One of the really, truly, enormously irritating things about writing on “women’s issues” is that people often think you’re talking a load of cobblers – because you’re a woman talking about women, so, duh, partisan – without looking into the subject at all. You get laughed at, called hysterical, accused of making a fuss about nothing.
Then, sometimes, the issue gets wider traction, or someone properly looks into it. And then they discover something incredible. Hang on, this is a big deal! Why didn’t anyone tell us?
I’m used to this happening from, say, lofty columnists who find it all very amusing that politicians go on Mumsnet and talk about their favourite biscuits. (Forgetting that they usually get grilled pretty hard about other issues too, and that “mothers” is a group that encompasses four out of five women by the end of their lives.) But really, I expected better from the chair of the bloody Women & Equalities Select Committee.
Maria Miller has today accused the government of “mishandling” its approach to transgender issues, saying that many trans people cannot access healthcare, which is a bigger issue than being able to self-define your gender. (Currently, the gender recognition certificate process involves two years living “in role” and a medical diagnosis of dysphoria, although it’s easier to just change your passport and other documents.) Service provision, she says, “seems to have been somewhat eclipsed by an announcement by the government on the Gender Recognition Act – that was one of our recommendations, but only one of 33”. Reform of the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 “was not the most pressing issue for trans people that we met as part of the inquiry”. She is now advising ministers to “focus in one getting their services right first and foremost, and also be clear that there is no threat to single-sex services, they are clearly protected in law”.
Well, now. This is a stunning rebuke to… Maria Miller of 2017, who said the only backlash to her report was from “individuals purporting to be feminists”.
As I wrote when the report was released, Miller dismissed feminist concerns “about the erosion of single-sex provision in, say, rape shelters as ‘extraordinary’ bigotry; the Tory dinosaurs weren’t getting upset about it, after all. An alternative explanation is that those dinosaurs don’t give a tuppenny toss about rape shelters either way”.
It is still shocking to me that Miller could be so little versed in feminism that she could sign off a report advising a change to the Equality Act, replacing “gender reassignment” with “gender identity” as a protected characteristic, without realising the profound public policy implications of that change. At a stroke, she advised changing our concept of gender from something that is partially socially constructed – how you are treated – to entirely a matter of internal essence. She entered the realm of metaphysics, asserting that everyone has a gender identity, something which no instrument can measure. That isn’t the kind of thing you can casually toss out in paragraph 4.108 and expect everyone to nod through, unless you have no idea what you’re proposing.
I will let Janice Turner have the last word here: