Ethics Alarms Mail Call: Mt. Holyoke Ditches “The Vagina Monologues” As “Non-Inclusive,” and the Misuse of Kindness

VaginaI’m an ethicist who often writes on college controversies, and I make no secret about my double life in professional theater, so it figures that my inbox would include more than one query about Mt. Holyoke College’s decision to end its annual student performance of Eve Enlser’s “The Vagina Monologues” on the grounds that it is now admitting women without vaginas—I know, it’s confusing–who would feel excluded from what was supposed to be an inclusive experience and statement for the all-women’s school.

From Campus Reform:

The annual production of the play is part of a country-wide tradition to perform Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues on Valentine’s Day to raise awareness about gender-based violence and usually coincides with the V-Day campaign. The proceeds are donated to sexual assault prevention organizations or women’s rights organizations. This year, however, Mount Holyoke’s Project Theatre Board is defying tradition by permanently retiring the play. In a school-wide email from the Theatre Board, a representative from the group, Erin Murphy, explained the problems with the play and the reasoning behind its discontinuation.

“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman…Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive,” the email, obtained by Campus Reform, said.

Replacing the play will be Mount Holyoke’s own version that will be trans-inclusive and fix the “problems” supposedly perpetuated by Ensler. Murphy also claims that there are problems with race, class, and “other identities” within the play. The new production, comprised of students’ monologues, will be performed in a fashion reminiscent of the feminist classic. The program will be performed alongside the College’s Peer Health Educators, an on-campus student-led group that provides education and workshops for students, including a workshop on how to use sex toys properly.

My reaction to this was and is: Fine. It is not as if the play is being censored. It was supposed to serve a particular purpose, and conditions have changed. I can understand why a play about vaginas is inappropriate if its purpose is to speak to all students, including trans students. You can read playwright Ensler’s reaction here—it’s measured and rational, even if it is too full of boilerplate fem-speak for my taste. It’s a play, that’s all. Would I dread, as a student or theater critic, the planned new version, which sounds like a candidate for most annoying show of the year? Indeed I would. But that’s neither here nor there.

What interested me more was a dust-up over the reporting of the story, which leads me back to the topic of the Left’s increased fondness for censorship, speech policing and thought-control. Old friend Ampersand, aka Barry Deutsch, who is the kind of super-sensitive blogger that makes me yearn for the days when I allowed a commenter to routinely use expletives just to make it clear that I did not endorse the suppression of even uncivil expression, got in a Twitter argument with the author of the Campus Reform piece, Yvonne Dean-Bailey, reprimanding her for calling the women without vaginas “men who identify as women.” Well, actually the argument was one-sided: Yvonne, to her credit, didn’t capitulate to the hectoring or say much more in rebuttal than “But it’s true.”

Barry, however, provided us ( not for the first time) with a useful window into the mind of the self-righteously politically correct, where the imaginary right not to be offended trumps communication and common sense. Here was his chain of 42 character protests, …numbered for easy reference in my commentary that follows it:

1. If you actually wanted to treat people fairly, you’d avoid anti-trans language like “men who identify as women.”…2. There’s no need to be hurtful. There are perfectly good terms – like “trans women” or “transgender women” which can be used….3. Most basically, trans women are NOT “men that ID with female gender”… 4. They are women. And saying otherwise hurts many people… 5. I’m sure you can rationalize being unkind all day. But being inflexible in order to avoid being kind is not good behavior….6. I should have said “appealing to inflexibility as a justification for being unkind is poor behavior.”…7. Bottom line: [the]argument for saying “men who id” rather than “trans women” sets semantics above kindness and civility…8. Calling trans women men is a dick move. And the women you’re hurting include police, include veterans, include charity workers…9. In the society you live in, there are many trans women who live their lives as women. Many people acknowledge them as women…You have an opinion of what “sex” is, but it’s factually indisputable that your definition isn’t universally held…10.It’s also indisputable that reading language like “men who identify as women” in news stories is very painful to some readers…11. You don’t have an indisputable, factual truth on your side. You just have your personal opinion about what “sex” means…12. You have an absolute right to your own opinion, of course. But would it hurt you badly to say “trans women” instead? …13. You wouldn’t betray truth by saying “trans women.” You’d just be choosing to avoid being needlessly unkind…14. It’s like people who insist on calling gay people “abnormal” instead of “gay,” and then say “it’s the TRUTH! Statistically!”…15. You are rationalizing using language that hurts people in the name of “truth.”But it would be simple for you to state your opinion while avoiding trite, hurtful phrases like “men who ID as women.”

