From Feminism To Cat-Self

The discourse on gender pronouns and self-definition has seemingly evolved into a farce. While egalitarian outcomes ought to be advocated and fought for, policing language and asserting the right to identify as animals is perhaps a step too far.

From Feminism To Cat-Self

The discourse concerning gender roles and an individual's right to self-identify their gender – whether as a man or a woman – has seemingly evolved into a farce. An illustrative incident of this unusual and extravagant scenario unfolded at Rye College in East Sussex, England, around three months ago. It involved a girl in the 8th grade, who was donning cat ears and a tail, and asserted her identity as a cat, and demanded acknowledgment as such. This dispute transpired when she engaged in a disagreement with a fellow student, who questioned how she could identify as a cat. The teacher, aligning with the cat girl's perspective, condemned the other girl as 'despicable' for upholding the view that gender identity should align with one's biological attributes of male or female. 

This matter turned into an episode of a burlesque fantasy, as the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph reported in its 21st June 2023 issue. “On the topic of pronouns, a teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells of a female pupil who has “decided she identifies as a cat.” “We now have to deal with the boys who have been ‘barking’ at her.”

It is imperative to note that challenging someone's gender identity in the UK can be seen as a violation of the Equality Act, which empowers individuals to select a gender identity of their choice.

The complex debate surrounding this notion dates back some six decades to Michel Foucault's assertion that gender roles are socially constructed. Foucault contends that nothing is inherently “given.” Instead, everything has been shaped through a discourse informed by an historical process. In this view, the concepts of man and woman emerge from the biological male and female through a discourse influenced by what Foucault terms “power.” The second wave of the feminist movement draws on this discourse, which revolves around distinguishing between a woman and a biological female. This perspective dismisses what some might call “natural” roles of men and women in various aspects of life. 

This perspective inevitably disregards certain religious beliefs, particularly those of the Abrahamic religions.

What began as an academic debate gradually evolved to a point where it became nearly untouchable orthodoxy, transforming into a matter of political correctness to align oneself with it. Expressing dissent risked being branded with the pejorative term “bigot or transphobe,” as Sky News presenter Piers Morgan articulated in his impassioned commentary on this issue. Prior to this, feminist discourse also resorted to labelling the dissenting takes on their ideology – toxic masculinity and misogyny being the two oft-pronounced terms. The political discourse pertaining to these ideas, backed by the international corporations, which also forced the governments on their side, made it rather impossible to question these ideas – even on an academic level. 

The use of gender-specific pronouns, such as "he" and "she," has now been prohibited in most official communications – both written and spoken. All individuals must now be addressed using gender-neutral pronouns like "they," "them," and "their." This raises questions about the loss of one’s right to be referred to as "he" and a woman's right to be called "she." Similarly, amidst discussions on gender issues, the rights of religious individuals, whose religious and cultural beliefs align with the concept of "natural" and "given," seem to have been overlooked. It appears that, in the pursuit of safeguarding the rights of minority groups, the rights of the majority have systematically been diminished, forcing them into silence and denying them a “voice”.

Controversies have surrounded the concept of "voice", when privileged individuals assume the right and authority to speak on behalf of those who cannot articulate their own perspectives, thereby "giving them a voice." A well-known example of this contentious debate is found in Gayatri Spivak's essay, "Can The Subaltern Speak?," where she highlights this very issue. According to Spivak, those platforms raising voices willy-nilly subjugate the marginalized to their own voice – hence, their own agenda. It, therefore, prompts us to question what the privileged gain from amplifying these voices, just as powerful multinational corporations do when they advocate for the rights of minority groups, championing women's causes, challenging societal norms for the LGBTQ+ community, and similar endeavors.

The idea that a capitalist would invest into something without material gains is hard to swallow!

Some of the responses may appear overtly cynical, unjust, and even politically incorrect. Nonetheless, one can make the case that it was advantageous for the businessmen to support feminism because it ensured the entry of women into the workforce, resulting in an increased labor pool and lower wages. The promotion of individualism and the dismantling of traditional family structures could potentially lead to a larger consumer market, among other possible advantages – Thatcherite Britain is a shining example. Supporting minority rights and the feminist movement might also afford them increased influence in political discussions. Funds were provided at universities to encourage researches on these subjects, especially for the women from the Third World, which consolidated and legitimized these ideas on an academic level.

It cannot be denied that these movements have indeed served some positive purposes, but the force applied to propel them forward has, in some respects, pushed the matter beyond reasonable limits.

What we witness in a British high school today, started nearly a decade ago, when Marks & Spencer stores banned the use of color blue for boys’ items and pink for girls’ stuff. It was deemed discriminatory, based on the assertion that there is no difference between a boy and a girl – they are equals. Yes, equals as human beings, but different biologically. The recent debate surrounding the young individuals identifying themselves as other than human beings – cats, horses, dinosaurs, moon etc. – is an extension of that idea. In his TV show, Piers Morgan lashes out against this trend, saying: “I do think this is insanity. Next time a child identifies as a cat in a school in this country [UK], they should be told as mark of deep respect for their new identity, they will be taken out of the classroom, put in a cage with actual cats, who scratch and bite them all day. They should be given water in tray, chine-chunks as lunch. Taken for a walk with leads in break time, and must use a litter tray for a toilet…”

Morgan has faced sharp criticism for ridiculing the matter in this manner. 

However, we must remember that we are discussing a highly advanced society, where complex issues can be resolved through open dialogue. Our worry should begin when, in the future, a segment of our society – in Pakistan – feels fascinated by the idea of asserting the right to identify as any animal. In such a scenario, the prospect of resolving matters through dialogue would seem remote, and we might be faced with an exceedingly challenging and nightmarish situation to contend with.

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.