precisely because they are politically effective, not because they are offering a merely descriptive taxonomy of political kinds. (It might nevertheless be argued that their use is justified or is justified in certain cases, but that necessitates an account of justificatory conditions, and acknowledges that the deployment of such terms is not merely descriptive.)

On a personal note, here is Rachel McKinnon publicly calling me a “TERF” for claiming that humans are sexually dimorphic: https://twitter.com/rachelvmckinnon/status/1028783899030298624. I believe she is doing so for political effect: she is marking me for social penalties in a context in which “TERFs” are widely believed to be severely morally and epistemically compromised. Keep in mind that I am a postgraduate in the same field as McKinnon. It might be tempting to think that being called a “TERF” can’t be all that bad because here I am, speaking in public, under my real name. However, while I take myself to be taking a risk, I believe I do so in accordance with my moral and epistemic values. I am not sure what the point of doing philosophy is if I am not trying to act in accordance with my moral and epistemic values.Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

“the current framing of these issues by the transgender rights movement has sought to restrict the possibility of debate by casting women’s concerns and objections as motivated solely by hatred, and hence as beyond the pale of legitimate democratic discussion.” Substitute “gay” for “transgender” and “Christian” for “women’s.” By this reasoning, journals should also disallow the word “homophobic.” (NB, I’m not suggesting the latter, I’m using it as a reductio.)Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

It seems that increasingly, philospohers only talk about important issues with people who already substantially agree with them. If we want to talk to “TERF”s, it’s a bad idea to all them “TERF”s. Likewise, if we want to talk to gays, transgender folk, or Christians, it’s a bad idea to express disrespect for these groups. Even expressing disgust at their views, rather than sticking to the arguments, can close down conversation. Philosophers in general need to show more respect to, and engage in less dismissal of, those they disagree with. This is partiularly true in cases of public concern.Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

I actually do think it would be an improvement if that prohibition were installed. Too often Christans’ arguments are dismissed as homophobic rather than engaged with rationally. That’s not how one does philosophy.Report

Nathan
Nathan
Reply to  sahpa
2 years ago

I’m curious about what people think of the similarities and differences between the term ‘TERF’ and something like ‘racist’ or ‘alt-right’.

I don’t think either ‘racist’ or ‘alt-right’ are slurs, although they’re clearly most often used in a pejorative manner. They’re rarely used in self-identification, especially ‘racist’; often the targets of the term will substitute a new term, e.g. ‘nationalist’ for self-identification. They also have clear descriptive content, and refer to views or attitudes that the target has or is assumed to have. Generally we use them to point to people we don’t like precisely because of these views or attitudes, and label them accordingly.

A working hypothesis then: the status of ‘TERF’ is the same as either of these terms, and thus if ‘TERF’ is a slur then so are the others, and if they’re not, then neither is ‘TERF’. This seems to me a reductio of the claim that ‘TERF’ is a slur, or problematically derogative, but one could go the other way I suppose. Or one could argue that the term in question is quite different, and I’ve missed something (entirely possible).

That said, assuming I’m right and they’re of a par, I think there’s no reason to stop using the term, for the same reasons that we may, and often ought to, continue using terms like ‘racist’ and ‘alt-right’. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Nathan
2 years ago

If you are trying to have a reasoned discussion with someone, and they don’t identify as a “racist”, then in most cases, it will likely get in the way of the reasoned discussion if you call them a “racist”. Obviously, that does not imply that we should never use the word “racist”.Report

Mad Grad
Mad Grad
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

Hey Nonny Mouse– the rhetoric of “you should appease people who are actively oppressing you for the purposes of `reasoned discussion` ” is problematic in so many ways:
1. It’s a classic trolling tactic–“concern trolling” where you derail the conversation away from the point that the oppressed person is actually trying to make
2. Rachel was clearly not trying to dialog with TERFs, just as anti-racism scholarship is not aimed at having a “reasoned discussion” with nazis
3. Like, obviously it’s abusive to tell people to pander to abusers come onReport

Nick Halme
Nick Halme
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

My god – does anyone identify as racist? This is a “No True Scotsman” situation, and you know it.Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
Reply to  Nick Halme
2 years ago

Actually, many years ago I met someone who proudly self-identified as a fascist. And ironically enough he was Scottish. And no i’m Not kidding.Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
Reply to  Nick Halme
2 years ago

…racist … (damn you autocorrect)Report

Quasi philosopher
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

It’s true that there have been framings of arguments about gay rights which seem to take for granted that opposition to certain policies can only be bigotry, especially today and especially in the public sphere. But the strongest arguments were those from people like John Corvino, who argued for same-sex marriage while acknowledging that there was a non-bigoted case on the other side. Now maybe privately he really did think all his opponents were irredeemable bigots, but at least rhetorically he met opponents on their own turf and argued quite persuasively that they were wrong according to adequately non-partisan standards.

Analogously, if scholars acknowledged that there is potential for interest clashes between natal women and trans women, but argued convincingly that trans women’s needs need to take precedence (the position I’m sympathetic to), then the force of the original post above would be massively deflated. So all that scholars (who think the original post above is wrong) have to do is provide citations for arguments defending the absence of conflict between natal and trans women interests, or for the priority of trans women interests, and this whole episode can be put aside!Report

Peter Macy
Peter Macy
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

“Homophobic”–and “transphobic”–are strange terms, since they are typically used to refer to attitudes of hatred towards certain groups. So why the “phobic”? Why are they lumped in with fear of spiders and the like? Is it rooted in an analysis where sexual animus is rooted in fear? (Note that we _don’t_ usually refer to hatred toward blacks, Jews, Nazis, etc as phobias.). Does anyone know where this “phobia”-usage got started? I blame Freud … Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Peter Macy
2 years ago

It looks like “the word was first used to refer to heterosexual men’s fear that others might think they are gay.” From that point, it got generalized to the broad cloud of anti-gay sentiment that usually accompanies and is accompanied by that fearful attitude.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophobia#Origin_of_the_term

Given the development in contexts, where this sort of fear may no longer be the most common accompaniment to other sorts of hateful, disrespectful, or merely harmful behavior that we still want a word for, it probably is a bit of a shame that there’s still a root meaning “fear” in it. Just as I think it’s unfortunate that the word “microaggression” contains “aggression”, which seems to suggest to many people that it only applies when there is an aggressive attitude, when in fact the point is that it’s supposed to apply to many things done with purely neutral affect that are still harmful.Report

Eric Brown
Eric Brown
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
2 years ago

Biologists classify some things as hydrophobic without dreaming of attributing fear to those things. In using terms well and tracking their meanings, we need not and should not be slaves to their etymology or history. But the word ‘homophobia’ might be an especially confused or contested one at the moment, with some people assuming that it refers to fear or fear-motivated hatred, and others assuming only that it picks out opposition. Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

The issue is that the analogy fails. Homophobia is a form of moral disgust, and the leveraging of the use of homophobia in the gay rights debate was predicated on the more or less explicit assertion that a) there were no legitimate issues of harm at stake and b) that therefore all claims of harm were moral disgust in disguise, and could be dismissed (as bigotry, as ungrounded moral argument etc). The trans rights movement has leveraged this parallel in order to position any concerns or questions as pure baseless moral disgust, and therefore as beyond the purview of reasonable debate. But the problem is that there are actual possible harms – to return, for one, to the matter of the false empirical claim (there are also others). Male persons pose a verifiable statistical risk to female persons. Is is reasonable to ask women to accept that male persons suddenly cease to pose any risk simply because they identify as women? (And to underline, the principle concern here arises from the fact that the current iteration of trans ideology is insisting that identification – rather than transition – is the sole criteria of determination of whether someone is a woman.) Hence, we are being asked to accept untransitioned male persons who identify as women in our spaces, and we are being told that to even question whether that poses a risk to us is bigotry – because it violates the ideological principle of the determination of sex by gender identity. And this is a metaphysical belief. Gay rights politics was not based on the demand other people accept a metaphysical belief, it did not demand that we believed a metaphysical substance called gender identity determined sex, it did not attempt to make us change our language to erase the recognition of material reality, and it did not ask us to open us up to potential harms which, in the interests of proper safeguarding, should be subjected to empirical analysis, because they are empirical questions.Report

WildDadaDuck
WildDadaDuck
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

“Hence, we are being asked to accept untransitioned male persons who identify as women in our spaces…” Wait, do you think that trans women become less dangerous when they transition? Are you ascribing to the penis, in and of itself, the power to cause violence? If not, I can’t imagine what difference it could make whether someone is “transitioned” or “untransitioned.”Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

I think ‘transphobic’, analogous to ‘homophobic’ would be more honest: I object to ‘TERF’ because it’s not an accurate descriptor. The vast majority of those called, and the vast majority of those who call people, ‘TERF’ have no real understanding of radical feminism – the RF bit.Report

SH
SH
2 years ago

Regardless of what we make of the various “gender critical” arguments, philosophy is by definition a place where misogynistic, racist, ableist, homophobic etc claims can be read, taken seriously, critiqued, and worked through. (I am talking, of course, about our “canon”.) How can the use of a term like “TERF”, designed to shame and shut down all dissenting discourse, have a legitimate place in the field? Even if it labels a bigoted and misguided line of argumentation, working through such material, and taking it seriously when a glimmer of insight appears, is a skill any philosopher ought to have down pat, no dismissive terms necessary.

The conflict between various understandings of gender and branches of feminism should be settled with real, fact-checked data (and I don’t know who is right here and have yet to look into it–but obviously, a journal has the responsibility to fact-check) and honest conversations among stakeholders in cases where there are legitimate conflicts (say, over access to women’s spaces, and participation in women’s athletics.) These discussions are actually in everyone’s interest (indeed, I have known several transwomen who favored women’s spaces precisely because they were safer spaces w/r/t male violence; they have as much or more interest as anyone else in finding a balance between inclusion and woman-centered safety in these spaces.) The rhetoric of “TERFs” and other dismissive and universalizing language (there has literally NEVER been a conflict of interest of any kind, we are told–is this true within any group ever?) is bad for feminist/queer discourse and disastrous for philosophy. Report

Wizell
Wizell
Reply to  SH
2 years ago

Partly agree, but then is it not also true that you shouldn’t use the labels you did in this comment? “Misogynistic, racist, ableist, homophobic” – what about the glimmers of insight we might potentially lose from the philosophers who hold views associated with these labels and now feel like they cannot participate in this discussion?Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Wizell
2 years ago

I tend to agree that no invective, slurs, or epithets are apropos in philosophical discourse, at least not when directed at one’s interlocutors. We’ve had this argument many times here before, though, and you’ll get pushback, with people defending the use of their personal favorites.

I did something on this myself, not too long ago.

https://theelectricagora.com/2018/06/05/epithets-in-philosophy/Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Correct: slurs are not appropriate for philosophical discourse. But what’s at issue is whether “TERF” is a slur as opposed to a useful acronym. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

Right, and I’ve already expressed my views on that.Report

Bibi Jaspert
Bibi Jaspert
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

Terf is not a useful acronym because it is inaccurate.
Those who critique the trans activist claim that “trans women are women” are not all feminists.
They are not all radical.
They do not “exclude” trans males from the category *woman*.
It is arguable whether they exclude trans women from the category *woman*, or whether it is biological reality that does this, as humans are a sexually dimorphic species, women are female, and trans women are not.

How is an acronym useful when completely inaccurate?
.
Report

Bees
Bees
Reply to  SH
2 years ago

Even if it TERF is a bigoted and misguided term, working through such material, and taking it seriously when a glimmer of insight appears, is a skill any philosopher ought to have down pat, no dismissive lines of arguments necessary.Report

Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Compelling and important. Thanks very much to the guest contributors.Report

John Altmann
John Altmann
2 years ago

I want to start off first by saying that I am a Cis-male, and I don’t feel comfortable taking part in a discourse that should be centering Trans women. That said, seeing the article’s critique of the term TERF, a critique which I found wholly misses the point of the term, concerns me and I felt it worthy of response. Mainly, I have two points to make:

1.) The article itself admits that TERF stands for “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist” None of the words that make up the acronym by themselves are conceived as slurs. Rather, one should immediately look at it for what it is: A social/political attitude/practice. If a feminist organizes a rally to protest sexual violence on campus and makes clear in her promotion of the rally that Trans women may not participate in that space, we can say quite literally, that her politics are “Trans Exclusionary”. While that is a very on the nose example, I still feel it encapsulates why TERF is a valid denotation of such practices As for point two….

2.) As a cis-male speaking on this I wholly admit to potential ignorance, but I look at TERF as a hermeneutical resource used by Trans people to navigate social and political discourses, particularly those led by feminists that do not account for Trans women in their ideology or their praxis, and indeed actively try to harm them. Every marginalized group needs such resources, to better articulate their experiences in relation to such forces. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

If you look at the link provided for “terf is a slur,” it should become quite clear to you how the term is being used in contemporary discourse and that its use is demonstrably derogatory and nasty. (As the linguist quoted noted.)Report

Kevin
Kevin
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

It seems to me that terfisaslur.com presents a range of particularly objectionable sentences where the term is used. But I’m certain I could construct a similar site for any number of politically controversial groups, and there needs to be more said than “some people use the word in mean tweets”.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Kevin
2 years ago

Meaning is use. I have not seen the term used in contemporary discourse other than as a slur.Report

Viewer
Viewer
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Hey Daniel, I think you should check out the reply that Ernest Sosa posted in reply to the term TERF being a slur. Also, there is a video linked down below that provides a strong defense against the claim that TERF is a slur. I’d love to read your comments after you’ve engaged with both resources.

