It seems most people have a very tenuous understanding of what "free speech" entails.
It started like any normal friendship.
I was exploring a gorgeous park in Duluth, Minnesota, when my golden retriever detected a swimming hole, fed by a gorgeous waterfall. I wasn't going to not swim, just because I had no swimsuit and there were children...
So I jumped in, fully clothed!
When I came out of the water, there he was.
We got to talking about full-time RVing (I'm 14 months into a two-, possibly three-, year trip), interacting with costumed actors in living history museums, and trust (or lack thereof) in long-term romantic relationships. You know — typical "small talk." (By which, of course, I mean: there's no such thing as "small talk." Only small minds.)
We both enjoyed the conversation, so after warning him that I'd kill him if he ever touched me without my consent (as his intention was not to rape me, he did not mind me asserting my right to defend myself against male violence), I suggested we go biking the next afternoon.
Spirit Mountain was wild... but not as wild as that wildfire smoke! Image: The Happy Talent
It was a truly wonderful day...
Until things suddenly got very tense.
I was complaining, as I do, that China makes me mad every day. Whether poaching whale sharks or killing tigers to turn their penises into bullshit "medicine" or escalating aggression in the South China Sea or disappearing journalists, that country is responsible for a lot of global injustices.
"But then again," I added offhandedly, "most countries in the world don't have free speech or free press the way we do in the US. Even in the UK, five people were arrested for writing racist tweets on Twitter during England's Euro 2020 defeat — and women have even been arrested in front of their children for using the wrong pronouns on social media."
"Good," the man said.
"Good?" I asked.
"Yes, good. That's hate speech."
"First of all, it's not 'hate speech' to believe that males don't belong in women's sex-segregated spaces, like bathrooms, locker rooms, prisons, and hospital wards. Women's oppression is sex-based, not identity-based, so our rights and legal protections also need to be sex-based. No one should discriminate against against trans people for being trans... but it doesn't make sense to erase women's rights in the name of 'equality.'
"Second, as abhorrent as it is, hate speech is protected speech."
"No it's not."
"Matt. It is. And that's really important, because if we're going to make hate speech illegal, someone has to decide what 'counts' as hate speech and what is permissible."
"Well, some words should not be permissible. Like the n-word."
"Okay. Well, if we're going to outlaw that word, let's also outlaw the b-word, the c-word, and the p-word, because as a woman, I find them degrading and offensive, so we should ban those words, too right?"
Then, the typical far-left cop-out: "As a white male, it's not for me to decide."
"Then who should decide?"
No answer to that one, either.
"The thing is, Matt... issues are complicated. First Amendment rights matter because sometimes, facts, research, and evidence-based opinions hurt people's feelings. But that knowledge and those perspectives have value — and no one wants to live in a society where people are jailed for their opinions. No one wants to live in a society where artists are arrested or assaulted for their art, or where the 'wrong kind' of feminist — those who believe that their oppression is because their bodies are smaller and weaker than males'; that their oppression is because they bear disproportionate reproductive responsibilities, and every education and career decision they make is related to this biological reality; that their oppression is because so many of us suffer from debilitating pain every month, when we're literally on the floor, unable to work or go to school, yet endometriosis is one of the least-researched conditions that affects at least 10% of us!; that their oppression is because of the huge amount of male violence and male sexual violence against women, and therefore we need our sex-segregated spaced and rights — I mean, to me, it seems misogynistic to suggest that our oppression is because we 'identify' as women. As though all our problems would go away if we just wore less lipstick. That is so ignorant and hateful and insulting."
"But transwomen are women, too."
"No, Matt. I don't agree with that. Transwomen are transwomen — as in, males who identify as women. That's not the same as being female. Not by a long shot. And there's nothing wrong with that! Why not celebrate the beautiful diversity of human gender expression, rather than erase entire sex categories and try to force males to fit themselves into a different biological category? It's only going to cause them pain and make them crazy!
"Regardless, I don't think there's anyone out there who wants to deny transwomen human rights because of their identity, and I think there are plenty of ways that we could be more inclusive as a society. However, since women's oppression is sex-based, not identity-based, there are necessarily going to be times when males need to be excluded. For example, in women's sports.
"The science is very clear on this. Research shows that two years into hormone therapy, transwomen still retain more than half their male advantage over female athletes. A 2021 review by five sports councils in the UK found that there is no fair way to include males in women's sports without excluding women from their own sports."
