Where Are the Feminists?
A handy guide to answering that question
February 16, 2023
A lot of people (American conservatives, in particular) like to ask “Where are the feminists?” when it comes to fighting for women’s sex-based rights and standing up to “gender identity” insanity (here is a recent example). Feminists, here is a handy guide for responding to that question. Feel free to use it anytime and anywhere you want to (this post is free and shareable).
In some ways, it’s a completely reasonable question. Surveying the American political landscape, it quickly becomes obvious that Democrats are pushing the “gender identity” agenda and all of the mainstream organizations that call themselves feminist (including NOW, Planned Parenthood, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights) have been completely captured (bought) by the “gender identity” industry. That industry has so succeeded in persuading the mainstream political left in the US that everybody has to go along with the lie that some men are women, that some children are born in the wrong body, and that anyone who questions these orthodoxies will be immediately canceled, that these mainstream “feminist” organizations have become complicit in a movement that sacrifices women and girls at the altar of “gender identity.” I get it.
In other ways, though, the question is very annoying to those of us who have been screaming our heads off about all of this for a very long time and have no real mainstream visibility.
Many of us have lost careers, friends, and family members. We have been socially ostracized. We are met with physical violence when we talk about it. Some of us have been injured. We have sacrificed a lot to fight for women and girls. Conservatives risk nothing by criticizing “trans.” Feminists risk everything.
First, have a look across the pond at all the amazing feminists who are getting some mainstream visibility (though I would argue not enough) standing up to the push for self-ID. Here is a great piece by UK feminist Julie Burchill on the golden age of misogyny. Here is a great piece by UK feminist Victoria Smith about the importance of women-only spaces on campus. Lesbian feminist Jo Bartosch writes about this topic all the time. Feminists all over the UK are standing up for women and girls. Google “Nicola Sturgeon gender” if you want to get a glimpse into what happens to politicians who ignore a bunch of angry Scottish feminists. If you don’t know who J.K. Rowling is or what she has had to say on the topic, I’m not sure how to help you.
Next, check out radical feminist professor Janice Raymond’s 1979 book The Transsexual Empire, where she predicted everything that was going to happen. She published a reprint in 1994, with an Introduction that addresses the dangers of the growing use of the word “transgender” throughout society. Everyone can download it in pdf form for free.
Fast forward to 2013 and the founding of the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), an unapologetically radical feminist organization that works “to restore, protect, and advance the rights of women and girls using legal argument, policy advocacy, and public education.” It has been fighting the “gender identity” industry since 2013. I know this in part because I joined it in 2015 and served on its board between 2016 and 2020.
A year later, journalist Michelle Goldberg published a piece in The New Yorker called “What Is a Woman?: The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.” In that piece, she discusses the feminist objections to “trans” extensively and recounts a feminist event that took place in 1973, where radical feminist Robin Morgan is reported to have said:
I will not call a male “she”; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title “woman”; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.”
That’s right. American feminists are on record as having been complaining about this since 1973.
Also in 2014, UK radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys published a book called Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism. Here is how the book is described on Amazon:
It is only recently that transgenderism has been accepted as a disorder for which treatment is available. In the 1990s, a political movement of transgender activism coalesced to campaign for transgender rights. Considerable social, political and legal changes are occurring in response and there is increasing acceptance by governments and many other organisations and actors of the legitimacy of these rights.
This provocative and controversial book explores the consequences of these changes and offers a feminist perspective on the ideology and practice of transgenderism, which the author sees as harmful. It explores the effects of transgenderism on the lesbian and gay community, the partners of people who transgender, children who are identified as transgender and the people who transgender themselves, and argues that these are negative. In doing so the book contends that the phenomenon is based upon sex stereotyping, referred to as 'gender' – a conservative ideology that forms the foundation for women's subordination. Gender Hurts argues for the abolition of ‘gender’, which would remove the rationale for transgenderism.
This book will be of interest to scholars and students of political science, feminism and feminist theory and gender studies.
It’s hard to get any clearer than that.
In 2016, WoLF sued the Obama Administration over its “guidance” that had ordered schools to redefine sex to include “gender identity” all across the country. In 2017, I went on Tucker Carlson Tonight to explain WoLF’s lawsuit. I made no secret of the fact that I’m a leftist radical feminist. I have been on that show about seven or eight times since then, and plenty of feminists will never forgive me for it.