Also, I will check out the link provided that defends the idea of TERF being a slur.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Viewer
2 years ago

I read it and was quite disappointed. And I’m afraid I find Dr. Reilly-Cooper’s arguments far more compelling than Dr. McKinnon’s. Report

John Altmann
John Altmann
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

I don’t see any indication of TERF being a slur from that website. What I see is a site that took tweets from people that advocated for the violent resistance of TERFs, without giving any regard to the backgrounds of people who tweeted such sentiments in the first place. How many of these people experience transphobia from people who claim to be fighting for women yet exclude them from their praxis? How many of them may be tired of TERFs using pseudo-scientific disciplines such as phrenology, to invalidate their existence via biological essentialism? How many of them feel frustrated or terrified at the fact that if TERFS realized their vision of the world, Trans people would have no place in it? As @Kevin just noted far more succinctly than I, these tweets are taken in a vacuum meant to de-legitimize a valuable hermeneutical resource created by a marginalized group, which in the long run has reactionary interests in maintaining the status quo.Report

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

It’s worth pointing out that there has been actual violence perpetrated by a trans activist against a so-called TERF – in the UK, the trans activist Tara Flik Wood was convicted of assaulting Maria Maclachlan after having posted online that she was planning to go and “fuck up some TERFs”. In that light, the claim that threatening to punch TERFs is a “valuable hermeneutical resource” looks a lot less attractive.Report

John Altmann
John Altmann
Reply to  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

We could just as easily swap this experience with a disabled person (A class I belong to) saying “I’m gonna go fuck up some ableists” Does that invalidate the terms ableist and ableism as hermeneutical resources that disability activists, theorists, etc. use to articulate their experiences and the structural nature of the institutions they navigate? What about going from “Nazi” to racially critical activist? You citing one instance of violence, and more broadly ignoring all other contexts in which this term is exercised, makes your arguments against the hermeneutical resource of TERF a lot less attractive to me.Report

Lady Mondegreen
Lady Mondegreen
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

“If TERFs realized their vision of the world, Trans people would have no place in it?”

This sort of nonsense is the reason the term “TERF” has no place in rational discourse.

John Altmann, you need to show that the above statement is true. I know many gender critical people–some of them trans–and none of them wish to eradicate trans or gender dysphoric people.

This is a popular rhetorical trick among trans activists: allege your opponents have terrible views and therefore there is no reason to engage them at all; they must be vilified or silenced.

It’s a neat way to avoid having to argue your case. Report

Alex
Alex
2 years ago

The word TERF is used as an inaccurate and hostile insult against women who are advocating for maintaining the right to maintain the simple right to define themselves ontologically. One can believe that trans women exist without believing that they are the same as so-called “cis” women. Who actually disputes that? Whether you call them women or cis-women, this category of humans that make up half the human race most certainly has the right to advocate for itself. Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Alex
2 years ago

Textbook question-begging.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

I agree, it is question begging. But it is just as much question begging when someone on the other side says that anyone holding this kind of view is a bigot and then insists on using a derogatory term to label the feminists holding this view.

I am honestly not sure who is correct in the debate between gender critical feminists and trans activists. I accept that in internet forums, blog posts, public rallies, and the like, activists from each side who feel that there are serious moral issues at stake and that they are on the right side of history are going to get worked up and throw around abusive, divisive, and rhetorical terms. I wish they would see the wisdom in being more civil (generally it will make their activism more effective at bringing about the change they say they want), but I accept that many of them will disagree with me on this. However, when it comes to philosophy journals it is of absolute importance that they preserve themselves as a place where arguments are given and taken in civil, respectful, and non-rhetorical terms. We managed to do this with the same-sex marriage debate. Many philosophy journals published articles critiquing the arguments against same-sex marriage yet none of these articles, as far as I know, described their opponents as ‘homophobes’ and said things like ‘this article will refute the homophobic position that same-sex marriage ought not to be legalized because…’. In my opinion, the best explanation of why various arguments against same-sex marriage were being publicly peddled when they were obviously weak and fallacious is that the people peddling them were, on some deep level, motivated by homophobia. Nonetheless, the journals acted correctly (or perhaps it was the authors submitting to them) in not allowing this suspicion to undermine standards of civility and professionalism in philosophical debate. Instead they allowed the arguments to do the talking and kept the journals free of cheap rhetorical moves. Now, in a different debate PPR has made a very different decision and decided to allow uncivil and divisive language into the debate. This is a very serious mistake (and you should recognize it as a mistake even if you think the gender critical feminists are mistaken, and even if you think they have bad motives). I hope the editors of PPR reflect very carefully on this and think about what kind of philosophy journal they want to be. Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Alex
2 years ago

“this category of humans that make up half the human race most certainly has the right to advocate for itself”

False-Consensus effect. Trans-exclusionists aren’t half of the human race, if I had to guess from their loudness they’re a small minority at best. Their impact is a lot bigger than what you would expect from a minority like that. Given the reports of trans activist people and their supporters having their private information leaked, property damaged and other criminal activities. Looking at social media most of the trans exclusionists have some or another form of gaslighting in their profiles – be it calling themselves “gender critical” or just constantly writing phrases like “only biological women are women”.

Talking about slurs – if TERF is a slur – which IMHO it is not. at worst it’s a false description because most trans-exclusionists don’t follow basic principles of feminism like equality – then “biological women” is a slur as well. Because many if not most trans-exclusionists boil down being a “biological woman” to reproductive capabilities with definitions that would exclude me as a female even though I am in fact a cis-woman. These very narrow definitions allow them to silence a lot of people. Just as “man” by itself, since they are using that not only to describe trans woman but also cis-woman who aren’t sharing their opinion. So if TERF shouldn’t be used in papers because people find this descriptive term derogatory, then maybe we should also have a look at all the language trans-exclusionists use?Report

Viewer
Viewer
2 years ago

For those who are not fully convinced by the argument that the term ‘TERF’ is not a slur, please refer to this video by Professor McKinnon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmDauuQOOdU

I think she provides a lucid argument against those who claim TERF is a slur. She thoroughly discusses the main arguments against those who claim TERF is a slur, and poses compelling counter arguments.Report

Laura
Laura
Reply to  Viewer
2 years ago

It also just got me thinking: On one hand, these trans-exclusionists want to exlude mainly trans women, which leads to trans people being less accepted by society, which furthers their problems finding or keeping work after a coming out. Many of the same trans people often find that one of the few ways to make money without having their gender stand in their way is to work in the pornographic and sex work industry, furthering especially the need of trans women to have a part in feminism to be protected from problems especially we women have in work and social life – being excluded or underprivileged.

So what I’m seeing here is trans-exclusionists creating more of the problem they are supposedly fighting. That’s why I’m actually opposed to call this kind of activism “feminism”.Report

Ernest Sosa
Ernest Sosa
2 years ago

This is just to call attention to the update above on behalf of PPR. — Ernest SosaReport

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

For further reference, here is an article I wrote a couple of years ago about the word TERF
https://rebeccarc.com/2016/11/01/the-word-terf/Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

Thank you. It seems to me that the obvious term to use is “gender critical feminist.” That there is this fierce insistence on using “TERF.” even after so many have objected to it says everything one needs to know. And ironic coming from people who spend so much time insisting that others refer to them in the manner they prefer.Report

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

This alternative was suggested to Professor Sosa, but was rejected. Those who complained about the term TERF were told that the term was not offensive, despite the fact that pretty much all women who are referred to using the term find it offensive and do not refer to themselves using it (or, insofar as they do, do it only in an ironic sense, in the way people reclaim other slurs). As you point out, it is instructive that those who insist it is not a slur are so heavily invested in using the term, against the wishes of the group they are referring to. Report

Viewer
Viewer
Reply to  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

I’m not fully understand your claim that TERF is an inaccurate term to use. So can you elaborate a bit more?

Raquel Willis argues that trans women are just a *type* of women, like Black women and disabled women, and should be included in feminist conversations about womanhood (even though they are ‘different’, which we both agree on). So to exclude trans women from those conversations (or practices) qualifies the use of the term.

I think the argument is that limiting feminism to only focus on particularly sexed bodies (natal/cis women) is the problem. The framework should be opened up to include trans women too.

Also, the claim that TERF is inextricably linked to misogynistic, abusive, violent rhetoric is a bit of a reach. (Although I agree the tweets that you linked may incite violence, not all uses of TERF are meant to do such a thing and can be used in an academic, philosophical setting. But this last point can be a conversation for another time).Report

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  Viewer
2 years ago

The framework *can’t* be opened up without loss of its analytic power. Radical feminism aims to uncover the origins of the oppression of female bodied people by male bodied people. Once you lose sight of the root of that oppression – namely, in our differing reproductive capacities – then you have lost the explanatory and normative power of radical feminism as a theory. I’m not prepared to do that. I won’t neuter my feminist theory, because some people feel excluded by it.Report

rehl
rehl
Reply to  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

@ Reilly-Cooper “whether or not trans people are oppressed qua trans people, it does not take the same form or have the same historical origins or ostensible justification as the oppression of female people by male people” — are you serious? how about you check the history of trans first before you write such utter bs? trans people have been fucking killed by the NS regime in Germany in the 40iesReport

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  rehl
2 years ago

Right, they’re playing motte-and-bailey with the word “oppression,” such that a class of people can be pervasively discriminated against and killed, but somehow don’t count as oppressed. Report

John Altmann
John Altmann
2 years ago

Also, can I just say that I find it objectionable that rather than penning a general essay on the term “TERF” these women came together, and went after Dr. McKinnon, who as a Trans woman belongs to a marginalized group in Philosophy. Now I understand that cis women are also marginalized, but I would argue not to the extent of Trans women like Dr. McKinnon, which is to say nothing of the Trans WOC working in Philosophy. Furthermore, returning to the argument that TERF is a slur, these women are trying to take a valid hermeneutical resource Trans philosophers use to critically examine their social situation, and also in my mind, are arguing more opaquely, that Trans philosophers that use such resources aren’t producing “real” philosophy but rather bigotry, which is absurd.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

TERF is not a ‘valid hermeneutical device’ for ‘critically examining’ anything. As we have suggested, and will lay out more clearly in our longer piece, the ‘analysis’ that McKinnon gives of who the terms applies to is a) question begging and b) doesn’t characterise the views of gender critical feminists to whom the term is routinely applied. In order to be labelled a TERF, all that is necessary is to believe that humans are sexually dimorphic, that that has political importance, and that the erasure of sex has political consequences that women have a legitimate concern in. The term isn’t, in fact, analytic at all. Rather it’s used to dehumanize a group of women who hold an analysis which is in fundamental disagreement with some of the tenets of trans ideology, to discredit consideration of their views, and to intimidate them by mobilising violence and threats against them. No amount of technical philosophical phrase-making can conceal that fact. Report

John Altmann
John Altmann
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

The neologism was coined by an inclusive radical feminist online space in 2008 as a way to distinguish between trans-supportive or trans-neutral radical feminists and those who wished to exclude trans women from their feminism. The progenitor of the term, the cisgender feminist Viv Smythe said, “It was meant to be a deliberately technically neutral description of an activist grouping. We wanted a way to distinguish TERFs from other RadFems with whom we engaged who were trans*-positive/neutral, because we had several years of history of engaging productively/substantively with non-TERF RadFems.”

Doesn’t critically examine anything huh? Imagine if you were told that the term sexual harassment wasn’t a valid hermeneutical resource by men, because it dehumanizes men that EVERY act they do against women is sexual harassment and predatory, that they can’t even hug women anymore!

Oh wait…..you are being told that by men about sexual harassment and the phrase “Me Too” and are rightfully arguing against its absurdity. It’s almost as if you recognize that privileged classes don’t get to determine what’s a slur and what isn’t.

As a cis woman you’re privileged. If you’re honestly expending more energy crying that a term meant to denote the political and social spaces constructed by cis women meant to exclude Trans women is a slur, rather than lifting up Trans WOC being murdered at alarming rates, that Trans women in many states don’t have workplace protection, etc. then I don’t know what to tell you.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

Can you explain to me how the cis/trans binary works as an axis of oppression following the principle that oppression functions to extract material and labour resources from the oppressed class, as outlined by Frye? That is, what is non-trans women’s material investment in the oppression of trans women as a class? And can you explain to me why the murder of trans WOC by *men* is a reason why women should give up all concerns about their safeguarding from male violence? 1 out of 5 of us are sexually assaulted, as you well know, but yes, our concerns about that are just the ‘crying’ of pampered women who should just give their analysis over to a political ideology that denies them the basic words and concepts to name their oppression. And what, while we’re here, is your investment in leveraging this binary in order to invalidate the expression of the political interests of members of an oppressed class to which you do not belong, while, moreover, you are a member of the oppressor class? Y’see, we’re used to being told by men that we need to shut up because now you think you have the perfect device to invalidate our political claims, and we’re really loving how cavalier you are with our concerns about a form of systemic violence that almost never touches you. It’s almost as if you can identify with the distress of male people who want to transition to women than you can with the concerns of women about systemic violence against them. But I’m sure it couldn’t be that.

These questions are all rhetorical. I won’t engage with you further. The delight with which you told me ‘you’re privileged (now submit)’ is something I know too well.

