When is indecent exposure not indecent exposure? The argument is raging on social media as to whether the performance of trans comedian Jordan Gray on Friday Night Live could be considered a crime or a brave and stunning celebration of trans bodies. It’s a question which could well interest Jerry Sadowitz, whose second show at the Edinburgh fringe was cancelled after a rogue penis appearance, or John Barrowman, roundly condemned for historic penis antics on set which he denied amounted to sexual harassment.
It is also of interest to feminists. Indecent exposure, or flashing, is a uniquely male crime, notwithstanding the occasional female streaker at a public sporting event. However, what constitutes a crime in real life is not necessarily a crime when it appears on post-watershed TV, although a content warning would normally ensure that those who might be triggered by male full-frontal nudity could switch off in time. Trigger warnings are used willy-nilly these days, and the ones about willies are probably the most useful, considering the proportion of women who have suffered male sexual abuse and might be prone to a trauma response.
The differences in opinion about Gray’s performance were marked not just by the trans issue, but by sex differences too. There is a distinct cultural difference between male and female nudity and between men’s and women’s reaction to it. We live in a world where power and danger can be signified by male anatomy, whether it’s through flashing, exhibitionist fetishes or the sending of dick pics. Conversely, female anatomy is used to titillate, whether in porn, in advertising or the entertainment industry. Men often have no idea of this imbalance in the power dynamic, nor the resulting difference in the way women might experience public nudity, so they are quick to accuse women of being prudes. References to Mary Whitehouse and moral panics have proliferated once again; it’s almost like being back in the time of the No More Page 3 campaign.
If it wasn’t enough for your senses to be assaulted by the piano-playing dick-waving bombshell at the end of Gray’s act, there were plenty of clues in the preceding song as to just how ‘empowering’ an experience this was going to be for female viewers. With lyrics such as ‘I’m a perfect woman – my tits will never shrink. And I’m guaranteed to squirt and I do anal by default,’ set to a refrain of ‘I’m better than you,’ made it clear that Gray identifies as a very niche subsection of ‘woman’ rather than the common or garden variety. Funny that. Well, no, it wasn’t that funny actually.
Maybe the assumption that an ‘edgy, subversive’ comedian on a ‘progressive’ TV channel will be anything other than aggressively misogynistic as default is a little naïve. Or maybe the joke’s on us and he was really sending up a type of narcissistic autogynephilic trans personality for laughs. Or maybe the ‘girldick’ popping up in an unexpected place is simply the trans version of ‘banter’ – yes, it’s offensive, but no, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a joke. Whatever the truth of it, women are conveniently either prudes or transphobes for objecting.
Gray has predictably been defended by trans allies, as if the meaning of an exposed penis changes if it is attached to a body with breasts. Trans allies determinedly see ‘a woman with a penis’ here, whereas most women will see a man with fake breasts – and they should never be sanctioned for saying so. As if all nakedness is ‘gender neutral’, Gray’s fans have been pointing out that Channel 4’s show Naked Attraction has been running for years without objection, so therefore any criticism of Gray must be transphobia, pure and simple. But people comparing this show to Naked Attraction are missing the point. This is not naked attraction; this is naked misogyny.
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.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission published two statements this week, regarding the reform of the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland and the government consultation on the draft conversion therapy bill. Their stance basically boils down to the urging of caution and the recommendation that more discussion is needed in order to make sure that everyone’s rights are taken into account. Nevertheless, it has resulted in a tsunami of hyperbole from trans activist groups and allies.
Mermaids called it ‘a shameful act of trans exclusion’ and ‘a systemic oppression of the trans community.’ Stonewall says it is an ‘attack on trans equality’ and moreover the statements ‘seek to exclude trans people from improved rights and protections’. Gendered Intelligence goes further: ‘Their guidance suggests that abuse is ok as long as it’s happening to trans people.’ Pride Cymru called it an ‘ill-informed and dangerous transphobic stance.’
The EHRC’s crime, according to trans ally Maggie Chapman MSP on Radio 4’s Today programme, is that it has paid attention to people who are ‘transphobic or misinformed’. Stonewall blames ‘a noisy minority of anti-trans activists’, Pride Cymru said the EHRC had ‘endorsed dog-whistle transphobia’, LGBTQ Labour refer to a ‘moral panic…which has created a deeply hostile environment for trans and non-binary people’ and Mermaids accuses the EHRC of being ‘captured by anti-trans rhetoric.’ Owen Jones claims the EHRC have made a ‘public U-turn on trans rights.’
