In the latest episode of the FiLiA Podcast, Raquel Rosario Sanchez chats with the feminist philosopher and activist Jane Clare Jones who published her book ‘The Annals of the TERF war’ this month. They discuss feminism, sex-based rights, and the evolution of “gender identity” theory.
Dr. Jones studied Social and Political Science at the University of Cambridge, where she got a first-class degree and was informed by a rather pompous professor that her “intellectual trajectory” was “unfortunate.” In the early 2000s, she studied Continental and Feminist Philosophy at Goldsmiths (MPhil) and the State University of New York (PhD). Since 2011, Jane Clare Jones has been involved in feminist activism while writing popular pieces at the intersection of feminism, politics and culture. She is the director of The Centre for Feminist Thought, and the editor of the feminist journal The Radical Notion.
You can purchase the book on The Radical Notion website and on other outlets as an ebook. You can also subscribe to The Radical Notion for a quarterly magazine full of feminist wit, art and analysis. Read more about the Centre for Feminist Thought and the work they do to make feminist theory accessible for women, on their website.
Jane Clare Jones tweets at @JaneClareJones.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez from FiLiA in conversation with Jane Clare Jones, author of The Annals of the Terf Wars.
Raquel: Hello, welcome to the FiLiA podcast. My name is Raquel Rosario Sanchez and I am the spokeswoman for FiLiA. Today, we are absolutely delighted to be speaking with philosopher and feminist Jane Clare Jones. Jane Clare Jones is a feminist philosopher writer and activist. She's also the woman of the hour having just published her new book The Annals of the Terf Wars.
Jane studied Social and Political Science at the University of Cambridge, where she got a first class degree and was informed by a pompous professor that her intellectual trajectory was ‘unfortunate’.
In the early 2000s she studied Continental and Feminist Philosophy at Goldsmiths. She got a Master's degree there. And then she went to the State University of New York to do her PhD.
Since 2011, Jane Clare Jones has been involved in feminist activism while writing popular pieces at the intersection of feminism, politics and culture. So Jane, from the moment that you had the idea that I might want to publish a book, to now the moment that so many people are sending you pictures of your book in their hands, there's a lot that goes on there. So, so tell me about the moment that you decided, I think I want to publish a book.
Jane: It was kind of an accident actually. What happened is some of the women on Twitter were asking for me to put my threads together.
So I have like a folder on my hard drive that I keep some of my Twitter threads in. And so I just kind of started like putting them together into a word document. And then I was kind of like, oh, like was kind of putting them in an order. And then I was like, oh, I've got some essays that go with these.
So I kind of started putting some essays with it and thinking, I was just thinking I was going to make like a little word document or a PDF or something and like give it to the women. And then suddenly this appears to be a book and before I knew it within about two days, I had 90,000 words, of just like Twitter threads and bits and pieces that I put together.
And then I kind of went out onto Twitter and was kind of like I appear to be writing, putting a book together. And then everyone was like, Ooh. And there was quite a nice little kind of response. So I thought, okay I'll do this. And then we said, you know, everything always gets so busy. We said, oh, we're going to publish a book in the spring.
And then it got to the spring. And I was like, oh, it appears to be the spring. I think I need to make this book and we published it in June, but yeah, I mean, it kind of got put on a shelf while I was writing a course for the school. And then I went back to the manuscript and it took about six weeks, I think, maybe of work to get it from the state of the manuscript to where we were able to give it to the world. The pictures on Twitter are like my favourite thing. I love it. Tables with glasses and women reading in gardens and women reading next to the sea and you know, people with beer on the table and bikes going by, and it's lovely. It's lovely to see it out in the world.
Raquel: And now it's informing so many people. And, and sometimes you wonder when you see people like yourself, who's so outspoken and who enjoys sort of the interaction of being this active live debate, there's so much knowledge that gets disseminated and lost. And I think that it's really useful that you've decided, well, let's collect that and let's make something of it.
Jane: Like the last few years I've spent so much time on Twitter and writing and giving speeches and there's a lot of work and I've been kind of in output mode in a certain kind of way.
I suddenly realised that I just accumulated like a, a really quite large quantity of words and I wanted to fix them in some way, because, you know, Twitter is kind of ephemeral and giving speeches is kind of ephemeral and blogs are kind of ephemeral and this is an important historical conflict.
I hope that in the future, there will be some attention to paid to understanding what happened during this period. I want to leave some record really. I want it to be there in a form that is accessible and can be used as reference for people who are involved in this conflict. And I also want it there as a historical record.
Raquel: Does it come across as you're making philosophy on Twitter?
Jane: Yes. I feel like I'm making philosophy on Twitter.
Raquel: I wonder if you sort of went down this path after, because when you think of philosophy, you think about sort of this very intellectualised debate that can be abstract, but Twitter is such an instant thing, right?
It's a very immediate back and forth and connections and you get to make your arguments and the other person make their point.
Did it feel to you like, I don't want to be doing this stuffy stuff I want to be out in the world, having this conversation, a live conversation about a very current issue in a way that is more interactive.