We all do. Report

Ken MacInnis
Ken MacInnis
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

They didn’t “go after” her. They responded to an essay in a journal. I’m not sure how one’s membership in an underrepresented group inoculates one from criticism of published work.Report

John Altmann
John Altmann
Reply to  Ken MacInnis
2 years ago

They responded to her by claiming that the term TERF, a valid hermeneutical resource utilized in discourses by Trans women concerning the oppression they face, is a slur and thus trying to invalidate the voices of Trans women and those discourses. On a more institutional level, I’ve seen elsewhere calls for this paper to be removed and Dr. McKinnon subjected to much transphoboic harassment, meanwhile when Rebecca Tuvel, a white cis woman philosopher wrote about Trans racialism and Trans identity, people protected her right to free speech, despite the pointed and substantive critiques of Tuvel’s article from both Trans voices and those of POC

Report

AS
AS
Reply to  John Altmann
2 years ago

Where specifically have you seen calls for MK’s paper to be removed, and by whom?Report

Emily Vicendese (formerly beauvoir's baby)
Emily Vicendese (formerly beauvoir's baby)
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

McKinnon claimed on Twitter that Kathleen Stock was attempting to have the paper retracted. The truth is that Stock was attempting to have the paper corrected. No one has suggested the paper should be retracted.Report

AS
AS

McKinnon yesterday claimed in twitter that the authors tried to block publication of the article and are now calling for a retraction. Neither of this claims are true.Report

Kathleen Stock
Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

If ‘TERF” is properly analogous to ‘Jew’ as claimed by Sosa, then we need to be able to readily find a multitude of everyday contexts – uses, not just mentions – in which it is obviously descriptive. Have a go. Put ‘TERF” into Google. Search for it on Twitter. See what you find. Report

Viewer
Viewer
Reply to  Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

I think the term ‘white’ is used in a similar way by people of color who oppose white supremacy and whiteness as a theory. Same for people who are anti-police. They use the word white in a ‘derogatory’ sense, same with the term ‘pig’, but I don’t think using the words in a negative way automatically mean that they are a slur or that the term (by itself) constitutes a slurReport

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  Viewer
2 years ago

One important difference seems to me that most white people have no problem referring to themselves as white, which suggests that the term can be used in a purely descriptive sense. No woman refers to herself as a TERF, unless, as I pointed out above, in an ironic jokey sense as a way of removing the power of the slur. Report

Student
Student
Reply to  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

Granted, I agree. But then what about the term pig? And I’m sure we can think of plenty other words used in a negative sense that are not slurs and people would not refer to themselves as i.e. the term racist (which was argued above). You all are only seeking out extreme cases where people use the words to ‘incite violence’ but have you read the works by any other trans folk who apply the term ‘correctly’ i.e. Janet Mock, Raquel Willis, (and maybe Laverene Cox) amongst other folk?Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Student
2 years ago

I think “pig” as used to refer to the police quite clearly is a slur. It’s a much less offensive slur than many, but it’s very clear that it is used in opposition to “police officer” or “cop” with the only difference being negative valence.

(The term “TERF” doesn’t seem to have such an easy contrast word – some are claiming that “gender-critical feminist” is a neutral term with the same descriptive content, but I don’t know enough about the usage of these terms to clearly judge.)Report

Student
Student
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
2 years ago

You are correct. I could have used a better example.Report

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Reply to  Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
2 years ago

Wait, your whole argument is that it’s okay for Black people to use “white” to label a structure that physically and psychologically harms us because white people have no problem with the term? So we need permission from white people to describe our world? That’s the hill you’re dying on? Report

Mark
Mark
Reply to  Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

Please read more carefully. Professor Sosa’s letter does not say that ‘TERF’ is analogous to ‘Jew’. It says that the consensus view of the senior scholars consulted by the journal was that the evidence that has been provided does not establish that it is not. Clearly, whether it is a slur is itself a matter of academic disagreement. The principle endorsed by the PPR editors was that when the issue of whether it is a slur is itself the issue at stake in the academic article, it is not the business of the editors to pre-judge the issue. It does not advance the discussion to deliberately mis-represent what has happened.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Mark
2 years ago

I think the editors are getting this one wrong. Surely the default position should be that if there is some controversy over whether a certain term is a slur, or derogatory, with a significant number of scholars on either side, then the term should not be allowed to be used in any contexts where it would be inappropriate to use a slur or derogatory term. This is especially the case if there are obvious non-sluring, non-derogatory alternatives that could be used instead to express the same meaning.

This is the correct neutral stance for editors to take. When asking an author to remove a certain term and use a non-controversial alternative they can say: “We are not taking a stand on whether this term is a slur, we accept that your argument that it is not may be correct. However, because a significant number of scholars assess things differently we must err on the side of caution and request that you use another term instead”. Report

Philodorus
Philodorus
2 years ago

It seems to me irrelevant whether “TERF” is a slur, assuming that morally irrelevant background facts about the history of usage or the existence of a neutral alternative term capturing the same extension are relevant to whether or not it’s a slur. In the video linked above, one reason McKinnon offers for thinking TERF isn’t a slur is that, unlike other slurs, it doesn’t have a neutral alternative (she compares it to “dyke” and “lesbian”). Even if this is linguistically interesting, I don’t think it’s relevant to the moral status of the term. Suppose that the term “cuck” as used by alt-right internet trolls doesn’t have any neutral alternative (as I don’t think it does). That might bear on whether it’s linguistically classified as a slur, but it doesn’t bear on whether it’s a good term to use to refer to people in a philosophy paper.

So: why care whether the term is a slur? Just talk directly about whether it’s an appropriate way to refer to people in philosophy journals. I don’t think it is: it doesn’t seem like a neutral way of picking out people who just happen to have a view, given the way it usually gets deployed. In the same way, it probably wouldn’t be good to refer to people who oppose affirmative action as racists in a paper defending affirmative action, even if those people are in fact racists. That’s just not a good way to refer to your interlocutors within the confines of a philosophy paper.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Philodorus
2 years ago

I think this comment really nails it. Forever ago, I was Steve Cahn’s research assistant, and helped him edit an anthology on Affirmative Action. There were any number of well-argued essays contained therein that made the case against affirmative action. I have no idea whether the authors were racists or not, but clearly, obviously, it would have been wildly inappropriate — not to mention, unphilosophical — for their interlocutors, when arguing with them, to refer to them as racists.

The use of “TERF” in part is meant to signal that the gender critical position is even less legitimate than the affirmative-action-critical position. That it is not within the landscape of acceptable ideas and is unfit for philosophical discussion. And that just strikes me as unsustainable.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Philodorus
2 years ago

It might not be good practice to refer to the opponent of affirmative action as “the racist” in a philosophical paper. But does that mean it is never appropriate to use the word descriptively to pick out a group of people in a philosophy paper? Would it be inappropriate to say “The word “ally” is used in this context to pick out people who aim to defend racial minorities from racists, whether violent or otherwise oppressive.”?

I haven’t looked at this paper to see how the term “TERF” is being used – whether it is classifying a particular substantive position with this word (as in your example), or using the word to pick out the (negative) substance (as in my example here).Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Philodorus
2 years ago

Agreed, and further, the analogous descriptor to ‘racist’ in this sense would be ‘transphobe’, for ‘TERF’ ascribes the position of Radical Feminism to its targets, and no evidence is offered of the targeted group actually being radical feminists. Indeed, I have seen ‘TERF’ used to describe famous misogynistic men, and frequently deployed by people who admit they know not what the acronym stands for. Which brings to beat the point that using the term ‘TERF’ seems to do a lot of harm (one harm being to lower the standing of people’s view of radical feminism, often before they have any idea of what it is, and after hearing the term no interest in exploring it) and absolutely no good, since it does not pick out a meaningful ontological category. More reason to avoid its use outside of twitter slanging-matches, and every reason to avoid it in a meticulous discipline as philosophy.Report

Student
Student
2 years ago

I’m not completely understanding this argument that we should not use ‘mean’ words in philosophical discourse even though they accurately describe your interlocutor. If somebody advocates for insidious harms against a group of people (whether it be explicit or implicit) I think a negatively charged word should be used.

Here I want to echo John Altmann’s claim above re: the use of the word Nazi or ableist to describe a person or group of people. Without these words we won’t have the appropriate cognitive tools to label something or understanding something that is of importance to a marginalized or oppressed group. And labeling these dangerous people or viewpoints with a neutral terms seems to hide how harmful these things are. It may even be a way for these folk to dodge credibilityReport

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  Student
2 years ago

The word TERF does not accristely describe anybody. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Student
2 years ago

If someone’s views are beyond the range of acceptable inquiry and discourse, then I don’t engage in philosophical discussion with them. They become political opponents and even enemies and our interactions are essentially hostile.

When I am engaged in philosophical conversation with someone, I am presuming that their views are within the range of acceptable inquiry and discourse. They are not my opponent or enemy, our interactions are not hostile, and if I disagree with them, the use of slurs and epithets are inappropriate.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

But do you ever engage in philosophical discussion *about* them? What words do you use in talking about them, even if not talking to them?Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
2 years ago

Is this really confusing? If I am engaged in a philosophical discussion about the rights and wrongs of affirmative action, I shouldn’t call my interlocutor a racist, because he or she holds the opposing view. At least not if I want the discussion to be productive.

Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Student
2 years ago

Isn’t the point of a philosophy paper in the broadly normative realm to *establish* how wrongful/harmful/etc. X is, rather than to *presume* it by labeling X in a loaded way? And isn’t it paternalistic to say that, unless we give X a loaded label, people won’t grok how bad X is?Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Student
2 years ago

Student: this may be so, but it is irrelevant to this discussion as ‘TERF’ does not accurately describe the target.Report

Herman Gomez
Herman Gomez
2 years ago

Ernest Sosa claims that ‘TERF’ is similar to ‘Jew’ in that it can be used an a neutral descriptor (“Nneka is a Jew”) and pejoratively as a slur (“Nneka jewed me”). This seems to miss an important aspect of ‘TERF’, though, and would like to propose a different analogue, one that functions closer to how ‘TERF’ does both descriptively and pejoratively this may better be used to understand why some see the word as a slur. The word I am thinking of is ‘Democrat’.

Anyone who follows American politics recognizes this as a word with neutral descriptive value: it labels membership in a political party and broad alignment with that political party’s core positions. It is also, quite plainly, used pejoratively by some who are vehemently opposed to those political positions. It is trivially easy to come up with examples of that word being used with scorn and disdain not just to label but to demean and dismiss an idea, a person, a policy, and so on.

Why this works better as an analogue for ‘TERF’ is that, unlike the word ‘Jew’, the descriptive value of the word ‘Democrat’ only applies to a set of beliefs, and cannot be traced or tied to any inherent characteristic (whether real or imagined). Even the most ardent Republican would not claim that Democrats are ‘born that way’, for instance.

As with the word ‘Democrat’, some supporters of trans rights use ‘TERF’ descriptively to refer to those who oppose full-rights for trans people. After all, that is literally what the acronym stands for. Some people use the word with an added vehemence, for they recognize that to deny the full personhood of a whole category of people based on pseudoscientific distortions of genetics, endocrinology, fetal development, and so on displays reasoning stunningly similar to those who would deny full personhood to Black people, queer people, the neuroatypical, women in general, and more. And, like ‘Democrat’, the use of ‘TERF’ in these cases stings those to whom it applies since it unambiguously calls their position on trans rights beneath contempt, not even worth arguing with.

In neither case is the word a slur, though. A slur must demean, degrade, linguistically oppress the humanity of those it applies to. ‘Democrat’ and ‘TERF’ demean the set of ideas they apply to, not the humans who hold those ideas. And as with ‘Democrat’ and other like descriptives of political self-positioning, those who dislike being recognized as trans-exclusionary radical feminists have a very simple, though perhaps not easy, solution: stop being trans-exclusionary.Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Herman Gomez
2 years ago

See your comment demonstrates the problem. ‘TERF’ is not a descriptor, or if it is, it describes too much. You have made a claim about what the term describes, as someone who 1) opposes full rights for trans people; 2) denies full personhood to people. Gender critical feminists do neither. No one to whom the term TERF is applied opposes trans people’s rights to be free from violence, discrimination, and so on, just like everyone else in the world. Furthermore, no one denies that they are fully persons. That is a ludicrous claim in fact. Report

AB
AB
Reply to  EM
2 years ago

Disagree, a descriptor cannot describe too much. Even If a descriptor could have too broad a definition. that wouldn’t make it a slur. The example given in the above post is `Democrat` that covers a far broader set of ideas than TERF.

The important part of the above post is that the term TERF only describes a set of ideas a person could believe, and therefore it can be used like any such word, accurately, inaccurately and pejoratively.

To say that because a word can be used inaccurately or pejoratively it is a slur would apply to far too many useful descriptors. This is especially true, when TERF can clearly still be used accurately to describe trans exclusionary feminism, such as the idea that trans women don’t belong in women only spaces. Hence ‘trans exclusionary’, is on the face of it, a perfect descriptor of some people’s beliefs.

“No one to whom the term TERF is applied,” I’ve certainly seen people who want to exclude trans women from women only spaces. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/06/05/government-response-petition-anti-transgender-feminist-campaigners/ here is a link to a story about just that, so the need for this term is clear.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  AB
2 years ago

The ‘exclusionary’ aspect of ‘TERF’ is ‘exclusion’ from feminism, in the sense that feminism (radical feminism) stands for the liberation of females from the oppression of males. By definition radical feminism ‘excludes’ all males in this sense. It’s not a special ‘branch’ of feminism that actively seeks to exclude anyone, but rather by definition it is concerned only with the liberation of females. Your comment is a good example of why ‘TERF’ is not a useful descriptor: yes, many call to exclude transwomen from women’s spaces. The vast majority of these people will have no ties to radical feminism whatsoever. These people are called ‘TERFs’ yet the term does not actually apply to them if they are not radical feminists. This is one reason that it’s not a useful term, and thus is not the best choice to use in philosophical discourse.Report

AB
AB
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

So the goalposts have been moved considerably from TERF being inappropriate because its a pejorative term, to inappropriate because its not a good descriptor.

