Material Girls Review

Once in a while, an issue bursts into the public conversation that encapsulates the challenge of the age. This issue points to deeper matters that are unresolved in our culture because there is a wound that is not healing in our collective unconscious. All it takes is a willing individual to make a public assertion of what should otherwise be an obvious statement, but isn’t, and our attention gets dramatically shifted. We spin out of balance in a spasm of neurosis. For example, an empirically established statement of biological reality, such that ‘a woman cannot have a penis’, has become a call to arms in a war over our sense of reality and truth.

With such a declaration, it feels incongruent that anyone can be articulating anything seismic, which amounts to the nailing of transformative opinions to a church door in Wittenberg. The great response that has followed this pointing to the truth, however, and which is part of a broader counter-reaction, is evidence of an uncontrolled upwelling of energy that illuminates what was once obscure, unconscious, and unresolved. Something is going on in the depths, and we are seeing the results of not having attended to part of our shared psyche. As Carl Jung reminds us, “the cause of neurosis is the discrepancy between the conscious attitude and the trend of the unconscious. This dissociation is bridged by the assimilation of unconscious contents.” (Jung, CW 16).

It is never the spark that causes our problems, but rather the combustible tinder that we haven’t cleaned away. So, and by judging from the reaction to Kathleen Stock’s book, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, one might be forgiven for thinking that an epochal and radical set of ideas have been thrown into a dry and explosive tinderbox. In fact, Stock’s argument is a modest restating of an empirically grounded common-sense notion that has served Western society well for millennia. That there is a biological certainty to our personhood, sense of self, our character, our biological function, and therefore our social sexual identity.

However, in stating this truism, Stock has committed an egregious crime of heresy. By raising logically and evidentially grounded concerns about the rise of Gender Identity discourse and ideology, Stock has violated the dogma of the new faith of postmodern identity believers. In Material Girls, Stock lists and works through the unacknowledged and problematic relationship that has been established by the gender-priority social movement, and the implications this has for our politics, social policy, public discourse, philosophical assumptions and the ongoing foundational basis of our sciences.

The main argument of Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism are:

  • Defence of the reality of biological sex: Stock argues that biological sex is a real and important aspect of human existence, contrary to the idea that sex is a continuum or that it is irrelevant. She presents a feminist case for discussing reality and emphasises the significance of retaining the ability to understand and discuss biological sex.
  • Critique of gender identity theory: Stock challenges the concept of gender identity and its implications for feminism. She argues that “gender identity theory” is harmful and disputes its claim that biological sex is irrelevant and needs no legal protection.
  • Importance of maintaining women-only spaces: Stock asserts that certain women-only spaces should exclude individuals with penises, highlighting the need to recognise and respect the boundaries of these spaces based on biological sex.
  • Viewing trans identities as legal fictions: Stock suggests that trans identities should be treated as legal fictions, similar to how a company is treated as a person in law.
  • Exploration of the impact of deception on attraction and relationships: Stock examines the consequences of deception in attraction and relationships, particularly when individuals are attracted to someone who is not the sex that they appear to be.

By reflecting on the logical and empirical basis of the Gender Identity mindset, one might think that Stock is challenging the fundamental precepts of our society, rather than exploring and using these precepts as a point of departure for a reflexive examination of where we are today. Stock is clearly not engaged in an attempt to replace one dogma with another, but is instead seeking to open the door for an informed conversation about publicly important issues that have far-reaching implications for the assertion of self-determination for many people. Perhaps all people.

Apparently, however, it is heretical to sate, as Kathleen Stock does, that the treating of “males with female gender identities as women in every possible context is a politically inflammatory act”. Apparently, it is also heretical to note, as Stock does, that in adopting this ideology in unquestioned terms, we may be sending a “contemptuously dismissive message to women already conscious of unequal treatment of their interests” (Stock, 2021).

The opprobrium and scorn, furthermore, that has been directed towards Stock, which has resulted in her needing police protection just to speak in public, is wildly out of all proportion with Stock’s views, and how she articulates them. Any institution that has cancelled Stock and has not afforded sufficient protection for her and similar people to articulate these views, as expressed in this book and via other media platforms, which are a legitimate and well-articulated view in a democratic society, should reflect shame on all those institutions responsible for protecting well-intentioned people in a liberal social democracy.

What Stock is stating, and in clear and unequivocal terms, is that once again, the interests of males – this time using the precept of self-defined female gender identities – are being prioritised and made more important than the interests of women and girls. More importantly, Stock has dared to question the proposition, broadly propagated by the Gender Identity movement, that gender identity should have a higher legal, philosophical and political status than sex and biological identity. What Stock does in her book, then, is point out that gender identity concepts, as they are presently advocated by radical gender activists, are based on an unsustainable conceptual fallacy.

According to Stock, Gender Identity ideas and arguments are based on an ideologically driven fiction that there is a superior moral position that is incorporated in the right to gender self-expression. This superior moral position, it is asserted, supersedes and transcends those of natal born females and homosexuals. As Stock points out

“Where someone has taken on beliefs in this way, having unwittingly gained them from watching others immersed in a fiction rather than reality, the result can be a kind of dogmatic faith-based stance: ‘It must be true, but I can’t say why – all I know is it would be very bad to deny it.’ (Not for nothing have commentators noticed that the mantra ‘Trans women are women! Trans men are men!’ can sound like a religious incantation” (Stock, 2021).

We have, however, been here before. The British Empiricist tradition of philosophy has long been seen as a counter to the ‘continental’ abstractions of European forms of idealism and metaphysics. Hume and Locke established the primacy of the use of empirical evidence as the basis for the development of social ideas and our understanding. They questioned how ideas and concepts originate in the mind, and discussed how the process of categorisation of these ideas, and the sensations that we are subject to, enable us to establish the logical proof we need to believe and then assert something as true. Empiricism broke with the assertions of dogmatic faith and religion, and foregrounded the modern world with all its scientific and technological advantages. As John Stuart Mill remarked:

“The principle itself of dogmatic religion, dogmatic morality, dogmatic philosophy, is what requires to be rooted out; not any particular manifestation of that principle. The very cornerstone of an education intended to form great minds, must be the recognition of the principle, that the object is to call forth the greatest possible quantity of intellectual power, and to inspire the intense love of truth” (John Stuart Mill).

Kathleen Stock writes in this tradition. She asks her reader to consider, not only the ideation process that is manifested in the expression of one’s gender identity, but also the evidential and experiential basis on which it is understood, grounded and tested. As Stock states, we should always be on the lookout for the “smart-looking reversal” in our thinking. Stock warns that we should be sceptical of anything that denies that our social problems will get solved by anything besides “time-honoured methods”.  

Rightly, Stock asserts that it is our duty to spend time finding out “what exactly the problems are” that have led us to the place where we are, and the disruption we are experiencing. There must, though, be an unwavering “focus on concrete evidence and listening to all affected parties,” for us to identify exactly what causes our issues, and “what would practically help to make a difference. And then doing it” (Stock, 2021). What can’t happen, however, is that anyone who dares to argue against the “so-called kind and inclusive positions” of Gender Identity, are repeatedly accused of “bad faith and even of dogwhistling to the far right,” as if they “couldn’t possibly be addressing the mainstream majority straightforwardly, in good faith, and for rational purposes.”

Stock, K. (2021). Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism. Fleet.

 

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