Jane: Yyeah. More interactive, more grounded in the community of women, more responsive to actual things that are happening in the world, more accessible to people and relating to things that actually have meaning to them. Yes. I always wanted to do that. I trained myself in philosophy because I wanted to know what other people had said for my own understanding of the world.
But also because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't saying stupid things that people had already said before, or that things that were transparently false. Right. But I always kind of knew that I wanted to be involved in actual public discourse that I didn't want to be just stuck in an ivory tower talking to like five other people about some stuffy nonsense that no one cared about.
So before I ran into trans activism, I'd already started kind of writing popular pieces about things that were going on in the news from a kind of feminist perspective and trying to apply my ideas about how this system of power works to specific current events and use those as a way of, of explaining theoretical points or points of analysis to non-specialist people, thinking people who were interested in thinking about different ways of interpreting things.
And I also like writing in a kind of non-conventional academic way, you know, I like writing with jokes and in a way that's entertaining and I like swearing and I like using quite colourful language. And that was not something that you could do in an academic setting either.
So I also kind of think of myself as a writer and I wanted to be able to write in a voice that felt like me and not in a stuffy academic way and in a way that was accessible to people who were interested. Yeah.
Raquel: So let's go back a little bit to the beginning.
What made you decide to become a philosopher and then, after you've made the decision, why Continental and Feminist Philosophy?
Jane: I didn't really decide to become a philosopher, to be honest. I think I've always been quite inclined towards argument. Maybe not argumentative. I think my mum would probably say argumentative.
Like even when I was little, my mum would tell me to do something and I would be like, why give me a reason. And then she'd give me a reason. I would be like this is not a good enough reason. And these are the reasons why this is not a good enough reason. And she'd be like, oh, for heaven's sake, Jane, put your shoes on.
So I think that's a kind of natural disposition to be somewhat argumentative, to pick people up on what they're saying and just be like, this doesn't make any sense and then start listing all the reasons why, what they're saying doesn't make any sense. Yes. This might be the reason why I never got a proper job, so, that's definitely some kind of disposition.
And then I ended up studying quite a lot of philosophy at university and found that very interesting. but then I had this unfortunate intellectual trajectory experience and, and kind of decided that maybe I would try and go out into the world a bit, maybe the academy wasn't for me. In the end, I ended up going back because my best friend put a book Speculum of the Other Woman by Luce Irigaray in my hands in about 2002. And at that point I was working in film and I was not happy with it. It really didn't suit me in a lot of ways. I was always very obsessed about the state of the world and about politics and about why the world is so unjust and why our societies are organised in ways that are transparently not oriented to the wellbeing of people and why there is so much exploitation and domination.
And I was thinking a lot about that. I was thinking a lot about capitalism. I was thinking a lot about hierarchy and my friend put this book in my hand and it was a book by Luce Irigaray and I had a kind of very powerful, physical response to it. I remember very clearly sitting in the garden of my house in east London and just getting this shiver, actually that kind of ran down my spine and thinking, I need to understand this book.
This is it. I need to understand this book. And then I decided to go back to university and I basically structured my postgraduate education about trying to understand that book.
Raquel: What was your experience like in academic philosophy?
Jane: I met some really, really great people and I had some really great experiences. In general, I do not feel very comfortable inside academic philosophy. It's an extremely generally masculine discourse and environment. It's not very welcoming to women. It's particularly unwelcoming to women who are saying fairly uncompromising feminist things. So I encountered quite a lot of hostility as well, and quite a lot of dismissiveness and quite a lot of sense that my work was not particularly worthwhile or interesting and not a great deal of support or encouragement I felt.
Raquel: When you experienced the hostility, how old were you then?
Jane: Probably in my mid-thirties, early thirties. I went back to university in 2004 originally to Goldsmith's. So I was 31 then.
Raquel: Your professor said to you your intellectual trajectory was unfortunate. How did you overcome those rejections?
Jane: I think, I mean, that happened to me when I was 21. Right. And then I, I was out of the university for 10 years, I think in the course of the time that I was out of the university, I became a feminist actually. I think my thinking had always been quite feminist. And I think that was why I encountered quite a lot of hostility, but I didn't understand that at the time. And so over the course of those 10 years, I was doing quite a lot of work by myself. And I was also going through this process of kind of consciousness raising with my best friend, where we were looking at our own experiences and thinking about how, the stories that we had been told, you know, in a kind of purportedly post-feminist kind of nineties world were kind of bullshit really and didn't match what we were noticing, especially as women started to get older and have children and the kind of structural power imbalances become like more evident.
And so I started to realise that the dismissiveness that I was encountering in academic contexts very often from males in academic contexts might have a lot more to do with them being uncomfortable with the kinds of things I was saying than it had to do with the fact that I was talking shit.
And I became increasingly convinced by that. And that helped me develop confidence in my own thinking.
Raquel: Tell us a little bit about your time in the US and in US academia, you did your PhD in New York. What was that like?
Jane: Well, it was actually in a place called Stony Brook, which is on the north coast of Long Island.
So it's not in the city. It's about 50 miles from the city in a kind of what I would describe as soul destroying suburban part of Long Island, not even a town really, town would be really overselling it, it's basically a kind of soulless housing estate that goes on for miles.
