Who is afraid of Matt Walsh? It appears that some gender-critical left-wing feminists are.
Walsh is an American Republican, self-declared anti-feminist, and Catholic who opposes abortion. He writes for the Daily Wire, an American conservative news website and media company. He is also the producer of the film What Is a Woman? (2022). Even though his answer to the question is identical to that of gender critical feminists—“a woman is an adult human female”—left-wing feminists warn of “the dangers of allowing misogynists like Walsh to hitch their wagon to the women’s movement.” These feminists paint Walsh as a member of a far-right cabal of Johnny-come-lately “racists, misogynists, and religious fundamentalists” and they warn feminists to be aware of “the dangers of a hostile takeover.” And for disobedient feminists like me who have the temerity to openly support the film, we are accused of displaying our naked bourgeois white privilege: “Women’s rights are not collateral that can be traded. This is #PeakWhiteFeminism when privileged women kick away the ladder.” I disagree.
To mark the beginning of Pride Month in June, and as a counterpoint to the predicted month-long onslaught of LGBTQI+ propaganda, the Daily Wire, which streams films exclusively to paying members, offered Walsh’s film free on Twitter during the first weekend. It invited viewers to join Walsh on his “sometimes comical yet deeply disturbing journey as he fearlessly questions the logic behind a gender ideology movement that has taken aim at women and children.” To great fanfare, Elon Musk removed Twitter’s “hateful conduct” tag on the film so that Twitter users could like it, retweet it, and share it. Musk also pinned the film to the top of his 140-million-follower profile, encouraging every parent to view it since in his view “anyone who maims and sterilises a child should go to prison.”
As it happened, I was in the countryside with friends. Responding to the excitement on social media, we abandoned our planned morning walk in the glorious sunshine and instead found ourselves huddled in a small, dark study around a computer screen. Walsh interviews various “gender” specialists—therapists, clinicians, surgeons, cultural studies professors—as well as female university students. He is on a quest to find out whether they can answer the question “What is a woman”? Their reasoning is circular: “A woman is someone who identifies as a woman.” “Yes,” Walsh persists, “but what is a woman”? Not only was each person unable to answer, but some professionals became aggressive, drawing the interview to an abrupt close. After an exhausting sojourn across North America and beyond, Walsh discovers that the answer to his question was to be found at home, in his kitchen. He asks his wife “What is a woman?” She replies, whilst handing him a jar whose lid she is ostensibly not strong enough to open: “A woman is an adult human female.”
As gender-critical feminists, we were thrilled the film was watched by millions. The interviewees reveal the illogicality that underpins “queer progressivism” and the moral bankruptcy of the liberal elite who disavow the harm of gender-identity pseudo-science. The film makes clear that, unlike feminists for whom sex is a biological fact and gender is a social construct, Walsh, like the majority of people left or right, white or black, believes biological sex underpins gender roles. Nor does he acknowledge his clear debt to women’s rights campaigners, in particular, to Kellie-Jay Keen, who popularised speaking the simple truth: “A woman is an adult human female.” Nevertheless, the film communicates in a populist format that this one question knocks the whole house of cards down. As friends, we agreed that the overall effect of the film would result in a social good. The film lays bare the political consequences of gender identity ideology—from men’s theft of women’s rights, the medical abuse of children, to the political upheaval of language such that the word “woman” is being erased.
Feminist writer Victoria Smith disagrees with us. With justifiable chagrin, she berates Walsh for framing himself as The Rescuing Hero. He does not acknowledge the feminists who have gone before him who, for years and at great personal and professional cost, have been alerting society to the dangers. Walsh, Smith points out, claims our “feminist observations as his own.” The film is of little use for gender critical purposes, she argues, since his “oppressive beliefs about sex and gender” have a “role … in creating and perpetuating the current situation.” Walsh “will defend our right to exist as a sex class, as long as we can all agree it’s the weaker one.” Ultimately, he is just another “mansplainer” and she is “just so fed up with the machismo.”
