April 27, 2023 - 10:30am

If only I had known! All these years, I’ve been doing feminism wrong — and I just needed a man to point it out. Feminism, it turns out, is about women validating men in all their lovely, feminine glory. It’s about cheering when a big bloke like Lia Thomas beats women at sport, pushing them into second place. 

Failing to recognise this development as a triumph for women is “anti-feminist”, a category that’s new to me — and possibly to most women, who foolishly thought we’d got this feminism thing sorted out for ourselves. So thank heavens for two great brains who’ve come together to correct our errors. 

Women are “using the guise of feminism to sort of push transphobic beliefs”, says Thomas in a new podcast. It’s hosted by Schuyler Bailar, a fellow transgender swimmer, who takes the argument even further: “In order to exclude anybody in the trans category, you have to reduce women to reproductive capacity, which is, in my opinion, extremely anti-feminist.” 

You might think this is a bit much, coming from a movement that has campaigned vigorously to reduce women to a collection of body parts. It wasn’t feminists who tried to erase the word “woman”, replacing it with ugly neologisms such as “womb havers” and “people with a cervix”. It wasn’t feminists who offered accolades to organisations that agreed to censor their literature, rooting out offensive words like “mother”. Birthing parent, please!

This mangling of language is essential to trans activism, which needs to persuade the human race that it’s been wrong about biology for most of recorded history. Its aim is to conflate sex, which is an observable fact, with gender, which is a vague idea in someone’s head. And the next step is to force the rest of us to agree, as Thomas tried to articulate — I may have got the wrong verb here — on Bailar’s podcast.

Thomas isn’t content just to win women’s prizes, even though he is a biological male. He wants to be validated and he’s annoyed that female students on the University of Pennsylvania swimming team didn’t fawn over him in the way he wanted: “They’re like, ‘Oh, we respect Lia as a woman, as a trans woman or whatever. We respect her identity. We just don’t think it’s fair.’”

They’re right. A photograph of Thomas towering over a female swimmer, Riley Gaines, who has since become an eloquent advocate for women-only categories in sport, alerted a lot of people to just how unfair it is. What Thomas dismisses as “half-support” is the sight of young women struggling to be generous towards an entitled man who is making entirely unreasonable demands. Like walking around in the women’s changing rooms with his male genitalia on display. 

That’s why we have feminism, folks. It’s a women’s rights movement, for those who are confused at the back, which evidently includes Thomas and Bailar. One is a man who has grown his hair and wants us to ignore the evidence of our own eyes. The other is a woman who’s had what’s euphemistically called ‘top surgery’ — a double mastectomy — and claims to be a man. 

This isn’t what we used to call, back in the day, gender bending. It’s the opposite: a rigid interpretation of gender that supposedly overrides biological sex. Most of us are capable of looking at other people and sexing them correctly — and we’re not going to take lessons in feminism from individuals who appear to think it’s about telling women how to behave.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.