The inherent misogyny of pornography

Reading the reports in the news about the Tory MP, Neil Parish who watched pornography whilst in the House of Commons, people’s outrage is clear. But is this outrage because a public figure, an MP  watches porn, or just that he watches it at work? It is hard to tell. (He isn’t the first.  Damien Greene had to resign in 2017 after he was found to have lied about the presence of pornographic images on his computer, again it was a work computer in the House of Commons.)

 The Labour Party said it would be a “sackable offence” for MPs to watch pornography in the Commons chamber, which leads to the question when do people think is it acceptable to watch pornography? The fact that female MP’s were in the accused’s vicinity at the time has added to the sense of offense, and the incident indeed came to light because of a meeting of female MP’s and the 1922 Committee.  It is now being discussed in the context of the wider issue of misogyny and sexism in the House of Commons.  This surely reveals the fact that people know full well that pornography is in itself, wherever it is watched, disrespectful to women.  So has there been an acknowledgement that the consumption of pornography is itself misogynistic and sexist wherever it is consumed? Or, as is more likely, are people still holding on to the argument that it is ok to watch in the privacy of your own home but nowhere else? Surely it is either offensive material or it isn’t, wherever it is consumed?

We all know that a very high proportion of men, estimated at 50%  (and some women) consume pornography but no one wants to think that their colleague sitting next to them in the office does, let alone people in public office. But why?  It’s like we know it goes on but don’t want to hear about it. Yet we should be asking why don’t we, as a society condemn pornography outright? Our disapproval is only revealed, as now, when someone is caught watching it in public, someone perhaps that we think shouldn’t watch it at all.  It is a kind of hypocrisy.

Yet there remains a presumption that in the right circumstances the consumption of pornography is acceptable and harmless. That in itself is easily challenged. Even when confined to a mainly private activity the impact of it is felt throughout society. We do acknowledge that it is not appropriate for children to watch pornography as it normalises sexual violence and warps their views on relationships.

However discussion about what it does to sexual and wider relationships between adults is more muted. In February 2020 the Government Equalities Office published a research study which found that there was substantial evidence of an association between the use of pornography and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours towards women.   “However,” the report states, “ it is clear that a relationship does exist and this is especially true for the use of violent pornography”.

The report stated that four clear themes from the literature emerged:

1. Viewing women as sex objects.

2. Shaping men’s sexual expectations of women.

 3. Acceptance of sexual aggression towards women

4. Perpetration of sexual aggression

Those of us who campaigned against pornography decades ago claiming it exploits and dehumanises women and distorts healthy relationships between men and women, were accused of being pro censorship, aligning ourselves to the religious right and just being downright prudes. Many on the liberal left including some feminists actually embraced pornography as being pro sexual liberation and argue that it could be empowering for women, in rather the same way they argue that prostitution is also empowering for women. What a smart patriarchal strategy! But then women have colluded with their own oppression throughout history. Back then we were discussing top shelf magazines in newsagents and sex shops. Then the internet arrived and thanks to that and the liberal laissez faire approach pornography is now one of the world’s biggest and most profitable industries. Sound healthy?

The explosion of online pornography means that it is now available to pretty much anyone who can use a smartphone. Even back in 2020 the popular site Pornhub, alone had 2.4 billion visits a month and we know lockdown led to a huge increase in the consumption of online porn.  Pornography saturates our culture, influences our values, how we view sex and relationships and particularly demeans the status of women and girls. Consumers demand and are fed more and more extreme imagery and a huge percentage of this depicts sexual violence. This isn’t selling sex, it is selling abuse. It is estimated that nearly 70% of all pornography depicts some kind of violence to women.

It is time that we started making the connection between the ubiquity of pornography and the increasing sexualisation, violence and abuse of women.

A Breath of Fresh Air. Review of The Power of Difference by Simon Fanshawe OBE

Simon Fanshawe OBE was a co-founder of Stonewall and is now co-founder of consultancy Diversity By Design so knows more than most about diversity and inclusion. He has written a cracker of a book, full of insight and compassion, that should stir up the diversity and inclusion pond and provoke thought.  It may make some feel uncomfortable because it challenges current thinking but for others it will feel like a breath of fresh air.

There are a lot of books written on how to do diversity and inclusion. And there are classics, core texts often authored by people of great experience in the field which are usually well written as well as full of knowledge. We all have our favourites.  Mine include, Why Women Mean Business by Avivah Wittenberg Cox and Alison Maitland, The Value of Difference by Binna Kandola, and the very practical guide, Inclusive Leadership by Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick. A more recent addition is Rebecca Steele and Alison Maitland’s Indivisible. I have now added the Power of Difference to my list.

The book’s  strength is revealed in its subtitle – ‘where the complexities of diversity and inclusion meet practical solutions’ and its power and unique approach is Fanshawe’s ability to discuss the different debates, challenge some of the current trends, unearth the difficulties and discomfort of diversity and inclusion and suggest ways forward.

Human beings are still most comfortable surrounded by their own tribe – that may be family, village, or department at work. Over centuries, human beings have lived in small groups and developed their own ways of being, with common rituals and collective beliefs, a culture, rarely disrupted by outsiders. When resources are scarce any outsiders are a threat. It is only relatively recently that people have had to confront diversity in all its current forms. Movement of labour, our ability to travel, increased access to education, immigration and the emancipation of women and gay rights has resulted in huge social change.  Organisations are a part of wider society and reflect that change.

 Today in the UK we have a very diverse group of people living and working together and it is a challenge to shake off centuries old instincts and important to find enough common values to bring different identities together without threat. Fanshawe understands this even though these are my words not his. In addressing some of these challenges he does not shy away from some of the stickier issues that have surfaced – or in some cases been repressed – in the diversity world over recent years. The opposite in fact, he confronts them head on.

 Fanshawe introduces all the key themes in the first introductory chapter which gives you a flavour of the tone of the book: there are no ‘right’ ways, no mantras to recite, we are complex and flawed human beings and there will always be conflict among us, one wrong word or action doesn’t make us ‘bad’, we don’t always get on.  Read on!

Straight away the author provides examples of some topical conflicting views. Not everybody, whatever their colour or race subscribes to a BLM white privilege view of the world. In fact later in the book Fanshawe is critical of it himself. He argues that it doesn’t embrace the privilege of class – try telling a poor working class under educated white boy that he is privileged. He also says that the concept of privilege is static and therefore rules out possible change ‘It condemns any idea of solidarity between Black and White to the bin, in favour of unending division’.

In a similar vein he puts the extremely topical divisions over gender identity and sex on the table as it should be in every diversity seminar.  Not everyone believes that the concept of gender identity even exists let alone should be recognised as taking priority over biological sex. He notes that a number of corporates have embraced the idea of putting preferred pronouns at the bottom of their signatures with the best of motives – ‘to make people feel comfortable’. The problem is it doesn’t make everyone feel comfortable and employers need to recognise that. The whole rationale for pronouns is that your physical sex may not be actually your ‘real’ sex. We need pronouns to tell people who we really are. Many people do not ascribe to this belief or ideology and to make employees use pronouns is ‘no more than coerced language.’

