The Butler Did It – a Review of Material Girls by Kathleen Stock

Material Girls is the new book by academic philosopher Kathleen Stock OBE, professor of philosophy at Sussex University. It is an essential read if you want to understand what the current transgender debate is all about and why there is conflict with women’s groups and feminists. If you cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would consider it fair to allow a male person to compete against a woman in female sport, then here you will find the background to how seemingly impossible beliefs such as these have come to dominate certain sections of ‘progressive’ politics. If you are shocked at the sudden proliferation of ‘gender-neutral’ toilets where there used to be single-sex facilities, and wonder where that trend is coming from; if you are surprised at the increasing number of press reports on ‘female’ sex offenders; if you have noticed the use of dehumanising words such as ‘menstruators’ where the word ‘woman’ used to be, or if your favourite organisation, business or political party seem to suddenly be falling over themselves to be more rainbow-washed than the next one, here are some of the answers.

It’s a fascinating story, based in academia but so well written that it feels like reading a detective novel in places: what’s going to happen next?! The ‘eight key moments in the rapid intellectual onset of gender identity theory’ (as well as containing a delicious joke) is a tour de force. We get a whistle-stop tour of theories from the most influential thinkers in the field, including Anne Fausto-Stirling, Judith Butler and Julia Serano, and the results in some places are mind-boggling. When people complain about academics ‘sitting in their ivory towers’ and informing policy on the ground which is entirely divorced from reality, this is surely a case of that, with knobs on. Despite being an account of academic theories, for non-academics the writing is fresh and accessible and, most importantly in a debate which specialises in deliberately obfuscating meanings, it has clarity. Such clarity. Terms and concepts are defined. I can’t tell you how much of a treat this is.

Stock has both sympathy and criticism for the concerns of trans people and of radical feminists, and she brings her own philosophical speciality to the debate with her concept of ‘immersion in fiction’. This reframing of the transgender experience is original and thought-provoking, keeping a distance as it tries to do from any position which is so entrenched as to be non-negotiable. It’s so thought-provoking that I haven’t made up my mind about the idea yet, to be honest, but I am always happy to have a new concept to ponder. The aim as I understand it is to move away from the polarising positions of ‘Transwomen are women’ and ‘Transwomen are men’, (TWAW v TWAM) as taken respectively by transactivists and radical feminists. It is not, to my reading, a proposal of compromise in terms of women’s sex-based rights (Stock makes it clear as the book concludes that sex as a concept is crucial and necessary and we must keep it to do the job it needs to do). It’s definitely not a proposal of compromise as to the meaning of the word ‘woman’, which Stock defends for the same reason she defends ‘sex’. What it is though, is a proposal to clear some ground for debate, in order that some mutual concerns might have room to be addressed.

To this end, in the most unsympathetic part of the book for radical feminists, there is a critique of some of the ideas expressed by Julia Long. I am a big fan of Julia Long but she is a controversial figure because she speaks her mind, calls a spade a spade and won’t be made to shut up. That’s partly why I like her. Stock’s criticism sees Long as the ‘extreme’ end of a polarised debate, but many feminists would argue that the material truth is not an extreme position to take, and that enough linguistic and conceptual ground has already been lost. Still, there had to be some criticism of a feminist scholar in order to balance the demolition of practically every major queer theorist out there. Long’s work is quoted at length and some readers will hopefully be inspired to go and find out more. If part of the aim of mainstream feminist writing is to raise consciousness there will be some readers that Long speaks to and some that Stock speaks to. I, like many others, value the ideas of both.

There has inevitably been some feminist criticism based on this part of the book (which I now have to refer to as *that bit*) and some of it I agree with. I don’t for example accept that there is ‘frequent casual denigration of trans women’s characters.’ It may be that the overall criticism of transgenderism as a movement, as personified by the writing of Sheila Jeffreys and Julia Long for example, will of necessity be critical of the men within it, but it seems to me that there has been a huge effort on the part of the majority of ‘gender critical’ feminists to be respectful under conditions of extreme provocation. Stock has personal experience of this, having been subject to hateful campaigns against her both at her place of work and on social media, simply for suggesting that sex and gender are a suitable subject for philosophical debate. I understand that she may be criticising one specific branch of radical feminist theory here, and not the general conduct of women on Twitter, but it is hard to stomach nonetheless when the general level of abuse is so one-sided.

The claim that there is a ‘commonplace suggestion, without evidence, that any trans woman’s reasons for transition are likely to be malign’ has produced the most anger, particularly from groups such as Transwidows who have suffered the most personal, private and misunderstood abuse. In a book which is so thorough in the clarity of its language it is a shame that this one statement is so open to misunderstanding. The word ‘any’ here can be read as the suggestion that ‘all’ trans woman’s reasons are likely to be malign, whereas I think it actually means ‘any particular’ trans woman’s reasons are likely to be malign. I might be wrong here, and it may make no difference to some people, but I think it’s an important distinction because there is plenty of evidence for many of the claims being made and it is misleading to suggest that’s not the case. Not least because Stock herself in her conclusion calls on, amongst other things, more evidence to be gathered on the experiences of transwidows in order to define what their political needs are. I don’t believe she intended to belittle their experiences and I think this line has been misunderstood.

On balance though, this is a mainstream publication from an academic philosopher, and looking critically at both sides of an argument comes with the territory, or it should. So much of the debate has been shut down that this is a welcome development and a courageous project from the publisher. I suspect that the book will continue to upset trans activists far more than radical feminists because after looking with a critical eye at evidence from both sides of the divide, Stock comes down firmly on the side of material reality.

In my reading of it, this is not a book which asks for compromise, at least not in the area of women’s rights, including our right to define ourselves. It presents an alternative conceptual worldview to the TWAW/TWAM binary, without telling anyone to ‘be nice’. It presents the thorny question of language as a matter of common humanity rather than necessarily a political ‘gotcha’. The feminist use of TWAM has come about of necessity, in order to reclaim the truth in an argument over language which has up until now disadvantaged women. In that sense it can be defended: clearly in terms of material reality TWAW is false and TWAM is true. Take the language further than that though and you are in the realms of opinion pitted against opinion, or theory v theory, less easy to defend to a mainstream audience and some of it pejorative: for example ‘innate souls’ v ‘delusion’ or ‘marginalised minority’ v ‘men’s sexual rights movement’. In the area of children and young people there is an understandable wish to counteract the bland obfuscating language of ‘top surgery’ and ‘bottom surgery’ but in Stock’s view it is a mistake to go to the other extreme and use shocking terms like ‘mutilation’, if only because it can alienate the young people we want to reach. I see Stock’s argument here as one which seeks to take the emphasis of the debate away from this binary, to sidestep the two extremes, and to create a space of shared experience where the conversation can happen. As I believe the conversation needs to happen, and women need to be consulted as stakeholders in it, I see this as a positive suggestion.

This is absolutely not the same thing as asking for a compromise on rights. By analysing both sides so thoroughly Stock gives more, not less, credence to her conclusion that sex matters, and that where sex matters it really matters. The evidence for and against is laid out and the result is clear: gender identity as a concept cannot and must not take the place of sex as a concept. The book taken as a whole, notwithstanding *that bit*, succeeds to my mind in moving the Overton window of what it is acceptable to think in this controversial debate. Stock has very clearly positioned herself in the centre of the debate and in doing so she has shown that it it is the centre, not an extreme fringe, which supports women’s rights. The central ground, which a lot of readers will be able to relate to as the reasonable place to be, takes it for granted that retaining women’s right to self-define and the right to legislation based on sex is a starting point, not a negotiation. The brilliant thing is, she makes it all seem so obvious.

13/05/2021 Edited to include this screenshot because I keep having to explain it wasn’t my joke. Full credit goes to Kathleen Stock. It still makes me laugh.

‘Trutrans’ and the Question of Compromise

As the rights of trans people are being endlessly examined, discussed and made the subject of official inquiries, women are yet again being asked to compromise.

The segregation of spaces and services by sex is under sustained attack for not being ‘inclusive’ enough, and to this end it is currently being framed solely from the perspective of those being ‘left out.’ It sounds mean when presented that way: it sounds like mean girls are manning the barricades and pushing other people away, meanly. At the same time it is increasingly being claimed that trans people have used the facilities which match their ‘gender identity’ for decades with no adverse effect. The inference is that everyone was happy with the arrangement until a sudden unprovoked uproar from feminists threatened to ruin it for everyone else, who up until that point were getting along just fine thank you.

Firstly, if true, this contradicts the assertion that trans people are currently being prevented from being their true selves and living authentic lives, and it begs the question: In that case what exactly is being fought for? Why did things need to change?

Secondly, if true, the fact that so far males have been accessing facilities put aside for women means that female-only spaces have been used without our consent, and this not only throws into question the justification for continuing the practice, but also demonstrates such a lack of respect and sensitivity towards women that it is evidence if anything that we should double down on protecting these spaces even more.

Thirdly, if true, past experience is no longer especially relevant in today’s ‘trans umbrella’ world, where part-time cross-dressers, transvestites, ‘gender fluid’ and ‘non-binary’ people are now included in the list of people who are women if they say they are. Moving from a historically tiny number of transsexual males who presented with some form of visual ‘transition’, to an effective free-for-all of different gender identities, renders the evidence of the past null and void. Today, on numbers alone there is bound to be more of an impact.

It is a possibility of course that the ‘no adverse effect’ argument is not quite true. It’s quite possible that the presence of an unexpected male in a toilet or changing room has had quite an effect on an individual woman, whether or not she makes a fuss or reports it. There are anecdotal stories to support this view, although no official figures reflect it. Women seldom report violations of their privacy, even extreme ones, but that doesn’t mean that women or girls have not felt frightened or anxious, and it doesn’t mean women or girls have not self-excluded from a service as a result.

The ‘no adverse effect’ argument is also undermined by the trans movement’s extremely combative distrust of women. If women’s spaces had already been graciously ceded, we wouldn’t need the outrageously prescriptive trans inclusion guides produced for businesses and schools, designed to enforce a narrow range of approved beliefs. The alleged historical acceptance of male transsexuals in women’s spaces is simply not compatible with such an authoritarian clamp-down on our speech, behaviour and thoughts. It doesn’t make sense if it had previously all been going so well. Surely the trans movement could have built on the established trust of women, who were already being ‘inclusive’, rather than using bullying and silencing tactics and emotional manipulation? That’s how you treat an enemy, not a friend.

