If so, the potential damage doesn’t conspicuously trouble many of the trusted adults associated, on the left, with Corbyn’s “kinder politics”. Some prominent supporters of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) have been wondering, for instance, whether, if there really are diminishing returns in writing off as a “terf” anyone who disagrees, there might not be a better slur. What’s mean enough to mute the nervous, without actually being hate speech? Feminazi? Too Daily Mail. Nasty woman? Also taken. Transmisogynist? A popular option, but it uses up so many characters.
Progressive head scratching as to what word might project the same corrective menace as terf (originally a small group’s chosen acronym, now applied at random), seems to have ended officially with this offering from my Guardian colleague, Owen Jones. “If,” he mused last week, “TERF’ [Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist] is unacceptable, let’s just use ‘transphobe’ and ‘transphobic’, problem solved.” Given that this guidance comes from the man who admirably closed down “chav” because it “demonised” the working classes, there seems every chance that “transphobe” will become the approved term for people who think, for instance, that there might be one or two arguments for preserving certain women-only spaces.
Yes, given the heightened imputation of backward irrationality to women who might question, say, the value attributed by the proposed legislation to cultural norms of gendered behaviour, transphobe could well be the more effective insult.
And given that phobic is probably more widely understood than “terf” – even on the left – as being shameful, it could well be a better means of muting anyone who wonders, for example, whether if more and more children find their bodies and gender to be mismatched, it could be worth trying to ask what and where they are learning about gender.
Where the advance of terf, as a bullying tool, has already succeeded in repressing speech – and maybe even research – “transphobe”, while being less snarl-friendly, has the advantage of implying that any child-related caution – about, say, lack of research on the longer term outcomes of early transition – could never be reasoned, only pathological. To many campaigners, even to dispute that would be tantamount to ignoring trans suicides, and therefore tantamount to transphobia.
True, different views on the surge in female-to-male transition were reported brilliantly last week by the Times’s Janice Turner, one of the strikingly few women willing, in the face of concerted abuse, publicly to examine complex social and medical changes the authorities seem disinclined to explore. That such women are frequently and correctly described as “brave”, for all the world as if they were war correspondents, only underlines the extent to which conventionally abhorrent exhibitions of bullying and hate-speech have been allowed to flourish here – with some of our most trusted adults leading by example.
When noted equalities campaigners endorse the use of “terf”, events such as the recent walkout of Labour officials in Bexhill and Battle, following allegedly uninhibited bullying of a women’s officer, Anne Ruzylo, must be the predictable consequence. “If we can’t talk about gender laws and get shut down on that,” says Ruzylo, “what’s next?”
One thing that followed was an online compliment to one of her alleged denigrators, saying he looked, compared with her, “the more feminine one”. Sometimes, irked pioneers of gender inclusiveness can recall, more than anything, the instincts of a David Davis when denied a hug: “I am not blind.”
Even if one agreed, which I don’t, that the expression of any doubts about the GRA instantly identifies the speaker as a member of what our mentors call the “doomed anti-trans lobby”, the degree to which this debate has legitimised intolerance, targeting and recently, the physical harassment of women surely indicates a responsibility, on the part of undeviatingly debate-averse progressives, to do more than offer synonyms.
At Speakers’ Corner, a woman was punched last month as she filmed women gathering for an event called “What is Gender?”. More recently, at the Anarchist Book Fair, Helen Steel was surrounded, she writes, by “around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly terf, fucking terf scum, bitch, fascist and more.”
To suggest that transphobe makes the more acceptable insult is like saying the Telegraph should have written slightly different words over its target practice; that the Daily Mail should have called its three pilloried judges something a wee bit nicer than enemies: the intent to bully remains.
“Stop, speak, support”, then. Though not if the banter has only escalated as far as transphobe. That’s just the progressive way of telling women to shut up.
QotD: All Labour officials on local committee resign in support of colleague who was ‘bullied by transgender activist for months’
Every member of a local Labour Party executive committee has quit in support of a colleague who was allegedly bullied by a transgender rights campaigner.
The unnamed male activist is said to have harassed women’s officer Anne Ruzylo for months after they disagreed over ‘gender identity’ issues.
Miss Ruzylo, 52, claims the fellow party member carried out a smear campaign against her.
A leaked letter revealed the committee all resigned over what they believe to be Labour’s failure to deal with ‘disciplinary complaints’ regarding the reported abuse.