By my count, WoLF has filed at least eight amicus briefs before the U.S. federal judiciary arguing, essentially, that women are female and ought to be legally protected on that basis. It has probably filed more, but that’s the number that comes to mind. I participated in writing several of them.
In early 2019, several WoLF members appeared on a panel called “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the Left” at the Heritage Foundation. We weren’t particularly thrilled to be at the Heritage Foundation, but no single liberal or libertarian venue would host the panel. We presented our leftist feminist critique of “gender identity.” And for what it’s worth, I have been told that the video of the event has gotten more hits than any other video on the Heritage website.
Later in 2019, what was then called the Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC) launched the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights (the Declaration). This document is grounded in a radical feminist critique of “gender identity.” The group has country chapters all over the world. The organization later changed its name to Women’s Declaration International (WDI). Today, WDI is the leading global feminist organization that fights to protect women’s sex-based rights.
In the summer of 2019, lesbian radical feminist Julia Beck testified before the House Judiciary Committee against the so-called Equality Act, which would redefine sex to include “gender identity” throughout federal civil rights law. In her testimony, she said:
The Equality Act is a human rights violation. Every person in this country will lose our right to single sex sports, shelters, grants, and loans. We will be unable to provide or deny intimate services to people of the opposite sex. We will no longer be able to distinguish between women and men.
The concept of gender identity suggests that there’s an essentially female personality or feeling that a person can have, but no such thing as a female body. Making gender identity the law will in fact mandate a belief in a ‘female penis’ or ‘female testes.’
I thank the Republicans who invited me here, and I urge my fellow Democrats to wake up. Please acknowledge biological reality.
She made similar arguments in her testimony before the same committee about the Violence Against Women Act that same year.
In February 2020, WoLF held an event called “Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity.” It was a great event, but hundreds of people stood outside, yelling and screaming that we were TERFs, and pounding on the glass windows of the library building. Earlier that day, someone had called in a bomb threat. The speakers had to be escorted out of the venue to their car by library security, and then city police. When they got into the car, protesters pounded their fists on the roof and hood of the car, screaming “FUCK TERFs.” The event got some coverage in the Washington Post, but it was totally disingenuous. It essentially painted us as a bunch of right-wing bigots, knowing full well that we were all leftist feminists. To the best of my knowledge, that Washington Post piece is the only national coverage that American radical feminists have gotten in an outlet that doesn’t lean conservative since the 2014 New Yorker piece.
Later in 2020, the US chapter of WDI launched. I serve as its current president. Since that time, we have been working to advance the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights throughout US law and policy at all levels of government, including by pushing back hard on the Equality Act. We have, for example, played a role over the past couple years in getting bills passed in 20 or so states that protect single-sex sports for women and girls. Thanks to a small team of volunteer women, we have submitted countless pieces of written testimony before state legislatures all over the country. Not only on sports, but also on protecting kids and keeping “gender identity” out of state legislation. WDI USA has also filed amicus briefs in two federal court cases arguing in favor of the sex-based rights of women and girls. We think those briefs are making a difference.
In 2021, the TERF Collective entered the scene. This is a group of leftist radical feminists who provide space for women who are just starting to understand the harms of “gender identity” and help them hone their radical feminist critique of “gender identity.”
There are countless feminist activists all over Twitter who constantly try to raise awareness of the leftist feminist critique of “gender identity.” There are way too many to mention here. There is also a slew of feminist YouTube channels dedicated to raising awareness about the topic.
In November 2021, I published a book called The Abolition of Sex: How the ‘Transgender’ Agenda Harms Women and Girls. That book includes this:
Here is the truth we cannot speak: “gender identity” does not exist in any real, material sense, and “transgender” is simply a made-up concept that is used to justify all kinds of atrocities. It is, in effect, a men’s rights movement intended to objectify women’s bodies and erase us as a class. It is left-wing misogyny on steroids.
I say this is as a leftist and a Democrat.
Famed author J.K. Rowling recently said that we are living in one of the most misogynistic times in recent history. She is right. From a feminist perspective, men as a class have always dominated women and trampled on our rights, and today is no different, except that it is worse because it is being done under the ruses of “transgenderism” and “gender identity,” both of which are being enshrined in law at all levels of government and pushed by the political left. Many of us women on the political left are accustomed to having our rights trampled on by the right; we are not used to experiencing it from within our own political ranks.
It ends with a call to action to fight against the abolition of sex on behalf of women and girls.