Matt interjected, "That's not true." (It is true, even if it hurts people's feelings.) "And besides, that's only because we force trans children to go through male puberty."
"That is a different issue, though, Matt.The question of medical ethics when it comes to irreversible treatments and surgeries we do on literal children is different from the question of competitive fairness for women. We can discuss the medical ethics if you want, but we cannot conflate medical ethics with athletic fairness.
"The fact is, anyone who's gone through male puberty is going to have a 10-50% physical advantage over women, depending on sport. Longitudinal studies on testosterone suppression consistently show very modest changes, where the loss of lean body mass, muscle area and strength typically amounts to approximately 5%, even after 12 months of treatment. Which makes sense. Going through male puberty changes every part of you, from your heart to your lungs to your bones to your blood vessels."
Image: Save Women's Sports
"I don't think any of that should really matter, though. Sports shouldn't be about winning. They should be about inclusion."
"Wow. So basically, you're okay with erasing women from their own sports? You're okay with girls who have worked hard their whole lives losing their spot on an Olympic or DI sports team, their college scholarship, their world record — or even just their school record or spot on a high school varsity team — to a male with an unfair biological advantage? Do you have any idea how regressive that sounds?"
"It's not regressive."
"Taking women's sports away from women is extremely regressive."
"It doesn't matter. It's just sports, and sports are for everyone."
"Yeah, Matt. I think your male privilege is showing. You clearly have no idea what it's like to be a woman. And you have no idea how tremendously important girls' and women's sports have been for me. Every single day, someone tells me I'm brave. Every single week, someone asks me where I got my confidence and courage — to ride expert-level double black mountain bike trails by myself, to tow a large RV, to travel the world alone.
"Part of it comes back to how I was raised. My mom taught me that there are no victims, only volunteers. She taught me to be assertive and stand up for myself. But a huge part of it comes back to women's sports. To knowing that if I set a goal, I could achieve it. To knowing that if worked hard, I could be the best. To pushing my own limits. To winning. To losing.
"I don't think, for one second, that there's any chance I'd have the confidence and courage I have now without my participation in women's sports. I don't think I would have loved sports nearly as much, either, if I went into them knowing I couldn't win — that the best I could hope for is maybe third. There is something magical and transformational about women's sports, so don't sit here and tell me they don't matter."
"Well, then maybe we should just get rid of sex categories altogether, and just group people by ability."
"Yes. Leagues A-J would all be 100% male, and we'd finally start seeing women in the freaking K-league. Do you honestly think it's fair to have the top 1% of female athletes competing with slightly above-average, beer belly males? You seriously think that's empowering to us?"
"I don't think it matters. Transwomen are women."
"No. Tranwomen are transwomen. That's beautiful, that's wonderful, but it's not the same thing as being female."
"That's hate speech!"
I looked at him. "So... you think I should be jailed for having this opinion?"
This privileged white man obviously has no idea what the lived, biological reality of being a woman entails. But he also has no concept of what it would be like to live in a country where those guilty of thoughtcrime and wrongthink are jailed for their opinions and journalists are disappeared for their writing.
This privileged white man has no concept, either, of just how rare it is for citizens to have the kind of rights we do in this country. Our Constitution, though imperfect, is wildly progressive — not only for the time in which it was written, but even by today's standards.
He's never made friends with a local in another country who, after establishing trust, cautiously checked over both shoulders before whispering, "They tell you that our schools are free, but they aren't," or, "They already showed up at my mom's house and threatened to arrest her if I keep talking. They already threatened to break my legs. You're American. Can't you help us?"
Instead, he stays safely in his little white man bubble, blissfully unaware of the atrocities committed around the world every day in the name of censorship, oppression, and thought policing — or, as he might call it, "politeness" and "decency."
To his delight and my horror, there have already been laws passed in this country compelling speech — a clear violation in the First Amendment. California, New York, and New Jersey have passed legislation to fine or jail citizens with certain professions (health care workers, landlords, business owners, and employers) who use the wrong pronouns, regardless of personal or religious beliefs.
I know this post is about one conversation I had with one regressive, crazy guy... but anyone who thinks their rights — whether as a woman, or as an American citizen — are not under attack, you have not been paying attention.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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