Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Criticism of “Gender”


WARNING: The authenticity of this letter has been called into question. Since its distribution none of the signatories have made public comment. While I have been provided with a copy of an email from a person claiming to be Carol Hanisch I am withholding judgement until further confirmation. We have seen many times trans/MRA  activists (like Daryl/Sophia Banks) impersonate known feminists in order to harass them. Until further confirmation I am leaving this warning here.
From Pandagon:
“We, the undersigned 1960s radical feminists and current activists, have been concerned for some time about the rise within the academy and mainstream media of “gender theory,” which avoids naming men and the system of male supremacy as the beneficiaries of women’s oppression. Our concern changed to alarm when we learned about threats and attacks, some of them physical, on individuals and organizations daring to challenge the currently fashionable concept of gender.
Recent developments: A U.S. environmental organization that also calls itself radical feminist is attacked for its political analysis of gender. Feminist conferences in the U.K., U.S. and Canada are driven from their contracted locations for asserting the right of women to organize for their liberation separately from men, including M>F (male to female) transgendered people.
Deep Green Resistance (DGR) reports1 that queer activists defaced its published materials and trans activists threatened individual DGR members with arson, rape and murder. Bookstores are pressured not to carry DGR’s work and its speaking events are cancelled after protests by queer/transgender activists. At “RadFem” conferences in London2, Portland3 and Toronto4, trans activists accuse scheduled speakers of hate speech and/or being transphobic because they dare to analyze gender from a feminist political perspective. Both M>F transgender people and “men’s rights” groups, operating separately but using similar language, demand to be included in the Rad Fem 2013 conference in London called to fight against women’s oppression and for liberation.
How did we slide back to the point where radical feminists have to fight for the right to hold women-only conferences and criticize conventional “gender roles”? The rise of Gender Studies may be part of the problem. Language is a wonderful human tool for thinking, understanding, cooperation and progress, so it makes sense that when people fight for freedom and justice against those who are oppressing them, the use and misuse of words—of language—becomes part of the struggle. Originally the term “gender” may have been a useful way around the communication problem that the word “sex” in English has several meanings. “Sex” refers to the reproduction of a species, as well as acts bringing about sexual pleasure AND the simply descriptive division of many plants and animals into two observable categories—the “sexes.” Using “gender” instead of “sex” allows feminists to make it clear that all kinds of social relations and differences between the sexes were unjust, not just sexual relations between the sexes. “Gender” also covers the artificial, socially-created differences between the human sexes, the overwhelming majority of which are politically, economically and culturally disadvantageous to female humans.
“Gender Studies” has displaced the grassroots women’s liberation analysis of the late 1960s and early 1970s. An early embrace of the neutral idea of “sex roles” as a major cause of women’s oppression by some segments of the women’s liberation movement has morphed into the new language—but the same neutrality—of “gender roles” and “gender oppression.” With a huge boost from the “new” academic theory coming out of those programs, heavily influenced by post-modernism, “gender identity” has overwhelmed—when not denying completely—the theory that biological women are oppressed and exploited as a class by men and by capitalists due to their reproductive capacity. Women often can no longer organize against our oppression in women-only groups without being pilloried with charges of transphobia. But, as a UK- based radical feminist “Fire in My Belly” wrote in her blog, “Radical feminists recognise that an individual’s ‘gender identity’ cannot, in a fair society, be allowed to ride roughshod over biological sex, which cannot be changed.”5
We do not view traditional sex/gender roles as natural or permanent. In fact, criticizing these “roles” is valid and necessary for women’s liberation. Radical feminist analysis and activism focus on unequal power relations between men and women under male supremacy, with real, material benefits going to the oppressor group (men) at the expense of the oppressed group (women).”
Read more here:

55 thoughts on “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Criticism of “Gender”

  1. I won’t comment on Pandagon. I won’t give her hits. She has again, and again and again, over about eight years, fanned the flame of hatred against us and supports sexual exploitation which she calls “sex work”, pornography and trans* as women. She has done everything she can to undercut Sam Berg’s work, seeming to take a personal vendetta against Sam.
    I have written to the addy for this essay, and asked for a PDF, which I will share with others who feel the same as I do about going to Pandagon.

    1. I did know this. It is a little sad that it took men threatening rape & violence to women in their own spaces to see that the ones that wanted power was just a man that hates women in a dress.

