By Jonathon Van Maren
Progressive critic Malcolm Harris at New York Magazine has finally watched and reviewed Matt Walsh’s brilliant documentary What is a Woman? As might be expected, he is not happy. The review is such a potent example of the sort of gaslighting our cultural elites are engaged in that it is worth breaking it down. (Even long-time gay activist Andrew Sullivan noted that the screed was sheer propaganda.) He begins his column this way:
Over time, words change. Stretched by the practicalities of real-world usage, our language warps and evolves. It’s an organic, unavoidable, and even auspicious process, but occasionally we’re liable to lose some valuable meaning we can’t easily recover. When that happens, it’s worth consciously deliberating as a society what we’re doing and why, lest the river of language carry us somewhere we don’t want to be.
This is precisely true in many ways. Progressives have been using language to reframe nearly every debate: abortion is “healthcare” rather than killing a pre-born child; sex-change surgery is, after several changes, now referred to as “gender affirmation surgery”; assisted suicide is referred to as “medical aid in dying.” The battle over “deadnaming” and pronouns are essentially wars over how we discuss the issue of gender itself, with trans activists wanting to ban speech they don’t like and compel speech they do like in order to strangle the debate. But of course, that’s not what Harris is getting at here.Bottom of Form
He insists that the documentary is fundamentally wrong-headed because there are “mountains of evidence” that “people can change their gender.” Thus, the titular question is actually a “religious precept” that Walsh has “disguised” as “a reasonable question.” For those ignoring Walsh, Harris warns: “It’s an effective strategy, and the majority of us who understand the factual existence of trans people can’t afford to ignore them.” Of course, we do not reject the idea that people who identify as transgender exist, as this framing suggests. We question the idea that someone can change their sex or gender—it is an argument about premises, not personhood.
Harris’ most interesting observation is that Walsh and other conservatives are now using the political tactics pioneered by the folks at The Daily Show in the early-to-mid 2000s:
These are What Is a Woman?’s formal antecedents; the Daily Wire team is trying to do for anti-trans politics what Jon Stewart did for gay marriage. As the straight-man (so to speak) interviewer traveling the country with camera in tow, eager to stump his enemies with facially neutral questions, Walsh resembles no one so much as conservative bugaboo Michael Moore. Like his predecessors, Walsh lets his opposing subjects make their case on their own terms; he’s not there to argue with them. When I watched the movie, I found the pro-trans voices presented more or less fairly.
Having watched a few Michael Moore films—especially the unintentionally hilarious Fahrenheit 11/9—I’d question the comparison. But it is true that Walsh was fair to his interviewees (and I’m surprised that Harris admits it), and the analysis rings true. Walsh presents common-sense questions that the vast majority of people immediately answer in their head—and then the gender activists spout off some mind-bending garbage that requires several years of brainwashing to believe. Harris himself has gone through that process—he thought this interviewee—the guy who thought the term “truth” was transphobic—was eloquent. Watch and decide for yourself.