The six executive committee members in Bexhill and Battle, East Sussex, wrote that the alleged bullying had ‘seriously damaged’ their ability to function, and they had been forced to spend their time ‘being siphoned away into internal disciplinary matters’ instead of ‘fighting the Tories’.
‘We have been deeply disappointed by a lack of meaningful, timely and decisive action from regional and national party structures to support the executive committee in addressing these disciplinary issues,’ the letter added.
The unidentified activist, who is not transgender but is a passionate supporter of those who are, allegedly tried to prevent Miss Ruzylo, from Bexhill-on-Sea, from voicing her concerns at meetings. He supports Government plans to reform the legal definition of man and woman, but Miss Ruzylo believes critics’ fears of appearing politically incorrect could prevent proper scrutiny of the legislation.
Former prison officer Miss Ruzylo, who is a lesbian, told The Times she felt ‘violated’, adding that the way she had been silenced was ‘disgusting’.
She added: ‘Debate is not hate. If we can’t talk about gender laws and get shut down on that, what’s next? We’re going back to the days of McCarthyism. It is disgraceful.’
The local Labour Party has now been left without an executive committee and will have to call an early AGM to elect new members. Bexhill and Battle is a Conservative constituency.
A Labour South-East spokesman insisted the party took all complaints ‘extremely seriously’ and had ‘robust procedures’.
According to a new study, feminist theory can help treat anorexia. That comes as no surprise to me, based on my own experience of trying to vanish, one skipped meal at a time. Researchers at the University of East Anglia trialled a 10-week programme with seven inpatients at a centre in Norwich. They used Disney films, social media, news articles and adverts to talk about the social expectations and constructs of gender, how we view women’s bodies and how we define femininity. They spoke about the way we portray appetite, hunger and anger, as well as the ways we objectify women’s bodies.
Researchers published a paper in the journal Eating Disorders that suggested patients improved because they felt less to blame for their own condition. This makes complete sense. When I was 15 years old, I spent six weeks in an eating disorders clinic in Sydney. Staring at those pallid pistachio-coloured walls on my own in a cell-like room, I felt as though I may never recover. My emaciated companions and I were under the care of a former prison warden turned eating disorders nurse, who made sure we stuck to our strict daily routine of three meals, three snacks, two therapy sessions, no taking the stairs. I wasn’t alone in that fear of eternal sickness; recovery is elusive for many sufferers, and perhaps the cruellest part of the process is that anorexia convinces you that you don’t even want to get better.
Then, one day, we were allowed to go on a group outing. We filed in, rather miserably, to an enormous top-floor book shop. We were directed to the self-help section, but I took a sneaky detour to gender studies. There, among the Naomi Wolfs and the Germaine Greers, I felt strangely safe for once. I cherished books, I always have, and I remember stroking the spines tenderly, wishing for some sort of guidance. We were told we should get one book that day. I chose Hunger Strike by Susie Orbach.
Originally published in 1986 (just a year before I was born; a serendipity that appealed to me), it is a seminal feminist text about “the anorectic’s struggle as a metaphor for our age”. In it, Orbach argues that anorexia is both a deeply private struggle, and a very public one. Women’s bodies, she wrote, are still considered public property and so long as that stands, our desire to diminish them is a feminist issue.
Changes to the law are set to make it illegal for sport coaches to have sex with 16- and 17-year-old children in their care in the wake of abuse and athlete welfare scandals across sport.
The sports minister, Tracey Crouch, informed parliament that the Ministry of Justice had agreed changes to the law which would bring the sport industry into line with other sectors. It is illegal for teachers to sleep with pupils under the age of 18 and for care workers to have sex with 16- and 17-year-olds but at present the same strictures do not apply in sport.
Anne Tiivas, the head of the NSPCC’s child protection in sport unit, said: “We know that some sports coaches spend years grooming young people and then, as soon as their 16th birthday comes around, they target them for sex. Ever since the football abuse scandal broke we have been strongly urging government to close this loophole that leaves children in sports and other out-of-school clubs vulnerable to adults who want to prey on them.”
It is almost exactly a year since Andy Woodward’s interview with the Guardian, which led to hundreds of his fellow victims coming forward and the uncovering of football’s sex abuse scandal. There have also been allegations of inappropriate relationships between coaches and athletes in canoeing and archery.
Speaking at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport parliamentary questions session, Crouch said: “A year ago, Andy Woodward reported historic allegations of sexual abuse in football. It was very brave of him to do so. I’m pleased to announce that I have secured ministerial agreement to change the law on positions of trust to include sports coaches.”
