Monday, November 2, 2015



Dear Readers:

My assistant, Madison, and I spent several days on the following entry. I realize that it is date and fact-filled, not a casual read.  However, whether we like it or not, a new era is upon us, in which not only are feminists having strong disagreements within ourselves on the issue of whether trans women are women, these disagreements are rancorous. They are tearing us apart.

I believe it is worthwhile to read through this blog entry, and I also believe that opening up each hyperlinks and reading full article is highly educational. 

I am hyperlinking you to Payton Quinn’s article on because she does really get past the name-calling, and states her reason for thinking that “the safety of trans people outweighs the rights of cis women to question the validity of their gender expression.”

Let me hear what you think.

In Sisterhood, Carol Downer

P.S.  Of course, I believe that I do recognize the validity of trans women’s gender expression, I only question that they can appropriate the term “women”.  (I believe that “trans women” is the correct term).


         Germaine Greer doesn’t consider post-operative M-to-F transgender people to be women.  She states this opinion forthrightly.  She also makes it clear that in no way does she oppose anyone’s decision to go through the procedure to appear and behave like the gender they identify with, and she will use the gender pronouns each person requests as a courtesy.  Nevertheless, transgender activists call her misogynistic claiming she continually misgenders trans women and denies the existence of transphobia altogether—and many feminists agree with them.  They do not address the key issue: does considering transgender women not to be women constitute bigotry in and of itself?  By the continued misquoting and distortions of Greer’s statements, they destroy her reputation for opinions and statements she’s not made, rather than ever discussing the statements she has made.

            An online controversy erupted after an online petition asked that the speech Greer is scheduled to give at Cardiff University be cancelled.   BBC2’s Newsnight interviewed Greer on October 23rd, to respond to the petitioner’s charges.    

            My reading of a transcript of the interview shows Germaine Greer does not misgender trans women or express transmisogynistic views.  Despite this, she’s been misquoted and various statements have been incorrectly attributed to her to further attack her. 

Kirsty Wark’s questions create a veritable minefield for Greer to negotiate. Wark clumsily misgenders trans women throughout.  For example, she asks “if a man who is gender reassigned, and outwardly—and he feels, inwardly, he’s a woman--in your view can he be a woman or not?"

            Several online newspapers covered the story, and kept to the facts, ignoring Wark’s inept questions and accurately quoted Greer’s answers.   However, several commentaries in online media and blogs misquote her, others attribute statements to her that she never made.  In none of the attacks, did they address her controversial opinion that men cannot become women through drugs and surgery.  Instead, they put insulting or sarcastic terms and language in Greer’s mouth to characterize her as transmisogynistic.

            Richard Dawkins, an ethologist and an evolutionary biologist, decried the petition in a series of tweets.  He defended open debate at the university.  He was then accused of insulting the transgender community, although my reading of the language of the tweets clearly showed otherwise.
The amazing part is that it is possible for anyone to see these misquotes and distortions for themselves, because the disputed language is still online, yet the character assassination continues. So, it has to be asked, are the detractors so angry that their rational faculties have deserted them?  Or, do they assume that no one will go back and check for the accuracy of their statements?  Or, have the lines in the sand been drawn so deeply on this issue that the author assumes their audience will just read the headline and skip through to the “juicy parts” not caring if the statement is accurate?


            Amy Walker, on October 26, 2015, starts her article, “Richard Dawkins Insults Transgender Community” by copying a series of Richard Dawkins’ tweets.  One tweet:  “Students who suppress a distinguished scholar’s lecture because they disagree with her have no place in a university.” (online article on  She then comments, “Yes, a university may not be a ‘safe space’, but to claim that people who disagree with a ‘distinguished scholar’ should not be at university is farcical….” 

            Dawkins not only did not claim that people who disagree should not be at university, he said the opposite.  His other tweet said, “Those who think it’s nonsense are entitled to stay away.  Or come and argue.  They should not censor views they think are nonsense.”
            Amy Walker either cannot read accurately, or her strong feelings are blinding her; otherwise, why would she display her own bias by running his actual statements right next to her distorted version of his statement for all to read?

            And what about  Are articles reviewed to check for blatant errors?

