Who Really Influenced the IOC?

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

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

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

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

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 “Hopefully, organizations such as the ITA will quickly adapt to the new IOC guidelines and all of the outdated trans policies will get replaced soon.”

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

Here is some background to the story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit where credit’s due.

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Have Women and Girls Got Too Many Rights?

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

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

Do you agree? Lots of people do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIRES factsheet Toilets

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transwomen are women

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

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

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