I don’t understand why ‘exclusion’ comes in quotations when this is literally what it is, the negation of inclusion is exclusion, it doesn’t matter how active it is perceived as being. It sounds like your implying that trans exclusionary radical feminists don’t “call to exclude transwomen from women’s spaces,” but they absolutely do, and whilst yes the majority of the signatories on the petition wouldn’t be radical feminists, they are supporting the ideas of radical feminists.

So how about this: trans exclusionary ideas that existed in radical feminism are TERF ideas, supporting those ideas is supporting TERF ideas, therefore they could be called TERFs. The provenance of the ideas seems fairly unhelpful when talking about a related set of ideas about trans exclusionism.Report

EM
EM
Reply to  AB
2 years ago

No, AS said many people who call for trans women’s exclusion from women’s spaces are not radical feminists. Report

P
P
Reply to  Herman Gomez
2 years ago

“And, like ‘Democrat’, the use of ‘TERF’ in these cases stings those to whom it applies since it unambiguously calls their position on trans rights beneath contempt, not even worth arguing with.”

I think this highlights something many here have a problem with. While it might make sense to unambiguously call a position beneath contempt and not even worth arguing with, it seems out of place in a philosophy article in which, we might hope, one takes positions (especially those of other philosophers in the field one is engaging with) seriously in some sense, at the very least, as worth arguing with.Report

Jean
Jean
2 years ago

I can’t imagine why it works as a defense of “TERF” to compare it to “Jew”. No editor would allow a sentence like “Friedman complained about Heidegger’s anti-semitism, but the Jew also praised Heidegger’s work.” It’s unacceptable to refer to Friedman as “the Jew” because, as we all know, there’s a history of using that phrase in a derogatory way. Likewise, no editor is going to accept referring to people as “negroes.” Editors also don’t accept referring to intellectually disabled people as “retarded.” Both “negro” and “retarded” are unacceptable, regardless of whether they are slurs. So why isn’t “TERF” unacceptable too, given the role it so often plays in online hostilities? Whether it’s akin to the N-word (and so an official slur), it’s pretty obviously a mud-slinging term, not simply the name of a position. So, surely not appropriate in an academic journal.Report

Wolfgang LaFlur
Wolfgang LaFlur
Reply to  Jean
2 years ago

Because “Terf” refers solely to women. That’s why it’s ok to use.

Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Wolfgang LaFlur
2 years ago

Men can also be TERFs.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
2 years ago

But that shows that it’s a meaningless term, as men can’t be radical feministsReport

Ole Koksvik
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

Men can *obviously* be radical feminists!Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Ole Koksvik
2 years ago

Not according to most radical feminist analysis. Report

Wolfgang LaFlur
Wolfgang LaFlur
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
2 years ago

You have just demonstrated how meaningless and inaccurate the word is. Report

No Name
No Name
2 years ago

Most people seem interested in the “TERF” issue. But what I’m curious about is the empirical claim: it seems to be been shown to be false (unless we use a very demanding and implausible use of the term “verified”). What is McKinnon’s reply to this charge? Granted, this probably doesn’t make much of a different to McKinnon’s paper, but I’d still like to see if McKinnon is willing to concede the point. Report

Ken MacInnis
Ken MacInnis
2 years ago

Dr. McKinnon gives the game away 28 seconds into her video when she says “There’s this group of people, loosely associated, who take it upon themselves to focus on hating transwomen.” So she can’t honestly claim, as she does later, that the term TERF is just a descriptive acronym to differentiate between trans-inclusive and trans-exclusive radical feminists (the latter she calls ‘transphobic assholes.”) You can’t claim on one hand that it is an accurate descriptive acronym, and then on the other associate it with hatred, unless you want to argue that all instances of exclusion are instances of hatred. I’m sure Pride organizers would not see exclusion that way.
2. McKinnon claims TERF cannot be a slur because it has no non-pejorative correlate. False. How about gender critical radical feminist? It makes for a poor acronym, but it is more accurate.
3. Mckinnon at the end of the video conflates radical feminists who want to see women-only spaces (bathrooms, prisons, rape shelters, etc.) with those who promote transphobic discrimination in housing and workplaces, and violence against transgender people. She says the group of people “hating transwomen” are “loosely associated” at the beginning of the video. I think that’s a sneaky way to paint all gender critical feminists with the same brush, and it is dishonest. As noted above, exclusivity is not in and of itself, hatred.
4. She makes the claim that trans-exclusivity is necessarily a bad thing. In most cases it is, for sure. Discrimination in housing, employment, and public services are all bad. Violence against transgender people is abhorrent. But not all trans-exclusivity is obviously bad, especially when you consider the competing rights of girls and women in traditionally female-only spaces. Her claim is not defended, nor is there any discussion of competing rights.
Report

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
2 years ago

As an African American, I am so disappointed that this is where the discourse is now. This is on par with complaining that “racist” is a slur. It is a descriptor. It *may* be a subjective one. Until TERFs are subjected to systemic structural discrimination, the accusation of slur is both empty and incredibly whiney.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
2 years ago

We’re women. We are subjected to systemic structural oppression, on the basis of our sex, which we would like to be able to name, without being accused of hate-speech.Report

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

I’m a Black woman and the use of TERF does not harm my ability to talk about misogynoir, at all. I can discuss misogynoir and be a radical feminist, without excluding Black trans women — without being a trans-excluding radical feminist.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
2 years ago

Can you explain how you can be committed to the analysis of the sex-based oppression of women while professing to be an advocate of an ideology that denies the existence and political importance of sex?Report

Ken MacInnis
Ken MacInnis
Reply to  Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
2 years ago

Your recent Tweet, which begins “Hey *LOSER* TERFS! TERF IS NOT A SLUR!” suggests that maybe you’re not genuinely interested in the state of the discourse.Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
2 years ago

It’s interesting that even you, Chanda, cannot seem to use the word TERF in a non-pejorative way, partly proving the point.
Also, women havent’ been subject to systematic discrimination? Report

Jennifer Saul
Jennifer Saul
2 years ago

I think it’s possible that there are legitimate debates to be had about whether or not ‘TERF’ is a slur. (More generally, I think the issue of whether a particular term is a slur or not is more difficult than most people suppose.) But I don’t think the right way to have these debates is in a blog-based discussion focussed on attacking a paper by a junior scholar. Report

Ken MacInnis
Ken MacInnis
Reply to  Jennifer Saul
2 years ago

Again, not sure how someone’s seniority or membership in an underrepresented or marginalized group matters. Dr. McKinnon published a paper where she makes a number of claims. One is pretty clearly empirically false, and another – “I take it as now well-established that trans women are women. Full stop.” – is not even defended. Can she not be criticized due to her academic status or membership in a social class? Isn’t that a ridiculous position for a philosopher to hold?Report

Chris Tillman
Chris Tillman
Reply to  Ken MacInnis
2 years ago

The point is clearly not that claims by junior members of the profession are off limits for criticism. I took the point to be that there are more productive and less hostile ways for the discussion to proceed, which are likely less harmful to the junior member of the profession in question. Someone doesn’t like something a philosopher said? Great. That’s hardly news. So write a paper criticizing the claims in question and publish it in an appropriate venue where the target of the criticism can offer an appropriate reply on neutral, professional ground, as opposed to the often more personal and sometimes vicious blog setting. Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Chris Tillman
2 years ago

My understanding is that the authors are going to respond to McKinnon. This, as they, and the moderator too, have pointed out, was an attempt to make public their concerns with the editorial process. The editors have responded. Report

Lynne Tirrell
Lynne Tirrell
Reply to  Jennifer Saul
2 years ago

I work on derogatory terms, and have done since 1992. That doesn’t make me right about everything, but I have seen and heard and studied a lot in those years. The authors of the original post wonder why Dr. McKinnon insists on “TERF” . It seems pretty clear that the “Trans-Exclusionary” part of the acronym is key, designating the target group harmed by the speech, action, or policy. So many of the voices discussing this above fail to show any awareness of the now-extensive literature on derogatory terms, so I urge them to dig into that literature. It really will illuminate many reasons why “TERF” is more of a descriptor and not something to be silenced (which I take it is the point of the OP). Even if said with a sneer, it fails to qualify as a deeply derogatory term (the group that concerns me most). And I can think of myriad terms that can be said with a sneer, or condescension, or even hate, which are nevertheless not slurs. In my own work, I tend not to use the term “slur” because it does invite this kind of sloppiness, but if you look at the philosophers who do use it, they *always* include a brief discussion of the target class of terms, making it clear that not every insult is a slur. My roots in feminism are Radical Feminist, and I don’t take TERF to be a slur against all RFs. If Dr. McKinnon told me that something I said or did was “TERFy”, I would be concerned, in the same ways I would be concerned if an African American told me something I said or did was racist.Report

mj
mj
Reply to  Lynne Tirrell
2 years ago

No one every says that “something you said was terfy” What happens is that you are called a terf, and the implication is that you are also a bigot, and that whatever you are saying can be easily discounted and ignored, and you should shut up (and if you don’t shut up you deserve whatever violence might befall you).Report

Js
Js
Reply to  mj
2 years ago

Actually, among lots of the trans folks I know, “terfy” is used pretty frequently.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Yes. This. What Chris said. I would suggest that more generally that you stop trying to invite ‘reasonable discussion’ about these sorts of hot topics. When I was a student, I felt compelled to read through such threads on racism, same-sex marriage, etc., and it was always bad for my mental health. I suspect this is true for others too. And, really, let’s be honest, it’s not like these threads are doing anything at all to help move the conversation forward on any of these issues.Report

Jean Cross
Jean Cross
2 years ago

Perhaps it is worth noting that the claim that TERF is descriptive is mistaken as trans men are not excluded by many of the women this term is applied to. Nor are they all radical feminists.Report

Grad student
Grad student
2 years ago

There’s a lot going on in this article, but on the point of the empirical falsehood: Justin, why have you published this correction of an empirical falsehood when (I presume) many, many philosophical articles, including those in the philosophy of science, cognitive science and applied ethics, include empirical falsehoods? Wouldn’t the normal venue for such a correction be in the journal itself?

If the answer is that this is the first, or one of the first, open letters you have received concerning a published empirical falsehood, can we assume that Daily Nous will host such corrections in the future? Report

Trans Grad Student
Trans Grad Student
Reply to  Grad student
2 years ago

Presumably, Justin is committed to the diversity of our discipline, so it’s strange that he insists on continuing to give bigots a platform on his website and thereby contribute to actively harming and pushing people like me out of the field.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Trans Grad Student
2 years ago

You call them bigots. They call you a bigot. You claim to being harmed. They claim the same. Etc.

How does this get us anywhere philosophically? After all, philosophy is what we are supposed to be doing.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Trans Grad Student
2 years ago

Shutting down unpopular opinions makes our discipline less diverse.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

That seems like an empirical claim that is likely to be true about certain “unpopular opinions” but false about others. (My guess is that shutting down the unpopular opinion of Nazism does not make the discipline less diverse, shutting down the unpopular opinion of marriage abolition does make the discipline less diverse, and shutting down the unpopular opinion that 1970’s Gettierology is the best period of epistemology does little if anything to diversity.)Report

Trans Grad Student
Trans Grad Student
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Hi Justin,

I’m not interested in arguing about the authors of the OP and whether they are TERFs. I do not want my comments picked over by the commentators here; it is a large expenditure of time and emotionally energy to argue with people who are largely already unsympathetic to my position and unswayable. I’m not saying you are one of these people, but I believe this accurately characterizes some other commenters. Moreover, other people in the comments have done a lot to answer your questions already – I would point to comments by R.A. Briggs, Mark Lance, and Sofia, among others.

I do want to reiterate that hosting these discussions is actively harmful to trans members of our profession, myself included. For example, consider that a parent comment in this current thread asks whether trans women “really are” women (see No Name’s comment and Daniel Kaufman’s reply). Amy Marvin has an incredibly prescient reply to this kind of questioning in her post at Feminist Philosophers from several months ago. (https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/talking-about-talking/#comment-163853 — Incidentally, she also lists resources for those interesting in the question of whether trans women are women.) Marvin writes: “I have no choice in having my existence debated, with unavoidable consequences for me, both before I was born and likely after I am dead.”

The current original post here considers whether TERF is a slur, but the discussion this post spawned makes claims that invalidate my identity and question the veracity of my self-identification. As a marginalized member of our profession, this is incredibly alienating and exhausting and it happens every time trans issues are brought up in a mainstream philosophical space. There are probably some trans philosophers who don’t mind doing the argumentative and explanatory work in these comment threads and other spaces. Personally, I would rather be devoting my time and mental energy to something other than reading this thread. It would be better for my mental health if I were not constantly confronted with the fact that people who deny something critical to the core of my identity were not literally my professional colleagues. And it’s not as easy as just looking away – see Herbert’s recent discussion on “reading the comments” at the APA blog. (https://blog.apaonline.org/2018/07/04/women-in-philosophy-online-misogyny-and-our-profession/)

I understand that cis women have concerns about safety in women’s spaces that include trans women, and those concerns are driving these cis women to author things like the OP. We might be concerned that we are marginalizing those women if we don’t provide them a platform to express their views. However, I just want to point out people like Rebecca Reilly-Cooper and Kathleen Stock are only getting more positive attention and press in academic and popular media in virtue of their views, and Rebecca Tuvel had a large bevy of support following the controversy after her publication on transracialism. These are all cis women who have professionally benefited because of their views. On the other hand, Rachel McKinnon has to deal with constant harassment and the threatened retraction of her article for defending trans-positive and affirming theses. So it seems clear to me which group is being harmed more here. No doubt Dr. Cooper and perhaps Dr. Stock will say something about the threats they have received in virtue of espousing their views on gender and sex, but I would point out that Dr. Stock’s Medium articles have thousands of approving “claps” (https://medium.com/@kathleenstock) so I wonder who is really being marginalized here.
Report

Kathleen Stock
Kathleen Stock
Reply to  Trans Grad Student
2 years ago

I am mentioned here. All I have to say in response is that I deplore the current climate, as enacted in some of the comments on this article and the one directly above me, which makes large-scale questions of social justice, and criticisms of structural political arrangements, a matter of which interlocutor can personally manifest the biggest wounds.Report

Laura Gillespie
Laura Gillespie
Reply to  Trans Grad Student
2 years ago

I have to say, in this whole exercise in poor judgement, “Convince me, Trans Grad Student. I COULD be convinced” has got to be the low point. Oof.Report

AB
AB
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

How does some people misusing a descriptive word mean that McKinnon’s correct use of the word can be considered pejorative and unsuitable for publication in an academic setting?