Also in November 2021, WoLF filed a lawsuit on behalf of four incarcerated women challenging a California law that allows men to “self-identify” as women or non-binary and be housed in women’s facilities. WoLF’s complaint presents claims under the 1st, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
By December 2022, thanks at least in some part to the relentless advocacy efforts of feminist individuals and organizations to push back against the Equality Act, the Act appeared to be dead.
In January 2023, feminist shop owner Amy Mangano faced hundreds of protesters who were angry that she had posted the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights (and other TERFy signs) prominently in her storefront.
She knew that she was risking her safety and her livelihood to do that.
The night before the protest, she posted a sign in the window that read “Are women’s sex-based rights hateful?” The purpose of that was to get members of the general public to really think hard about that question.
Spinifex Press is an Australian book publisher that has been printing feminist analyses for decades. Here are just a few of its publications in recent years that critique “gender identity” from a feminist point of view:
2019 In Defence of Separatism by Susan Hawthorne https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950045
2020 Transgender Body Politics by Heather Brunskell-Evans https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950229
2020 Vortex: The Crisis of Patriarchy by Susan Hawthorne https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950168
2021 Not Dead Yet: Feminism, Passion and Women’s Liberation edited by Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950328
2021 Detransition: Beyond Before and After by Max Robinson https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950403 (now available as an audiobook)
2021 Doublethink: A Feminist Challenge to Transgenderism https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950380
2021 The Women’s Pool edited by Lynne Spender https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950458
2022 Out of the Fog: On Politics, Feminism and Staying Alive by Renée Gerlich https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950540
2022 Penile Imperialism by Sheila Jeffreys https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950700
2023 On the Meaning of Sex: Thought about a New Definition of Woman by Kajsa Ekis Ekman https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950663
2023 Not Sacred, Not Squaws: Indigenous Feminism Reclaimed by Cherry Smiley https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950649 (April 2023 but available now via Spinifex)
Robert Jensen is a man (and therefore technically not a feminist) but he’s an ally to feminism. In 2016, Spinifex published his book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. It’s a good resource for men who want to understand the radical feminist critique of patriarchy in general and of “gender identity” in particular.
Those are just a few examples. The media doesn’t want you to know it, but feminists are hard at work and taking risks to protect the sex-based rights of women and girls. That’s where the feminists are.
Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do, Kara. Your final point was right on target: the mainstream media does not want to cover this.
Brava to you from Ohio.
I've been subscribing to your column for several months, Kara, and I thank you very much for this article. I also thank you for finally allowing comments, because I believe there needs to be room to have in-depth discussions about this. And I am especially grateful for you opening up comments for this particular article, because this is a topic that's extremely worthy of a discussion--in fact I would argue that a serious discussion about "where have all the feminists been?" needs to happen before the gender identity movement can be tackled head-on.
Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I am indeed a man (as if that wasn't already obvious). I do not consider myself to be a particularly right-leaning man--I was born and raised in a strong Democrat household, the son of two public school teachers who both got an opportunity to go to college thanks to welfare--and I consider myself to be essentially in the same space, in terms of political view, as I was then. By today's standards I would probably be considered "right-leaning" by others, but I consider myself more of an independent than anything. I have never been registered to any political party and have voted for both Rs and Ds since 2000, the first year I was eligible to vote. I am a church-goer and come from a small town in southern Illinois. My friends are almost all members of the working-class; outside of my writing career (fiction writer, nothing political), I am a part-time janitor. I don't particularly consider myself a feminist--in fact I'm not even sure what that word is supposed to mean. I don't know what others would say about me. I'd like to think the women who know me would say good things about me, but you'd have to ask them,. So those are my credentials.
Here is my first reaction:
I'm sorry, but as much as I agree with and appreciate what you said here, the fact of the matter is that this issue IS being pushed by the left, it has ALWAYS been pushed by the left, and feminists have ALWAYS voted for the left--and to this day I see no indication that that is going to change. By voting for the political movement that has for fifty years been in favor of enabling, enforcing, and now enshrining this ideology into law (admittedly, though, most actual people voting for the left, including myself on the multiple occasions when I have done so, have not realized it), you have been complicit in this from the beginning. There is NO getting around this. Feminists have been directly responsible for the gender identity movement because of their refusal not to vote left. The left is where this is coming from, so every time a feminist votes left, she is enabling the gender identity movement to continue, whether she realizes it or not, or whether she thinks there's a higher priority at stake (chiefly abortion) or not.
Even as a recent example, here in the US we had a chance, nationally, to make a statement about this issue just a few months ago, but we chose not to take it. It appears as though feminists prioritized abortion instead. It seems likely that "gender identity" will become a defining issue in the 2024 election, but I see no reason to expect that feminists at large are not going to vote for the Democratic candidate again. I'm sorry, but until you* stop voting for the same politicians who are going along with this movement (which I don't believe you're going to do), your complaints about being ignored are simply invalid. You are, and have been, directly contributing to the problem. This movement wouldn't have gotten as far as it has without your direct help.
*I'm using the plural "you" in this sentence, and in the following paragraphs. I'm not singling out Kara in particular (although I do include her in that plural "you"), but to all left-leaning, "progressive" women to whom this applies (and there are a lot of them).
The left is where moral relativism comes from, it's where the "my truth" movement (which basically posits that anyone's strongly held beliefs or opinions are basically "truth" to that person, regardless of whether or not these opinions and beliefs are actually true) comes from, and it's where the desire to remake society comes from. Gender identity is coming basically exclusively from the political left. There may be a touch of right-wing capitalism thrown in for good measure, but that's a fairly minor component compared to the ideological capture of left-leaning institutions--and if the left had never sought to push gender identity onto society, there would be no big-business for right-wing capitalists to capitalize on. Yet despite this, feminists continue to self-identity with, and vote for, the left. Why? Why do you do this? Is abortion really that important? Weirdly enough, abortion rights might not even matter that much in the future, as we raise a generation of sterile young people who will never reproduce. Is that really the battle worth fighting right now?
Another way in which you are directly implicated in the rise of gender ideology is your decades-long demonization of the right. I've been watching some of these "Let Women Speak" videos on Youtube, and I'm struck by how the women hosts respond to being called "hateful" and "bigoted" by the TRAs. I do sympathize with them, but at the same time I can't help wondering how many times these same women have called men, particularly right-leaning men, "hateful" and "bigoted"; I'm willing to bet that it has happened, and probably more than a few times. Now they know what it feels like. It's not a nice feeling, is it?
The Democratic party has been able to take your support for granted for so long that it has no interest in listening to you, because they are absolutely confident that you will return to the fold and "vote blue no matter who" when it counts. And so far, they've been right. Meanwhile, you've spent so long demonizing the Republican party that they don't know what to do with you, and don't know how to communicate with you. Sure, I understand why feminists on the left are annoyed by the likes of Matt Walsh trying to "muscle in" on their territory. I'm not a hardcore traditionalist (although I probably am more of a traditional than a leftist feminist would be), so guys like Matt Walsh tend to bug me in general. But "TERFs" continue to identify with and vote for the left. Matt Walsh naturally sees you as enemies because he has, in fact, been your enemy. Somehow or another, this bridge is going to have to be crossed.
(I would have plenty to say to the Matt Walsh-types, too, but this isn't Matt Walsh's substack, and I doubt the sorts of readers who subscribe to Kara's subscribe are big Matt Walsh fans, so I don't think this is the place for that).
At this point, I don't think it's very likely that you're ever going to reform the Democratic party from within, at least not until after the party has suffered heavy losses and become convinced this is a losing issue. They are not at that point yet, and won't be for at least a few more years. To get their attention, you're going to have to lead an exodus of women from the Democratic party. Maybe you don't identify as Republicans--that's okay. I don't, either. I think the "team spirit" political party system we have is stupid, exhausting, and ultimately counter-effective for actually getting anything done. But as long as you continue to identify as a Democrat, and vote for Democrats, you are not going to change the Democrats. Period. End of story. It is not going to happen, especially now that Trump and DeSantis are speaking out against GAC ("gender-affirming care"). This WILL cause the Democrats to reflexively, instinctively, automatically defend GAC and continue to insist on it, guaranteed. That IS going to happen. We have seen this pattern play out enough over the last decade to be absolutely confident of this. If Trump (and now DeSantis) takes a stance on something, the left will feel duty-bound to take the exact opposite stance, just to prove him wrong. There is no way the Democratic party will back down from GAC for at least the next two years.
If you want to get the attention of the Democratic party, and their allies in the mainstream media, then you have to leave it, and get other women to leave it, too. THAT will get their attention. These "work to reform from within" efforts are not working, and they are not going to start working anytime soon.
Kara herself may not read these comments, but any other commenters, feel free to respond, and do so in-depth. I think we need to have these conversations and hash these issues out with each other if we're going to be able to resist the avalanche of gender identity ideologies that are trying to sweep over our society.