The Woke War of Words

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

When in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet utters these words Shakespeare is displaying the fulsome naivety that prevailed before we were assailed by “wokedom”.

In such innocent times we were not unduly concerned how we named things because there was a general consensus about what we meant.

However, Juliet was just trying to make the point that she did not care whether Romeo was a Montague or a Capulet because he was before anything else a male human being she found desirable.

To a botanist a rose may be Rosa rubiginosa but to most of us we don’t need a botanical definition of a rose when it occurs in common parlance. We know that roses come in many forms (such as hybrid tea roses, grandiflora roses, floribunda roses, miniature roses and climbing roses) but despite these differences most of us are able to recognise a rose when we see one. But in today’s “woke” world, there seems to be a lot less clarity in the meaning of words.

And, of course, one area where clarity of language has been diminished by wokeness in recent times is gender.

Last year in a Senate Estimates hearing, the South Australian Liberal senator Alex Antic put the cat among the pigeons. He questioned a panel of five of Australia’s medical experts from the Department of Health. At the end of his questioning he put this query to the assembled experts.

I’m going to finish up    with a very simple question for the department, and one that has troubled me for a great deal of time with the bureaucracy here. Can someone please provide me with a definition of what a woman is?

This question caused great discomfiture and concern among the panel. After a while with no response, Senator Antic asks again:

Definition of a man. Definition of a woman. Anyone?

Professor Brendan Murphy, suddenly seemed to realise as Secretary of the Department of Health he was the most senior official in the room and consequently felt compelled to reply. He waffled on for a while about there being many definitions of the word “woman “before begging leave to take the question on notice and provide an answer at a later date. Now this is the same Professor Murphy who had previously been the Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government.

Now it is totally implausible that Professor Murphy didn’t know what a woman is. What he didn’t know was how to couch his definition in a way that wouldn’t offend the “woke” activists that the Government is trying to appease. He didn’t have at hand a mealy -mouthed set of words that could identify a woman without referring to the biological differences between males and females. He didn’t want to challenge the prevailing wisdom of the woke community that gender is merely a matter of choice and not biologically determined.

As a former Chief Medical Officer I am sure Professor Murphy is well-versed in human biology. He was merely deficient in the nuances of “woke” ideology and how to defend undefendable propositions..

In his ignorance he was aiding and abetting the nonsense propagated by the transgender movement that gender is not biologically determined.

If you go to my opening remarks, Juliet was guided by her biological inclinations.

I doubt she had any misgivings about whether Romeo was cis, bi, transgender or queer or any of those other gender divisions that that seem to be so important to today’s gender obsessed “woke” disciples.

Now if this was just an academic argument I wouldn’t be so concerned. But it is not just an academic argument – it has real life implications.

Most of the emerging gender controversy revolves around the concept that biological males should somehow be treated as women if they choose to self-identify as women.

This has a number of deleterious impacts.

Firstly these males self-identifying as women want to be able to compete in women’s sports. Now there is a very good reason why we don’t allow men to compete against women in most sports. Testosterone provides men with physical advantages relating to size and strength.

In my youth I was a schoolboy athlete. My athletic heroes in those days were Ron Clarke and Raelene Boyle. I can remember reading newspaper reports of Raelene in the early nineteen sixties (when I was about sixteen) setting an Australian women’s record for the 220 yards sprint (as it was then –now the close equivalence of the 200m sprint). I was surprised to observe that I had run faster times myself and I had been beaten by other boys in this event in some athletics carnivals at the time.

It is patently unfair to allow biological men compete against biological women in sports that depend on physical size or strength. I can’t see why men and women couldn’t physically compete in snooker or clay target shooting but certainly not in running, swimming, weightlifting, wrestling and so on.

(As an amusing aside, when I played rugby league in my first two years at James Cook University we used to have an annual match when we were pitted against a team of the young women undergraduates.  But to compensate for the inherent male advantages we were not allowed to run but only to hop!}

As some feminists have rightly pointed out, allowing biological men to compete against biological women not only deprives the women of sporting success but (particularly in the USA) deprives them of the opportunity to gain sporting scholarships to Universities thus depriving them of academic opportunities as well.

But these biological males, self-identifying as women, want access to such other female only spaces as women’s toilets and changerooms.

Nicola Sturgeon, previously Scotland’s First Minister has just been forced to fall on her sword because of her progressive attitude to transgender politics.  This was a government who allowed a convicted rapist, who decided to identify as female, the right to be incarcerated in a female prison. What could possibly go wrong?