There's a couple of little towns, but they're more kind of like weird like Disney Park theme towns because the towns are so rare out there. They're all full of like cutesy little shops. They're not real places. It's not entirely true. There are some real places in Long Island, but in the bit of Long Island that I was in, there was very few things that felt like real places to me. I found it extremely alienating.
Raquel: So this is where you did your PhD.
This was around the time that queer theory was starting to create a niche for itself in academia. Did you have any experience with the women's studies and gender studies and what they were up to because that would become so fundamental to your work later on.
Jane: Yeah, I mean, at that point women's studies in Stony Brook had not fully been captured by queer theory. So, I mean, Stony Brook was kind of unusual because the reason why I went to Stony Brook was because it was the centre of the Irigaray Circle, So the women who set up the Irigaray Circle were based in Stony Brook. And I had got to know them at seminar that we had been to together. And that was kind of why I decided to go to New York. So to some extent it was a slightly unusual environment because most of the feminist women in that department and actually kind of around about many of them were Irigaratists which is not a usual situation. There were a lot of men in that department who were somewhere between disinterested and hostile. There were a few men who were interested and were engaged in what, you know, in conversations with the women about what we were thinking about, but there was actually quite a lot of hostility as well from some of the men.
Raquel: Did you see it coming what would be happening next?
Jane: No, it was already happening in other places, but I didn't see it coming because I was, I think in this slightly weird little cul-de-sac where we were working on sexual difference feminism, right. And the foundation of sexual difference feminism is sexual difference. So the Circle has now like everyone else capitulated and it's all like queering sexual difference and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But that had not happened in the first decade of this century. When I was in the States. So I knew that there were some people who were doing queer theory. I was uninterested in queer theory because it doesn't explain anything about the oppression of women because it was not interested in the oppression of women. That's not its question.
So I just ignored it. There were some people doing that. I remember when the Q got added to the LGB, the Q was added actually before the T where I was, and it became a LGBQ I think. And I was just a bit baffled. I was like, well, at that point I did not understand the discourse at all.
I was like, well, what does the Q encompass that's not already covered by the, the LG and the B, well, I was left alone. Basically. I was left alone to do my work. I mean, insofar as there was no hostility coming from other women, uh, or other academic feminists towards me. I had no idea that I was in a few years’ time going to become a thought criminal without changing anything that I believed.
I mean, as far as I was concerned at that point, a perfectly respectable member of the kind of progressive kind of left wing thinking, you know, group of people, I did not see it coming at all. We're differently positioned in the academy in different places or it coming before I did.
Raquel: Was there a moment in which you realised that I'm becoming ostracised now that I'm speaking out about this very increasingly unpopular idea like sex-based rights. How did that manifest in your life?
Jane: It manifested in my life in so far as I basically don't have contact with anyone who I went to grad school with.
Partly, we're in different countries. So most of them are still in north America, but I have a few close friends from grad school who our relationships have kind of broken down in significant ways because of this. I became aware around 2013, 2014, when I ran into trans activism and particularly going into 2015, and then later that many of the people that I had been to university with at grad school were just absorbing and recycling the discourse ‘we are good American progressives and this is what we believe’ kind of way.
I have had relatively few direct confrontations with them. It's mostly just radio silence. I haven't been denounced as far as I'm aware. But they certainly don't have anything to do with me or anything to do with my work. And they're quite happily going around to conferences where people are delivering papers that are pure unmitigated, ideological bullshit.
Raquel: So, you were never part of the in-group of academic philosophers, who got swept away by this current.
You're very strong on talking about sex-based oppression. You write, for example, in your book about the idea of biological determinism, there's this perspective that argues that if you talk too much about biology and bodies, and that means that you are saying that biology is destiny and that women are reduced to their bodies. So what you write about this is:
“Women are oppressed by gender on the basis of sex. When we say that female oppression is sex-based, we mean female people are oppressed on the basis of sex, not female oppression arises necessarily because of sex. Female people are oppressed by a cultural mechanism, power hierarchy that feminists have called once upon a time, gender. Gender is a social system and we think it harms female people and children and men and the planet. And we want to dismantle it".
So, tell me about being a philosopher who advocates for material reality and for sex-based rights.
Jane: I mean, the thing is, the philosophy that I was trained in, Irigaray, is basically a form of second wave feminism.
It shares the basic assumptions of second wave feminism, which is that women are female and that patriarchal gender is a system, basically a system of projection, right. In which images about what it means to be a woman are projected onto women in a way that kind of disciplines and coerces them. And funnels them into certain kinds of behaviours, which facilitate the continuation and maintenance of the system, which is about appropriating their labour and their bodies as resources.
Right. I mean, Irigaray’s argument is all about the way in which patriarchy functions by erasing the recognition of the materiality of female people's bodies and female people's labour, and our dependency on the bodies of the mother as a kind of archetypal symbol of the material dependency of all human life and of all life on this planet.
And that gives us quite a powerful way of understanding how patriarchy functions as a kind of foundational system of material resource extraction, right. Which then leads later through historical development to the mechanism of material resource extraction that underpins capitalism and also the exploitation of the earth and the exploitation of the bodies of colonised and enslaved peoples as well.
