I was fired for my feminist beliefs

Women are being silenced for speaking out against gender-identity ideology.

Sasha White

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Topics Feminism Free Speech USA

On Sunday night, 23 August, I was at home with my family when I got an email from my boss on the East Coast. It had a link to a tweet. All he added were the words ‘what’s going on here???’. And thus I was swiftly and dramatically cancelled.

The tweet, written by an anonymous user, called me ‘transphobic’, and warned authors to ‘STAY AWAY’ from me and the ‘FILTH’ I write on Twitter. I pulled up Twitter on my phone to see a stream of angry comments directed at me and the US literary agency at which I had been employed for a little over a month.

My agent page was scrubbed from the company’s website and my boss put out a statement on Twitter denouncing me that same night. A former co-worker also issued an apology for my tweets. I received an email telling me that I would be fired 27 minutes after the first. My termination was finalised less than two hours after the first anonymous tweet was posted.

At this point you might be thinking that I must have tweeted something truly hateful. Is the following tweet vile, transphobic and unacceptable for a publishing professional?:

‘The reason I think pronouns suck is because thinking of people as “they / them” and pretending they’re not male or female is like colour- / race-blindness for gender. It won’t help sexism or toxic masculinity. Men and women have unique and distinct experiences… which should be acknowledged, examined and critiqued but not obfuscated. Gender nonconformity (with acceptance of biological reality) successfully defies gender roles, but switching pronouns reinforces these same roles.’

This tweet, posted to my personal account, was in reference to a viral Elon Musk tweet that read simply ‘pronouns suck’. I was joining the conversation by employing his wording.

At the time, I used my personal Twitter account to discuss feminism and gender. Other tweets and retweets on the account pushed back against a fairly new religion-like movement that denies biological sex and considers sex-specific language to be offensive. This gender-identity ideology claims to fight on behalf of transgender people, but it does them a great disservice by obfuscating language, attacking people who have differing opinions and branding any dissent to the ideology as hateful.

Free speech gives us the ability to think freely, to challenge prevailing ideas and to challenge power itself. All the most abhorrent ideas in history that led to awful things were very much in vogue in their time.

Whenever one group has the power to dictate what is allowed to be uttered, it has also assumed the power to limit thought itself. It has decided which ideas are ‘right’ and which ideas are ‘wrong’. Too often throughout history, when one group sets out to gain power over information and opinion, it begins by limiting the expression of ideas held by a fringe group whose ideas are so unpopular that no one else really seems to mind. At this stage, tolerant and well-intentioned citizens tend to agree that suppression of this particular group’s ideas is a good thing. They believe in free speech, they will assert. But just not for this particular set of ideas held by this unpopular group.

The censorship of one set of condemned ideas can trigger a surge of self-censorship where everyone checks the propriety of their own speech, potentially limiting creative and innovative thinking. The censorship of ‘unacceptable’ ideas gradually seeps out further and further into the community, until no dissent from the party line is allowed, or indeed possible.

There is a long history of women being told to shut up about our experiences and thoughts on womanhood and being female. Those who have the power to have us punished for our speech are usually men. Today it is a group of activists, claiming to fight on behalf of all transgender people, who have gained enough momentum to get people fired for their beliefs. Its members espouse an often overtly sexist ideology that hides its regressive beliefs about sex and gender under the guise of supporting an oppressed minority. But there is nothing progressive about silencing women for speaking out about our bodies, our experiences and our boundaries.

The tweets that got me fired are rather innocuous – take a look for yourself; I’ve deleted nothing and hidden nothing. But even if they were offensive to some, are we best served as a society when anonymous strangers on the internet can get you fired for saying things that make them uncomfortable? If you think my tweets are insensitive, I would advise you to look for yourself and examine their context, as well as the larger context of the endless misogynistic attacks that many women endure from trans activists online. Being told to ‘choke on my girldick’ or to ‘fuck off and die, TERF’ over and over when we assert our boundaries and use the word ‘no’ has made some women very angry. If our responses seem insensitive, then maybe it’s a case of spitting fire while under attack.

Firing me did not help the trans community. Nor did it do anything to shift the tone of the ongoing debate. It was worthless as a means of proving that my views are wrong. Firing me because the publishing industry is too ‘liberal’ to accept the types of views I expressed feeds into the narrative that the left cannot tolerate open debate and discussion. But it can only benefit the left to exchange principled arguments about gender-identity ideology.

Gender-identity ideology is a set of beliefs, now ingrained in certain areas of pop culture, which holds that everyone is born with an innate gender identity and these identities are more real than biological sex. Activists (and some academics) seem to follow an additional maxim: any voices that suggest otherwise must be extinguished.

Gender-identity ideology is not synonymous with trans people. It is a movement whose adherents claim to be fighting for trans rights. The fight that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people have been waging for human rights neither needs nor is benefited by this new religion of gender-identity ideology. It doesn’t serve individuals suffering from gender dysphoria, a condition in which a person experiences extreme discomfort with his or her sexed body. These people make up a vulnerable group that needs and deserves society’s best research, information, support, healthcare and protection from violence and discrimination at all times.

There is now a growing counter-movement to gender-identity ideology, made up of women and men who value reason, science and human rights.

As a feminist, I believe our biological sex does not solely determine how we must move through the world – in a more free and just society, men and boys would be allowed to explore the so-called feminine realm, and women and girls would not be restricted in feminine roles.

But gender-identity ideology overshoots its mark of defying gender roles and brings us right back to regressive, archaic gender stereotypes.

Gender-identity ideology states that one can have a male body but truly ‘be a woman’ or vice versa, based on an inner feeling of gender. I argue that the state of being a woman is not a feeling; rather, it is a biological and social reality.

To assert that one is the opposite sex merely because you want to be is very different from respecting and supporting those who choose to live outside the bounds of acceptable masculinity or femininity. Like many feminists, I object to the idea that the accoutrements and trappings of gender stereotypes are born into us. Women come in all shades, sizes, socio-economic spheres, nationalities, religions and more. But what unites us all as a class is our female biology and the ways we have been historically oppressed for possessing it. Only women can give birth, and that’s why women as a group have been exploited for our reproductive capacity across millenia.

In order to have a feminist movement, we must have female-specific language. I will never forget sitting in a meeting about reproductive rights when someone stood up to interrupt the panel of speakers, requesting that they not use female language such as ‘woman’ or ‘mother’ when discussing abortion and other reproductive-rights issues. Since then, Planned Parenthood has also adopted gender-neutral language around reproductive health. The once popular pro-choice slogan ‘no uterus, no opinion’ has lost all meaning now that it’s effectively considered hate speech to imply that only women can give birth, or that women need disctinct protections or considerations because of our capacity to get pregnant. Language is the foundation of any movement challenging oppression and injustice, and when women are forced to self-censor, our movement becomes dead in the water.

Join the mob if you want. Wave your pitchfork at me for saying a woman is an adult, human female. Denounce me in public so your friends won’t think you associate with the witch. But you might consider listening to the voice of intuition, the quiet little voice, uncertain yet indignant, that objects when we are given a choice whether or not to participate in mob behaviour.

If enough people speak out, we can stop worrying about women getting fired for their tweets and get back to fighting for women’s rights, gay rights and trans rights.

Sasha White is a former assistant literary agent and is a co-founder and podcast host at plebity.org.

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