The Lesbian Project

I have been acutely aware of the lack of focus on lesbians in LGBT research and policy for quite a while. Twenty years ago when researching the role and efficacy of employee networks for a large bank, some lesbian employees told me that they chose to attend the women’s network rather than the LGB (as it was then) one because “our issues are very different from those of gay men and we don’t always have that much in common with them.” Back then it was gay men who dominated these groups and who were likely to be more open about their sexuality and also be in more senior positions in the organisations.

Since the addition of trans to LGB in 2015, followed by a plethora of other identities and sexualities, the interest in lesbians issues has arguably dropped further down the ladder. Even in the 2021 Census figs the question on sexuality was are you gay or lesbian? These are rarely asked about separately in surveys.

So it is welcome news that two prominent British lesbians, Kathleen Stock and Julie Bindel last week launched the Lesbian Project, a new organisation, dedicated to the understanding and enhancement of lesbian lives in the UK. Its patron is Martina Navratilova.

In a piece in the Observer   Stock explains why it’s needed: “The data on lesbians is not good enough. How do lesbians feature in the UK labour market? How are they faring in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships? How does the lesbian experience of motherhood differ from the heterosexual one? What are lesbians’ specific health needs?”

Arguably LGBT groups like Stonewall should be undertaking this research but they are not. Indeed a piece of research in 2019 by Professor Michael Biggs showed that the word lesbian appeared only 16 times in five years’ worth of Stonewall reports.

There is concern among older lesbians That it just isn’t cool to be lesbian. That it is better today for young women and girls to come out as non-binary,  queer or even trans. The Lesbian Project want to reclaim the word and put some pride back into it.

The fact that a very high proportion of girls referred to Gender Identity Services for their gender dysphoria are actually same sex attracted is further proof that this timely. It might be that these girls feel it is more socially acceptable to be trans than to be lesbian. Indeed in Hannah Barnes’ brilliant book Time To Think, The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children she reveals from her interviews with ex staff that there was certainly an amount of homophobia (and lesbophobia) around the service. Sexuality of children presenting with gender dysphoria was rarely explored.

“Same-sex-attracted females are not going anywhere, but public understanding of them is disappearing and younger lesbians in particular are paying the price – however they identify, and whatever they call themselves. We think our task is urgent. We are keen to get started.” Says Stock

You can read further background and detail of the Lesbian Project here

And listen to Kathleen Stock talk further about it on Woman’s Hour here

Resistance to women’s equality in the workplace and wider society

Are we seeing the beginnings of a backlash against women’s equality?  Two in five Britons think efforts to champion women’s equality are so robust that men are being discriminated against, a major new study has suggested. The research, carried out by King’s College London and Ipsos, found that 53 per cent of men but only a third of women take the viewpoint.

In an article on the same study  in the Telegraph  it was reported that just over one half (52%) of GenZ and (53%) of millennials felt women’s rights had gone too far and  broken down by sex this was 55% of men and 41% of women.

Kelly Beaver MBE, the Chief Executive of Ipsos, UK and Ireland, said: “Our ongoing research into gender equality shows that we have made significant progress with nearly half of people now agreeing equality will be achieved within their lifetime. “

“However, there are signs that the public are starting to push back on this progress to date, which is potentially worrying, but it may also be a sign that real change is happening in society and change can often make people uncomfortable and resistant.

The role of resistance to women’s equality both in the workplace and in wider society doesn’t get a lot of attention but it has been there from the start.

Over the years working with mostly senior men in workshops about male culture and its impact on women in their organisation I became accustomed  to feeling the resistance in the room. It was usually expressed by exaggerated  displays of boredom, looking  distractedly at phones ( which I then insisted were turned off  in my workshops), non-participation or downright hostility (the latter being the easiest to deal with!) I understood. Having one’s viewpoint and behaviour challenged is profoundly uncomfortable and as human beings we are always resistant to change. The best route I found and still do is to use humour.  

Cynthia Cockburn wrote a book in 1991 called “In the Way of Women: Men’s Resistance to Sex Equality in Organisations” that was very influential in my own thinking. In it she showed, through four case studies, the myriad of ways in which women’s equality was resisted.  I echoed this theme in my book Women’s Work Men’s Cultures: Understanding Resistance and Changing Organisational Cultures. Within organisations we can view many of the barriers to women’s progress in the workplace as forms of resistance.

“Cultural impediments arise in discourses and interaction and influence what women and men think feel and do”  (Cockburn)

Many of the intangible barriers around informal socialising, humour, banter can be interpreted as ways of saying to women “you don’t really belong here”. The higher the status the job (the better paid) the more likely it will be defended by barriers.

The pushback against identity politics and what is frequently called ‘wokeism’ has not helped women’s equality work either as commentators often ignorantly put all kinds of diversity initiatives into one basket – the good and the bad – and  positive gender equality initiatives are unfairly included.  

Organisations reflect wider social values too and there I see a backlash to women’s progress manifested in a number of ways (See Susan Faludi’s book Backlash in which she  recorded the historical  resistance to women’s equality). There are different means of  resistance; they may be religious, legal or merely ideological. As legal and physical force is used less in the West – unlike in countries like Afghanistan and Iran – ideological means are the most common. We are all influenced by wider culture and those who have the most resources to influence the cultural environment will dominate what we see and hear about a subject.

