A former collegiate athlete speaking out about her experience competing with biological men is demeaned and barricaded in a bathroom while female-specific brands shower a trans woman who acts like a pixie with endorsements. Suddenly, it seems like women no longer fit into the cultural equation.
“Yeah, you fucking trans-phobic bitch,” an unknown woman screamed at female swimmer Riley Gaines after an event at San Francisco State University last week. Other epithets hurled at Ms. Gaines were unintelligible, literally animal screams at the world, as the young woman was escorted by police into a bathroom for her own protection, where she remained for a reported three hours before it was safe to emerge. Ms. Gaines herself alleges that she was physically assaulted and hit twice by a man wearing a dress. Her crime? A refusal to accept the blanket statement, also frequently shouted by the crowd, that “trans rights are human rights,” whatever that may mean, and a belief that women’s sports should remain women’s sports. Ms. Gaines rose to prominence in the wake of trans swimmer Lia Thomas’ utter domination of the Women’s NCAA Swimming Championships last year. Ms. Thomas, as she prefers to be gendered now, had previously competed in men’s competition with limited success, but after “transitioning” to a woman while still having the appendages of a man, she immediately began breaking records. Rightly or wrongly, Ms. Riley believes the sudden change in gender is not fair to women like herself who have spent their entire lives dedicating themselves to the sport. “In the past year, her goal in speaking at universities has been to educate her peers about her experience and what the impact of the growing number of biological males in women’s sports will do to the integrity of Title IX. She has been questioned in civil and somewhat uncivil manners about her views many times, and she thoroughly encourages diverse viewpoints and debate on this issue,” her agent wrote in a statement. “Instead of a thoughtful discussion tonight at SFSU, Riley was violently accosted, shouted at, physically assaulted, and barricaded in a room by protestors. It is stunning that in America in 2023, it is acceptable for biological male students to violently assault a woman for standing up for women’s rights.”
One can certainly debate the merits of Ms. Gaines’ position, but the misogynist nature of the slurs used against her are undeniable. Here we have a strong woman willing to speak her mind on a controversial topic, and for her pains she slandered as a “fucking transphobic bitch” and barricaded in a bathroom for hours. Once upon a time, the use of the b-word was frowned upon in polite circles. PBS News Hour for example covered how women “reflect on [a] sexist slur that often goes unpunished” as recently as July of 2020. Jocelyn Novak began, “Ask a woman if she’s been called the B-word by a man — perhaps modified by the F-adjective — and chances are she’ll say, ‘You mean ever, or how many times?’” Back then, progressive firebrand and Democrat House Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was considered a hero for calling out Republican Ted Yoho who she claimed called her a “fucking bitch” on front of reporters. “Her speech resonated with many women — in politics and out, supportive of her politics or not — who said the language had been tacitly accepted for far too long. The moment was extraordinary, says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, not because the language was new — as Ocasio-Cortez herself said, it was nothing she hadn’t heard waiting tables or riding the subway — but because of where it took place, and especially because the freshman congresswoman had the confidence and the support of her colleagues to call it out in such a public way.” “This is all part of a shift,” Professor Walsh explained. “Women are feeling empowered to speak up and believe they will be heard.” The damaging nature of the slur has even been covered in academic papers. James Madison University published a 68-page analysis on the topic of whether it is acceptable for women to refer to each other by the term, “Reclaiming Critical Analysis: The Social Harms of ‘Bitch.’” They’re conclusion? “The increasing use of ‘bitch’ among women makes it harder to see links between the word and patriarchy. In pop culture and in everyday life, men and women use ‘bitch’ as an epithet against women (and non-conventional men) as well as a means of expressing dominance over a person or object. Women who ‘reclaim’ the term—by declaring themselves ‘bitches,’ calling other women ‘bitches’ in a friendly way, or using the term as a female-based generic—unwittingly reinforce sexism. Unlike the term ‘feminist,’ which is tied to a movement for social change, ‘bitch’ provides women only with false power, challenging neither men nor patriarchy.”
Apparently, these concerns are no longer valid and we are all free to call women we disagree with bitches as much as we like. What was once misogynist to the core is now mainstream, or one might think so at least given how little coverage this disturbing incident received in the media. No major outlet mentioned it at all, and yet something tells me the situation would be quite different were this a conservative protester assailing a progressive woman, as it was just a few short years ago when the victim was an up and coming progressive hero. So complete was the black out this time around that San Francisco State University thanked the protesters for remaining peaceful, pay no attention to the woman forced to hide in a bathroom for hours guarded by the police. Jamillah Moore, the school’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management issued a statement that had it precisely backwards, claiming “Let me begin by saying clearly: the trans community is welcome and belongs at San Francisco State University” when it was the trans allied community that threatened an invited guest for her political views. After insinuating that Ms. Gaines herself and her beliefs were the problem, noting students may find themselves “exposed to divergent views and even views we find personally abhorrent,” she continued to praise the students, “Thank you to our students who participated peacefully in Thursday evening’s event. It took tremendous bravery to stand in a challenging space. I am proud of the moments where we listened and asked insightful questions. I am also proud of the moments when our students demonstrated the value of free speech and the right to protest peacefully. These issues do not go away, and these values are very much at our core.”