That's what I always assumed. I have not changed my position. I think that analysis is fairly consonant with a, with a second wave understanding about the relationship between sex and gender. And that is the model that I have always been using.
15 years ago or so I was in university with people who also seemed to think that that was a model of the world that made sense.
And then it came along that sexual dimorphism did not exist. That humans were not sexed. That gender was a system that arose for some completely inexplicable reason that has nothing to do with the materiality of bodies has nothing to do with the exploitation of women's bodies. And that anybody who thought that the materiality of bodies was relevant to the system of power that was bearing down on those bodies was a Nazi, effectively.
Raquel: Did you try to make it work? Because we listen to you and we think, you know, but this is something that students need to know about. This conflict is stuff that young people in particular need to be aware of. So did you try to make a way for yourself within academia or did you at one point decide that this is just not an environment for me?
Jane: By the time I finished my PhD, which was in 2016, it was pretty clear that there was not going to be space for me in the academy if I carried on believing the kinds of things that I believe and analysing power relations using the model that I'm using. So I kind of prevaricated for about a year or so.
I finished my PhD and then I was very exhausted and basically took a break and spent most of my time writing essays about trans by way of kind of light relief, really. But that was interesting trying to decide what I was going to do. And then actually circumstances made the decision for me because then it was 2018 and the consultation happened and traction really started building with respect to this debate in this country.
Raquel: When you talk about the consultation, you are referring to the proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act here in the UK.
Jane: I'm referring to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act in 2018. At that point Women's Place had formed and Fair Play For Women and there were these various different women's groups that were beginning to pop up in order to organise grassroots resistance. And I had run into transacactivism, you know, five years previously and had spent quite a lot of time with some other feminist women, like many of whom are known in this debate, Glosswitch, Sarah Ditum, various women thinking through our critiques of this.
So, I had left it alone for a while, while I was finishing my PhD, but I kind of had done a lot of the kind of preparatory work. I was familiar with trans-activist argument. So I'd read quite a lot of the literature. I'd spent quite a lot of time thinking about why it was nonsense.
And then I was kind of sitting there being like, okay, so what am I going to do? Am I going try and get a job in a university? I was thinking there isn't really space for me in a university right now. I don't want to put myself in that position. I will be insecurely employed and I won't be able to speak. And I also can't do the kind of work that I want to do because my work is about the interaction between culture and bodies. My philosophical work is a lot of it is about the cultural symbolisation of bodies and how patriarchy is based actually on a model of human selfhood, that is a projection of the male body. And that we don't have cultural representations of actual female people's experience.
In that respect it's a difference feminist argument. It's like the argument that Caroline Criado Perez made in Invisible Women, our culture is based on a male default and that male default is partly symbolic, but that symbolic structure is also related to male bodies and assumptions that are grounded in male bodies.
I couldn't see any space. I couldn't see any space for me to do my work. They're sitting right on top of my work.
Raquel: How did you carve a space for yourself?
Jane: By shouting my mouth off on Twitter.
It was luck. I didn't know. It got to 2018 and the debate was going on and I kind of jumped in feet first and I guess, because I was relatively familiar with the arguments, I just kind of came out fighting. I came out all guns blazing.
Raquel: You had already worked with women like to Victoria Smith and Sarah Ditum trying to understand the arguments, but what would happen when you would stick your head above the parapet with those women and tried to have these conversations that were writing articles and we're talking about is about this on Twitter.
What would happen when you would express: Well, I don't think that male people become female just because they identify as one.
Jane: In 2013 right at the beginning nobody paid any attention whatsoever. It was like throwing stones at this enormous edifice of bullshit and we could get no purchase on it at all.
That was what was very kind of insane about it is that, is that it happened very quickly, one day we were on Twitter and everyone was talking to each other and then the next day it was almost like everyone got this insane fucking download like it was an episode of Dr Who and started repeating all of these memes. And the rest of us were like, what is happening? It's like invasion of the body snatchers. And then we started getting together and trying to work out what this was, where it was coming from, like what people were saying, why it made no sense, that kind of stuff.
Raquel: It’s as if you were able to see it taking roots in the culture, you were able to see the ideology, the ideological aspects of this set of theories and policies take roots in the culture.
Jane: Yes, we ran into the ideology before it had fully captured our institutions.
And we didn't know what was happening at first. We just thought we were talking to a bunch of crazy people on Twitter. We didn't understand about policy capture at that point, we didn't understand that a lot of the groundwork of the capture had already be laid inside our institutions. We understood that these people were saying things that we thought were crazy and harmful. And we also understood very early that they were totalitarians because of the degree of hostility and the attempt to close down all arguments and the use of the slurs and the threatening that happened. That's been there right from the beginning. It's been there right from the beginning of the trans rights movement.
But I didn't understand that they had captured our institutions. And I thought mistakenly that when the discourse got to our institutions, the people in our institutions would be like, well, this is nonsense. And of course that is not what happened. What happened is that our institutions just completely fell.
And that was the bit where I was like, okay, we have a very serious problem.
