The gender debate continued – transphobia

Marianne Elliot, who describers herself as a ‘feminist trail-lover’, sparked more gender debate on Twitter yesterday.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about transphobia, and the way that fear can be created & exploited for the purpose of oppression.

I recently went to the Museum of African American History and the Holocaust museum in DC. Both tell this story.

I think the fear is very real for many people. In the same way that many Americans were genuinely afraid that desegregation would lead to white women being raped by black men, I think many cis-women are genuinely afraid of transwomen.

That fear is built on a foundation of intentional misinformation driven by hatred, then spread through fear and ignorance. When we’re afraid, we lose our capacity to be rational and all we want is to be kept safe.

We know this pattern. It lead to the Holocaust. And Apartheid.

Cis-women have a good reasons to be afraid. We have many centuries of experience of being violently harmed by cis-men. We’ve also had to fight, long and hard, for everything from spaces safe from violence to medical recognition of and respect for the way our bodies actually work.

This is group generalisation. It would be better to to refer to some cis-women, and some cis-men. and to point out that many cis-men have also been the victims of violence. In wars they can be significant victims.

I have no problem understanding how those experiences make some cis-women susceptible to fear transwomen. But I also believe that fear is the result of an intentional misdirection.

I don’t know if I’m expressing this very well, but I think the point I want to make is that the work of undoing the harm done by hatred-fueled misinformation about transwomen may fall on cis-women who see it for what it is.

We may be the only ones who can fully understand the experiences that lead to the genuine though profoundly misplaced fears of other cis-women, and therefore the only ones who can engage empathetically with those fears to help dispel them.


I thought carefully about those examples, and anticipated that response. But my view is that the same strategy is being employed, for the same purpose. Misinformation motivated by hatred, used to create genuine fear, for the purpose of dehumanising a group of people.

It’s a strategy that works because fear is powerful, and because many of us have good reason to be afraid. If the comparison to fears about desegregation makes people uncomfortable, I’d argue that’s a discomfort worth sitting with for a while.

Comparing women, who might have been raped, or suffered csa, to the apartheid south africa as a rhetorical device

1) completely fails to understand how power relationships work between males and female

2) is hyperbolic

3) is massively unhelpful


The fact that this person can go down this train of thought, as if she is having a new and original thought, is actually staggering to me. But it’s a pretty good instance of the blunt analogy that makes the idea we’re genocidal lunatics so intuitively appealing to left/liberals.

The basic model is right, lots of violence in the world has been created by the fact that humans have an implacable fondness for projecting their fear onto others and then being horrendously fucking violent to them.

But then there is the fact that sometimes one group of people is scared of another group of people because those people *are* actually doing something violent and dominating to them.

Reading the situation right is always about seeing the power relationships, and the direction of domination, correctly.

Here we might also remember that there is no historical instance in which female people, as a class, othered male people, as a class, in order to make them the object of mass violence.

Because women have never had the power to do that, and really, it’s never been our style.

This is what pisses me right off about this. This whole analogy depends on analogising women, with men. And it depends specifically, on analogising left-wing feminist women, with right-wing racist patriarchal men.

And it depends on making that analogy stick, despite the fact, as this particular person almost lets herself remember, that women are, overwhelmingly, the objects, not the subjects of violence. That they have good reason to want to protect themselves from the the class of people who are, overwhelmingly, the subjects of violence. And that when we do so, we are not projecting and we are not fear-mongering. We are not spreading baseless hatred to illegitimately other another group of people so that we can dominate or exploit or colonise or scapegoat them.

We are women. We are an oppressed class of people who are naming our reality. And you – progressives – are refusing to grant us witness.

An exchange between Jones and Elliot followed:

Marianne Elliot: I don’t want to refuse the reality of women’s oppression by men. That is my personal experience as well. But I want to name that, and then ask whether the threat is trans-women or a culture that continues to enable violence against women (including trans-women). I say the latter.

Dr Jane Clare Jones: The threat is male people. We have no reason to believe that male people stop committing male pattern violence when they identify as women, and we actually have enough evidence to falsify the claim that they don’t – although we don’t have good enough data. We should probably get good enough data before we experiment with women’s safety don’t you think? The point is this. Women, under these circumstances, have good reason to say ‘no.’

Many many women are saying no. You are supporting an political movement that is attempting to demonise women, and to use that demonisation to mobilise pressure, violence and threats to intimidate and coerce women who are saying no.

That is, to underline, you are supporting a movement that is using violence to coerce women who are saying no. What does that sound like to you?

Marianne Elliot: I agree that we need data before we experiment with women’s safety, and I include trans-women in that. We need to find a non-coercive way forward that protects all women, including trans-women.

Dr Jane Clare Jones: Sure we do. But asking for data will get you called a transphobe lickity-split.

No one on my side wishes harm on trans women. It’s pure propaganda. We do, however, think they are male, and we think that matters, and we want this whole thing done properly. If the data shows that they exhibit male pattern violence, then we have every right to not want to grant them access to our intimate spaces in large numbers under any form of self-ID arrangement. Most of us think the solution in third spaces. ideally I think, organised by gender, so that women can make the choice if they want to use a sex segregated or a gender segregated space. But you cannot remove sex-segregated space from women without their consent, and over against their explicit protest, and claim that is just. It’s not going to go anywhere good, and it will create an incredible amount of resentment which will do nothing for the possibility of harmonious co-existence between women and trans women.

Marianne Elliot: Thanks for taking the time to engage. And without calling me awful names as most of the people who came over here after you RT’d me did. I appreciate that.

Dr Jane Clare Jones: Name calling won’t move us forward.

But I had a look. I don’t see a lot of name-calling to be honest. I see pretty trenchant criticism. Women are very very angry, for good reason. And they are particularly angry with other women who are complicit in propagating the discourse you were rehearsing in that thread.

I hope you will chew over what I’ve said. Good night (well, here anyway).

Marianne Elliot: I’ll definitely chew. Chewing is what I do.

This is a complex issue that looks like continuing for some time.

I’m concerned to see statements like “the threat is male people”. Certainly some male people constitute the biggest threat through violence. But dumping on all ‘male people’ is unfair on the many men who oppose and despise violence.

And I think grouping all males as one threat is counter productive to addressing male violence, because it alienates the  males who aren’t violent and oppose violence – which I think is probably a large majority of males.

Perhaps a solution here is for men who oppose violence to take a much stronger and more prominent role in opposing violence.

‘Free speech’ versus ‘hate speech’ (or intolerance of the intolerant)

The ‘free speech’ debate continues.

‘Free speech’ is not entirely free, and it is far from equal, some people have far more opportunity and power than others to be heard. How free speech should be is a contentious issue.

‘Hate speech’ is harder to define, but someone at Reddit attempted:

“Hate speech” has simply become “Things we hate hearing you say.”

What a weak, feckless, emotionally hysterical culture we’re encouraging.

A quote from Golriz Gaharaman:

“Freedom of speech, like most rights, is not absolute. It’s subject to the rights of others, to safety, freedom, equality. Our gov must balance the right of right wing hate mongers against the greater interests of public safety in NZ. Just as Aus has done in denying their visas.”

I got involved in a discussion on all this on Twitter yesterday (I usually avoid it, it’s difficult to debate well when dabbling while multi tasking). It started with this:

Marianne Elliot: I’m taking notes on who stepped up to support Renae vs who is supporting this lot.

John Hart: The Venn diagram will be two non-intersecting circles I suspect.

PG: I have spoken up for Renae and against Jones’ legal action, and also support free speech at Auckland council venues. You don’t? (I didn’t support Renae’s petition, nor do I support what Southern & Molyneux say).

Sarah Jane Parton: Did you donate to both Renae’s legal fund and Brash et al’s $50k? Are you the ∩?

PG: I’m not cool with him at all. But like many people I have serious concerns about the growing tendency to try to shut down speech people don’t agree with. Have you read this?

Sarah Jane Parton: WRT to the “legality”, I point you to section 61 of the Human Rights Act,

Sarah Jane Parton: And then there’s the costs of security, policing, damages, etc etc.

PG: Should street protests be banned? There are costs of security, policing and risks of damage with them.
Or a protests a valid form of free speech important to a democracy?

Marianne Elliot: The critical line in that piece is this: “It’s perhaps all too easy to proclaim the general need for tolerance and acceptance of “offence” by others when you’re in a privileged and protected social position.”

