The Guardian accused of ‘censoring’ Judith Butler interview comparing TERFs to fascists: ‘Cowards’

Judith Butler poses for a photo at the Jewish Museum in Berlin

The Guardian has been accused of “censoring” feminist icon Judith Butler after the newspaper deleted part of an interview in which they compared trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) to fascists.

This week, an interview was published by The Guardian with the feminist philosopher, and Butler discussed the links between anti-trans “feminists” and the far-right. 

One of the questions asked by interviewer Jules Gleeson, a queer writer and historian, referenced the recent violence outside Wi Spa in Koreatown, Los Angeles, as anti-trans campaigners and far-right groups both protested against the spa for their refusal to discriminate against a trans woman.

Butler said the fact that “trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with right-wing attacks on gender” was “appalling and sometimes quite frightening”, and added: “The TERFs and the so-called gender critical writers have also rejected the important work in feminist philosophy of science showing how culture and nature interact… in favour of a regressive and spurious form of biological essentialism.”

“Anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times”, Butler explained, and so TERFs “will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism”.

However on Tuesday (7 September), the entire section of the interview discussing the links between TERFs and the far-right had been deleted.

Underneath the edited interview, it now reads: “This article was edited on 7 September 2021 to reflect developments which occurred after the interview took place.”

It appears that the development since the interview was conducted is that a trans woman has been charged with, although not convicted of, indecent exposure over the Wi Spa incident.

Butler’s comments, however, made no reference to Wi Spa in particular, and were broader observations about the links between so-called “gender critical feminists” and the far-right.

Interviewer Jules Gleeson says The Guardian ‘censored’ Judith Butler: ‘Why should gender critics be beyond criticism?’

On Twitter, Jules Gleeson claimed that she had drafted a rewrite of the interview, which had been submitted before the deletion, but it was not used.

In a statement to PinkNews, she explained that she had been commissioned for the interview by Guardian US opinion editor Amana Fontanella-Khan and that the interview “went through several rounds of edits”.

Gleeson said: “Gender critical feminism came up in the course of the interview, as it’s currently reshaping discussions around sexism, to the point where using the term ‘gender’ or ‘transphobia’ at all is taken to mean picking a side in feminist in-fighting.

“I will repeat this for emphasis: this wasn’t a piece focusing on transphobic feminism! It was meant to be an overview of Judith Butler’s intellectual career. Unfortunately a lot of her most venomous critics are now other feminists… or militant Christians who use the exact same language of ‘gender ideology’ as those feminists. So it felt like we had to explore why that had happened, there.”

Although Gleeson said there were “many episodes I could have focused on to make this same point about the convergence of far-right and ‘gender critical’ feminist viewpoints”, she chose the Wi Spa protests because it was a US incident that had been reported on by Guardian US.

After charges were filed against an individual involved on 30 August, she said “the new developments took Wi Spa from a weak example to a counter-productive one”, despite there being “a lot of implications of this arrest, many of which remain unclear”.

Gleeson continued: “Within a few hours of the piece being posted, I’d received an email forwarding me a missive from The Guardian’s ‘Reader Complaints’ department.

“I don’t know so much about the inner workings of The Guardian as a media outfit, but it became very clear very quickly that this meant I was interacting (indirectly) with the British team.”

The British team, she said, “appear to have quite a different ethos to the US team, especially around trans issues”.

The team suggested posting a “correction” with the latest update to the Wi Spa incident, or entirely removing the question and Butler’s answer.

Gleeson offered to give another example in the question – The Heritage Foundation hosting anti-trans feminists – and added: “I explained that while I wasn’t attached to my question, and was happy for that to get revised or removed, I could not endorse removing Judith Butler’s answer.”

Unfortunately, The Guardian editors decided to go ahead with their decision to censor Judith Butler,” she said.

Gleeson said that while it was the British team’s decision to remove part of the interview, she was disappointed to see how “quickly” the US team “folded”, rather than “standing by her as a writer”.

She finished: “I can only hope that the overall point Judith Butler was making can receive some wider circulation, in light of this controversy.

“The Heritage Foundation and Proud Boys (and those who collaborate with them) are threats to us that deserve more than online intrigue, and editorial back-pedalling.

“One last question for the editorial teams at The Guardian: why should ‘gender critics’ be beyond criticism?”

The Guardian has been slammed by other writers for its ‘cowardly censoring’ of a feminist icon

Since its editing of the article, The Guardian has been slammed online for “censoring” Judith Butler.

Writer Ben Nealon said on Twitter: “Don’t think The Guardian is getting enough flak for this.

“They published this (extremely good) interview with Judith Butler where, in one section, she expressly criticises TERFs and gender-critical activists.

The Guardian removed the section. Cowards.”

Writer, critic, and poet Roz Kaveney added: “In a truly shocking moment of bigoted dishonesty, The Guardian has censored Judith Butler.”

However, others noted that in removing Butler’s comments The Guardian had inadvertently sparked the Streisand effect, a phenomenon in which trying to hide something actually brings greater attention to it.

Author Juno Dawson tweeted: “The Streisand Effect with the deleted section of that Guardian interview is real. By removing it, I’ve seen it dozens of times in my timeline so… bravo I guess?”

Writer Lilah Sturges added: “The Guardian Streisand-effecting themselves into getting the redacted part of that Judith Butler interview (where she calls TERFs fascists) trending is a pretty amazing self-own.”

A Guardian spokesperson told PinkNews: “On 7 September 2021, the Guardian edited a Q and A with Judith Butler as one question, posed by The Guardian, failed to take account of new facts regarding the incident at Wi Spa, which emerged late last week after the interview took place and the piece was written.

“In light of those developments, the question regarding Wi Spa in the interview should have been reviewed again prior to publication, but this did not happen. This is a departure from our usual editorial standards.

“We have not censored Judith Butler but addressed a failure in our editorial standards.

“This particular question omitted the new details that had come to light, and therefore risked misleading our readers. For that reason we decided to remove both the question and Judith Butler’s answer.

“As it was only this one question that referred to the Wi Spa incident in LA, the rest of the Q and A remains in place. Judith Butler has written for us several times in the past.

The Guardian remains committed to reporting on the rights of trans people in the US and globally, including the worrying attacks on trans people and their allies by far-right groups.”