  2. Love this post! It says so much of what I have been arguing with my liberal friends whose political correctness surrounding this issue is painful! I do hope we are at a tipping point of people who will see reason. I feel a glimmer of hope due to a recent email exchange. I read a website for people with diabetes, and one of the things they were talking about is how many carbs are appropriate, and the article said “it depends on your age, activity level, gender, etc.” I emailed them and explained why that was medically incorrect and damaging to women and women’s health. Not only did they send an timely and polite reply, but they changed the language in the article to read sex! Score one for the women and science!

  3. Thank you.This issue has increasingly had the effect of driving me out of feminist spaces under barrages of abuse from people who tell me that my life long experiences as a woman are no longer valid in feminism.
    I am apparently forced to be re-defined externally by strangers who ‘tell’ me who and what I am, then attack me for not accepting my new status as invisible, voiceless and irrelevant. This feels a lot like the abuse I receive daily from men.
    I will not be silenced.
    SO sad that feminism/s STILL struggle to negotiate difference, preferring to divide rather than find common ground and attack the structures which brutalise us all.
    This post gives me hope.

  4. well, according to the dictionary, gender and sex are synonymous terms, even though people don’t use them as such. (Aka, sex now means a) act of sex b) biological sex while gender is taken to be a short-hand for gender roles).

    1. I don’t know why English speakers use the word tbh. We sort of borrowed it because we’re lame and try to imitate everything from Americans and the English (cultural inferiority complex maybe), but for us Spanish, gender was originally a property of words, not people. La bandera roja, el pañuelo rojo. Whereas people are sexed just like plants and animals are. You can’t ask an asparagus shrub for its gender identity but you can definitely find out its sex.
      Fortunately, género is not as used now as it was ten years ago. We’re even calling domestic violence “violencia machista” these days, correctly identifying the cause of the violence…
      I’d like to know where this change in meaning of the word gender started.

  5. Real feminism at Pandagon? About damn time.
    Last thing I read there was a rant about how meeeen people are who don’t want gender non-performers to have the medical treatment they “need.”
    Liberal wanker.

  6. Good to see that posted on a mainstream site.
    There is a long, deranged rant full of reversals in the comments – on how radfems have no empathy and are like sociopaths and how they play the victim. Well, who is sending threats to who?! From the rant: “They are poisonous, vicious little scorpions in the grass, and the nature of a scorpion never changes. A scorpion will *always* sting you at the first opportunity. On the other hand, scorpions are quite fragile creatures, and easily crushed by the weight of logic and reason.” Oh wow.

  7. Maybe this issue will be taken more seriously now that a mainstream blog has written about it. Gallus and other radical feminists (both on and offline) have been saying this for years, and only now people are stopping to say “hmmm there might be something wrong?” Apparently now in articles not even mentioning transgenderism, the hordes come out to cry oppression:
    It ticks all the bingo boxes: cries of cissexism, derailing, erasure of radical feminist voices, women discussing misogyny and then being accused of being misogynist, MRA tears. Fun for the whole family.

    1. This site was dead. Amanda just forgot to delete it, or cancel the url or whatever one does. Or to get a trans*minion to do it for her. Pandagon has moved to the ‘burbs, where Amanda debuted her fresh new domicile by shitting all over radical feminists.
      I believe this repurposing of Pandagon is called fucked on your own petard.

    2. whoah, thanks for posting that. If Stoltenberg can do something useful for a change (besides bugging small-fry bloggers to hawk his putatively creepy novel), I probably should get off my ass, too.
      It’s especially good that he wrote that since a lot of his older stuff leaves a lot of wiggle room for genderist cooptation.
      That damnable genital tubercles sci fi experiment of his…

      1. Yikes, I had forgotten all about that. What struck me most about that article was its detached tone; I’m sure many women would love to be able to talk about the harms of gender and masculinity in such a way! He may have spent a lot of time with Andrea Dworkin, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean he could fully understand her fears.
        What did you think of the clusterfuck that is the comments section on there? Hysterical moaning about cissexism and that transwomen have a divine right to be in feminism. Apparently one woman called trans neovaginas “fuckholes,” and she was called an MRA, white supremacist, misogynist, and evil by…..other radical feminists. Just what the movement needs, more women concerned with being nice.

      2. “more women concerned with being nice”.
        Yeah, being nice to men NEVER other women.

      1. Oh dear. Yeah, I looked at a few signatories’ sites and didn’t see any sign of acknowledgment there either. My thing was the opener: “We, the undersigned 1960s radical feminists…” That seemed odd. I mean, possibly they’d call out the era of their glory days, but from the perspective of those women themselves, they aren’t still in the 1960s, they’ve gone on to do other things in life. There’s an email addy on Carol Hanisch’s own site so that’s a good avenue for verification, I’d say.

