If social networks silence gender critical women: interview with Alessandra Asteriti

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(The interview was carried out as part of the activities of SeNonOra Quando Genova, a feminist association with a ten-year history engaged in cultural awareness work for the recognition of women in society at all levels, for their equal representation in decision-making roles, as well as for the elimination of violence against them).

The name of Alessandra Asteriti, teacher of International law at the Leuphana University of Hamburg, appeared in the Italian public debate last December 2020, when his speech entitled “Gender identity is against women” was published by Concita De Gregorio in his column on The Republic.

In the letter Asteriti testified how having taken - for two years now - a critical position on the concept of gender identity had exposed it, both in the academic field and on social media (in particular Twitter), for example accusations, threats and heavy ostracism of various kinds.

Shortly after the release on There Republic, despite the great solidarity and support expressed by many women to the contents of the letter, Alessandra Asteriti's Twitter account has been suspended. Subsequently, some queer associations turned to the university where Asteriti teaches, asking an official distancing from the management compared to the opinions expressed by the teacher. Finally, within a couple of months, Asteriti also had her Facebook account deactivated.

We decided together with Alessandra to carry out this interview because it is very worrying that so many women are systematically censored by social networks. His testimony deserves to be disseminated and debated, not only with regard to the issue of gender identity, but because the story is exemplary and opens an important and serious question about freedom of expression, right fundamental which in a democratic state must be guaranteed to every citizen.

Alessandra, can we say that we are facing a censorship operation against you? What are the official reasons that Twitter and Facebook gave you to justify the closure of your accounts?

I didn't receive any explanation from Facebook. Twitter informed me that I had been suspended for "hateful conduct" [hateful behavior, ed.] and specifically for this tweet

[Translation: “Let us remember that in 2015, 300,000 women around the world died in childbirth. What will it take to stop this trans madness?”, ed.]

To explain the context, the tweet referred to an English story regarding the allocation of funds to finance a research project to implant uteruses in trans women (therefore biologically male people). My comment wanted to highlight how dangerous it is, also from the point of view of the decisions that are taken by a government in the field of research funding, replace gender with biological sex: in this way, strictly female pathologies or health problems become something of a minority, because not all people who identify as women are carriers of them. As with other trans issues, it seems that the needs expressed by this group must always take precedence over the needs and requests made by women. So yes, I would say that women - there are many like me - are censored and silenced if they allow themselves to express criticism towards gender ideology, but also just to bring attention to women's issues. Or, even more worryingly, when they explicitly refer to issues such as the male violence or the patriarchy understood in a non-"inclusive" sense.

From 2018 to today, the number of women "silenced" by Twitter for expressing gender critical positions is impressive. What are your thoughts on the politics of these platforms? What are the interests at stake?

I think it depends on the platforms. And then I don't want to start a conspiracy or talk about conspiracies. Of course, I wonder why this movement has achieved such goals in such a short time. Until a few years ago the idea that biological sex was not easily a reality demonstrable would have been considered absurd and offensive towards women, who are the victims of sexism.

In Italy, who contacted you after your letter to De Gregorio and what kind of feedback did you get?

Mainly negative feedback, as I expected, and as I had told Concita. I was suspended from Twitter again, permanently and, given that the Better Business Bureau is no longer available, without the possibility of recovering an account that I also used for work. This time the suspension was motivated again by "hateful conduct", but for a tweet in Italian: for this reason I am sure that it is connected to my article on The Republic. The tweet, just to give an idea of how restricted women's right to speak is in this field, was the following:

As regards the academic environment, both at an Italian and international level, what is the atmosphere regarding these topics? Is there a debate? Have you received solidarity from colleagues?

The climate is absurdly limiting. A colleague of mine in the field of human rights who works in Great Britain, an absolute expert in the field, revealed to me that he had never seen a climate of terror as per gender ideology: said on the phone, because he was afraid of talking about these things via email. This is to say. Debate is impossible. Not only do colleagues ignore you and try to limit your ability to talk about these things (and therefore missed invitations to conferences, articles rejected for publication, etc.) but students also feel entitled to send you emails and messages to tell you to to stay silent, to ask the university to take a public stand against you, to stage protests to prevent you from attending seminars.

Students at my university in Germany (I want to underline this), after accepting an invitation to the debate, accused me of treating trans people as sub-humans. Meaning what they accused me of behaving like the Nazi regime behaved towards minorities. I asked mine university to support my right to speak and my academic freedom, but so far I have had no response. I also received threats on both Twitter and the university email. The university removed my address and photo from the university website, but did not volunteer any support. No public solidarity from colleagues, but above all we must consider that women are afraid. A male colleague of mine, when I confided in him that I had received death threats, replied via email that although he defended freedom of expression, he was of the opinion that we should all be more open to trans lifestyles. It speaks for itself, I think.

Your criticism of the concept of gender identity is naturally articulated from the perspective of law, your field of research. Can you explain to us what are the implications of introducing the concept of gender identity into International Law?

This question would require an essay, and in fact I'm thinking of writing an article, but I already know that it would be very difficult to find a magazine willing to publish it. In short, i Women's rights are based on sex, as well as the discrimination that the rights were introduced to combat. Replacing sex, which is an identifiable and recognizable biological reality, with gender identity, a concept not defined and not known by many women and rejected by others (especially feminists, as it is based on a stereotyped and sexist version of women) has inevitably have repercussions. In law definitions are essential, especially if positive rights derive from these. Changing the definition changes the criteria for deciding who owns these rights. This in general.

Then, of course, if the definition of woman is no longer linked to biological sex, it becomes almost impossible to decide when a certain behavior, of the State or of an employer, is discrimination or not. If there are women who do not need leave due to breastfeeding, or pregnancy, or other women's health issues, it becomes much more difficult to prove that the employer discriminated against the female employee because she is a woman. In the end, all spaces and services that are reserved for women become by necessity also open to men. This is if the self-ID becomes law, but in some countries even without a specific law, simply because organizations like Stonewall spread a misinterpretation of current law. So, to give just one example, men convicted of rape were placed in women's prisons, where they committed further sexual violence, because they declared themselves to be women (no hormone treatment, or operation).

I would like to close by saying that this is a movement that is based on an absurd conception of reality, according to which what one thinks one is is more important than what one actually is. But this only applies to sex, at least for now. We don't let anyone take ten years off their birth certificate because they feel younger or have had a facelift. Or to declare himself black if he is not, or disabled if he is not. It seems that the only open ontological category is that of sex, especially that of the female sex, where, as the advertisement said, the word is enough. Just say I'm a woman and you are. Meanwhile, girls are still forced to undergo hormone treatments, mastectomies and hysterectomies in order to hope to be recognized as men. Like all male chauvinist ideologies, gender ideology is also fought on women's bodies and maintains the penis as a symbol of power. Except that from a penis it transforms into a female penis (the famous girldick). In short: the penis is dead, long live the penis.

Emanuela Risso, IfNotOraWhen Genoa

The interview was carried out as part of the activities of SeNonOra Quando Genova, a feminist association with a ten-year history engaged in cultural awareness work for the recognition of women in society at all levels, for their equal representation in decision-making roles, as well as for the elimination of violence against them.

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