Sometimes in diversity one group’s interests are at the expense of another group’s. It is not a pretty mosaic.  It is crucial that we enable these tensions to surface and be debated even if we never agree on all of them. If we don’t, feelings go underground and resentment brews.  Fanshawe gives many practical pointers on how to manage in a way that allows individual expression and manages conflict well.

The author uses examples like the truth and reconciliation committees in South Africa and Northern Ireland where different views have resulted in loss of life, which show us that even in this extreme a way forward is possible. Forgiveness is not always possible but understanding is. In the same way in the less dramatic setting of a workplace we may disagree but it shouldn’t matter, we should listen and understand it.  Where it is the law of course it must be adhered to. But diversity in its broadest meaning is complex, it is managing difference types of people so they can all bring their best selves to work and be free to fulfill their potential and participate in the workplace.

Fanshawe frequently returns to the impact of identity politics on the diversity and inclusion industry and is well aware that there has been a growing tendency in this industry to have ‘right’ answers with which everyone must agree. ‘it is a peculiar feature of modern identity politics that the struggle for diversity is too often matched by a demand for rigid conformity.’ 

And what has happened he suggests is that  ‘the nobility of those causes has sometimes given rise to mantras that mask the complexity that needs to be understood to significantly improve those responses’. We are more than an identity and ‘If it is based entirely on rigid ideas of identity it produces little more than animosity and gridlock’. We need to have difficult discussions and we can live with  productive disagreement rather than agreement. The author also says that in many situations now disagreements are no longer about views but about the person… the offender of the prevailing view is ‘deligitimised’. Not agreeing with a prevailing view does not make someone a bad person.

The need for open and honest discussion brings us on to the need for psychological safety. In my own anecdotal survey of current topics that consultants are focusing on in diversity and inclusion, psychological safety came quite high up. Amy C Edmundson, Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard, describes psychological safety as being  ‘a climate in which raising a dissenting view is expected and welcomed. It’s all about creating an atmosphere in which you can speak out. Where making a mistake doesn’t lead to scorn or ridicule.’ This applies to diversity as much as it does to any other area of organisational life.

It is also very different from the concept of safe spaces which Fanshawe says is being dangerously misused. ‘Language that might offend is being confused with actions that actually do. Hurt feelings are equated with harm and demands with rights’ He says that diversity isn’t necessarily ‘safe’ but that safe spaces should offer safety for disagreement not safety from disagreement’.

He also is unimpressed with some organisations’ attempts at shutting down voices that may express a view not adhered to by the majority. If, Fanshawe writes, the response to a Twitter storm is to remove the offender this is stifling dissent and an alternative view. He is not advocating giving airtime to overt racism or sexism but says that ‘denying legitimate expression of different respectful views about social issues undermines trust rather than builds it’.

 As well as providing a timely critique of some of the ways in which the diversity and inclusion industry has gone off track, Fanshawe provides many examples and case studies on how to bring it back on the right path. At the end of each chapter is a box of the central points and many of these are practical tips like; reframing issues in terms of possibility rather than problems,  bringing together groups of people who have different values for a discussion, and how to design an interview to eliminate bias. There is so much more in this book than I have time or space for here e.g. a critique of the use of acronyms for underrepresented groups and how unconscious bias training can cost millions but not change anything, and how groupthink happens. Do go out and buy it. It is a classic.

Living in Love and Faith – Church of England’s confusion over sex, gender and gender identity

 ‘Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.’


The introduction of gender identity ideology into mainstream institutions has been a key strategy for global trans activists and to do so where possible avoiding democratic debate either in government or with the public. Bypassing individual country’s parliamentary systems the global lobby has articulated their demands within the framework of human rights and as such targeted the global human rights organisations e.g. Yokokarta Principles. Framing trans rights as human rights sounds reasonable until you understand exactly what these ‘rights’ are and how they may conflict with other social group’s rights – women’s rights.

In 2015 the UK’s successful LGB lobby group Stonewall added the T to LGB. Few objected at the time. Most people knew what transsexuals were and there were not very many of them. However what was less known was that trans had been redefined. Out went transsexual as ‘too medical’ and in came transgender, an altogether different concept based more on expression of gender, although the term gender identity was used. The trans lobby claims that these expressions are what signify that the person really is ‘the other sex’ regardless of whether they want to transition medically. This has been legitimised to some degree by the proclamation that we all have a ‘gender identity’ and that for some people it does not match their biological sex but for most it does.

Gender identity was not well known to the public until a few years ago when institutions began to use gender identity instead of sex in surveys and the word is now being used authoritatively although I have yet to hear a definition that doesn’t rely on gender stereotypes. It is a wholly subjective concept, relying on an inner feeling and as such is highly unsuitable to be a legal category. This however has been a key aim of the movement. See my post below

Once human rights organisations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were persuaded of the necessity of including trans into the LGB rights movement it became much easier to introduce the concept as an already established human right and any opposition to trans demands looked regressive. Perhaps the fact that it is women and girls who are most affected by the implementation of this ideology meant that the male dominated leadership of institutions found little of concern. The small number of transexuals combined with a lack of understanding about the condition added to many institutions and governments ‘turning a blind eye’ to potential consequences on women’s and girls’ rights and allowed demands to be met without any any debate or public consultation. The control of language and discourse and the influence over key institutions like law, governments and education has been key to the trans lobby’s success so far.

This is a rather long preamble to my critique of the Church of England’s new teaching resource Living in Love and Faith. I have chosen the C of E because it is a good example of how one of the nation’s key institutions has been persuaded by a small powerful group to not only change language but adopt concepts that arguably have no scientific basis and are deeply controversial – without debate. Although the Church has lost considerable social influence in society it still has over 4,700 schools under its wing and education has been another key area for the trans lobby to target.

Living in Love and Faith

When the Archbishops announced this project in 2017, they spoke in terms of a ‘large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality. However, ‘It soon became apparent that a biblical, theological and inter-disciplinary exploration of sexuality and marriage would necessarily involve questions of identity,’ explained someone on the project team.

This resulted in renaming the project as ‘Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.’

It was published at the end of 2020 without much fanfare as the pandemic was taking centre stage in most people’s lives. The resources are currently being rolled out in parishes, including my own, as a five session course. Nervous as to how the C of E would discuss identity following a number of conversations I have had with them over the past couple of years I have now read the booklet and it is even worse than I feared.

Session 2 Identity

‘There can be many different aspects identity including class, race and nationality. Our focus here is on sexual orientation and gender.’

We are off to a bad start. Sexual orientation is just that, an orientation, a sexuality, it is not an identity. The text goes on to say that there are disagreements in the church over these aspects of identity but doesn’t say what or why? The uncritical use of gender identity from the start is deeply worrying. It is this concept and its consequences about which there are indeed profound disagreements, with feminist opposing views being branded ‘transphobic’ and debate being silenced.