I see resistance and backlash to women’s progress currently expressed through:

  • the increased sexualisation of women and young girls which serves as a reminder that we are in the end mere bodies for men’s enjoyment.  
  • This sexualisation and objectification of women is evidenced through the  huge increase and availability of pornography much of it showing violence to and degradation of women  and
  • through the increasing acceptance of prostitution by validating it as ‘work’.  Prostitution de humanises women and reduces their bodies to objects to be sold to men for their pleasure.
  • the diminishment of the importance of biological sex as the dominant social category.  If the sex class of women can be diluted down enough to include men then that class is delegitimised and meaningless. Feminism requires a coherent definition of women as has been in existence over centuries hence it is weakened.

Awareness of backlash and resistance helps to fight against it, whether this is in organisations or wider society. It can come in the form of common sense –e.g.  the idealisation of motherhood following the second world war which encouraged women back into the home or even appear part of a progressive movement like the sex work is work discourse. But the result is the same – the status of women is lowered and progress can be halted

A short reflection on men, women and war

Last night we watched Journey’s End, the film production of the play written in 1928 by R.C. Sherriff. It is about group of British soldiers awaiting their fate in an Aisne dugout during the end of World War I. I hadn’t seen it before but I remember my son studying it at school as did my husband.  Everyone feels horror at the catastrophic loss of life in this war but it stirs something else in me as well. A mixture of anger and impotence. War is very male. There were no women in this film. The lack of women fighting and being killed can somehow make it hard for a woman to criticize war. This isn’t so much a criticism, as a reflection. To record my thoughts and feelings when I see scenes of war on the news or in a film. I don’t want to accept it as part of human life, to be impervious to feeling outrage at what horrors humans (men) inflict on others. No doubt it was shown because of it being the first anniversary of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, yet another destructive war about land and who owns it, never mind the people.

I said to my husband this morning that I didn’t understand  why war was and remains such an integral part of our world. His first response was that it was human nature. Is it? If so, I replied, it is part of male human nature perhaps but I don’t think it is part of women’s. Of course women take part in acts of inhumanity in war and out of it, but war and endemic violence has really always been a male domain.  As women we are included as part of a ‘nation’ or ‘religion’ or ‘tribe’ that may defend or attack but generally we are not in positions of power and didn’t choose war. Sometimes we are told that men are fighting on our behalf.  Most of the time women look on in horror as their sons and husbands are killed and they and their children are caught up in the violence and impact of war.

 My thoughts this morning went to Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938) in which she replies to three requests for a guinea: one to help preserve peace, one to further women’s education, and the last to encourage employment for professional women. She links all three and asks

“What sort of education will teach the young to hate war?”

“For we have to ask ourselves, here and now, do we want to joining that procession or don’t we? Where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?”

And she concludes,

“Our country”, she will say “throughout the greater part of its history has treated me as a slave; it has denied me education or any share in possessions”. “For”, the outsider will say, “in fact as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”

I am familiar with this concept of women being outsiders from my work on organisational cultures.  It often seems that we women are travellers in a male world.

Today with our Western penchant for safe spaces and claims that language can constitute violence, war is still part of our public discourse. It is still a big industry. Should we send fighter planes to Ukraine? We manufacture arms for profit and export them. We build nuclear weapons. War we are told is necessary sometimes to protect and defend our way of life, which seems an acceptable rationale. It is easier to justify war when there are potential totalitarian depots like Hitler, Putin perhaps even Xi Jinping, for whom human life is of little value.  These evil individuals are responsible for many atrocities. But it takes more than one man to take a nation to war. When I look at the rows of men standing around modern day leaders I am at one with Virginia Woolf. These men do not represent me, they don’t speak for me.

So that is what I wanted to write. That as a woman in this world I often feel an outsider, especially when looking at war and its pointless violence. It makes me angry but also sad.  

Society must share the blame for GIDS scandal

We cannot put all the blame for the unfolding scandal at the Tavistock’s Gender Identity Clinic (GIDS)on to its leadership. It must be shared by every individual or institution that has promoted or even endorsed the ideology of gender identity and the trans child. That includes those who have kept quiet.

Next week a much awaited  book, “Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children  is published. It lays bare the story of GIDS the only children’s gender identity clinic in England and Wales that was ordered to be closed down by Dr Hilary Cass in her interim report last year.  

 In last weekend’s Sunday Times Hadley Freeman has written up her interview with Hannah Barnes, its author. Freeman describes the book as,

 “a deeply reported, scrupulously non-judgmental account of the collapse of the NHS service, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with former clinicians and patients. It is also a jaw-dropping insight into failure: failure of leadership, of child safeguarding and of the NHS.”

News that all was not well at GIDS first emerged in the media in 2018 when an internal report listing concerns about the treatment of children was leaked to the press. However there was very little debate or commentary in the media,(apart from Janice Turner and Andrew Gilligan in the Times and James Kirkup in the Spectator). It certainly wasn’t the subject of radio talk shows.