At least some of the authors of this piece seem to believe that trans women should not be included in women only spaces, there is nothing more blatantly deserving of the term `trans exclusionary`.

Also, as I posted elsewhere there is a large contingent of feminists that actively campaign against the rights of trans women https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/06/05/government-response-petition-anti-transgender-feminist-campaigners/. Whilst this clearly doesn’t incriminate every person accused of being a TERF, its clear that there exist a large number of people who this term applies to that are simply bigoted. If people start to express ideas that sound an awful lot like the established TERF ideas, it is not really the burden of the persecuted group to politely establish whether the person with TERF ideas is a TERF. Its probably just a lot easier to call them a TERF.

However really this has nothing to do with the topic at hand, since you can use terms like conservative and progressive to describe people in much the same way: e.g. accurately, inaccurately or pejoratively. It does not render accurate uses of the word dehumanising, or an attempt to shut down discourse. I simply wanted to point out why giving these people a platform could be considered dangerous to marginalised people.

(Side note: lots of people are arguing how the meaning of the term TERF has transformed over time into a slur, however, it still denotes the a set of trans exclusionary beliefs/ behaviours, its simply gained additional negative connotations (but only for people who did not already think TERFs were bad))Report

AS
AS
Reply to  AB
2 years ago

The fundamental problem jumps out in every use of the term ‘TERF’ in this discussion. What does t actually mean? The way the commenter above has used it is not a stand-in for radical feminism. In my view, the fact that the term fails to pick out a discrete category of people, is used to mean different things, is used by people with no understanding of its meaning, towards those who are in no sense feminists, is always used in a derogatory sense and by no-one to describe themselves, offers more than enough reasons to conclude that it is not a philosophically-useful term and is best kept out of philosohical discourse.Report

AB
AB
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

I don’t understand the substance of your argument. (Aside from the ad hominem “used by people with no understanding of its meaning,”)

“the fact that the term fails to pick out a discrete category of people”
What you are saying seems like it applies to practically every single descriptor word, and fails to explain how exactly that is problematic.

“is always used in a derogatory sense and by no-one to describe themselves” yes, like words like misogyny, a word absolutely crucial to feminist philosophy.

Finally, If someone regurgitates TERF ideas, its reasonable to call the ideas TERF ideas regardless of the provenance of the ideas. Likewise someone who supports TERF ideas can be considered a TERF.Report

Nicole Wyatt
Nicole Wyatt
2 years ago

Trans-exclusionary radical feminists have been engaged in harassment of Prof MacKinnon for a number of years now, harassment which includes threats and insults on social media, attempts to get her fired from her job, attempts to prevent her from publishing and previous cases of piling on in professional forums like this one. Given that I would have expected Daily Nous to be especially careful to avoid posting yet more harassment. I’m further disappointed that so many of my colleagues can’t recognize harassment and bigotry when its right in front of them.Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Nicole Wyatt
2 years ago

Questioning claims made in a published paper is not harassment. Report

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  Nicole Wyatt
2 years ago

Have you got any evidence for that? It’s a big claim. I’m very confident that neither myself not any of the other authors of this article have harassed Professor McKinnon at any point. If other people have, that’s obviously terrible but I don’t see how it would affect our right to respond to Professor McKinnon’s article.

I could just as easily point to the harassment, abuse and threats I’ve received over the years, calling me a TERF, but I am quite sure you wouldn’t hold Professor McKinnon responsible for that, or say that her article ought not to have been published because someone sent me an email threatening to stab me. Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Nicole Wyatt
2 years ago

The article wasn’t harassment. Professional philosophers publish articles for the sole purpose of other ms engaging critically with them. That is the point of publishing.Report

R.A. Briggs
R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

“TERF” is a name for proponents of a harmful ideology. It’s not a nice word, but the ideology is not a nice ideology. I find the following website helpful for documenting the ideology (with quotes and other specific details):
http://theterfs.com/

It’s currently considered embarrassing to be transphobic (progress!), so people who espouse the ideology also generally loudly deny doing so, similarly to how people will perpetrate other forms of bigotry while simultaneously disavowing it.

Also, as a transmasculine person, I really wish people would stop reassuring me that transmisogynistic people are not trans-exclusionary because they support trans men. (I’m nonbinary, so not exactly a trans man, but in the vicinity.) The alleged support consists in saying that I am supported because I am female, and in not directing the same level of hostility at me that gets directed at trans women and other transfeminine people, rather than in the form of listening to my perspective or taking concrete steps to meet my needs or the needs of trans men in general. Report

AS
AS
Reply to  R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

You appear to be conflating general transphobia with a specific feminist position (radical feminism) which is by definition focuses on the oppression of the female sex because of their reproductive capacities. It does not seek to ‘exclude’, and that it does not centre transwomen’s struggles is simply a by-product if it’s centring females: it does not set out to ‘exclude’ anyone. I think if wanting to talk generally about people who are transphobic, ‘transphobia’ would be a better target that radical feminism, which is getting unfairly smeered via the term ‘TERF’Report

R.A. Briggs
R.A. Briggs
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

I tried replying to this before and my reply appears to have been eaten by internet beasts.

Not all transmisogynists are radical feminists (counterexamples include Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey) and not all radical feminists are transmisogynists (counterexamples include Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin). But some people use radical feminism as an excuse for transmisogyny (examples include Robert Jensen and Janice Raymond).

“TERF” names the intersection of the trans exclusionary and radical feminist categories. It doesn’t mean that they’re the same category. The website I linked was very clear about this. Report

AB
AB
Reply to  R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

Yeah, upon rereading, my above post horribly misrepresents this idea, but is supposed to point the same thing out.Report

R.A. Briggs
R.A. Briggs
Reply to  R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

I agree that being a radical feminist does not make someone transphobic. On my understanding, “TERF” names the intersection of “trans-exclusionary” and “radical feminst”. So Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey are transphobes and transmisogynists who are not TERFs because they are not feminists; Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon are radical feminists who are not TERFs (because she is not trans-exclusionary), and Robert Jensen and Janice Raymond are TERFs.

The website I linked is also clear about this, and gives examples of radical feminists who adopt trans-inclusive views.Report

R.A. Briggs
R.A. Briggs
Reply to  R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

Neither my comment nesting nor my avoidance of typos are entirely on point this morning, but I trust that the substance came through.Report

Holly Lawford-Smith
Holly Lawford-Smith
Reply to  R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

i think it would be helpful to distinguish a pejorative from a neutral sense of ‘exclusionary’ here. a children-only swimming session may usefully advance the interests of children, and we may, if we like, refer to it as adult-exclusionary. this is the neutral sense. or, a men-only business-owners’ club may exclude women, in a way that advances the interests of those men, and we may refer to it as women-exclusionary. this is the pejorative sense. we think it’s okay for some things for children to exclude adults and not (usually) okay (although there are plenty of exceptions) for some things for men to exclude women. what is at issue in this debate is whether radical and gender critical feminism are exclusionary, when they are, in merely the descriptive sense, or also the pejorative sense. i think it’s only the former, because such feminism is for advancing the interests of females, and that means it’s just not about males, regardless of how they identify. (i take ray’s point that it’s cold comfort that such feminism includes trans men, given that they’ll largely not want to be included, and instead want for trans women to be included). so calling it “trans-exclusionary radical feminism” may be accurate, and yet misleading in two ways: first, because that name centres males when it just isn’t about males, and second, because it is ambiguous with the pejorative usage of “exclusionary”. as we said in our original statement, we want to be able to talk about sex-based oppression and female interests, and we should be able to do that without having to constantly defend ourselves against accusations that to do so is to practice transmisia or hate speech. Report

Ole Koksvik
Reply to  Holly Lawford-Smith
2 years ago

Holly, there’s some distance, though, on the face of things, between a term being ambiguous between a pejorative useage and a neutral one, and that term being a slur. Suppose that the ‘trans-exclusionary’ is misleading about everything you and your co-authors have ever said about this issue. Even if so, it seems that *that in itself* does not constitute an accusation of your statements constitute transmisia or hate-speech. So you could object to those accusations, while not objecting to the use of the term TERF.Report

Emily Vicendese (formerly beauvoir's baby)
Emily Vicendese (formerly beauvoir's baby)
Reply to  R.A. Briggs
2 years ago

Kudos to you, Ray, for admitting that “TERF” is “not a nice word”. Some people defending its use don’t admit that, justifying its use by arguing rather disingenuously that it is merely descriptive. Instead, it seems to me you are justifying its use by saying that those to whom it is attached deserve to be called “not nice words”.

However, I am wondering if you can tell me which beliefs are so bad that the people who hold them deserve to be called “not nice words”? Does a person who holds the belief that sex is a natural (biological) kind and that gender is a human kind deserve to be called “not nice words”? Report

Mark N Lance
Mark N Lance
2 years ago

Apologies if some of this has already been said, but I haven’t time to read the entire thread.
That a group of people expresses hostility to people that they label as x does not make ‘x’ a slur. I loathe Nazis. I think they are all morally condemnable. But ‘Nazi’ is not a slur. It is the name of a reasonably well defined political position, one that is worthy of moral contempt.
‘Trans exclusionary radical feminist’ is even further from a slur than ‘Nazi’ because it is a description rather than a name. It is a completely accurate description of the position of radical feminists who exclude trans people from the real of women. It is a term that these people took on themselves to define their view. Yes, many of us find the position to be morally contemptible. We think it deserving of scorn. You might disagree, but arguments there are and the suggestion that this rather boring description is a slur are a transparent attempt to get around those arguments and to impose ideologically contentious terms on the debate. “Gender critical feminist” indeed. Because the “critical” position is that gender logically follows from plumbing. Yep, all those uncritical feminists out there sure need to be schooled by the critical ones.

It is genuinely depressing that philosophers are taking this sort of claim seriously. Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Mark N Lance
2 years ago

Once again, then, if TERF is a neutral descriptor and ‘gender critical ‘is a neutral descriptor, why insist on using the former when it is rejected time and time again instead of the latter which is accepted? There is clearly a derogatory or pejorative meaning behind TERF, whatever people here might be claiming. Report

Mark N Lance
Mark N Lance
Reply to  EM
2 years ago

Because TERF is an accurate description of the view, whereas “gender critical” is neither accepted nor accurate – as I explained.
Saying “it is clear that x” is not an argument for x. Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Mark N Lance
2 years ago

I’d really like you to explain to me why an analytic position that is predicated on the belief in sex-based oppression and a critique of the way gender maintains that system of oppression, is not accurately described by the term ‘gender critical.’ Gender critical is the term we have chosen for ourselves, and only in recent years, in response to the label TERF. Previously, it wasn’t even actually necessary to denote a type of feminism that was gender critical, because that was *just* feminism. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

Gender roles, expressions, etc., and the way they have sustained sexist attitudes and practices is well-known and longstanding. It is at the heart of much of what the feminist critique has been about for many decades. Indeed, it is at the heart of the very mainstream, very accessible classic, “Free To Be You and Me,” which I talked about in my own essay on this topic, and which was crucial to breaking down sex/gender stereotypes in this country.

I don’t know why people are acting otherwise. I don’t know why people are determined to act as if gender critical feminism is weird, unusual, bigoted, etc. I have suspicions, but I am not going to speculate about peoples’ motives. Others are doing quite enough of that already.Report

Pedro Enrique
Pedro Enrique
Reply to  Mark N Lance
2 years ago

Imagine that X defends the position that racism against white people doesn’t exist (due, say, to an institutional theory of racism). Would it be right to call that person a “White Exclusionary Anti-Racist”? If not, then “completely accurate descriptions” can be inappropriate.

(Note: I am not comparing both classes of problems, sexism and racism. The claim is just that “complete accurate descriptions” can be *used* derogatorily.)Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Mark N Lance
2 years ago

“Gender critical feminist” indeed. Because the “critical” position is that gender logically follows from plumbing. Yep, all those uncritical feminists out there sure need to be schooled by the critical ones.

Okay, so this keeps coming up over and over again in this debate. We do not believe that the gender follows logically from the plumbing. That would not be a feminist position – that would be a conservative position that thinks gender is determined by sex. No feminist of any stripe should believe that (although it turns out that in a sense, anyone who thinks the gender binary can only be challenged by denying sex, kind of does). All we believe is that sex exists, and that the oppression of women is sex-based, i.e. women are oppressed *because* they are female, and because of the way their femaleness is a reproductive resource (among other things.) We are gender abolitionists. We don’t think any type of social behaviour or expression should follow from the plumbing. But you need to try to understand that we are using a sex/gender distinction that you don’t seem to be able to comprehend. In order to ‘abolish the gender binary’ as you keep saying, you seem to think it is necessary to pretend that sex does not exist. And that if we grant reality to sex, then everyone must behave in prescribed ways. This is to completely fail to understand the very basis of second wave feminist thought. Anyone can dress and behave any way gender non conforming way they like – it just doesn’t change their sex.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

Sorry, tired typos.Report

Anon.
Anon.
2 years ago

The authors produce two pieces of evidence against McKinnon’s claim that ”there’s never been a verified reported instance of a trans women sexually assaulting a cis woman in such spaces”.