Raquel: Are you, as a philosopher, you deal with words. Are you one of the people who are very picky and particular about the words that women use to talk about this takeover? Because some people call it gender identity, theories, and policies, and other people call it transgender ideology. And there's a criticism that if we call it transgender ideology, then it becomes too close to their conservative arguments against gender ideology and stuff. Do you see a difference in the words that women use?
Jane: I use gender identity ideology, and I use transgender ideology and when I first ran into it I called it trans ideology.
And that's actually, to some extent still what I use and is what is used most often in the book. I don't think that puts it close to a kind of right wing. The right wing conservative position tends to call it gender ideology, not gender identity ideology. They tend to include under gender ideology, the whole of feminism and gay rights, basically anything that they consider challenges normative ideas of gender.
Obviously we would argue that transgender ideology doesn't challenge normative ideas of gender, but if you are a straightforward, boys must be masculine, girls must be feminine, boys can't be feminine kind of person, then I can understand that you think transgender ideology is a similar kind of upending of the God-given or natural order.
Obviously, that's not what we think, but yeah, gender identity ideology is kind of clunky and not very elegant when you're writing and you can't use it as an adjective so I tend to not use it as often. I tend to avoid gender ideology because of the conservative implications. But you ask me if I'm picky about the words other people use.
I have a kind of very strong principle about not telling other people what words should come out of their mouths. So I think it's fair for people to give critiques and to say, I don't think we should say this for these reasons. I don't have a problem with people doing that. I have a problem with people going up to other people and saying, you shouldn't say this, you shouldn't say that.
And assuming that they're saying it, because they haven't thought about it when very often they actually, they have thought about it. They've just come to a different conclusion.
Raquel: There's a lot of divisions. And we see that currently at the moment, there's this massive pushback from women in general and from people in general, but mainly from women against this attack on women's rights.
But there's these different alliances and you cannot be seen next to this one campaigner or this other one and there's lines to be drawn. So do you get involved in any of that? Or do you have any sort of experience in, well, these are my red lines.
Jane: Yeah. I mean, my red line is making alliances with homophobic, patriarchal environmentally, ecocidel extremely right wing patriarchal men. That's my red line.
Because I'm a feminist and I am unable to find a way in which I can see making alliances with people who are manifestly hostile to the interests of women, is consistent with my core political beliefs. So that's my red line. I know it's not other people's red line and I try to just let other people get on with what they're doing.
It's important to me to have that red line, because I don't feel able to stand in public with integrity if I don't have it, but I'm drawing it for myself. I'm drawing it for myself. And particularly because I'm out here kind of on my own and I only have my own name and what I believe I'm standing for.
It's quite important for me to be able to stand there in public to feel that I am able to say no, that's where my line is. And I'm not okay with that. Particularly as so much of my, of what I am talking about is about why gender identity ideology is not actually progressive. A lot of what I'm doing is about explaining why this apparently progressive ideology is actually profoundly conservative.
A lot of my analysis and a lot of what I'm talking about in the book is rooted in a particular kind of what I call radical materialist feminism. We've started to kind of use that as a way of talking about it, which is a kind of materialist analysis and about the importance of women's bodies and the exploitation of women's bodies that looks at both that exploitation at a kind of socio-political level and an economic level. And also in terms of more traditional radical feminist concerns about surrogacy and prostitution and sexual violence and the exploitation of women's bodies.
I don't think those things are inconsistent with each other because I'm coming at it from that particular political perspective. It's quite important for me to be able to stand on the ground that is what is informing my critique. Not everyone in this fight is coming from that place. They're coming from where they're coming from. I think they should be free to get on with what they're doing and I defend their right to speak. And when people try and stop them speaking, I will come out to bat for them, but I would hope that other people would also allow me to stand on the ground that I feel that I need to stand on. I guess that's how I feel about it.
Raquel: The context of all of this conversation, the conversations we're having is that for example, today the Supreme Court is considering handing a ruling today about a ruling about whether they want to end Roe v Wade which allows some sexual reproductive rights to women in the US, there's obviously an argument about, well, why is it that the feminist movement hasn't advocated strongly enough to make sure that it's not just a court ruling, that is a part of federal legislation, but the impact of this could be massive to reproductive rights in the US and because of the influence of the US to other countries in the periphery. But then a criticism of that would be, well, what have the US feminist movement been doing in the past 30 years?
Jane: Well, they've been trying to get the ERA passed. Because they have tried, there was Esme who wrote a piece in the Radical Notion I think in the America issue and a significant portion of that was about the efforts by feminists to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified. And that in itself was a big battle.
Raquel: I personally campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment. There was a campaign in Oregon for the Equal Rights Amendment to be included in the Oregon constitution. And that is a fact that we won it is in the Oregon state constitution. So now we were only missing a couple of states before it went national. But to be honest as a campaigner on that issue, it felt very much like you were pulling teeth like there's not a lot of energy to it. It's not a flashy topic. There was a lot of interest in US feminism to talk about abortion, to talk about queer theory. That was very popular. But when you talked about the Equal Rights Amendment, there wasn't a lot of interest in it, especially in like young women or even feminist institutions.