Instead the public were treated to TV dramas, ‘I am Leo’ and ‘Butterfly’ (2018). Both programmes showed that affirming a child’s belief that they were the opposite sex was not only kind but crucial to their well- being. Mermaids, the charity devoted to the trans child  was enjoying positive attention from the media and many corporates like Starbucks were happy to provide sponsorship for it. Indeed Starbucks won the Channel Four diversity award for its TV commercial What’s My Name

Stonewall was at peak popularity having added the T on to LGB in 2015 and was going into schools promoting the concept of gender identity via its anti-bullying training. Schools also joined their Champions Scheme and received their trans tool kit, which included the advice to affirm a child’s desire to use their choice of pronouns and names but if requested by the child to keep this from the parents

Meanwhile organisations, both public and private mistakenly thinking that this was the next big diversity issue after gay rights, were vying to be in the top 100 employers in Stonewall Workplace Index.

The tide was going one way and most felt compelled to swim with it.  One leaked internal report accusing GIDS of poor clinical care  and criticising its use of puberty blocker on kids under 16 could be put down to a disgruntled employee, despite the fact that  that employee was Dr David Bell a senior clinician and staff governor at the Tavistock. But this was a controversial subject and most journalists and editors stood well back.   

Further bits of news trickled out over the next year or two as Dr Bell and other concerned staff, many of whom had faced bullying when they voiced their concerns, left the clinic .

In 2019 Professor Michael Biggs analysed the unpublished research findings  into the effects of puberty blockers undertaken by the Tavistock some years earlier  and this was both published by TransgenderTrend, the group set up in 2015 by Stephanie Davies- Arie  to counter the trans child narrative and reported in the Telegraph. The data showed that mental health problems continued after taking puberty blockers, 74% of patients were female, the study did not look beyond the age of 16 and all the children went on to take full cross sex hormones. So not a wait and see phase, as Director Polly Carmichael kept stating, at all. Certainly there was enough to sound alarm bells in most adults ears.

Then in Autumn  2020 there was enough concern, particularly around the increase of teenage girls presenting as dysphoric , for NHS England to commission an independent  review of GIDS, led by Dr Hilary Cass. Yet even its damning interim report published a year ago leading to the imminent closure of the clinic didn’t have that big a reaction and lobby groups pushed on with their insistence that child transition should be affirmed and  encouraged and worried parents ignored. The emergence of some de transitioners (not discussed by activists) and the case of Kiera Bell particularly did draw some attention that the affirmative model of treatment might result in life changing medical conditions which could not be reversed, e.g infertility, and regretted.

But it was the recent constitutional crisis caused by Scotland’s decision to pass the GRR, followed by the case of the Scottish rapist, that opened up the issue to the kind of public scrutiny only dreamed of five years ago. It has given permission to all kinds of journalists, who previously ignored the topic to cover it.  That so many of them  seem to be so ill informed is still quite a shock to me. As if people like the Labour MP Rosie Duffield and JK Rowling have been making a fuss about nothing and it didn’t need any more inquiry. Hadley Freeman herself left the Guardian because she had been banned from writing about any trans story and has shown herself to be one of the best writers on the topic now she is at the Sunday Times.

Even the most hard nosed activists are unlikely to publicly insist that rapists are women – even if they fail to articulate a denial. They know that the public will not accept them being in women’s prisons. This was not meant to have come to the public’s attention. Neither are they saying much about the scandal of child transition. It isn’t too far a stretch now for people to realise that it is the concept of gender identity and it being deemed to take priority over biological sex that has resulted in both these two unfortunate outcomes. Looked at closely the ideology that being male and female is down to an innate inner feeling falls apart.  It has been one of the characteristics of this movement… the ideology doesn’t make sense and doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, hence there has been a refusal to debate, a great deal of shaming of anyone who dared to question it, and change went on behind closed doors. A light has also been shed on the power and influence of the trans lobby although there is more to go on this.

At the end of her article Hadley Freeman asks “How did an NHS service medicalise so many autistic and same-sex-attracted young people, unhappy teenage girls and children who simply felt uncomfortable with masculine or feminine templates, with so little knowledge of the causes of their distress or the effects of the medicine?”  

This is a scandal on a national scale and whilst it is very evident that GIDS put political ideology above good clinical practice, blame lies beyond the NHS. The ideology of the trans child (and I acknowledge that there have always been a small number of those but not on the scale we are now seeing)  has been endorsed and promoted by universities, schools, the Church of England, large corporates and well known brands, councils and government departments. Perhaps people are now beginning to see the link between the rainbow flag celebrations of gender identity ideology and the real life material consequences that follow it – the unnecessary medical transition of vulnerable young people to the opposite sex.

Women’s Work Men’s Work

This is a brief comment on why, overall, women’s jobs are paid less than men, not a critique on the rights or wrongs of different groups of workers taking industrial action. But I write it now because the strike action offers a view on to the pay differentials of one female dominated sector and a male dominated one.

In 2022 average nurses (90% female) pay was £33,384 for a 38hr working week.

Average train drivers (93% male) pay was £59,864 for a 35hr working week

When I said on Twitter that this disparity was a good example of the gendered pay gap due to the gendered horizontal segregation of the workforce, some men responded that it was women’s choice to go into these areas so it was too bad if they were lowly paid. This is a longer response than Twitter allows but hopefully it will also cast some light on a little of the history of our gendered pay gap and why it still very much a part of our lives, due not only to vertical segregation, where generally there are more senior men than women, but also horizontal segregation i.e., where women and men are working in different occupations or sectors, which we then value accordingly.  I will not be covering the other major factor for the pay gap which is that women are far more likely to work part-time than men, taking on the unpaid work of running home and family, although part time work is often associated with sectors dominated by women.

