I think consistency matters a lot in feminism – consistently condemning homophobia and threats of VAWG, defending sexual boundaries, talking clearly about the body and what it means. Picking and choosing for political convenience treats it as a hobby, not a moral imperative.
The final words of Kathleen Stock’s essay can stand as a summary for the whole of this series: “there are more things to consider than some trans activists would have you believe.” The contributions that have argued for the self-declaration of gender identity have offered affecting personal stories (Charlie Kiss and Emily Brothers both movingly describe the peace that transition has brought them), but rarely reckoned with the political and cultural conflicts that writers with more critical standpoints have raised.
Only Vic Valentine of the Scottish Trans Alliance referred to the problem of balancing rights, and then only very subtly, by writing that trans women’s “thoughtful inclusion [in women-only services] is not an undue threat”. What, then, would that thoughtfulness entail? What would thoughtless inclusion look like? And what constitutes an “undue threat” to service users? These are questions of policy, and answering them is a vital stage for the trans rights movement. In short, the trans rights movement needs to articulate exactly what rights it is seeking, and give frank consideration to how those rights would interact with protections currently afforded on the basis of natal sex or transition.
Deborah Hayton and Kristina Harrisson, both trans women, express the fear that corroding public trust in the Gender Recognition Act will cost trans people dearly. Recent polling data supports their case: public backing for gender self-identification is low. But, more positively, the polling also shows that trans activism in Britain is not a culture war issue. Unlike America, where this is a defining schism between liberals and conservatives, in Britain support or resistance to self-identity doesn’t map onto any one political group.
That means that British politics—if it resists the toxic terms of debate exported from America—has the chance to conduct a serious discussion about trans rights and inclusion, in which voices such as Pippa Fleming’s and Kathleen Stock’s are listened to rather than swept aside with the charge of bigotry, and in which trans people are not reduced to proxies in a war of political identities. Only open conversation, like that fostered by The Economist in this series, can produce good law; and bad law will be bad for women and trans people alike.
Samantha the Sex Robot first showed up in the public eye last September, when a version of her was left in need of repairs after being displayed at a tech fair: “The people mounted Samantha’s breasts, her legs and arms. Two fingers were broken. She was heavily soiled,” said her creator, Sergi Santos, at the time.
“People can be bad,” he added. “Because they did not understand the technology and did not have to pay for it, they treated the doll like barbarians.”
Leaving aside the suggestion that the way to convince Samantha’s prospective suitors go a bit easier on her was to pay for her, Santos’s surprise at her treatment here makes him seem naive. Isn’t this exactly what he built Samantha for, after all? Allowing behaviour that actual women wouldn’t tolerate?
In the same month, an undamaged version of Samantha made her debut on breakfast TV, with her owner-lover, father-of-two Arran Lee Wright.
Wright is a co-founder of Synthea Amatus, a website that sells lifelike sex robots, with prices starting at £2,000. On his site, Samantha is described as “much more than a sex doll”. During the interview, Wright elaborated on this argument, declaring: “She can talk about animals, she can talk about philosophy, she can talk about science. She has programmed a thousand jokes, I don’t even know all of them. There’s a lot to Samantha, she’s advanced.”
In particular, he stressed the benefit of Samantha’s so-called family mode. The switch stops her blurting out overtly sexual things, such as “I can take many times, much more love, just because you can give it, and I take it all.”
Wright claimed that his children, aged three and five, play with Samantha, and watch TV alongside her. Wright’s wife even said: “I am not worried she will replace me. She is just someone there like a family member.”
As well as giving Wright an opportunity to plug his site, the interview provokes a curious question. Feminists have already raised fears about the implications of sex robots for the way men view and value women. But if in-house sex robots are becoming a feature of 21st century life, how do children make sense of them?
Just as today’s teenagers take broadband for granted, the next generation growing up will be accustomed to non-sexual robots in their day-to-day lives. Dr Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at Berkeley University, says that children will most likely learn to get along with such robots in the home better than their parents ever could:
“Technologies that seem weird, disruptive and challenging when they are introduced, from the printing press, to the train and telegraph, to TV, become banal and taken for granted by the next generation,” she says. “My bet is that children will quickly understand that robots are a category that shares both similarities and differences with people and with other machines.”
However, even a non-sexual robot in the house could damage children, says Dr Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day. She says: “Children thrive developmentally and socially on human contact and interaction.
“It would seem that robots in a house with babies and young children would significantly reduce, and thereby curtail, the essential ingredient and influence of human touch and verbal interaction.” Robots have programming, scripts and limited facial expressions, if any – they just can’t match human beings for communication and imagination, and that’s what children need most.
So what does that mean for Samantha hanging out with the kids while she is in family mode? Dr Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia questions the idea that Samantha can adjust so easily, given her overtly sexualised features.