This is familiar language to the women who have been fighting to get their voices heard for over a decade. Those wild accusations against a human rights body, simply for doing its job properly and considering the rights of every protected group equally, echo the abuse directed at women over the years for defending women’s rights as they currently stand. Being accused of hatred and bigotry isn’t much fun and can have an impact on work and friendships and mental health, but most of all it distracts from the real issues and puts off anybody else thinking of having an opinion. That’s partly the point of course.
It is ironic to all the women involved in grassroots organising, that the very groups who have had the ear of the EHRC and the Government Equalities Office for so long, and have kept feminists out by a strategy of smear tactics and #NoDebate, are now the ones to be so upset that things aren’t going completely their way. They have become used to being consulted on ‘trans issues’ exclusively and are now outraged that it’s not just them anymore. It must be awful for them.
Stonewall et al have never engaged with the evidence from women’s rights campaigners and they have never expressed any concern at all that the changes they are lobbying for could have a negative impact on any other protected group. They are not interested in a ‘balance of rights.’ They have expected legislators to share their uncompromising stance, and largely their expectations have been met.
Back in 2015 when the Women and Equalities Select Committee held the first Trans Inquiry, not many people outside of the trans community were even aware that it was happening. Feminists who had been following the legislation closely for years nevertheless contributed a significant number of submissions to the inquiry. The pattern was set by that inquiry: no women’s groups were invited to give verbal evidence, trans issues were only to be discussed by trans people and there was to be no debate. Debate became a dirty word, equivalent to genocide: feminists who wanted to talk about women’s rights were accused of debating trans people’s right to exist. Maria Miller set the ball rolling in smearing ‘purported feminists’ as being legitimate targets for abuse, the Trans Report was a wholly biased document, skewed towards trans demands at the expense of women’s existing rights, and Gendered Intelligence were promptly hired to write the GEO Trans Guide for Service Providers. It all seemed to be neatly sewn up.
Feminists though are a determined bunch.
By the time of the GRA Consultation of 2018 there was a huge groundswell of grassroots women’s groups who were well-educated on the issues and informed of exactly what was at stake. The word had to be spread on social media and in private networks because there were no established women’s organisations mobilising support and there was very little balanced media coverage to alert women to the assault on their rights. Not even Woman’s Hour would touch the subject until the day before the public consultation closed. A small number of journalists and broadcasters had nevertheless begun to turn the tide in the media and the voices of women could no longer be so easily ignored – this time women were invited to give evidence, both written and then in verbal evidence sessions at the GEO. It was still a hostile environment: questions were like accusations, we were on the back foot from the start. The picture painted by trans activists over the years had clearly had an influence: we were not just giving evidence, we were having to defend ourselves from the outset.
A couple of years later a similar tone of hostility can be witnessed in the 2020 WESC Inquiry into the Reform of the GRA: women were being invited into a discussion which concerned their rights, but not, it seems, as equals. The impression was that women’s motives were still not to be trusted. The degree of respect afforded to the trans witnesses, even down to using their titles in the introductions, was not afforded to the female witnesses, despite their academic qualifications and articulate arguments.
Throughout all the political engagement over the years, women have been at a disadvantage: the disadvantage that comes from somebody else having got there first and laid the groundwork for the tone of the debate. Women were deliberately kept out of the process, then reluctantly admitted, then eventually grudgingly listened to. Behind the scenes women have been gathering evidence, conducting research and raising awareness. The landscape of feminist activism has completely changed since trans lobbyists first started calling us ‘transphobic bigots in need of education’ all those years ago. Many more specialist grassroots groups have grown up through local networks: groups of parents and teachers, academics, LGB people, lawyers, medical professionals, politicians of all parties, therapists, detransitioners, sports professionals – any area where the chilling effect of gender ideology has been making an adverse impact on other people’s rights. The level of education around the issues has skyrocketed but the insults and abuse have strangely remained the same.
The purpose of trans rights hyperbole is to smear the opposition and close down their arguments, but it’s looking now as if they may have overplayed their hand. Public institutions, including government departments, have recently been leaving the Stonewall Diversity Scheme and finding that the world hasn’t come to an end. The EHRC itself left the scheme last year and it’s hard not to suppose that this has had an impact on their current stance. There is a sense that the stranglehold on public opinion is lessening.