Equal pay legislation has been in place for over forty-five years. We must not forget that before then it was perfectly legal for companies to pay women half what they paid men. It seems incredible today but it was accepted that women were valued less than men in society and that followed them into the workplace.

(For a great reminder of what life was like for a woman working in a male-dominated field in early 1960’s America I recommend reading the novel Lessons in Chemistry! It should have the mouths of our millennial young women open in aghast.)

 This hangover of women’s lesser social status is still with us. We saw a very public example a few years ago when the top female BBC presenters found out that they were being paid substantially less than their male colleagues for doing the same job, and the only possible explanation was that men were more valued than women.

In the UK the Equal Pay Act 1970, driven partly by feminist campaigns, the Ford Dagenham female workers strike of 1968 and the imminent entry into the European Union, was passed in 1970 and came into operation in 1975. This was to give organisations time to get their act together. What also happened was that organisations busied themselves separating women’s jobs from men’s jobs mostly by renaming job titles, physically moving women physically into different parts of the building, and carving up work into different areas etc. to avoid pay comparisons. The horizontal segregation of women within organisations increased.

The limits of equal pay legislation became apparent soon after its implementation in 1975. The fact that men and women were segregated into different jobs meant that direct comparisons then were few and far between and indeed still are. The Equal Pay Act was amended in 1983, following a European directive and a new regulation which provides for claims of equal pay for work of equal value came into force in 1984. This has proved to be an invaluable (if lengthy and complex) route for women, challenging as it does the notion that skills and value are objective. The objectivity of skills was challenged long ago by Phillips and Taylor in their article Sex and Skills (1980)

Some success has been achieved but the process of bringing about the lawsuits is incredibly expensive and lengthy requiring considerable financial backing.  They also require multiple claimants to make it worthwhile. A couple of successful cases have been Asda v Brierley and others (2019) where the mostly female shopworkers (35,000 of them) compared themselves to the men working in the distribution centre. And in an earlier key case, 170 women working in traditionally female dominated roles such as cleaning, care and catering were successful in their individual claims against Birmingham Council (2102) for which they worked, comparing themselves with male workers, such as grave diggers, street cleaners and refuse collectors.  During the seven-week hearing the tribunal heard how a man doing the same pay-graded job as a woman could earn four times more than her. Under a bonus scheme male refuse collection staff sometimes received up to 160% of their basic pay. In one year a refuse collector took home £51,000 while women on the same pay grade received less than £12,000. The council appealed and lost in 2012 and is believed to have paid out more than £1bn compensation to thousands of other women, who came forward to make claims. And it is not out of the woods yet.

These equal value claims can only be made if the work is for the same employer.

Feminism has argued for decades that housework should be valued just as much as work outside the home (the concept of work/life balance hasn’t helped). Kat Banyard in her book, The Equality Illusion.  

 notes that women are concentrated in the 5 C’s: cleaning, caring, clerical, cashiering and catering. Many of these jobs are considered ‘women’s work’ i.e. perhaps work they traditionally may have done in the home and for which they are thought more suitable. But the notion of what and what isn’t women’s work changes with time and location. My blog post on women in technology shows how the notion of work becomes gendered and is valued or devalued accordingly.

 These 5 C’s are also sectors which readily adjusted to employ part-timers, mostly women with families. In the 1970’s and 80’s part time jobs were created with mothers in mind. Part-time work is associated with lower rates of pay. These five C’s represent some of the lowest paid sectors in the country. I

When we see the pay of highly-trained nurses and train drivers, or in the case of the Birmingham equal pay case, cleaners and refuse collectors set side by side the differences are surely stark enough to make us (society) ask the question… why do we value some work more than others? Is it a coincidence that the work where women are concentrated is considered less skilled, of lower value and therefore more poorly paid than that of men? I do not think so.  We cannot separate out the unequal pay between men and women without recourse to their ongoing unequal status and value in society.

Lack of affordable childcare still a barrier to women’s progress at work

The Sunday Correspondent 1990

I follow Joely Brearley’s excellent organisation Pregnant then Screwed and have read the accounts of the March of the Mummies, a protest at the cost of childcare, inflexibility of work and  lack of  government help on childcare attended by thousands on Saturday, with great interest.

It made me reflect on how much – or little – has changed since I returned to work after the birth of my son in December 1987 and then my daughter in September 1989. Back then there were also activist campaigns by women to improve maternity leave and pay.  The focus then was on the provision of workplace nurseries, which had some tax benefits for employers and demands  for tax relief on the employment of nannies. Workplace nurseries proved not to be a long term solution and local nurseries, childminders  and nannies became the most favoured choice of childcare (although the most common form of childcare in this country is still grandparents).

 Occasionally I wrote about the situation as above in the Sunday Correspondent in 1990.  I was certainly in the minority of women I had met whilst pregnant returning to work, mainly because part- time work for most professionals was not on offer, and many of my contemporaries were graduates,  professionals e.g. lawyers, accountants, marketers but didn’t want to work full time straight away.

But once out of the workplace it was hard to get back when the kids were old enough to start school.  I used to add up the extraordinary number of skills standing at the school gate which could have been channeled into the workplace.