“It’s like the Barbie doll image, telling girls how they should look. If the culture gives you this image, what are you going do?” Hirsh-Pasek says. “What a shame that, as they grow up, this is what they learn about their dad.”
Nevertheless, she thinks the state would struggle to intervene: “There are privacy issues there. I think our job is to educate the public about why it’s problematic.”
Children start to form idea about gender and relationships from an early age, and from watching their parents, according to Dr Kathleen Richardson, professor of ethics and culture of robots and AI at De Montfort University, and founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots.
“Children will imitate machines if brought up by them,” she said at the For the Sake of the Future conference in London. “A son is going to learn that it’s okay for daddy to have both a wife and a doll, and the doll doesn’t say anything; it’s his way to have power and control over the family.
“A daughter is going to grow up and think maybe this happened because Mummy wasn’t beautiful enough – am I?
“They’ll learn that women only have certain uses. Then they start to use that as a template for how they interact intimately with others – this is profoundly damaging.”
Yet it is hard to imagine many parents, however unusual their private life is, letting their child anywhere near a robot clearly made for sex, especially one that might randomly start saying explicit things.
More convincing, perhaps, is the idea that sex robot manufacturers want to break out of the original market of lonely or disabled men – men who “can’t get a woman” – and the stigma attached to that. Instead, they are using their wives and marriages to normalise the sex robots they have a financial interest in selling.
We don’t actually see Wright’s children on his This Morning interview. Perhaps they don’t find Samantha scintillating company after all. In the meantime, those hearing about the family-friendly sex robot should get wise to spotting a man when he’s in marketing mode.
QotD: “Not biologically essentialist = having language to describe the political status of people with vaginas”
For the millionth time, biologically essentialist = thinking people with vaginas are born to be feminine / empathetic / maternal / subservient / decorative etc. Not biologically essentialist = having language to describe the political status of people with vaginas
QotD: “Jordan tells Greenfield of seeking greater wealth through extreme sex, which may have made her temporarily wealthier but didn’t make her happy”
There’s also the former porn star Kacey Jordan, who received $30,000 to attend a sex party at Charlie Sheen’s home. Jordan tells Greenfield of seeking greater wealth through extreme sex, which may have made her temporarily wealthier but didn’t make her happy. She made numerous suicide attempts, and ends the film [documentary Generation Wealth] in the same dead-end job she had before starting porn.
Lesbians mounted a parade-stopping protest at London Pride today, July 7, 2018. They objected to the erasure of lesbians caused by so-called allies among gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations and individuals who forcibly rename lesbians as generic “queer people” and who demand that heterosexual men who sexually fetishize lesbianism must be accepted by same-sex attracted women as if they were actual lesbians.
The lesbians first gathered in front of the march, displaying their message. They carried signs and banners that read “Lesbian=Female Homosexual”, and “Lesbian Not Queer”, “Transactivism Erases Lesbians” and “Get the ‘L’ Out!”, among others. Then they lay down in the street, halting the parade and drawing attention. After a few minutes, they stood, and led the Pride March, remaining at the helm for the duration.
Following on from this previous post (and the original blogger does cite the source, I just missed it in the tags), here is the quote and its source:
Ninotchka Rosca was interviewd by Feminist Current last year, and the podcast is available here.
In this episode, I speak with Ninotchka Rosca, an incredibly accomplished activist and writer from the Phillippines. She is the author of six books, including two bestselling novels — The State of War and Twice Blessed (which won the 1993 American Book Award for Excellence in Literature) — a two-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and has written for numerous magazines and websites. She was a political prisoner under the dictatorial government of Ferdinand Marcos and went on to work with Amnesty International and the PEN American Center, drafting statements on women and human rights at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and the UN’s World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. A powerful anti-prostitution advocate, Ninotchka was press secretary of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery which convicted Japan’s wartime era leadership for enslaving and exploiting Asian “comfort women.”
Ninotchka founded and was the first chairperson of Gabriela Network, a US-based organization of women and women’s rights advocates supporting the Philippine women’s movement, which eventually became AF3IRM, a transnational feminist organization. AF3IRM’s national summit will be held on October 21st in New York City, and will look at the foundational ideas of American feminism — concepts and wisdom drawn from the tribal societies of this continent, particularly the Iroquois, with whom pioneers of the American women’s movement were in touch.
If Brexit is the most divisive issue in British politics, requiring a talent for squaring ideological circles and cajoling compromises from bitter enemies, reform of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) runs it a close second. The consultation, long-delayed while three successive ministers for women and equalities scratched their heads, is finally launched on Tuesday.
Although even that isn’t official. Bizarrely the government wouldn’t confirm (or deny) the date. But I’ve seen emails: groups will give evidence in late July, a sleepy summer recess slot calculated, perhaps, to contain the GRA firestorm. Some chance.