  • Identity, sexual orientation and gender

The subtitle immediately signals that this section is going to be a confusion of terms and concepts either ill-understood or deliberately obtuse. And it is. It is written in a style designed not to offend anyone, which results in a hesitant tone lacking in confidence. But as a Christian and a feminist it really offends me. I have spent the last three years writing to the Church about the error of walking down the Stonewall path and uncritically adopting all Stonewall definitions, without questioning any of it and then setting it out in a paper on bullying for Children in 2017 ( Valuing All God’s Children).  But to no avail. The addition of identity to the resources on Living in Love and Faith alerted me to the fact that another important Church resource was going to be preaching gender ideology. I continued my correspondence and warnings about adopting an uncritical approach. The language is careful not to preach instead using terms like ‘some people think’, but unfortunately concepts and language are used uncritically and the result is a couple of pages of absolute confusion.  Here I try to unpack it a bit.

The first sentence states that,

‘People are describing themselves as trans lesbian gay bisexual asexual intersex or even gender fluid.’  

This again confuses sexuality and identity. Lesbian, gay and bisexual are not identities they are sexualities, sexual orientations.

Trans is an identity for many, an ontological reality for others (transitioned transsexuals)

Intersex people are born with DSDs (disorders of sex development) – this is a medical condition – and they are fed up with being used to support ideologies like the gender ideologues’ ‘sex is on a spectrum’. They have a physical condition which makes it difficult to determine their sex at birth.  It is neither an identity nor necessarily how people describe themselves.

Gender fluidity has nothing to do with sexuality. I am not sure what it means and as it isn’t defined here I don’t think many people do know.  It may be that someone identifies as a man one day and a woman the next. However this refers to gender expression and if anything would fall into the category of identity.

The text continues with,

‘The word gender can be used to describe a person’s deeply rooted sense of themselves – that might itself have biological roots. This is typically called gender identity.’

There is no reference given or scientific justification for making this claim, nor are the two concepts used interchangeably in popular discourse. The word gender refers to social and cultural norms and expectations of how men and women live, behave and look in any society at any given time and as such is dynamic. It has been co-opted by trans activists and deliberately confused with gender identity in order to gain acceptance of the latter. Seemingly they have been quite successful. Sex is biological and a fact. Gender identity is a contested belief with no scientific foundation.

To avoid perhaps the very type of criticism that I am making now, the next paragraph does state that ‘language in this area is controversial’. Yes, indeed, it is not just controversial it is highly contested and I really wonder why the Church has felt the need to walk into this minefield?

In the next paragraph the term ‘assigned at birth’ is used. This is language only used with regard to intersex people, people with a DSD, when as mentioned above it is not clear which sex the baby may be from looking at its genitalia, and has been co opted by trans activists. Has anyone ever heard anyone say that a midwife or a doctor assigned a baby male? This is activist language being used by the Church of England. in fact only this weekend (March 27th) the BBC has been forced to changed its wording from ‘assigned female at birth’ to ‘women’ after a flood of complaints.

The text proceeds to refer to gender identity still without any definition of what it is and then states that those whose gender identity matches their sex may call themselves ‘cisgender’. ‘Cis’ is another example of activist language to which many women and men really object. What the label ‘cis’ does is make biological women a sub category of women and trans women are another sub category, so that we are all the same – women. This makes trans women feel better but 99.9% or more of the population have not been consulted. There is no consensus in adopting this language.  Again to cover all bases the text does say that some people might not accept this and that they may believe that biological sex cannot be separated from gender in this way. Again this is a confusing use of the words gender, gender identity and sex. It would have been better perhaps if the C of E had been very clear on its definitions at the beginning. As it is we are left with the impression that it doesn’t really understand the subject but feels that it ought to talk about it.

The next paragraph states that:

‘There are lots of words to describe different gender identities’.

We still have no definition of gender identity but the text proceeds with the assumption that the reader believes in gender identities. Are there different gender identities? Who says so? What on earth does this mean?  There are many ways of expressing ourselves and as men and women we can see how these differ throughout history. What does non-binary mean? Placing yourself on a continuum or not all is not an option for any animal or human being. We are all born male or female. Some may be gender non-conforming and express themselves in ways that do not match gender stereotypes. Feminism has always applauded that.  Instead of seeing a gender non-conforming girl as a tomboy gender identity ideology adopted here by the Church of England would suggest that she might not be  a girl, that she was either non binary or indeed a boy. In reality this is what is happening and why in the past seven years we have seen a huge increase in young girls being referred to gender clinics. Of the 5,500 children on the waiting list for GIDS ( its was 138 ten years ago,) over 70% are girls. Many of these girls are in fact lesbian, one third have autism and most have other mental health problems. Instead of being treated holistically their feelings are seen only through the funnel of transgenderism. It may be worth the Church looking at the interim report of the Cass Review which was published this week.   This affirmative approach to treating children is on its way out.

The booklet goes on to say,

‘we don’t know all the scientific reasons behind trans and non-binary identities yet, but research is beginning to suggest that gender identity may be affected by levels of hormones in the womb during key stages of pregnancy’.  Again this is quite an extraordinary and extremely controversial statement for the Church to make without any references to the actual research. in fact there is no data that confirms this presumption, quite the opposite.

“Data on genetic and hormone independent influence on gender identity are presently divergent and do not provide convincing information about the underlying etiology.”

The paragraph on dysphoria states that “responding to gender dysphoria among children is an especially complex area where there is much to learn”.  Yes there is, but sadly this is too late for many young people who have already been put on the road of medical transition. The interim Cass Report,(refs bove) as well as the government prohibition of  treating children under 16 with puberty blockers before that, are both  evidence that  the scandal of treating children medically is now being unearthed. GIDS itself is severely criticised in the report for taking an affirmative approach to children transitioning without addressing the other mental health and trauma issues that the majority of these kids have.

The booklet then defines sexual orientation as ‘tendency to feel sexual attraction to people of particular sexes or genders.’  This is again confusing/conflating sexualities with identities, saying people are ‘bisexual when attracted to both men and women and possibly other gender categories’. There are no other sex catogories, apart from male or female with which sexual attraction may occur.

What is the goal of the church by including gender identity under the broader auspices of identity?

It may have been helpful to give some numbers of transgender people in the country. You can expect the lobby groups, like Stonewall to put out the highest possible numbers to strengthen their cause but even they have an upper figure of approx. 500,000 i.e. fewer than 1% of the population. Even to get to this number the definition of transgender is much broader that the small group of transsexuals with which most members of the public are most familiar. In Stonewall’s glossary of definitions (which the C of E used in Valuing God’s Children) it states that

“Trans people 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”…

Does the church really believe that there are lots of different gender identities rather than different ways of expressing ourselves? By not challenging some of this language and ideology, the Church is accepting and condoning it. There is no fence to sit on in this debate. The text refers to some people not using the language but it isn’t just language. It is the ideology of gender identity, a belief system that priorities gender identity over biological sex with all the consequences that has for women and girls’lives. There is no grounding in science or theology which is highly contested.

