Kat Banyard, awesome UK feminist

At only 29, she has pulled off what to me at her age had looked impossible, inspiring a fresh wave of feminists without getting into a cat fight with the post-feminists of the 90s, or pretending all the old arguments are boringly obsolete, or having to make herself sufficiently sexy to be media friendly.

For more, go here.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

17 thoughts on “Kat Banyard, awesome UK feminist

  1. Did someone just moderate a comment that was left here? I hope it was at the request of the poster of the comment, because it is certainly something that needs to be said…

  2. The comment wasn’t moderated at my request. On page two of her 2010 book, she writes “the majority of human beings are, of course…. male or female” (Banyard, 2010: 2). There’s no “of course” here, and she doesn’t raise transgender issues once in her book; moreover, the examples of women in her book are essentially all heterosexual.

  3. Hi Philosochick! To be honest, phrasing the claim in terms of the majority instead of all humans is a big improvement on a lot I’ve seen. It would be really useful to have a source showing that the majority claim isn’t true (since I’m pretty sure most people think it is). Do you have one you could share? Thanks!

  4. If she’s making a claim that there are biological categories “male” and “female,” that’s false. If she’s making the claim that there are social binaristic categories, “male” and “female,” then that’s sort of true. In either case, it’s erasing trans people. Transfeminism is about correcting that erasure and showing how trans issues *are* feminist issues. Kat Bonyard’s silence says something, especially if we’re going to be promoting her as an “awesome” new feminist.

  5. Hi Philosochick,

    You write this:

    “If she’s making a claim that there are biological categories “male” and “female,” that’s false.”

    What’s your warrant for that claim?

  6. There’s no such thing as discrete categories of biological sex. There are intersex conditions and variation along *every* dimension of sex (chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, secondary sex characteristics) in a bimodal distribution for both. “Biologically male” and “biologically female” are thus social constructs based on the mean of the distributions, closer to what Wittgenstein referred to as a “family resemblance” definition. But biology isn’t carved at the joints to give us discrete categories. Hence, “If she’s making a claim that there are biological categories “male” and “female,” that’s false” is true, and we’ve known this for some time.

  7. Her views on the sex industry also seem controversial from a feminist perspective – as when she asserts that that can’t be a morally acceptable one, even in principle. Perhaps she’s reading “industry” narrowly, but I don’t know what she means when she says that “you can’t commodify consent”.

  8. Yeah, you know, maybe I shouldn’t have said “awesome” so quickly. But she has done a really impressive job energising feminism in the UK, and I’m just so damn glad to see someone other than Germaine Greer being held up as leading UK feminist!

  9. She is hugely responsible for at least a few hundred active feminists in the UK (including myself) under 30 taking women’s issues and lobbying parliament / local government etc about them to a degree that is unprecedented in my adult life. She has inspired and led and got people to think their own thoughts about issues that in the UK are still regarded as ‘prudish’ and ‘outdated’. It is impossible that all feminists will agree with all other feminists about everything they consider to be ‘from a feminist perspective’, but I think it is counterproductive to indulge in all this in-fighting and having to justify if you think someone warrents the description ‘awesome feminist’. If a feminist feels that another feminist is awesome, then she can say that she (or he) is. Great to raise awareness of those not being considered, but not great to then try and say that discredits all the other work she has done. She is currently the ONLY young woman in the UK who regularly goes on the news and challenges sexual objectification / unequal pay / childcare issues etc with authority and doesn’t back down when grilled by interviewers. We should at least celebrate that, whilst recognising that there is still much to cover and be done.

  10. Hang on. I think it would be sad day for feminism if someone couldn’t deserve the label “awesome” simply in virtue of holding controversial (or even false) views. After all, we want to leave open the possibility that there are awesome feminists. But there’s very little in feminism that’s uncontroversial, and none of us, despite our best efforts or intentions, will get things right all the time.

    I think that the point about omission of trans issues is an important one, but I worry it’s being overstated. (I may be about to make an ass of myself here, but I’m diving in anyway. Consider yourselves warned.)

    Of course trans issues are feminist issues. But it doesn’t follow that a feminist is obligated to talk about them any time they talk about feminist issues. Feminism is such a wide-ranging and multifaceted subject that no book on feminism is ever going to be fully comprehensive (that is, no book on feminism is ever going to adequately cover everything that counts as a feminist issue). Banyard’s failure to discuss trans issues would be problematic if she seemed completely unaware of them, or if she somehow presented her work as a comprehensive account of feminist issues. But I really don’t see any case to be made that she’s guilty of either. And so (personally, at least) I can’t see how we can somehow fault her for not discussing trans issues or claim that “trans people are erased” by her work.

    I can understand being really disappointed that she doesn’t talk about trans issues. I can understand wishing that she did. But it’s a short book and she doesn’t talk about a lot of things. I just can’t understand why we should criticize someone for daring to talk about feminist issues without talking about the entire breadth of feminist issues.

    A lot of criticism stems from this quote: “the majority of human beings are, of course…. male or female”. But I fail to see how this is particularly problematic, unless we read it dramatically uncharitably. For starters, she registers by her phrasing that *not all* – just the majority – are male or female. She doesn’t specify whether she means sex or gender. But either way this quote, though perhaps controversial, isn’t obviously insensitive to trans issues.

    She isn’t saying that there are only two sexes, or only two genders. And she obviously isn’t saying that there are neat binary categories that divide us all up. (And with regard to whether sex is a biological category, it is a massive overstatement to say that “we’ve known for some time” that male and female aren’t biological categories. The biological classification of sex is complicated and controversial, wading into complex issues in metaphysics and philosophy of science. There’s no orthodoxy or obvious right answer here that she can somehow be construed as denying.)

    Sometimes it’s nice to celebrate smart, capable, articulate feminists. We should be able to do that without thinking that they’ve said everything there is to say about feminism, or that everything they’ve said so far has been faultless.

  11. Hi Philosochick,

    Thanks for the clarification. You write:

    “There’s no such thing as discrete categories of biological sex. There are intersex conditions and variation along *every* dimension of sex (chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, secondary sex characteristics) in a bimodal distribution for both. “Biologically male” and “biologically female” are thus social constructs based on the mean of the distributions, closer to what Wittgenstein referred to as a “family resemblance” definition. But biology isn’t carved at the joints to give us discrete categories. Hence, “If she’s making a claim that there are biological categories “male” and “female,” that’s false” is true, and we’ve known this for some time.”

    It sounds like you’re denying that we can give necessary and sufficient conditions for being a male or a female, right? I think you’re right that biologists reject necessary and sufficient conditions for most things they’re interested in qua biologists. But from that it doesn’t follow that there are no ‘categories’ for male and female in biology. I’m not really sure what a category is, but if we talk about their classificatory practices, biologists attribute sex to animals all the time.

    But suppose we grant that you are correct–it’s a really interesting thought, and I wonder what its implications are. What are the rules to this sort of practice, for instance? Species-definitions are subject to the same failure of necessary and sufficient conditions–does it follow that there are no biological categories for species either? If not, why not?

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