Few students ever dream that they’ll sue their high school. But that is exactly what several of my peers and I had to do.
Our school is Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and my reason for suing was to restore the bodily privacy we used to enjoy in locker rooms and restrooms on campus. Now, we have asked the Supreme Court to review our case.
I’m OK with the school district’s desire to hear voices other than mine on this issue. But I have a voice, too — and Boyertown officials have little interest in my perspective. They didn’t even bother to tell me or the other students that they changed school policy to allow students to choose their locker rooms and restrooms based not on their sex, but on their beliefs about their gender.
The moment I walked into our girls’ restroom and found a boy standing there, I turned and fled — the school’s surveillance video caught me running out. I tried to get the attention of administrators to explain to them how uncomfortable — how scared — I felt sharing the girls’ restroom with a boy. They wouldn’t listen. The principal simply wrote down my concerns on a Post-it note and said he’d contact me soon. He never did.
My parents were no less shocked by this new policy. Boyertown officials kept it a secret from them, too. The administrators never sent home a memo saying that, from now on, our school locker rooms would be open to students based on what sex students believed themselves to be.
Instead, our parents first learned of the policy when I found the boy in the girls’ restroom, and when others, like my classmates identified in the suit as Joel Doe and Jack Jones, were changing clothes in the boys’ locker room and looked up to find a girl changing clothes beside them.
Hollywood movies and TV shows try to make that kind of moment seem funny. But in real life, it’s embarrassing and unnerving. Locker rooms and restrooms are supposed to be a refuge for students, and adults, too, for that matter. As a woman, I go through those doors looking for privacy — not to find a guy looking back at me as I’m changing my clothes.
As a former foster child who bounced around through the system, I know what it’s like to be seeking an identity and trying to come to terms with who you are. As a black girl who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I know what it’s like to be treated unfairly, picked on, and made fun of by insensitive people. I won’t accept anyone being bullied or discriminated against — and that absolutely includes my classmates experiencing gender dysphoria. They deserve our love and support. Even so, my privacy shouldn’t depend on what others believe about their own gender.
Why is it so hard for school officials to understand that young girls care about the privacy of their bodies? It’s natural for us and our parents to worry about who might walk in on us in a vulnerable moment. The school bureaucracy has no right to say my privacy is irrelevant.
I had once lost my voice in the foster care system. And I was once again losing it in my own school: School officials withheld information from me and my parents, then silenced me by ignoring my concerns. Fortunately, my parents also taught me to speak up for myself, and I found my voice through this lawsuit.
I recently graduated from Boyertown Area High School, so I’m not taking this stand just for myself. I’m speaking for my friends and my little sister, all of whom are having their privacy interests ignored by their own school — a school that should be protecting everyone’s privacy. That’s not fair to them. And whether school administrators intend it or not, their secrecy and silence create the distinct impression that they aren’t really interested in fairness at all.
Schools can and should be compassionate in supporting students who experience gender dysphoria. So should other students. But a truly fair and genuinely compassionate policy doesn’t have to be kept secret from students and parents. And an effective policy would be one that secures the privacy of every student — which is nothing more than what every parent and student has a right to expect.
Alexis Lightcap is a 2018 graduate of Boyertown Area High School in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. She and other students have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their student privacy lawsuit through their attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.
QotD: “”(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights”
“(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights.
Today is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day.
This is entirely true, I entered the search term into Google myself just now:
QotD: “This year really has demonstrated how lucky we are in the talents of our elected representatives”
The exchange [between David T.C. Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth in South Wales, and Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP for Oxford, who is also a former science teacher; which formed part of a debate in Westminster Hall], captures a great deal about this issue, which has excited strong feelings among some woman (and men).