This is a rather odd way to describe an incident that resulted in a woman being cursed at and confined to a bathroom for speaking her mind, nor is this the only relatively recent incident where women have been harassed in bathrooms, what once upon a time were considered private, protected spaces, for the temerity to disagree with progressives. In October 2021, Arizona Senator Kysten Sinema was followed into the bathroom by activists for refusing to support the full-blown boondoggle that was Build Back Better. As USA Today described it, “A video posted on the Twitter account of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, an immigration reform advocacy group, shows activists following Sinema on her way out of a classroom at Arizona State University. After she declines to speak to them, they follow her into a bathroom.” The organization described this harassment of a woman in a private setting as requiring tremendous bravery. Similar to San Francisco State University’s description, LUCHA claimed “It has required a tremendous amount of bravery from this young organizer to fight for her family and tell her story to her Senator” in an email to the Arizona Republic. President Joe Biden, staunch defender of women’s rights until he isn’t, refused to condemn this intrusion, saying only that “I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics but it happens to everybody,” before visibly laughing. “The only people it doesn’t happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around. So it’s part of the process,” he concluded, cementing the idea that women have no right to privacy in the bathroom and effectively encouraging other “protesters” to do the same.
The sudden trend of denigrating women we disagree with using misogynistic slurs isn’t occurring in a vacuum. Simultaneously, trans women are being elevated into positions previously reserved for real women. Thus, Dylan Mulvaney, the social media influencer who has documented his “transition” to a woman, is suddenly a household name, featured prominently in advertisements for products marketed at women and used almost exclusively by women. Many have taken issue with Ms. Mulvaney’s appearance on a Bud Light can, but to me at least, the female brands are far more insidious. Beer is gender neutral, but Nike, for example, is paying a biological man an unknown amount of money to market athletic gear designed for women such as sports bras. Further, this “marketing” is primarily driven by caricaturing real women as some bizarre combination of Tinkerbell and Peter Pan. Ms. Mulvaney quite literally prances around in stretch pants and a sports bra as though auditioning for a role as a pixie or some other mythical, feminine, and flighty creature. The performance lacks easy description – Is she/he mocking women? Does she/he truly believe women behave like this? – but we can say with some surety that the average woman looks absolutely nothing like his portrayal while engaged in a work out. A couple of points come to mind. First, why is Nike paying money to a biological male that should be paid to a biological woman, especially when Ms. Mulvaney is not an athlete and has no connection to athletics? There are no shortage of influencers out there, many of them women, many real athletes, and many who could use the money. In an era where pay disparity is a huge topic, so much so there there was a recent controversy over whether an unknown 18 year old female actor should make as much per episode as a veteran who recently lead a major streaming series and has been in the business for 30 years, one cannot help but wonder why Nike felt there were no suitable actual women athletes available. Second, what would the reaction from the mainstream media be if a man were to behave the same way interpreting the behavior of a woman? One can only imagine what would happen if your humble author, who is almost as hairy as a great ape, for instance did a parody of the average women’s workout with the exact same routine.
Lastly, we can ask an honest question: Do the supporters of Nike and Ms. Mulvaney believe there are any downsides to the decision to make her, who is actually a him with no athletic experience and a penchant for behaving like a pixie, a brand ambassador for women? Can we really elevate non-women who act nothing like women to positions of cultural influence without impacting actual women? Nike is not the only one to have made the decision to back Ms. Mulvaney. She also appears in sponsored advertisements for traditional women’s brands such as Oil of Olay, Kate Spade, MAC Cosmetics, Love Beauty and Planet, Milk Make Up, and even Tampax. (Yes, Tampax, someone will have to explain that one to me.) Regardless, in all of these cases, the brands, some household names, others niche, chose to elevate a trans woman over a biological one. These decisions are not made without consequence. Ms. Mulvaney earns about a million dollars per month for her advertising services, money that could easily have gone to other women, but far more importantly, when the face of women’s advertising is not a biological woman, women themselves run the risk of being steadily erased from the public sphere. This is doubly true in an era when biological male athletes are encroaching on women’s sports, traditional feminists who still believe in the unique nature of women are branded hateful “TERFs,” and in some quarters it is now considered objectionable for a lesbian woman not to engage in sexual intercourse with a partner who has a penis. Ultimately, if a male can experience womanhood in the same way as a biological woman, womanhood itself no longer has any unique meaning distinct from manhood. The two are one and the same, interchangeable as needed, save perhaps for some make up. Women, in that world, will no longer roar as they did barely 20 years ago. Instead, they will have no voice, be subject to slurs fought against for decades, and be erased.