The failure of politicians to define the word ‘woman’ is getting ridiculous. Keir Starmer is the latest to fumble the question and all the most recent examples are Labour MPs, but plenty of other parties have a similar woman problem: the Green Party resorts to calling us non-men, Layla Moran of the LibDems thinks you have to be able to see souls in order to differentiate between men and women and Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens believes that merely asking the question constitutes a ‘transphobic dog whistle’.
The reason that it has become impossible to voice a truth which to most people is self-evident, is to do with the basic aims of the transgender lobby and the need to obfuscate these aims. If we go back for a minute to when we all shared a common language around sex and everybody knew what everybody else was talking about (I date this at around 2015) it becomes clear that the political aims of the trans lobby risked being unpalatable to the general public. These aims, in plain language, were to ensure that some men could access spaces and facilities set aside for women. This was not necessarily, of itself, nefarious. An argument could be made for the accommodation of a tiny number of dysphoric males who wished to live as closely as possible in a gender role normally thrust on women. This argument had in fact already been made (and it led to the Gender Recognition Act of 2004) but with the proviso that there would be exceptions to the rule of inclusion in areas where it mattered most to women.
Some feminists completely disagreed with this Act from the start and have argued that the ‘legal fiction’ created has been responsible for subsequent raids on women’s rights. They might be right, but at least there was a recognition of why women needed single-sex rights in the first place, and there was an attempt to balance the needs of one community with those of another. And, as stated, the numbers were expected to be tiny. It’s worth mentioning here that the reason there is not the same scrutiny on the word ‘man’ is that it was always women who were expected to have to give something up for the accommodation of trans people, and the reason for this is that traditionally trans people were predominantly male. The GRA uses the word ‘transsexual’ and a transsexual was commonly seen as a man who wanted to present as a woman. It is close to the word ‘transvestite’ in the popular imagination, and not without reason: a joke in the trans community itself goes: ‘What’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual? Answer: Three years’. The tiny number of females expected to apply for a GRC was not exactly ignored – the issue of primogeniture was legislated for so that no woman could ‘identify’ into an inheritance – loopholes were quickly closed for women seeking to personally benefit, because obviously it was women, not men, who were seen as inherently untrustworthy and likely to take advantage of the new law.
Because it was stressed at the time that the GRA created a ‘legal fiction’ we still understood all the sex words to mean what they had always meant, even though a small number of people might be allowed to live outside them. The Equality Act of 2010 made ‘gender reassignment’ a protected characteristic, and language began to get a bit muddier at this point with the conflation of sex and gender. ‘Sex’ though, was still a protected characteristic and everyone still knew what it meant. Women in the Act were defined as ‘females of any age’ and men were defined as ‘males of any age’. Politicians were not expected to define women back then: we still enjoyed a definition of our sex class which came under the banner of self-evident facts.
What changed in 2015 was the first Trans Inquiry and Stonewall. This was when trans activism began to get aggressive. Stonewall leant publicity and weight to the existing trans groups like Gendered Intelligence and GIRES, and new language began creeping into the mainstream. The reality of what was being demanded was hidden right from the start: it was recognised as impossible to get away with redefining ‘women-only’ to ‘women (and-a-few-men)-only’ when it came to women’s spaces. The repercussions of allowing males into the female category were predictably full of risk, and any debate on the subject would have exposed this immediately, so the answer was to never express it that way in the first place. Instead, the pretence was that something else was being asked for. The era of ‘transwomen are women’ was ushered in, alongside a campaign of harassment against anyone who disagreed. Stonewall wrote on a T shirt ‘Some people are trans. Get over it’ because they couldn’t put on a T shirt ‘Some men are women. Get over it’ although that’s exactly what they meant. The public might find it hard to accept that ‘some men are women’ but might possibly accept that ‘some people are trans’ because the meaning of that is never defined.
