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The Religious, The Radfems, and The Rationalists
How three distinct groups came together against gender ideology.
Gender ideology’s rapid rise in the Western world has caught many off guard, and the backlash has been swift: people that I never would have expected to collaborate are putting aside their differences and forming alliances. Yet not all arguments are created the same. In order for different groups of people to unite, first we must understand the disparate motivations that drive people to oppose gender ideology.
In this piece, I explore three major lines of reasoning, which I call the three R’s: religious, radfem, and rationalist. I do so from an outsider perspective, where I analyze how each group’s fundamental worldview shapes the unique way each group opposes gender ideology. Introducing the first group…
While there are many differences between Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theology (and many theological disagreements and schisms within each faith), all three Abrahamic faiths share the same creation narrative: that God created the first two humans as a man, Adam, and a woman, Eve.
The Bible and the Tanakh state “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
The Koran states “Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” (49:13)
The Abrahamic faiths all emphasize that God makes humans just the way they are, and that He only created men and women. Therefore, the idea that someone could be “born in the wrong body” goes against God’s will.
In America, Christians make up over 70% of the population, Jews make up 2%, and Muslims only make up 1%. However, these numbers do not distinguish self-identified Christians and Jews in America that only identify as such for cultural or historical reasons, and do not really keep the faith. Adherents of more doctrinally-aligned denominations and movements—evangelical Christians1, fundamentalist Christians, Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews—have maintained their views. So has the LDS Church (Mormonism), whose adherents make up 2% of the American population.
However, non-evangelical Christians and non-Orthodox Jews have increasingly taken stances more in line with the secular world. It is not uncommon for churches in affluent urban areas to display trans flags alongside other symbols of loyalty to the dominant secular culture surrounding them.
Over the past year, there have been increasing protests by Muslim parents against the teaching of gender ideology in schools. The reason so many of these protests come from Muslims is because the schools that tend to teach gender ideology are usually located in liberal urban areas, where the few socially conservative residents tend to be part of minority groups.
This has created awkward situations where liberals are forced to push back against members of ethnic and religious minority groups. As I’ve discussed before, the Democratic Party is a coalition of White liberals and various socially moderate-to-conservative minority groups that vote Democrat for economic or identity-tailored reasons. Such a coalition is breaking apart in the face of extreme social liberalism and an increasingly populist Right.
Just a few years ago, it was rare to see conservative Christians collaborating with Muslims. Yet the proliferation of gender ideology, especially in public schools, has turned this alliance into a reality, and could possibly usher in a new era of interfaith collaboration in an increasingly secular world. This collaboration isn’t the only time Christians have formed unlikely alliances. On to the next faction…
Radfem is short for radical feminist, the most famous subset of which are called TERFs: trans-exclusionary radical feminists. While TERF is considered a slur by some radfems, who use the term gender-critical (GC), other radfems have reclaimed and embraced TERF.
Radical feminism developed during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s in reaction to the dominant form of feminism, what is now called liberal feminism.2 Liberal feminists try to reform mainstream society by working within its institutions and advocating for laws that would bring society closer to gender equality (e.g. Title IX), while radical feminists believe that society itself is too patriarchal to ever be reformed from the inside.
These separate worldviews inform the diverging paths the two movements have taken on issues of gender and sexuality. For example, a libfem might argue that a woman changing her last name to her husband’s is an empowering feminist act because she is free to choose whether to take his name or not, while a radfem might argue that a libfem only thinks that because she’s been conditioned by patriarchal norms to view it as a choice and not as an archaic claim of male ownership.
The same libfem vs. radfem arguments play out involving stylistic decisions such as wearing lipstick, makeup, or high heels, as well as sexual ones, like engaging in prostitution or pornography. The common divide is the question of choice. Libfems believe that it is empowering for women to make their own choices, while radfems believe that choice is often an illusion created by the a patriarchal society.
This leads to how libfems and radfems have viewed gender. Many libfems (though not all) see gender itself as a choice. Radfems obviously don’t. After all, it would be absurd for someone that believes in an omnipotent patriarchy to also accept transgenderism. If it really was possible to be born in a female body and be a male, couldn’t anyone just opt out of being oppressed by the patriarchy by identifying as a man? Accepting gender ideology would thus destroy the foundations radical feminism is built on.
Furthermore, radfems have much experience with preserving single-sex spaces. American radfems once held the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival every year, specifying that the festival was only available to womyn-born womyn. The festival was canceled in 2015 after many harassment campaigns by trans activist groups (and by mainstream LGBT groups like GLAAD and the HRC) to shut them down. But as we’ve all seen the past few years, music festivals aren’t enough to appease trans activists, who have increasingly demanded to be included in women’s sports and other sex-segregated spaces.