Being at home has sadly never counted in employers’ eyes as being work yet in my experience trotting off on the bus in my designer trouser suit with a briefcase to do what I enjoyed was a doddle compared to dealing with two children under two all day. Plus what they never mention in the ‘looking after the children’ is that a huge amount of this is actually housework in some form or another and usually benefits the husband/partner as well.  Women who have managed a home and kids full time return to the workplace with a unique set of skills which are useful in all kinds of jobs… common sense, calm in the face of turmoil, negotiation skills, far-sightedness, multi tasking,  etc. I wish these were given more recognition

So part-time work for professionals hardly existed, flexibility wasn’t understood, working at home was frowned upon and childcare was just as expensive relative to pay as it is now. Nor was there much social expectation that you would work if your husband had a good job. Part-time working was mostly confined to low paid jobs and designed with mothers in mind – shift work to fit school hours etc.  to suit the needs of the employers e.g. retailers. Flexible working regulations were not made a statutory right until the Employment Rights Act 1996 and even after that the culture in many professions made a request career suicide. I was incredibly lucky to be a journalist and also to be working on a newspaper where the editor liked and supported women and mothers– and he allowed me to work on the paper on a freelance basis three or four days a week. 

 My own approach to returning to work was this. I knew that taking my salary alone and allowing for childcare costs meant I worked for very, very little. In fact the nanny I employed at certain times took home more than me after I had paid her. But I knew that I didn’t want to be a full time mum at home and wanted to be in the workplace, and secondly I thought it was important to keep my human capital value up (I was still quite young) and that years away would decrease it.  

My view which I encourage all working mothers to have, specially those worried about the lack of extra income they will bring home, is that the cost of childcare should not be measured as a percentage of the mother’s salary alone, but of both parents. It is child of two people… I don’t think this is taken into consideration enough and unless it does it will skew a mother’s decision. There is of course also the wider social impact that available affordable childcare benefits the economy and society generally. We need well- adjusted children and we need women/mothers in our workforce. We saw this point being made on banners in the protest on Saturday.  

There have been enormous changes in employment in the past thirty years. As well as an increase in mothers in the workforce there has been a huge shift in attitudes and expectations. A March of the Mummies wouldn’t have happened in 1990.  Changes in society that benefit women have been fought for and won by women… they are never handed over freely. So we must keep making our demands  for a world of work which suits our lives too. Those of us old enough to see some backlash to women’s progress know that we must not take our wins for granted.

The script is probably too small to read but I ended the article above with this… “ The Government’s reluctance to make permanent large scale changes by providing tax relief or creating nurseries leads to the suspicion that the move to  get women back to work is just a temporary solution to an economic problem. What some campaigners are asking is, once the demographic gap is filled, will women be sent back home again?” These words may sound ridiculous now but we believed that as it had happened before it could happen again.

Dentons and its report advocating the legal gender transition of children.

Given that due attention is finally being given to the scandal of children being encouraged to be ‘trans’ and put on the path of medical transition, it is surely time for some accountability from those organisations who have specifically advocated for youth transition. Let’s start with Dentons which co-sponsored (with Thomson Reuters*) and prepared the report “ONLY ADULTS? GOOD PRACTICES IN LEGAL GENDER RECOGNITION FOR YOUTH published in 2019.

 Dentons is the biggest law firm in the world with over 20,000 employees in 80 different countries  The report advocates for the right of children to choose their ‘gender’ in both social and legal terms. “Allowing youth to change their gender marker is a human right” It also advocates the elimination of the minimum age for legal self ID. And it even proposes that “States should take action against parents who are obstructing the free development of a young trans person identity in refusing to give parental authorisation if required”.

Although it may seem surprising for a renowned top law firm to have a hand in such a controversial issue, law firms have been in the forefront of promoting the ideology of gender identity. Influencing law as well as policy is a cornerstone of the global activist movement and as an example law firms are regularly the most represented sector in the Stonewall Workplace Equality index. I wrote about the quest for legal recognition of gender identity here.

But it is quite extraordinary to produce a report like this which sets out tips for activists to establish gender identity as a legal category, specifically advocating for youth transition. Not surprisingly you will no longer find the report on Denton’s website given that the topic of youth and child transition is coming under increasing scrutiny both here and in other countries. One of the tips given to lobbyists in the report was to bypass public debate and this very nearly succeeded but thanks to women and specifically key feminists the public is now being informed about the consequences  of gender identity ideology, particularly on children.

The Dentons report lists tips for activists, including the following:

  1. Target youth politicians. Reason given is that  they are more likely to embrace the cause and repeat it often
  2. De-medicalise the campaign. The reason given for this is that the public do not like the thought of medicalising children and it puts them off supporting the transition of children.  However the path to transition, as we know is in fact medical, starting with puberty blockers.
  3. Get ahead of the government agenda and the media story. In other words determine and establish the dominant discourse before the ideas are debated in society. The UK provides a good example. In the early years work went on behind the scenes  to influence key sectors (Academia, NHS, Education, Media, Civil Service and the Judiciary) before most people had even heard of the words ‘gender identity’ and thought that trans only referred to a few thousand people. The first many people realised what was happening was in 2016 when proposals for changes in the Gender Recognition Act 2004, including Self ID were agreed and published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (including by feminist Labour MP Jess Phillips). It is no coincidence that media giant Thomson Reuters is the co sponsor of this report. Media guidelines were introduced which included using people’s preferred pronouns and gender uncritically regardless of whether or not that person had transitioned. A secondary tip to this is;
  4. Campaigners are also warned to “avoid excessive press coverage and exposure”, because the “general public is not well informed about trans issues, and therefore misinterpretation can arise”. It describes how activists in Ireland “have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum in order to avoid this issue”.
  5. Use human rights as a campaign point. This has been key in the uncritical acceptance of the concept of gender identity.  By influencing global human rights organisations the movement has avoided going through national equality and discrimination legal routes and the relevant national debates. The movement has been very successful in this by funding human rights conventions. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch adopted the Yogokarta Principles 2006 on gender identity. This conference  which was originally planned for LGB people and then the T was added framed the arguments in terms of human rights and gender identity rather than equality and discrimination and transsexuals.   No one would want to be accused of going against someone’s human rights or even question why it should be a human right if it is already stated as one. The report urged activists to “use human rights as a campaign point” because of the “political stigma of a human rights violation”.
  6. Tack it on to other reforms… so it gets lost in the main headline. In Ireland self ID was added on to the legalisation of homosexual marriage and succeeded in gaining legal recognition. “This provided a veil of protection, where marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support for.’
  7. Avoid press coverage and exposure   This avoids any close analysis, challenge and disagreement with the ideology. Indeed Mermaids, the children’s charity,  is a recent example of failing to do this. It has been hoisted by its own petard as it brought a case against the charity LGB Alliance on the grounds that the Alliance was transphobic and undeserving of charitable status. This case has been heavily covered in the media, and the spotlight shifted onto Mermaids and now it is Mermaids which is being investigated for potential  safeguarding concerns by the Charity Commission.
  8. Carpe Diem – take advantage of situations and get as much done as possible…capitalise on political momentum
  9. Work with other LGBT groups. And lastly
  10. Be wary of compromise.

This is one example of one large organisation using its power to influence and advocate for gender identity ideology. The masked blue haired youngsters shouting slogans outside women’s meetings may be the media image but they would never have been able to achieve the institutional and policy changes on the scale we have seen. This is an extremely well- funded global movement  set on changing  what we mean by being women and men in our society. That movement and its main players in the US are extremely well documented by Jennifer Bilek on her 11thHour Blog . The veil of secrecy has been lifted and scrutiny into the main players here in the UK has started.

Several excellent pieces have been written about the Dentons report and can be found here:

Graham Lineham’s substack – an excellent detailed piece by @STILLTish who also has her own blog Gender Critical Woman and bringing the matter to wider public attention James Kirkup in the Spectator

* The other sponsor was Thomson Reuters, in collaboration with IGLYO. IGLYO – International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) Youth & Student Organisation (IGLYO) – is a network of 96 national and local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex groups

Death, grief and a pilgrimage

“We are all just passing through. Our purpose here is to learn, grow and love. And then we return home.” Queen Elizabeth II

I wonder what we are learning at the moment now that the Queen who said these words is no longer with us. What has her death taught us?

I hope it has taught us that it is ok to talk about death and to take time to  grieve, to express our sadness. When my mother died thirty years ago, very suddenly in her late fifties I know people avoided me, not knowing what to say. I wasn’t sure how long I was ‘allowed’ to be sad. So I didn’t show my sadness, my loss. I had started a new course, a Masters at university and told no one what had happened on that first day of term, when I couldn’t come in. I couldn’t deal with my upset being triggered by the sympathy of strangers. The effort of containing or swallowing grief was exhausting. I am still paying for that today.

If nothing else I think the past week has shown us how much we human beings need rituals, community and a sense of belonging to something bigger than our individual selves. This is particularly acute at a time of great loss or disaster but I think it is true always.

In past times that something bigger was always God and religion  provided the rituals through which life’s great events from birth to death were mediated. Some people’s reaction when receiving news of the Queen’s death has been to go to a church. Last week lots of churches put on impromptu services and many people who were not regular church goers went, to be among others and to hear comforting words and music.  But it is no longer part of the fabric of most lives, nor is church an automatic go-to in times of difficulty as it used to be.

However we, as humans, haven’t changed nor have our emotions, and we still need to do something to acknowledge and process our loss.

The recognition of that at times like this, whether conscious or unconscious moves us to act. The language used by those interviewed who have queued for hours to either catch a glimpse of her coffin as it went on its journey, or to walk past her at the lying-in-state at Westminster Palace, conveys the compulsion many of us feel when someone important has died or a tragedy has occurred. It jolts us out of our everyday. “I had to do something.” “I felt compelled to come, I don’t know why.”

People will be mourning the late Queen or mourning the loss of a loved one through the Queen’s death. We are drawn to do something to help alleviate our loss. We want to expunge the shock, make sense of the loss, go on a journey, and be in the company of other mourners, to have a shared experience particularly if it involves some hardship.  I haven’t yet heard anyone or any commentator used the language of religion or spirituality to describe their or others feelings and thoughts. But the queuing to see the late Queen’s coffin is a pilgrimage.

The Queen’s amazing life, duty and service was driven by her faith. The erosion of that faith of this country, the Christian faith, has left a chasm in the nation’s understanding of life and death. Some people have complained that ten days of mourning is too much yet when Queen Victoria died it was one year. We have lost many of the rituals around death. We don’t talk about it much. In fact we avoid it. We try to fend it off as long as possible as if to succumb to death is a failure. Our Queen almost seemed to defy it. We then try to discard grief quickly as if it was a nasty cold. Our fast paced lives do not have much time for prolonged sadness and contemplation – we must not stop.

