Gender Question | JK’s Rowling’s new X post, and the limits of logical reasoning in anxieties that surround gender - Hindustan Times
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Gender Question | JK’s Rowling’s new X post, and the limits of logical reasoning in anxieties that surround gender

ByDhamini Ratnam
Apr 07, 2024 04:50 PM IST

Much has been written about the Harry Potter series author's ideas about trans identity, but not enough has been said on her anxieties — and ours — about gender

Enough has been written about JK Rowling’s views on transgender persons, or, more specifically, trans women who identify as women. (If you’re new to the party and want a TL;DR version, here’s one for you: she doesn’t think transwomen are women).

 A flag supporting the rights of transpersons at a demonstration(WikiCommons) PREMIUM
A flag supporting the rights of transpersons at a demonstration(WikiCommons)

She waded into it yet again on Saturday, when she wrote a long post about who she thinks are women, and who she thinks aren’t.

In the beginning of her post, she talks about women and men as thus: “What makes her a woman is the fact of being born in a body that, assuming nothing has gone wrong in her physical development (which, as stated above, still doesn't stop her being a woman), is geared towards producing eggs as opposed to sperm, towards bearing as opposed to begetting children, and irrespective of whether she's done either of those things, or ever wants to.”

Same old, same old.

But the last paragraph of her long post on X got me thinking about how bad logic must inherently crack under its own weight.

A screenshot of the author, JK Rowling's post written on April 6, in which she explains her position on who are women, and who aren't.(HT)
A screenshot of the author, JK Rowling's post written on April 6, in which she explains her position on who are women, and who aren't.(HT)

She wrote: “I am strongly against women's and girls' rights and protections being dismantled to accommodate trans-identified men, for the very simple reason that no study has ever demonstrated that trans-identified men don't have exactly the same pattern of criminality as other men, and because, however they identify, men retain their advantages of speed and strength. In other words, I think the safety and rights of girls and women are more important than those men's desire for validation.”

By her understanding, men produce sperm, beget children.

Then why does she, in her bid to protect women and girls’ rights and protections from trans-identified men, go on to call trans-men, men? By her own definition, they aren’t.

Two, she points to the absence of research to demonstrate “trans-identified men don’t have exactly the same pattern of criminality as other men, and because, however they identify, men retain their advantages of speed and strength.”

She’s asking for research to prove something that isn’t proven yet, and using the emerging proof — a figment, as of now — to justify her position.

Mind-boggling.

Scientists, researchers, anthropologists, historians — trained in the rigours of academia — learn to study what exists, and draw connections, only to have them break repeatedly, in order to arrive at a possible hypothesis, which when bolstered by further evidence (again, subjected to repeated stresses so that they hold up), form theories. This isn’t just about ensuring that we don’t tell each other lies about the world we’re living in, but to make sure that we live rational lives, and leave rationality as the enduring legacy of our short time on earth.

The non-existence of something isn’t where research begins. It’s where fantasy begins.

I wasn’t joking when I said that a lot has been written about Rowling’s opinions about the transgender identity. But I don’t think enough has been written about the author’s anxieties about gender.

According to her, women’s and girls’ rights must be protected. Women are, as she puts it in this post, “provably subject to certain experiences because of our female bodies, including different forms of oppression, depending on the cultures in which we live.”

“Women don't want to be limited, exploited, punished, or subject to other unjust treatment because of their biology, but our being female is indeed defined by our biology. It's one material fact about us (…)” she goes on to write.

This is an anxiety we all go through, irrespective of how we identify: the inevitability of coming up against gender and the powers that accrue, or not, on account of it. The expectations of how we must live versus how we want to because of prescribed gender roles, and the castes and races we belong to. The opportunities we are allowed — and not allowed — because of this. Am I saying, we all suffer equally? Not at all. I am saying that we’re all subject to anxieties around our gender.

I am not using the word anxiety here in a psychotherapeutic way, but as a terminology from psychoanalysis, which sees the self as a product of the struggle between the external world, and the internal world of the psyche.

The women’s movement in India — and the feminist struggle around the world — has had a long, bloody-nosed history of coming up against these socio-economic and political barriers within the private sphere and in the public. The trans movement has done the same, with dysphoria, and if there is one thing that we must learn from the anti-caste movement it is that caste has bias sewn into it.

There is no singular biological-womanhood experience, there are only shared anxieties.

These anxieties lead some of us to hold on tighter to our slice of the victimhood pie, and Rowling certainly isn't the last woman to come up with a hashtag (inspired from this post) to mock her detractors who are left foaming at the mouth after reading her views on gender. These anxieties have led to a war — the gender wars. Sounds made up, doesn't it?

In 2017, an effigy of Judith Butler, author of ground-breaking works on gender (including their most recent, Who's Afraid of Gender) was burnt at an event in Brazil by protestors from far right Christian groups, who accused her of attempting to “destroy people's gender identities and trying to undercut the values of the country,” according to a report in Inside Higher Ed.

“Italian prime minister Georgia Meloni has warned that gender ideology will strip everyone of their sexed identity. Vladimir Putin [Russia's president] refers to Europe as “Gayropa”, saying that gender is a western construct that will destroy the concepts of mother and father,” writes Finn Mackay, in their Guardian review of Butler's latest book, released last month.

In 2019, former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro called for a bill to ban “gender ideology” in the country’s elementary schools, and Poland's then far-right Law and Justice (PiS) government prohibited gender (and gay and lesbian studies) from schools so that children will once again “study normal, classic subjects”, The New Statesman reported.

It feels silly to make a case for something that exists (transpersons’ self-identification, unlike “men’s criminality”, is a real thing; gender is a product of self determination), because we presume that everyone must think like we do, willing only to speak rationally, with the will to withstand stresses that attempt to prove our postulations wrong.

But it feels sillier to read a post by a best-selling author whose books you once read, and roll your eyes before scrolling down.

Dhamini Ratnam, HT Premium editor in charge, writes about gender, sexuality and our blind spots.

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