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Review of Material Girls by Kathleen Stock

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ChristinaXYZ · 30/04/2021 21:39

From Telegraph

If biological sex is a myth, so is evolution. In Material Girls, philosopher Kathleen Stock braves accusations of hate to publish a fearless, rigorous study of gender identity.

Nakedness has always, literally or metaphorically, epitomised stark, outrageous truth. Diogenes in the Athenian marketplace, King Lear on the stormy heath, 20th-century hippies: all were tearing off their clothes to reveal the “poor, bare, forked animal” that underlies pretension and pretence. But now nudity is not enough. We discern something yet more fundamental beneath the skin – gender identity.

This, or your inner sense of it, is what makes you male or female (or, perhaps, one of a range of other genders), irrespective of whether it tallies with the sex you were “assigned at birth”, and whether or not (if it doesn’t) you undergo surgical or hormonal adjustments. To do so is irrelevant to being transgender (“transsexual” is an outmoded, quasi-offensive term). The essential thing is how you self-identify. Any distinction between “natural” and “artificial” sex is arbitrary.

For contesting such views, Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, is accused of hating trans people. But, undeterred, she sets out in Material Girls to disentangle the confusions that have bemused so many politicians, institutions and young people into acquiescing – with what? They’re unsure, except that it seems to be the tide of progress.

“How did we get here?” asks Stock, and locates various stages along the way. In the 1960s, feminists, in their efforts to free women from constricting stereotypes, distinguished (socially constructed) “gender” from (biological) “sex”; clinicians dealing with sexual development disorders developed the idea of “gender identity”; Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor of biology and gender studies, claimed both that there were five sexes, and that sex was along a continuum. Other academics (Thomas Laqueur, Judith Butler and Monique Wittig respectively) contended that binary sex was invented in the 18th century, was socially constructed and merely “performative”, or was an artificial social division created by oppression.

But if so, “how exactly was the oppressive pattern supposed to start?” asks Stock. Often when sex is denied, it is simultaneously presupposed. “Gender” – which is taken to be identical, or different, to “sex”, as convenient – has (on her analysis) four distinct meanings, which helpfully slip into one another, or are inconsistently conflated.

Chloë Sevingy and Hilary Swank in 1999 film Boys Don't Cry - based on the real-life story of trans man Brandon Teena
Chloë Sevigny and Hilary Swank in 1999 film Boys Don't Cry - based on the real-life story of trans man Brandon Teena CREDIT: AA Film Archive/Alamy
The sexual continuum claim is buttressed by contentions that 1.7 per cent of the population is intersex – a figure, says Stock, which is inflated by including those with non-standard chromosomal and genital configurations: it should, more realistically, be 0.018 per cent. In any case, binary sex is a reality, for “the most obvious and basic reason” that, without it, humanity would have died out. Humans, if not male and female, would be unique among mammals; maybe not even animals at all. If biological sex is a myth, then so, too, is the theory of evolution.

To deny binary biological sex (even if admitting the existence of “non-prostate owners” and that babies come from “front holes”) ignores sex-based illnesses, and is dangerous for medical diagnosis and research. It skews crime figures and rewrites what it is to be gay. Stonewall (set up 30 years ago to defend gay rights) has, in its new trans-obsessed incarnation, defined homosexuality as an orientation “towards someone of the same gender”; hence trans women, with or without penises, can (and do) brand lesbians who refuse to sleep with them “transphobic”.

For, of course, since trans women (whatever their genitalia) “are just as much women as cis [natal] women are”, they, too, are obviously entitled to qualify as lesbian; as they are to compete as sportswomen, vie for women’s jobs and prizes, inhabit women’s jails, and use women-only changing rooms. Trans men are unlikely to make equivalent demands, so pose no threat to cis men. But women’s hard-won rights are jeopardised, and, potentially, their very safety.

The latter charge incurs outrage: how dare you imply that trans women could have evil intentions? Yet John Stuart Mill was right: “laws and institutions require to be adapted, not to good men, but to bad”. Of course, any trans woman found to be a rapist is declared to never have really been a trans woman, after all. Then how, asks Stock, given the much-vaunted innerness and invisibility of gender, are trans women to be distinguished from cis men, and on what grounds can the identity of anyone, however bodied, be justifiably challenged, in bedroom or bathroom?

Oddly, the impetus for all this – rejecting sexual stereotypes that are falsely linked to biology – has, as Stock shows, come full circle. What, after all, is it to signal gender identity – to others, and even to yourself – if not being “manlike” or “womanlike”? Concepts once excoriated are now embraced. Girls who hate pink and like football, boys who squat to pee or play with dolls, are now potential candidates for being “truly trans” (a notion that hardly jibes with that of sexual diffuseness) and for puberty blockers and eventual transitioning.

Of course trans people require protective laws, says Stock. But that people can actually change sex is a fiction, often temporary or intermittent. It is one in which non-trans people would be courteous (though should not be legally coerced) to also engage. Not, however, to the extent of declaring it fact, or pretending that trans women are suited to filling any female role: rape counsellor, say, or refuge adviser. Material Girls exposes “The Emperor’s New Dress”. It is a brave, enlightening, closely argued book, by a fearless woman.