The project team and advisors included some of the great minds of Church leadership and and so it is extraordinary that this important teaching resource not only trots out concepts that belong to a questionable ideology but does so in a wholly incomprehensible way.

Police culture, men and misogyny

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has issued a report which says it has found evidence of “disgraceful” bullying, misogyny, discrimination and sexual harassment in some ranks of the Met.

It has made 15 recommendations following “underlying cultural issues”, including officers joking about rape. The inquiry was launched in March 2018 into nine linked independent investigations concerning serving police officers from the Met.

The inquiry found evidence of messages exchanged between officers that were often highly sexualised, violent and discriminatory, and which were defended as “banter” by police officers

To those of us who have researched male attitudes to women in the workplace (Womens’s Work Men’s Cultures 2011) for quite a few years the findings of the IOPC report today are not in any way surprising.

There is a lot of talk now about police culture and how it needs to change.  Our understanding of culture often leads us to look to the top of an organisation ( e.g. all the current debate about Downing Street culture under the current PM) and yes, leadership sets the tone and has a huge influence on any organisation’s culture. But the makeup of the workforce, indeed the very work they do will also determine it too.

Male dominated organisations very often develop a ‘blokeish’ – for want of a better word –  culture. ‘It was only banter’ is frequently held up as an excuse for sexist language and humour.  Devaluing women is one way in which men bond, and sexual banter can alleviate stress if the work is dangerous, stressful or even boring. It can also act as a boundary, making it known to female colleagues that they are not wanted there. Sexual banter shores up a certain type of masculinity, often fragile and threatened. ( See In the Company of Men: Male dominance and sexual harassment  by James Gruber and Phoebe Morgan (2004)

None of this happens in a vacuum. Workers of all organisations walk into the workplace carrying a set of values picked up from wider society and these continue to influence behaviour. If a society and culture devalues women then it is not a surprise that a great many men (and women) will do so also.  Fortunately many organisations do expect better behaviour at work than may occur outside.   Organisations often want to introduce programmes to change their employee’s values but this is extremely hard to do. Ensuring they are employing those with the values they want  is the best way to create the desired culture.

Banter isn’t confined to a workplace, just walk into a crowded pub after a local football match and the language and humour will be the same.   Some might argue that we no longer have a society that devalues women, perhaps some may say we never had one. If that were true we would have had no need of a feminist movement which fought to get women the vote, equal rights and equal pay.  Whilst huge progress has been made in the levels of women in employment and particularly in managerial and professional positions over the past thirty years, there has been a backlash in other areas of women’s lives.

I would argue that the increasing sexualisation of women and girls is part of this backlash. Seeing women as sexual objects contributes to and maintains their lower status, dehumanising them and  making female authority and leadership hard to establish. There are unacceptably high levels of rape and sexual violence, and domestic abuse towards women in society. We also have a culture saturated with pornography. Pornography does not sit in a box away from the rest of culture, waiting for a few to peer at it when they feel the need and then move away. It is pervasive in its influence on sexual behaviour and attitudes, fashion, film and beauty standards.   It is the world’s biggest industry and thanks to the internet is readily available to anyone including children, who are increasingly getting their sex education from it.  Furthermore, a great deal of this easy to access, mainstream pornography depicts (to varying levels) sexual violence and female degradation. It has been claimed that porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.  In fact, 30 percent of all data transferred across the Internet is porn. So the ubiquity of pornography cannot but contribute to the overall cultural depiction of women.  It cannot be separated from prevailing male attitudes to women.

In February 2020, the Government Equalities Office published a report, a literature review, titled “The relationship between pornography use and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours”. It aims to inform the Government in taking an evidence-based approach to dealing with the potential harms caused by pornography, following a recommendation from the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) inquiry into the sexual harassment of women and girls in public places.

Four key themes emerged:

  1. Viewing women as sex objects
  2. Shaping men’s sexual expectations of women
  3. Acceptance of sexual aggression towards women
  4. Perpetration of sexual aggression

The review found evidence of an influential relationship between use of pornography and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours towards women. If perhaps rightly, given their role in protecting us,  we want to hold our police force to higher standards than others, we should spell this out.  The misogyny and sexism found in this report and no doubt to be found  in the ongoing review of culture and standards within the Met Police  currently being carried out by Baroness Louise Casey,  is not confined to the police force. We need to address the wider problem of misogyny endemic in our society (and this is not solved by making it a hate crime).

Faith restored

I haven’t been feeling particularly spiritual recently.  Certainly not Churchy spiritual.  During lockdown Zoom was a necessary stop gap and a bit of a novelty i.e.we didn’t have to get up and get out of the house but the impact of it on me was pretty muted. The closure of churches at a time of national crisis was I believe a massive failure of Church leadership.

 When I first became a Christian in my early thirties one of the phrases I often heard when weighing up what to do in any situation was ‘what would Jesus do?’  Well what would Jesus have done in 2020/21? Not served up Holy Communion from his kitchen, of that I am pretty sure. Jesus walked among lepers and the diseased of the mind and of the body and of the spirit. He had no fear. Yet our Church enjoined our government and preached fear into its body’s heart.

I have been one of those fairly vocal lockdown sceptics since May 2020, when I felt the logic for them fell apart.  I and many others forecast the massive human cost that locking people down in such an authoritarian way would entail. Apart from a sacred bond of democracy being broken, economic disaster, lost businesses, loneliness, depression, undiagnosed cancers, suicides, substance abuse and domestic abuse, child abuse were all collateral damage – it didn’t take much imagination to see this downside.  I felt the essence of the Christian faith, which is unworldly had got buried beneath layers of earthly rules and guidance. There was no space for debate, no place even  for a more spiritual take on the crisis, no challenge to the government on the impact of their policies. Clergy like Giles Fraser who have written critically of the Church’s over-compliance with government guidelines,  have kept my faith in the Church going… it’s not just me that sees an increasingly  watered down and secular Christianity ..

Eighteen months on from the initial lockdown I went to a concert held in our local church on Saturday night. This was during our ‘no restrictions’ period and there were three hundred people there, mostly unmasked. The following morning was Harvest festival and I attended the same church only to have to follow signs, wear a mask, sanitiser my hands and write down my name and phone number. There were no government decreed restrictions yet this church imposed its own. There were 26 people in church that morning, social distanced and masked. We were back to church in person yes but like this? Not for me. I hate masks. I find them dehumanising and psychologically distancing which makes real connection with people and therefore empathy pretty much impossible. Constant mask wearing is akin to treating each person as if they are diseased. If we are all hugger mugger on a train fair enough but twenty six people in a very large airy freezing cold church… come on!

The following month our Remembrance Sunday service was shortened to fifteen minutes and moved outside for our ‘safety’. At the end the vicar told us we had been invited to go for coffee and biscuits at the British Legion Club across the road which is probably one tenth of the size of the church so it was very crowded and we all mixed happily without masks.

 It kind of summed up the Church of England for me and had I not been a Christian nothing of the Church’s response during the pandemic would have converted me to being one.

However as Christians know, God works in mysterious ways. Having rather abandoned church going for the time being, I did go a couple of weeks ago to my husband’s goddaughter’s confirmation. I had low expectations until I realised who was taking the service-a  local bishop for whom I had a lot of time.  We were wearing masks, but even the local vicar moaned about it. This time we were in Plan B. This Bishop always spoke well… his sermons are like shared faith boosting confessions and personal stories which he relates to the teaching.  The service was moving in itself, seven wonderful girls, aged between 12 and 15, had each committed to following a life in Christ. They had studied their classes using what sounds like an amazing course based on film and their proud friends and godparents could see that their commitment was heartfelt.

In an increasingly secular culture this really was cause for celebration and the wonderful bishop made sure it was. He made what can sometimes be a conventional run of the mill ritual into an amazing event. These girls were going on the greatest adventure of their life, and he reminded us that it was our adventure as well. We too were called by God. We were caught up in his enthusiasm and the service and the hour and a half shot by. This was the living water we thirst for that Jesus promises the woman at the well. The Bishop reread one of Bible passages of the service and told us how it was particularly special to him as it was this verse that made him turn to Christianity when he was a troubled  sixteen year old.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.”
Isaiah 43 1-2

It was a reminder no, more like a homecoming.

My husband waited in the car and I returned to the church to speak to the Bishop as he left, outside so no masks.  “Thank you”, I said, I really needed that.” He looked straight at me and smiled. “And so did I”.

Blue Eyes Brown Eyes

Many years ago I attended an organisation’s internal diversity workshop as part of a research project. The whole day was part of a long running programme and on this occasion the assembled group were shown the film Blue Eyes Brown Eyes followed by a discussion on the irrationality and cruelty of  prejudice and harmful stereotyping.

This film was made in 1967 by Jane Elliot, a primary school teacher as a response to the assassination of Martin Luther King. She wanted to show young children how discrimination felt.   It is very dated and I doubt whether such an experiment involving children would be allowed today. That is probably why it is still used in training as nothing as powerful has ever replaced it. Many of you who work in diversity, equality and inclusion will be very familiar with it.

Jane Elliot divided up her class into children with blue eyes and children with brown eyes… she then started listing all the negative characteristics that people with brown eyes had. At first there is incredulity but after a while some kids got the gist of it and started turning away from children with brown eyes even if they were close friends. Such an arbitrary division, yet it took only fifteen minutes for the bullying, name calling and playground fights to start.

I searched it out again recently and watched it through a slightly different lens. Yes, it is dated and yes, it deals specifically with race but I think that the underlining message of it is pertinent to all kinds of situations where we choose to emphasise difference rather than our common humanity and how that can lead to discrimination. Any study of war shows that in order to fight the enemy, first you need to ‘other’ them, even to dehumanise them, even if they are in most ways exactly like you.

 Blue Eyes Brown Eyes takes us down this road of difference and shows how dangerous it can be it imbue characteristics into a person because of a physical difference, or accident of birth, or let’s extend that to something closer to home here today… someone who has ideas that may be contrary to what we are told are acceptable.

I use the phrase ‘being told’ because for arbitrary discrimination to be effective it needs to be legitimised by those in power. In the film it is the class teacher, in societies it is more likely to be governments. There is usually an element of fear behind it. Authoritarianism  introduces and can exaggerate  fear and it is this that pushes a group to turn on another regardless of whether that fear is justified. There may be sanctions for the ‘out’ group which the ‘in’ group do not want so they emphasise their difference to the ‘out’ group even more.  

Psychologists call this ‘othering’ projection… we project all the bad bits into someone else, or another group. This is a useful shoring up our own sense of being ok, being right, perhaps even safe from being picked on by authorities.  We are not the ‘other’ – phew!

Returning to Blue Eyes Brown Eyes,  the speed with which these children ‘other’ their own classroom neighbours and friends on the spurious basis of eye colour is frightening.

 I would suggest that something like this is going on with the way the country is being divided over Covid vaccination status.

However much some people may not understand the reasons why someone in a high risk category would choose this, we must resist demonising them. But this is what is happening… blame and fear of illness stirred up by authority has been projected onto a minority. Someone to blame. There is not much evidence that unvaccinated people are likely to transmit illness more than vaccinated yet countries including ours have introduced vaccine passports. Now there is clear evidence that transmission is not be confined to the unvaccinated, they are instead being accused of taking up too many hospital beds. We have never done this with smokers or obese people even though those groups alone consume a vast percentage of the total health budget.  It is their health which may suffer not anyone else’s. And as a society we have chosen not to discriminate by health in this way.

 Statistics show that those in socially deprived areas, young people, black and ethnic minorities are more likely to choose not be vaccinated.  They will have their reasons. There is enough division and inequality in society – we should be very cautious about embedding  it further.  As we can see it happens very quickly and the end result is always ugly. 

Women’s rights here and there

Last Monday evening I attended a small dinner in London for a group of people with strong connections to Afghanistan to discuss the current situation. The plight of the whole country is dire, a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. Also of huge concern is the refusal of the Taliban to accept the full human rights of women and girls meaning that female students who saw a bright fulfilling future ahead of them have had that cruelly taken away from them. Independent women are perhaps the greatest threat to a patriarchal regime and I don’t think we can be in any doubt that the Taliban is an extreme example of that.  As a woman I feel a mixture of sadness and anger. Sadness for those women and girls who may now face a life of virtual imprisonment, and anger at the way it always seems to be women who are the first victims of so many extreme religions and ideologies.

Later in the week  here in the UK a media storm brews up around an article, “We’re being pressured into having sex by some transwomen” published by the BBC. The piece was written by  Caroline Lowbridge who immediately  had to close her twitter account. Challenging the orthodoxy of the gender identity movement comes at a cost… personal, financial, professional.

Lowbridge’s crime was to draw attention to the fact that some transwomen  put pressure on lesbians  to sleep with them even though this attraction is not reciprocated. I have been aware of this phenomenon for a few years. If you believe that gender identity – an inner feeling that cannot be observed – has priority over biological sex, then a transwoman who has retained her attraction to women wants to be recognised as a lesbian. This is one of the absurd consequences that taking the mantra ‘transwomen are women’ to its conclusion brings. As lesbians are same sex attracted they are not attracted to male bodies, even modified ones.  This reasonable fact has not prevented activist groups shouting in the media and accusing these lesbians of being transphobic!

The BBC article even contained a statement from Nancy Kelley, the CEO of LGBT lobby group Stonewall, in which Ms Kelley likened not wanting to date trans people to not wanting to date people of colour, fat people, or disabled people,”  telling us that “there is no ‘right’ way to be a lesbian.” She talks as if attraction to transwomen was something we could all perhaps learn in a Stonewall training seminar:

“But if you find that when dating, you are writing off entire groups of people, like people of colour, fat people, disabled people or trans people, then it’s worth considering how societal prejudices may have shaped your attractions.”