So far then, I’m not convinced that the history of sharing women’s spaces is as hunky dory as it’s being made out to be. I think it is being misrepresented partly in order to suggest that trans rights are being rolled back, which they’re not, and partly to suggest that any opposition to more ‘inclusion’ must be coming from a place of transphobia and bigotry rather than any genuine concern for women and women’s boundaries.

From a woman’s point of view, the trans activists are looking at it from the wrong angle. From our perspective we are not pushing anyone out, we are simply reiterating the fact that we have boundaries, and reminding everyone that these are historically and legally based on biological sex. There might be other ways of distinguishing between human beings, but in terms of safety, privacy and dignity, sex seems to fit the bill most accurately and include the most number of people. Everyone has a sex. We could try to distinguish by gender identity instead, as is being proposed, but this would be so ‘inclusive’ as to not leave any boundaries at all. Maybe that’s the point.

The arguments in favour of gender identity are often based on the idea that sex is not always accurately discernible and therefore mistakes can be made: a common claim is that butch lesbians might be read as male for example and barred from a woman-only space. This is a spurious argument: no lesbian that I have ever spoken to has confirmed that this happens, but more importantly it inadvertently backs up the need for sex distinction. If ‘gender identity’ was the criterion for access to a space there would be far more risk of making mistakes of this kind, because gender is a spectrum and infinitely variable. In some cases you would probably have to look into someone’s soul in order to get their gender right.

The process of assessing someone’s ‘gender identity’ has much more scope for personal and individual offence because it becomes more about the individual than the category, and relies on how well someone ‘passes’ or how much we feel we can trust someone’s innermost beliefs about themselves. Everyone who doesn’t ‘look right’ would effectively be on trial. This would lead to exactly what trans people say they don’t want: a policing of gender expression. As it stands, in public facilities which are separated by sex we don’t police users, we rely on a common understanding of sex differences and a willingness to play by the rules. Men therefore are trusted to avoid using women’s facilities and any man who breaks the rules can be legitimately called out on his transgression. The pull of societal norms is so strong that most people comply. Those that don’t are immediately objects of suspicion, and that is what works to keep women as safe as is possible. Just because the system isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we should opt for an even less perfect one.

If you argue for the inclusion of ‘some’ males, and those males can now opt to identify as women full-time or part-time, can have had some surgery or no surgery, can be on hormones or not, can be dressed in a typically masculine or feminine way, can be bearded or clean shaven, can feel like neither a man nor a woman, or can change depending on the day of the week, then there is no way of policing which males are admissable and which are not. To avoid transphobic ‘mistakes’ you would have to admit any man who wanted to enter. We would go from a strict sex binary, understandable by the majority of people, to a situation where nobody could be challenged by anyone. In other words, single-sex spaces would be unenforceable and they would effectively cease to exist.

The belief that anyone is trans who says they are is a cornerstone of trans ideology, which is currently being taught in schools and offices all over the UK, but it is this dogma which will make a compromise solution almost impossible to achieve. Amongst women, the ‘Not my Nigel’ claim was notoriously used by a minority as an argument for making an exception of the ‘good men’, but most people recognise the impossibility of differentiating between good men and bad and so a blanket ban has remained. A similar argument looks set to rear its head in the trans debate, between ‘good trans’ and ‘bad trans’, between the ‘original’ transsexuals and the whole other newer range of transgender identities: ‘Not my Trutrans’ we could call it. However, the transactivist movement, in its insistence that all trans identities are equally ‘valid’, has effectively shot itself in the foot. It has become impossible to take a Karen White for example, and to say ‘this sort of trans person should be kept away from women but not that sort of trans person over there’ because this would involve gatekeeping, and gatekeeping is transphobic. It would make some trans identities less valid than others and it would mean not believing some people’s claims about their own gender identities. Who decides who to believe and who not to believe? Not women, that’s for sure: the new rules insist that every individual knows their own gender identity best.

Women have never claimed that all male transgender people are sex offenders, despite the accusations; but we have watched as trans advocates publicly and uncritically welcome sex offenders and other abusers under their new trans umbrella. Uncritical acceptance includes everyone, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for Ian Huntley from trans activists over a story which would later appear to be fake news. Trans ideology represents the antithesis of safety policy for women: the current measures in place (legislated for in the Equality Act) mean that ‘all men are excluded’ to ensure the exclusion of the dangerous ones, whereas trans policy means that ‘all trans people are validated and included’ which ensures the inclusion of the dangerous ones. Women’s safety has historically been allowed to trump the disgruntled feelings of some men who feel unfairly maligned; we are now in danger of allowing the feelings of some trans-identified males to trump women’s safety. A complete reversal.

As more and more women become aware of the attack on their rights, the trans movement is on the path to becoming a victim of its own extreme dogma. Insistence on 100% belief in individual testimony as a basic tenet so integral to trans acceptance that you are a transphobe if you don’t subscribe to it, has ensured that, for the sake of women’s safety, 100% of males identifying as trans have to be excluded. The old understanding, if it ever existed, where transsexual males used women’s toilets and women allowed this ‘honorary woman’ status as a nod of respect towards the length and difficulty of the transition process, will no longer work now that transsexuals have no more legitimacy than Eddie Izzard on a nail varnish day. The trans rights groups have achieved this, not feminists.

It is a really salient point, not to be dismissed, that feminists will at least argue over whether women can afford to be ‘inclusive’ and if so, to what degree. There are schisms within feminism and the larger ‘gender critical’ movement over exactly this point, and this is at least evidence of a willingness to look for solutions to conflicting needs, even if it leads to a feminist falling-out. Stonewall and the other trans lobby groups on the other hand will not countenance any argument over the validity of anyone’s ‘gender identity,’ nor consequently any compromise at all over the issue of women’s safety. ‘Transwomen are women’ is the mantra which kills the conversation and gives women no choice, and ‘transphobia’ is newly-defined as a refusal to say it. Politicians who parrot this mantra and then say the debate is toxic and has more heat than light are blind to their own complicity in it.

The #NoDebate tactics of the trans lobby have never worked to still the robust debate amongst women over the ‘trutrans’ issue. It is Stonewall et al who have made this disagreement between women more or less academic, because they have left us no choice over the answer. It doesn’t matter if you have a trans friend and it doesn’t matter if your trans friend is one of the good ones: we have been prevented from making any nuanced judgement by the trans lobby groups themselves. Even if you believe that some trans-identifying males are more ‘deserving’ than others, even if you believe in ‘meaningful transition’, it’s not up to you to make that judgement. Trans people themselves who question the dogma or support women’s rights are equally wrong. Trans advocates are very clear about this: ‘trutrans’ quickly becomes ‘truscum’, the trans community will not even debate with its own.

The refusal of trans lobby groups to acknowledge the risk inherent in uncritical acceptance of self-ID makes it effectively impossible to discuss any compromise. The uncompromising 100% of Stonewall’s ‘acceptance without exception’ leaves only one possible outcome. In order to keep women as safe as possible, when it comes to women’s spaces and services we have no choice but to retain the 100% sex distinction without exception.

Objections to ‘Cis’

Many women have written eloquently over the years about their objection to the word ‘cis’. According to those who wish to impose it on us, it is just the equivalent of using the word ‘straight’ to define yourself if you are not gay: without this word some people might be tempted to use the word ‘normal’ for their sexuality, thus positioning the other as ‘abnormal’. So far so understandable, but there’s a fundamental difference in the function of the words ‘straight’ and ‘cis’. ‘Straight’ has a definable meaning, which is ‘heterosexual: attracted to the opposite sex’. Even if homosexuality did not exist, heterosexuality would still be a meaningful definition – you don’t have to believe in homosexuality for heterosexuality to exist.

‘Cis’ however, does depend on a belief system to make it meaningful, and it is this which makes it more than a neutral descriptor. Cis is short for cisgendered, and the usual definition (apart from ‘not trans’) is having ‘a gender which matches your sex assigned at birth’. Immediately there are two major assumptions to challenge: sex is not ‘assigned’ at birth, it is recorded, and ‘gender’ is a concept which is rejected by many people and is in any case impossible to define. Calling me cisgender does not just say I am someone who is ‘not trans’, it ties me in to a belief system I don’t share and which I see as actively harmful, especially to women and girls. This is a perfectly understandable reason to reject the word ‘cis’ and that should be the end of it… but there’s more.

The unwanted labelling of ‘cis’ is enforced whether you like it or not. Many women object to being demoted to a subset of their own sex class, when previously the word ‘woman’ was sufficient and carried meaning. For a movement dedicated to the idea of always believing that people are what they say they are, there is a notable lack of acceptance of the position ‘I’m not cis’. According to the ideology you have to be either cis or trans, and this imposition of gender is one of the things that is most regressive about trans ideology. I didn’t spend a lifetime trying to escape the confines of the feminine gender box only to be forced into the restrictive cisgender box instead.

If you’re forced to accept the word ‘cis’ then you have to concede that women come in both male and female varieties. ‘Cis’ is the other side of the coin to the ‘transwomen are women’ mantra, in that it ensures the category of women contains both sexes. In this system a ‘transwoman’ is a male woman and a ‘cis woman’ is a female woman, and these are now equal subsets of the category ‘woman’. Cis is doing the job of letting men into the female sex class, and it means you can no longer be just a woman, you have to make a choice over what sex of woman you are.

An argument I have been seeing more frequently when women object to men in their spaces, is that it’s not ‘cis men’ who will be allowed in, but ‘transwomen’. Cis works here to differentiate between the men who are really male (cis men) and those who are really female (transwomen), and at the same time it puts ‘transwomen’ and women into the same category. However, without the belief system which says that women can come in both male and female varieties, it is not always possible on the ground to tell the difference between a ‘cis man’ and a ‘transwoman’, especially now that the bandwidth of ‘trans’ has been widened so exponentially. In accepting the word ‘cis’ you have lost the means to differentiate between men and women, because they both now come in both sexes.