          In my experience, the use of the term, “he/she”, is derogatory.  In the U.S., if Greer used this term in her interview with Kirsty Wark on BBC’s Newsnight, she would definitely be called out by feminists. But, did she do so?  My reading of Wark’s question that preceded her statement, and her full reply casts doubt on the charge that she used the term “he/she”.

          In the “Amateur” transcript by commenter eigensprocket:UK that I read, Greer utters these syllables in response to the following question from Kirsty Wark: “But are people, you would say necessarily, born a woman, or born feeling female.  And if he feels more female..? (OPENS HANDS QUESTION GESTURE)…"

Wark’s question is unintelligible to me.  Is she referring to “people” or to “he”?

          Greer answers Wark’s earlier question about what Greer thinks about Jenner being considered for an award for being Glamour magazine's woman of the year.  She continues Wark’s use of “he” and then shifts over to “she” and refers to “other female members of the family”.   “It seems to me that he…that, ah, what was going on there is that he…he/she…ah, wanted the limelight that the other female members of the family were enjoying….”

          Omitting punctuation marks, Greer said three pronouns in a row; “he”, then “he” again and then “she”.  The transcriber uses “…” several times to indicate that Greer momentarily paused between these pronouns, and then paused between them and the rest of the sentence.  The transcriber’s slash creates the term he/she, even though the rest of the sentence shows she accepted Jenner’s self-definition as one of the female members of the family.

          Greer stated earlier in the interview that she would use the pronouns that a transgendered person wants as a courtesy.  Reviewing the context shows that Greer rebounded from a poorly-framed question to refer to Jenner using female pronouns and included her among her female relatives.

            On October 27th, Kate Lyons’ commentary on repeated the charge that Germaine Greer misgendered Jenner by “referring to her as he/she.  Lyons presumably was relying on a excerpt from the Guardian’s transcript of the BBC2’s Newsnight interview in Damien Gayle’s October 24th Guardian Article which didn’t include Kirsty Wark’s question, nor Greer’s twice-uttered “he”.  (Note: this transcript was not available online)


            October 25th, online magazine, ran Stassa Edwards commentary on Greer’s BBC2’s Newsnight.  The headline “Germaine Greer Says Caitlyn Jenner, Transgender Women Are Not ‘Real Women’. 

            According to the transcript I viewed, Greer did not make that statement on BBC2’s Newsnight, nor was there any discussion of any prior statement that transwomen were not “real women.” And, if she ever made such a statement, Damien Gayle didn’t mention it in his Guardian article, October 24, which Edwards’ cited as her source, “Caitlyn Jenner ‘wanted limelight of female Kardashians’- Germaine Greer, htttp://


            Edwards’ disinformation about Greer’s comment that transgender women are not ‘real’ women is adopted by Kaite Welsh in her commentary in the online Telegraph newspaper to jazz up her characterization of Greer’s opinion.  Actually, Greer simply said they are not women.

            Cardiff University is not withdrawing its invitation.  Germaine Greer has agreed to speak.  Considering the intemperate and inaccurate statements made by Greer’s critics so far, I wonder if the event will come off.  Also, if she does appear on November 18, which is 2 days before Transgender Day of Remembrance and within Trans Awareness Week, I wonder if she will encounter protest similar to the “glitter bombing” of March 14, 2012.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015


By Carol Downer

          I applaud Germaine Greer speaking the truth. She says it’s fine if men choose to use drugs and surgery to alter their bodies to feel more comfortable by having a female appearance, and she accords them the courtesy of using female speechforms, but it doesn’t mean that they now belong to the class of women.  So, trans women, and their supporters, go ahead and call me scurrilous names and mount your campaigns to deny me any means to publicly express my opinion.   This is the time for all women that want to preserve the gains of our women’s liberation movement to follow Greer’s example and speak out.  As ACT UP! said, “Silence is Death”.

 You ask, why can’t everyone accept them as being women, if they so identify?  Trans women have not had the experience of being a girl or woman their whole life, so they do not have that deep bond that women have which is based on our capacity to reproduce the species; they have not been, are not presently and never will be, targets of those ruling class males who either favor or oppose population growth.   Therefore, the male-dominated society will not accept them as women; in fact, many trans women are being beaten up and killed by sexist males for making their outer appearance congruent with their self-definition.   Their assailants are saying, in essence, “we men have the power to decide who is or is not a woman”.  And, though some liberal left men are probably getting a kick out seeing feminists being de-platformed and taking their turn at being called bigots, ruling class men knows that the chief definition of women in patriarchal society is that they are inferior, and they will use their power to keep treating us that way.  Since the patriarchy’s main goal is to control women’s power to reproduce, the activities of gender non-conforming people do not bother them since only a minority of them sire, gestate and rear children.