Jane: I think it's definitely the case that it ran out of steam. So I think they tried very hard at the point where it was introduced and there have been some feminists plugging away over the subsequent 30 years or whatever to try and get it ratified. My understanding is that actually they have enough states now and that the Biden administration is standing in the way because it conflicts with the Equality Act.
Raquel: The Equality Act is something that they want to pass to include gender identity and gender expression into legislation. This is the conflict it's like you have women and I'm talking about, for example, a woman who needs those reproductive rights, needs feminism to fight these battles for her.
Jane: I think there's several things going on. I think American feminism, I mean, to come back to this discourse about the difference between difference feminism and equality feminism, I think American feminism is largely like really, really hamstrung by America's racial history. Because the issue of race is so deep and the wound to their body politic is so toxic I think, it has structured progressive thinking in a way that means that they think that any recognition of difference is separate but equal.
We get into these arguments very often with American feminists where we say men and women are different. Male and female people are different physiologically and they have different needs and they immediately go that's segregationist rhetoric. And in Europe, I've got into arguments about this on Twitter. I'm obviously not claiming that Europe does not have a horrifying colonial history, but because slavery was not practiced on European soil in the way that it was in America, the cultural discourse around racial inequality and the wound that has subsequently left in the body politic and in political thinking is not quite the same as it is in the States.
The legacy of slavery is kind of baked into the actual, like physical architecture of America in a way that it is not in the same respect in Britain, the kind of degree of segregation and ghettoisation and the poverty in which African American communities are allowed to continue living that is not quite replicated in Europe.
And that is a wound that America cannot process. and a lot of what is going on with the wrapping of trans ideology in the discourse of race has a lot to do with the specificity of America's racial history. And I think it has hamstrung American feminists, because a lot of the things that are needed in order, not for women to be equal, I don't think equal, but in order for us to structure our society in a way where women's needs are dealt with in an equitable way, can't be done if you have to pretend that there are no differences between male people and female people.
Raquel: Do you think that this sort of block of racial politics and what it means to talk about difference is behind the reason why the feminist movement in the US hasn't got a lot of momentum or traction when it comes to maternity leave when it comes to …
Jane: Exactly, exactly right. Exactly that. They're the only advanced civilised country that doesn't have maternity leave. Their maternity care is privatised; they don't have childcare provision. They don't have a lot of very basic social, democratic rights that European nations have, which make women's lives more liveable.
And it's somewhat galling that under the current circumstances when American feminists keep turning up and like looking down their nose at us over the trans issue and we feel like being right ‘How about you go back to America and sort out your abortion rights and your maternity rights before you come over here and start telling us that we're backwards’.
Raquel: And then they have this sort of it's like someone threw a bomb at US feminism because there's not a lot of structure to hold up women's rights, there's no Equal Rights Amendment. There's no maternity leave. Everything's very privatised. And then on top of that, you have gender identity which dismantles so much of the advancement that women have achieved. But then, because it's the US and because it's so powerful and then it just spreads so much of its dynamics abroad.
Then you have countries who want to emulate the US political thinking, so you see people, for example, in Guatemala, you see people in El Salvador or countries in the global south that are struggling a lot economically, and they're using this sort of gender neutral language talking about ‘people who menstruate’.
It makes no sense in that context, but because the US is jumping into this bandwagon, then it has a global effect.
Jane: I don't even think the US is jumping onto the bandwagon.
Raquel: They started the whole thing.
Jane: Right. And, you know, it's one of the things that really sticks in my throat is that we are having, as you say, European countries, but also countries in the global south and countries in Africa are having this intensely Americanised individualised discourse being essentially rammed down their throats through various NGO’s and corporate mechanisms and funding mechanisms that are in the control of wealthy nations and in the control of the United States.
And it is essentially colonisation like it's cultural imperialism. But it's all dressed up in the language of anti-racism and de-colonialism. It's grotesque actually that a movement that was essentially created by privileged white people. A lot of them, white male lawyers. Very successful white male lawyers in the United States with the help of various academics, basically cooked up this discourse, used their social power in order to disseminate that discourse wrapped the discourse up in the language of anti-racism and are now imposing it on people in the global south, in the name of de colonialism.
Raquel: Let's take one step back because you and I have spoken before, but unfortunately it wasn't recorded. I put to you, Jane, I think that these gender identity theories and policies are coming from academia because it was just a very niche set of theories within queer theory and then it took over and then you said, no, Raquel.
My point of view is that this is about lawyers, academic lawyers who cooked up this idea well we can expand on trans rights by infringing on women's rights and sort of that it came not from academia, but from outside of academia, can you explain to our audience what you meant?
Jane: Okay. So there are aspects of trans ideology. There are many aspects of trans ideology that have been woven into it that have come from academic discourses. And the discourse has now gone back into universities and is now being recycled through the academy. But it's not originally an academic discourse. Queer theory is something that gets woven into trans ideology. But queer theory did not produce trans ideology.
They kind of fuse together sort of 6, 7, 8 years into the development of trans ideology. And then they get woven back into what becomes academic trans studies and queer theory.