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ChristinaXYZ · 30/04/2021 21:40

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ChristinaXYZ · 30/04/2021 21:40

My favourite bit of the review:

John Stuart Mill was right: “laws and institutions require to be adapted, not to good men, but to bad”.

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thinkingaboutLangCleg · 30/04/2021 23:36

Good review. Kathleen Stock is a hero and a genuine intellectual.

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alkanet · 30/04/2021 23:52

Can't wait to read it. I hope the Feminist Library will be giving it pride of place???

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Scepticaltank · 01/05/2021 00:01

One to buy for the questioning youngsters in the family. I will be sending a copy to my two DSs who really do want to understand what is going on.

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ChristinaXYZ · 01/05/2021 10:56

@Scepticaltank

One to buy for the questioning youngsters in the family. I will be sending a copy to my two DSs who really do want to understand what is going on.

I hope as many people as possible buy it. Buy one and pass one on! And if you're not in a position to maybe ask your local library for it.
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NonnyMouse1337 · 01/05/2021 12:04

I can't wait for the book to be released. Smile

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HecatesCatsInFancyHats · 01/05/2021 12:25

Mine arrived this week! Can't wait to get stuck in. Thanks for sharing the review.

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R0wantrees · 01/05/2021 14:00

I've just had a message from a Telegraph reading relative (he's retired) saying that, based on this review, it sounds an interesting and significant book and he's going to order it.

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NonnyMouse1337 · 01/05/2021 14:02

@HecatesCatsInFancyHats

Mine arrived this week! Can't wait to get stuck in. Thanks for sharing the review.

Oh! Is it out yet? I haven't kept up with the news. Blush
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HecatesCatsInFancyHats · 01/05/2021 14:47

It must be Nonny. I had preordered it and it was delivered on Thursday.

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JustTurtlesAllTheWayDown · 01/05/2021 15:09

Oh, I also pre-ordered. Mine hasn't arrived yet. I'll be eagerly awaiting the postie in the next few days Grin

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Novina · 01/05/2021 16:18

Official release date os the 6th, but preorders have been artiving this week.

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JackieLavertysWeirdVoice · 01/05/2021 16:22

Reviewer is JANE O'GRADY.

I don't know anything about her but will now be looking her up.

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Mulletsaremisunderstood · 01/05/2021 16:32

Thanks for the heads up OP, I just pre ordered a copy.

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JackieLavertysWeirdVoice · 01/05/2021 17:27

The review writer:

www.thearticle.com/contributor/janeogrady

She looks really interesting. And independent.

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ivy4iona · 17/05/2021 16:26

am reading this and it's a breath of fresh air and essential reading. She is very careful to be very kind and careful of trans women. As it happens, ridiculous as it might seem, this rigorous account of the facts over feelings; that vaginas aren't 'front holes' (yet penises are always penises) and the words 'female' and 'women' are not transphobic. This is important because laws are being changed. And the orthodoxy of the Left is embracing trans activism hook line and sinker. Imagine that BPAS the charity for pregnancy and abortion consultation not being able to use those words but use 'people who menstruate' people wit cervixes' instead. As well as the bonkers nature of it all how would that help a woman with poor education and English understand what the charity did?

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SmokedDuck · 17/05/2021 16:32

I'd be interested to hear what people's thoughts are on the analysis portion, "how we got here" once people have read it.

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LibertyMole · 17/05/2021 17:01

I have read the first chapter and it is much easier to read than I was expecting. I thought with her being an academic philosopher and with the subject matter being usually deliberately confusing, the writing would be very dense.

But she writes in a clear, simple way. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand what is going on.

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SunnydaleClassProtector99 · 18/05/2021 13:37

I've just read the whistle stop tour and found it very cringe because she represented absolutely what gender fanatics believe in. I agree with her that for good debate you need to represent what your opponent is saying without wilfully misrepresentation, but it was hard to read none the less.

I was wondering if anyone could explain further what she means by gender 3. I understand one being sex, 2 stereotypes and 4 feelings but am a little fussy on 3.

As I understand it, I think it's the phenomenon we sometimes see on here, where feminists are convinced there are no differences between men and women and that phenomenon like babies preferring their mothers are just social. So that would include things like believing women and men are just as capable of violence but are socialised differently.

Myself I believe some elements of sexed behaviour are innate, but not enough to justify the difference we see in the real world. I.e, women may have a special bond with their babies but that's no reason to deny little boys dollies or assume men can't be great parents.
For my understanding the feminists that insist that hormones etc. have no effect on the brain so therefore they're identical to men.
My view would be that whilst certain hormones may help women in caring roles, they don't affect their ability to say, be an engineer.

But I'm not sure I have misunderstood.

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EdgeOfACoin · 18/05/2021 17:49

Interesting. Kellie-Jay and Julia Long were discussing her book recently (although they had both only read extracts, rather than the whole thing, which they were clear about) and they were both quite critical of Stock:

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