The length of time it has taken for women’s rights to be considered in this debate has been frequently frustrating, but in one sense it has benefited the case being made. The more time that it takes, the more examples come to light, not just from the UK but from all over the world, which illustrate the unintended but highly predictable consequences of legislation which makes sex a matter of personal choice rather than a material reality. Well publicised stories of males winning women’s swimming races, males assaulting women in prison, academics being hounded out of university careers, and many others, just keep coming. No wonder the EHRC’s call for ‘more consultation’ has sent the trans lobby groups into such a tailspin.
It’s tiresome and predictable that once again their reaction to this perceived setback is to insult and threaten not just the people that the EHRC have listened to, but now the EHRC itself. As a handful of the UK’s trans organisations threaten to pull out of the government’s LGBT Safe to be Me conference this summer, Stonewall call on the UN to ‘urgently review’ the EHRC and Gendered Intelligence threaten to ‘cut ties’ with the EHRC (Which begs the question ‘What ties?’) the pressure is clearly on. To those of us who have seen it all before it looks a lot like sour grapes.
Bullying tactics such as these aim to shame and discredit everyone into silence, but it hasn’t worked on feminists, and we’ve been putting up with this for years. It’s taken a huge amount of work, determination and courage and some individual women have paid a considerable personal price. Let’s hope the EHRC shows as much bottle.
Originally published on Medium on September 12th 2018
In a Guardian report about the conviction of male transgender prisoner and rapist Karen White for sexual offences against female prisoners, Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said this:
“It is a very toxic debate, but I think prisons have probably been influenced by some of the extreme conversations and have been bullied into making some decisions that have harmed women and put staff in an extremely difficult position,”
So who bullied the prisons into accepting a male rapist into a female prison based on his ‘gender identity’ rather than his sex?
It all started in the autumn of 2015 when transgender rights were on the table in the form of the Women and Equalities Committee’s Trans Inquiry. There were two high-profile incidents involving trans prisoners in UK jails. The self-inflicted death of Vicky Thompson in a male prison caused outrage, although it was not clear that the death was intentional, or that any request had been made for Vicky to be housed in the female estate. In other words, prison reform was not necessarily something that would have prevented this particular tragedy, although that was the lesson that was taken from it.
The bigger public story though was of Tara Hudson, a male transgender offender who caught the public imagination with the help of a convincing, if pornified, feminine appearance. A huge public campaign was set up and promoted via a Change.org petition, which received massive publicity on social media. Thousands of people got involved in the campaign. Some of the people backing Tara were politicians:
Caroline Lucas wrote personally to the Ministry of Justice on Tara’s behalf and Tim Farron wrote to Justice Secretary Michael Gove.
Predictably, all the LGBT and trans organisations and activists came out in force in support of Tara, and promoted the petition over all their social media sites:
Some organisations you would hope might be more neutral, or at least equally committed to the safety of women, were instead surprisingly gung-ho about putting a violent male in a women’s prison:
Even some purportedly feminist organisations backed Tara’s campaign:
The press gave a voice to the campaigners and the Ministry of Justice subsequently announced a review into the care and management of transgender offenders in December 2015. This coincided with the publication of the Transgender Equality Report, produced by the Women and Equalities Committee. This report contained a section on transgender prisoners written solely on the evidence of trans advocacy groups. The subsequent review from the Ministry of Justice was published in November the following year, and its recommendations drew heavily on a combination of evidence from trans lobby groups such as Gendered Intelligence, the Trans Report, and the well-publicised campaign for transgender prisoners following the case of Tara Hudson. The most far-reaching change in the management of transgender prisoners was that now it was no longer necessary to have a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to be moved to the prison of the opposite sex. Prisoners who were legally as well as physically male could, and should, now be considered for transfer.
At no stage in any of the decision-making process did the government ask for the views of women. On the contrary, women who did raise objections were vilified as transphobes. Many women did voice their concerns over the Tara Hudson case, but no one was listening.
Some very good blogs and articles were written by women on the subject, but these were ignored by mainstream media. Articles which minimised the risk to women and painted us as prejudiced and discriminatory found a home in the Guardian. The press and the BBC did not inform the general public of the seriousness of Tara Hudson’s crimes, nor did they mention the fact that Hudson had referred to himself as a ‘she-male’ and ‘a bloke’ with a ‘seven-inch surprise in my panties’ for the benefit of his escort clients. Hudson became a cause celebre for transgender rights and facts were not allowed to get in the way of the near-religious support for him.
