What Is A Man?
The hidden question that never gets asked.
The following clip of James O’Brien on LBC in 2017 has been doing the rounds recently. For anyone foolish enough to listen, I’ll warn you up front: In this 11 minute segment on trans issues, James O’Brien speaks for at least 7 minutes and interrupts or talks over the caller almost 40 times, and throughout he is patronising, incredulous, smug, partisan, tone-deaf, selectively pedantic and ignorant in equal measure.
This of course is his schtick, and not exactly unusual. But I think it serves as an object lesson in the way that this debate has shifted in the intervening years.
Today, five years on, there is absolutely no way that the (then largely unknown) caller Kellie-Jay Keen would be bullied and talked over in this fashion, given that she is pretty much the face of the most plain-spoken, take-no-prisoners, sex-realist, let women speak, adult-human-female faction of the pushback against gender identitarianism.
This is not simply because Keen - like many others - has spent the last few years in the crucible of this fightback, honing her message, attracting controversy, and growing in stature and media savvy.
It is because the arguments that James makes were no more than vacuous emotional manipulation even at the time, and have not changed one iota since. Changing rooms, and be kind, and born in the wrong body, and believe people are who they say they are, and not all men, and if you don’t agree you’re a fascist, and and and.
We’ve all heard them a million times by now, and we’re so, so tired of it.
Yet despite much wider notice of this debate and some important legal victories, it also seems little has really changed. Yes, more and more are speaking up in opposition, but still legislation is passed, over huge public opposition, still people are kicked off tech platforms for the wrong opinions, still people lose their jobs for following the wrong accounts, still politicians from all parties unquestioningly accept arguments like those made by James O’Brien, and still the battleground is all about women, and women’s spaces, and what is a woman.
And as long as that is the site of this argument, it is already conceding too much ground because it has tacitly allowed men to take that first step of assuming that men who wish to be women cannot possibly be men at all.
The demand that women be “inclusive” is preceded by an act of exclusion by men.
Listen to what James O’Brien says at 2:28 in the video above: "Inside they're absolutely female". He believes he is being progressive and accepting, but he simply doesn’t see that what he is doing is othering men for insufficiently manly feelings.
That if men have certain thoughts and feelings then they cannot possibly be “proper” men at all, and must be something else, and it is women’s job to deal with that. In order to demand inclusion in the category “women”, they must first be excluded from the category of “men”.
Women are on the back foot trying to defend their own existence, their own definition, against an absolute tidal wave of sophistry, gaslighting and emotional manipulation, all with the express purpose of demanding that some men be accepted as women. The boundaries of “what is a woman” are under constant assault from ship-of-theseus reductionism, from fatuous illogic that if a woman who has a mastectomy and a hysterectomy is still a woman, then so is a man with neither breasts or uterus.
Stop letting men ask what a woman is, because the question itself hides that by necessity a man cannot ever be a woman unless we first agree that he isn’t a man.
Ask instead what stops a man from being a man? What acts or thoughts or feelings are so unacceptable for men that any man who steps out of line ceases to be a man at all? That initial step is completely hidden by the shape these arguments have taken, and this is no accident, because it serves to uphold male gender norms.
So much gender identity activism as it stands only has power because it portrays itself as in opposition to the restrictive societal expectations of men and women. It is a reaction to the conservative men of the world, whose narrow ideas about what men can be are fundamentally the origins of this mess, by not accepting other men who did not fit in with their regressive and confining standards of manhood. But the James O’Briens out there are in wholehearted agreement with them that men who do not feel “correctly” like men cannot be men at all. An unholy alliance of conservative and faux-progressive men all rushing to say that nonconforming men aren’t men at all. The conservatives want them to conform, and the faux-progressives want women to look after them. O’Brien cannot recognise this in his own argument, because he has convinced himself that he is in opposition to the reactionary right, and therefore his actions are good, and kind. His argument rests on the premise that a man with the “wrong” emotions isn’t a “real” man, which he would no doubt reject if put in those terms - and yet that is the unexamined necessary precursor. To feel “like a woman” is to accept that there is a way to feel “not like a man”.
When men say “I never felt like I fit in”, I don’t want to agree with them and say “yes, that’s because your place is over there with the women”. I want to fight for their acceptance alongside me, as men. I say there is nothing that any man can do or say or think or feel that can stop them from being a man.
Surely that is what the progressive view should be?