To this extent the stymied liberatory potential of reproductive technology is no different to the stymied liberatory potential of any other form of technology. Products and processes are made by the rich, for the rich, liberating those who are, in relative terms, already free. It’s not just that poorer women and women of colour have reduced access to abortion and contraception, or that some members of these groups have endured forced sterilisation, that is, reproductive technology actively used as a means of oppression. Egg donation, IVF, womb transplants and global surrogacy all now mean that wealthy white women can, should they so wish, outsource the very roots of sex-based oppression to their less privileged sisters.
Of course even this only works to a certain degree. Patriarchy remains invested in maintaining a stranglehold on the means of reproduction.
Consider this – if you accept that being biologically female is compatible with having an inner life, you have to apply this universally. Under such conditions no reproductive injustice – denial of abortion or contraception, forced sterilisation, economic coercion regarding having/not having children, disregard of maternal mortality – is justifiable. Forced pregnancy or sterilisation is always barbaric. Therefore, if you are to justify such barbarism where convenient, you must also promote the relative dehumanisation of everyone born with a womb (or a vagina, with the associated assumption that one might just have a womb).
Even if womb transplants and artificial wombs become everyday possibilities, the bodies of those already born with wombs will remain cheaper (providing we continue to place a low value on such people’s lives). It’s entirely plausible to see a world in which reproductive technologies increase the options of the privileged – gestate if you want, rent a surrogate or an artificial womb if you want – while doing nothing to raise the status of the most marginalised.
IVF, the pill, sterilisation, womb transplants and artificial wombs are not inherently anti-female; the problem is that economic and political power lies mostly with men, and with only a small proportion of highly privileged women. Of course the privileged will ask “what’s in it for me?” Of course their priority will be to use these things to their advantage. The priority for feminists needs to be to hang on to these possibilities while continuing to challenge the idea that those who (potentially) gestate are in all other ways inferior beings.
It’s easy to present feminists who want to talk about reproduction as luddites. They “reduce women to their biology, just like men’s rights activists”. Quite obviously we are more than our wombs. There’s a whole thinking, feeling, acting, unique person who just so happens to have been born with a uterus. But we still need to talk about the relationship between our social status and our potential reproductive role, not least because it’s of fundamental importance to a truly intersectional feminism. The regulation of female reproductive bodies has been used to maintain not just gender, but class and racial hierarchies. It needs to end.
Edna Adan Ismail is a midwife and campaigner. As a 12 year old growing up in British Somaliland, her dream was to build her own hospital. It took her some 50 years and all her savings to realise her ambition, and the state of the art hospital she built is a testament to her passion and dogged determination.
Nursing and midwifery have been her life since she won a scholarship to study in the UK in the mid-1950s, when she cycled to appointments in her black raincoat to deliver babies all around London. Married at one time to the prime minister of Somalia, she juggled the high profile role of First Lady with shifts at her local hospital. “I was born with this desire to fix things,” she says.
As her country’s first female foreign minister, she broke deep-rooted taboos by publicly condemning the widespread practice of female genital mutilation – FGM. Her opposition stems from personal experience – she was only eight years old when she endured the invasive procedure herself.
Now 80, she lives on site at her beloved hospital, where more than 22,000 babies have been born since it opened in 2002.
A leading Yorkshire LGBT charity working with child abuse victims and vulnerable young adults has prompted criticism for allowing staff to embark on sexual relationships with clients.
Charities and experts in victims’ welfare said they were “astonished” at the wording of guidance on how staff at Yorkshire MESMAC can conduct themselves with the people that use their service across the county.
The charity offers a range of services including sexual health information, free HIV testing and counselling for LGBT young people and adults. One of its services, the Blast project, works with young men and boys who have faced sexual exploitation.
The charity’s “workers’ conduct policy” says: “Sexual relationships are acceptable with service users initially met during work time, but this would be inappropriate if the service user has entered into a 1-2-1 or ongoing support relationship with the worker.”
The rules do not relate to the charity’s work with children. After the Guardian approached Yorkshire MESMAC it said that it would be redrafting the policy.
The chief executive of the Survivors Trust, a national agency providing support for victims of rape and sexual violence, Fay Maxted, said: “I am astonished at how it [the policy] has been written and the advice it contains about personal sexual relationships with service users. The nearest example I can think of this that would be appropriate or acceptable is around relationships with ex-service users and even then with caution.
“The policy doesn’t sufficiently protect service users from workers who may exploit their position to gain access to vulnerable people. In fact, it’s a charter for workers to seek out service users they want to have a relationship with.”
