Since 2020, intense controversies against “gender” and trans rights have been unfolding that are mobilized by “gender-critical” feminist strands. As mentioned in previous issues, these tensions are not new but have gained scale and intensity since 2020 in Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, and also in Latin America, especially in Mexico. It is not possible to summarize here the multiplicity and tenor of all the clashes that have taken place in this environment in recent months in all these places. But we offer a little more detailed information about what has been happening in Spain and the UK, whose visibility is greater and whose global effects are more evident.
In Spain, these tensions have been playing out mostly in relation to the left-wing parties (PSOE and Podemos) and are related to legislative debates. They gained considerable attention last year in the debates regarding the Gender Identity Law. In June, despite many tensions, the law was approved in the Council of Ministers and sent to Parliament. But in the ongoing procedural process, which involves numerous consultations, including with civil society, anti-gender feminists have resumed protests against the content of the legislation and the PSOE’s decision to support it.
In the UK, the battle fronts are multiple, more complex, and much more acute. There are clashes within the sphere of gender identity public policy, growing tensions in the academy involving debates around academic freedom, confrontations over inclusive language, debates in the party-political sphere, and, more recently, the emergence of a new LGBTTIA+ network aligned with the gender critical feminist currents.
Some of these confrontations, especially in the academic field, have been quite extreme. Until a few years ago these controversies were the stuff of tabloids, but today they are on the agenda of the mainstream media, which has treated them in a very problematic way. The compilation of what we have collected about the UK is organized so that readers can get a more accurate picture of these many battlefields for themselves.
We will focus briefly on the issues and debates involving the British media because they resonate strongly in other contexts. Also, the British media treatment of such clashes, especially the line taken by The Economist, has associated gender conflicts with “totalitarian left-wing bias,” unashamedly replicating arguments from the far right about “cultural Marxism,” “woke culture,” and “cancellation.” This editorial line is unacceptable in the case of an outlet that claims to be the voice of political liberalism.
On September 7, The Guardian published a lengthy interview with Judith Butler, the title of which is “Do we need to rethink the category of woman?” A few hours later, an answer about anti-gender feminism in which Butler made a connection between these positions and modern-day far-right politics was deleted. The newspaper claimed the cause was technical issues, which was called into question by the interviewer. This apparent censorship provoked many reactions, such as an article by James Factora. In October, in what seems to be a correction of the error, the newspaper published a long text by the philosopher in which she reiterates the position expressed in the interview in the following terms: “It makes no sense for ‘gender critical’ feminists to ally themselves with reactionary powers that target trans, non-binary and queer people. The time for anti-fascist solidarity is now.”
If this is indeed reparation, the Guardian‘s move is, however, exceptional, for as Tara John’s recent CNN article analyzes, the British press has not been balanced in its treatment of these debates and clashes. An example of this is the “letter” published by the BBC in October in which an author from the anti-gender feminist camp recounts episodes in which lesbian women were allegedly coerced into having sex with trans people described as “vile.” As The Guardian importantly reports in a November 4th story, even after numerous reactions, including a letter signed by 20,000 people, the BBC was reluctant to acknowledge the transphobic nature of the text, and would only later remove some of the content. Before that, however, the “letter” was published by BBC Brazil and was very quickly criticized by Bia Pagliarini. However, there was no move by the BBC to ensure that opposing voices could be heard, to open space for trans voices to contest the story in the outlet itself.
Finally, to understand the genealogy of these complicated battlefields, we recommend a text by feminist Sara Ahmed (in Spanish) that engages with and amplifies the arguments developed by Butler in the Guardian article. Ahmed revisits long cycles of feminist debates on gender and also identifies problematic convergences between the positions of “gender critical” currents and gender conservatism.