Question: “What is the difference betweeen a cis man and a transwoman?”

Answer: “His say so”.

Once ‘cis’ has done its job of mixing up the sexes into a new gender-determined classification, a much bigger problem becomes clear. The two subsets of women (cis and trans) turn out to be not so equal after all. Cis is being used to posit an axis of oppression which subverts the usual order of things and places females as the oppressors of males: if women come in both cis and trans varieties it’s the cis ones who have the privilege. Cis privilege means that cis people oppress trans people, so it naturally follows that males are the most oppressed of all women. Once that’s established, then it’s clear that female women, with all their privilege, can no longer be allowed to organise alone without their male ‘sisters’. Groups like ‘Sisters not Cisters’ have sprung up to make sure we can never have anything just for ourselves ever again.

The result is that women are increasingly being called out when they prioritise ‘female women’, or leave out ‘male women’, in activities which were formerly perfectly well-understood as women-only. What once would have been celebrated as progressive for centering women, helping to promote justice, level the playing field or correct the male default, is now a sign of ‘transphobia’. Karen Ingala-Smith suffers periodic abusive Twitter pile-ons because her ‘Counting Dead Women’ project does just that, and Jean Hatchet endures a similar fate for her ‘Ride for Murdered Women’ fundraising bike rides. The Twitter accounts of ‘Women’s Art’ and ‘Great Women of Mathematics’ have had similar attacks from trans allies who cannot bear to see the word ‘woman’ being used without the inclusion of men. International Women’s Day has become just another opportunity on social media to insist that males must be included in the category of women.

It’s a double bind: we are apparently expected to adopt the categorisation of ‘cis women’ but then we are not allowed to organise as ‘cis women’.

Trans people on the other hand are allowed to have meetings and days of rememberance, days of visibility, and all manner of trans-only events and celebrations, without bomb threats or violence or protest. ‘Inclusion’ of other categories is not demanded of trans groups, it’s only demanded of women. When we are lambasted for ‘excluding’, there is no recognition that we are losing something we are entitled to, and often something we rely on. ‘Women-only’ has meant a place of safety or of sanctuary or of healing ever since second wave feminists fought for our rights as women, decades ago.

The Women’s Institute is the latest women’s organisation to come out as trans inclusive, which means it is no longer women-only. It is not just the case that women’s organisations have the choice whether or not to include males, it is now the fact that any which decide not to are hounded until they give in, or forever have to accept the label of bigoted transphobes. We are very nearly at the point where whenever we do anything for women we will have to include men. Many women are happy with this, actively wishing to include men who identify as women, and this is their choice. The choice though, for women who don’t want to, or can’t, include men, is dwindling. These women are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable: sexual abuse or domestic violence survivors, prisoners, women who need refuge and women of particular faiths for example. For other women it’s just a matter of preference: the presence of males in the room makes a difference: men dominate, they talk louder, they interrupt more; sometimes you don’t want that; increasingly it’s being forced on you.

The implications of this are far-reaching. When services are advertised as ‘women-only’, or expected to be so because of social convention, then a possibility arises that a woman needing a male-free environment, for whatever reason, will at some point come across an unexpected male, possibly when she is in a state of undress or otherwise vulnerable. Very few women in this position will know what the new rules are. Not everyone is on Twitter. No woman can say on behalf of any other woman that it is now ok for ‘women-only’ to mean ‘both sexes.’ Nobody has that right. Each woman gives consent for herself and herself alone.

The equality law in the UK works by protecting certain characteristics that have traditionally suffered discrimination. Although ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic can be used to protect either sex, in reality sex discrimination mostly discriminates against women. The fundamental basis of women’s rights is a distinction between the sexes, allowing single-sex spaces and services where this is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’ It is the service which is judged by these criteria, not the individual wishing to use it, and up until now the aim of providing a healing space in which to recover from male violence has always met those criteria. Single-sex spaces are therefore ‘allowed’ by the law, even if the provision of them discriminates against another protected group.

It has been suggested many times (as a serious argument) that the aim to keep women’s toilets and changing rooms women-only would entail a policing of people’s genitals at the doorway, as if we were not very good at determining the sex of anyone we come across without checking their chromosomes or looking inside their pants first. Pictures of ‘passing transwomen’ are rolled out as a ‘Gotcha’, as though the successful feminisation of a single man disproves the male and female sex binary. It doesn’t though; quite the opposite: it highlights just how difficult it is to escape the confines of biological sex, with its combination of obvious and subtle visual differences. The problem is that you may say ‘transwoman’ but we see ‘male.’

What’s the difference again, between a ‘cis man’ and a ‘transwoman’?

His say so.

There is no definition of ‘ciswomen’ in law. ‘Ciswomen’ is not a protected characteristic. Choosing to use the definition ‘cis’ turns ‘woman’ into a two-sex category for which the law cannot deliver single-sex protection. Arguably, that’s the whole point of it. The protected category of sex becomes unworkable, and with it women’s basic rights. Distinct rights for women become impossible if ‘women’ includes ‘men’. If the use of the word ‘cis’ becomes normalised, then as females we will always be yoked to males.

Every manifestation of the word ‘cis’ is detrimental to women. There are no benefits. We have everything to lose. Don’t give in, don’t use the term ‘ciswomen’.

Why Can’t Women Just Be Nice?

How nice do women have to be?

Well, very, it seems, if we want to hold on to our rights. I’m talking about the rights which are already enshrined in law, by way of the Equality Act 2010, updating and incorporating the sex equality legislation from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Rights for women are based on sex, and they always have been, because there is no other legal or material or commonly recognised way of differentiating between men and women. Despite recent assertions from many lobbyists, we have never had to resort to looking inside someone’s pants to distinguish one sex from the other. The common understanding of what male and female categories mean, and the difference between them, has always sufficed to ensure that laws intended to level the playing field for women are actually used to benefit women. They may not always have been adequate to the task, but it’s always been clear who they’re for.

Women are expected to be nice in all walks of life, it’s true, and female socialisation works to prop up this expectation by a system of rewards and punishments as girls grow up. However, recently there has been a ratcheting-up of the demands that women be nice specifically in the arena of defending women’s rights. Being nice has become the number one demand made of feminists, above being fair or knowledgable or determined for example, and I wonder why it’s so important now?

One of the current attacks on women’s rights has taken the form of denying that women exist at all, at least as a distinct category. In normal circumstances this would be laughed out of court but it has gained traction because it has been linked (nefariously) to the supposed oppression of another group (trans people) and the campaign for trans rights has been so successful. To facilitate the demands of trans activists, women have been painted first and foremost as an obstacle to, and gatekeepers of, all the good stuff (including biology itself). The reason that women need sex-specific rights in the first place has been deliberately obscured, minimised and forgotten.

When Alice Roberts, scientist, posts on Twitter an article which posits that somehow, because of clownfish, it is impossible to accurately categorise binary human sex characteristics, feminist Twitter responds en masse. Feminist Twitter includes a lot of scientists and biologists. Many many women gently put Alice Roberts right. Some do it with impatience, some are critical, a tiny minority call her stupid or some such insult, but largely what we get is an astonishingly informative thread about human biology. With lots of evidence. This doesn’t stop people referring to it as ‘a pile-on’ and if Alice Roberts doesn’t post for a few days she will be said to have been ‘hounded off Twitter by trolls.’ Roberts herself says this:

Alice Roberts

When Jo Maughan, barrister, pontificates on Twitter about the right of trans-identified males to be housed in the female prison estate, feminist Twitter also responds. Feminist Twitter is full of lawyers, barristers and law students who really understand the law. They produce an informative thread, disagreeing with Maughan, based on the provisions in the law as it stands. One or two of them get irritated with his refusal to listen or to take on board any points they present as evidence. There might be the odd insult. Largely though the thread is an education on current UK equality law. Maughan thinks these women, rather than presenting their (very knowledgeable) side of the argument, are simply being bigoted:

Jo

When Billy Bragg, socialist, argues on Twitter for the right of men who identify as women to be included in women-only spaces and sports, feminist Twitter responds again. Feminist Twitter is full of socialist and trade unionist women, grounded in class-based analysis and feminist history. They calmly put Billy Bragg right, based on a socialist analysis of women as a sex class. Occasionally there is a swear word, sometimes a tweeter sounds a bit exasperated, many women express their disappointment with him, but largely Bragg is repeatedly told facts. He responds by telling all these highly intelligent and caring women that they are lacking in compassion:

billybragg

In the years since the 2015 Trans Inquiry, during which trans demands have been promoted and women’s rights have had to be defended, many grassroots women’s groups have grown up to do the work of protecting women in light of the fact that no one else was doing it for them. Over time there have been many meetings, blogs, tweets, speeches, essays, articles and submissions to government enquiries, all from women and women’s groups keen to protect their existing rights. An overriding sentiment, voiced repeatedly, is that trans people should of course have all the rights that everyone else has. Women have bent over backwards to ensure that the defence of women’s rights is in no way seen as a desire to reduce trans rights. All women’s groups want trans people to be free from abuse and to enjoy equal treatment in healthcare, employment and housing, and they frequently say so.

Woman’s Place UK state this:

WPUK

Fair Play for Women are clear on this:

Fair Play

Women and Girls in Scotland say this:

Women and Girls in Scotland

These sentiments are commonly and routinely expressed on social media by individual women too. It could not be clearer that the fight for women’s rights (which means existing rights, already fought for, well-researched and evidenced, and finally won) is not at the expense of trans rights and is not an attack on trans people. In comparison, no trans advocacy group (Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Mermaids, TELI, Trans Media Watch, Allsorts and countless others) has once expressed the corresponding wish that the changes they are fighting for should not come at the expense of women and girls. There has never, in all their public campaigning, ever been a concern that other people’s rights might be affected by their demands, despite the fact that these demands do involve a rolling-back of women’s rights. To use a technical term, none of them actually gives a shit about women and girls.

This is, after all, what Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and the Scottish Trans Alliance are fighting for:

Stonewall Trans Inquiry

But nobody is telling them to be ‘nice.’

