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You Don’t Need To See The Documentary “What is a Woman?”

We don’t have to treat every piece of content in good faith

By Alex Mell-TaylorPublished 11 months ago 6 min read
Do you know who this is? I’m struggling to find out.

Recently the trailer for the film “What is a Woman?” has been going around. The “documentary” (a word I use loosely) is from the mind of conservative transphobe Matt Welsh (I think that’s his name, I can’t be bothered to look it up), a man who has made a history of trolling LGBTQ+ people. The documentary is not very good, and its points have been debunked thoroughly. It was also made in a very duplicitous manner, where a fake trans organization was set up to lure activists and medical professionals into interviews.

When a documentary like this one comes out, proponents usually try to pressure critics to see it for themselves before they can comment on the film. The logic behind this thought is that you don’t have the right to an opinion on something until you have consumed the source material. This position conveniently delays meaningful conversation about harmful works and increases the attention and wealth of the original creator.

This entire framing is disingenuous. When a bad-faith actor like Welsh (igami?) makes a documentary such as What is a Woman?, watching it not only gives them the attention (and money) they crave, but it forces you to take on a lot of psychic damage to please a party who has no intention in listening to you.

Here’s the truth — unless you are a reporter, influencer, researcher, or some other media person whose job is to debunk content like this, there is no reason to consume this terrible documentary. Seriously, you do not have to harm yourself for the sake of “nuance.”

I know many people believe that we should treat this as a “civil conversation” between two parties, but this frankly isn’t a one-on-one conversation. You don’t know Matt Welshagami on a personal level. He doesn’t even know that you exist, and you aren’t going to change his mind by watching his documentary.

Nor should passively consuming a piece of media be confused with the difficult work of deradicalization (i.e., reforming the worldview of someone who believes in dangerous, supremacist ideology). That requires time and a ridiculous amount of patience, and is not the same thing as consuming every hateful piece of content out there.

There is no utility in consuming this film. It would be one thing if this documentary were coming from a nobody who was making good-faith arguments, but Matt Welshberg has a history of creating similarly egregious content. We know who he is at this point. It makes no sense to give him a “benefit of the doubt” that he refuses to show to others, including some of the participants of this very documentary.

Again, he straight up lied to some of the people in this film, making them think they would be doing a documentary on the trans community when really they were part of a transphobic hack job. Much of this film involves Welshith interviewing random passersby on the street, trying to catch people off-guard with “gotcha” questions. If his ideas had any merit to them, he would have tried to argue with prepared participants, but that would require a level of rigor he does not possess. There is no intellectual or philosophical merit here. No new arguments for you to learn, just hatred.

This documentary has nothing to do with facts and logic — it’s merely a pretext to bash trans people. Welshington weaves comments from transphobic bigots, including one very sad, self-hating trans person, with people who have no idea why they are there. He lobs a series of anti-trans conspiracy theories at trans activists and medical professionals, who are not prepared to answer them because he brought them on under false pretenses. It would be like scientists being told they were being brought on for a documentary about the solar system, only to learn that the interviewer for the project is a Flat Earther. They would come in prepared to answer basic science 101 questions, only to have to wrap their head around fringe beliefs they had never heard before. That’s the work of a prepared media relations expert, not a scientist.

This documentary only has niche merit in the sociological sense of trying to understand how a hate movement thinks. It should not be thought of as meaningfully trying to deconstruct the concept of gender. Learning gender from What is a Woman? is akin to learning about geopolitics from a QAnon adherent or consent from the Catholic Church. It’s just not a good idea.

If you genuinely want to learn about gender, consider reading bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody, Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, or Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I also highly recommend YouTuber Lily Alexandre’s What Are Women? if you want to watch something instead. All of these put more effort into understanding this concept than Matt Welshnic has in this documentary (side note: I also wrote an explainer about nonbinary identity that you might want to read).

Yet perhaps the most crucial reason I think you shouldn’t watch What is a Woman? is that consuming content like this is mentally draining. I have written many articles monitoring the far-right as well as hateful media, such as Dave Chapelle’s The Closer. I can tell you that consuming the “arguments” by these figures is exhausting, especially if you belong to a marginalized identity where your existence is repeatedly disparaged and invalidated by them. I still cringe at some transphobic memes I have seen from far-right reactionaries because they are designed to hurt people like me. They do not make me feel very good about myself, and this mild trauma is a drain on my psyche.

However, I do this work because I am a person who has made comments on the Internet and media shenanigans my job. Significantly few people fall into that category, and so I question giving Matt Welsh’s quite frankly subpar documentary any of your time and attention when it can be devoted to more productive things: join a mutual aid group; work in a political campaign; volunteer for an organization; try to de-platform a far-right reactionary with power or deradicalize one who doesn’t. Any of these things will be more valuable than consuming harmful, poorly-researched content purposely designed to trigger you.

At the end of the day, that’s what Matt Welsh wants — for you to be triggered. He wants you to give him an angry reaction that he can mine for content and possibly even use to feed into his persecution complex. I am asking you not to give him all of that power. He’s not worth it.

P.S. I just realized I misspelled his name. So sorry about that, Matt [email protected]


About the Creator

Alex Mell-Taylor

I write long-form pieces on timely themes inside entertainment, pop culture, video games, gender, sexuality, race and politics. My writing currently reaches a growing audience of over 10,000 people every month across various publications.

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  • Emily Dickerson11 months ago

    I liked the documentary! Matt Walsh put together lot of interesting viewpoints from people all over the country and globe who had really interesting things to say. I'm glad you wrote this article, too. I'm truly sorry you were triggered by it and that it came off as a hateful transphobic "hack job" in your eyes. While Walsh is quite well known for being a prankster, I think some of the information in the documentary was really useful. I particularly was touched by Scott Nugent's testimony that her life has been changed drastically and that she is going to be a big pharma customer for life because of her surgeries. I did want to comment on one line you wrote: "If his ideas had any merit to them, he would have tried to argue with prepared participants, but that would require a level of rigor he does not possess." - Matt Walsh sent the questions to the interviewees ahead of time. I could find a video clip of him talking about it if you'd like proof that he wasn't trying to ambush anyone with difficult or "gotcha questions." Thanks again for the article, I look forward to discussing more with you! <3

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