So Senator Antic was perfectly correct to raise his question about “what is a woman” because it has important ramifications in the real world.

But the good Senator Antic was not done there. Sometime after, he asked at Senate Estimates, another difficult but pertinent question when interrogating the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Commission. He queried the definition of “indigenous”. The Labor Minister, in response, accused Senator Antic of being “borderline racist” for daring to seek clarification of who would be deemed “indigenous” in the voice referendum.

Now surely it is an entirely reasonable request to ask who will be entitled to vote for the voice and who will be the beneficiaries of the voice. Indeed I would have thought this was essential knowledge if one was to make a considered decision on whether to vote for the voice or not. But, of course, the Federal Government isn’t seeking to promote a considered debate about the merits of the voice. The government is relying on an emotional campaign that seeks to shame us into submission by implying that those opposed to ensconcing the voice in the constitution are somehow racist.

At the hearing department officials protested that there was already in place a process for identifying indigeneity. It had been advanced at the Mabo case and has been used ever since. When asked by the Senator how the process worked they were vague in their response except for the fact that self-identifying as indigenous triggered the process,

We know from recent census results that many more people are identifying as indigenous. Some estimates suggest that up to 30% of those identifying as indigenous do not in fact have indigenous blood. How easy the process can be manipulated is vividly demonstrated by Aborigine pretender and darling of the ABC, Bruce Pascoe author of Dark Emu.

Far from being racist, if we are to have a serious debate about the voice, defining “indigenous” is clearly essential. At least ten years ago, indigenous affairs commentator, Anthony Dillon told me that when it came to indigenous affairs the definition of “indigenous” was undoubtedly the “elephant in the room”. It’s time we did something about it if we want to develop real solutions to indigenous dysfunction.

But there is something even more fundamentally important here. I have told you numerous times how my friend and mentor, Dr Phil Harker taught us that offense was never given, only taken. Now we have allowed victimhood to flourish in our society and the principal weapon resorted to by these pathetic victims is taking offense. Rather than counter any threats to their cultivated beliefs with rational argument they pretend emotional hurt and silence us by parading their victimhood. Unfortunately this pathetic response is encouraged by many of our woke institutions to the extent that our freedom of speech is compromised.

The prime defence we have against wokedom is the truth. (I point to the fact that I wrote the truth and not another woke concept, my truth!) Wokeness is so fragile it uses many subterfuges to prevent us arriving at the truth.

But apropos the above discussion about confecting identity there seems little evidence that we seek out the truth.

I could, if I wished, identify as a woman. If I did this I would be supported by the transgender movement and my claim would largely go uninvestigated by the woke community.

I could, if I wished, identify as indigenous. If I was friendly with the elders of the local indigenous community I would more than likely be endorsed as indigenous without anyone querying my genealogy or my genetic history.

If I truly wanted to impress the woke brigade I might identify improbably as an indigenous woman! I would be celebrated as a liberated human being and most likely get to appear on the ABC!

Yet if I , just as improbably, said I was Jesus, I would more than likely be locked up while my mental health was assessed.

18 Replies to “The Woke War of Words”

  1. Hi Ted, you are a brave man tackling this subject, and you surely know more about roses than I do – the varieties that exist!!

    This period of wokeism that we are in….. do you see it perhaps at the midpoint of the overall push (wokeism) – where we may be beginning to push back, and where logic and good old reason may be coming back into favour? A natural and historical turning point for such views/arguments?

    Gosh, I hope so. Some days I have just had enough…


    1. Thank you Barbara.
      Wokeness is perpetuated by the left shutting down debate and disparaging those they don’t agree with. We can only prevail against this insanity if more people are prepared to air their concerns on this loss of fundamental freedoms in the public arena.

  2. Hi Ted,

    I don’t read your blogs much anymore. I scan them from time to time. I find common themes in all of them which I think reflect you being unwillingly to see things any other way. The common themes are embedded in your many years, and so ingrained that your positions on them are immovable and function within your self reinforcing planet of belief.

    You are mostly (it seems to me) hell bent on conservative views with regards to the politics of:
    – Climate change,
    – Aborigines,
    – Gender.

    And (I think) you are overly critical (or insensitive) with regards to some types of suffering by your too quick tendencies to put such under your umbrella category you describe as a victimisation mentality.