At the same time as this complete disregard for women’s rights is being promoted as progressive, the insults, abuse and threats, as well as physical assaults, intended to silence women, go unremarked by the same prominent figures who implore women to be nicer, be kinder, be quieter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown up in stark relief the need for women to have single-sex spaces to provide refuge from male violence. Domestic abuse has increased markedly during the lockdown all around the world. Other traditional inequalities such as low-paid work and family roles conribute to the worse effect of the lockdown on women. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: the effects on women of being the subordinate sex according to their ‘gender’ include greater risk, greater violence and greater poverty. These gendered assumptions of the value (or lack of value) placed on ‘women’s work’ are part of the structure of gender that feminists have been fighting forever. We don’t like gender, we reject it and we are not hateful for doing so. It’s sensible; you can see that now. It is gender that disempowers women and girls.

Equally clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the sex differences between men and women. Men are much more likely to die from the virus, and this is because of their sex, not because of their ‘gender identity.’ To science and biology deniers, for whom ‘transwomen are women’, the virus tells a different story. Initial studies show that women are more likely to catch the virus, because of their greater exposure, which is a result of the inequality of gendered roles and occupations, but men are more likely to die from it once they do catch it, because of their sex.

Is it still ‘unkind’ to insist that there is a sex difference between men and women and that it is straightforward (and vital) to categorise it? Is it still ‘lacking in compassion’ to analyse and assess a woman’s greater risk of harm according to gendered norms visited on her sex class? Is it still ‘bigoted’ to ask that women continue to be protected in law when these sex and gender differences in outcomes for men and women are now being highlighted so clearly?

Well, apparently yes.

What will you lose by being kind

We have everything to lose, and I’m beginning to think that this is the point. The demand that women be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ goes further than just being a matter of tone policing, it has an impact on what women are allowed to say, and how much we can expect to be listened to when we say it. Women are not just expected to be nice whilst fighting for our rights, we’re expected to be nice instead of fighting for our rights.

Here’s an idea: just for a change the world could try being nicer and kinder to women.

 

Equality Law in a Postmodern World

Always above all else: how does one act

If one believes what you say? Above all how does one act?

Bertolt Brecht – The Doubter

So let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and suggest that I actually agree with this new gender-based definition of human beings: that I accept the premise that the male and female categories are no longer useful or accurate and we need to completely change the way we see and account for one another. What we see with our own eyes is no longer necessarily to be trusted: we are likely to get it wrong if we rely on our senses alone. We must ask people how they identify, what pronouns they prefer and how they would like to be seen by us, and if we don’t do this we are disrespectful and even transphobic.

We are learning new things about gender all the time and we must take on board all these new discoveries. In this new and current scenario, male and female as characteristics no longer have any real meaning, and must instead be replaced with gender identity as the primary marker between different groups of people. Biological sex must give way to inner belief and innate identification, and it is on this basis that we must now look to the law and analyse the way it is formulated to protect particularly vulnerable groups of people. It has worked quite well (although not perfectly) up until now, in terms of protecting women from men and helping them to recover from male violence, as well as making social policy to ensure fair representation. But can it still work in the same way now that we know so much more about the way in which our gender identity informs our sex? Will it still do the job it was intended to do?

The first problem I can see is that the law as it stands is not at all equipped to deal with this new way of categorising people, because the law we enjoy today was written before we had all this new understanding of gender identity. We are therefore living in a world which finally recognises the supremacy of individual gender identity, but within a framework of equality law which doesn’t. This is a problem because equality law for women has been based on something that until now has been universally recognised – biological sex – and this is no longer relevant or even acknowledged. Sex differences have been used as the criteria for all the research and evidence gathered so far in order to inform public policy, as well as for legislation intended to level the playing field and keep women safe. The evidence which has been collected and analysed over the decades has shown clearly that biological males (boys, men) are responsible for most of the physical, sexual and violent crime, and biological females (girls, women) aren’t. It is on this basis that the Equality Act legislates, funding is made available and public policy is written.

We have legislation then, based on outdated criteria. We have a binary law for a spectrum world. A radical new understanding requires a radical new approach to the law. When there is such an unequivocal difference between the perpetrators and the victims of certain crimes, based on a measurable set of parameters, then it is inadequate to simply add to the protected group another category of people who do not share the discrete properties of that group. To do this would be to dilute the protection and make the group as a whole less safe. Fiddling around the edges of a law intended to protect a group which no longer effectively exists does not make good law: it lessens the protection for the original beneficiaries whilst not helping the new group it is supposed to include. Equality law based on sex is clearly no longer fit for purpose. A new set of laws is needed which is based on a new set of criteria which adequately reflects the modern world.

We need a complete overhaul of our equality laws, and as far as ‘sex’ goes we need to start from scratch. Anything less would just destroy the binary, and all the evidence and research behind it, without providing any back-up protection for the spectrum. Like the previous old-fashioned laws, the new laws must be based on adequate research and evidence, which this time must look at gender identity instead of sex. Statisticians must quickly get to work to assess which genders are more likely to be sexually violent, say, and which ones might be more likely to need protection. If the vulnerable are to be protected to the same degree as they are now there is little time to lose.

A problem can be seen straight away here of course, because an accurate means of assessing people, based on a quality seen only on the inside of their heads, does not immediately spring to mind. If a way can be found to overcome this difficulty then we can hopefully look forward to gender identity activists organising to provide all the evidence needed to ensure that the right protection can be put in place for the right genders. Much as women’s rights activists in the past insisted on this process and worked towards it to create a safer and fairer world for women, gender idealists must now do the same for all the genders. They seem to have confidence in themselves so let’s hope they get on with it.

There is still a problem though. Even if the gender activists manage to do their research and provide all the evidence needed in order to inform new and better equality legislation, it is still the case that ordinary people on the ground might not be able to instantly recognise the people who pose them the most risk. In the old-fashioned binary system between biological men and biological women it was relatively easy. In the vast majority of cases a man would be instantly recognisable as a man and a woman could rightfully object to his presence in her changing room. In this way, the use of the senses was in accord with social policy, and both worked together to keep a vulnerable group as safe as was possible. In today’s world this is no longer an acceptable way of keeping the vulnerable safe. It is after all impolite to assume someone’s gender.

I have given this some thought, because we cannot simply concede defeat on the basis that it’s all way too complicated. In today’s brave new world there will still be people of varying genders who are more in need of protection than others, and we need to find a way of identifying them and keeping them safe. If we can no longer rely on our senses to spot danger then the law as it stands will not work for us. We need to find a way to identify whichever genders the new research tells us are more prone to violence, and which genders will need the law to be on their side in order to protect them.

I think I’ve come up with a solution, and actually it’s so simple you’ll laugh. The answer has been staring us in the face all along. If we make legislation which demands the wearing of pronoun badges by all people in all circumstances at all times, then we’ve solved once and for all the problem of recognising the gender of the stranger in front of us. No longer will we have to rely on the Layla Moran school of soul recognition, which many of us still find impossible. Yes, I know, it feels a bit like the idea of identity cards for all citizens, which keeps rearing its ugly head and then once again being kicked into the long grass because nobody would stand for it in real life. But I think the public are ready to accept something like compulsory pronoun badges: a small thing really for the greater good. There are already many people on social media very willing to admit their gender identity to a watching public by putting their pronouns in their bios. It is surely a small step to ask everyone to wear a pronoun badge at every moment of the night and day, just to ensure the safety and comfort of vulnerable minorities? It is the only way I can think of, now we’re not allowed to use our common sense anymore, for everyone to be sure who they are sharing safe spaces with, and for everyone who needs it to have protection under the law. The census question would be solved in a stroke. Instead of asking numerous complicated questions about sex and gender, all these could be replaced with the one question which matters: ‘What are your pronouns?’

I think the world is ready for this, and it is in any case probably the only way a new gender-based Equality Act could work. I hope the lawyers amongst you will take this on board and begin to work towards a new law fit for the postmodern world. The Equality Act 2020: protecting the spectrum and not just the binary.

Who Really Influenced the IOC?

Fierce feministsL-R Stephanie Davies-Arai, Helen Saxby, Sheila Jeffreys, Ali Ceesay. Photo: Anne Ruzylo

Women’s sports and transgender rights are currently in the news, but a recent contribution by Joanna Harper in the Guardian is unhelpfully misrepresentative of many of the facts. Harper talks about ‘respecting the rights of all athletes’ and wanting ‘equitable competition for all’ whilst also recommending a testosterone level for trans athletes which has not been properly researched to ensure fairness. Most outrageously though, Harper claims the credit for a reduction in the testosterone limit by the International Olympic Committee, and argues that the original limit was set too high:

“Paula Radcliffe and others have suggested that the current limit of 10 nanomoles per litre of testosterone (T) for trans women is too high – cisgender (or typical) women are usually under 2nmol/L – and I agree. In 2017, I was on a committee that recommended to the International Olympic Committee that it should reduce the limit to 5nmol/L, and I believe this change will be implemented for next year’s Tokyo Games.”

But the fact is that it was Harper’s own flawed research and presence on the original IOC committee that set the high levels in the first place. Compare this report from January 2016 about the original higher guidelines:

 Joanna Harper, chief medical physicist, radiation oncology, Providence Portland Medical Center, was one of the people at that meeting. She also happens to be trans, and she said her voice in the room was important in determining these guidelines.“The new IOC transgender guidelines fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules,” Harper said via email late Thursday night. “Hopefully, organizations such as the ITA will quickly adapt to the new IOC guidelines and all of the outdated trans policies will get replaced soon.”

 The choice of the higher or lower limit of testosterone allowed in transgender athletes begins to look a bit arbitrary. No new research project has been done with trans athletes and no new scientific evidence has been presented to the IOC, so even though a lower limit is obviously preferable, it is still not evidenced. What Harper is actually advocating is using women’s sports as an experiment in how trans inclusion will pan out, whilst at the same time purporting to take a ‘middle ground’.