Fast forward to September 2018 and Tara Hudson popped up again, this time as the trans guest on Victoria Live on BBC 2 to debate the recent case of Karen White. The other guests were a former professional acquaintance of White’s and Dr Nicola Williams from campaign group Fair Play for Women. Surprisingly, to start with, all guests were in agreement that White should never have been transferred to a women’s prison in the first place. However, factions appeared when the reasons behind these views were expressed. In the eyes of feminists White should not have been transferred to a women’s prison because he is male. It’s that simple. Women have had that protection in place for a long time and there is no sensible reason to change it now. Hudson though took exception to this, as in his view it was because White wasn’t a *real* transwoman like himself. Hudson was so agitated about this point he ended up being rather rude to Victoria Derbyshire on national TV.
Hudson’s point about ‘real transwomen’ illustrates the impossibility of distinguishing people by ‘gender’. If a ‘real transwoman’ has had no reassignment surgery apart from a boob job, and if trans people themselves cannot agree on what makes a ‘real transwoman’, then to keep women safe we must obviously continue distinguishing people by sex instead of gender: there is no other sensible or possible way to do it.
Other commentators have expressed the view that only trans-identified males who have been convicted of rape or other violent crimes against women should be prevented from moving to a women’s prison, but this argument too is flawed. There are men in prison for lesser crimes who may be sexually violent but have no conviction for any sex crime (we know this from the under-reporting of rape, and the low conviction rate). There are men in prison who have not been convicted of sex crimes, but will have sex (coerced or otherwise) with other men whilst they are incarcerated. Rape happens in male-only prisons already, it is naive to think it won’t happen in a women’s prison. Danger is one part of the problem, but privacy and dignity is another. The pressure to allow males to urinate, shower and undress alongside women and girls is coming from trans rights groups in and outside of prisons.
The answer to the question ‘Who’s been bullying our prisons?’ is this: Politicians, Social Justice Warriors, Human Rights Activists, virtue signallers, the press, the BBC, every single person who has used the derogatory term ‘Terf’ to diminish and dismiss the concerns of women. And all of them have been bullied in the first place by Trans Rights Activists. We are allowing legislation to be influenced by people who care more about the rights of rapists than about the safety of women. Groups like Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, GIRES, Stonewall, TELI and Trans Media Watch campaign solely for the rights of trans people and do not care about the collateral damage caused to women and girls. Our elected representatives are failing us by giving in to the bullying tactics of extreme lobby groups.
Prisons are a small microcosm of society at large: what has happened here is already happening elsewhere, and will continue to escalate as long as the people who are supposed to be looking out for us continue to appease and to capitulate to bullies. If the unintended consequences of transactivist demands on prisons are exactly as women have predicted, then it’s important we should be consulted on other scenarios too: schools, changing rooms, refuges, rape crisis centres and women-only exemptions in the Equality Act for example. Women’s experience and expertise counts for something. Speak up everyone, it’s not transphobic to care about women and girls. Don’t give in to the bullies.
In 2015 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published new guidelines for transgender inclusion in sport, which greatly reduced the previous barriers to males competing in female competition. Former athlete Joanna Harper who, according to the report ‘happens to be trans’, was a major voice in the decision making process, presenting evidence to the committee based on a study of just eight trans athletes. On the strength of this flawed evidence the IOC banished the requirement for sex reassignment surgery and two years of lowered testosterone. Instead, a man could now simply declare his ‘gender identity’ was that of a woman and reduce his testosterone level to 10 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) for a period of one year before competing. The new guidelines came too late to have any impact on the Rio Olympics of 2016, but made the headlines in 2018 when the Commonwealth Games were held on the Gold Coast.
The controversy surrounded a transgender weightlifter called Laurel Hubbard, a male representing New Zealand in the women’s super-heavyweight category, who had previously won two silver medals at the World Championships in 2017. Hubbard failed in the end to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, due to injury, but the publicity had served to highlight the IOC’s decision-making processes and prompt some criticism and investigation. The realisation that there was no representation of the rights of female athletes anywhere in the IOC’s process was shocking to many women.
In March 2018 I attended a meeting in Brighton entitled ‘Beyond Fairness: the biology of inclusion for transgender and intersex athletes.’ The meeting was organised by Professor Yannis Pitsiladis of Brighton University, and it platformed Joanna Harper as guest speaker. I wrote about this meeting here and detailed the unevidenced and biased presentation which so angered the group of feminists with whom I attended. The pushback at that meeting, and in subsequent correspondence with Professor Pitsiladis, seemed to represent the first time there had been any direct criticism of Harper’s inadequate evidential influence, because it clearly came as a shock.