PG: As important: “But, if we are going to mark out some social groups as requiring greater protection from the effects of speech, how do we do so, and who gets to decide just who they are? And how do we stop… expanding to capture expression we might think ought to be allowed?”

Marianne Elliot: Those are not simple questions, but with a clear power and risk analysis, nor are they impossible to resolve. The point is that we need someone other than the people who have always been in charge to be leading that conversation.

PG: It’s a growing issue that should be talked about be people other than those in power like . But one of our big challenges is how we do that without being it being trashed by abuse and by polarisation.

Marianne Elliot: Or maybe the biggest challenge is that the people at least risk from hate speech are used to being in charge of our laws and in control of debates about them.

PG: Some of the biggest targets of ‘hate speech’ and abuse and threats and defamation are those most prominent in power.

Marianne Elliot: Defamation is an important legal issue & is also very different hate speech. Calling one powerful white man racist has a very different power & social impact to someone saying “blacks are collectively less intelligent”, or invoking a “quick, decisive, and brutal” white backlash.

PG: It’s different again including many non-powerful white men in general condemnation. I think there needs to be a significant shift, but care has to be taken not to take rights of some when giving them to others.

Marianne Elliot:  Maybe instead it’s time to sit back and listen to the people being harmed by this speech? To listen to their very real and reasonable fears, and resist telling them that they don’t understand what is really at stake?

PG: We should always take time to sit back and listen, but that shouldn’t silence us either. I don’t know who tells others they don’t understand. Attempts to understand should work in all directions. As Andrew said, it’s very complex.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’d like to hear ’ take on this piece.

Eddie Clark: Some differences at the edges maybe, but pretty much agree with Andrew. Anyone who tells you this is simple probably doesn’t understand it well enough.

Marianne Elliot:  It’s not simple. I haven’t heard many say that it is. What many (including me) are saying is that it is time for the people at least risk of harm from harmful speech to listen to people at most risk, and to resist telling them that they don’t understand what’s at stake.

Marianne Elliot:  There are difficult balances to be reached. But for that balance to be fair, what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance.

PG: “what has to change is the make-up of the people who get to dominate the process of reaching that balance” – by suppressing the speech of whom? You can’t easily shut up those you don’t want to hear, nor make those speak who you want to hear.

Marianne Elliot:  Oh lord. I’m not sure there’s much point continuing this conversation if you think that changing the balance of who holds power in setting and interpreting law is about suppressing speech. Over and out.

PG: Oh lord, you’ve jumped to a bit of a conclusion there. I don’t think that.

Sarah Jane Parton: If you are not the people who will be harmed by this stuff then maybe it IS time to be quiet. Goff’s call has not been met with criticism from former refugees, transfolk, or Muslims, which is noteworthy. The ethnic and gender make up of Brash’s “coalition” is also telling.

PG: Are you suggesting that only former refugees, transfolk, Muslims and you should say anything about this? If that’s the case the issue would never have been raised or discussed to any noticeable degree.

Sarah Jane Parton: I’m saying that if you use your privilege to support and amplify the voices of other privileged people whose very aim is to trample on marginalised people, maybe it’s time to be quiet.

That’s more or less how it ran – Twitter threads can get a bit convoluted.

It evolved from debating whether free speech principles overrode claims of hate speech or not, to suggesting that people ‘in privileged positions’ should be quiet and let others speak about the problems with hate speech.

I’m sure no minds were changed in the conversations, but this illustrates some of the issues around complexities of free speech versus hate speech’

It is more an issue of how much intolerance of intolerant speech should limit the freedom to speak.

A slanted Panama/trust poll

Activist group Action Station have commissioned and used a poll as a part of their campaign on tax and foreign trust issues – good on them for pushing for better tax and trust laws, but their polling and publicising are slanted.

The Herald reported on a UMR poll conducted for Action Station:

Panama Papers: Majority of Kiwis ‘concerned’ about New Zealand’s new reputation

Pressure over the Panama Papers on the Government is rising after a poll showed a majority of New Zealanders were concerned about the country’s new reputation as a tax haven.

A poll by UMR Research, conducted for activist group ActionStation, showed 57 per cent of respondents were “concerned” about New Zealand being a tax haven and the misuse of our foreign trust regime for tax evasion purposes. Just 23 per cent said they were “not concerned” about the issue.

