Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blindel's Blunder

I'm a little late on this one which has stirred a certain reaction in some qaurters.

Julie Bindel's original article appeared in the Guardian and can be read here.

She also argued her case on Radio 4's hecklers programme (a lot tamer than the title suggests and very little actual heckling, which in this case is a pity).

Julie Bindel makes a number of points but boils down to (you'll have to forgive me for not reproducing her views in extenso - I can't be bothered) feminist theory puts a lot of stress on gender roles being socially constructed and therefore anyone who has gender reassignment is buying in to the idea that gender is a given thing and therefore reinforces this concept of gender which according to feminism (or at least one version of feminism) reinforces the oppression of women.

So many logical fallacies and so little time to deconstruct them.

Julie Bindel has also gone on to look criticially at the whole gender reassignment thing and has some major critiques of hte whole thing from which she deduces it's all some kind of antifeminist plot by the medical profession. Again som many fallacies, so little time.

The first thing to state is that Julie Bindle is a bit of a 'Jonny come lately' to the argument about gender reassignment and the argument has been taking placeover many years within the trans community and is at the root of the original use of the term transgender which originally referred to people who did not wish for gender reassignment (as an example see this article), a fact she conveniently fails to mention in order to make her own critique appear more powerful than it is.

Many of her criticisms around the way gender reassignment works have some validity - yes of course it should not be rushed into, there should the provision of therapy and counselling for those who wish for it both pre and post and of course there is no guarantee that people are happy after surgery - hence the need for counselling and support. Yes there needs to space to encourage more freedom of gender expression apart from gender reassignment.

The promotion of the concepts of gender expression and gender variance is something that's being promoted by trans communities who are alot more political and diverse than Julie Bindle portrays them as - it's always easier to combat people when you portray them as unified and monolithic where no internal debate or dissension occurs (the gay community thinks etc).

But it does in the end come down to whether you think gender reassignment is the right thing under some circumstances. Clearly there are many people who are happy after transitioning and who were very unhappy prior to this.

Of course I can also see that people should have the widest choices available to them and that it takes a political community of people who have made some of those choices to make them possible and the medical community is not often able to reflect or offer that.

Before wrapping up I should state that I don't think that gender is completely a matter of social conditioning (though of course it is in large part - or at leat how it plays out). If people have a clear sexual orientation of being attracted to one gender that means to me that I can have a gender identity myself and that gender means something - though is maybe more varied than the binary male/female divide we are trained to think in.

I think Julie Bindel does raise some interesting points but the manner of attacking people's freedom to make decisions about their lives in the name of a doctrine (albeit secular as opposed to religious) is unfortunate and unhelpful.

Rather than be opposed gender reassignment provision needs to be improved.


  1. As you say, this is nothing new. It does explain how strongly essentialist much of radical feminism remains.

  2. moira9:34 pm

    Julie Bindel can fight her own battles. What I’d like to suggest is that we need to adjust the definiton of sexism, which IMHO has been beneficially informed by the debate on gender.

    Sexism is adverse discrimination against a person or persons on the basis of their perceived gender. It pervades every society worldwide and can be manifested by individuals and institutions.

    It finds expression in
    • the belief that one specific gender is superior to, or more important, or more valuable than others.

    • the belief that gender can only be male or female.

    • misogynist, misandrist, anti-transgender or anti-intersex attitudes and behaviour.

    • the imposition by the dominant gender of limited notions of what constitutes the correct expressions of gender.

    At this point in history people of male gender, in cultures and societies worldwide, by means of sexism perpetuate their dominance and privilege over people of other genders, whether those genders are self-expressed as other than male, or are deemed other by the dominant male gender.

    And I would add that I am puzzled that so many gay men do not see the strands of sexism running through homophobia, show no interest in understanding and challenging sexism, and in fact appear happy to continue to perpetuate sexism and continue to benefit from it. To the despair of feminist lesbians, who generally take their campaigning / activist energy elsewhere.

    If I had to chose between putting my energy into combating sexism or combating anti-gay attitudes then the struggle to end sexism wins hands down every time. There cannot, must not, be a hierarchy of human rights, but, when it comes to human suffering, sexism and racism underlie immensely more misery, poverty, disease and death than homophobia does.Immensely, hugely, massively more.

    Julie Bindel’s stance on gender reassignment provision doesn’t sound like a variant form of feminist philosophy, it sounds anti-feminist. Perhaps she needs to do a little more thinking about the ways sexism operates?

  3. Dear Moira,

    Thank you for your comments. Interestingly you might like to know that one of the UNISON regional groups has submitted an amendment on these issues

    It's a very wordy way of putting things and I'm not sure I totally understand all of the theoretical issues you adumbrate. I am aware that people can do degrees in this sort of area.

    I will muse on this further .... It's an interesting area.

  4. Except that discussions about transexuality do often promote essentialist approaches to gender. I 100% support the right of people to change their names, bodies, dress style and other attributes which traditionally are associated with one gender, irrespective of biological sex. And to change biological sex. But I have alway rejected notions that one sex may be "trapped" in the body of another, especially when the evidence given is usually cultual associations of gender.

  5. Cathryn6:50 pm

    Bindle and other Raymondite Rad-Fems don't own Feminism or even represent a majority viewpoint within Feminism. Gender deconstruction as a Feminist goal is being replaced with affirmation of the positive nature of women's strengths and the need in a time of global meltdown from patriarchal thinking to restore those values.

    For an alternative viewpoint about Bindle and transsexuals you can read my most recent blog entry at