Observations:

1. There’s nothing “anti” anything about stating facts—this is a left-of-center fiction of recent vintage, apparently flourishing because so many cherished liberal theories have crashed and burned to ashes of late. A fully biological male who decides that he is a woman trapped inside—we understand, we’re supportive, and we’re sympathetic—is still a fully biological male, which in this society and everywhere else is called a “man.” Sorry.

2, 1o, and 15 all involve the imaginary “right not to be offended.” “Kindness” is being used throughout Barry’s tweet-wave as a tool of informational suppression. It’s “kind” to capitulate to politically motivated attempts to shape public opinion by language control, so why not do it? I don’t dispute that this “why can’t we all get along?” tactic works, but it is still disingenuous and sinister.  “Trans women” or “transgender women” are not “perfectly good” alternatives because few people not involved with trans politics know what the hell they mean.

3. No, most basically that’s exactly what they are, so that’s how they should be described.

4. Saying it doesn’t make it so. Can an African-American become white by “identifying as white”? Can a white man do the opposite? Can an adult decide she’s a child because she feels that way? Barry believes that the same person can be a woman one day and a man the next, and, theoretically, back again, based on feelings, and it just isn’t nice to point out that the biological body involved hasn’t changed.

It also isn’t nice to point out that Barry’s argument is extreme political correctness bullshit, but there it is.

5, 6, 12, 13. This is the “path of least resistance” tactic, again undeniably successful, that activists on all sides of the political spectrum use to ratchet irrational and harmful policies—and yes, sometimes good ones— forward. The person who kicks, screams and complains the most wins, because the side that had logic and rationality on its side eventually says, “You know what? This isn’t worth the trouble to fight.” Thus we are ruled by extremists. Well, I, for one, refuse.

7. No, it sets clarity and communication above intentional obfuscation and euphemisms.

8. Barry is so sensitive about not giving “needless” offense, except when he isn’t. Unless using “dick move” in this context is an intentional witticism….

9. So what? A biological male who lives his life as a woman is a biological male who lives his life as a woman, or, as the maligned author of the article in question put it, a man identifying as a woman.

10. OK, it’s painful to some readers, just as “The New York Yankees have a good team this year” (they don’t, by the way) is painful to me. Nobody has a right to insist that words, ideas and facts be communicated so as to restrict their reasonable or unreasonable “pain.” Nobody has an obligation to alter reasonable and clear descriptions of reality or their opinions about it to avoid the discomfort of the super-sensitive few.

11.  And even accepting this as correct, which I don’t—it is a fact, not an opinion, that biological men who decide they are women inside are still men identifying as women—there is no ethical reason why the author’s opinion needs to be bowdlerized because it hurts someone’s feelings.

14. No, it’s not at all like calling gays “abnormal.” “Abnormal” is pejorative. What “men who identify as women” is really like is describing gays as “people who are sexually attracted solely to individuals of their own gender.” If you’re gay and that description bothers you, that’s your problem. Get help.

You see, Yvonne Dean-Bailey understands, whereas Barry either does not, or worse, does and wants to block her free expression anyway, exactly what her ethical obligation as a journalist is, which is not to be “kind,” but to be clear, objective, informative and factual. Political correctness, which is Barry’s real motive here, not “kindness,” is about blurring facts, avoiding truth, and making “bad” thoughts and opinions impossible because the words to express them have been bullied out of existence. We saw the results of this very effective campaign from the left in the CNN reporting on the Charlie Hebdo attack, when Chris Cuomo, son of that late “lion of liberalism” Mario Cuomo, referred to a black Frenchman as an “African American.” Nice reporting, there, Chris, but hey, you wouldn’t want to offend anybody by saying he was “black.”