The following month it was reported in the Sunday Times and in Pink News that the IOC had halved its testosterone recommendation in a move which would restrict trans inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Joanna Harper claimed some credit for this change to the rules, although a trusted source told us it came about as a direct result of the unexpected backlash at the Brighton meeting. Despite the feeling that a small difference had been made, the result was actually a little meaningless. The normal range of testosterone for females is less than 2nmol/L so the new limit of 5nmol/L for males was still much too high, as well as ignoring the lasting benefits of going through male puberty. It was all beginning to look a little arbitrary.
In 2019 World Athletics (then known as the International Association of Athletics Federations or IAAF) held a meeting on trans inclusion, which was attended by Nicola Williams of Fair Play for Women. In a hostile environment she proved to be a lone voice speaking on behalf of women’s sports. The IAAF then published a press release on transgender eligibility in sport, in which they recommended the new lower level of testosterone as a starting point for individual sports to research and draft their own rules. It was almost as if the buck had been passed by the IOC to the IAAF who had then passed it on to the individual sports federations. Fair Play issued a response to the statement, welcoming the commitment to looking at scientific evidence and formulating fair policies.
That same year saw the voices of some top elite athletes join the debate. Women like Martina Navratilova in the US and Sharron Davies in the UK helped to raise awareness of the unfair burden of ‘inclusion’ on women in sport. The abuse they were subjected to in return was a lesson to any woman currently competing of what might be at stake if they spoke up. It was instructive that to begin with it was only women already retired from their sport who felt able to stick their heads above the parapet. In July 2019 Woman’s Place UK and Fair Play for Women held a joint meeting in London called ‘A Woman’s Place is on the Podium’ which dealt specifically with the subject of a level playing field for women in sport. The speakers were Nic Williams, Sharron Davies, Victoria Hood and Emma Hilton. In the audience was Daley Thompson, one of the first male athletes to speak up in support of women’s sports.
In September that year Fair Play wrote a letter to the IOC and Sharron Davies organised the signatures of sixty top athletes and scientists, urging a suspension of the transgender guidelines in the light of new scientific evidence, until more evidence had been gathered.
In February 2020 World Rugby took the initiative of organising a workshop to look closely at all the evidence available regarding the biological differences between males and females and the potential effect on sporting achievement. It was the largest (and to date, only) conference of its kind, taking into account as it did scientific, medical, legal, social and ethical considerations. As such there were representatives from women’s interests (Fair Play) and trans interests (Gendered Intelligence). A trans scientist (Joanna Harper) was matched by a female scientist (Emma Hilton) and evidence was heard from neutral experts in all the relevant fields. World Rugby produced its report in October 2020 and the results were unequivocal: the advantages conferred by male puberty present a risk to safety and fairness for women which are hardly reduced by any hormone treatment in transition. It would be neither fair nor safe to allow male athletes to compete against female athletes, whatever their gender identity. Fair Play wrote a considered response to the draft guidelines. Joanna Harper was interviewed by Outsports and was slightly less considered:
“Well, frankly, I think they had their minds made up, before they called the meeting,” Harper said.
The trans lobby groups (noteably Stonewall in the UK and ACLU and Outsports in the US) went into overdrive in their condemnation of World Rugby and the alleged ‘banning of trans people from sport’. Despite the evidence showing 20-30% greater risk of serious injury to women in contact sports, our largest LGBT charity encouraged rugby unions across the world to ignore the guidelines, and England Rugby did just that. Their transgender policy stipulates the lower level of testosterone (5 nmol/L) but does not take into account that it is a testosterone-driven puberty which is responsible for the disparity between males and females, and it completely ignores the safety implications. It seemed it was perfectly acceptable for trans groups and supporters to treat women as collateral damage in the quest for trans ‘inclusion’.
In March 2020 the IOC put out a statement to say that new guidelines for transgender inclusion would be made available after the Tokyo games. Due to the Covid 19 restrictions and the subsequent postponement of the games these new guidelines have been delayed by a year. The statement said the IOC had listened to ‘hundreds of athletes, doctors and human rights experts’ but the efforts of women’s groups in the UK and around the world, as well as scientists and female athletes and coaches, meant that this time there was much more evidence of conflicting rights which could not be so easily resolved or ignored. It was reported by the Guardian that the draft guidelines, in which the testosterone levels were supposed to be halved, were now to be shelved, with responsibility being passed on to individual sporting bodies to make their own rules.
In December 2020 a paper was published by Hilton and Lundberg which presented comprehensive scientific evidence of male performance advantage:
“These data overwhelmingly confirm that testosterone-driven puberty, as the driving force of development of male secondary sex characteristics, underpins sporting advantages that are so large no female could reasonably hope to succeed without sex segregation in most sporting competitions.”