But the origins of trans ideology come from lawyer activists, principally in the United States with some support from lawyer activists in the UK.
So the two main groups responsible for it are an organisation called the International Conference for Transgender Law and Employment Policy, which met in a Hilton hotel in Houston, between 1992 and 1996, because all civil rights movements start by like booking out a Hilton hotel in Houston for that's what the most vulnerable people in the world do.
They get together in the Hilton hotel and strategise an ideology which will fulfil their political objectives.
Raquel: What happened at this week long conference?
Jane: What happened at this week conference was a bunch of predominantly white, male successful middle aged, late transitioning lawyers with the help of some other characters and people, including people like Leslie Feinberg. So some Butch lesbians and that's in itself an interesting kind of intersection of different interests, actually.
They basically divided up into various working groups. So they had like a health project report and a military law report and an employment law report, various different working groups, and they strategised what changes they would want to law in various areas of life in order to obtain the recognition that they wanted in the form, that it was theorised there, which is where the bones of sex denial were laid down in the form that we recognise it now, sex is a spectrum like Anne Fausto-Sterling's work was folded into trans ideology before Judith Butler’s work was, but Sterling's work happens, interestingly, I can't prove any relationship, but almost simultaneously with the development of sex denialism in the context of the ICTLEP, and they also formulated a thing called the International Bill of Gendered Rights.
The International Bill Of Gendered Rights is very much worth looking up, which was drafted by members of the ICTLEP, and then kind of successive versions of it were adopted at various conferences and the International Bill Of Gendered Rights lays down the planks of what we would recognise as trans ideology.
The first right, is the right to define one's gender identity and irrespective of any biological givens. And it also includes the right to access to gendered spaces, irrespective of any biological givens. So the gender identity trumps sex, plus sex isn't really a biological reality. Plus, we demand that everything is reorganised in terms of gender identity. Plus, we need to understand that a person's real or authentic or true sex is their gender identity or Martine Rothblatt formulates it, and says, we need to understand that sex is between the ears and not between the legs. And that formulation then gets taken up by Steven Whittle in the United Kingdom.
Raquel: But there are conferences from fancy lawyers all over the world all the time. And doesn't get traction. Why did this set of theories manage to get traction?
Jane: Not in the early nineties, this was in 1992. The modern trans rights movement basically began in the early nineties. So before that the concept of transgender didn't really exist. So before that, you have various networks of publications and what have you, you have a transvestite community, and then you also have transsexuals.
The concept of transgender was produced by someone called Virginia Prince and the creation of what we now recognise as the transgender umbrella, the kind of smooshing together of any distinction between transsexuals and transvestites and the bringing of other gender nonconforming people under this umbrella of the concept of transgender, begins in the early nineties.
The ICTLEP is the first to my knowledge. I mean, there are other little organisations that are kind of springing up around the time. What happens is that the internet allows a group of people who have been hitherto relatively, separated from each other to get together and to start communicating and theorising and out of that comes the International Conference with Transgender Law and Employment Policy.
And obviously the many of the ideas that are kind of woven into trans ideology have been floating around previously, within the transvestite and the transsexual community, but they get brought together, they get put under this label of transgender and it becomes clear that the thing that becomes kind of determinative is this move from thinking that we are talking about transsexuals, who are people who have gone through a process of social and medical transition, to thinking that we're talking about people who simply assert that they have a particular gender identity.
Phyllis Frye, for example, who's the person who set up the ICTLEP gave a speech at the ICTLEP. I think it's called something like The Repudiation of the Scalpel or something. I'll have to go and check exactly what it's called, but it's basically about how body modification is not necessary and that all that's necessary is the assertion of the gendered essence of a person. And that what is being theorised around that is how law needs to be changed in various areas of public life in order to facilitate this idea that people's sex should be based on the assertion of their gender identity.
Raquel: And take down women's rights with them.
Jane: I mean, yes, there's an extreme lack of honesty and transparency in all of those early documents about the impact of that on women, there is a very strong thread, obviously of the anti-transphobic, anti-bigot, anyone who asserts that women are female and that word bigot that has now become so common, turns up very, very early in the archives of those documents of the ICTLEP.
It's very, very clear, right from the beginning of that structure, that anyone who opposes this mission is just going to be dismissed as a reactionary bigot. So there's quite a lot of stuff in those archives and in the archives of Press for Change, which was the kind of equivalent campaigning group, also principally organised by lawyers in the UK. That rhetorical structure - they're all bigots. You're like Nazis. You're like segregationist - that was there very early in the discourse.
Raquel: And today you have women who want to attend events, public events, or rallies to discuss the rights that they have already under the law. And they are being hounded by balaclava clad trans-activists who are chasing them down the streets. When they go to a pub, the trans-activist goes and chase them to the pub as well. The police are present. They don't do anything about it. So you have this climate of virulence that has attached itself to this political project.
Jane: When I look at those early documents, I don't think that that virulence has attached itself. I think that virulence was always there. The structure of trans ideology has always been extremely authoritarian and intolerant and has always relied on monstering anybody who might potentially criticise it.
