Sherry Sylvester

Women’s Rights v. Trans Rights: Where Are the Feminists?

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In the successful fight to pass Senate Bill 3 in Texas protecting girls’ sports, conservatives were repeatedly told by their opponents on the left that we were tilting at windmills. Trans men were no threat to female sports, we were assured; the legislation we were pushing was a “solution in search of a problem.” Conservatives who pushed to protect sports for women and girls were accused of being transphobic. 

But ask girl swimmers in Pennsylvania what they think about the recently transitioned person who is shattering women’s records in the Keystone State. 

In 2019, when conservatives were working to pass privacy legislation to ensure that boys would not be permitted to enter girls’ restrooms in public schools, leftists and the media again insisted that we were provincial prudes. When Texas state senator and former NCAA champion athlete Lois Kolkhorst declared the bathroom battle “the women’s rights issue of our time,” almost no Texas media outlet reported it. The media ignored dozens of reports of women being attacked by men in public restrooms and changing rooms in Texas.

Similarly, the media ignored what helped spark a triumph of parental rights in the Virginia gubernatorial election. A girl was raped in a school restroom by a boy wearing a skirt.  School officials said that they didn’t know whether to confront him because he might have been a “trans” person. 

In Texas, our legislation to protect sports for women and girls is described by the media as “disqualifying” of boys rather than affirming girls. News reports say that the bill “excludes” those who say that they are girls – instead of noting that the bill protects actual girls.

Which brings me to my question: Where are the feminists? Having fought in the second wave of women’s rights in the 1970s, I do not understand why today’s American women’s movement has been so quick to give those hard-won rights away – to say, essentially, that if a male is suffering from gender dysphoria and thinks that he’s a girl or woman, we should just go along with that. 

Body dysphoria leads to life-threatening bulimia and other diseases, but gender dysphoria should be enabled, even encouraged – at least, according to the left, which believes that parents should be permitted to authorize life- and body-changing hormone treatments, and even surgery, for their children, not recognizing that these actions are irreversible and clearly child abuse. This is a horrible disservice to the victims of gender dysphoria. It is also a setback for women’s rights.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has joined with many European feminists in stepping up and saying the obvious: that sex is a real, biological fact. It is scientifically certifiable, not something that is arbitrarily “assigned” at birth and written on one’s birth certificate. Rowling has attracted the ire of the trans movement because she dared to question the terms “people who have a cervix,” “people who menstruate,” or “people who can become pregnant” as substitutes for the word “women.” 

Similarly, a left-wing British MP, Rosie Duffield, has drawn a line in the sand. Duffield is saying what many feminists have apparently been afraid to say: that most men are stronger than most women. Too often, that reality can be a threat to women. We ought to be able to go to the restroom – where, unlike men, we must partially undress – without being afraid.

Which brings us back to the swimmer who just smashed all the women’s swimming records in Pennsylvania. Texans know that this is unfair, and they don’t want any part of it. 

A full 58% of Texans strongly support legislation that would require high school and middle school students to compete in sports associated with their biological sex. This includes 75% of whites, 64% of Latinos, and 63% of African-Americans. It includes almost half of Democrats, over 90% of Republicans, and 73% of Independents. And while 82% of my generation – the Baby Boomers – support the legislation, so do 63% of Millennials, 69% of Gen Xers, and 54% of Generation Z. 

Back in the 1970s, a battle cry for many of us in the women’s movement was that “the personal is the political.” I’ve long abandoned that motto, but in this case, it has some relevance, as we are watching our rights as women being given away to men. On this issue and many others, Texas conservatives are standing up for women, but I ask, again: Where are the feminists?

Sherry Sylvester is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former senior adviser to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.