Many of the women in the UK who are speaking out against issues like gender self-ID, the loss of female language and the transitioning of children are women who have spent their working lives campaigning for women’s rights. More often than not, the media call these women, women like Professor Kathleen Stock, MP Rosie Duffield and author JK Rowling ‘controversial’ and even ‘anti-trans’ although all have expressly stated their support for the rights of trans people to live a dignified life free from discrimination. I wonder whether you have asked yourself why these women are being so vilified. Are they and others who have been no-platformed and cancelled really hateful? Do you think they deserve this? The abuse heaped on them serves as a warning to other women and so far this has worked pretty well. Because there is a resounding silence by many who should be talking about this issue.
I want to set out why it is that many women, including myself, have been concerned and feel compelled to speak out and risk incurring the wrath of the activists, the silence of colleagues, the cancellation of work and even the loss of jobs. And to ask those of you who have not taken notice or preferred to stay silent to reflect on some of the points I make.
There has been a persistent effort in the Western world to disrupt the categories of male and female sex and replace them with the ill-defined concept of gender identity for more than thirty years and there is a powerful global movement which has succeeded in getting this concept – gender identity – embedded into national government institutions, charities and organisations in many countries, when very few were paying much attention. Sex is based on biology, is observable and objective; gender identity is a subjective feeling. We are being told that biology no longer necessarily determines whether you are a man or a woman, but gender identity does. Gender identity is defined as ‘a person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male or female or something else'(Stonewall). Indeed several leading politicians have confirmed this with Ed Davey, leader of the UK Liberal Democrats stating recently that it was clear that some women had penises.
This isn’t a grass roots movement. It is impossible for a tiny minority (96,000 people said they were either a trans man or a trans woman in the 2021 Census and one quarter of these were under the age of 24 so not a powerful group in themselves) to have the power and resources to enable such a wide scale change in society as we are now witnessing. There are several overlapping interests at play – financial, political and cultural which has resulted in this profound social shift. This will be the subject of a separate post but for a clearer understanding of the money and interests (mostly American) stoking the fires of transactivism I would recommend Jennifer Bilek’s 11th hour blog and Gendercriticalblog by @StillTish
Trans is defined by Stonewall as ‘an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth’. There are now many different types of trans people who “may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.” This is a very different and much broader set of people from the estimated 6000 transexuals for whom the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and even the Equality Act 2010 provision on gender reassignment was passed.
A powerful lobby led in the UK by Stonewall has grown up claiming that this disparate group is the most marginalised and vulnerable group in society and we should adjust society to accommodate their demands, framed as rights.
The fact is that prioritising gender identity over biological sex as we are being asked to do and permitting de facto self ID leads to a clash with the rights of women. This may be uncomfortable to acknowledge but I really don’t see why it should be. The whole project of feminism requires a universal understanding of woman. This is and always has been an adult human female. Because we live in a society in which women have only recently enjoyed the same rights as men but still suffer from sexism and misogyny it is important that we have this common understanding. In some areas of society women require their own spaces – toilets, sport, refuges, hospital wards etc. and the law currently allows for this. This is for their safety, dignity and fairness. Trans lobby groups are demanding that men identifying as women be included in these spaces, because “ trans women are woman”. By allowing men to claim to be women for all purposes women lose these protections. Currently the Equality Act has provisions for when even trans women with a GRC (gender recognition certificate) can lawfully be barred from a women only space including sport but such has been the power of the lobby that this is too frequently not happening. A clarification of the Equality Act 2010 may be forthcoming, following an interesting debate among MPs on June 7th.
So far (until recently when a rapist claiming to be a woman was going to be put in a women’s prison in Scotland) women’s concerns have firstly been ignored and secondly dismissed.