Radfems have been some of the earliest people to criticize trans ideology. Janice Raymond, a lesbian radfem and professor, wrote a book highly influential in gender-critical circles titled The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Here’s a synopsis:
Raymond investigates the role of transgender people in society—particularly psychological and surgical approaches to it—and argues that the notion of trans people reinforces traditional gender stereotypes. Raymond also writes about the ways in which the medical-psychiatric complex is medicalizing gender identity and the social and political context that has helped spawn gender-affirming treatment and surgery as normal and therapeutic medicine.
Would you believe that The Transsexual Empire was written all the way back in 1979, when gender ideology was far outside most people’s radar? Because it was. An entire book was written about the medical-psychiatric complex’s role in legitimatizing gender ideology and so-called “gender-affirming surgeries” over four decades ago. Many people think that gender ideology only materialized over the past few years, when in reality, radfems have been fighting on the front lines for decades.
Relationship Between Radfems and the Religious Right
Radical feminism is to liberal feminism as evangelical Christianity is to mainline Christianity.
This analogy is more fitting than you think. In the 1980s, prominent radfems Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon led an anti-pornography crusade. Their mission was to get porn declared as a violation against women’s civil rights, which would’ve allowed legislatures to ban pornography without violating the First Amendment3. Dworkin and MacKinnon quickly ran into resistance from libfems that argued that porn was empowering to women, as well from a culture that was becoming ever more liberal about sexual morality.
One political figure from across the spectrum did notice their efforts, though: James C. Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family. He and other Christian groups offered to help Dworkin and MacKinnon’s anti-porn crusade, though the reasons each group had for doing so were obviously very different. Thus began an alliance of radfems and the religious right—two groups that disagreed on almost everything else.
Stop and think for a minute just how unlikely this alliance was. Radfems viewed the religious as a patriarchal group that sought to control women’s bodies via abortion bans. The religious viewed radfems as baby-killing libertines. Not to mention that many radfems were lesbians, and many of the religious were strongly against homosexuality. Yet they managed to put aside these major differences to work together back then…
…and the alliance lives on today. While efforts to ban pornography ultimately failed, the collaboration continues into today’s trans culture war. A key radfem organization today is the Women's Liberation Front (WoLF). Founded by lesbian radfem activist Lierre Keith, who was also involved in the Dworkin/MacKinnon anti-porn activism of the 1980s, WoLF has filed many lawsuits and amicus briefs dedicated to keeping prisons and bathrooms single-sex.
WoLF is certainly no lone-wolf organization. It has taken funding from the Christian organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), as well as Focus on the Family. In 2017, WoLF co-established the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition, a strategic alliance between radfems and Christians. In 2019, three WoLF members participated on a panel organized by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation to discuss gender ideology’s rapid march through the institutions.
WoLF member Kara Dansky explained her rationale:
We disagree on a lot of things. WoLF stands for reproductive sovereignty, for gay rights, for marriage equality, and I think our organizations disagree on those issues. On certain issues, such as gender identity, pornography and prostitution, WoLF finds that the left has pretty much sold out women.
Unlike with pornography, the crusade against gender ideology has more than just radfems and the religious right. Introducing the third group…
“Atheist Republican” is a label that was once oxymoronic, considering the GOP’s religious reputation. Yet evolutionary biologist Colin Wright has argued for the inclusion of atheists in the Republican Party, which he sees as the predominant force fighting woke ideology, which in turn he sees as a secular religion. Wright has made a name for himself by providing a scientific background, mostly drawn from evolutionary biology, to arguments against gender ideology.
He isn’t alone. One of the most popular anti-woke thinkers today is James Lindsay, who rose to fame for his part in the "grievance studies affair”, where he and fellow academics Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose submitted many prank papers to various academic journals about postcolonial theory, gender studies, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectional feminism, etc. Many of their papers were peer-reviewed and published before the trio exposed their prank—and thus exposed critical theory as a nonsense constellation of grievance mongering.
Before he became a celebrated anti-woke figure, Lindsay was part of the New Atheist movement—a movement that denounced religious belief in favor of a society built on secular humanism. So it may come as a surprise that Lindsay’s woke-deconstructing website New Discourses is owned by Christian commentator Michael O'Fallon—another example of Christians allying with people that would otherwise be ideological enemies.
I’ll refer to people like Wright and Lindsay as rationalists, after the philosophical school of thought that emphasizes reason as the root of all belief. Other prominent rationalists include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Heather Heying, and Jordan Peterson. Many Rationalists are affiliated with what was called the Intellectual Dark Web, after the Bari Weiss article profiling the movement. Rationalists are disproportionally found in STEM fields, especially in biology. Many are devoted atheists.