Here is some background to the story:

In March 2018 I attended an open lecture by Joanna Harper and Professor Yannis Pitsiladis at the University of Brighton, entitled ‘Beyond Fairness: The Biology of Inclusion for Transgender and Intersex Athletes’.  Unaware at the time of who Harper was, I had expected a fairly dry scientific presentation, interesting mostly to students of sports science. What I got instead was a party political broadcast on behalf of the trans lobby. Harper’s presentation was crudely designed to manipulate public opinion. It contained flawed research evidence, an obfuscation of the biological differences between males and females, diversions into weight categories to muddy the waters of sports classifications, and a suggestion that it was old fashioned to still see sex as a binary. Harper’s lecture suggested that testosterone alone was the difference between male and female athletes. No reference was made to the lasting benefits of a male puberty: bone structure, muscle to fat ratio, height, strength, heart rate, lung capacity and all the rest. There are differences in socialisation and external pressures too when you grow up female. Women are not just men with reduced testosterone.

To add insult to injury we were presented with some quite offensive sexual stereotypes based on gendered expectations. We were invited to swoon over a picture of a transman athlete described by Harper as a ‘hunk’, and encouraged to find a transwoman more ‘feminine looking’ than the female athlete also pictured. Fallon Fox was shown standing next to a victorious opponent to suggest there was no advantage, and the difficulties of Hannah Mouncey’s career were described in full, without any mention that both these athletes had injured female opponents. Fox broke an opponent’s eye socket and Mouncey broke an opponent’s leg, but you wouldn’t know it from this lecture.

I attended the meeting in the company of three other feminists from the Brighton area: Ali Ceesay, Stephanie Davies-Arai and Sheila Jeffreys. After the presentation Sheila spoke first from the floor in the Q and A. Introducing herself as a political scientist she launched into a tirade of justified and righteous anger at the complete disregard for women’s rights we had just witnessed. The eloquence of Jeffreys’ fury was a joy to behold. Harper’s shocking response was to flounce. There is no other word for it. Harper ‘flounced’ to the far end of the stage and refused to answer any of the criticisms. Ali Ceesay then had a turn with the microphone, and she too was angry. She  challenged the scientific evidence used by Harper, giving an account of all the physiological differences which benefit all athletes who have been through male puberty. The response from Harper was the same as before: another flounce, another refusal to answer questions. It was quite extraordinary.

Stephanie Davies-Arai and I collared Professor Pitsiladis after the event to talk some more. Professor Pitsiladis was genuine in his desire to hear all sides of the argument and he gave us a lot of his time. He asked us to email him with all the important points we had made, and assured us our views would be taken into account. The points I made to the professor included a concern about male socialisation, which I repeated in my email:

“Further to this, your research into muscle memory was interesting, especially as regards the idea that strength training may have a lasting effect which could be beneficial in later life. You could look at gender in a similar way: that male socialisation and privilege provides men with a bank they can draw on, even after transition, which can give them confidence, a sense of entitlement and a drive to succeed – all attributes seen as natural for males but a little bit less attractive in females. I believe you cannot separate physical attributes of sporting achievement from psychological ones, and that to do so gives you an incomplete picture which favours trans identified males over females.”

Stephanie made the point that female athletes too have difficult choices to make:

“We are all adults, we all have to make choices and sacrifices in life. Some female athletes sacrifice motherhood in order to reach their potential in sport. Some sacrifice sport in order to have children. Some manage to do both, continuing in their sport after pregnancy and childbirth. Men do not face any of these choices or sacrifices. Why should a man who makes the decision to hormonally alter his body to superficially resemble a woman not be expected to make any sacrifice, but to in fact gain advantage in his sport? Clearly female athletes who make the same decision do make a sacrifice as they are unable to compete on a level playing field with men, so why is it that we must do everything we can to accommodate men, even to the extent of sacrificing women’s sport?”

Ali made the point in her email that trans inclusion will always mean women will lose out:

“With every inclusion of a transwoman athlete in sport, (despite the advantages listed above), she failed to acknowledge the experience of dedicated female athletes that missed out on their lifetime dream of competing in order to facilitate this. This is after all the reality: that every biological male competing professionally in a biological class to which they do not physiologically belong, takes the position and opportunity of a biological female.”

You can read the full text of all the emails sent to Professor Pitsiladis here: Helen Saxby  Stephanie Davies-Arai   Ali Ceesay

In contrast to Professor Pitsiladis’ openness to evidence and valid concerns, Joanna Harper just expressed shock that anyone could hold contrary opinions, and seemed to assume that we were transphobic for voicing them. When I subsequently found out the part Harper had played in IOC decision making, I was furious. I had expected that sport, with its wealth, its international power and its plethora of public regulating bodies, would have plenty of people at the top looking out for human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. I assumed scientific rigour would be sacrosanct. I was wrong on both counts. In a global industry which hardly seems to stop talking about doping, there was not one person who stood up for women’s sport when faced with the transgender agenda.

And now, in trans-friendly Brighton of all places, four women had.

The following month it was reported in Pink News that the IOC had changed its rules on testosterone levels, halving the limit to 5 nanomoles per litre.

Joanna Harper is now busy doing some not-so-subtle damage-limitation, possibly because the recent participation of elite sportswomen in the debate has highlighted how much public opinion is on the side of women’s sport. The Guardian article tries hard to present a voice of reason, and includes a claim to have petitioned on behalf of women in the IOC’s latest decision to halve the testosterone levels. The truth is different. Harper had no choice but to back down when faced with the depth and fury of feminist opposition. The impetus for the rethink, according to a source, was a direct result of the Brighton lecture and the response to it.

Who then really influenced the IOC? Was it a transgender athlete who has always campaigned for the inclusion of transwomen in women’s sports, at the expense of a level playing field for female athletes? Or was it in fact down to the righteous fury and concerted input of four fearsome feminists? My female socialisation (obviously) makes it difficult for me to blow my own trumpet, but on behalf of my three comrades in arms… Come on…

Credit where credit’s due.

I am Not and Have Never Been Gender Dysphoric

welding 001

There is an argument around the meaning and relevance of the term gender dysphoria since it has replaced ‘gender identity disorder’ in the medical literature. On the one hand there is a push to remove gender dysphoria from the list of necessary conditions to being assessed as transgender in law, but on the other hand the diagnosis is being jealously guarded by trans activists and allies. In summary the attitude seems to be ‘We may not need gender dysphoria anymore but you sure as hell aren’t going to have it either’. This plays out in the outrage shown towards two main groups of women: those who were tomboys as children and who therefore can see the dangers of extreme trans ideology in schools; and those who have teenage daughters who have suddenly become trans-identified with no warning, and who therefore can see the dangers of an ideology which is subject to social contagion.

So who is qualified or entitled to make a diagnosis of gender dysphoria? Gender dysphoria is defined on the NHS website as being ‘…a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity’. This is sufficiently open to interpretation for many people to take a view on it. On Twitter recently, trans ally Dr Adrian Harrop admonished a woman for calling her early childhood experience ‘gender dysphoria’:

harrop tweet 2

In the same week US journalist Jesse Singal was dismissive of a woman who had written a post on the phenomenon of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, so-called because of the sudden onset of symptoms, usually in teenage girls. The mistake made by Abigail Shrier, according to Singal, was to listen to the mothers of the girls exhibiting these symptoms, and to believe them. Check out the derogatory use of the term ‘a bunch of mothers’.

jesse singaljesse singal 2

I would like to make it clear for my part that I am not, and have never been, gender dysphoric. Far be it from me to self-diagnose.

As a young child I felt like a boy. I rejected dolls. I had my hair cut short, I wore shorts and T shirts and I was mad about football. I played with Scalextric, I climbed trees, I set fire to old car tyres in the woods, I trespassed in other people’s back gardens, I went on adventures. I was not George from the Famous Five, who was just pretending to be a boy, I was William from Just William, or I was one of his Outlaws.

But I did not have gender dysphoria.

I called myself by a boy’s name, I wore boys’ clothes, I became a better football player than most of the boys in my school. One day we had a slideshow in class and one of the slides was of an abattoir. I exclaimed ‘I’d LOVE to visit an abattoir!’ and I expected the boys to agree with me and to look at me in admiration for being tough like them. But they didn’t: they, like the girls, looked at me in disgust. My attempt to perform masculinity had failed. I am still embarrassed, looking back.

I never had gender dysphoria though.

I hated women. Women were weak and pathetic, I was never going to grow up into one of them. I thumped my chest to try to stop any breasts growing. As I reached adolescence I despised the girls in my class who wanted to have babies. I had no maternal instinct whatsoever. Suddenly I was expected to behave ‘like a young lady’ (by my parents) but also to be ‘sexy’ (by my peer group). I developed eating disorders: anorexia and then bulimia. One of my sisters, meeting me off the train, exclaimed when she saw me ‘Oh my God, you’ve got no thighs!’ My other sister when she saw me undress, said ‘You look like a Biafran’. I felt validated. Inside I was Johnny Ramone: now my thighs finally agreed. My periods stopped.

But I didn’t have gender dysphoria.

At art college I learned how to weld. When I put in my order for my own portable arc welder, I was told by the tutor in the sculpture department that I could always swap it for a sewing machine when I left college. After college I got a City and Guilds qualification in Light Fabrication and Welding. At my first job interview I was told welding wasn’t for girls: ‘What if the sparks flew down your top and burned your tits?’ At my second attempt I got a job in a garage but finally left after inadvertently setting fire to a Volkswagen. I learned later that due to the fire risk a welder would always be accompanied by a fire-watcher when welding the underside of a car, but that none of the men who worked there had bothered to inform me or to volunteer. I left because of the humiliation, and the realisation I would never be allowed to fit in.

I was very depressed at this point. I was diagnosed with a depressive illness, and sent for counselling. I still didn’t have gender dysphoria.

Shulamith Firestone in ‘The Dialectic of Sex’ explains the Freudian Elektra Complex in  terms of feminist theory, and examines the pressure on girls to simultaneously identify with the mother and to resist ending up like the mother. This observation about the female child hits home:

This is why she is so encouraged to play with dolls, to ‘play house’, to be pretty and attractive. It is hoped that she will not be one of those to fight off her role till the last minute. It is hoped she will slip into it early, by persuasion, artificially, rather than by necessity; that the abstract promise of a baby will be enough of a lure to substitute for that exciting world of ‘travel and adventure’.