The debate about how to define “woman” is a sideshow, because it is based on the assumption that we ordinary people define “woman” through our daily actions.   Paradoxically, the trans gender community preach that gender is a social construct, but they do not analyze who is responsible for this social construct and how it is enforced, and by whom.  Instead, they attack a woman who criticizes the male power structure responsible for the gender stereotypes that oppress women and trans women.

In today’s world, the media, the internet and the public pronouncements of the major political parties reflect back to us a picture of a society in which we collectively create the social construct of gender, therefore, since we collectively create it, it is presumed that we can change it by changing public opinion.  Actually, this social construct is a result of what’s taught in our educational institutions, what’s preached from religious pulpits, what’s enforced by laws and regulations in every phase of our lives.  Our country is ruled by the 1% who own the corporations using control of the media, philanthropy, lobbying, and institutions.  They can’t change the underlying physiological difference between males and females.   The population is dimorphic; everyone fits, more or less, into either male or female plus an increasing population of people that are intersex.  However, they can decide whether our society is binary, meaning everyone if forced to be either a man or a woman. If we want to challenge the tyranny of these rigid binary gender roles, and feminists do, we women have to unite as a class, to collectively rebel.  Trans gendered people and men can be allies and support our struggle.

So, I will never deny Caitlyn Jenner the right to identify as a trans woman (although she is not my favorite trans woman, because she is anti-abortion and anti-poor people), but I will disagree with her defining herself as a woman, thus pulling the rug out of the definition that a woman is an adult female human, and thus destroying my ability to establish common ground with other adult female humans.

Of course, trans women and we women have some common male enemies, violent men who enforce the patriarchal definition of women by assaulting or killing any man who dares to undermine male superiority by behaving like a woman and the members of the White, Male Supremacist ruling class.  Instead of fighting feminists, trans women would be wise to become allies of politically active adult female humans who are working for social justice for all.
          I say thank you, Germaine Greer, for these candid, articulate statements.   Her courageous decision to speak out on this “third-rail” issue may prove to bring more inspiration to the ranks of feminist women like me, than what she would have said in her address. 

Carol Downer introduced the concept of vaginal self-examination in 1971 and co-founded the Feminist Women’s Health Center in 1972.  She is the editor and/or co-author of several books, including a “New View of a Woman’s Body.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Yes, transgendered men who are pregnant rightfully want to be included in MANA’s guidelines, so at first glance it seems inclusive to change “pregnant women” to “pregnant people”.  So why are some of us so opposed to what seems like a direct, simple solution?  

We don’t oppose including pregnant men in MANA’s guidelines.  We oppose changing the terminology because we think that females who identify as women will not be referred to as “women”, and their “femaleness” will become invisible.  

Until the very recent past, the term “woman” was virtually synonymous with “female”.  In fact, until feminist theorists distinguished gender from sex, we all conflated them.  See the dictionary.  Second-wave feminists fought to re-define women as equal and fought against gender stereotypes.  They joined together and rejected the stigma of being women; instead they embraced being women.  This positive identification with themselves and other women energized that generation.  

Of course, this was before anyone imagined that someday biological males who identified as women would, probably without realizing that it would change the definition of what was a woman.  How?  By insisting that anyone, male or female, who identified themselves as a woman had the right to be so regarded.  Even if they had testes and a penis.  This is a major re-definition, because it ignores the central fact of femaleness that we bear children, which, in male-dominated societies, has been and still is used to make us dependent.  If females were equal, a woman would be able to have both a career and children, because society would be organized to make it possible.

Some people insist that even if a person does not have, and never had ovaries and a uterus, she is still a female if she identifies as such, but most people realize that this is a denial of a biological reality.  Radical feminists totally disagree with such a distortion of both history and present-day reality.  Of course, if self-identified “females” or “women” joined in with females to fight for females’ reproductive control, they would be welcomed, but so far, they have not done so.  In fact, some are anti-abortion, like Caitlyn Jenner.   