Let me be clear, now: I’m all in favor of kindness, which is an ethical virtue and an important one. Kindness used as a mandate in order to suppress speech, opinion and information, however, is at the core of the political correctness scourge that threatens our public discourse, free speech and democracy. As I write this, many of our elected leaders are refusing to call Islamic extremists Islamic extremists, while major news outlets are refusing to let audiences and readers see the cartoons that got their artists murdered, out of misplaced priorities that place kindness and civility over truth, facts and communication. Ethics Alarms firmly opposed gratuitous incivility and unkindness: that’s why I objected to “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” and still do. Political correctness, in contrast, is an attempt to turn self-censorship into thought and belief control, and should be opposed by ethical liberals and conservatives alike.

______________________

Spark: Alas!

Sources: Campus Reform, Howard Sherman,

20 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms Mail Call: Mt. Holyoke Ditches “The Vagina Monologues” As “Non-Inclusive,” and the Misuse of Kindness

  1. A fully biological male who decides that he is a woman trapped inside—we understand, we’re supportive, and we’re sympathetic—is still a fully biological male, which in this society and everywhere else is called a “man.” Sorry.

    This begs the question as to why we should label people by their sex organs. The fact, is, sex organs have very real and lasting consequences. Sometimes, men can not impregnate women, but they can never get pregnant themselves. Sometimes women can not get pregnant, but they can never impregnate another woman.

    Let us take the example of opposite-sex transgenic chimerism where the brain is composed of the female cells and the sex organs are composed of the male cells, resulting in fully functional brain and sex organs. Why should such person be called male. After all, the neurons inside the brain have the XX chromosomes.

    Here is the thing. Such a person can still get a woman pregnant. And it is the gonadal DNA, not the brain DNA, that gets passed to the next generation. This is why we identify sex by the sex organs.

    • Well, that and the fact that in your example of opposite-sex transgenic chimerism, (female brain/male sex organs) the hormones created by those sex organs will almost always cause the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. That person will not develop mammary glands, will grow facial hair, will have a smaller pelvic girdle, and around 15% more muscle mass. In almost every measurable way that person is male for the purpose of what we use that label for.

      Labels are only useful so long as they convey meaning, and once a label becomes too specific or broad to accurately describe a specific person, we don’t change the label to be more inclusive, we add other labels to it.

      This is a man. This is a man with female brain chemistry. This is a person who was born with both sex organs. It isn’t that hard.

  2. “A fully biological male who decides that he is a woman trapped inside”
    I assume that wording is very deliberate? I thought this was one of those things that isn’t just a “choice”, like being gay? Though I must confess to being relatively uninformed on this topic, I don’t know what the “official” view is.

    As for your point about item 8, that is actually quite amusing if it’s an intentional witticism, I’ll have to remember that one.

  3. First, it is a physical impossibility for someone to have XY chromosomes in the sexual organs and XX in the brain. Either that whole body has the XX chromosome or it all has the XY chromosome. In very rare cases, there can be an XXY, or an XYY, but both are genetic abnormalities and have caused Olympic Committee’s a great deal of grief. Interestingly, the ‘Y’ chromosome is half the size of the ‘X’, which led, some years ago, to a feminist claim that men were incomplete. As far as I am concerned, the chromosomes define the body, and, hence, define the sex. ‘Transgender’ is an interesting piece of semantic juggling, but it literally has no meaning.

    • Impossible, no. Look up 46,XY/46,XX mosaic. Human chimerism is a real condition, though such a precise delineation of female brain / male body would be extraordinarily unlikely to the point of irrelevance. There are, however, much more common intersex conditions which refute your chromosomal definition of sex. If someone has to cope with such biological conditions, no decent person should give them any grief over it.

      I do not believe that most transgendered individuals are such exceptions, though. The commonly observed transgender phenomenon, to me, appears to be the result of a complex soup of hormonal, environmental, and social factors.