Raquel: Is this a matter of it has become, or it has gone into overdrive because women are not shutting up? Women are having more meetings. Women are having more events. They're just not going away. Is this a matter of, we're seeing the collapse of this ideology of this system and because of that, it is now becoming more evident?
Jane: Yes, the aggression is more evident now because we have forced it into the light by refusing to go away quietly.
But when I ran into trans ideology, that entire structure of monstering women was already fully in force, that was embedded right at the very beginning. And it worked for a long time because most of it was being done in the shadows. And there were few enough women that it was possible for that mechanism of coercion to function effectively while at the same time, presenting this kind of amiable face to the world, we just want equality and it's just another civil rights movement.
Raquel: Love wins.
Jane: Love wins and everyone who dislikes us or anyone who criticises us is just like a homophobe or is like a racist, or is like any of these things.
So the coercive structure has always been in place. What is happening now is that because there are sufficient numbers of us and we won't go away and we won't stop talking. The coercive structure is just being made to manifest itself in more and more obvious ways. And that's kind of the flaw.
The project is fundamentally flawed obviously because it's nonsense and it's based on a fundamental form of reality-denial and twisting and a project that is based on a fundamental form of reality-twisting and by its very nature has to use coercive and emotionally manipulative techniques in order to try and force its way through. Also trying to do a lot of things in back rooms before people realise, because when people realise that, they're not going to get on board.
Raquel: So Jane, The Annals of the Terf Wars, this is your book, where do you see the future of the Terf Wars heading?
Jane: I think at this point we're at an interesting, and in somewhat difficult stage, because this fight was originally principally, organised by feminist women and that's the background that we came from and that's still where my background is from and yours and a lot of other women.
Because we've been relatively successful in drawing attention to this problem, the number of constituencies of people who are now engaged in trying to oppose trans ideology is massive. It includes many, many, many diverse groups of people who are opposing it for many, many different reasons.
Now, I don't know, I don't even want to call that the Terf War anymore because it's not a war that's only, or principally being headed up by radical feminists or women with a feminist analysis.
It is important for all of us that the battle against transgender ideology is won because it's totalitarian and damaging to the interests of large numbers of people. And to the very structure of reality.
I am, I guess, concerned because the feminist women who have been doing this for decades or for 30 years,
Raquel: Like Sheila Jeffries.
Jane: And those of us who've been doing it for the last decade, always understood because we understand the nature of the power structure, is that at a certain point, significant numbers of men would start turning up. And there are significant numbers of right wing men, obviously, who are also turning up. And a lot of those right wing men are anti-feminist.
So what concerns me is that there's a lot of fracturing going on and certain constituencies of people who are opposed to trans ideology are not sympathetic to the interests of feminists, act actively hostile to the interests of feminists, and actually have an interest in blaming feminists for what has happened.
And obviously given the role of Butler and queer theory and third wave academic feminism, there is a certain part of feminism that does bear significant responsibility for what has happened, but it's not the case that criticising patriarchal gender and its impact on women led inevitably to trans ideology.
So I'm concerned that there are narratives that are kind of beginning to form around how feminism itself, not necessarily the type of fun foe feminism that we don't really recognise as feminism, is implicated in that. And it would not at all surprise me if after having spent 10 years or 20 years or 30 years screaming about the problems of this and us taking all of the fucking shit that we've taken for it, a bunch of like powerful men turn up and suddenly turn around and point the finger at us. That I'm concerned about.
Raquel: I was kind of hoping for like a nice sentence like ‘we're going to win this’ everyone.
Jane: I mean; we are going to win. We are winning and we are going to win.
The question is who ‘we’ are and what will happen with that ‘we’ afterwards, because in order for us to win, I mean, we live in a patriarchy, we're in a double bind, in order to win this, we need powerful men. If powerful men don't show up at some point, this isn't going to stop. So we need those men. It would be nice if when those men show up, they recognise that the people who carried the greatest burden of risk without any social support and the huge amount of social sanction and risk were feminist women.
Raquel: Yes. Jane, what message would you send to young women?
The young women who are listening and who feel intimidated by this very intense and sometimes very toxic context?
Jane: Find other women near you and go to the pub with them.
Raquel: But if they're not old enough to go to the pub, what if they can't go to the pub?
Jane: Because the pub won't let them in?
Raquel: No, because they're 16 or they're 12 what would you say to those young women?
Jane: Find other women and make a space for you to speak to each other however, you can do that.
The thing that sustains us and holds us together in this kind of situation and actually has been the silver lining of this entire like toxic traumatising experience is the sisterhood, the solidarity, the bonds between women is like reaffirming the value of female only space and female sisterhood, that has been incredibly powerful.
And my belief in the ability of female space to nurture and nourish and liberate women has been like amplified enormously through this experience. So I know it's difficult. It's extremely difficult. It might not be possible or safe for you to speak out in your social environments, but if there is any way for you to make contact and it really helps if it's actual, real physical contact with other female people who agree with you, go wherever you can go together, go to the park, go sit on the beach, go for a drink, go to a cafe, go somewhere with other female people and talk.
Raquel: That's excellent. Thank you, Jane so much. We are so pleased that your book is out.