Also, radical feminists believe that there is a patriarchy and that the patriarchy oppresses females as a class (as well as others), and that only if females can unite, can they overcome oppression.   

Many feminists today believe that patriarchal domination is only one type of oppression, and that the way to bring about justice is for our society to evolve into a more equal, unprejudiced society.  They hope this evolution will come about when each person acknowledges their privilege and confronts others who are oppressing them.  To them, MANA using more gender neutral language is one way to do this. 

I propose that if we support transgendered women in their right to be women (and I do), and if we support transmen in their right to be men and, if they desire, to have children, (and I do), that we clearly define the difference between sex and gender.  This means that we start with the generally accepted scientific fact that humans are basically divided into two sexes, males and females, however this distinction and the implications of this distinction have been greatly oversimplified and whatever gonads a person has, they are first and foremost human.  The main difference is that male sperm is needed to impregnate a female by uniting the sperm and the ovum, and that an intact uterus in a female body is needed to produce a new human being.  But this difference greatly affects a person’s experiences and opportunities and in a racist, capitalistic, sexist society, it is pretty much determinative.  From a political perspective, if we hide or minimize this difference in gender-neutral language, we can’t effectively organize to change society.

Gender is a social construct, and what we consider “masculine” or “feminine” traits are very often socially determined.

If we adopt this proposal to define sex and gender, I suggest one of two courses:
  1. MANA reverse its decision to change the language of its Core Competencies, while searching for other ways to be inclusive of those people who are pregnant who are not women.
  2. MANA change “pregnant people” to “pregnant females” and “pregnant males”. 
An additional suggestion a colleague gave me:  
MANA could leave “woman” in the core competencies document (which reflects the vast majority) and add a statement to it that they realize transmen don’t identify as women and if such a person becomes pregnant they deserve respectful care.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dear Kayla

I’m really happy to explain my views, because I believe we are standing at a crossroads, and our rank and file has not had the necessary self-education about the science involved in changing our bodies through drugs and surgery or broad-based political and philosophical discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of re-defining sex and gender.  (I am deeply concerned about transgender civil right; I think these studies and meetings/conferences/forums need to happen immediately.)

I’m also glad that both the Open Letter and the Response are carefully written and show great respect to those who disagree.  Unfortunately, up to now, careful thinking and respect has been in short supply in this debate.

I would like to continue talking about this with you and anyone else who would like to be involved.  I want to hear what you think, and I’m happy to explain why I think as I do.  If you’re interested, let me know. 

I found the Response very interesting and thought it brought out some valid points about the rights of transgender people, but it bothers me that the Response did not respond to the thrust of the Open Letter which had to do with the effects that the proposed changes in terminology would have on the practice of midwifery, on the health and well-being of birthing mothers and babies and their families, or what impact it would have on the political strength of the midwifery movement.  Instead, they changed the conversation to focus very narrowly on the justice or injustice that transgendered people suffer in our society and to suggest that the change of terminology would somehow be the first and most significant change that we have to make and that it would somehow end misogyny and social injustice.

One reason I know that most people, including medically-trained doctors, midwives, and other practitioners lack the necessary understanding of how our natural hormones work in the body and how the hormone-like drugs that are being used to prevent pregnancy and to bring about changes in people’s secondary sex characteristics is that over 30 years ago,  the Feminist Women’s Health Centers (FWHC) undertook to learn enough about hormones to enable us to write a chapter for our book, “Women’s Bodies in Women’s Hands.”  (That chapter was never published.  It was cut and the shortened version was published as “A New View of a Woman’s Body”.)

To remind you, the FWHC learned much about the healthy functioning of our female bodies through self-examination in groups.  But, to write this chapter, we did much, much more.

We formed a “hormone team”, which consisted of Lorraine Rothman, inventor of the Del’em, Kathy Hodge, Suzann Gage, illustrator of A New View and me.  We met all day, five days a week for months while the rest of our group kept the health center going.  We read scientific papers and journals.  Al Rothman, Lorraine’s husband, came up to L.A. from Orange County, at least one day a week to spend the day answering our many questions.  Al was a professor of Biology at University of California at Fullerton.  

