Social justice warriors on race and gender seem to prefer gobbledegook to persuasive argument

Melanie PhillipsMonday April 05 2021, 6.00pm, The TimesShare

English is increasingly turning into a foreign language. On a recent edition of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, terms such as “man-boxes,” “othering” and “fem-people” were bandied about during a discussion on male misbehaviour. From the author of Queer Post-Gender Ethics our panel heard that “gendered identity” presents a “fundamental binary” that “creates hierarchies”.

Stop! What’s a “man-box”? Is a “fundamental binary” a mathematical concept, a political procedure or part of the digestive tract? What’s a “fem-person”? Am I one? It turned out that a “man-box” encompasses ideas of patriarchal or toxic masculinity. In other words, bad stuff like chivalry that “others” women, heaven forbid!

The Urban Dictionary website tells us that fem people are those on the LGBT spectrum who demonstrate behaviour that is “stereotypically associated with women”. For example, “a fem gay man might wear make-up or use animated hand gestures”. As for the “fundamental binary”, that’s just the impermissible difference between men and women. Hard to keep up, isn’t it?

While we’re at it, let’s not overlook “panromantic” (romantic to “all” genders), “demiromantic” (romantic attraction only after forming a deep emotional bond) and “greyromantic” (experiencing romantic attraction rarely or only under certain circumstances). This takes us, naturally, to “amatonormativity”, a concept that elevates romantic relationships over non-romantic relationships. This is apparently bad. The term was coined by Elizabeth Brake, a philosophy professor at Arizona State University, who writes: “The assumption that valuable relationships must be marital or amorous devalues friendships and other caring relationships, as recent manifestos by urban tribalists, quirkyalones, polyamorists, and asexuals have insisted.”

This mysterious new discourse goes way beyond gender. Western society is held to be a web of prejudices so vast that it requires the theory of “intersectionality” to cover the manifold ways in which people are oppressed.

Accordingly, this has given rise to new university disciplines, departments, chairs and language whose obscurity is deemed commensurate with the rarified scholarship involved at the cutting edge of social science.

One such area of study is “critical race theory”, the idea that white society is inherently oppressive towards people of colour and which intersects with other forms of oppression involving sexuality, gender, disability or class. From one scholar, we learn that those who promote this theory ‘‘integrate their experiential knowledge, drawn from a shared history as ‘other’, with their ongoing struggles to transform a world deteriorating under the albatross of racial hegemony’’.

Then there’s “queer theory”. The University of Illinois at Chicago explains this by stating: “Definition is impossible.” Gamely, though, it goes on to suggest that it can be summarised as “exploring the oppressive power of dominant norms, particularly those relating to sexuality, and the immiseration they cause to those who cannot, or do not wish to, live according to those norms”.

If that defies definition, other discourse defies comprehension altogether. An article in The Wall Street Journal notes that a book published by the University of Michigan Press about the novel features language from English literature academics that’s beyond parody. This includes such gems as “regulatory practices operating within discursive regimes that circumscribe the ‘materiality’ of the subject through the citationality of norms” and “the illocutionary hallucination of the performative as a material event of subjectivity that emerges in a discursive nexus that can be generally named ‘impersonation’.”


Such gobbledegook has its origins in postmodernism. Philosophers such as Michel Foucault (who said that sexuality was a “discursive production” rather than a part of being human) held that words and meaning existed only as social constructs. In a world where anyone’s meaning becomes as valid as anyone else’s, meaning therefore became meaningless.

In his great essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that pretentious words “give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments” and that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.

Today’s academic jargon, aimed squarely at cultural change, uses neologisms, abstractions and cod sociological classifications to turn a range of marginal or invented behaviour and attitudes into phenomena deemed worthy of study.

It’s also being used to conceal various things: the out-to-lunch absurdities of gender politics and the totalitarian intent to suborn an entire culture under the guise of “social justice”. Above all, though, it’s intended to obscure the intellectual incapacity of those running the burgeoning university departments of resentment, many of whom have been garlanded with professorial honorifics and letters after their name.

For such people, language is no longer a means of communication. It’s become instead a weapon of non-binary resistance to the intersectional, heteronormative, patriarchal and colonialist othering of LGBTQIAPD individuals (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual and demisexual).

Welcome to the brave new world of gibberish studies.