Katherine Acosta, sociologist, and writer, goes further in her criticism. She expresses disdain for any feminist who advances Walsh’s film, finding our position “incomprehensible.” She opines that, after its broadcast, Twitter has treated us to “the humiliating spectacle of women … falling over themselves to advocate the work of a profoundly misogynistic male.” She thinks that “trying to make common cause with Walsh or gleaning crumbs from his table”risks “reinforcing the image … that feminists concerned about gender identity policy are merely fronting for the radical right.” She sexualises women’s responses. “Sisters need to muster their self-respect and move on. He’s just not that into you.”
Since the 18th century, male philosophers have questioned whether women’s biology, our relative physical weakness compared to men, and our role as mothers, disqualify us from the capacity for rational thought. The “Woman Question” has taken different philosophical iterations throughout modernity, but by the 20th century, a psychoanalytic answer was given in which the penis, actual and symbolic, was made central to women’s “natural” social subordination. First Freud, then later the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, defined a woman’s psyche as inevitably flawed, wounded by unconscious penis “envy” or penis “lack.” Towards the end of the 20th century, psychoanalytic explanations receded in popularity, replaced in the academy by gender identity theory. The philosopher Judith Butler asserted that sex is a social construct and that there is no biological foundation to being a woman (or man). This novel approach was allegedly progressive because it shook off the heteronormative shackles of biological essentialism and provided a liberating opportunity for self-definition.
In a supreme irony, by the second decade of the 21st century, gender identity theory itself has resuscitated essentialism, this time by the sleight of hand of a conceptual reversal: On the one hand, it deems biological sex a social construct, assigned, not observed, at birth; on the other hand, it reifies gender as an inner essential property of humans, akin to a soul. Today, intersectional left-wing feminists embrace gender identity theory as progressive, as socialist feminists had previously done, with psychoanalysis. The intersectional feminist affirmation of inner gender identity erects the penis once again as a material and symbolic signifier of male superiority. Many penis-bearing humans, supported by their feminist allies, now insist on their right to be treated as the women they truly are. As a result, women’s sex-based rights are becoming increasingly unenforceable, and the healthy bodies of children and young people are dangerously medicalised to fix a perceived misalignment between their “true gender identity” and their sex “assigned at birth.”
In the UK, grassroots women’s organisations that define themselves as gender critical have mushroomed, warning of the dangers to women and children. The first organisation, in 2017, was the pioneering, left-wing organisation WPUK(Woman’s Place UK) which challenged the then-imminent reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the UK’s legalisation of sex self-identity. Since then, other organisations unaffiliated with any political party have grown and these have formed a broad coalition of resistance to the erasure of women as a biological category. Women are the sex that bears children, who require privacy rights, equality with the male sex in the workplace, reproductive and maternity rights, and so on. The organisation Sex Matters declares that sex matters “in life and in law, and that it shouldn’t take courage to say so.”
In emphasising that biological sex matters, feminists of all political persuasions have contributed to setting the hare of the Woman Question running again: People with traditional views of sex and its relation to gender are of course taking this opportunity to make political capital. Some feminist writers such as Mary Harrington and Louise Perry, critique gender-critical feminist denaturalisation of gender roles, arguing that to truly support women, feminism should take account of human nature, in particular sexed nature.
My concern is how to account for the left, rather than the right, as the greatest impediment to women’s and children’s rights. How can we account for the psychodynamics of the LGBTQI+ movement and the liberal elite that passionately defends it? Perhaps psychoanalysis was avoiding its own patriarchal unconscious. Does the key lie in men, and the material and symbolic significance for them of their penises combined with their deep envy of women and our bodies? The question “What is a woman?” can surely not be answered without addressing the question “What is a man?”