ActionStation spokeswoman Marianne Elliot said the results of the poll spoke for themselves.

“A majority of New Zealanders are concerned that sloppy trust laws, left open by the current and former governments, have allowed the world’s rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Most New Zealanders are not satisfied with the Government’s current response,” Elliot said.

But the poll didn’t determine that a majority of New Zealanders thought that. Elliot has embellished the poll results with her own phrases.

Has Matt Nippert misquoted Elliot? No, he appears to have cut and pasted her words from an Action Station press release Poll shows Govt seen to be handling tax haven issue “poorly” apart from removing the first part:

ActionStation spokesperson Marianne Elliott says: “The polling shows that like ActionStation members, a majority of New Zealanders are concerned that sloppy trust laws, left open by the current and former governments, have allowed the world’s rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Most New Zealanders are not satisfied with the Government’s current response.”

Nippert also reported:

The UMR poll, of 750 people between April 14 and 18 and with a margin of error of 3.6 per cent, also asked respondents how they thought the Government had handled the fallout from the Panama Papers and whether they thought the review of foreign trusts by former PWC chairman John Shewan, was an adequate response.

Again that looks to be picked out of the press release. But there was a PDF attached that shows what was actually asked in the poll.

Using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means very concerned and 5 means not concerned at all, how concerned are you about New Zealand being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes?

  • Concerned (1+2) 57%
  • Neutral (3+ Unsure) 20%
  • Not concerned (4+5) 23%

Elliot portrayed this as 57% versus 23% – excluding 20% stated in the poll as ‘neutral/unsure’. Being neutral could mean unconcerned.

But worse is the loading of the question. It refers to New Zealand ‘being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes’ but this is a disputed accusation and unproven.

The second question:

Now, using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means very well and 5 means very poorly, how do you think the New Zealand government is dealing with the problem of New Zealand being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes?

  • Handling well (1+2) 21%
  • Neutral (3+ Unsure) 33%
  • Handling poorly (4+5) 46%

This is an even more loaded question stating that there is a problem of New Zealand  being a tax haven and is used for tax evasion purposes.

The third question:

As you may be aware the government has appointed John Shewan, former chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers, to review New Zealand’s foreign trusts laws. Do you think that this is an adequate response to the foreign trusts issue or do you think a full public independent enquiry is needed?

  • An adequate response 31%
  • A full public independent inquiry is needed 52%
  • Neither/unsure 17%

As well as this question implying that John Shewan’s inquiry may not be be full or independent it (Action Station) chooses to describe Shewan as “former chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers”.

They chose not to describe Shewan as:

  • one of the “leading tax practitioners” at PWC over 28 years,
  • nor that after that he was “an adjunct professor of accountancy at Victoria University” since then,
  • nor that he “has been appointed by Labour and National-led governments to official bodies looking into tax”,
  • nor that he served an appointment to the Tax education Office for 9 years,
  • nor that he was part of the Tax Working Group that advised the Government in 2009,
  • nor that he is “an established commentator on tax and policy matters,
  • nor that he has been involved also in a number of high-profile tax cases”.

Source Radio NZ: Who is John Shewan?

Action Station asked the questions they wanted to, got the results that they wanted,  Elliot embellished the results with her own phrases, and Nippert seems to have simply quoted her press release.

Before having this poll done Action Station had already decided their stance – see New Zealand is a Tax Haven. Prime Minister, this needs to change.

All this media attention has created an opportunity for change by exposing New Zealand’s role in endorsing international tax dodging. We need to move quickly to seize this opportunity and call for real change, making sure the message that our trust laws need to be reformed is at the centre of the debate.

So sign the petition now calling for our government to close the loopholes that allow the world’s rich to escape paying their fair share in tax by using foreign trusts in New Zealand. We do not want New Zealand to be a tax haven for the world’s wealthiest 1%.

This is how Action Station describes themselves:

ActionStation is here to help defend our common goals; a fair society, a healthy environment and accountable politics through effective online issues-based campaigning.

They should be held accountable too, in this case for using questionable poll practices and then misrepresenting the results as a part of their campaign.

I’m all for questioning whether our tax and trust laws and practices are good enough. I look forward to the result of Shewan’s inquiry.

But I think a fair society needs fair campaigning on issues, and fair use of polling in campaigning.