One is a report by the Daily Mail, which is known to be a highly inaccurate source of information, often distorting and fabricating what it reports (so much so that even Wikipedia regards it as unreliable, and generally prohibited as a source).

The other is a report in the Toronto Sun regarding Christopher Hambrook. Another article on the case (by the same journalist) states:

“In his psychiatric assessment, Hambrook provided conflicting information on his gender identity issue. He lied that he had been receiving hormone treatment for many years and lied that he wanted to pursue a sex change. He admitted he only dressed intermittently in women’s clothing and wanted to remain a man and have a relationship with a woman.

Psychiatric reports concluded Hambrook is not transgender.”

(https://torontosun.com/2014/02/15/a-sex-predators-sick-deception/wcm/127b4003-d06d-489d-9679-861651dd3160)

It is quite a stretch to take this as a “verified” instance of a trans woman sexually assaulting a cis woman.

The claim that McKinnon’s statement has been shown to be false is, itself, false.

Report

Ken
Ken
2 years ago

Your strawman is pretty large here. In fact, you have the plumbing claim completely backwards. See http://www.sexandgenderintro.com for arguments.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Ken
2 years ago

Yup. This happens all the time. They have no sex/gender distinction, and so when we say sex exists, they hear ‘upholding the gender binary’ and then somehow attribute that to radical feminism. It’s maddening.Report

Sofia
Sofia
2 years ago

I am a cis woman, and I do think trans women are women, full stop, and that “sex segregation”, as OP put it, is not a good way of going about protecting women because it includes a group of women. If I did not think this, it would be right to call me ‘trans-exclusionary’. It is a description of a view.
Many of us consider it a bad view, which is why TERF acquires this negative connotation. But if one really does believe trans women are not women, or that they ought not be invited into spaces with cis-women because of some perceived ontological difference, they are trans-exclusionary.

Just wanted to say I stand by Sosa’s defense of PPR.

I have broader questions for the letter-writers about their praxis (why this need to police these cis spaces? what exactly do we gain by doing so? as a cis woman person myself, I really don’t see how it benefits women as a group, or feminism as a movement, to isolate ourselves from the diversity of gender identity and gender expression –– but also I just find it really distasteful, more reminiscent of these bigoted arguments against undocumented immigrants than of a concern for the wellbeing of living people) ––– but perhaps there is another forum for these. I just beg of the letter-writers to consider the real reason why they are so adamant about this particular ontological view of womanhood.Report

Ole Koksvik
Reply to  Sofia
2 years ago

Sofia, I believe that at least some of the letter writers are concerned that going to self-id as a legitimate sufficient condition for entry to all types of restricted spaces will cause more violence against female-bodied persons.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
2 years ago

I have a really hard time seeing what’s supposed to be objectionable about the term “TERF”, at least if it’s not supposed to apply equally to other labels for oppressive stances, like “racist”, “anti-Semitic”, “ableist”, etc. “Gender critical” sounds like an obfuscating euphemism, replacing the aptly descriptive “trans exclusionary”.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
2 years ago

It means critical of gender ideology, which is the subject of a great deal of debate. It’s not obfuscating anything. How is it an oppressive stance to question whether male-bodied people should be in female spaces?Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
2 years ago

It doesn’t do the work it’s supposed to do: it doesn’t pick out the category of views/people that it’s supposed to. It is far to broad, uses by those who don’t know its meaning to insult a huge range of people who in no way are ‘radical feminists’. So, philosophically, it is not useful. Quite the opposite.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
2 years ago

The analogous term would be ‘transphobic’ not ‘TERF’. And simply disagreeing with the notion that what makes someone a woman or not is whether or not they say they are is labelled ‘transphobic’. Philosophical disagreement is being labelled as ‘hate speech’.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
2 years ago

Whether or not it is a slur, if the term itself is loaded enough that it gets in the way of philosophical discourse, maybe don’t use it?Report

Mark N Lance
Mark N Lance
Reply to  Urstoff
2 years ago

It is loaded in the same way that ‘fascist’ is. (I am not saying that TERFs are as bad as fascists. I’m saying that the terms are “loaded” in the same sense, namely that many people have decided that the view is rationally and morally indefensible and, as such, have negative evaluations of people who endorse the view. There is no other sense in which TERF is loaded.) The aim to re-brand now that people have taken apart the sophistical defenses of a morally objectionable view are – again, not saying the level of moral offense is the same – akin to the attempt of fascists and white supremacists to rebrand as “alt-right”. Refusing to go along with such transparent re-branding is a condition of intellectual honesty. Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Mark N Lance
2 years ago

That seems to be begging plenty of philosophical questions, but I guess if your starting point is that holding such view is morally objectionable, beyond reasonable doubt, etc., etc., and you’re not looking to philosophically engage with that particular or related views but only people who already hold your assumptions, then sure, go ahead and use the term. Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Mark N Lance
2 years ago

I think your story, Mark, gets things exactly backwards for a nontrivial number of people. It isn’t that someone came to the reasoned conclusion that X is morally and rationally indefensible, and thereafter began to use some loaded term “X” to talk about it. It’s that the loaded term “X” enables them to not take seriously the possibility that X is morally and rational *defensible* in the first place. That, at any rate, is what a lot of TERFs (I’ll humor you) worry is going on.

I’d go as far as to endorse the heuristic that, when terms like “Nazi” and “TERF” and so forth are being used liberally, there’s a good chance the users of those terms actually haven’t taken their opponents very seriously at all.Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  sahpa
2 years ago

The story I’m telling, btw, makes sense if we take seriously that people do not like cognitive dissonance (it’s dissonant to both think trans women are women and that there is a defensible TERF position), do not like having their core beliefs and causes challenged, and so on.Report

Opting Out
Opting Out
Reply to  Urstoff
2 years ago

This is an insightful comment. But castigating, on the one hand, and claiming offense on the other (typically well beyond the merits of the “sin”) is a large part of the entire discourse.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Opting Out
2 years ago

Which is why I’m starting to wonder whether any of it belongs in philosophy at all. These are not productive conversations. They are bloody, political fights.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Urstoff
2 years ago

Precisely.Report

Mad Grad
Mad Grad
2 years ago

hot take: TERFS *should* feel sidelined in “the” “reasoned” “discourse” Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Mad Grad
2 years ago

Also: deontologists Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Mad Grad
2 years ago

What do you mean?Report

Jim
Jim
2 years ago

The authors claim that McKinnon’s statement that “there’s never been a verified reported instance of a trans women [sic] sexually assaulting a cis woman in such spaces” is false. They cite two examples to back up this claim.

One is from the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is generally regarded as so untrustworthy as to be an inappropriate source of information (even Wikipedia generally prohibits it as a source).

The other is from the Toronto Sun, regarding the case of Christopher Hambrook. Another article on the case by the same journalist says:

“In his psychiatric assessment, Hambrook provided conflicting information on his gender identity issue. He lied that he had been receiving hormone treatment for many years and lied that he wanted to pursue a sex change. He admitted he only dressed intermittently in women’s clothing and wanted to remain a man and have a relationship with a woman.

Psychiatric reports concluded Hambrook is not transgender.”

(https://torontosun.com/2014/02/15/a-sex-predators-sick-deception/wcm/127b4003-d06d-489d-9679-861651dd3160)

It is quite a stretch to take this as a “verified” instance of a trans woman sexually assaulting a cis woman.

Therefore, the authors’ claim to have falsified McKinnon’s statement is, itself, false.
Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Jim
2 years ago

Oops.
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leeds-44877856

The question remains what makes someone a “real” trans woman, then, doesn’t it? That is the atomic level foundation of this whole issue. If this can’t be answered, maybe it is fair to say McKinnon’s claim cannot be false. But it also smacks of No True Scotsman.
Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Ken
2 years ago

It absolutely screams No True Scotsman.
Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

No. It is not because he assaulted women that his trans identity is being called into question. It is because Hambrook reportedly did not identify as a woman, and repeatedly lied about transitioning measures, in his psychiatric assessment. Again, it’s a big stretch to take that as a “verified” instance of a trans woman assaulting a cis woman, Nothing to do with the No True Scotsman fallacy. Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Jim
2 years ago

Male-bodied people do not present in female spaces with signs on them saying whether they are “truly trans” (for which there is no accepted definition) or “faking trans” or “lied on psychiatric assessment”. Until there is a way of verifying who is ‘really trans’ or not, excluding all male-bodied people from female spaces is reasonable. Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  EM
2 years ago

EM: That is simply changing the question. The question, recall, was whether the example refutes McKinnon’s claim that “there’s never been a verified reported instance of a trans women [sic] sexually assaulting a cis woman in such spaces”. A case of someone lying about being trans to access certain spaces is NOT a refutation of this claim, whatever else it might be argued follows from it. Report

Pedro Enrique
Pedro Enrique
Reply to  Jim
2 years ago

It’s not clear what you are objecting to. They mention the same thing in the article:
“One major issue here is distinguishing a trans woman from someone falsely claiming to be a trans woman, when trans activism is committed to self-identification as the sole criterion of determination. In 2014, for instance, a serial sexual offender “pretending” to be a trans woman was convicted of sexually assaulting women in two women-only homeless shelters in Toronto.”Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Pedro Enrique
2 years ago

Two points on the BBC report: firstly, it reports an accusation against a trans person, not a conviction. And secondly, the report is from July this year, while McKinnon’s article was published in March this year. For both these reasons, it does not make her claim false.Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Jim
2 years ago

To summarise, then: of the two examples cited against McKinnon’s claim, one is reportedly a non-trans male (and therefore irrelevant to McKinnon’s claim), and the other is an accusation (not a conviction) against someone that was reported months after the article.

Let’s be clear. The authors present this as a critique of PPR’s editorial process. But patently, PPR’s editors could not have corrected or disallowed a paper on the grounds of empirical inadequacy because of a newspaper story that came out months after the paper was published. This by itself dismantles the thinly veiled pretence that this is really a critique of the editorial process, with no other motive. Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Jim
2 years ago

The paper has only just been published.Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

It was published in March. See the links Justin provides.Report

Grad Student #9
Grad Student #9
2 years ago

I don’t know the literature on what a slur is and what qualifies something as a slur, but one of the things that seems to me people who are labeled TERFS complain about, if the term is supposedly to be entirely descriptive, is the wild range of negative things people seem to think can be inferred from being a TERF. The discussion on the facebook comments for this post had someone matter-of-factly stating that TERFS want trans people dead or subjugated. I don’t imagine that’s at all the case for any one posting here who gets labeled a TERF. Now, maybe one can argue that the words of people labeled TERFS do more than they intend and give an unintentional implicit endorsement of causing harm to transfolk, but that is a very different claim from saying that you can reasonably attribute the belief that trans people should be killed or subjugated to any one who is called a TERF and that you can reasonably infer that someone called a TERF believes that.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Grad Student #9
2 years ago

I agree: I think this is clear from the outside, without knowing the philosophy of slurs, or of radical feminism, or of anything else. That it’s not an accurate descriptor is reason to not use it in philosophical discourse. First rule of philosophy – define your terms. That people deep in the heart of aspects of debate around trans issues are so determined to use it suggests to me that it is, as Daniel pointed out, a political, not a philosophical, motivation. And we’re in the business of doing philosophy, where we apply the principle of charity and go it out of our way to give our opponent the benefit of the doubt, so that we can respond to the strongest version of their argument that we can, thus making our own argument as strong as possible in response. MK’s original article did not appear to be following these traditional philosophical conventions, nor others, and perhaps we can see this as a general call to maintain the integrity, and thus the value, of our discipline.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

Apologies for the numerous typos.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

I don’t actually believe that words as such are slurs, or not. I think there are slurring uses and nonslurring uses of terms, and slurring is an act, not something that attaches to semantics. So whatever, sometimes TERF is used as a slur and sometimes it isn’t.

Much more important, to me, is questioning why Daily Nous chose to give its large platform to a vividly transphobic article that trades in moral panic and distortions based on hostility, and that includes specific attacks on the scholarship of an untenured person. Given the standard roster of resentment filled anonymous commenters here, it was entirely predictable that this would turn into a festival of transphobic anonymous ad hominem attacks. So, so predictable. So why decide to use your platform on this? Why do you want this blog to be the space where this kind of resentful mob congregates and does its damage?

As usual I’ll sign my real name and weather the personal attacks, because I’m not a scared little snowflake hiding behind anonymity because I don’t have the courage of my convictions. Report

Opting Out
Opting Out
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

I don’t know why you think this overblown rhetoric is productive: “resentment filled anonymous commenters”, “resentful mob”, “transphobic”, “scared little snowflake”, etc. You are addressing people who read the letters of recommendations you write for your students, write letters of recommendation for some of your students, write letters of recommendation to you, and so on. Most of us aren’t resentment-filled people who are scared little snowflakes. I haven’t see evidence of resentment or cowardice here.

It’s not just that you have the courage of your convictions, as I’m sure you do. But you have also chosen to identify, professionally, with this cause. For others, it is not so central. And we might not want to identify ourselves simply because we do not want to jeopardize the prospects of others to whom we have professional obligations. Report

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Opting Out
2 years ago

I find the view expressed in Opting Out’s comment extremely troublesome. So now we are supposed to abstain from identifying with a cause we find just, because it would professionally harm our students? Is this what academic freedom has come to? If this is not a chill on free expression of legitimate views, I don’t know what is.Report

Opting Out
Opting Out
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
2 years ago

Please. My comment had nothing to do with academic freedom. It was about her referring to her opponents as resentful, scared little snowflakes. I made that perfectly clear. That is no way to talk to people you interact with professionally. And the accusations were baseless, anyway. My comment wasn’t about her position on “TERF’ at all, so it wasn’t “chilling” the free expression of legitimate views. (I think her view is perfectly legitimate, btw.)

