The late Andrea Dworkin — a serious, if imperfect, thinker — once said that real feminism is a “political practice” advancing the interests of women,
. . . including all the women you don’t like, including all the women you don’t want to be around, including all the women who used to be your best friends whom you don’t anything to do with anymore.
It doesn’t matter who the individual women are. They all have the same vulnerability to rape, to battery, as children to incest. Poorer women have more vulnerability to prostitution, which is basically a form of sexual exploitation that is intolerable in an egalitarian society, which is the society we are fighting for.
These words come to mind as I consider the life of Magdalen Berns — a 36-year-old woman living in Edinburgh, Scotland — who was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor last year and who has recently entered into palliative care. If true feminism is the kind articulated here by Dworkin, then Berns has been a significant contributor.
Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that a person’s value can be measured by their online presence. Nonetheless, Berns is a captivating and insightful speaker. And her YouTube channel — with over 30,000 subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views — continues to be a great source of inspiration and clarity for those trying to resist gender extremism. At one point, she piqued the interest of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling who was subsequently attacked by activists for following Berns, a supposedly “proud YouTube transphobe,” on Twitter.
Berns has also exposed the bully-boy tactics of well-known gender extremists. For instance, as Berns lies dying, Rachel McKinnon — who won the women’s cycling world championship despite being a man — implied in a tweet that Berns is “a trash human” and “maybe [should] live by the maxim whereby ‘Don’t be the sort of person who people you’ve harmed are happy you’re dying of brain cancer.’” McKinnon has previously attacked the tennis star Martina Navratilova for her views on men competing in women’s sports in similarly unpleasant terms.
Berns certainly pulls no punches on gender extremism. “You don’t get ‘assigned’ reproductive organs,” she says in one video, “males are defined by their biological sex organs. Likewise, homosexuals are people who are attracted to the same biological sex.” But she delivers her message with common decency and sense. Not to mention humor.
It’s no insult to Berns, I hope, to observe that in many respects she has led an ordinary life. Like most of us, she’s fallen in and out of love (with women, in her case); studied hard and partied harder; thrown herself into jobs, deep-dived into politics, and called out cruelty and hypocrisy within her own ranks (the political Left). More important, Berns has given voice to the voiceless. Though I’ve never met her personally, from following her on YouTube, and from talking to her friends, it’s clear that she is a true life enhancer.
From those who know her and her work:
You were the voice for many who had none.
You’re a trail-blazer you changed my life and my daughter’s life.
You helped me accept myself, I’ll always be grateful.
You lit a flame that will never go out.
Your fearlessness, tenacity and humour enabled me to roar like a lion.
How’d they fit all that legendary into someone so short?
Brave warrior woman, you’ll never be forgotten.
You made us laugh, made us angry, made us think.
Berns is facing death in the same spirit that she faced everything else in life — with superhuman courage. From one of her videos before she lost the power of speech,
I love you guys and I love the community that I’ve created here, and I hope it continues . . . For other people to do the same and stand up for what you believe in. Because, as I’ve always said, there’s a lot more to worry about than being called silly names.
God bless you, pal. Till the very end.