I was one of those girls, like many others, to ‘fight off her role’. The insights of radical feminist and psychological theory would have been more useful in this situation than a gender ideology which places ‘gender’ as an innate quality rather than an outside pressure. Schools do not teach feminist or psychological theory but they do now teach gender ideology from an early age, via trans groups like Mermaids, Stonewall, Allsorts and Gendered Intelligence. If  Mermaids had been around in my childhood, visiting schools with their GI Joe and Barbie gender spectrum theories, I know I would have identified almost 100% with GI Joe, and rejected Barbie in disgust.

the gender spectrum

But still, I know I was not gender dysphoric.

What I also know is that if I had been told at the time that it was possible to have been ‘born in the wrong body’, that my identification with GI Joe (or Just William) meant that inside I might actually be a boy, I would have jumped at the chance to ‘change sex’. It would be like a dream come true: to continue to wear comfortable clothes and have a practical haircut, and to have my skill at football be a positive thing rather than a threat, and to make everybody call me by my boy’s name. Wow! What if that were possible? What power! What excitement! I didn’t want children anyway.

That is how I would have felt as a child.

Trans activists seem to be very angry at the notion that any old tomboy back in the day might have identified as trans given half a chance. This is especially odd considering the current push for self-ID, a notion that the only criteria for a trans identification should be self-declaration. Alongside the claim that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should no longer be a pre-requisite for trans status, it is strange to see trans activists gatekeeping so furiously. But still, if a doctor can tell a woman she is wrong about her own self-diagnosis on the basis of a couple of tweets, self-ID is obviously not for everyone.

I often see trans activists and allies dismissing the views of women because they are not trans: saying that women who are mothers or lesbians or who used to be tomboys, can have no insight into what the trans experience feels like. But if experiential knowledge is so revered, then my area of expertise tells me a lot about the pitfalls of growing up female in a male-centred world: about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, risk-taking, addiction, self-harming, depression. Teenage coping strategies such as these are being dismissed and minimised if a confusion with gender identity is also present, and it is the trans lobby groups that have successfully pushed for this. My problems as a teenage girl and young adult would have all been swept up as one under gender ideology, much like consolidating a loan. Neat and tidy. One problem instead of six. I would have loved that. It is often said that you can’t make a child trans, as if the concept of being born in the wrong body is a benign idea with no potential to influence or inform. I disagree: I think you can make a child believe they are trans, and that it’s quite simple to do: just make sure all the adults in a child’s world are singing from the same hymn sheet, and ensure there is no access to a different viewpoint. Again, the trans lobby groups have been quite successful at this.

But I did not suffer from gender dysphoria as a child. (Am I allowed to say that?)

What I believe I did suffer from was the confusion that comes from heavily proscribed gender roles and an inability to escape them. Without any consciousness of the larger patterns at work, I was attempting, like many girls, to shift huge weighty blocks of patriarchy all by myself, without any tools. Forcing a way around one block would only ensure another one would heave into view. A good example is culture: it wasn’t much use to me to reject the messages of the popular culture of the time and run full-tilt from Benny Hill, only to find myself slap bang in the middle of the literary clutches of Henry Miller. When gendered expectations are shored up and policed by both individual men and wider institutions, they become nearly impossible to escape. I didn’t know this when I was young. I just thought I was a bit shit.

It is not just a question of being a ‘tomboy’ with a ‘preference’ for masculine things, it can be in some cases a deep identification. Without the perspective of life experience to draw on, or the insights of a feminist analysis, a personal sense of wrongness, felt by many children who don’t fit in, can easily be mistaken for something else. The insistence of trans lobby groups, that affirmation of a child’s self-belief is the only appropriate treatment for a child identifying as the opposite sex, is in fact a belief that children like me should have been diagnosed as trans. An updated Memorandum of Understanding informs all health professionals in the UK that to explore the underlying reasons for a child’s gender confusion is akin to gay conversion therapy. I’m quite pleased looking back that my parents and teachers largely left me alone.

Here is Shulamith Firestone again:

…she rejects everything identified with her mother, ie servility and wiles, the psychology of the oppressed, and imitates doggedly everything she has seen her brother do that gains for him the kind of freedom and approval she is seeking. (Notice I do not say she pretends masculinity. These traits are not sexually determined). But though she tries desperately to gain her father’s favour by behaving more and more in the manner in which he has openly encouraged her brother to behave, it doesn’t work for her.

If we take the brother in this passage to symbolise boys, and the father to symbolise men, it sums up the problem facing girls as they grow up, which for some will result in a male identification of one kind or another. If society does not provide enough of an alternative narrative for girls, it is more difficult to escape the unwanted fate up ahead. I grew up to a backdrop of Benny Hill and Page 3, which was bad enough, but today’s girls grow up to a backdrop of airbrushed perfection, social media and porn culture. There is a crisis in girls’ mental health in the UK, at the same time as an unprecedented rise in the number of girls identifying as boys.

The dehumanisation of girls is made worse by trans culture. Girls can no longer talk about their own bodies or ask for their own safety, privacy and dignity to be respected, for fear of not being ‘inclusive’ enough. Ubiquitous adult porn tells them they are nothing but fuck holes, Teen Vogue calls them ‘vagina-havers’ and ‘non-prostate owners’, trans culture tells them they have a ‘front hole’. Inclusive trans-friendly language means being referred to as bleeders, menstruators, cervix-owners, uterus-havers, egg-producers and non-men. In a masterclass of lack-of-empathy from the Allsorts trans toolkit, in an attempt to cast them as the oppressors of teenage boys, girls are referred to as ‘cis-gendered females’. The problem for girls is not that they identify as boys but that they identify as human in a world which treats women as less than human. When default human equals male, this can sometimes look like the same thing.

My experience of mental health problems as a teenager and young adult may well have looked very much like gender dysphoria to a teacher or counsellor subject to the influence of today’s ‘trans-awareness training’ as delivered by Mermaids, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, Allsorts and others. I would certainly have been ready to be convinced. In the despair and isolation I felt at being unable to ‘be who I really was’ in the world in which I found myself, a trans diagnosis would have provided welcome relief from crippling self-blame. I really really wanted ‘all the answers’, lots of young people do. Adults jumping in with ‘answers’ which involve a lifetime of synthetic hormones and medication, surgery, decreased sexual function, and infertility, are not always what young people need, especially as there is so little long-term evidence of the benefits.

It would appear from the evidence that fewer women transition than men, fewer women than men reach middle age and ‘realise’ they have always been the opposite sex, more women than men believe they may have been ‘transed’ mistakenly had trans ideology been around in their childhood, and within the growing detransitioning community there are more females than males. And yet, despite this, there is suddenly an explosion in the number of girls transitioning, and a whole new phenomenon of late-transitioning teenage girls, which has been labelled Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Coincidentally, we have had a decade or so of trans teaching materials and toolkits in schools. It is surely possible that mistakes are being made.

I am not and have never been gender dysphoric.

But trans lobby groups themselves are saying gender dysphoria is no longer necessary to being trans. I might have been, and could have been, diagnosed as trans. Stonewall et al insist that trans people are trans whether or not they have gender dysphoria, or hormones, or surgery, or any kind of treatment at all, at the same time as insisting hormone treatment for children must be started as soon as possible. Trans is now supposedly an identity, relying solely on the say-so of the person concerned. If I had been presented with the option as a child, I may well have self-diagnosed as trans. If I had been encouraged to believe there could be a different sex inside than the one on the outside, it would have made sense to me. It will currently be making sense to many young people. Children are suggestible, and troubled children more so.

In September 2018 Penny Mordaunt announced an inquiry into the sudden rise in the numbers of girls transitioning in the UK. There has been no further update on this inquiry or its methods, but it is essential that this time, unlike the 2015 Trans Inquiry, women are listened to. Trans people may be the experts on trans experience, but women are the experts on female experience, and we are the ones who know best, often through difficult personal experience, all the many reasons why girls today might strongly resist the process of becoming adult human females.

 

 

Turning the Tide

Turning the Tide

This is an expanded version of a talk I gave at the Woman’s Place meeting entitled ‘A Woman’s Place is Turning the Tide’ in Brighton on July 16th 2018.

 

The GRA consultation has been announced by the Women and Equalities minister Penny Mourdaunt, which means that the original Gender Recognition Act of 2004 is to be examined to see if it is still fit for purpose. This is the first time that women have been allowed a voice in the discussion, which is a good thing – but it’s not all good. Ms Mourdaunt declared that the consultation would start from the premise that ‘transwomen are women’, which actually makes the whole idea of a consultation redundant, because one of the issues at stake is what makes a woman, how a woman is defined, and what rights should be particular to that definition.

‘Transwomen are women’ is a familiar mantra if you spend any amount of time on social media, particularly on Twitter. Some tweets just say ‘transwomen are women’, others say ‘transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women’. Some say ‘transwomen are women, get over it’, others say ‘transwomen are women, choke on it TERF’. Others, to end an argument, say ‘but transwomen ARE women’. Some, much less frequently, say ‘transwomen are women transmen are men’. It’s not just random trolls saying this either: it is politicians, councillors, doctors, left-wing commentators like Owen Jones.

The phrase ‘transwomen are women’ is naively understood to be simply a courtesy to a male trans person, a sign of allyship. If you don’t join in, because you stick to the definition of women which is biologically correct, you are nailing your colours to the mast and this is risky. There is a huge amount of abuse directed at women who refuse to do as they are told, and this fact demonstrates that the use of ‘transwomen are women’ is not as benign as it first seems. If you wish to be ‘nice’ to someone, that is your free choice, but if you are punished for NOT being ‘nice’ then it is no free choice at all and it begins to look more like bullying and coercion.

