QotD: “I would love to know, if it’s not the artificially constructed social status bestowed on them due to their biological sex under patriarchy, what left-wing men think makes any of them *not* women.”
I would love to know, if it’s not the artificially constructed social status bestowed on them due to their biological sex under patriarchy, what left-wing men think makes any of them *not* women. What do they assume they have/feel/think that women don’t?
I honestly don’t see any essential difference between me and these men beyond a) my female body and b) their social privilege. But obviously they have some magic qualities they just can’t bear to reveal.
An annual book fair that has served for more than three decades as the most important meeting point for the British anarchist movement has become the latest casualty of widening splits over the issue of transgender rights.
Organisers say that they no longer have “the appetite or the energy” to stage next year’s London Anarchist Bookfair, following fraught scenes at the event last month. A group of feminists were confronted by other activists who accused them of distributing “transphobic” leaflets that promoted prejudice against transgender people.
The acrimony follows highly publicised splits in universities, women’s organisations and political parties over the issue. Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old who has just won a vote in Kent to become Labour’s first women’s officer from a transgender background, has been at the centre of a row within the party.
The executive committee of another constituency Labour party resigned this month in solidarity with Anne Ruzylo, a women’s officer who claimed she had been the focus of complaints by Madigan and others.
This weekend it emerged that Madigan is applying to join the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme, launched after the murder of the MP to encourage female participation in politics.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Equality party has confirmed that its executive committee is considering complaints about one of its members, Heather Brunskell-Evans, an academic whose invitation to speak at King’s College in London was cancelled after she took part in a discussion on transgender issues on Radio 4. On the programme she called for caution to be exercised in relation to children who expressed confusion over their gender. Brunskell-Evans said the party told her that three members had alleged her “conduct” on the programme had “promoted prejudice against the transgender community”. She is also alleged to have said on Twitter: “we have to #ROAR about the harms of transgenderism for children and young people”.
The leaflets handed out at the Anarchist Bookfair suggested that predatory men might be among those who choose to call themselves women, and might abuse the system by gaining access to women-only spaces such as refuges. Trans activists say the issue is being used by opponents – some of whom they label “terfs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) – to sow the seeds of hatred.
The increasingly angry disputes follow government proposals to streamline the process for how people can change their gender, under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). A public consultation is to be held on speeding up and demedicalising the process, with the current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians seen by some as intrusive.
Choosing whether one is a man or a woman is a matter of self-identification, trans activists assert. Some opponents of the GRA have warned that this may lead to young, vulnerable people making decisions they later regret. Others have suggested that self-identifying undermines the status, rights and experience of biological women.
The rows “are going on within all sorts of social movements”, said Helen Steel, the veteran social justice campaigner known for her role in taking on McDonald’s in the 1997 “McLibel” case.
Steel, who is among those caught up in the book fair controversy, said that until now, discussion had “taken place in a bubble that has agreed with itself”. She added: “Now that those ideas are actually going to be translated into law, other people are becoming aware of those proposals and say, ‘hang on – can we have time to consider the implications properly and let women have a say in how our lives may be affected by these changes?’”
She said she had been left traumatised by her experience at the book fair, claiming she was surrounded by a “baying mob” after intervening to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA.
“I have been aware that women have been bullied on this issue for a long time now but, until it happened to me, I was not aware of the extent of the bullying and am shocked by it,” Steel said. “I have been an environmental and social justice campaigner for most of my life. In all that time, I have never experienced such a toxic environment.”
In The Guardian this week, lawyer and writer Shon Faye claims “trans people in Britain have recently been subjected to a media onslaught” — an almost laughable irony, if it weren’t so dishonest. The truth is that, while indeed many women and journalists in the UK have been covering and speaking out about questions surrounding the transitioning of children, proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, potential conflicts between gender identity legislation and women’s rights, and the attacks on those who question gender identity ideology, these articles and that activism do not by any stretch constitute an attack on trans-identified people.
By contrast, this week, a talk by author of Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body and spokeswoman for the Women’s Equality Party, Heather Brunskell-Evans, on pornography and the sexualization of young women was cancelled after she questioned the practice of transitioning children. A couple of weeks ago, a lecture journalist Julie Bindel was scheduled to give about her new book, The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth, at St. Edward’s University in Texas was cancelled, due supposedly to her arguments around gender identity and support for woman-only space. Anne Ruzylo, a woman’s officer with the Labour Party was subjected to months of bullying by a fellow party member, and smeared as “transphobic.” Pushed to resign last week, every member of the executive committee quit in solidarity with Ruzylo, though the young trans-identified male responsible for the harassment was elected as women’s officer in his local party shortly thereafter. Last month, Linda Bellos, a longtime lesbian feminist activist, was uninvited from speaking at Cambridge University after saying she planned to publicly question “some of the trans politics … which seems to assert the power of those who were previously designated male to tell lesbians, and especially lesbian feminists, what to say and what to think.”
In other words, it is very clear who is under attack within the transgender debate: women.
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’.
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.
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.