Why The New Yorker’s piece on trans-exclusionary radical feminists was one-sided

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, our own Jos Truitt has an excellent rundown of the myriad problems with Michelle Goldberg’s recent New Yorker piece on the conflict between trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and trans women. As Jos explains, while purporting to offer a balanced take on the history, the piece was irresponsibly one-sided.

Last week’s New Yorker article, “What Is a Woman: The Dispute Between Radical Feminism and Transgenderism” by Michelle Goldberg has been widely criticized since its publication. The article purports to offer a history of conflict between trans-exclusionary feminists and trans women. Yet it ignores the vast majority of that history, offering New Yorker readers a one-sided view of the conflict framed as balanced reporting, inaccurately representing the history of trans women in feminism and the active role trans-exclusionary feminists played in further marginalizing them. This effectively advances the views of a group that wants to see the genocide of trans women, a group that, data shows, faces extraordinarily high rates of discrimination in every measurable way. Indeed, the article becomes a case study for other publishers on how to avoid The New Yorker’s mistake.

Bitch Magazine accurately called the piece “a one-sided profile that’s sympathetic to writers and activists who’ve spent their careers working to marginalize and persecute the already-oppressed transgender community.” It is an article more worthy of the undeniably biased National Review than of The New Yorker. This is not a case in which “both sides” need to be presented for balance. Just as the anti-gay Family Research Council is not considered a valid voice on gay rights, trans-exclusionary feminists should not be considered a valid voice on trans rights.

As Jos writes, there are lots of lessons here for other publications who’d like to do some responsible reporting on the issue. Some are specific to covering trans issues — for example, don’t misgender people (that seriously some 101-level shit) and don’t frame trans people’s identities as a theoretical position — “transgenderism”? really? — that’s up for debate. But some are just basic journalistic principals — like, when claiming an objective take on a conflict, don’t quote four times as many representatives from one side as the other and do not rely on the voices of random individuals on social media over the voices of major advocates.

One thing Goldberg’s piece gets right, though, is that the views of TERFs have little influence among most younger feminists today. And that’s not because of silencing by mean trans activists — it’s because they are intellectually weak, disconnected from the reality of how gender works in the real world, and morally indefensible.

Read of the rest of Jos’s piece here.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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