So there you have it. An organisation that was started many years ago to promote and protect the rights of lesbians and gay men is now telling those lesbians that they are prejudiced if they don’t want to sleep with biological males. You couldn’t make it up.

It is almost always feminist women who are the target of this narcissistic rage and it is unsurprising that many are lesbians.  These women are the most likely to challenge patriarchal restrictions and as lesbians they have absolutely no need of men, even men in dresses.

 I began this post writing about an evening discussing the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, particularly the concern for women and girls. If that seems a long way off from the arguably more trivial concerns of who should sleep with who, yes it is. But it served to remind me that feminism as a global movement feminism is still so needed and should be wrested from the linguistic mind games that postmodernism has cast it in. The end of the week’s debacle here was not a disaster of any magnitude but nevertheless a reminder that women’s rights, even here in the UK are never as secure as we think they are. When it comes to oppression men know exactly who women are.

Book review of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality by Helen Joyce

Helen Joyce who is an executive editor at the Economist makes it clear from the start that

 “This book is not a book about trans people. It is, rather a book about transactivism. It is a story of policy and institutional capture, of charitable foundations controlled by billionaires joining forces with activist groups to pump money into lobbying behind the scenes for legal change”.   

I found this book a joy to read.  It is all here, the history, the main players, the consequences all written in bite size chapters in a very readable prose.  It lacks the references some would like but this is not aimed at academics. It is for anyone who wants to understand what all the furore and headlines about trans rights are really about. Can it  be true that well known committed feminists and social activists, like  JK Rowling, Jenni Murray, Julie Bindel and Martina Navratilova  have it in for trans people? Of course not but then why would theirs and other women’s concerns about women’s rights  attract such vitriol. Women have lost work, jobs and been removed from social media for stating that biological sex is real and important. This book helps explain why.

The main goal of transactivism is to establish the ideology of gender identity both in everyday life and importantly legally. This dictates that gender identity, an inner feeling takes priority over biological sex. The quest to establish self- identification, which is happening de facto, in law would succeed in doing this. ‘the ultimate endpoint of gender-identity ideology is the abolition of sex as a concept in law’ quotes Joyce.

Helen Joyce,  an executive editor at the Economist takes the reader meticulously through the background to the current situation and analyses the consequences of adopting this ideology of self-identification on us a society, particularly on  women and importantly on children.  Her journalistic skills mean that huge amounts of information are written in a very readable and digestable way.

She starts with a brief history of transsexualism, which because of the very small number of sufferers remained a niche topic for a handful of psychiatrists and sexologists. It was always considered a medico/psychological problem.  Joyce then devotes a chapter to some theories of why some men want to be women and why some people don’t want you to know. Autogynephilia, a paraphilic disorder  in middle aged men and extremely effeminate gay  were identified as two categories of transsexuals by Ray Blanchard in 1989. No one in the wider world took much notice until another sexologist Michael Bailey, and wrote about it in 2003 with disturbing consequences. By then a growing global trans lobby had been busy doing some redefinitions of their own, trying to mainstream transsexualism into more of social identity, Bailey was subjected to a vile hateful campaign by activists. He and his family were harassed, threatened and they tried to destroy his career. Bioethicist and medical historian Alice Dreger met with Bailey and believed him and not the appalling accusations being thrown at him. In an essay in 2008 which later  grew into a book Galileo’s Middle Finger she debunked all the accusations and concluded that Bailey had been targeted for publicising ideas transactivists want buried.  But the censorship of any suggestion that there is a sexual element to being transwoman persists to this day. Referring to autogynephephilia provokes greater rage than any other sin against ‘wokeness’ because as Blanchard says it makes the task of ‘selling’ transness harder.

Joyce notes that that the combination of the refusal to consider complex psychological or sexual reasons for transsexualism  together with the rise of left wing entity politics meant that a more  ‘nuanced picture of transsexualism was simplified and erased.’ And in its place…

Gender identity. The rest of the book explores how this nebulous concept has taken root, been promoted and infiltrated into key institutions. From the rarified hallows of academia it has now spread to the boardrooms of large corporates as well as the classroom in a way that has surprised many of us.

What is it?  “gender identity  is an inner essence given public form by self declaration” is one definition given but there are many.  There is nothing physical or visible or objective in it. Your biological sex was, according to this ideology ‘assigned’ to you at birth rather than observed and your inner feelings are what make you male or female. These inner identities are manifested or expressed, says  Joyce, through  stereotypes of masculinity and femininity  and she  questions the wisdom of  seeing exaggerated notions of gendered stereotypes as evidence of someone’s sex? After all feminists have challenged gender stereotypes from the start as restricting the lives and outcomes particularly of women but also of men.

As we read on Joyce shows us that this is not about the rights of a small marginalised group of trans people to live a life free from discrimination and prejudice but a movement which is attempting to not just disrupt but re- categorise the sexes according to gender identity and not biological sex.

For this to be embedded it has to start with children and this explains why targeting schools has been a priority of lobbyists.  If gender identity is an inner reality it must be there from the start, you are born with it.  Joyce says that the adoption of an adult ideology to interpret gender dysphoric youngsters is a catastrophe. She recounts the massive increase in children with gender dysphoria and referrals to gender identity clinics and the enormous pressure on professionals to accept children’s belief that they are the wrong sex without exploring other possible issues that may be contributing to or even the main cause of the distress. The concern over the medicalisation of gender dysphoric  children has led to a recent spate of publicity and law cases which was for many the first time they had read anything about the issue.

The goal of replacing sex with gender identity, says Joyce is becoming more and more apparent as exemplified by large scale well-funded  research projects such as ‘The Future of Legal Gender’, the replacement of the word sex with gender identity in surveys and the current lobbying for passports to erase the category of sex in them. Why does any of this really matter?

Women share a universal identity through their biology.  If men can say they are women and think they are equally entitled to women’s rights then women as a universalist ahistorical category breaks down taking the meaning of feminism with it.  

It is also women who suffer most from the removal of sex segregated spaces. Joyce devotes a couple of chapters to the consequences of allowing biological males who say they are women into female prisons, hospital wards changing rooms, toilets and of course topically to compete in women’s sports. Women were granted these spaces for good reason and there is nothing that has changed to alter this.

For me the chapter entitled ‘She who must not be named’ is arguably the most important. Women must retain the ability to define ourselves. The chapter charts the gradual erasure of the word woman in public discourse. In a bid to be inclusive of trans men the word women and mother are increasingly replaced by names of body parts… people with a cervix, menstruaters, chest feeding instead of breast feeding.  It is as if acknowledging the very existence of biological women is now taboo.  Yet as Joyce points out this doesn’t happen nearly so much the other way round. We do not read about campaigns aimed at prostate owners or testicle havers even though that of course would include trans women.  You don’t have to be a feminist to realise that something misogynistic is going on.