Some of them are unhappy about rules allowing male-born people to ‘identify’ as women. They worry that doing so could compromise the female-only spaces that society has provided in recognition of the potential danger that male-bodied people pose to their safety and privacy. They argue that if, as a slogan suggests, ‘trans women are women’ and a trans woman is anyone who says they are a trans woman, then there is nothing to stop a male-born person with full male anatomy and malign intent entering female-only spaces. And that, they say, is a problem, because a male body (especially one guided by male socialisation) is always a potential threat to female bodies, female privacy, and female dignity.
Ms Moran has said she believes trans women are women. Mr Davies has said he believes that a person with a penis cannot be a woman.
Their exchange is here:
David T. C. Davies:
‘I hear what the hon. Lady is saying. May I bluntly ask her whether she would be happy sharing a changing room with somebody who was born male and had a male body?’
‘I believe that women are women, so if that person was a trans woman, I absolutely would. I just do not see the issue. As for whether they have a beard, which was one of the hon. Gentleman’s earlier comments, I dare say that some women have beards. There are all sorts of reasons why our bodies react differently to hormones. There are many forms of the human body. I see someone in their soul and as a person. I do not really care whether they have a male body.’
And that, in a nutshell, is the transgender debate. Remember, Ms Moran, an intelligent and educated member of Parliament was speaking in a debate about laws that help determine how and whether people with female bodies can chose to separate themselves from people with male bodies. I’ll repeat her key observation again, just for clarity:
‘I see someone in their soul and as a person. I do not really care whether they have a male body.’
Truly, Britain is a fortunate nation. This year really has demonstrated how lucky we are in the talents of our elected representatives. But even after the masterful Brexit debate and all the other delights, we didn’t know just how blessed we are. Because it turns out we have an MP who has the gift of being able to see people ‘in their soul’.
That must come in handy for all sorts of things, including the sort of case Mr Davies raised: being able to look at someone and gaze deep into their innermost thoughts and essence and understand what sort of person they are and what intentions they have would doubtless allow you to decide whether you were happy to undress in their presence.
But what about those women who do not possess Ms Moran’s remarkable gift, and who might just be a little concerned about the anatomy of the people they share changing rooms and bathrooms with? Women who might not subscribe to the fact-free, anti-evidence superstitious gibberish contained in talk of seeing souls? Women who might just consider material reality, biological fact and thousands of years of accumulated evidence about male violence, committed with male bodies, to actually matter? Women who might be left asking, if even MPs debate laws on sex and gender on the basis of ‘souls’ not bodies, what hope is there?
Sadly, Ms Moran did not say anything about those women who are not fortunate enough to share her special gift. Perhaps she’ll get to them next time MPs debate this issue.
A recently released study from the university of Cambridge claims to show that male and female brains are clearly very different. In a huge study of over 600,000 people, the data obtained showed that men tend to be more analytical and ‘systemic’ while women tend to be more emotional and empathetic, thus providing clear evidence for controversial theories about the differences between male and female brains.
I know this, because I was on Sky News being interviewed about it earlier today (at time of writing).
Those who saw my interview will probably have noticed that I am not exactly supportive of the study or its findings.
In fairness, it’s not the first study to conclude that male and female brains are different based on questionable data. Nor is this the first time I’ve argued against such efforts. And yet, here we are, caught in another press cycle that provides needless ammunition to the battle of the sexes.
So, what’s wrong with this particular study? Quite a few things, as it happens. But there are also some major issues with the ways it’s being reported. Here’s a basic rundown, from my perspective.
It doesn’t look at brains, at all
A lot of the coverage states that this study shows clear differences between male and female brains. But… they didn’t even look at anyone’s brain! All the data collected was obtained via questionnaires, usually no longer than ten agree/disagree questions long. That’s hardly the most rigorous assessment. Not to say it’s totally without merit as a method, but to take information from a short list of questions with binary options and declare that this reflects the underlying structure of the brain itself, that’s quite a leap.
It’s tricky to do this with information from intense scanning studies, so to do it with the marks in a few tick-boxes is quite a ballsy move.