New research by our old friend Joanna Harper conceded that a sporting advantage was retained by males identifying as trans, even after three years of hormone therapy. Interviewed about this evidence Harper was predictably reluctant to draw any firm conclusions.
In May 2021 Fair Play wrote to World Athletics to put the case for the new scientific evidence, as a conribution to their ‘global conversation’ about the future of their sport.
The Tokyo Olympics was finally given the go-ahead for July 2021 and Laurel Hubbard qualified to represent New Zealand in the women’s super-heavyweight weightlifting competition. In a statement which perfectly illustrates the fact that consulting ‘human rights experts’ no longer necessarily means you have consulted ‘women’s rights experts’, the IOC publicly praised Hubbard’s ‘courage and tenacity’ and proclaimed that everyone knows that ‘transwomen are women’. The tone of the IOC’s medical and science director, Richard Budgett, came across as annoyed and irritated that things had become so unnecessarily complicated:
“To put it in a nutshell, the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015,” he said.
It’s easy to get a scientific consensus of course when you don’t invite any dissenting voices to the table. It seems that the success of women in the last few years in defending women’s sports may have a direct correlation to just exactly how irritated the medical and science director of the IOC appears to be.
A further report from the Guardian’s Sean Ingle brought an admission from the IOC that the trans guidelines are not fit for purpose. Far from admitting that the science was lacking, however, once again Budgett made his own bias absolutely clear:
“There is some research, but it depends on whether you are coming from the view of inclusion as the first priority or absolute fairness to the nth degree being the priority,” he said. “If you don’t want to take any risks at all that anyone might have an advantage, then you just stop everybody. If you are prepared to extrapolate from the evidence there is, and consider the fact the have been no openly transgender women at the top level until now, I think the threat to women’s sport has probably been overstated.”
This seems to be an astonishingly entry-level statement from someone who has purportedly been examining the evidence since 2015.
The IOC 2015 trans guidelines were introduced very quickly, with totally inadequate ‘evidence’, behind closed doors. These guidelines have allowed a male weighlifter in 2021 to take the opportunity of a lifetime away from a female competitor. One missed opportunity for a woman is one too many when the way to keep competition fair is blindingly obvious to almost everyone who looks.
It is frustrating to hear the IOC complain about the compexity and difficulty of the decisions which have to be made in order to take into account fairness for everybody. The subtext here is that it was clearly so much simpler when they didn’t have to listen to women. There were already rules in place which protected women’s sports of course: reserve women’s sports for females. The onus should have been on trans advocates to prove that any changes would not disadvantage an already disadvantaged group, and this proof should have been mandatory before any changes were made. It should not have been up to women to try and roll back a done deal, achieved without their participation.
Many women have been villified, smeared and attacked for standing up for female athletes and defending the rights of women to compete on a level playing field. The IOC have had years to take a considered look at all the evidence and to come to a decision which would protect the rights of everyone. They might have started this process earlier if they had not wasted so much energy fending off women, and they might have sounded less confused about the whole thing if they had approached all the evidence right from the start in good faith and with an open mind.
It should have been completely unnecessary for women to have to fight this battle, in which we are being forced to reinvent the wheel. The Tokyo Olympics has brought a whole new audience to the issue and the IOC will be held to account if they don’t get it right this time.
I have just finished reading Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, a Sunday Times bestseller shortlisted for the Women’s Prize 2021. It’s a book with large themes, predominantly those of racism and colourism, but I bought it because it was about twins. Briefly, the twins of the story are Black but so light-skinned that one of them makes the choice to ‘pass’ as white, and thenceforward their lives necessarily massively diverge. I am always disappointed when twins are used as a plot device in novels: in my experience it usually means hanging a storyline onto one of several cliches or stereotypes to do with two human beings being interchangeable, whether this is done in an amusing gimmicky kind of way or a threatening scary way. It angers me every time. I read this book looking to be offended.
So the first thing to say is that I found the depiction of twins as realistic as I could have reasonably expected in a work of fiction. There was enough, but not too much, about the closeness of twins, but the sisters were also honoured as individuals in their own right. The twin relationship was not overplayed, despite its centrality to the story. The aspect of how much the twins might miss eachother in their separate lives remained frustratingly unexplored but a small observation towards the end of the book reiterated the strength of the twin bond, when, after decades apart, Stella finally makes the decision to go home and visit her sister again. She looks in the mirror at the grey strands in her hair and suddenly worries that her sister’s hair might be dyed: ‘She couldn’t be the old twin. The thought terrified her, looking into Desiree’s face and not seeing her own.’ Subsequently, Desiree’s partner, observing the sisters together for the first time, felt ‘that he didn’t know Desiree at all, that maybe it was impossible to know one without the other.’ The writing of these characters was honest, the observations felt true. Both twin sisters were real people and, separately, the twinship was also real. It was a surprise and a relief to me.