      2. There’s a lot of weird parts. But with group letters people always want this or that changed and it can end up disjointed etc. I guess we’ll find out the truth in the days to come. If it’s a fake it’s a fantastic one!

  8. This is TOO FUCKING FUNNY. Apparently – unbeknownst to the women sending out the letter, or me, who never reads the site- Marcotte let her URL lapse and Pandragon was bought up by a domain warehouser in the UK. Hahaha! They sent in the letter for publication and the guy published it! Hahahaha!
    Now Marcotte and the menz are claiming a “RadFem Conspiracy”! Because Radfemz control the internetz! Or something! Haha! None of us even knew about it! LMAO!

    1. Conspiracy. Shit, like I have time for that. This thing just strikes me as a way to create yet more hate toward second-wave feminists, which seems to be a favorite pastime of Feministe and Feministing posters. They like to sneer at, scoff at, and demean those women who actually made their (the younger funfems’) lives so much easier. The women who fought the fights in the second wave are way, way tougher than the hothouse flowers calling themselves “third wave”, who have an attack of the vapors if someone uses the word “crazy”. (For the record: I was a kid throughout the seventies and half of the eighties, so please don’t think I’m complimenting myself when I compliment the feminists of the seventies.)
      Anyway, how could someone with such a popular blog let the url expire?

      1. Yeah that was my thought. How the hell could someone whose blog was popular and surely LUCRATIVE, and who has a TON of enemies, just let her domain go without a thought like that? Doesn’t add up.

    2. Like they did to DGR, and Radfem2013 wordpress and every tumbler account that gets abandoned by a radfem driven off the internet by their abuse and stalking? Like Heaths fake tumbler ? Like Derrick’s fake facebook accounts?
      They are like, so paranoid!
      Waaaait a minute……..
      The womens without penises are copying their tactics?
      NO! Impossible! It must be them -gaslighting us, gaslighting them, gaslighting us!
      Oh crap!
      I bet they are now going to start doing penis checks at the cotton ceiling meetings to keep horrible fem women that are passing as trans M to T out! I was hoping to sneak in and distribute pictures of vaginas…
      Is this the great vagina uprising of 2013!
      some kind of
      Radfem revenge!?
      just another Vaginal jihad!?
      I bet-
      Someone…..Somewhere here…… in the women’s community,
      must have a ‘vangenda’!-
      [a vagenda is not a desk made out of monogamy],

    1. I know. Too rad right? And she’s over there spitting and fuming and putting on a total hysterical performance for her leg-lickers. The whole thread is trans! Elsewhere she promises her readers she hates abusive men. lol. Here’s to a blog full ‘o’ trans to you every day Amanda. I don’t think I ever really understood what “fag hag” means until she showed us.

      1. A boney crone is cackling her head off about now. This was not earthly, you know? We are being looked after.

      2. The whole thread is trans because they ban anything that differs from the new trans orthodoxy. I posted and so did a friend they were immediately taken down and we were both banned from the thread. I did take a screen shot in the moments before.

  9. Yeah, Moira, that opening line really raised my eyebrows as well. I find it hard to believe that any of those women would identify themselves that way, as it instantly dates you, which is not what you want to do when discussing a contemporary issue.
    And if this does turn out to be fake, and just another attempt to diss feminists from the 60s and 70s, my question is why? Why be so scornful of those that came before you in your own movement, and dismiss them as irrelevant? Well, whatever…and yeah Gallus, it’s not just a full moon, it’s a blue moon – in the original meaning of the phrase.

  10. Update, it was edited and taken ,down. They folded to the oppressors. Wow, what rebels, 1960s first wave feminism is too edgy for their blog. I hope we dont use the right to vote-like we have in social media…

  11. I have confirmation from two of the signers (one an email, the other a response on facebook) that the letter/statement is real. It was written by Carol Hanisch et. al, and that as far as the two signers know, none of the women sent it to Pandagon, nor had they heard of the site or the fact that it had been published.
    Marcotte didn’t bother to do any research about her claims of a radical feminist takeover, and those of us who asked her (on the Raw Story) to show evidence of her claim were deleted and banned. And mocked etc.
    It’s so important to do the research before sending out rumors. Knee jerk responses and wild claims make things so much worse.

  12. Gallus, I will send you a copy of the email and screen shots if you need confirmation. Not for circulation, but as evidence.