I am friends with all sorts of non-philosophers on social media, and they would never post such over the top rhetoric addressed to their professional peers. Of course, such rhetoric chills the relations that other people have with the name caller (e.g., how *our* letters of rec would be received by her). You are acting as if I was the name caller here, when in fact it was quite the opposite.

Report

Louis Cooper
Louis Cooper
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

I have no particular interest in or position on the issues being discussed in this thread, but as someone who usually comments online under something other than my full name, I find the suggestion that people who do that are “scared little snowflake[s]” to be offensive and baseless. Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Her name shows up 44 times in this post, as of right now. This blog should not be any kind of referendum on a junior scholar’s work, especially when that scholar belongs to a vulnerable group is working in a sensitive area around which feelings are strong. Deciding exactly where to draw the ‘ad hominem’ line is beside the point.

I do not in fact agree with her account of slurs. That’s a philosophical disagreement, from inside philosophy of language. But a politically charged extended discussion of her article here seems clearly inappropriate and harmful. And as I said we already know that when you post things that give opportunities for people to anonymously attack feminists, trans* folks, anyone seen as a threat to white cis male dominance in the profession, they will jump at it. I truly believe that your own views are in favor of inclusiveness, but I don’t get why again and again you choose to post about things that will predictably lead to this kind of discussion.

And yeah, Louis Cooper, I stand by my claim that people who post anonymously are in almost all instances cowards. Your personal feeling of offense is not an argument for why I am wrong about this.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

Also, Mr. Out, I would certainly hope that anyone in academic philosophy would be a grown up enough to judge my students on the basis of their professional records, not their advisor’s views on political issues, and to judge the value of my letter on the basis of my philosophical work and my track record as an advisor, not my political comments on blogs. Claiming that people might do otherwise sounds almost like a threat. Luckily, I know my students are amazing and can impress on their own merits.Report

Shieva Kleinschmidt
Shieva Kleinschmidt
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

(i) As Rebecca has noted, this post wasn’t a neutral raising of questions surrounding trans-issues. (I won’t repeat her reasons here, but I agree with them.)

(ii) You recognize our concern about harm done by the conversation, but are somehow, from your position, feeling “optimistic” and think this has been “interesting” and “useful”. I have witnessed many conversations where someone not in the talked-about group has put members of that group on the spot to defend against views that are harmful to them, all in the pursuit of some “interesting” conversation, or perhaps even genuinely in pursuit of gaining knowledge. Even if the person in question has published on the topic, it is not okay to put them on the spot to defend against harmful views in any context you choose (especially in one like this, and especially in the way you did it). This kind of practice is often very harmful, and the real possibility of this sort of harm should have given you pause; having an optimistic outlook that it won’t be harmful after all isn’t enough. Please don’t do this to people. There are better ways for us all to learn.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Shieva Kleinschmidt
2 years ago

It was a post about he editorial process. I don’t think this criticism of Justin is an any way justified.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Justin, there is only opportunity for learning and discussion if you ensure that a discussion conducive to these things will follow the post. Those who are best positioned to respond to the OP, because they are the most knowledgeable about these issues, are philosophers who are likely to feel hurt, exhausted, attacked, or demoralized by the discussion which would predictably follow. Of course, that is *alone* is not a reason to post something — but that combined with that this post is vividly transphobic in the view of many of your readers (myself included), I think, means more caution should have been exercised. Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
2 years ago

Cis-woman here. Sosa’s original response to Lawford-Smith was more than adequate. The fixation on toilets in these conversations is just bizarre.

But perhaps I’m not getting what the TERFs are on about because I’m not especially interested in excluding people, or in creating in-groups and out-groups, or in power-plays for status, which is, I think, what one or two (not all) of the authors of that letter are really about.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Postdoc
2 years ago

I’m not sure that’s true: if we do take ‘TERF’ to indicate Radical Feminists, then it’s not about in groups and out groups, it’s just about who the movement seeks to liberate, which is in this case females. If you object to that you’re just objecting to radical feminism. If you don’t take ‘TERF’ to mean radical feminists then the point remains that ‘TERF’ is not a suitable descriptor for the views/people being discussed, and thus not the best term for philosophical analysis.Report

Shieva Kleinschmidt
Shieva Kleinschmidt
2 years ago

I also want to express my agreement with several who’ve already commented: I believe that posting this to DN shows terrible judgment (for reasons already given by others above). I’m very sorry to those who are being negatively impacted by this post, and in particular to Rachel McKinnon.Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
2 years ago

For what it’s worth, I’m a cis-gendered woman and a transwomen-exclusionary “women’s space” is not a space I would want to spend time in. I wish that those who think cis-gendered women need their own spaces would stop pretending like they are speaking for all of us. They do not speak for me and I am an assault-survivor.
(Also fwiw, I have never heard “TERF” as a slur. I have always thought it an acronym for an expression that pretty straightforwardly characterizes a group of individuals by the view they advocate.)Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Jan Dowell
2 years ago

That’s fine. No one is prescribing that you should feel you want that. The issue is whether the women who do want that, and for whom it is meaningful, or who feel they need it for their safety, or have found it healing (of which there are many, myself included) – should not be allowed to express that need because it has been deemed hateful. Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

Yup, I do deem it hateful. Just as I would deem it hateful if someone felt especially ‘healed’ in all white spaces, or in a yoga class free of fatties, or any other such exclusionary impulse.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

Women are an oppressed class Rebecca. The analogy with white people fails. Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

And your sympathy for rape survivors is impeccable. Great virtue-ing there.Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

Me, again. I’m a rape survivor. Please don’t suggest that being opposed to transwomen-exclusionary places is being unsupportive of rape survivors. It is not. I do not need a cis-women only space to heal. I need a hate-free space to heal.
Thanks.Report

mj
mj
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

So, All victims of rape and trauma have to be able to heal in the same environment that you are able to heal in? You leave no room to even consider that some people’s traumas may be different than your and their needs to heal may be different than yours?Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
Reply to  mj
2 years ago

Hi, mj. If you look back at what I said, that was not it. I am very carefully speaking of my own case.
To all survivors out there who find this thread painful to read, you have my sympathy. I find it painful to read as well.Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Jan Dowell
2 years ago

As I’ve said, and I repeat, you have every right to say that as a survivor you do not feel you have that need. What you do not have a right to do is say that because you do not have that need, then no survivor must have that need, and that it is acceptable to posit that need as hatred. There are many many survivors who do not feel the way you do. We are allowed to make that claim based on our experience. That does not mean we are making the claim for all survivors, and that we do not recognise your right to disagree. We are merely asking that we be allowed to feel differently.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

Is there any reason to include trans women that doesn’t also extend to cis men, as well as every other group of people defined by gender identity, sex, or gender expression? Does the analogy to white only spaces also apply to someone wanting spaces only for people who identify as women? Or are we just assuming that woman-identified people are a morally superior class with greater entitlements to spaces and a lower tendency to commit crimes?

The reason behind sex-segregated spaces is not the unwarranted assumption that people assigned female are morally better than people assigned male, or a random bias in favour of the former. It is the empirical data establishing a correlation between someone’s sex and their propensity toward sexual and physical violence. All evidence shows that AMABs are more sexually and physically violent than AFABs (compare the prison populations of trans women to trans men, to give just one example). Unless there is further evidence that trans women are an exception to this, it is entirely irrational and immoral (because it endangers people) to include them merely because they self-identify as women. Self-identification is not relevant to the criterion of inclusion/exclusion into the space in the first place, which is the risk that various people pose of violence, regardless of whether you think self-identification is the criterion of a person’s falling within the extension of gender terms.

What I said above also explains why the analogy with white only spaces is false. POC are not provably more dangerous than white people, but AMABs *are* provably more dangerous than AFABs. Now, you might object, what if an individual has been screened and found to be safe? Fine, then let them in. But this applies just as much to cis men as trans women. If you object again that cis women in such spaces will feel uncomfortable with cis men being present: well, many of them feel uncomfortable with trans women being present! Why does the one discomfort carry moral authority but the other not? And please don’t say it’s because ‘men are privileged’, because besides that these assumptions around men being oppressors and women oppressed are highly questionable and debatable (men are also discriminated against and harmed in various ways that women are not), it’s also entirely irrelevant because this is no more a reason to exclude cis men than it is to exclude white cis women, or abled cis women, or straight cis women, etc. Privileged or not, when you are fleeing violence and need refuge, your need is just as strong as anyone else’s, and that is what morally matters in that situation.Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Sikander
2 years ago

You’re going with “feel uncomfortable”? That’s the dubious rationale typically invoked by segregationists and homophobes. “Sarge, I don’t want gays in my platoon, they make me uncomfortable!” I don’t understand why that rationale should work for people who “uncomfortable” about transwomen.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

Jane Clare Jones: “Women are an oppressed class, Rebecca”

Yes, and trans women are women. I thought you were all pretending to grant that. Cis women, as such, are most definitely NOT an oppressed class. Quite the contrary. So they don’t get to exclude some particularly oppressed members of the oppressed class of women in order to ‘heal.’ I stand by my analogy.Report

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

Are female humans, as such, an oppressed class?Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

So Rebecca, you are claiming that cis women, that is female people, are not an oppressed class. Okay. Thank you for making entirely evident that your position is predicated on denying the oppression of female people, and making it further evident why people with political commitments to the liberation of female people (i.e. feminists), have an issue with it.

And you can claim you are a feminist all you care to. If that is the case you are a self-identified feminist who does not believe that female people are oppressed as female people. And as we might like to say, identification does not precede existence.Report

Mark N Lance
Mark N Lance
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

Yep, second wave feminism always thought the salient category of oppression was cis women, because, you know, Stonewall never happened. Report

EM
EM
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
2 years ago

Is it hateful for Muslim women to require female-only spaces due to their religion? If these spaces don’t exist, they cannot fully participate in public life. I may disagree with a religion that prescribes separation in that way, but given how vulnerable many of these women are, it is not appropriate to deem it hateful to require these spaces. Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  EM
2 years ago

Odd example – that gender segregation is imposed on them by men, often the same men who throw gays off rooftops. In any case, I have no idea how or whether a transwoman’s right to exist on her own terms would be respected in a society that insisted on that kind of gender segregation. Report

Iain Thomson
2 years ago

Let me see if I understand: The (so called) ‘radical feminists’ trying to exclude trans women from the category of women don’t like being called “trans exclusionary” because they don’t like the push-back they’re getting from the groups they’re trying to exclude? Talk about cry-bullies… Report

Shen-yi Liao
2 years ago

I agree with much of what has been said by Aeon Skoble, R. A. Briggs, Jonathan Ichikawa, etc. (Apologies if I missed anyone else in this long comment thread who has thoughtfully explained why ‘TERF’ is not a slur, and no more derogatory than any other term pointing out a problematic ideology.)

I have little energy for continual engagement with the “TERF-is-a-slur” crowd. Their aim is not reasoned debate; their aim is to engineer our words so that they can no longer be used to call out a problematic ideology as problematic. But my social position gives me the luxury to opt out. By contrast, the trans philosophers of our discipline do not have this luxury. And every time Daily Nous starts a thread like this, they are forced to either expand energy to explain the same things for the millionth time, or retreat and watch the philosophy discipline slide further in grip of this ideology. And I am sorry for that.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Shen-yi Liao
2 years ago

I have no idea how you can assume to know the intentions of a number of people, and I am surprised to see such an uncharitable and slanderous accusation levied against your peers (if you too are a philosopher)Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Shen-yi Liao
2 years ago

The way that ‘TERF’ is used is not how ‘racist’, etc. are used. It is used with an aggressiveness and in connection with incitement to violence the way the others aren’t. The analogue to ‘racist’, etc. is ‘transphobe’, and that is not a slur. Calling out transphobia is in principle fine, but when someone chooses to use ‘TERF’ instead of ‘transphobe’, this should lead thoughtful people to wonder why the latter word wasn’t good enough. I don’t know if it’s the phonetics of the term or its history of usage (probably both), but whatever the reason ‘TERF’ has a different effect and expresses a different sentiment than ‘transphobe’. Indeed I am going to go as far as to say that is why people like McKinnon insist on using it, despite the adequacy of ‘transphobe’ for communicating the relevant bigotry.

I challenge pro-‘TERF’ people to give examples of the use of ‘racist’, etc. in a way that is comparable to what is documented on the website ‘terfisaslur.com’. I’m not talking about mere false allegations of racism, I’m talking about the use of it as a tool of aggressive self-expression and regularly in connection with threats of violence and other derogatory language, even when other perfectly suitable non-pejorative words are available to refer to the bigotry. Terms that pick out false ideologies without being pejorative (e.g. ‘racist’) do not have any harmfulness in their use except when they are being used in a false allegation, i.e. the only way it is bad to use ‘racist’ is if you use it to describe something that is not in fact racist. It is negative only in the sense that any term picking out a morally bad thing is negative. But ‘TERF’ is pejorative over and above that: regardless of whether someone in fact is a transphobic radical feminist, the use of ‘TERF’ to describe them has a sting to it that merely ‘transphobic’, etc. doesn’t have. This is why it lends itself to the aggressive use that is made of it, something that has no equivalent with terms that merely pick out bigoted ideologies, including terms that pick out transphobic radical feminism.