 Joyce outlines in brief the origins of the concepts and language that are now in ordinary public discourse and explores just how far institutional capture has gone. This has been achieved not incidentally or by absorbing social and cultural norms but by deliberate and sophisticated lobbying on a global scale. We may see photos of strangely dressed young activists shouting in the street outside women’s meetings but it isn’t them who have changed country’s laws. It is the power, money and influence  of  three US billionaires among others, whose funding of trans rights groups and human rights groups as well as medical faculties which in turn promote the ideology of gender identity has been instrumental.

“They have shaped the global agenda by funding briefing documents, campaign groups, research and legal actions; endowing university chairs; and influencing health-care protocols”

And it must also be the collusion of a male dominated establishment that has facilitated their aims. Framing self ID within the context of human rights discourse rather than through equality has made any opposition very difficult because the objectors are positioned as ‘against human rights’. But is it a right to demand to be treated in exactly the same way as a woman when you have the body of a man?  Joyce answers  “This is not a human right at all. It is a demand that everyone else lose their rights to single- sex spaces, services and activities.”

She also notes the speed at which it has all happened, how a direct line to global human rights bodies has enabled bypassing of  public national debates. She believes this stealthy approach has been central to transactivism. Masen Davis, former director of the American Transgender Law Center, said “ we have largely achieved our successes by flying under radar…. We do a lot really quietly ….because we want to make sure we have the win more than we want to have the publicity”.

Sales of ‘Trans’ have been incredibly strong, despite the inevitable accusations of transphobia on social media. There is clearly a hunger to understand the issues even while there is still  fear in asking questions publicly let alone voice any contrary view. This book will give readers all the facts they need to break their silence.  

Trans is published by Oneworld Publications £16.99

Diversity, inclusion and the law – overstepping the mark

The culture of progressive politics and the power of lobby groups has led many organisations to inadvertently enact policies out of line with the law.

Diversity and the Law

Although none of the definitions of diversity and inclusion include legal terms, it is law that underpins the practice. Unlike the previous equal opportunities which was more overt in its legal foundation the word diversity does not automatically invoke a legal interpretation. Indeed the diversity and inclusion approach distanced itself from the law, which the private sector found to be too defensive and hard to get employee engagement. Yet without the equality laws there would be no diversity and inclusion. I have discussed this paradox in the chapter in my book Women’s Work Men’s Cultures

In one chapter I track how and why diversity and inclusion became the dominant discourse ousting equal opportunities and even the word equality from most corporate sector organisations. The public sector kept the concept of equality much longer and some organisations still do. They also have a much closer tie with the law as they are subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty and obliged to provide equality impact assessments for their policies.

However even in the private sector we know from when things go wrong that adherence to the law is a driver for any diversity policy whether overt or not. No company wants a publicised discrimination case or an equal pay case. It can be costly and is bad for internal morale and bad for the brand reputation.  The importance and influence of the law on diversity and inclusion was highlighted during the debate on quotas following the financial crash by the Treasury Select Committee on Women in the City in 2009.

 MP Sally Keeble, the only woman on the Committee pointed out that she was not aware of voluntarily given advances for women without a law being passed.  Protection against discrimination and harassment, equal pay, maternity leave and pay, flexible working all required legislation. And it is the nine characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010 which are the ones on which organisations focus most.

Often as consultants in the D and I world we advise companies to go one step ahead of the law… be a leader not a laggard, we say. Offering more generous maternity and paternity benefits, promoting flexible working rather than waiting for it to be asked for, aiming for diverse teams etc. We don’t have quotas in this country but many companies internally have their own goal and this is to be applauded.

However many organisations have now run ahead with a particular diversity agenda, the transgender one, often advised by outside lobby groups and may now be vulnerable to the threat of  legal action. Some of the advice offered to organisations on trans issues is now being challenged through the courts. I refer specifically to the recent cases of Maya Forstater and the University of Essex which I discuss below but there are others. (Bayley v Stonewall)  

The Equality Act 2010 covers the same groups that were protected by existing equality legislation – age, disability,  race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity and added gender reassignment. There are obvious tensions between some of these groups e.g. some religious beliefs are at odds with our social and cultural expectations for women and sexuality to name but two. This is a challenge both for organisations and the law. In my experience it is far better for people to be able to discuss these different beliefs than for one discourse to dominate and silence others. The problems go underground. In recent years the demand for transgender rights has dominated the LGBT discourse. Unlike the demand for gay rights, which some argue is a similar situation, some of the demands of the trans lobby impact others’ rights… particularly women’s rights. And herein lies the conflict, which needs to be addressed but has instead become politicised and avoided.  

The protection of trans people under the Equality Act 2010, section 7 is covered by the characteristic of gender reassignment. It states that,

(1)A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

(2)A reference to a transsexual person is a reference to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

(3)In relation to the protected characteristic of gender reassignment—

(a)a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a transsexual person;

(b)a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to transsexual persons.

The word transsexual, commonly used for years and in the wording of the Act has now been rejected by lobby groups and many trans people as being outdated and too medical. Some still use it. Instead more generally the word transgender is used and this has a much broader meaning.  The current definition of this given by LGBT group Stonewall is:

Trans is 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.

Trans people 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.

Since 2010 there has been constant pressure to change some of the language in the Act as it refers to transgender people and groups lobbied the Select Committee on Women and Equalities in 2015 as they debated the Equality Act 2010 and the GRA 2004. The characteristic they would prefer is gender identity e.g. Stonewall’s submission  demanded  a

  • A review of the Equality Act 2010 to include ‘gender identity’ rather than ‘gender reassignment’ as a protected characteristic and to remove exemptions, such as access to single-sex spaces

But at the moment gender identity is not enshrined in law – not in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 nor in the Equality Act 2010.

Unfortunately for years lobby groups and indeed government and public bodies have been giving organisations misguided advice on their trans policies which do not always correspond with current law but with law that they would like changed. So, many organisations, in good faith, are promoting the erroneous advice that gender identity is not only protected but more important and indeed can replace sex when it comes to data collection.

A recent example of how an organisation was given incorrect advice about the status of gender identity is provided by a case reported on last week. The University of Essex was taken to task for its policy which led them to cancel two speakers from an event for their ‘transphobic views’. The wording of the university’s policy on supporting trans and non-binary staff could have been used to lend credence to the idea that newspaper letters on trans issues, written by the two women, could amount to or lead to unlawful harassment.

Akua Reindorf, a barrister said “This policy is founded on an erroneous understanding of the law. The policy is reviewed annually by Stonewall and its incorrect summary of the law does not appear to have been picked up by them.

“In my view the policy states the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is. To that extent the policy is misleading.”

The policy said it was unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity or trans status. But Reindorf’s report said this did not accurately state the law, since “gender identity or trans status” are not protected characteristics; rather, the protected characteristic is gender reassignment. Nor were the examples of harassment suggested in the policy actually unlawful.