Opposing forces are drilled for battle. On one side the trans lobby, including Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, who claim changes to the process by which a trans person acquires a gender recognition certificate (GRC) are merely a tiny administrative tweak. On the other, feminist activists who fear that a legal redefinition of “woman” from biological sex to the nebulous, inner feeling of “gender identity” threatens female safety and privacy.
Much has changed since Maria Miller’s blithe 2016 trans rights report recommended sweeping, contentious changes including expedited hormone treatment for children and removing gender from official government records. Most controversially she sought to replace the GRC process whereby a person must live in their new gender for two years and have a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” (a mental disorder whereby a person feels their identity is opposed to their biological sex). Instead Mrs Miller proposed “self-identify”, ie a man could simply declare himself a woman with no requirement to transition physically.
The report caused a furore. Without hearing evidence from a single women’s group, Mrs Miller also proposed abolishing exemptions to the 2010 Equality Act which allow domestic violence refuges or hostels to admit only biological women. Interviewing Mrs Miller last year, I was flabbergasted by how little she had thought this through. She saw no conflict of rights at all: women, she said, must learn to accept without challenge male-bodied people using their changing rooms.
New feminist groups, including A Woman’s Place, sprang up in alarm. Despite picketed meetings, a violent assault and a bomb threat, they’ve shifted the public consensus to the view that liberating trans people from discrimination and abuse should not remove protections from another vulnerable group: women.
Unsurprisingly, Penny Mordaunt, women and equalities minister, is proceeding with caution. She has stated she will not touch the single sex exemptions and is yet to be convinced about “self-ID”. The consultation will address how the GRC process can be “less bureaucratic and intrusive”.
Yet a GRC is a serious undertaking: it allows a person to change the biological sex on their birth certificate, a document of public record. A person’s identity is then sealed, only to be opened in circumstances such as criminal investigation: there is no way of proving someone is not the sex they claim to be. Only 5,000 GRCs have been issued to date. But if this process is made easier, with no careful checks for sincerity, the Equality Act exemptions are rendered almost meaningless.
Moreover if the GRC is “demedicalised”, requiring no gender dysphoria diagnosis, there are implications for the treatment of children. There is an epidemic of teenage girls believing they are trans: female puberty often involves body self-hatred, long expressed in anorexia and self-harm and now breast-binding and demanding double mastectomies. But why explore this new phenomenon if “gender identity” is officially as indisputable as eye colour?
If attaining a GRC is easier, should single sex exemptions be reinforced? Already companies and public bodies that misunderstand the law or who are intimidated by Twitter storms, such as when Topshop was branded transphobic for excluding a man who identifies as “non-binary” from its women’s fitting rooms, have capitulated.
The government should reassure them and suggest no single sex policy is changed without an impact assessment. This week Times2 reported on a co-ed school where the head designated all toilets “gender neutral” without consultation. Yet “gender reassignment” is just one protected characteristic under the Equality Act: there are eight others, including race and biological sex. The head should first have assessed the impact on girls learning to use sanitary products next to boys, or their fears of phones being used to take pictures under cubicles. The girls won back their single sex toilets, with a few WCs anyone can use.
If my local pool was to allow biological males into its women-only session it should first assess the impact upon the mainly Somali and Arab women in burkinis who, alas, feel unable to swim at any other time. Cancer UK should assess the impact of using the words “people with a cervix” rather than “women” in its cervical cancer campaign. Which will save more lives? Being “trans inclusive” or making sure that women with poor English who might not understand an obscure medical word are screened? If crimes are recorded according to a person’s gender identity rather than biological sex, as FOI requests to police authorities suggest, how will this skew crime figures, given natal women commit a tiny fraction of violent and sexual offences?
All these are reasonable questions for a government consultation, not hate speech. Yet Penny Mordaunt will be dealing with groups who believe “trans women are women” not figuratively or legally, but literally and biologically. Therefore no conflict of rights can possibly exist. Compared to negotiating through this, Brexit is a cinch.
Naomi Alderman’s tale is a murder mystery, the story of Hypatia, the mathematician murdered by a mob in the learned city of Alexandria, around the year 415 CE. Hypatia was a communicator of science, tackling difficult maths and teaching it to her students. This was incredibly important work. It was enough, at the time, to make her Alexandria’s pre-eminent mathematician, and probably therefore the leading mathematician in the world.
And there’s historical evidence that Hypatia made some discoveries and innovations of her own. She invented a new and more efficient method of long division. In a time before electronic calculators, the actual business of doing sums was an arduous part of engineering or astronomy, and any improvement in efficiency was very welcome.
All quite innocent science, so why did Hypatia end up being murdered by a mob? Natalie Haynes presenter of “Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics” tells the inside story to Naomi Alderman. And Professor Edith Hall discusses Hypatia’s legacy.