The rationalist opposition to gender ideology is twofold: through philosophical and scientific means. They have waded into heavy controversy in their respective fields as a result. Alex Byrne, a philosophy professor at MIT, published a paper arguing that a woman is an adult human female. In it, he presented not just one, but six different arguments, while refuting arguments from trans activists. He did so because so many others in his field were publishing nonsense papers about trans identity that ultimately adhered to the circular definition that “a woman is someone that identifies as a woman”. Byrne was pilloried by his peers for his efforts, and they tried to prevent the release of his upcoming book The Problem With Gender. They also went after philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith, author of Gender-Critical Feminism. As Byrne remarks,
What is disturbing about this affair is that it illustrates how a small vocal clique can bend an academic discipline to its will, relying on the unwillingness of the majority to push back. Academics—as is sometimes observed—are selected for conformity. (I used to think that philosophy was an exception to this rule, but not anymore.) Brazen unprofessionalism is permitted, even encouraged—provided it’s from those with the “correct” opinions. Junior academics and graduate students soon learn what they are not allowed to say.
In the present moment, sex and gender are of great political and social interest. Philosophers pride themselves on being able to ferret out and rebut nonsense, and these topics provide an inexhaustible supply. The discussion of sex and gender should have been philosophy’s finest hour, with our profession contributing to the wider conversation, airing its disagreements for all to see. Instead, the discipline has been slowly suffocated by an intolerant minority, driving it closer to irrelevance.
All throughout academia, views that deviate from the prevailing orthodoxy are assailed by a minority that will stop at nothing to shut down dissenting viewpoints. It’s not just philosophy, but also biology and psychology. In 2018, Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher at Brown University, published a paper coining the term rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). In it, she described how gender dysphoria, a phenomenon once largely restricted to young boys, was appearing in clusters of teenage girls all across affluent liberal areas. There were many cases of multiple girls in the same friend group suddenly identifying as trans, and Littman deemed this a social contagion. After the paper came out, she was instantly attacked by trans activist groups, and the journal she published the paper in was cowed into performing a rare post-publication review. The post-publication review found nothing wrong with the original paper. It was all a witch-hunt.
And that is why so many atheist academics have shifted rightward over the past few years. They see how hostile academia is to people that simply offer a different perspective from the prevailing orthodoxy.
I originally thought about including Racial as the fourth R-word on this list. As I’ve previously discussed, many non-White people see transgenderism as a White phenomenon, and support for gender ideology is lowest among Black Americans. Yet I did not include it as it’s not really an argument against gender ideology, but rather a way to signal ingroup loyalty.
While the three R’s I did summarize are united in their opposition to gender ideology, their views on gender itself tend to be different. The religious believe that sex differences come from God, radfems believe sex differences (mental ones, at least) were imposed by patriarchal norms, and rationalists believe that sex differences come from evolution. The religious are likely to subscribe to a complementarian view, one where God assigns men and women different roles in life. Such views tend to be associated with the traditional gender roles of man-as-provider and woman-as-caretaker. Radical feminists tend to believe the opposite: that traditional gender roles are patriarchal ones and thus should be abolished. Radfems see gender ideology as regressive, as the idea of identifying as transgender can be seen as promoting gender stereotypes. Rationalists believe in biological differences between men and women, both physically and mentally, and cite scientific research showing these differences.
These three lines of reasoning are by no means the only arguments against gender ideology. I chose these three groups because while they all have different fundamental worldviews, and disagree with almost everything the other two groups believe in, all three have immense potential to unite for a common cause.
Currently, the polling shows that gender ideology remains deeply unpopular, especially when it comes to women’s sports and surgeries for children. Yet it is possible for a small but unyielding minority to eventually enforce their will onto the majority, as long as the majority does not push back. All across America right now, thousands of mentally confused teens are planning on life-altering hormone routines and surgeries, without ever thinking about the irreversible damage they are doing to their bodies, all for a self-contradicting ideology that cannot even define the basic meanings of words. After all, why does a child need puberty blockers and “gender-affirming” surgery if gender isn’t based on physical characteristics? Trans activists are unable to answer this simple question. But they don’t need to, as long as they can stifle dissent and as long as the opposition remains divided.
That is why it is crucial for all in opposition to stand together. If you asked me five years ago how evangelical Christians, Muslims, radical feminists, and devoted atheists could all be on the same side on a single hot-button issue, I would’ve been stumped for answers. Yet here we are.
While the term evangelical refers to any Christian that says that he or she is born-again, and is not inherently political, the label is commonly used to describe more doctrinally-aligned Christians. Evangelicals were once mostly Democrats and came out in droves to elect Jimmy Carter, the first President to call himself an evangelical. But Carter’s social liberalism led many Evangelicals to switch to Reagan the next election. Today, White evangelicals are the most solid Republican bloc, and Latino evangelicals have shifted Republican as well.
Radical feminism and liberal feminism, along with Marxist feminism, are considered the “big three” schools of feminist thought. There are far more movements than just those three, such as libertarian feminism, womanism, ecofeminism, etc. And even within those movements, differences arise. Not all libfems support gender ideology, and not all radfems are against it. As a longtime reader and subscriber mentioned here a few weeks ago, no word can be reduced to just one single stereotype, especially not a word as far-ranging as feminist.
If you’ve ever wondered why prostitution is illegal in America while pornography is not, despite the fact that both involve paying for sex, it is because pornography is protected as a form of expression under the First Amendment.