Another misconception given out in guidance is that the provision of unisex facilities is inclusive and indeed could be discriminatory if they are not provided. This is in direct conflict with the rights of women and girls to have their own spaces for certain activities for the purposes of dignity and safety. Again on the advice of lobby groups some organisations have changed their entire provision of toilet facilities to unisex, rather than providing an additional facility for any trans staff. A recent pronouncement by the government made it clear that the provision of single sex toilets was still expected of all buildings.

The provision of single sex spaces is still enshrined in law in the Equality Act and in certain situations even transgender people with a gender recognition certificate may be excluded:

“Schedule 23, paragraph 3 of the Equality Act 2010 also allows a service provider to exclude a person from dormitories or other shared sleeping accommodation, and to refuse services connected to providing this accommodation on grounds of sex or gender reassignment.”

It can be seen in the request from Stonewall quoted above that it wanted the removal of  single sex exemptions, provide for in the Equality Act. But again this has not been enacted. Many organisations, including schools and hospitals have been advised that anyone who identifies as a particular sex has a right to use those facilities reserved for that sex. That is not exactly what the law says.

It isn’t just Stonewall. Even the EHRC, advised by Stonewall, was forced to reissue its guidance on this. As a result of complaint by Authentic Equity Alliance (AEA), earlier this year the EHRC amended its guidance which stated that transwomen with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) must not be refused access to women-only spaces – guidance which actually contravenes the Equality Act. Here’s the actual statement:

‘Where someone has a gender recognition certificate they should be treated in their acquired gender for all purposes and therefore should not be excluded from single-sex services.’

Though that statement was removed from the EHRC guidance, it remains in a plethora of other EHRC guidance. This incorrect guidance had been in existence for six years.

 ‘The Government Equalities Office (GEO), which funds the EHRC, went even further. Its guide, ‘Providing services for transgender customers’, states that all trans persons [no GRC in sight here] should be free to select whichever facility they choose. The guide also states that not allowing a transwoman access to women-only spaces is direct discrimination – which is also incorrect. That GEO guidance has been in circulation since 2015.’ AEA.

The Maya Forstater case

Back in 2019 Maya Forstater’s contract with her employer was not renewed after she had expressed her belief on Twitter that biological sex was immutable i.e. you could not change sex. Belief in the immutability of biological sex has become for some individuals and organisations itself ‘transphobic’. Forstater claimed that she had suffered direct discrimination for having a belief that was protected under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010. She lost in the employment tribunal and on appeal last month two arguments were made: that this belief should be protected under the Equality Act 2010 and secondly a person should be allowed to express this belief as a freedom under Article 10 the Human Rights Act 1998. The judgement will be made in a month’s time. The details of the case can be found elsewhere. But in very important court intervention the EHRC supported Maya Forstater ‘s right to express her  belief that you cannot change biological sex. In her first interview since taking office, the incoming chairwoman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Baroness Falkner said it was “entirely reasonable” for people to challenge the biological status of women who were born as men.

“The principles are absolutely clear, which is why we took a position to intervene in the case,” Baroness Falkner said, “The principles are that freedom of belief is protected.”

Baroness Falkner’s arrival signals the change in stance at the EHRC and indeed today, Sunday 23rd May it was publicised that the EHRC was leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme.

The Maya Forstater case has had a muted response from the diversity and inclusion sector despite its obvious relevance. In fact I have yet to find one public comment. Why is this? It is ironic that despite the word diversity meaning difference the whole D & I industry feels it needs to speak with one voice on this topic although I understand it is fraught with strong views and emotions. Most equality issues are! I know for a fact that thousands of women and men want to say something but are also fearful of losing their job, losing clients for saying the wrong thing. Brands are nervous that they may be targeted by activists. I myself have posted articles on some of the cases on Linkedin which received hundreds of views but few comments or likes – only told to me in private.  People and it is still mostly women are not just being censored they are mostly self censoring in order to retain their livelihoods. Diversity and inclusion cannot flourish in a culture of fear and censorship. Perhaps with this recent spate of cases, it may be time for organisations to check their diversity policies for legality and inclusion and follow the EHRC’s recent lead and stand up for freedom of speech.

Male violence – what can workplaces do?

Male violence towards women fits uneasily in the diversity and inclusion discourse. Yet as these past weeks alone have highlighted there isn’t a woman in the world who will not at some stage in her life be aware of it. Most likely the way we move in public and negotiate space and avoid confrontations is determined by the threat of it, the fear of it. There are many men who fail to understand how these basic safety mechanisms are hard wired into our brains from a young age – we are taught it so well so young that it becomes second nature. We know what can happen when we are off guard, and often even on guard. A man walking too close to you and voicing sexual suggestions is an assault of a kind, an intrusion into our space and well-being. We don’t report these incidents because quite honestly they are just too frequent and the man has moved on. To remonstrate would be to risk a more violent response so we just quickly walk on by.  And we know too well from media reports what horrors may befall women who are physically attacked by strangers, however infrequently that happens.  Women have no way of distinguishing between a good or a bad man. All men need to take that on board.

As a sociologist I have long argued that organisations are part of a social system and as such what happens outside its doors impacts what happens inside. The wider social status of women is the context in which organisations are implementing their individual D & I gender equality policies. Violence, both the threat and the actual faced by your female employees every day needs to be acknowledged.

What can organisations do beyond acknowledging this and engaging in talking about it? That is a good start and has still to my knowledge not been done by many.

Available support, both internal and external to the organisation, tends to focus on domestic abuse, which whilst impacts both men and women is far more commonly directed towards women. On January 14th 2021 the business minister Paul Scully MP wrote to organisations setting out how employers can help workers find the right support for domestic abuse.

In the letter the Minister said, A new report published by my department today has found that few employers are aware of the signs of domestic abuse, and an even smaller number have a clear policy in place to support survivors. For too long, a lack of awareness of and stigma around speaking about domestic abuse has stopped workplaces from putting in place the kind of help that survivors so desperately need. It was once taboo to talk about mental health, but now most workplaces have well-established policies in place. We want to see the same happen for domestic abuse, but more quickly and more effectively.”

White Ribbon UK is a leading charity engaging with men and boys to end violence against women. White Ribbon’s accreditation programme is one such step that organisations may think about.

Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse is a newish initiative and a very welcome one that provides resources for organisations which want to offer support for those suffering from domestic violence

In terms of ensuring that female staff feel safe at work, if working at night or late evening, providing adequate lighting and the positioning of car parks are also some tangible things that all organisations can do. Raising awareness of what life is like for women and enabling discussion between men and women, be a should be something included in all diversity and inclusion programmes. The problem is so endemic it should not be taboo.

The big shift that needs to happen for change to take place is to take the focus away from women having to keep themselves safe towards all men trying to create the conditions in which women can move about in freedom.  

Equality between men and women will remain a far off dream until the issue of male violence is resolved. All organisations can play their part.