The book is set in the US and spans the nineteen fifties to the eighties. Not much has changed for twins since then but a lot has changed in race relations, so the depiction of blackness, racism and segregation has historical and social significance as well as current cultural relevance. The story of identical twins, one living a ‘black’ life and one living a ‘white’ life, sounds like one of those awful fifties social experiments twins were subject to, and could have come across as a gimmick were it not for the quality of the writing. The race issues were written as authentically as the twin issues, the experiences were believable and the points made with such a light hand that the story was not swamped with its message.
It was a surprise then to come across a seemingly gratuitous ‘trans’ character, not drawn with any depth or detail but possibly there to illustrate another kind of ‘passing’? I really don’t know what the purpose of the character was, but to slot a young woman presenting herself as a man into a seventies storyline felt like it needed some explanation, or at least some acknowledgement from the other characters. Instead, the character is referred to with male pronouns throughout and the fact that ‘he’ is female does not seem to surprise Jude, the young woman who becomes her romantic and sexual partner. There is reference to some injuries caused by breast binding, and eventually a trip to the hospital for ‘some surgery’ (we are told ‘he wanted a new chest’) and towards the end of the book, after some pressure from Jude’s mother for the couple to marry, there is a nod to the fact that this would not be possible without a change of birth certificate. Jude’s mother does not realise that her potential son-in-law is female, though by now there is the presence of a beard due to some testosterone treatment, so the sex is better hidden.
This storyline was incredibly frustrating. Unlike the other themes, I experienced this one as manipulative: I knew exactly how I was meant to think and feel. Interestingly, the word ‘trans’ is never used, possibly because it was not in common useage in the seventies and would therefore not ring true, but also I imagine because once ‘trans’ did gain traction it was almost exclusively meant as ‘transsexual’ and almost exclusively used for males. There is a deceit somewhere at the heart of this story, that gender dysphoric people were common enough in the seventies not to be remarked upon by any other character, and that a trans character was just as likely to be female as male. The ‘transition’ is depicted as being as simple as this:
‘On the road from El Dorado, Therese Anne Carter became Reese… He cut his hair in Plano… In Socorro, he began wrapping his chest in a white bandage… the truth was that he’d always been Reese.’
We have already met Reese at this stage, and witnessed the beginning of his relationship with Jude, so this is ‘his’ backstory, and it did nothing so much as to make me think of the lyric to Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side:
‘Hitch hiked her way across the USA, Plucked her eyebrows on the way, Shaved her legs and then he was a she…’
But Lou Reed’s 1972 song is about drag and gay culture, not trans (and ironically, has itself been accused of transphobia in recent years). It would fit better another character in the book, Reese’s friend Barry, a man who becomes ‘Bianca two Saturdays a month’ at a drag club. Jude loves this drag act: ‘It was fun because everyone knew that it was not real.’ Barry refers to the other men who perform alongside him as ‘the girls’ but everyone knows they are not really girls. If this is fun because it’s ‘not real’ what does this mean for Jude’s relationship with Reese? Is this fun because it’s not real, or fun because it is real or does the realness or lack of realness not matter to her in her closest relationship? Does Reece really ‘pass’ in the way the storyline suggests? We are never allowed to examine any aspect of the relationship which turns on this central question. A storyline which would stretch the bounds of plausibility even today, with the unprecedented increase in girls presenting to gender clinics with gender dysphoria, and the prohibition on questions about ‘dead names’ and previous lives, is written as being unremarkable in the nineteen seventies. The author’s use of male pronouns, even when describing the female character’s journey to ‘becoming’ a man, is a modern conceit superimposed onto a previous age.
I was irritated by this weakness in an otherwise literary and honest book. It is difficult to write with an authentic voice at the best of times but the subject of trans seems to bring out the worst in writers of all stripes. I was thinking about this as I watched the trailer for the trans storyline in Hollyoaks this week. The same type of awful indoctrinating use of a trans character was played out in the more lowbrow setting of a soap opera, in this case the unrealistic depiction of a male trans person in a women’s jail (there for murder no less!) being terrified by the aggression of the female inmates. It was laughable, but also, in its extreme reversal of known facts, possibly gave a clue to what it is about trans subject matter which reduces writers to such artifice. The fact is that the trans narrative as it stands is dependent upon a lie: the lie that human beings can actually change sex. The lie was what made the story of Reese and Jude so false, and the lie was what made the Hollyoaks storyline false. There may not be a way of telling a story about a trans character which rings true, if this central lie remains unaddressed, but to address it has now been deemed transphobic. It is a lie which has only recently become mandatory, but it makes every fictional trans drama into a piece of propaganda.
