The rise of Mean Girl feminism

The exclusion of gender-critical voices from women’s events is catty, cliquey behaviour.

Nina Welsch

Topics Feminism Identity Politics UK

As a young millennial, I grew up obsessively watching Mean Girls, a musical remake of which arrives in cinemas this week. One of my favourite moments in the original film is when Cady, the naive new pupil, gets a whistle-stop tour of her classmates’ cliquey seating arrangements in the school canteen. Part of what makes the scene funny is the arbitrariness of how the social groups separate themselves. We’re introduced to ‘varsity jocks’, ‘cool Asians’, ‘Asian nerds’, ‘unfriendly black hotties’, ‘desperate wannabes’, ‘burnouts’ and, most importantly, ‘the plastics’ – the trio of ‘it girls’ who control the school social ladder.

Whenever I hear feminism referred to as a sisterhood, a mischievous part of me thinks of the Mean Girls canteen. The radical feminists at one table, the liberal feminists at another, conservative feminists, intersectional feminists, Christian feminists, the new ‘reactionary’ feminists, the womanists, the eco-feminists… I could go on. Most of us sitting at these hypothetical tables recognise that we share a good deal of common ground and manage to handle our differences respectfully.

Since the rise of gender ideology, however, things have become considerably more fractious. One of Mean Girls’ many ultra-quotable lines is ‘You can’t sit with us!’. The cliques in the film may have petty rivalries, but at least they bitch and let bitch. According to many ‘pro-trans’ feminist organisations, however, if your feminism revolves around acknowledging biological realities, you can’t sit anywhere.

Last week in Scotland, grassroots gender-critical campaign group Women Won’t Wheesht was denied a place at the Dundee Women’s Festival, which is taking place in March. The festival prides itself on very seldom rejecting an application, but Women Won’t Wheesht received this curt email: ‘Your application to participate in Dundee Women’s Festival 2024 has not been successful. This is due to your organisation not aligning with our festival values. This was a unanimous decision made by our board and is final.’

I have scoured the Dundee Women’s Festival website for what these supposed values are, and it appears they are being kept a tightly guarded secret. Previously, organisers have only stipulated that groups should be focussed on issues affecting women or involved in women-only activities and services, among other things.

Women Won’t Wheesht would surely meet those criteria, given it agitates against the erosion of women-only spaces. And so the group has submitted a subject-access request to find out what led to the festival’s decision. No reply has been forthcoming and Women Won’t Wheesht is now considering legal action.

Let’s face it, we can all make a pretty good guess as to why Dundee Women’s Festival doesn’t want Women Won’t Wheesht in its proverbial canteen. This is far from the first instance of a supposedly pro-women Scottish organisation blacklisting another pro-women Scottish organisation because, as the plastics in Mean Girls might put it, it isn’t wearing the right colours. In 2020, the Glasgow Women’s Library prevented For Women Scotland, a group that campaigns against gender self-identification, from holding a meeting on its premises.

That this is happening in Scotland makes it all the more significant. Of all places, the gender debate has been particularly fierce here. The SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which would have effectively introduced self-ID, was only defeated by Westminster’s intervention at the 11th hour last year. And it was only recently declared well and truly dead in December, when first minister Humza Yousaf finally limped away from any further legal appeals to overturn the blocking of the bill.

The bill was notoriously unpopular – especially after it came to light that trans-identifying male predators and violent criminals were already being housed in women’s prisons. The infamous ‘Isla Bryson’ scandal, a male rapist placed in a women’s prison, showcased the horrific potential consequences of introducing self-ID across all institutions nationwide. Two-thirds of the Scottish public opposed the bill. A few of these people, I dare say, will be attending Dundee Women’s Festival.

However much the board of Dundee Women’s Festival may disagree personally with gender-critical views, it should respect that Women Won’t Wheesht represents a great number of women. If anything, it is the ‘trans inclusive’ festival organisers whose values are ‘misaligned’ with grassroots feminism. Excluding Women Won’t Wheesht would be petty, cliquey behaviour from anyone – but from people who claim to be pro-women, it is utterly shameful.

Nina Welsch is a writer. visit her Substack here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Feminism Identity Politics UK


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