Being PC used to be easy-peasy. On the one hand you had the oppressors – i.e. rich white males; while on the other other you had the oppressed – i.e. everyone else. All you had to do was side with the latter against the former and you’d be sorted.
But now it’s more complicated. The professionally oppressed are duking it out in a contest of victimhood one-upmanship – not that they approve of dukes or, for that matter, men.
This is documented in a remarkable piece by Michelle Goldberg in the New Yorker which reports on the increasingly bitter conflict between radical feminists and the transgender rights movement. Here’s the nub of the issue:
“Trans women say that they are women because they feel female—that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a ‘female brain.’ They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential…
“In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position. Anyone born a man retains male privilege in society; even if he chooses to live as a woman—and accept a correspondingly subordinate social position—the fact that he has a choice means that he can never understand what being a woman is really like.”
The radical feminists are probably on the losing side. It’s not that they hold to some residual conservatism about the objective reality of femaleness. Indeed, they see gender roles as something artificially imposed – or ‘constructed’ to use the post-modern jargon – by a supposedly patriarchal society. But, as Carl Trueman points out in an article for First Things, the rad fems have had their post-modernism turned against them:
“If the world is a mere construct, then so is gender. And if gender is a mere construct, how can anyone resort to matters as mundane as the presence of certain genitalia or chromosomes? Of course, why in such circumstances gender still remains a category at all is an interesting question. We eagerly await the next phase of deconstruction for an answer to that one.”
The provocatively-named Mr Trueman expands on his theme:
“It is a fine example of how ‘oppression’ has become a psychological, rather than, say, an economic, category and how it has also therefore descended into the realm of subjectivity…”
The difference between these rival subjectivities is that while the transgender version can encompass anyone who declares themselves to be a woman, the radical feminist version can’t – i.e. if the patriarchy accords you the privileges of a male identity, then by definition you’re not a woman. This is why some transgender activists refer to the other side as ‘TERFs’ i.e. ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.’
As with most culture wars, this particular conflict will be won by whoever has the greatest cultural influence:
“At that moment, politics really does seem to come down to who has the most effective lobbying strategies and smoothest public relations machine.”
In other words, when notions of moral and factual objectivity are discarded, the key factor in determining who wins when rival subjectivities go head-to-head is power – and it is on this basis that the crazy world of grievance politics is establishing a pecking order. How’s that for post-modern irony?
What has any of this got to do with the rest of us?
More than you might think, because while the PC brigade preaches inclusion and tolerance, you really don’t want to have the wrong voting record once a radical cause goes mainstream. Thus a cultural conflict that might seem a bit niche at the moment, may one day become a test of political acceptability.