    I used to look for philosophical insights and wisdom. Now, I just find a political and bitter tone in the issues for which I already know your opinion so well.

    Further, I recognise a common theme among the generation of yourself, parents, and grandparents of my generation.

    That common theme is that some of your generation believe that they were in the heyday of the ideal model of how to live, and had it right. And that the generations following yours have it all wrong. It’s like a delusion, and it conveniently forgets the the tragedies of 20th century wars, suffering, the suppressed without a voice, and the challenges that the current and upcoming generations have to deal with etc.

    I write this with much respect.

    1. Ah, Matt. How nice to hear from you.
      I am sorry you think I’ve become old and bitter.
      I still have a broad range of interests and philosophy, psychology and history all interest me, And I know at the very essence of my being, as the good Dr Phil would say, “All is well!” But I find some societal trends profoundly worrying.
      I concede I am a conservative in the traditional sense. That just confirms that I believe there is much that our traditional institutions provided that is worth conserving. That is not to deny that some of our progressive causes have not made our lives better. It is good that we treat women and homosexuals better than we did in the past, for example.
      But in recent decades, to my mind, we seem to have lost our way. Much of this is due to the rise of the Left which has progressively taken over many of our institutions. As I have pointed out (and you obliquely refer to) they have cleverly sheltered their ideas from criticism by the use of cancel culture and victimhood.
      Typically, for example, if you dare criticise such garbage as Critical Race Theory you are dismissed as being racist. If. as you should be entitled to for such an important issue, seek some clarification on the voice referendum, you are also racist. If you query the efficacy of spending trillions to try to achieve impossible targets like net zero by 2050 you are discounted for being a climate denier. If you query the ethics of surgery and puberty blockers to facilitate gender transformation of young teenagers you are obviously trans-phobic.
      Now there is little attempt to argue these things on their merits. If you question the politically correct or the conventional wisdom you are just shut down. This is a huge impediment to free speech.
      Along with this we are being encouraged to disparage Western history. The Left concentrate on the worst of our history, like colonialism and the slave trade, but ignore the benefits like scientific progress and the development of our liberal democracies. History is distorted to serve ideological viewpoints. There is more in our schools’ history curriculum from a charlatan like Bruce Pascoe than from serious historians like Blainey and Windschuttle.
      Nigel Biggar, the director of Oxford University‘s Macdonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life writes that “the British Empire was not essentially racist, exploitative or wantonly violent.” But certainly if you look hard enough you can find examples of brutality, racism and exploitation. But where is the evidence that British colonialism was a great disadvantage to Britain’s colonies. Surely there are few countries in the world that are better places to live than such former British colonies as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
      I know you are an avid reader. If you want to get to the bottom of my concerns take a look at Douglas Murrays The War on the West.
      There is no doubt that I have limited intellectual capacity but I find it galling that on these important issues my voice is discounted because I am not politically correct. I am more tham willing to hear counter arguments but I will not sit back and have my voice silenced because I offend those woke warriors.
      You may have little interest in my essays now but I feel I have a moral duty to confront such issues because there are very few forums where these counter arguments are allowed. The ethos of “wokeness” compounds our ignorance.
      I would love to hear more from you.

    2. I can’t quite understand why you have a problem with Ted’s views on this topic. He’s simply telling the objective truth when it comes to the question of biological sex. I refuse to use the word ‘gender’, because it’s currently used to blur the lines of reality, like so much woke language.

      I worked in medicine for 42 years, so I’m pretty familiar with human biology. Simply saying it’s so, does not make a man a woman. If a transgender woman in 2023 dies and is buried in a ball gown and tiara, anyone who exhumed the body in 2123 would be in no doubt that the body is that of a male.

      I have no problem with transgender individuals. In most cases they simply live quietly and mind their own business. Naturally, I’ve worked with various transgender people during my career. What I have a problem with, are those who who want to play women’s sport and use female toilets and change rooms. There is no situation in which these things are okay.

      So, as I say, what is the problem with Ted’s view of transgender activists? He’s simply telling the incontrovertible truth. In this debate, there’s no room for emotion. As Ben Shapiro would say: ‘Facts don’t care about your feelings’.