  13. Big SURPRISE but in a post about silencing women…
    They decided to silence women.
    Aug 20, 2013
    EST:: 1330
    Please note that the views expressed in this article were the views of:
    Carol Hanisch (NY), Kathy Scarbrough (NJ), Ti-Grace Atkinson (MA), and Kathie Sarachild (NY)
    Also signed by Roberta Salper (MA), Marjorie Kramer (VT), Jean Golden (MI), Marisa Figueiredo (MA), Maureen Nappi (NY), Sonia Jaffe Robbins (NY), Tobe Levin (Germany), Marge Piercy (MA), Barbara Leon (CA), Anne Forer (AZ), Anselma Dell’Olio (Italy), Carla Lesh (NY), Laura X (CA), Gabrielle Tree (Canada), Christine Delphy (France), Pam Martens (FL), Nellie Hester Bailey (NY), Colette Price (NY), Candi Churchhill (FL), Peggy Powell Dobbins (GA), Annie Tummino (NY), Margo Jefferson (NY), Jennifer Sunderland (NY), Michele Wallace (NJ), Allison Guttu (NY), Sheila Michaels (MO), Carol Giardina (NY), Nicole Hardin (FL), Merle Hoffman (NY), Linda Stein (NY), Margaret Stern (NY), Faith Ringgold (NJ), Joanne Steele (NY)
    And did NOT reflect the views of anyone else unless expressly stated above. This was a guest post that was intended to initiate thought and constructive discussion and NOT to cause offence. The post has been removed. The original statement can be seen in the PDF above.

  14. I don’t know what happened with this posting. I’m assuming it was legitimate, perhaps posted accidentally on an old site, and is now being discussed on the actual Pandagon. I’m also assuming it’s legitimate and signed by some of the living icons of feminism such as the distinguished writer Marge Piercy.
    If all that is so, I’d like to say:
    1. I am thrilled to see this letter. I knew there were many radical feminists who have been involved for decades but who did not post online for whatever reason, or had ceased to speak altogether. Now is the time to say what they have said. The rest of us can use the encouragement and validation of knowing that people like Ti-Grace Atkinson have seen what is happening. The facts in the letter show a close observation of the closing down of radical feminist discourse over the past couple of years.
    2. I would like very much to be in contact with these women on a regular basis; for us all to have somewhere to “meet” online. We must all get in touch. I had no idea this important group of women existed (I understand they may have met only for this letter, but this indicates they are in some kind of touch).
    3. The title “Forbidden Discourse” is prescient. Look what has happened on Pandagon, where this letter was unfortunately sent for publication. First, the post itself has been removed and access to it made more difficult. A disclaimer has been added that the site doesn’t necessarily agree with anything in it and that it intends to “cause no offence” with the post. The reason why this post can’t be simply put up like other posts with comments made underneath can be found immediately in the comments, which have been overwhelmed completely by MtoT transactivists who collectively have made the post so “forbidden” Pandagon had to remove it. All that is kept up are the signatories and the hostile commentary. In addition, Amanda Marcotte has written an inflammatory statement in which she has blamed, without any evidence whatsoever, radical feminists for acting in some unethical way in causing the post to be made at all. I was astonished to see a journailist make completely unfounded, corrosively hostile accusations which have zero basis in fact.
    4. One has to contrast the measured and reasonable statements in the letter with the vituperative, aggressive comments, which offers a stark illustration of the relationship between radical feminist critiques of transactivist positions harmful to feminism, and
    the threatening, belligerent, unreasoned attacks from the transactivist community. This critique needs to continue to be made and seen. I would hope this letter, if it is legitimate, would be re-posted on every radfem online site.
    Thanks for offering the safe space, Gallus.

  15. I wrote Marge Piercy and asked if the letter was legitmate. Her response:
    Re: Contact Form Submission
    Marge Piercy to singwenow (2 hours ago) show details
    i signed a letter instigated by Carol Hanisch, worked on by committee and signed by a number of us feminists. Having no acquaintance with the Pendragon site, I don’t know if it’s our letter that was posted, but I would assume so.
    On Aug 20, 2013, at 5:34 PM, (deleted for safety) wrote:
    > Name:(deleted for safety)
    > Email: [redacted by me -GM]
    > Comments: Hello, Ms. Piercy,
    > I am writing to tell you how thrilled I was to see that you are among the signatories on a letter posted to the Pandagon site in the last few days regarding attacks on radical feminists. We are so isolated online, and very much in the trenches. The letter gave us a much-needed shot of strength.
    > The response on Pandagon, a very hostile site for radical feminists, has concerned us online radfem bloggers and commenters. We cannot even be sure the letter is legitimate.
    > A conversation is currently occurring regarding this letter on a radfem safe site:
    > I must ask, could you please, either by writing me privately, or by commenting on the blog, let us know that the letter is legitimate? It would mean a lot.
    > Thank you very much,
    > {deleted for safety}

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