In my view ‘TERF’ is not strictly a slur, but it is not a merely descriptive term either. It demands a third category, one for words that are pejorative in a way that allows them to be used as tools of aggressive expression and silencing, but that does not intend to target only members of a minority group. This is enough to make the deployment of it in academic articles — as opposed to the discussion of whether it is a slur, etc. or not — inappropriate.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Sikander
2 years ago

Bang on. Well said.Report

Academic Trans Guy
Academic Trans Guy
Reply to  Shen-yi Liao
2 years ago

Shen-yi, I appreciate greatly your awareness that there are trans philosophers for whom these discussions are tiring, I really do. (And I agree that they are, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think.) However, I do not appreciate the implicit assumption that all trans philosophers find agreement against whatever “ideology” you refer to. It’s possible (probable?) that we fall in various places along the question of what constitutes a slur, what the right thing to do in this case is, whether the author’s treatment of empirical facts is correct, and so on. Likely we disagree even about what it means for someone to be a man or a woman “full stop.”Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Shen-yi Liao
2 years ago

As you say, you have the luxury of opting out. We’re women, the ontology of our being and our existence as a political class is being redefined – we don’t have that option. To be honest, I feel the way about your contributions as I do about men’s contributions to abortion debates. This is not your reality on the line here, and you are using your social power to make interventions that don’t affect you.

With respect to our failure at ‘reasoned debate’ – thanks for your reductive assertion. We have outlined our positions very clearly here, people can decide for themselves whether they are reasoned. Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

“This is not your reality on the line here” Do you not realize that this is exactly how trans people feel about your position?
Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
2 years ago

Yes I do. Which is why I think we should treat this as a rights conflict, and work out how to negotiate it. What we are objecting to is the use of a wide range of rhetorical devices in order to cast our position beyond the pale of reasoned debate, and hence to prioritize the interests of trans people unilaterally over the interests of women. We have been saying, for the last 5 years, that this is a rights conflict. If we can just get to that acknowledgment, then we could start moving forwards with how we actually deal with all these concrete issues.Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Jane Clare Jones
2 years ago

I disagree that respecting trans people’s identity claims somehow = prioritizing their interests over the interests of women. I disagree that it’s a rights conflict, just as I would deny that it’s a rights conflict when segregationists say they want white only spaces. If you can’t understand why a transwoman would find it degrading to be obliged to use the men’s room, think about why a black person would find it degrading to be obliged to use the “colored” rest rooms we’ve all seen old photos of. The right to be treated equally isn’t on par with any alleged right to enforce segregation. Report

Jessica Collins
Jessica Collins
2 years ago

I cannot think of any plausible theory of ‘slurs’ on which the term ‘TERF’ might count as a slur. I am disappointed and saddened to see Daily Nous making space for this sort of transphobic nonsense.Report

AS
AS
Reply to  Jessica Collins
2 years ago

Where is the ‘transphobia’?Report

Iain Thomson
Reply to  AS
2 years ago

I agree with Jessica (it’s pervasive), but it seems to me that a particularly obvious example (in the thread above) is when a TERF asserts that she needs to exclude trans women from her “safe space” in order to feel safe… Report

Rebecca Bamford
Rebecca Bamford
Reply to  Iain Thomson
2 years ago

I also agree with Jessica – the transphobia in the original letter is pervasive. Transphobia is not necessary to the project of combatting violence against women.

The authors of the letter say they are concerned about “a hostile and intimidating climate” being created in this debate. It seems to me that publishing a public letter of complaint to the PPR editors on this blog about the peer-reviewed work of an untenured philosopher from a vulnerable group invites similar concern. Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Iain Thomson
2 years ago

The assertion of ‘pervasive transphobia’ is not an argument. This isn’t twitter.

And of course when you have defined excluding non female people from female space as a hate crime you will find evidence of said hate crime in the assertion of female people’s right to assemble with only female people. That’s kind of circular. The issue is why we should consider it so manifestly evident that female people do not have such a right, and why we should all be so confident in our moral superiority in denying female people such right. Maybe it’s something we could try and discuss without using circular invective?Report

Staying
Staying
2 years ago

Thanks Justin for being brave enough to host this conversation. I’m disappointed at how many people are disappointed that a philosophy blog has posted an essay by a group of philosophers about an article published in a philosophy journal and asked its readers to engage in a discussion.

As philosophers, we owe ourselves a debt to think through issues as charitably and as reasonably as possible. To try and find common ground from which to build a discussion (I think we missed that opportunity here) and to see what, if any, progress we can make on difficult questions from that shared common point. Perhaps one thing that we are learning is that even feminists no longer share enough of a common starting position to intelligibly engage with one another as philosophers.

My sense of this discussion is that feminism has had a bad year. Many of our philosophical divisions have become exposed via social media and hardened into purely political ideological battles (the present controversy, and the Tuvel and Ronnell debates have made these divisions about as clear as they can be made). There seems to be a decidedly political and non-philosophical battle for the soul of feminist identity right now that I feel disheartened by and that I wish we had better avenues and means to solve.

Lacking an ideal answer, I’m really happy that Justin has opened this conversation here on this blog since I trust it much more than other philosophy blogs to host a productive conversation. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Staying
2 years ago

I echo your sentiment. I am very disturbed at the way the civil rights coalition seems to be intent on destroying itself, just at a time — the age of Trump — when it is more important than ever that it hold strong.Report

Ken Taylor
2 years ago

Even philosophers who write about slurs mostly haven’t really interrogated the very concept of a slur. Consequently, there are not many, if any, good philosophical theories of the very concept of a ‘slur’ that might help us decide which expressions/acts fall within the extension of the concept slur and which do not. Mostly philosophers who write about the semantics and pragmatics of slurs focus on a few obvious parade cases. They then produce elaborate semantic and/or pragmatic arguments more or less tailored to these few parade cases. They rehearse more or less the same moves and countermoves, trot out the same well worn intuitions about variations on the same hackneyed set of of cases over and over again. Consequently, I don’t think one should expect all that much illumination about what is and isn’t a slur from philosophers. But of course, whether ‘slur’ picks out a category of speech act (as I suspect) or a semantically distinctive word class (which I rather tend to doubt), it’s pretty evident that the class of slurs aren’t the only forms of derogation in existence, and probably, as Lynne Tirrell said above, not even the most socially and politically potent forms of derogation. So Frankly, it’s not really clear to me that anything significant can possibly hang on whether the question whether, strictly speaking, the expression ‘TERF’ is a slur. In the mouth of some, it clearly has, and is openly intended to have, derogatory force. I suppose there is, though, a question as to whether philosophical speech acts ought ever derogate either those to whom they are addressed or those whom they are about, whatever form that derogation happens to take. Report

Fool
Fool
2 years ago

“TERF” as generally used seems to have the function of most politicized acronyms for groups of people: it makes it easier to forget that the people it refers to are humans: “punch a TERF” is catchier and less liable to remind you of what you’re actually proposing than “punch a woman who doesn’t believe we have either Gender Identities or Souls” or “punch a woman who doesn’t think that having certain behavioral preferences makes you ‘really’ the sex opposite of your genitalia.”

The analogy I haven’t seen made here. in terms of language and journal responsibility, is to the arguments for using “people of color” or “people with disabilities” rather than “blacks” or “the disabled”: put the person first. Journals have in the past explicitly taken on these kinds of language preferences in order to minimize harm and avoid dehumanization. TERF obviously foregrounds “trans exclusionary” as if it’s THE defining quality of the people in question. Eventually, if you never spell out the acronym, you just end up with a sound whose only association is pejorative. Whether or not “TERF” is a slur, it’s semantically dehumanizing in the way that “the disabled” is, and that’s a reason why journals should be just as wary of letting it be used.

On a slightly different level, philosophically, it also seems to be used to stigmatize and dehumanize anyone who raises what seem to me to be very obviously viable questions: what is the ontological status of “gender identity” and how does this affect its ability to function as a guaranteeing premise in concrete political proposals? Can people be mistaken about their own identity? Does questioning the premises on which someone has constructed their identity count as violence, or have we entirely done away with the concept of false consciousness or the empirical research on our unreliable first-person perceptions? When we need to use an adjective to distinguish between types of a larger kind “trans/tall woman” vs “cis/short woman,” can there be instances of such distinction where the possibility of conflicts of interest between the type can be ruled out of court in advance? Does the concept of “gender identity” completely rule out the materialist feminist idea that gender is a social construction designed to oppress on the basis of sex?

I’m sleepy so I didn’t frame those questions very clearly, but they’re all “TERF” questions, by the standards set out by McKinnon. Does this mean none of them are philosophically serious? Is “hate” the only thing that could make someone ask them? Report

Fool
Fool
Reply to  Fool
2 years ago

Should probably clarify: I say they’re “TERF”-label questions because they admit of at least one answer that’s incompatible with the basic premise-framework of any argument that there can never be situations in which trans women’s and cis women’s interests differ enough to suggest that there’s a non-perfect overlap in their kinds of Womanhood…Report

Jane Clare Jones
Jane Clare Jones
Reply to  Fool
2 years ago

Just on this, and the dehumanizing effect of the word, with my literary hat on, I’d also like to note that there is something significant about the sound of ‘TERF.’ It’s like ‘borg’ or ‘darth’ – it’s single-syllable, hard, plosive word that sounds like something nasty. Report

Sikander
Sikander
2 years ago

The response from the editors was inadequate. First, the letter-writers explicitly said that they are not assuming that TERF is a slur and that their case does not depend on that assumption. E.g. “Whether or not it’s a slur, it is undeniable that”‘TERF” is a term used to harass, shame, dismiss, and denigrate women’s ideas and opinions.”

The response from the editors was simply to say that it’s a matter of debate whether it’s a slur or not, thus missing the point. Further, if it’s a matter of debate, it’s not clear that one should err on the side of treating the word like it’s not a slur. There’s a risk either way: publish and potentially contribute to a bad climate, or don’t publish and potentially needlessly restrict someone’s free expression. The editors didn’t give a reason that the second risk is worse than the first.Report

David Beard
David Beard
Reply to  Sikander
2 years ago

“Since in any case the question of whether it is a slur is a controversial one that is a matter of academic disagreement between you and the author of this article, it is not the role of the editors to decide this issue. ”

This is the weakest possible description of the work of an editor I have seen.
Thank you for bringing this forward in a better-articulated way than I could.Report

Lady Mondegreen
Lady Mondegreen
2 years ago

To clarify matters for those who may be new to this, um, discussion:

The TERF position, which has been compared to racism and Nazism in comments here, goes something like this:

The vast majority of human beings belong unambiguously to one of two sexes.

The word “woman” refers to adult humans of one of those sexes. These people historically have been, and continue to be, subjugated to adult humans of the other sex. (We sometimes refer to this reality by the term “patriarchy,” which provides a hint as to which sex class is the one in charge.)

Female people aren’t discriminated against because they “identify as” women, nor do they have to “identify with” their “gender” to be, for example, clitoridectomized, married at age ten, refused the termination of a miscarried pregnancy, or trafficked into sexual slavery.

Trans people absolutely should not be denied human rights.

But ontological clarity is needed. We do not accept that “trans women are women,” certainly not in an unqualified way. What’s wrong with trans women being trans women?

The trans activist position is that the word “woman” can refer to a male person with gender dysphoria who identifies as a woman, or to a male person who does not have gender dysphoria who identifies as a woman, to a male person who has undergone orchiectomy and vaginoplasty and identifies as a woman, to a male person with a male body who identifies as a woman, or to a female person–who identifies as a woman.

(I’ve yet to see a non-circular definition of “woman” from those who insist that “woman” refers to a “gender identity.” I am however told that elevating “gender identity” like this in no way entails the preservation of gender norms and stereotypes.)Report

LSM Johnson
LSM Johnson
2 years ago

I think the editors’ have made a satisfactory reply.
I’m astonished (and disturbed) by the claims made by Reilly-Cooper in comments above that trans people are not oppressed. Particularly so given that the authors of the letter think so much hinges here on whether they can find counterexamples to an empirical claim made in McKinnon’s paper. Whether or not persons accused of crimes were trans, or identifying as trans, or merely pretending to identify as trans to commit crimes, is certainly empirically relevant — but it’s question-begging to just trot out examples from news reporting and assume they resolve the issue, given the extent to which trans persons are oppressed. (To use a perhaps more familiar example, look at how differently POC are depicted in news reporting when they are accused of crimes, compared to white people. The negative depiction is itself a form of marginalization and oppression. News reporting about crimes committed by POC doesn’t resolve any empirical claims made about the criminality of POC.) If trans people are not oppressed, then I must not know what “oppression” means. I’m pretty sure I do know what “oppression” means. Report

Holly Lawford-Smith
Holly Lawford-Smith
Reply to  LSM Johnson
2 years ago

rebecca put forward a particular view of oppression which depends on resource extraction. she didn’t deny that trans people are discriminated against, marginalised, harassed, etc. if you have a different view of oppression, then you’re simply talking past each other. no need to be ‘astonished’ or ‘disturbed’.Report

Leslie Glazer
Leslie Glazer
2 years ago

The argument is disingenuous and tiresome. TERF, while on the face of it a descriptive term for persons on the left– feminists– who do not ascribe to the narrative framework of trans theory, is clearly used to set limits to discourse and argument, and to belittle those who ascribe to the set of views so categorized. It is analogous to the way ‘fake news’ gets thrown around politically by some politicians, i.e. clearly descriptive of some possible propaganda or satirical news stories, but used as a term of art to discredit and make ineffective those stories. Not quite a slur perhaps, but clearly closer to a rhetoric that shuts down reasoning and argument than one that advances it. The analogy may even be clearer if one considers how the assertion of self-identification as the essential factor in identity seems pretty close to the rhetoric of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘truth isn’t truth’ assertions we hear daily. Philosophical discussion ought to be a bit more subtle than this. Report