‘Transwomen are women’ as a slogan is nothing to do with being nice. It is a political mantra: it does not define its terms and it is used to shut down all dissent. The impact on women and girls is huge. Although self-ID is not law yet, the government’s Guide for Service Providers, published after the 2015 Trans Inquiry, and written by trans lobby group Gendered Intelligence, made sure that public and private institutions would be so confused about it that they would act as though it was law, just to be on the safe side. This has already led to the erosion of women’s single-sex spaces such as shops’ changing rooms, public swimming baths and gyms’ changing rooms, women’s refuges, prisons, the Girl Guides, sports, youth hostel bedrooms, as well as women’s prizes and shortlists – there is an ever-expanding list. Treating sex as a ‘gender identity’ rather than a biological and material reality will ALWAYS mean that girls and women lose out, and leave men and boys relatively unscathed. In a society where the sexes are unequal this is inevitable.

Transgender rights groups have been established and well-funded for years: Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Mermaids, Action for Trans Health, Trans Media Watch, TELI, Stonewall: most of these groups have been around for a decade or more. The Allsorts Trans School Toolkit has been used in East Sussex schools since 2013. These groups  have successfully promoted the idea that only trans people can talk about trans issues, and that any difference of opinion is transphobic. You can always tell when an organisation has had the trans awareness training because they all suddenly start using a particular kind of language. This is the kind of language which is based on a belief system rather than fact, for example: ‘sex assigned at birth’. Even the NHS uses ‘sex assigned at birth’ – as if somewhere in their maternity wards there is a Hogwarts-style Sorting Hat, under which babies are placed after birth in order to get their sex allocated.

In all these years there has been one narrative, endlessly reinforced, and no challenge to this view has been allowed. Trans Media Watch for example, has been busy ensuring that a crime committed by a male transgender person is recorded in the press as a female crime, but if that person takes their own life in prison it gets recorded as a trans suicide. GIRES pushes for schoolgirls to share their changing rooms with any male who identifies as a girl. TELI are working on ensuring that male sex offenders have the right to be intimately searched by female prison officers. Action for Trans Health demand that all transgender prisoners be released, and advocates violence against women who disagree with their ideology. The government has listened to them all. The Trans Inquiry in 2015 listened to evidence from 15 trans advocacy groups and no women’s groups.

Women’s groups currently working to protect the rights of women and girls have grown up much more recently and have no public funding: they rely on volunteers and crowdfunding.  A Woman’s Place, We Need to Talk, Fairplay for Women, Transgender Trend, Mayday4Women, Man Friday, Critical Sisters: all of them have grown out of grassroots activism in the last few years.  Women have been put on the back foot: much has already been done and dusted without consultation and behind closed doors. The feminists who originally talked about this subject have been vilified and silenced. Transactivists say there is #nodebate, and they are right: up till now there has been no debate.

The success of women’s groups in getting an alternative message across has been fantastic, but has also shown up how difficult it is to get your voice heard when an accepted narrative has already been so well entrenched, especially when part of that accepted narrative is that any disagreement is bigotry. Parts of the press have begun to report on women’s concerns, although others are still happy to paint women as bigoted transphobes. The BBC has occasionally resisted the wrath of Trans Media Watch and presented a more balanced picture, but largely it has been running scared. Woman’s Hour won’t touch the subject. Well, I say that, but obviously they included Caitlyn Jenner on their Power List, and obviously they saw Munroe Bergdorf as the ideal candidate to talk about the silencing of women. But apart from that: nothing. There have been thunderstorms on Mumsnet and earthquakes in the Girl Guides, but Woman’s Hour has its fingers in its ears and hasn’t noticed. I don’t think anyone’s told them yet that there is a consultation on the GRA and that this might be a story which affects women.

It has become clear to me that ‘transwomen are women’ is political marketing genius.  Under the ‘human rights’ guise of treating a minority with respect and dignity, it cleverly undermines all of women’s sex-based rights. If transwomen are women then there is no need to do any impact assessments on women when legislation is changed, as would normally be required by Public Sector Equality Duty. It completely disappears women as a sex class. The protected category of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act is therefore overridden. The government has said that the Equality Act 2010 is not up for review, and will be unaffected by the current consultation, but if the GRA is reformed it will result in the effective removal of a protected category from the Equality Act, by making it meaningless. Thus the change will happen anyway, but by the back door. Male transgender people will then have two protected characteristics in the Equality Act: ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘sex’, and women will have nothing left to themselves. Gender identity will always overrule sex because it is unidentifiable: I cannot be a transwoman because of sex but a transwoman can be a woman because of gender identity.

If the government implements gender self-ID as a means of distinguishing between the sexes, it will not simply make the paperwork a bit easier for trans people, as is claimed. It will cement the changes already taking place, to the detriment of women and girls’ equality, and it will reify the notion of ‘gender identity’ as a marker. For those of us who understand gender as a tool to keep women in their place, rather than an innate identity, it would be a disaster. The law of the land would be telling us that we choose our own subordination. The law of the land would be agreeing with trans activists that Ian Huntley is a woman because he says he is.

Transwomen are women’ is political dogma, repeated endlessly and deliberately in order to reinforce the message. Because there is #nodebate  it has been made almost impossible to counter. For this reason I now reject, as a political act in my turn, the notion that ‘transwomen are women’.  It has nothing to do with ‘hate’ or ‘transphobia’ or ‘bigotry’. If the political arm of the Anti Kitten-Stomping League was trying to infringe on women’s rights, I’d fight them too: it wouldn’t mean that I approved of stomping on kittens. It is purely a political defence of the rights of women and girls, against a political movement which threatens those rights. It is undemocratic to threaten and abuse women who speak out on this.

Now is the time to get involved and speak up, so that our daughters will be able to benefit from the rights and protections that we take for granted, and which are now under threat.

Including the fundamental right to actually name ourselves as the female sex.

Have Women and Girls Got Too Many Rights?

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Do you think women and girls have got too many rights? Should some of these be rolled back now? Are we too equal? Too safe? Too represented? Too visible? Too powerful? Do you believe there should now be a reduction in women’s rights? Has it all gone too far? Are women actually the oppressors now? Would you support policies which would curtail some of those rights? Do you believe that women should have fewer rights?

Well, if you do, you’re in good company. It’s not just Men’s Rights groups who agree with you: there are increasing numbers of public institutions and businesses who believe that women and girls are so equal now that we no longer need the legislative and social protections which were fought for and won by previous feminists. We are so safe now we no longer need the provisions in law intended to ensure our safety. We have such a major voice now that we no longer need the mechanisms intended to increase our political representation. We have so much recognition for our work that we no longer need women-only prizes and awards. We are so equal in opportunity to men and boys that we no longer need any special treatment to level the playing field.

Do you agree? Lots of people do.

Women have so many rights in fact that we can afford to share them. We are not yet required by law to share them, but a combination of female socialisation, the post-Trans Inquiry Guide for Service Providers, and a rampant disregard for the Equality Act from trans advocacy groups, means that we are being compelled to share them. Or bullied into sharing them. Or coerced, or guilt-tripped, or emotionally manipulated. There are many ways.

The result of the Trans Inquiry and the Trans Report is that in public life the issue of trans self-ID has essentially all but been decided, without the need for the upcoming government consultation, and without any debate. Many institutions are already putting self-ID into place, and women and girls are already feeling the effects.

GirlGuidingUK for example, have implemented a transgender policy which effectively changes the organisation from being single-sex, and allows trans-identifying boys to share showers, tents and private spaces with girls, without informing parents first. Topshop has designated its girls’ changing rooms as unisex, based on a complaint from one man who identifies as non-binary. Hampstead Ladies Pond has decided to admit trans-identified males, based on self-ID, after they had some ‘trans-awareness training’. Cabins on the Caledonian Sleeper are suddenly to be separated along the lines of ‘gender identity’ rather than sex.

GirlguidingUK, Topshop, Hampstead Ladies Pond and Caledonian Sleeper are just four examples of what is becoming a trend. Businesses know they need to do a bit of diversity training, they get in their local friendly trans group for a trans awareness day, and suddenly the women working there, or the female customers, have fewer rights than they did beforehand. Many other institutions have come to the conclusion that women and girls no longer need the same degree of protection we once did. We have too many rights, we really don’t need them all. Some can surely therefore be removed without the need to consult with us first. An recent example of female protest, in the form of the group ManFriday, resulted in Swim England retracting their new transgender policy in favour of having a consultation. I have yet to come across a company which sees the importance of consulting with women before changing their policies.

In schools there is a definite move towards ensuring that girls grow up with fewer rights than their mothers had.  A recent story from Transgender Trend documents the methods used to ensure compliance at one school in Essex, which was coerced into converting its girls’ toilets into unisex toilets, after a campaign led by local trans group Transpire. The Equality Act specifically warns against giving one protected group rights at the expense of another, but when this is trans rights versus girls’ rights, trans groups are ignoring it and misleading schools into putting trans rights first. It is always girls who lose out.

Trans advocacy group GIRES has this advice in their factsheet about trans inclusion:

GIRES factsheet Toilets

The advice to schools provided by  LGBT support group Allsorts, in Brighton, follows the same pattern. This is from their East Sussex Schools Toolkit:

 

This advice was written in 2013 and since then the toolkit has been listed as a resource on the Mermaids website, and used by many schools across Sussex to inform and educate staff on trans inclusion. The aim to teach girls that a boy can be ‘in every other respect a girl’ clearly makes absolutely no sense, and moreover it conflicts with all other initiatives in schools designed to empower girls to respect and assert their own boundaries. It also compromises safeguarding practice. The sentence about the trans pupil’s rights under the Equality Act is a straightforward lie.

In addition to this, girls should get used to the idea of having fewer rights to compete equally in sports:

 

In a tortured attempt to spin the language, Allsorts believes that girls who object to a male competing with them should be ‘supported to do a different activity’. We all know that that really means ‘be chucked off the team’ though. This is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of the Equality Act. Girls and women are protected under the category of sex, but trans groups going into schools and workplaces are providing materials which deliberately hide that fact in order to prioritise trans people. Women and girls are always the ones adversely affected.

Trans groups providing guidance for schools and businesses include Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Educate and Celebrate and the Intercom Trust, as well as Allsorts and Transpire. They all believe that girls and women don’t really need all the rights they currently have, and some of these should be rolled back. It is no longer necessary for girls to enjoy bodily privacy as they grow up, for example, or to expect a level playing field in sporting activities. These are unnecessary cherries on the cake of female equality, and can be removed with no consultation and no impact assessment.