The policy also states: “It is not acceptable for workers to use work time to further relationships they may wish to pursue in their own time, for example by exchanging telephone numbers or other personal contact information.”
Dr Alec Grant, who retired earlier this year as reader in narrative mental health at the University of Brighton, said: “The policy provides workers with contradictory guidelines: on the one hand they are told that it is not acceptable to turn work relationships into personal ones. They are then informed that they can pursue sexual relationships with service users met during work time, providing they are not in either a one-to-one or a supportive relationship.”
He added: “Sex between workers and service users would be a sackable offence in other third-sector charity organisations.”
All charities have a policy in place around sexual relationships between their staff and clients, often clearly restricting or banning it. Most experts in the sector argue that such relationships blur private and professional roles and may make maintaining confidentiality difficult.
According to the BBC, pole dancing has taken the first step towards being recognised as an Olympic sport:
Could pole dancing become an Olympics sport? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think…
That’s because pole dancing – or pole, as the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) prefers – has been recognised by an international sporting body for the first time.
The IPSF emphasises that pole dancing is about “athleticism and technical merit”, in line with “other Olympic standard sports such as gymnastics, diving and ice skating”.
So even though it may be closely associated with strip clubs, a performance does not have to contain an erotic element.
However, there is a big debate within pole dancing about how much it should be separated from its origins.
In 2015 and 2016 various people who pole dance shared photos on Instagram using the hashtag #Notastripper – something that some strippers objected to, both because they perceived it as stigmatising sex workers and because they feel pole dancing is an art form they invented.
Pole’s authorities argue that it is not only a sport, but that it is a sport appropriate for all ages and audiences. The IPSF runs competitions for ages from 10 to 65.
(emphasis added by me)
And a bit of perspective can be gained by looking at what other bodies were given observer status by GAISF – among them the World Armwrestling Federation, the World Dodgeball Association, the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting and the International Table Soccer Federation.
So there is still a long, long way to go.
Victoria Coren Mitchell has responded in the Guardian with a very funny article (even if she does use the term ‘sex worker’ uncritically, I’ll leave the thought-purity policing to the genderists):
The news that pole dancing has been formally recognised as a sport – and will now be considered for possible inclusion in the Olympics – fills me with delight.
Regular readers may be surprised. You might imagine I would feel weary and suspicious at this development. You might imagine I’d roll my eyes and ask: “What next? A simultaneous men’s event – how many bills can you shove in her bra as she writhes?”
You might think I would worry about where we’re heading as a culture and whether we are building on the great historical achievements of suffrage and feminism, or absolutely dismantling them in our complacency about how many battles have truly been won.
You might think I would argue it’s impossible to “reclaim” pole dancing from the world of strip clubs, however much we might kid ourselves something can be neutered just because we say it is, and – however much I may respect individual sex workers – I believe we shouldn’t confuse their seductive techniques with that which we present to our daughters as “sport”.
Well, guess again. I’ve read many defences of the activity by keen “pole enthusiasts” and I’m persuaded. It’s not titillating. It’s purely athletic. Nobody thinks of strippers when they see it, nor seeks it out for that reason. Its inclusion as an Olympic sport would be nothing short of excellent news for women. Bring it on.
Here are some other sports I’d like to see elevated to the world stage.
The list includes:
Marathon porn hub session (a men’s event)
Full body waxing
Spinning tit tassels
The long-distance catwalk
Synchronised groping (a mixed event)
Wet T-shirt contest
400m clutch relay
And this last one:
Having sex with men for money
Only the most puerile and cynical observer (or old, cobwebby, uncomprehending “feminists” of yore) could think this was anything to do with sex. Yes it does involve having sex. But that’s neither here nor there. Fully reclaimed by its highly trained and physically dazzling exponents, when placed into an Olympic context the rigorous and athletic business of having sex with men for money is basically exactly the same as throwing the javelin, only instead of throwing a javelin it’s having sex with men for money.
We oppose the published tentative recommendation by the Office of National Statistics to make sex a non-mandatory field in the 2021 Census. We demand that sex remains a mandatory question in the Census and is included in all government demographic data collection in accordance with SDG5 commitments.
Data collection disaggregated by sex gives us vital information for policy making and distribution of resources. If implemented, the ONS recommendation will make widely acceptable that sex becomes a voluntary question. This will render useless equal opportunities monitoring designed to combat sex discrimination. It will influence governments worldwide making difficult the monitoring of imbalances resulting from sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and unequal treatment of girls and women.