  3. It is worth noting that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was initially condemned and castigated, even by many of his fellow writers, for his open exposure of the growing insanity and loss of intuition and clear reasoning that had grown unchecked in its ideological control of his country under Stalinist socialism and communism. He was considered to be negative and overly critical by his more nervous comrades who actually agreed with him in principle but were too afraid to speak openly about what was obvious, even to them. However, Solzhenitsyn would not be silenced and he, amongst others of course, was later lauded in Russia, and even by the early Putin, as having played a great role in bringing an end to the Stalinist era of USSR communism. His address upon receiving the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature is worth reading in full.

    I have always found your ‘voice’ to be gracious, clear and forthright — and ultimately with positive intent. Thank you for your courage to remain sane in this age of increasingly insane ‘age of unreason’.

  4. G’day Matt.

    Do you have a definition of “indigenous”? If so, I’d be interested to know what it is.

    My Australian Terrier thinks he’s a wolf.

    Is a mule a donkey, or a horse? As far as I’m aware, no, a mule is a mule.

    I have about 35 part-Aboriginal descendants. Should they worry about historical Aboriginal mistreatment, or should they apologise for the mistreatment caused by their white ancestors? Or, should they also worry about harm done to our Jewish ancestors?

    Your definition might be helpful, Matt. It would at least clear up why (and how) we are proposing to separate Australians according to Race.


    (Keith Lethbridge Snr)

  5. Ted.
    While I disagree with Matt’s views that past generations think they were the ideal model of how to live and today’s generation have it all wrong, he is entitled to his opinion.
    My view is that intergenerational societal change has always occurred and will always do so (read My Grandfather’s Clock by Jack Bacon). The challenge is trying to identify what change will be good for society and what change will be negative. History is full of both.
    With regards gender specifically, the affirmation policies at the Tavistock Institute are a case in point. While far too early to be definitive, it seems many of the young people treated under this policy were presenting with symptoms that may have suggested gender dysphoria was not their core underlying medical condition. And as a result, applying the affirmation policy seems to have caused permanent physically and psychologically damaged to individuals while their underlying condition have not been addressed or treated.
    Personally, I have yet to see any evidence society benefits from accepting ‘woke’ policies, allowing biological males to self-identifying as women, or applying affirmation policies. Happy to be wrong.

    1. Mark, thanks for your response.
      You would have to be pretty naïve to believe that, in general, past generations lived better lives than we do. On most indicators of physical well-being, eg longevity or GDP per capita there has been steady improvement over the last couple of centuries. (Read for example Superabundance by Tupy and Pooley.)
      And you are entirely correct when you write, “The challenge is trying to identify what change will be good for society and what change will be negative. History is full of both.”

      As you might recall from recent essays (Matt certainly seems to!) I have a concern that the excesses of identity politics, if left unchallenged, threaten some of our basic freedoms. And whilst I am grateful for advances in our physical welfare, I cherish my freedoms and don’t want them curtailed. My spiritual well-being is enhanced by these freedoms and I will fight diligently to maintain it.

      Let me give you a current example. Only yesterday (11/3/2023) UK feminist. Kellie Jay Keen held a rally in Sydney as part of her Australian tour, “Let Women Speak”. The rally attracted a hostile crowd of transgender activists. This must have been anticipated by the police because they had alarge contingent there (including mounted police) to ensure violence would not get out of hand.
      From press reports I gather Ms Keen’s principal messages were that women don’t have penises, men don’t have vaginas and that intervening to help young people transition their gender amounted to child abuse. Perhaps, as Matt suggests, I am an old reactionary, but I would have thought these views were shared by the majority of the population but many are afraid to say so fearing they will be denigrated by those who believe they are more politically correct.. Yet these transgender activists, who represent a minuscule proportion of the population were trying to deny Ms Keen to share these perfectly valid opinions. They made no attempt to make counterarguments but merely attempted to silence Ms Keen. This is a genuine affront to free speech and why we must speak up in its defence.

  6. Ted

    Academic point perhaps, but I was not suggeting past generations lived better lives than we do. I was referring to Matt’s proported ‘ideal model of how to live’ was in the past.
    That said, I agree with the reminder of your response.
    Please keep presenting your gracious, clear, forthright, and ultimately positive comments.