Brit Bennett in The Vanishing Half already had a theme where ‘passing’ could be explored, both to facilitate an exploration of racism and also, if she had chosen, to explore the relationship between the twins themselves. In the story there is a desire to pass as white by Stella, just as there is a desire to pass as male by Reece, but nothing of value is added by this juxtaposition. The twins themselves though could have been the counterpoint: constantly being mistaken for eachother could be seen as another kind of ‘passing,’ one which is neither welcome nor sought after but an accident of birth. What if you have to spend your life trying not to pass? There is a story here which is a kind of inversion of the usual twin ‘swapping places’ narrative, and in my biased way, I think this would have made for a much more interesting and original mirror to the ‘swapping races’ theme. The percentage of twins in the world is roughly equivalent to the percentage of trans people: are our stories not interesting too?
This week I also read a thread by Vulvamort on Twitter about the Gender Recognition Act and whether or not it should now be repealed. The GRA was introduced in 2004 as a ‘legal fiction’ and one of the main reasons it was said to be needed was so that trans people could marry – a problem which, as mentioned previously, came up in the novel. That problem was fixed in 2014 in the UK and in all US states in 2015, with legislation which allowed for same-sex marriage, so now it is less clear what the GRA is actually for. A ‘legal fiction’ could alternatively be described as ‘a lie’. Maybe the introduction of this lie into the legislation is what makes the trans narrative so divisive, in fiction as elsewhere? Maybe, after having served its purpose it has now become counterproductive.
In the Twitter conversation, defending the existence of the Act, Lachlan Stuart described the variety of males traditionally attracted to and welcomed by gay culture:
I wondered again why the culture Lachlan describes, along with the gay/drag scene depicted in The Vanishing Half and the Andy Warhol crowd depicted in Walk on the Wild Side, has to be legislated for at all, beyond the basic need for equality and protection from discrimination? Why the legal fiction? Why the lie? As Jude notes in the book, it’s fun because it’s not real. I have come to believe it is the lie which people can’t and won’t accept. We often know instinctively when we are being lied to, and nobody likes it. It fuels resentment, it gets a backlash, people will not stand for it. A wild and alternative social scene, where rules are broken and anyone can be whoever they want to be, holds an attraction and excitement for many people, and acceptance of nonconforming identities is obviously to be welcomed here. Once the law starts to get involved in matters of ‘identity’ though, other people’s rights need to be considered too.
Much has been written about the conflict which arises from allowing males the legal fiction that they are female in a world where there is inequality between the sexes. Making sex a matter of personal choice has implications for gay rights too, and legislating for a lie also has repercussions for sexual consent when deception is written into the law.
Ironically it was reading a work of fiction which clarified for me just how much in everyday life we rely on being told the truth. There is no way you can make your story out of a lie, and then lie about telling a lie, without it resulting in propaganda rather than art. Even in fiction we need to believe the author’s voice, we need to trust it, otherwise the story is not worth the investment of our time. When it’s a ‘legal’ fiction we need to believe in the benefit of the lie in order to make it worthwhile suspending our disbelief. The suspension of disbelief becomes almost impossible if the benefits are not discernible or if the results are perceived to be actively harmful. Just as when reading fiction, once the trust is gone we naturally want to stop engaging and put the book down. We stop caring.
Reading a novel which in all other respects tells with integrity a believable version of a truth, the one false note stuck out like a sore thumb. I resented it and I felt like I’d been had. Maybe I couldn’t trust the author’s other storylines if she felt it was okay to treat me with such dishonesty in this one. Maybe she thought I’d be easy to fool, maybe she thought I wouldn’t notice, maybe she assumed I was really stupid. Whatever the case, it serves as an analogy for the feelings engendered by gender extremists, who assume you need ‘educating’, tell you what to think and demand that you stick to their script.
Just as we have an instinct for observing someone’s correct sex, we also have an instinct for when we are being lied to. If you really want the allyship of the majority of people you are unlikely to get it if you won’t at least start by telling the truth.
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.
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.
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’.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.