In which we profile feminists and their allies who have been removed from Twitter for wrongthink.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Holly Lawford-Smith, a New Zealander living in Melbourne, Australia. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. I teach classes in climate ethics, the ethics of immigration, the metaphysics of ethics, and feminism.
Is Twitter important to you? Why?
It is! Twitter made it possible for me to talk with an international community of people who were interested in the same topics I am. It made it easy to keep track of incidents happening in many different countries, and easy to keep on top of the details of proposed legislation and its path through to becoming law (or not, as the case may be) in many different countries. It was often faster than the news — you’d hear things first, and you’d hear things that mattered, but didn’t matter enough to make the news.
What was the tweet that got you banned from Twitter?
I don’t know! They never tell you. It’s one of the more frustrating aspects of the Twitter ban process. I got a 12-hour ban for misgendering one of my insistent online harassers. I got a 7-day ban for talking about biological sex in a discussion with a trans person. (The first is against the Twitter Rules, but the second isn’t, so the second ban was not justified). Twitter took more than 7 days to respond when I appealed the second ban, so I just let it go. Which turns out to be a mistake, because then third strike, whatever it was, and I was out. I appealed the permanent ban maybe seven or eight times? — and always got the same form response. Your account has been suspended and will not be restored, because, hateful conduct. That was my first account, then I simply made a new account, and that went okay for a while even though people were reporting me all along for ban evasion, and then suddenly, despite not having had any temporary bans, that was permanently banned too. I saw one of the TRAs (Trans Rights Activist) bragging about reporting me through the webform rather than the app, so maybe that makes a difference, I don’t know. I think probably there wasn’t a tweet that got me banned from my second account, it’s just that the ban evasion reporting worked. When I appealed, the reply was something like, using multiple accounts for abusive purposes. So I guess feminism is abusive now.
Was there a lead up to you getting banned. Can you describe it?
Not really! This last one came completely out of the blue. It’s pretty frustrating — they should give you a 12-hour warning so that you can make alternative arrangements for contact with the people you message a lot, or take screenshots of any information in the messages or whatever that you might need to go back to. When you’re banned, you can still get into your account, but your timeline is frozen at the time you were banned, so you can’t track the content of the people you follow (even just to read), and you can’t access your messages at all. I get notification badges for both of my banned accounts, but I can’t see what they are.
People are often confused by the gender debate. Can you explain it and explain your part in it?
Trans activists are attempting to force a change in the social meanings of sex and gender. They think the two are so tightly connected that there’s little point in distinguishing them, and that we should be more interested in how people feel (do you feel “like a man”, or “like a woman”?) than what kinds of bodies they have. There’s something useful in this thought, which is that, yeah, we should care less about people’s bodies in terms of thinking what they should be like, what kinds of jobs they should do, who they should date, stuff like that.
But there’s also something really regressive in it. What could it even mean to feel like a woman? If some brave, feisty, independent girl doesn’t identify with stereotypical ideas about what girls should be like, is she suddenly a boy?
It seems to me that we’re being presented with a choice between two futures. In one, boys and girls can feel like anything at all, express themselves however they like, do whatever jobs appeal to them, date whoever. We don’t tell every kid who breaks a stereotype that she must be trans.
In another future, we tell all the stereotype-breaking girls that they’re boys and all the stereotype-breaking boys that they’re girls. So we’ve got the same two narrow categories, we’re just letting kids who don’t fit one set of narrow stereotypes attempt to fit themselves into another set.
I reckon there’s a lot more freedom in telling kids that they can be whatever they want to be (without having to deny their sex). The debate at the moment is over the influence of this new ideology—where sex and gender are feelings not facts—and its spread into law. For example, in Victoria (the state that Melbourne’s in) where I live, we’ve just passed sex self-identification for birth certificates.
My part in the debate... I guess I got involved about a year ago now, when I read some of Kathleen Stock’s work, and started paying attention to the way people were reacting to her inside philosophy. It was really outrageous. There’s a student in my department who had been treated similarly, so I’d been kind of overdue to get informed. So I did, and the more I learned the more convinced I became that there was something really problematic happening, and that pretty extreme measures (well you know, by our countries’ standards) were being taken to silence the women trying to speak out about it. I haven’t really looked back since then.
How do you plan to go on fighting?
You know, as great as Twitter can be, it can also be such a time suck! There were days where I would be an hour late starting the day because I’d be trying to reply to all the notifications that had come in overnight. It could be really ridiculous, when things were in a flare-up period (which was often!). So I’m trying to see the ban as a sort of good thing? Like, forcing me to do what I probably should have done a long time ago.
I’ll definitely carry on fighting, but I’ll focus more on articles, in the popular press (if they’ll have me!) and on Medium, and of course I’ll continue with my research in this area. I’m glad there are so many radical and gender critical feminists on Twitter doing amazing work, I don’t think my absence will make any difference to the overall fight. But I do miss it. I’m trying the BBB (Better Business Bureau) route, so maybe that’ll work and I’ll get to make a comeback that enrages all my detractors.
If you could get Jack Dorsey into a beardlock, what would you say to him?
Good question! I’d say, mate, I know you were probably just trying to do something kind, and protect a vulnerable community. But your rules against misgendering and deadnaming are being applied so poorly, to silence women who are merely critical of gender identity ideology, that this ends up being an attack on freedom of speech. You have a responsibility, as the monopoly platform for global democratic debate, to ensure equality of access. And you don’t do that by throwing women off when they have opinions about what it means to be a woman, or about what pronouns or name they’re happy to use for a convicted rapist. The rules seem to be enforced disproportionately against women. It’s completely crazy that you should have permanently banned a left-wing academic because she talked about biological sex with a trans person. Get it together, Jack.