29 December 2022

2022, the year the West erased women

According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, radical critic of Islam, subjugating fundamentalists and Western transactivist progressivism are de facto allies: both endanger women and threaten post-Enlightenment ideals
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If 2022 was the year of the 'woman', it was a story with two different final chapters: one hopeful, the other less so. The first is set in a faraway country, where an archaic and theocratic regime threatens to be overthrown by women who throw off their hijabs and demand their emancipation. The second takes place in a more familiar setting but in an unfamiliar language: a West in which the very word 'woman' no longer has any meaning, its definition has been rewritten to include 'an adult who lives and identifies as female even though she may have been defined as a different sex at birth'.

This is the paradox of the last 12 months: women's existence is questioned in the very place where women's emancipation has come furthest, while in places where women remain chained to medieval notions of honour and chastity, true feminism is strongest.

Why should we bother with dictionary definitions when everyone knows what a woman is? This may seem a fair question. However, to dismiss the erasure of a word as a 'culture war issue' is to misunderstand the forces driving it. As Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay noted in their 2020 book Cynical Theories, language is now seen as an instrument of oppression, and must therefore be modified in the name of so-called 'liberation'.

These discussions about the word 'woman' therefore have wider repercussions: they are fronts in a larger war that will determine the use of language itself.

Those who would separating the word 'woman' from its biological implications often present their ideas as harmless. They tell us that they are simply the champions of 'inclusion'. But their ideology is by no means unchallengeable and surrendering to it is not harmless. Last year, cases were reported of transgender women attacking women in women-only spaces and unfairly winning trophies in women's sports. The spirit of these failures was perhaps best described in the words of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was unable to define what being a woman entailed during her Senate confirmation hearing in March. "I am not a biologist," she said, as if it was necessary to be a professional scientist to know basic biological facts.

A word of clarification. I am immensely sympathetic to the plight of transgender people and believe they should have the same moral and legal rights as everyone else. To be against the gender ideology of militant trans activists is not to be transphobic. Rather, it is simply to agree, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie succinctly put it, that 'trans women are trans women'.

Adichie has been criticised for this and other statements that imply wrong thinking, but recognising that trans women are different from women, that there are potential conflicts between their rights, and that gender ideology opens the door to violent men masquerading as women, should not be controversial. Defending the rights of transgender people must not mean pretending that gender does not exist.

Indulging this fantasy can have perverse and dangerous repercussionsboth at home and abroad. Here in the West, it culminates in a myopic worldview that a bestselling author (and domestic abuse survivor) should be trolled for funding a women-only service for victims of sexual abuse. Elsewhere in the world, the erosion of our understanding of what it means to be a 'woman' has more immediate consequences.

Consider what has happened in Kenya, Iran and Afghanistan in the last two months. In Kenya, as American women debated what to call a person born with a cervix, female genital mutilation took on a new and insidious form.

In Iran, The women-led protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman arrested for violating mandatory dress code laws, were met with an equally inhuman response. The Iranian security services reported the rape of protesters and gunshots in the faces and genitals of the protesting women. In Afghanistan, the Taliban government has reintroduced Sharia law: women are no longer allowed to go out without a male relative and must cover themselves with a burqa or hijab when outside the home. Earlier this month, a woman was publicly flogged for entering a shop without a male guardian. Last week, the Taliban forbidden for women to study at university.

Is it really a coincidence that in the same year that the West forgot what it means to be a woman, we decided it was acceptable to turn our backs on women in those countries? This is what happens when a society stops caring what it means to be a woman; when a centuries-old struggle for emancipation is relegated to semantics.

Of course, this takes a different form in Kenya, Iran and Afghanistan. But It seems to me that there are still similarities between today's gender activists and theocratic subjugators. Both believe, based on a controversial ideology, that they have a monopoly on the truth. And both, in a way, are champions of the subjective over the objective: In one case, particular religious beliefs are said to tell us how society should be run - and in the other, simple feelings are said to abolish material reality.

This is why proponents of gender ideology are a threat not only to women, but also to Western ideals. Western culture prides itself on the achievements of the Enlightenment and science - in other words, objectivity. It was on an objective basis that previous generations of feminists based their claims: their battle was based on an appeal to reason. Now, so-called 'progressives' - another term that has been meaninglessly redefined - rely on subjective feelings and ignore or willingly disregard their material effects.

The effects of this are slowly taking shape. In the 1970s, anti-Shah Iranians joined the Ayatollahs in the illusory hope that they would share power after the revolution. They learnt very early on that fanatics cannot be trusted or limited. Likewise, many western feminists ended up allying themselves with progressivism, and now too many women have felt the terrible consequences of this alliance.

If we want to recover the spirit of true feminism, we need more JK Rowling and less Ketanji Brown Jackson.

It is not only feminism and women's rights that are at stake, but also the best ideals of the West itself. If 2022 is the year of the 'woman', let us hope that 2023 will be the year when we can delete the inverted commas.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Editorialist of UnHerd, a researcher at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation, Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch feminist famous for her radical critique of Islam, considered a religion incompatible with women's rights, human rights and democracy. Author of Not submissive. Against segregation in Islamic society (2005) e Infidel (2006), in 2004 he wrote the film script Submission directed by Theo van Gogh, who was killed by Islamist terrorism for this. Since then, Hirsi Ali has been living under armed guard. His new book is Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women's Rights.

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