Hefty study, minimal applications
A lot has been made about the size of the study. Over 600,000 participants is pretty impressive, and will undoubtedly yield a lot of information to work with. But, as the previous point shows, this information is only as useful as the methods used to collect it, and if those are limited in scope and application, then any conclusions are going to be similarly limited.
Basically, even if you got as many as 100 million men and women to toss a coin, you couldn’t use this data to show one sex is better with financial issues.
Nature vs nurture, again
The researchers in the press release do confirm that the data from their study doesn’t actually reveal what the cause of the sex differences demonstrated. It could be genetic, it could be hormonal, it could be influences and pressures from the culture in which we develop.
However, this admission is rather brief and offhand in all the coverage I’ve seen, which instead focuses on the ‘clear differences’ between male and female brains, despite the whole ‘not actually looking at brains’ aspect.
But the possibility that this is purely a cultural thing cannot be overstated, and is, in my informed opinion, a substantially more likely explanation for any differences in the data. As many have pointed out, the conclusions being declared are based on averages, which is standard practice. But the data itself is all over the place.
As Professor Cordelia Fine (author of Testosterone Rex) pointed out; “sex differences are such that were you to choose a man and woman at random, their scores would be counter to expectations, with the man scoring higher than the woman on empathy about four times in ten”.
Basically, if men and women’s brains were fundamentally, structurally different in the ways argued here, you’d surely expect to see a much more even tendency towards being analytical and systemic? Same with women and empathy. But you don’t.
A much more realistic explanation is that we live in a society with a strong gender divide which is reinforced from day one, so all the adults in the study have developed in such a context and unavoidably internalised, to varying degrees, many of these cultural norms, i.e. women report being more emotional because they’re so often told by the world that they’re supposed to be, despite this being bollocks.
This also further highlights how the vast size of the study is of limited use and doesn’t automatically make the findings more valid. If I were to run a study 10 times this size in, say, India, and then declare that everyone has a Hindu brain, I’d be laughed out of the room.
But that’s not really that different to what’s going on here.
In a week of dismaying news, there was a ray of sunshine: a scientific breakthrough with the potential to change lives. Men and women’s brains have finally been proved, by actual scientists, in a massive study, to be completely different! This, you gathered, was the substance of a prominently reported new study that made the front page of the Times: “Men and women really do think differently, say scientists.”
In another paper, the headline specified how: “The sex divide: female empathy vs male logic”. Dr Varun Warrier, of the research team, was widely quoted, saying: “These sex differences in the typical population are very clear.”
Rarely, if ever, since social impact was added to official measurements of academic excellence, can a psychology study have enjoyed a reception as extensive, and thus far as warm, as this new contribution, from four Cambridge researchers, to the scholarly literature on sex difference. Perhaps discouragingly for their colleagues, it appears that the findings, rather than the field itself, account for the paper’s remarkable appeal. To date, no equivalent headlines – Men and women’s thinking can be surprisingly similar! – have welcomed contradictory work, such as Cordelia Fine’s, on the destructive fallacies of gendered minds.
Admittedly, the new study had its critics: Gina Rippon, professor of cognitive neuroimaging at Aston University, had reservations about its reliance on self-reporting (to a Channel 4 online questionnaire, in which subjects identified, or not, with statements such as “I am good at predicting how someone will feel”). Rippon noted that the respondents, aged between 16 and 89, would have had “plenty of time to have absorbed the gendered messages to which they will have been exposed”.
Elsewhere, the neuroscientist and author Dean Burnett pointed out, in a comprehensive demolition, that the study of sexed brain difference “doesn’t look at brains, at all”.