      • Interesting. However, chimerism has only been found in some 20 subjects and generally being found because of gonadal dysplasia or true hermaphroditism. In no case has transgenderism been either the diagnostic criteria or the results. However, no matter the small number, it remains possible, if highly unlikely. I stand corrected on that point. None-the-less, chromosomal anomalies are, your contention notwithstanding, very rare, including intersex conditions (the existence of which is arguable) and in no case result in XX brains and XY sexual equipment, or vice-versa. There is simply no chromosomal explanation for transgenderism, and my definition, simplistic as it is, remains valid, statistically.

        • Not arguing with your conclusions about transgenderism, but your other facts are questionable.

          Most of the reported cases of human chimerism I’ve read about required extraordinary social circumstances to even be discovered, and had nothing to do with genital abnormalities, though I acknowledge a few cases did. The actual rate of occurrence is unknown, and we haven’t even gotten into micro-chimerism.

          As for intersex individuals, no, their existence is not arguable. It’s uncommon, but hardly rare. Just how uncommon may be subject to the interpretation of edge cases, which is perhaps what you meant?

  4. It really depends – do you feel your identity is defined by the anatomy of your genitals or the anatomy of your brain?

    A fully biological male who decides that he is a woman trapped inside

    We have no evidence that such people exist..To use this phrase in sincerity, rather than as a deliberate slur, shows a very fundamental ignorance of the issue.

    All trans women ever examined have had partly female anatomy, and are not and never have been fully biologically male,

    I’ll repeat what was found 20 years ago, and has been confirmed, re-confirmed, and re-re-confirmed in replicated experiments since.

    A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. by Zhou et al Nature (1995) 378:68–70.
    Our study is the first to show a female brain structure in genetically male transsexuals and supports the hypothesis that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones

    Re: Dawn Ennis – she tried to be male in order to retain her marriage. But some things are beyond human ability, even for someone seriously Intersex, as she is.

    It’s not that uncommon for the rare cases of de-transition to be caused by this. It doesn’t work, they re-transition, it’s not something that willpower is capable of changing. I can’t blame anyone for trying though.

    • All trans women ever examined

      Which thus applies to those who have been examined.

      Are really saying that there is no such being as a complete, XY, completely conventional male primary and secondary sexxed human being that decided that she was female? Or are you talking about the brain as “partly female anatomy”? If that’s it, then I submit that “A fully biological male who decides that he is a woman trapped inside” is completely accurate, if non clinical description, and not in any way a slur.

      • Are really saying that there is no such being as a complete, XY, completely conventional male primary and secondary sexxed human being that decided that she was female?

        ” male primary and secondary sexxed” is ambiguous. I’d count any organs that are sexually dimorphic in that, but apparently you’d restrict it to a subset of such organs.

        Assuming you include all sexually dimorphic organs I’m saying there’s as much evidence for the existence of complete, XY, completely conventional male primary and secondary sexxed human being that decided that she was female as there is for the existence of unicorns.

        Might there be one such person of the billions on the planet? We’d have to kill every human and autopsy their brains to dismiss that possibility (and then who’d do the autopsy? Even then, we can’t go back in time to examine every person who’s ever lived.

        We can definitely say that such people, if they exist at all, must be exceedingly rare, and certainly don’t account for either the majority, or even a substantial minority, of trans women

        Or are you talking about the brain as “partly female anatomy”?

        Yes to that one too. The brain is part of the body, to state the obvious. Leave aside the matter of mind, just treat it as you would a liver, bone, or kidney. Or better, any other sexually dimorphic organ such as breast or gonads.

        If that’s it, then I submit that “A fully biological male who decides that he is a woman trapped inside” is completely accurate, if non clinical description, and not in any way a slur.

        Your submission is noted, but as your definitions of “fully biologically male… complete…. completely conventional male” include people (to use a neutral phrase) with biologically female anatomy – just not completely female – then no, your submission is not accurate at all, let alone completely so. I’m really surprised that a lawyer would say that, in the past I’ve found your arguments far more precise. More so than mine, I’ve tried to learn from you.

        One good thing, we’ve identified the core of our difference here, so can proceed to debate it, giving evidence as well as logical consequences from that data.