Mourning rituals allow this space. They are put in place in so many religions so that we don’t have to think, we just know what we must do. For many, given the opportunity to do so, they went on a pilgrimage to see our late Queen’s lying-in-state. Perhaps we have learned that feeling off kilter, out of sorts and unsettled is all part of the human condition, of grief and that death is very much a part of life.  

For Christians, and the Queen, death is not the end. She has returned home.

Queen Elizabeth’s death and our collective loss

It must be a difficult time for anti-monarchists in this country.  Apparently some anti-monarchists have been making unpleasant comments on social media. That is Twitter for you and there is no situation, however tragic, that some sad souls will not disrespect with up to 280 characters of venom.

There are also a good handful of well- known anti-monarchist Twitterati   i.e. those with many followers, feeling they have to say something on her death. This I assume is partly to differentiate themselves from the hateful bunch and condemn them and also because they tweet about most things and silence from them at this momentous time would be odd. Their pronouncements are respectful and usually start with the proviso “I’m not a monarchist but….” followed by “I’m still sad about her death because she was a ninety-six year old mother, grandmother and a widow” as if you can view her like you would your next door neighbour and her role as head of the country for seventy years and beloved global leader was of little relevance.  Another approach is “you don’t have to believe in the monarchy to realise this is sad for other people who do” which is a step further saying, ‘I do not feel sad.’

If only life was this simple. I think that the lens of republican or monarchist is actually pretty irrelevant when considering the loss of our Queen of seventy years. Regardless of your belief in the monarchy or not we are going through a seismic social shift, an upheaval and change,  the likes of which the vast majority of us have not seen in our lifetime. You may not feel sadness at her death but we are more complex creatures than our political identities can ever possibly express. This is a collective loss and will be felt by all in one way or another.   

It doesn’t matter whether your cupboard is full of mugs with royal memorabilia or you think the monarchy is outdated and a waste of public money. For every single person alive in Britain today the Queen will have been the backdrop of their lives regardless of whether they approved of her position or not. This country has been a monarchy for a thousand years and that has influenced its development and that of its people. It and she has shaped our national character and our collective psyche. We cannot opt out of that.

As humans we have some basic psychological needs which include a sense of belonging and community. As Queen of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth she reigned over hundreds of different types of people, providing a focus for belonging beyond class and race.  One unchangeable figure in our fast changing lives, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this constancy both collectively and individually regardless of any belief in a monarchy.

 The words we are hearing from commentators all express her unfailing service, her discipline, duty and endurance and why she has been so pivotal in providing stability over the past seventy years …bedrock, rock, foundation, the best of the nation.  In psychoanalytic terms there is no doubt that her leadership provided what Winnicott called a ‘holding environment’ for all of us, particularly during times of crisis,  reassuring us that  ‘all shall be well’ to use one of her own favoured terms from Julian of Norwich. We may not have noticed it or acknowledged it during her life but we are feeling its loss now.

Indeed last night Mark Austin, BBC home affairs correspondent commented on how many people said they were feeling disorientated and insecure. And on social media there is a common tweet expressing surprise at feeling sad and lost, bewilderment as to why. Someone solid, stable, wise and constant has gone from our lives.   

I am so grateful to have lived in her reign and give thanks for all she gave to us. May she rest in peace.

Why I won’t be putting pronouns in my bio

Declaration of pronouns is a relatively new corporate practice in this country and one that has been embraced with surprisingly little debate. Not only has it become quite commonplace to put pronouns in email signatures and in bios on LinkedIn, and other social media, but it has been readily accepted as a sign of ‘inclusive’ language without any discussion as to what it really means. I have received many questions/queries about this, and so I have decided to explain why I will not be adding my pronouns to my bio on social media, email or anywhere else.

When you look at it objectively it is a rather odd practice. I have been working in the diversity space for a long time.  If we had seen a name with he/him/his next to it ten years ago we would have thought it strange. No one did it because we had not been asked to and no one would have known what it was for or what it meant. Back in 2016 I read about the furore surrounding Professor Jordan Peterson’s refusal to comply with the practice of using preferred pronouns at the University of Toronto saying it was compelled speech. I considered it pretty extreme and thought it would stay confined to North America, Canada and student campuses.  But here we are with the rather bizarre practice now being accepted by organisations as a  positive  sign of inclusion. But basic questions have been bypassed. So I am asking them.

Firstly are pronoun declarations in bios useful? Whether we are male or female shouldn’t really be very important and women often wish it wasn’t. But let’s assume it is considered important. With reference to bios, we may have both photos and names, even titles to guide us as to the sex of the person. Some names are neither male or female e.g. Robin, and these are often mistaken without a photo to guide us but that has always been the case and it doesn’t cause offence. If you have one of those names you are used to it. Historically women have used male names so as to be taken more seriously and many women still don’t want to draw attention to their sex. For 99% of the population our sex is very clear so for the less than 1% of the population in the workforce who may want to identify as a different sex to the one they were born as is it necessary for them to put pronouns after their name? Do they want to?  Perhaps if they have a male or gender neutral name and they are living as a woman they may like to. That’s fine although most men who transition adopt female names which helps others to identify them as women, and women adopt male names on transition.  