We immediately learned that human beings, like all animals, aren’t cut out of a cookie cutter.  Of course, in self-help, we had seen that although we were all females, our bodies looked different, and we were all normal and healthy.  Our menstrual cycles weren’t all “28-day”.  Our genitals had a wide range of difference.  We realized that the concept of “male” and “female” was an oversimplification, albeit a very practical one.  We also realized, as feminists, that the Patriarchy exaggerates the differences between males and females, and that both males and females produce estrogen and testosterone.  Males and females are not “binary” (a mathematical term meaning that all units are either one thing or the other), however in the course of embryonic development, two normal curves develop.  How many people have ever taken a course in elementary statistics?)  Most people (about 60%) who present as males fall into the “normal-type curve”.   There is the same normal-type curve for females.  I don’t know if pre-historic societies created gender roles to fit in with their social and economic structure, but today’s world, gender roles definitely further patriarchal militarism, male dominance and female submission.  As a feminist, I challenge these restrictive roles, although I believe that as females gain more real power in the society, both individually and collectively, the oppressiveness will decrease and the content of these gender roles will change. 

I believe that white male supremacists are the most powerful force in the world, and they use their wealth and power to enforce these norms.  As a feminist, I battle against their ability to harness our reproductive capacity to further their nationalistic and imperialistic agendas.  Any discussion of sex and gender that doesn’t start off with this awareness just ends up defining the problem as social conditioning and the solution as changing public opinion.   

In our hormone study, we learned how little science really knows about how our body functions, and how the medical profession generally relies on their “detail salesmen” to tell them about drugs.  We found the average doctor knew less than we did—and that was frightening.  That was over 30 years ago, but our scientific understanding of hormones and the complexities of their relationship to our body’s functioning does not justify the reckless experimentation with hormone-like drugs to prevent pregnancy or to change our outward appearance.  Our present knowledge of GMO’s does not justify experimentation in changing the genetic structure of plants to make bigger profits.  We all know the capitalistic motivations of the scientists who promote GMO’s and other technological innovations like fracking, but most of us do not know the motivations of those who promote population control.

The books and blogs I’ve read on this issue gives the impression that the authors can explain these issues with the laywoman well enough to arm us with answers, not just questions.  I know how hard we worked, and I know how all the analogies that people use to explain these phenomena distort and mislead more than they enlighten.

I believe that the understanding of what is “sex” and “gender” is fundamental to having a sound theoretical base for our feminist struggle.  It is a spectacle of see us constructing manifestos out of the poorly understood and adequately researched “biological facts”, especially if it’s to push an agenda that doesn’t deal with the problem that all females (those identified as females in ultra sound in utero) are either being destroyed on the basis of their sex or raised to perpetuate their oppression.

Now, getting to the Open Letter and the some specifics of the response.  To me, the midwifery movement is much, much more than giving women “choices”.  To me, it’s restoring birth to its rightful place in human society.  The respondents mischaracterize the Open Letter’s exaltation of birth as a biological event, relegating it to “merely” being biological.  The biological reality of birth is the essential precondition of everything else.  It is awesome.  I’m concerned that de-emphasizing the fact that unless a human being is born with ovaries and a uterus, it cannot produce a new human being will weaken Midwifery’s powerful support of each woman’s right to birth without outside interference.  We females are the ones that the patriarchy is controlling; we are the ones that must work collectively to fight our struggle to regain control.   

I could say that this gender discussion is a side-show, and some people in power have been and no doubt will no doubt continue to use it for that.  But, actually, I think it’s very important.   

Right now, I can only hope we’re in an awkward phase and eventually we’ll be able to accommodate the needs of anyone, male, female or intersex, who wants to live in that way without undermining the gains of the feminist movement. 

Especially as it relates to the birth issues and the philosophy of midwifery, I think that, much as we respect the rights of mothers to drink and smoke and use drugs, we seek to keep environmental toxins and technology away from the birthing process.  This is a fundamental distinction between us and the male-dominated medical profession.  I believe that accepting the use of hormone-like drugs and surgery in our sexual and reproductive organs as being healthy will weaken our position as guardians of the birth process and clouds our thinking.

Please forgive my wordiness!  As Mark Twain said in a long letter, “I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

Warm regards,