    • AS for your first sentence—who is talking about identity? If I decide my identity is Catherine the Great (I know of a man who was certain that he was the reincarnated Jean Harlow), that doesn’t change the fact that I am a man. The Jean Harlow was married and heterosexual, but he believed that Jean Harlow was his identity. Yes, everyone thought he was nuts. But I don’t see why he wouldn’t be accurately called a man who identifies as a woman. What would you call him?

      • What would I call him? Delusional. But as I’m not a psychiatrist, I’d leave that up to a professional, the word “delusional” is jargon ie a technical term with specific meaning to professionals, not necessarily the same as common usage.

        • I think you are ducking the question. As Marlon Brando asks in “Don Juan de Marco,” “How do you know he isn’t Don Juan (or Jean Harlow)? Does a psychoiatrist ever say to a trans woman, “you think you’re a woman, but you’re delusional?”

          • Does a psychoiatrist ever say to a trans woman, “you think you’re a woman, but you’re delusional?”

            Alas, yes, all too often. With dire consequences, There are even some who say it to all trans women, they don’t believe (on ideological grounds) that the phenomenon exists. Nor Intersex for that matter. It goes against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

            See for example https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/psychiatry-expert-scientifically-there-is-no-such-thing-as-transgender/

            The very highly qualified and influential Dr Berger also had a most unusual recommendation regarding gender nonconformant children.

            “I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counselling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

            “On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world.

            “Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”

            A policy of strict non-intervention by those in authority, making it clear that these children are “fair game” for predators is extraordinarily effective at making the problem go away. A policy of authority encouraging and rewarding predators is guaranteed to show results.

            A competent psych won’t say it to a trans woman, but will say it to those who are not trans, but who initially claim they are (or.are the POTUS or Marie Antoinette etc) Such florid psychosis is easy enough to differentiate, completely different symptomology.

    • Explained above .

      This begs the question as to why we should label people by their sex organs. The fact, is, sex organs have very real and lasting consequences. Sometimes, men can not impregnate women, but they can never get pregnant themselves. Sometimes women can not get pregnant, but they can never impregnate another woman.

      Let us take the example of opposite-sex transgenic chimerism where the brain is composed of the female cells and the sex organs are composed of the male cells, resulting in fully functional brain and sex organs. Why should such person be called male. After all, the neurons inside the brain have the XX chromosomes.

      Here is the thing. Such a person can still get a woman pregnant. And it is the gonadal DNA, not the brain DNA, that gets passed to the next generation. This is why we identify sex by the sex organs.

      • There’s a problem there when it comes to transplants, in particular, ones involving bone marrow, eggs etc.

        See:
        Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients by Ikoma et al in Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8

        A woman may give birth to a child not related to her via DNA. Does she “become male” just because her female reproductive system is genetically identical to the man who donated her bone marrow?

        See also the cases of Fairchild and Keegan.

        Lydia Fairchild is an American woman who exhibits chimerism, with two different sets of DNA present in her body. She was pregnant with her third child when she and the father of her children, Jamie Townsend, separated. When Fairchild applied for welfare support in 2002, she was requested to provide DNA evidence that Townsend was the father of her children. While the results showed Townsend was certainly the father of the children, the DNA tests indicated that she was not their mother.

        This resulted in Fairchild’s being taken to court for fraud for claiming benefit for other people’s children or taking part in a surrogacy scam. Hospital records of her prior births were disregarded. Prosecutors called for her two children to be taken into care. As time came for her to give birth to her third child, the judge ordered a witness be present at the birth. This witness was to ensure that blood samples were immediately taken from both the child and Fairchild. Two weeks later, DNA tests indicated that she was not the mother of that child either.

        A breakthrough came when a lawyer for the prosecution heard of Karen Keegan, a human chimera in New England, and suggested the possibility to the Fairchild’s lawyer, Alan Tindell, who then found an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about Keegan.[1][2] He realised that Fairchild’s case might also be caused by chimerism. As in Keegan’s case, DNA samples were taken from members of the extended family. The DNA of Fairchild’s children matched that of Fairchild’s mother to the extent expected of a grandmother. They also found that, although the DNA in Fairchild’s skin and hair did not match her children’s, the DNA from a cervical smear test did match. Fairchild was carrying two different sets of DNA, the defining characteristic of a chimera.

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