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03-08-2022 | BOOK REVIEW

Holly Lawford-Smith, Gender-Critical Feminism

Oxford University Press: 2022, 295 pp., ISBN: 978-0-19-886388-5

Author: Kathryn L. Lynch

Published in: Society

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Resistance to Holly Lawford-Smith’s new book Gender-Critical Feminism ran hot well before its publication. A full month prior to its release date (May 12, 2022), two separate petitions were presented to Lawford-Smith’s publisher (Oxford University Press)—one by the OUPUSA Guild (OUP employees and authors) 1 and another by “members of the international scholarly community with a relationship to Oxford University Press,” 2 strenuously objecting to the book’s contents and questioning the standards of academic review that permitted its publication. The book was judged not even by its cover, but solely by its title and its author. …
The campaign against Lawford-Smith’s Gender-Critical Feminism is far from the first suppression-offensive against trans-skeptical research. Within the past year alone, Helen Joyce’s gender-critical Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality (London: Oneworld, 2021) and Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism (London: Fleet, 2021) both faced stinging backlash, though thankfully neither publisher caved to its many critics. An entire chapter in Lawford-Smith’s book, “Why Is Gender-Critical Feminism So Vilified” (pp. 117–40), addresses the denunciation of the field, including examples of vicious and violent attacks “in which male violence against women is perversely rationalized as self-defence” (p. 124). Examples could be multiplied: see https://​www.​thetimes.​co.​uk/​article/​the-battle-over-gender-has-turned-bloody-2wpkmnqhh; https://​www.​feministcurrent.​com/​2017/​09/​21/​terf-isnt-slur-hate-speech/​; accessed June 27, 2022. Emily Bazelon’s “The Battle over Gender Therapy,” The New York Times Magazine (June 15, 2022; https://​www.​nytimes.​com/​2022/​06/​15/​magazine/​gender-therapy.​html; accessed June 28, 2022) provides a balanced account of the different opinions (or sides) on the debate over medical transition for minors, as well as the difficulty of finding middle ground and the need for further research; Bazelon has subsequently been pushed to defend herself against vigorous accusations of transphobia on social media: https://​twitter.​com/​emilybazelon/​status/​1539621317510680​577?​utm_​source=​substack&​utm_​medium=​email; accessed June 27, 2022.
TERF = the slur Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, where “trans-exclusionary” is a sub-in for “gender-critical.”
Conservatives are not the only ones instituting bans. On June 15, 2022, Biden announced another executive order (see https://​www.​nytimes.​com/​2022/​06/​15/​us/​politics/​biden-lgbtq-rights-executive-order.​html?; accessed June 27, 2022) designed to thwart bans against affirmative care, also characterized as “conversion therapy,” a phrase originally targeted at widely discredited therapeutic practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation. “Conversion therapy” restrictions now typically also apply to gender identity—and may have the effect of restricting access even to exploratory care for gender dysphoric youth. Jurisdictions outlawing the practice exist both in the USA and abroad. See the map of US states with such laws: https://​www.​lgbtmap.​org/​equality-maps/​conversion_​therapy; accessed June 27, 2022. The argument is commonly made that these laws will not sweep exploratory therapy under their umbrella, but that is not clear. A respected Canadian doctor and gender expert lost his practice after a “conversion therapy” campaign against him: https://​www.​theglobeandmail.​com/​canada/​toronto/​article-doctor-fired-from-gender-identity-clinic-says-he-feels-vindicated/​; accessed June 27, 2022. See also “The Biden Administration’s Confused Embrace of Trans Rights,” The Economist (June 23, 2022) (https://​www.​economist.​com/​united-states/​2022/​06/​23/​the-biden-administrations-confused-embrace-of-trans-rights; accessed July 13, 2022).
Lawford-Smith discusses limitations in the research into puberty blockers in n.40 (pp. 238–39). Countries whose medical establishments are now urging greater caution on gender-affirmative care for minors due to the poor evidence base include the UK, Sweden, France, and Finland; among other sources see Bernard Lane, “The White House’s Specious Gender Manifesto,” Quillette (May 13, 2022); https://​quillette.​com/​2022/​05/​13/​joe-bidens-faulty-gender-diktat/​; accessed June 27, 2022. Also, the new guidance from the Swedish Board of National Health and Welfare, at https://​www.​socialstyrelsen.​se/​globalassets/​sharepoint-dokument/​artikelkatalog/​kunskapsstod/​2022-3-7799.​pdf; accessed June 27. 2022.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021; cited hereafter in the text.
Holly Lawford-Smith, Gender-Critical Feminism
Oxford University Press: 2022, 295 pp., ISBN: 978-0-19-886388-5
Kathryn L. Lynch
Publication date
Springer US
Published in
Print ISSN: 0147-2011
Electronic ISSN: 1936-4725