Broadly, however, the reported message remained, like the original research, supportive of pink/blue thinking on human behaviour and, incidentally, of the employment status quo. In fact, given the prominent and, for the most part, respectful coverage of this research, its cultural impact could surely go beyond news headlines and broadcasts, to the point of shaping thinking on fixed behavioural traits, even to influencing policymaking, or employment, especially if the study’s “very clear” sex differences can be aligned with covert sex discrimination. You can imagine, for instance, the utility of the Cambridge research at the BBC, where women have long been diagnosed as temperamentally unsuited for some journalistic work; yet more so in the City, where companies are currently defending themselves against findings of the Hampton-Alexander review. It has just revealed a decline, last year, in the number of women CEOs in the FTSE 350, from 15 to 12.
Thank you to everyone involved with the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize for this really incredible honour. I want to thank everyone involved in the Prize – founders, patrons and supporting organisations, for making it so important over the years, and the judges for selecting us in this, its twentieth, year. It’s really so moving to have your recognition.
Nothing is possible without sisterhood. Thank you Kiri Tunks, Ruth Serwotka and the team – our speakers, treasurer, writers, editors, graphic designers, meeting organisers – all so talented and giving of their time whether publicly or modestly, and a special shout-out to Sarah Johnson representing us tonight at a public meeting in Bath.
Thanks also to thousands of women in the grassroots movement, attending meetings, filling in the GRA consultation, writing to and meeting their MPs, and defending us so valiantly against constant slurs and lies.
Woman’s Place UK exist because women have faced male violence when they have spoken up: from the beating of Maria Maclachlan at speakers corner to Rosa Freedman being told she should be raped. This abuse aimed at women must be a wake up call for all campaigners against male violence.
We exist because male violence against women and sex discrimination still exist. We stand for women’s sex-based rights and protections in law, and for women to have a voice in legislation that affects us. The right of women to assert our own boundaries, to say ‘no’, is the non-negotiable basis of women’s liberation.
We have spent the last year working really hard to push back and change the landscape, so that other women and women’s services can hold their heads high and say without shame ‘yes, we use and value female-only space and services, and are proud of it.’ It breaks my heart that the local organisation (founded by and for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse that I used in my teens and early twenties) no longer offers female-only services, and worse, that they have no referral pathway for women who need those services.
It really is a case of ‘Use them or lose them’, when it comes to single-sex exemptions.
Twenty years! Who could have believed, twenty years ago, that we would now be fighting on such a fundamental principle – the right of women to have boundaries, to say ‘no’, to our own spaces and services, to be counted, to speak? Well, some women did already have an idea.
In 1995, the year Emma Humphreys was released after ten years in prison, Vancouver Rape Relief were issued a legal writ for remaining a female-only collective .
In 2004, the courageous Julie Bindel wrote about Vancouver Rape Relief’s legal victory and has suffered the most appalling attempts to isolate and vilify her ever since.
Women saw and were frightened and were silent.
Where has silence led?
A case just reported, from Canada: a father convicted of sexually abusing his daughter can be housed in a women’s prison because he claims to identify as a woman. This is where prioritising men’s feeling over women’s reality has led.
I am delighted to accept this prize from Jenni Murray who has also spoken up for women’s reality and faced vitriol for doing so.
Let this forthcoming year be the year all of us speak up for women and girls, against female erasure, against lesbian erasure, for female reality.
The first time Amere Singh Dhaliwal raped “Girl A”, she was 13 or 14 years old. Along with two other British Asian men, he approached her and her friends at a bus station in Huddersfield and offered them alcohol.
Girl A cannot remember which of the men she lost her virginity to, weeks later, but she does remember that when Dhaliwal raped her, he told his girlfriend and others that she had been the sexual aggressor. His girlfriend and her friends then beat up Girl A, breaking her nose. He passed her round his friends, who would take girls up to the moors and threaten to leave them there.
Girl A had an abortion, and after getting pregnant again, the gang dropped her. She suspects that, at 17, she was too old for them.
