In the landmark abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his opinion, “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life…” In other words, life is all about the quest to craft your own distinct identity. This viewpoint nicely sums up the approach of many contemporary liberals. The problem is that this sort of thinking can cause you to paint yourself into some pretty tight corners. A vivid illustration of this danger is the Salon.com piece entitled “The fight over the ‘v’ word.”
Writer Mary Elizabeth Williams does not mean Winston Churchill’s “v” word. A fight for righteous victory would require a moral clarity uncharacteristic of neo-progressivism. Rather, she means a fight over the use of the word “vagina.” Williams’ piece is itself a reaction to a story in The Nation entitled “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars.” The short version is that radical feminists use Twitter to argue about ridiculous semantics. But a particular paragraph of WIlliams’ account is fascinating, if bizarre:
As Goldberg writes, “In a revolution-eats-its-own irony, some online feminists have even deemed the word ‘vagina’ problematic.” She goes on to describe the debate that arose in January when actress and advocate Martha Plimpton tweeted about reproductive rights group A Is For’s benefit for Texas abortion funds. The event, featuring Sarah Silverman and other comic and music acts, was called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas.” Critics argued that the emphasis on “vagina” was not inclusive of trans men, “who don’t want their reproductive organs coded as female.” Abortion and transgender health provider DrJaneChi, for instance, called it “hurtful language” and said on Twitter, “Watching white cis ‘feminists’ shout down marginalized people makes you wonder since when feminism is about ignoring minorities.” On Jezebel this week, NinjaCate commented, “Let’s completely and totally ignore the fact that context matters and that while ‘vagina’ is an awesome, amazing word (and organ!) they are not exclusive to women, nor do all women have them, and using the word in this context is trans exclusionary.” (Hyperlinks in the original.)
Williams goes on to give serious consideration to these stunning viewpoints, despite her self-professed status as a “proud supporter” of the A is For merry band of abortionistas. What a world we live in. Using the word “vagina” in the title of your benefit event is not ill-advised because to do so is prurient, not because it’s undignified, not even because it’s juvenile and reductionist and takes the attention away from your cause. It’s wrong because in the identity-based world that liberals have constructed, not all women have vaginas.
So from people who surely see themselves as members of the “party of science,” we recieve wisdom that directly contradicts the common sense posessed by any seven year old: Namely, that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. But this isn’t science. It’s more like religion; a faith that stands in contravention to any facts presented in opposition. Being male or female is not a matter of biology, it’s a matter of self-constructed identity. The logical extreme of indulging this quest for identity is found on social media site Tumblr, where people who call themselves “Otherkin” express the belief that they are not humans, despite the human bodies in which they are confined, but animals or mythological creatures.
It is tempting to simply dismiss these feminists. As someone who has repeatedly engaged in social media fights with them and other ridiculous progressives of bad faith, I can attest that it is even more tempting to watch them “eat each other,” as The Nation‘s Goldberg suggests they are doing. It is tempting, but it is not the way to go. These same views are held by the thought elites. Those who teach in our universities and influence our culture do not uniformly think it is silly to believe that a vagina is not always female. Those of us with any sanity left must demonstrate that it is possible to hold compassionate views towards transpeople and also highlight the absurdity that can come with the package when the entire meaning of life is the quest for your own identity.