Trans in any case began to mean something entirely different to the popular perception: it was no longer confined to a small community of gender dysphoric males but became an umbrella term for a much wider group of people. A semi-magical ‘inner essence’ called ‘gender identity’ was suddenly expected to do the job of describing the experience of everyone from fetishistic middle-aged men to young girls rejecting the Insta/porn backdrop to their adolescence and deciding to opt out of womanhood. It would stretch any ideology to encompass the huge variety of experience under this new definition and that is why we need all those 46-page trans toolkits in our schools to explain it all. The language has to be tortured into new shapes to accommodate the new ideology, and every time a sex-based word is redefined a whole slew of words has to follow suit in order for the ideology to stay coherent.
If ‘women’ for example now means adults of both male and female varieties, then ‘lesbian’ now has to mean a male or female person who fancies another male or female person.
The change in sex-based language is crucial for the trans project. Without it we would be forced to confront the reality that a man (in old money) is breaking all the women’s records in U Penn swimming in the US, that sexually-offending men are being allowed in to women’s prisons and that a man is now the CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis. We would be forced to acknowledge that ‘gender-neutral’ toilets and changing rooms are in fact ‘mixed sex’ and that girls are being forced to change alongside boys. We would be faced with the fact that a man is now permitted access to any women-only facility he chooses, on his say-so alone, and that there is nothing we can do about it. The change in the meaning of words deliberately obscures what is happening on the ground. We’ve been had.
All this is because trans groups refuse to have an honest debate over which males, if any, can be allowed to access women’s spaces. To be fair, if they had asked us nicely in the first place we would probably have said no to all of them. The risk is too great and the gatekeeping would be impossible. We might have talked about it first, we might have been open to debate, but at the end of the day we would have said no. I think they knew this, so instead of being open in making their case and trying to persuade us, they went for a pre-emptive strike on our language instead, to get in by the back door as it were, and in order to reinforce their defences they instigated a hate campaign against those of us who noticed. This is what led directly to the toxic fight over the meaning of words and particularly the meaning of the word ‘woman’.
In the early days (by which I mean 2011 or thereabouts) there was robust feminist argument over the importance of our language, and to be fair there were some mixed opinions. Some thought that we could concede the word ‘woman’ to trans-identified males because we had the word ‘female’ to fall back on when we needed to differentiate. How naïve that seems now. Not only has the word ‘female’ been taken too, but every single sex-based word needed to describe and protect women’s rights has been requisitioned. All the words we need in order to differentiate between men and women have become verboten, to the point that we can no longer complain about a ‘man’ or even a ‘male’ winning a women’s swimming race without a collective gasp of outrage (a ‘Buttergasp’ if you will), and the possibility of loss of work, public condemnation or at the very least a Twitter ban.
Shifting the meaning of words in this way is clever: it has only taken a few short years for everything sex-based to become transphobic. Calling a ‘transwoman’ a ‘man’ is transphobic, calling a ‘transwoman’ a ‘male’ is transphobic, so the only word left is ‘trans’ and it’s clearly transphobic to reference someone’s trans status. It doesn’t matter how many times we say we wish to exclude ‘males’ rather than ‘trans people’ from women-only spaces – ALL our language is now deemed transphobic.
Redefining women sneaks men in without anybody noticing, but it’s a dirty trick and we have definitely noticed. Real life is not semantics and in real life everybody knows what a woman is and everybody who pretends they don’t is lying. Lying and trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes is not the way to go about fighting for anyone’s human rights, even if you’re a politician, a journalist or a celebrity wishing to be on-message.
The real reason the ‘woman question’ is asked of MPs is not just as a gotcha (although it is that too) but because it is a test of honesty and integrity. We know they know what a woman is, they know we know they know what a woman is. It is clear to everyone what a woman is. If anyone is prepared to lie about this very simple question which is fundamental to women’s rights, then they are not to be trusted with much else. Different political views and different priorities regarding human rights are to be expected, but lying so brazenly and openly because of a not so hidden agenda is just insulting. Politicians who do this expose themselves as having no argument at all. Rather than trying to persuade us with a reasoned thought-out case for male inclusion in every area of life fenced off for women, they rely on a non-argument which goes like this: ‘We have redefined women to include men’.
Well women aren’t having it. We know who we are, we’re proud of what we are, and we’re currently to be found on a hill somewhere, with JK Rowling, having a party.