You cannot begin to understand a crime until you hear the fine details of it. The grit and the texture; its particular signature. There are many features of the Huddersfield grooming trial – which ended on 19 October with the convictions of 20 men for attacks on 15 girls – that demand careful consideration. The way that many of the men worked in the informal, night-time economy, at a taxi firm. The way they used Asian girls to approach the houses of the white girls, asking them to come out for the evening. The way that violence was meted out early on (as it was to Girl A) so that the threat always hung over the victims – a classic form of abusive control.
The reason I know the details above is because of the reporting of Stephanie Finnegan, who covers Leeds Crown Court for the Huddersfield Examiner. She was there when the gang were jailed for 221 years. “The ringleader has been jailed for LIFE with a minimum of 18 years,” she tweeted. “Or as I like to think of it, at least an entire childhood.”
I want to give credit to Finnegan because court reporting in Britain has been hollowed out. Forty local papers shut in 2017 alone, according to Press Gazette. The legal system itself is creaking, thanks to years of cuts – spending on legal aid has shrunk by £1bn in five years. Even in high-profile cases there has been no legal aid. The parents of Charlie Gard, a child whose doctors recommended the withdrawal of medical treatment against the family’s wishes, did not receive it. Together, our courts and our press should make sure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. Yet the economic conditions in which both are operating make that harder.
The vacuum is being filled by agitators such as Tommy Robinson. His arrest for filming on the steps of the court – and encouraging his Facebook followers to share the video – is a reflection of a system where justice is not being seen to be done. Yes, he exploited the echo-chamber of the American alt-right, failing to mention that Britain has strong laws on court reporting. But Robinson was aided in building his narrative by the lack of everyday reports on such grooming cases. There is little attention paid to child sex abuse unless it is “newsworthy”. (That’s code for “unless the perpetrators are Asian or Muslim”, in case you’re wondering.) “A few weeks after the Rochdale case, we dealt with a case of ten white men in North Yorkshire who had been abusing young girls, and they were all convicted and they got long sentences,” Nazir Afzal, the prosecutor of the Rochdale gang, said in 2014. “It didn’t get the level of coverage.”
That is what the case of Charlie Gard has in common with the Huddersfield grooming trial. In both, a kernel of truth was nurtured by online conspiracy theorists, with poisonous results. Charlie’s parents felt that they were denied access to justice by the British courts – and their grievance was jumped on by the American pro-life movement, which was intent on proving that socialised healthcare, also known as the NHS, inevitably leads to “death sentences”.
In the Huddersfield case, yes, there is a racial element. It does matter that the defendants were British Asians, because they all were. All 20 men also knew each other, had access to cars and cash through the night-time economy, and they shared an ideology that allowed them to treat other people – women – as things.
Ah, comes the snap answer. You mean Islam? Too glib. The ringleader, Amere Singh Dhaliwa was a Sikh and the other perpetrators were hardly model Muslims: remember, their first offer was to get the girls to come drinking with them. They were, however, guilty of racially charged misogyny – a shared excuse that white girls were “slags”. (That said, it’s worth noting that one of the Huddersfield victims, as with other gangs, was Asian.)
Successive trials have shown us that child sex abuse exists among every community and ethnicity in Britain. The TV presenter Rolf Harris. The football coach Barry Bennell. The publicist Max Clifford. Father Paul Moore, a Catholic priest from Ayrshire jailed earlier this year.
Think of it like a virus that causes different symptoms in different patients, as each type of perpetrator finds their own rationale for their actions – and the same structures of power and prejudice prevent their victims being believed. In Bristol, British-Somali men told girls it was their “culture and tradition” to share sexual partners. In Oxford, eight men, mostly of Pakistani descent, alternately plied girls with drink and drugs, then threatened them with violence. In Newcastle, a report found, police considered “deterrent punishments” – for the victims, to try to stop them going back to their abusers. In Peterborough, where the ringleader was of Roma descent, a teenage victim was targeted because she had learning disabilities.
Nothing will get Girl A her childhood back. But we can make sure that the likes of Tommy Robinson don’t get to define the debate on child sex abuse. That’s why justice has to be done, and seen to be done.