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Oxfam board game controversy 

Words by Aine Eastwood

Well, here we are. Another day, another outcry because someone, somewhere, acknowledged that transgender people exist. This time, the well-known charity shop Oxfam has found itself at the mercy of the ‘gender-critical’ mob (the politically correct term for ‘transphobes’). These critics have denounced the charity and seem all but ready to storm the shops with pitchforks and torches- all over a board game.

The story began early last week. News broke on Twitter and in tabloids that the charity chain would be removing a board game entitled Wonder Women (which included figures like Jane Austen, Marie Curie, and Rosa Parks) from its shelves. Oxfam’s reasoning behind pulling the game was somewhat vague, saying they removed the game because of ‘concerns raised by trans and non-binary colleagues,’ but not specifying what those concerns were.

Those who had heard the news were left to make up their own minds about the reasons behind this. Featured in the game was Harry Potter author JK Rowling (who not only doubled but tripled down on her transphobic views last summer), and so there was the narrative. Oxfam pulled the game because trans people hate JK Rowling.

Unsurprisingly, the decision was met with immense criticism and anger from gender-critical circles. Unlike the trans community and its allies, these circles hail Rowling as a hero. After penning her “essay” last summer, she became more or less the face of the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) movement. Rowling was celebrated for taking such a brave stance, if you believe that displaying contempt for trans people is something brave, that is.

For this particular group, the issue extends beyond Rowling. Since this incident was just another example of the trans movement ‘erasing women and their achievements’. Once again, the woke crowd was coming in and destroying the progress of second-wave feminism. The charity were branded as cowards at best and misogynists at worst. Many proud self-proclaimed feminists announced they would never buy from Oxfam again.

Except, as it turns out, the issue had little to do with Rowling at all. After an anonymous Oxfam volunteer reached out and shared the story on Twitter, it became clear that the real issue people had with the game was the inclusion of Canadian actor Elliot Page. You may remember in December of last year, Page came out as transgender, and so it’s not difficult to see why his inclusion in the game made trans and non-binary colleagues uncomfortable. It’s not unreasonable to be upset that a trans man was included in a game about inspirational women, and that he was dead-named too.

It should be noted that the game was made before Page’s transition and that due to a rushed process, the game was not well-checked by Oxfam staff. It seems to be more of an unfortunate mistake on Oxfam’s part rather than a malicious attack, and the Oxfam employee treated it as such in the statement. Furthermore, as soon as the news got back to the company that produced the game, a replacement was commissioned and offered to Oxfam.

So in truth, the situation is nowhere near as dramatic as the TERF crowd made it out to be. Oxfam did not pull the game because trans people hate JK Rowling. Although would it really be unfair of trans people to be upset that a woman actively helping to take away their rights is being called inspirational? Nor was it an attack on women’s achievements. It was simply a case of not wanting a trans man to be included in a game about women, something you’d think these proud “feminists” would agree with wholeheartedly.

It might be easy just to laugh at this and move on. However, this incident reveals uncomfortable truths about the goals of gender-critical feminism and its standing in the British media.  

The Twittersphere was full of gender-critical feminists disavowing Oxfam. They promised to avoid shopping there in the future, and cancel their monthly payments. One former volunteer at the shop even handed in her notice, citing this incident as the reason. The response from these circles was deep, emotional, and, on the surface, rooted in a righteous cause. However, it doesn’t take long for this to fall apart (really, it only takes about three seconds of critical thinking).

Oxfam is far from the only charity in the UK, but it is one of the leading ones. And it has a particular focus on advancing women’s rights in developing countries. Whilst it is not exempt from criticism, seeing so many self-righteous feminists turn their backs on it completely, vowing never to darken the door of an Oxfam shop again, doesn’t give the movement a particularly strong image.

With this move, the gender-critical movement is sending the clear message that their contempt for trans people outweighs any other principle. If people still doubt that this so-called “movement” is a hate movement, and that it is simply trying to “protect” women, this should be pretty strong evidence. The push to ‘cancel’ a charity shop because they dared to show support for their trans and non-binary colleagues demonstrates a clear, chilling, prioritisation of their anti-trans agenda over anything else. Including work that improves women’s rights.

Even more unnerving is how mainstream media treated the entire episode. The gender-critical crowd, despite their self-pitying cries about how “women’s voices are being erased,” have been receiving more than their fair share of support from the press.

Maya Forstater (who you may remember had JK Rowling’s support last year) took to talkRADIO to accuse Oxfam of “changing their definition of women,” as well as flat out saying that trans women are not women. GB news had a presenter slam Oxfam as spineless, disrespectful, and misogynistic. In both instances, the issue of Elliot Page’s inclusion and dead-naming was not the focus of the argument, if mentioned at all. Instead, the narrative was one outrage at women’s lack of representation, at the expense of trans women.

Now, I believe in a free press that shows both sides of the debate, even those I disagree with. What I do not believe in is the press platforming bigoted views and actively spreading harmful misinformation. You’d like to think public news channels such as these would require people to do their research before going on air, but that appears not to be the case. Even Sky News ran the story with a misleading headline that directly fed the transphobic beast. It fuelled the narrative of trans activists threatening women’s voices.

It’s deeply disheartening and infuriating to see the mainstream media play this game of faux neutrality with the façade of ally ship. At the same time they’re amplifying anti-trans voices and pushing trans people into the role of villain. This is having a detrimental effect on the fight for women’s liberation. The gender-critical crowd can play the “gagged woman” card all they like, but this instance is just one of many that proves that when the chips are down, they can count on the mainstream media to be in their corner.

The irony of this, of the people who mock others for being “too sensitive” losing their marbles over a board game, should be funny. If only the implications weren’t so unsettling.

Tags: boardgame controversy, charity, feminism, J.K. Rowling, Oxfam, TERFS, transphobia

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