Sport at an elite level fares no better. At the University of Brighton in March, Professor Yannis Pitsiladis introduced a talk by Joanna Harper, at an event entitled ‘Beyond Fairness: The Biology of Inclusion for Transgender and Intersex Athletes’. Harper, a trans-identified male, delivered a shockingly biased talk which suggested no possible disadvantage to women from allowing men into their sports. The research evidence was extremely limited in size and scope, but was nevertheless used to ‘prove’ that there was no physical advantage to be gained from having a male body. Harper suggested that it was ‘traditionalists’ who believed sports should be separated by biology, but that ‘others’ believed gender could be self-identified, as if these two positions carried equal weight, and also as if Team Biology was just a bit old-fashioned.

Professor Pitsiladis had introduced the event as being the first in a series of hopefully informative debates on trans inclusion in sports. If the goal is proper debate then a powerful advocate for trans rights should always be matched with a powerful advocate for women’s rights, as it is always women who will bear the brunt of any changes. This did not happen and there did not appear to be any plans for it to happen in future events. Follow-up reading after the event revealed that Harper’s flawed research was the very research used by the International Olympic Committee to inform their policy on trans inclusion. There are already male trans athletes winning against women in sports such as cycling, boxing and weightlifting. There are already trans sportsmen taking the place of women in team sports such as football, Australian rules football and basketball. The uncomfortable truth is that for every trans person who wins a place on a team there will be a woman who will have lost hers. We can’t just pretend that’s not true.

Once again the views of a minority interest group have been allowed to inform policy which has a profound effect on women, without consulting women first. The IOC obviously take the view that women no longer need a level playing field in sports. We’ve had equality for ages now. For example women’s football is no longer banned by the FA. We have little left to complain about. No, women have had too much equality and too many rights, and some of these are no longer completely necessary, and should be taken away and given to someone else. Women after all are supposed to be good at sharing.

Feminists who have concerns about the erosion of the rights of women are currently being characterised as ‘anti-trans activists’ in an attempt to discredit them. It is clear from the examples above that there are many ways that women and girls lose out when trans rights are given precedence, but there is deliberately no acknowledgement of this from trans activists: it is more useful to them to characterise feminists as haters and bigots than to admit there might be a conflict of interest. In fact, to acknowledge a conflict of interest at all would be to acknowledge that there is a difference between women and ‘transwomen’ and this transactivists cannot do. The law itself does differentiate: it allows sex-based exemptions to the equality law where women’s safety, privacy or dignity is concerned. Biological differences are enshrined in law. Trans activists will never accept this: in their view ‘transwomen are women’. This mantra is used frequently to shut down any argument. Here’s a classic of the genre:

Transwomen are women

The repetition of this mantra is not just used to shout women down, it is also used as a justification for not conducting proper impact assessments. If ‘transwomen’ ARE women then there is clearly no need to look at the impact on women of any change in legislation because changes to help ‘transwomen’ will help women. The purpose of ‘transwomen are women’ is not just to be ‘nice’ to trans-identified males and show solidarity and support, as many people seem to think it is. Its purpose is to deny the whole notion of women having separate rights, because it is in this way that trans activists can get every change they want passed without any opposition. It’s almost as if a Trojan Horse dressed as My Little Pony has landed smack bang right in the middle of the women’s movement and now Men’s Rights Activists are pouring out of it intending to get their own way.

If  ever there was a reason for avoiding the language of ‘transwomen’ this is it. Using the phrase ‘trans-identified males’ instead works for women because it serves to clarify the boundaries of the conflicting groups, and leaves no doubt as to the necessity of impact assessments for women and girls before changing legislation for trans people. When most of the rights enshrined specifically for women involve biology to one degree or another, and usually safety, privacy and dignity as well, this is an essential distinction to make. If we are not allowed to make it we can’t fight for our own rights. This is why it has become the preferred language for many women: we have been told ‘transwomen are women’ once too often, and it is never to our advantage.

Feminists are pro-women, not anti-trans. Feminists do not attack and assault trans people, we just know that for women sex-based rights are crucial. When the trans movement is deliberately intent on misleading schools, businesses and institutions, to the detriment of women and girls, the time for being ‘nice’ is over. We have to be honest instead. We have to defend our rights. In every new case of changing trans policy, if there is anyone who needs to budge up, shift over and lose out, it is women and girls. The only way this could be acceptable is if you believe that women and girls have too many rights already. Do you?

 

Are All-Women Shortlists Transphobic?

FiLiA 2017

A controversy around the subject of trans-inclusion is currently rumbling in the Labour Party: the question of whether trans-identified males, with or without a Gender Recognition Certificate, should be able to access women-only shortlists or become Women’s Officers, or take advantage of initiatives such as the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme to encourage women into politics. A crowdfunder has been set up to legally challenge the Labour Party’s acceptance (without consultation or debate) of trans self-ID, and there is now a counter-petition accusing all those involved of transphobia. This has been followed by what seems to be a hit-list giving details of Labour members with ‘transphobic’ Twitter accounts, and two women have already been suspended from the party based on this evidence.

What is sometimes forgotten in this argument is the reason that women-only initiatives exist in the first place. AWS and similar schemes are necessary in order to correct a historic imbalance in female representation, but it is not just about helping individual women to pursue a career in politics they may otherwise have been unable to do. The reason women need equal representation is that women have different needs to men and that these are often overlooked by male politicians: when male is the default setting women inevitably lose out.

The status of women as second class citizens is perpetuated by a majority male government who, with the best will in the world, do not always see or consider women’s perspectives on law, healthcare, science, education, crime, and all the other areas of policy which affect women and girls differently to men and boys. The reasons for the sex difference fall into two categories: female biology and female socialisation. Politically we need to talk about, amongst other things: the mental health and aspirations of girls, menstruation and the tampon tax, pregnancy and healthcare, reproductive rights, prostitution and porn, childcare and education, FGM and VAWG, emotional labour and caring, and the menopause and pensions. There is a component of female biology or socialisation, or both, in all these areas, and it is generally accepted that having men make all the policy is not best practice. Not all women feel the same way about any of these areas of policy, but the more women there are in positions of power the more likely it is that they will at least be addressed from a female perspective.

The difficulty when considering transwomen in these posts is that they do not share the two aspects of female experience which inform and prop up inequality – that is, biology and socialisation. However much the desire is there to support trans people within the party, to do so via the use of mechanisms designed to promote women must result in disadvantaging women. Female socialisation ensures that many women will support this, seeing transwomen as women and welcoming their inclusion, but is it fair to do this on behalf of the many other women who are trying to escape the socialisation which tells them to put other people’s needs first?

The mantra ‘transwomen are women’ has been used for years to silence the debate about trans inclusion, but now it is also being used as a form of gatekeeping over who is on the right side of the debate. ‘Do you believe transwomen are women?’ is increasingly being asked as a sort of test of your progressiveness, and there is only one right answer. Many women have been happy up till now to refer to trans-identified males as women, largely out of courtesy and respect, sometimes out of sympathy, but not because it’s actually true. Many of these women now feel that the courtesy and respect has been thrown back in their faces by transwomen acting with what looks suspiciously like a very male sense of entitlement.

The preoccupation with ‘passing’ is an indication that within the trans community itself it is actually acknowledged that transwomen usually look like men. The instinct to recognise sex difference lies very deep within us all, and despite the attempts to discredit feminists, there never was a call for, or a need to, examine someone’s genitals before letting them in to a women-only space. We all know what a man looks like: we can’t not know. It is asking a lot of women to pretend otherwise, but of course we will do so if treated with similar respect in return. What some of us won’t do is be bullied into it.

A good illustration of the attempt to bully women into it was the recent performance of India Willoughby on Celebrity Big Brother. India’s extreme rage and threatening body language, complete with jabbing finger, were very ‘male’ to a woman’s eye. The accompanying repetition of ‘I am … A WOMAN!’ was very like the mantra repeated endlessly on Twitter, and the response from the women was very much that of appeasement towards a violent man. Many of us will recognise that moment when a woman’s expression becomes slightly glazed over in an attempt to do nothing to provoke the man who is angry with her. All the women in the Big Brother House wore that expression. That kind of bullying is employed every day on social media towards gender-critical feminists, and also in real life when feminist meetings are violently disrupted.

If men who identify as women have to go to those lengths to procure compliance then it is very clear they don’t ‘pass’. This means that, when it comes to privilege, they have had the advantage of a lifetime of being seen as male and treated as male. However different you feel inside, the way you are treated depends on what other people can see. However much ‘gender’ is claimed as innate and real, it doesn’t show. Men can have no experience of what it’s like to be a girl growing up, either through socialisation or biology, and this limits how much they can understand the needs of girls and women, even if they identify as women themselves.

Ahead of the recent Women’s March Munroe Bergdorf admonished women for wearing pussy hats because ‘not all women have a vagina’. Bergdorf, a transwoman who ironically benefited from a platform on BBC Woman’s Hour recently to talk about ‘how women are silenced’, tweeted: ‘Centering reproductive systems at the heart of these demonstrations is reductive and exclusionary’. This is an opinion which is mainstream within the trans activist community. (Some of the march organisers tried to ban the wearing of pussy hats after last year’s complaints). If biology itself is seen as exclusionary amongst trans people, then it could be argued that transwomen are actually less useful even than men in representing women politically, because their needs are in direct opposition to women’s.

Coincidentally, it is not the case that transmen are spending much time publicly telling men which body parts they can or can’t talk about, almost as though transmen don’t feel a sense of entitlement over a whole other class of people.

There cannot be a clearer example of how ‘feeling like a woman’ does not necessarily give you a female perspective, and does not give you the ability or experience to represent women’s issues. Notwithstanding all the slogans and mantras in the world, sex will out. If it’s the case that ‘only trans people can talk about trans issues’ (a good reason for aiming for more trans-inclusion in the first place) then it is surely also true that we need more female representation to talk about women’s issues, and that this has to come from women born and socialised female, because otherwise we just defeat the object.