So the situations where the presence of she/her or he/his is really informative are very, very few. And declaring one’s pronouns has little practical purpose in most scenarios, given that we do not refer to individuals by their pronouns unless we are talking about them, rather than to them. So I think we can agree this isn’t about providing others with useful information.

What are the reasons then? There seem to be two groups of people who  are doing so:  for one group it is personal choice to show support for trans people and the second group have been encouraged, even compelled  to do so by their employer which also wants to show support for trans people. In this second situation it has become increasingly difficult to not abide by your employers’ suggested practice even though you are under absolutely no legal requirement to do so.

We have been told that the practice signals support for trans people, that it shows you are an ally and many believe that it is a harmless but kind and inclusive thing to do.  Some may have also seen others do it, people they respect and therefore they also believe it is the right thing to do. Fair enough. Employers have been told by certain lobby groups that in order to show they are an inclusive organisation their employees should put pronouns in bios and email signatures. Stonewall  recommends it as a policy which will earn its members marks in their LGBT workplace index scheme.  The case goes something like this “By adding pronouns to your signature it will show that you have thought about what it means to others, it opens you up as a safe and understanding person to anyone who is gender-non conforming in some way”. 

The certainty that one is being kind and inclusive to transitioning individuals has been challenged as some transitioned people have specifically said that the practice doesn’t help them at all, indeed it can put them on the spot if they haven’t yet reached a point of making their transition public. It can also highlight their transition when they may just want to blend in and not have the subject drawn attention to at every meeting (as is happening in some firms) or in every communication. 

And the wider question is why do we want to flag up an ‘allyship’ in this way in a public space like social media or our work emails.  We don’t flag up any other ‘allyship’ we may have. Men do not show they are women’s allies by putting a symbol in their bio nor do able-bodied people feel they need to announce that they are understanding of disabled people.  In fact we don’t signal any other aspect of ourselves to show other under-represented groups that we are an ally. So why this particularly small group?  And why do we show it by doing something that is a lot more than inserting a symbol, but actually changes the meaning of our language?

Pronouns are simply a linguistic tool to help people describe what they see. In English this means he for man, she for woman and they for plural of both and indeed sometimes they when the sex of the subject isn’t really important or we don’t know. The recent use of pronouns as declarations of identity changes our understanding of language – so that pronouns are used to tell us what we may not see, i.e. they describe subjective feelings rather than observable facts – and that changes the way we think. Which is why declaration of pronouns is not just a passive response, it is an active participation in an ideology. 

In fact the declaration of pronouns is a very specific vehicle to proclaim your belief in gender identity ideology – the belief that all human beings are born with an innate sense of whether they are a man or a woman and that this feeling takes priority over biological sex. It is not an ideology in which I believe nor do I want to subscribe to it.

 I see no reason why human beings as a species should throw out the categories of biological males and biological females in 2022. The foundation of feminism is the existence of a constant universalistic and ahistorical category of woman. This cannot include biological males or it isn’t feminism. Women everywhere are oppressed on the basis of their sex not their gender identity.

Changing the meaning of pronouns from an observable description to a subjective feeling has  consequences. Three years ago I came across an article with the dramatic title ‘Pronouns are Rohipnol’ by Barra Kerr that caught my attention and made me think. It is described as a thought -provoking article looking at the psychological impact of using preferred pronouns. The author argues that far from being harmless, the use of preferred pronouns, i.e. pronouns which indicate the opposite sex to the one you see before you does harm us. She likens it to memorising a colour the name of which is written down in another colour.

“Forcing our brains to ignore the evidence of our eyes, to ignore a conflict between what we see and know to be true, and what we are expected to say, affects us. USING preferred pronouns does the same. It alters your attention, your speed of processing, your automaticity. You may find it makes you anxious. You pay less heed to what you want to say, and more to what is expected of you. It slows you down, confuses you, makes you less reactive. That’s not a good thing.”

Essentially her argument is that since time began human beings have used their senses to distinguish between the sexes. Human beings learn to distinguish male from female at a very early age via face, gait and voice. Research shows that babies as young as three months can distinguish between the sexes and we ignore this inbuilt capability at our peril. This is most important of course for women and girls because men sometimes present a threat to our safety. Who hasn’t been walking down an empty road at midnight and seen the figure of someone walking towards them only to see that it was another woman and breathe a sigh of relief? Pronouns and gender identity here are irrelevant. Men commit almost all stranger violence not women. We are taught this from an early age and awareness of potential danger informs all our movements almost without conscious thought. Gender identity ideology that teaches girls that boys and men may be girls and women and  vice versa because their real sex is how they feel inside goes against nature and our deepest instincts. The obvious example of this is the media practice of using preferred pronouns for a male rapist who ‘identifies’ as a woman.

  I am certainly not advocating that people should never use people’s preferred pronouns in everyday interactions but as stated above we only really use them when talking about someone not talking to someone.  I do this as a common courtesy to those I know and if it was a situation in which I felt uncomfortable doing so I would get round it by referring to them by their name.

 The corporate practice of consistent declaration of everyone’s own pronouns in bios is different. It is a symbolic act. If you believe and support gender identity ideology then of course you are free to put pronouns in your bio. But I agree with Debbie Hayton, a trans woman who said “It is part of a campaign to change human society. It is not a neutral act, and it is not necessarily kind,” and as I do not want to be part of that campaign, I will not be doing so.