Another film Adult Human Female, directed by British filmmaking team, Deirdre O’Neill and Mike Wayne, is comparable to Walsh’s but is made from a specifically left-wing perspective. However, there have been impediments to its distribution thus severely limiting the film’s potential audience. First, O’Neill and Wayne refused an invitation from Tucker Carlson and Fox News in the USA on the basis there is NOTHING to be gained, and a great deal to lose, by associating with what they characterised as an extreme “far-right” medium. The filmmakers thus missed an opportunity to speak to millions of American women and men on the dangers of gender identity politics as these are manifest in the UK. Second, lacking Walsh’s financial and media backing, the film has been successfully blocked by “trans” activists and cancelled in universities, its target audience. Third, the Universities and College Union (UCU), like most left-wing institutions, has remained determinedly indifferent to the injustices done by “trans” activists to the film producers and the contributors, some of whom are UCU members, by the muzzling of their free speech. The response of the UCU serves as a morality tale for our time: At the time of the film’s screening on campuses the UCU supported the “trans” activists, describing the film as “transphobic” and an example of “hate speech,” effectively facilitating the cancellation of both it’s Edinburgh University screenings.
The film’s left-wing contributors see themselves as persuasive to the electorate, in contrast to the Labour Party, described in the film as largely made up of “the Islington elite,” who only attempt to appeal to Labour members. In prioritising tribal politics, feminists may appeal to sections of the left-wing electorate let down by a leader too cowardly to go against the doctrine of the Party’s paymasters who declares that some women have penises! However, tribal politics can act as an obstacle to ordinary women on the ground—white and black, religious, and non-religious, left and right. Working class and poor women are deeply impacted by gender identity ideology and they experience some left-wing gender-critical feminists, with some justification, as elitists themselves. There is a rift within gender-critical feminism quite paradoxically along class lines that “leftist feminists” refuse to acknowledge: They are wedded—first and foremost—to their left-wing identity and purity politics, while they often remain dismissive of ordinary women speaking out from diverse political positions. Where “trans” activists attempted to censure the film, negatively affecting its low viewership and resultant social impact of the film’s message, the directors did as much damage to the film’s exposure.
In the UK, society is currently witnessing a shifting terrain of political affinities whereby the traditional meanings of left and right are being upturned. Within this context, what are the norms, values, and ethics, if any, which pertain to sexed embodiment? In my view, left-wing gender-critical feminists should resist reducing the debate to left-wing “goodies” versus far- or moderate-right “baddies.” Criticisms of Walsh malign his character while giving no evidence for his ostensible misogyny. Might it be unfair to paint him as a misogynist simply because he is a conservative Christian thinker who thinks biological sex has a part to play in gender roles? What is to be gained by misrepresenting him as “far right” and inciting anti-Christian feelings when his views are more often than not mainstream?
Women are castigated for their alleged right-wing adjacency as if agreeing with Walsh’s film inflects a shift in someone’s “leftness.” Might it be comprehensible that many of us working between media and academia are acutely aware that the story that Walsh tells will reach audiences who do not read feminist texts or watch feminist films? My question is not “Why is the right-wing media running our messages?” but “Why is the left-wing media not?” Feminists who advance Walsh’s film do so not because we are his sexual supplicants, as has been insultingly suggested, nor because we are elitist and white, a slur, interestingly, cast by white, not black, women. We do so because of the immediate danger to the rights of all women and children, as well as (shockingly in our alleged pluralistic democracy) to the erosion of free speech, and thus to democracy itself.
In the small market town where I live, Pride flags were flown throughout June, the insignia of a Pride industrial complex, and LGBTQI+ corporate-sponsored political movement celebrated by the locals as though it is the national religion. I am far more afraid of the authoritarian, corporate, and capitalist power of the LGBTQI+ movement over our ruling classes than I am of the individual Matt Walsh. The sooner society is made conscious of gender identity harms, the quicker this ideological empire will fall. Walsh’s film contributes to that consciousness-raising.
Who’s afraid of Matt Walsh? Not me!