  7. Hi Ted,

    I find your sentence “But in today’s “woke” world, there seems to be a lot less clarity in the meaning of words.” to be quite funny. Is there a word more lacking in clarity than “Woke”? I have no real idea what it means! The performative Right, such as the ranters on Sky After Dark and the MAGA mob in the US think they will win elections by whipping up a frenzy over the Woke Threat. When pushed, the leading lights of the “Anti-Woke” movement cannot define what Woke is. Focus groups of swing voters in Florida I have seen don’t understand what the interviewers are talking about when they say “Woke”. The best definition I can find for it is “being reasonable, thoughtful and respectful of others, particularly those marginalized in society”. This seems to be the gist of what the interviewees I mentioned before understand “Woke” to be. Seems to be pretty good to me. I am happy to be Woke on this basis. That, of course, is not what the Ranting Right intends. “Anti-Woke” might be red meat to the right-wing base, but it is not going to win elections (or even debates) if the votes don’t know what it means.
    “Woke” is a rubbish and sinister term. Its lack of clarity is used to hide thoughts and opinions that are unpalatable to most of us and it helps people justify those opinions to themselves without having to think through the issues. Rather than use “Woke”, why not say what you mean? If you believe that it is a shame that middle-aged white Anglo men no longer completely rule the world, then just say it (we pretty much still rule the world!). I suspect that transgender people have no effect on your life other than a passing interest from the news and I also suspect that you do not have much knowledge or expertise in this area. Nonetheless, if you feel that it is important that your opinions control the lives of this very small, vulnerable and marginalized group of people, then say it out loud. If you think that the decisions about the lives of aboriginal people are best made by whites in capital cities and they are not given the opportunity themselves to manage and grow, then let’s hear it. We can then expose the real issues. This garbage term “Woke” is not helping anyone.

    1. Richard I am so pleased to hear from you.
      Maybe the adjective “woke” is not clear to you which surprises me because I know you are a very intelligent man
      No doubt it is difficult to define “woke” in simple terms, but let me try to assist you.
      “Woke” people are obsessed with being politically correct.
      They are the sort of people who want to rewrite Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton because they obsess over innocuous words in their literary offerings that they deem no longer appropriate.
      They are the sort of people who obsess over pandering to people who want to parade improbable gender differences and contort the English language by complying with their unreasonable demands to use confected pronouns to assuage their insecurities.
      They are the sort of people who help to exaggerate racial division by supporting the voice without any knowledge of indigenous dysfunction in remote communities and indulging in such facile, patronising practices as “welcome to country”.
      They are the sort of people who impinge on women’s rights by demanding biological men who decide to identify as women should have access to “women’s only” spaces and be able to compete with women in sporting events even though they have biological advantages in strength and endurance.
      They are the sort of people who support radical interventions for children confused about their gender orientation which can lead to irreversible physical and psychological damage.
      So you are probably right Richard – I can’t provide you with a succinct definition of “Wokeness” But I think I know it when I see it!

  8. Hi Ted, thanks for the reply and helping me try to solve my dilemma. Your definition hasn’t really helped me much, I’m afraid. Based on your definition, it seems that Woke is only defined by what the user of the term believes, not by the object of the accusation. There is no objective way to assess wokeness outside of the frame of reference of the user of the term. This is something you acknowledge in your last sentence.
    Calling people or a policy “woke” is meaningless to them or the adherents of the policy. If I hold a set of beliefs or support a set of policies, I won’t believe that they are politically correct. I will simply believe that they are correct, or at least the current consensus on the topic. A way forward to a better future. And “obsessed”? Well, you tell me… I don’t believe that I am obsessed about any of the policies you mention, but the current liberal view is consistent with my world view. So, am I obsessed?
    As a tool for policy change, calling someone or some policy “woke” is pointless. It will not change minds or push the debate forward. I dont think it has a place in political discourse, as it doesn’t make an effective argument. It is just a weakly targeted insult – a slur. I gave up such rhetorical techniques in the 3rd grade after getting a black eye for calling Bradley Smith a “big nose, smelly pants”.
    So what do I think “woke” is used for? I think it is just a word that gathers up the right-wing base and helps them collectively hyperventilate over issues that some “thought leader” sees as important, but the rest of us are quite comfortable with. It is just a reinforcement tool in the right-wing echo chambers of Fox News and Sky After Dark. No-one else uses the word except to express puzzlement over it.
    I completely disagree with your views on the issues raised in the rest of the post. Does that make me “Woke”? Not in my view, which is that I am correct and you are wrong. It may be that you think I am “woke”, but honestly, I can live that disappointment. “Woke” is such as silly, dishonest word.

    By the way, you might be interested in the article Jen Psaki put out on wokeness. I have put the Youtube link below.

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