It is no coincidence that most of the women who have been vocal in speaking up about the loss of women’s rights are older. Like me. We know that these rights were hard fought for. For example, women only got the vote in 1923, were admitted to Cambridge University in 1948. Women had to fight to get the word woman included in public discourse instead of it being subsumed in men, to get public single sex toilets so they could go out (late 1920’s), to be able to play sports (many women’s Olympic events have only emerged in the past thirty years) to make sex discrimination illegal 1975 (before that women could legally be refused mortgages and bank accounts) to get equal pay (1975), statutory maternity pay (1986), make rape in marriage illegal (1991) All these rights were fought for and many delivered through the law. They were not given freely; in fact there was considerable opposition to most of them.
The feminists that fought for these rights enjoyed by the young women of today also paid a price. It wasn’t fashionable to be feminist then. Forty years ago, feminists were frequently caricatured as man-hating, ugly and unwanted. So it is particularly galling for many older feminists to be once again outcast– often by the young women who are benefiting from the freedoms they fought for. But mostly it has to be said by men and this time men on the left, historically allies. We know that women’s rights only recently given can also be reversed. Backlash comes in unexpected ways. It can come via religion and ideology and works best when a good proportion of women support the ideas. There are plenty of examples of women, particularly young, who support this ideology even as it goes against their own interests. A recent startling example is that of US football star Megan Rapinoe.
Many women are angry at the loss of women only spaces, like toilets, domestic violence refuges, and rape crisis centres, women only sports and female language. It is also upsetting to realise that women are thought so little of that they were not even consulted when the demands, made on behalf of this tiny group, were granted and implemented by so many organisations in the name of inclusion.
When deciding whether to permit males who identify as women to enter female only spaces, surely the most important consideration is what the women who use the spaces feel. In situations like prisons and rape and domestic violence shelters these women have already been traumatised by male violence. Even the presence of a male body can be triggering. Women were not asked.
When considering the inclusion of biological males in women’s sports surely the most important consideration is for the thoughts of the female athletes who will have to compete against these males. Women were not asked.
When assessing proposals to allow men to self-identify as women without medical checks or a diagnosis of dysphoria, the group most affected would be the female population of 35m (51%) women. The Equalities and Women Select Committee of 2016 under Conservative MP Maria Miller which included feminist Labour MP Jess Phillips consulted with many trans groups and recommended the proposals. Women were not asked.
When it was decided to refer to the 51% of women in the population as cis women, a sub category of women to distinguish them from trans women (0.1% of the population) in order to validate their identity no debate occurred. And women were not asked.
When deciding that the existence of some women who identify as men (0.1% of the population) required the removal of all feminine nouns like woman, girl, and cervix no debate occurred. And women were not asked.
When using gender identity instead of sex to collect data for crimes it would have been reasonable to discuss the pros and cons of doing so when it came to reliability and validity. We now have some sex crimes committed by males who say they are women being recorded as female crimes. Women were not asked.
When the Ministry of Justice decided that courts and witnesses had to refer to those charged with offenses according to their gender identity and not their sex so that a victim of rape would have to say ‘her penis’ in court, women were not asked.
When deciding that the existence of a handful of females who identify as men but stop their testosterone to enable pregnancy (if they haven’t had hysterectomies) requires the erasure of female words like mothers and breastfeeding, surely it is women who should be consulted by the many organisations professing to be inclusive and supportive of women (NHS and many NHS trusts). Women were not asked.
When it was deemed acceptable for children to be taught that they may be born in the wrong body, that boys playing with dolls may mean they are girls, that men can be women and you cannot tell from an appearance whether someone is male or female, it would surely be appropriate for parents to be informed about this training. They were not asked.
Observers should ask why these genuine concerns are dismissed as hatred and ‘wanting to erase trans people’ or are met with shouts of transphobia and ‘no debate’. We want to retain the rights that older women fought for, the right to define ourselves and the right to protect our children from an ideology we think is harmful to their well-being.
It says a lot about the current state of misogyny in this country that women’s rights and interests have been ignored and dismissed so easily. I think the public is now waking up to the consequences of this ideology and the tide is turning. If you agree with what I have written will you speak up?