Fighting Genderism in Politics

On the platform, Angela Eagle issued a rallying cry for women to support one another as a ‘tribe.’ She talked of the men in power who always have one another’s back, and the fight we have as women to be heard in the Labour Party.  A brave politician and proud lesbian who stands against sexism I have always looked up to Angela, weirdly I felt like I knew her.  As she walked from the stage my friend handed her a card from the gender critical feminist group Woman’s Place UK. Angela looked at us as if she’d just been handed a shit-stained parking ticket.  My heart sank and the words she had powerfully spoken on stage instantly became meaningless.  How can she claim to advocate for women, when to her ‘womanhood’ is nothing more than an identity?

Design courtesy of Angela C Wild

Throughout the day at the Labour Women’s Network conference we heard from powerful and inspiring women in the Labour Party. We heard their frustration about how our concerns are minimised, their pain that the party they love makes it impossible to safely report assault by men, about their dismay that ninety years on from universal suffrage the Labour Party still looks and feels male.

It should have been a cathartic experience, listening and sharing the rage of rightfully angry women, but it wasn’t.  Each of the speeches of the panellists were peppered with references to ‘transphobia,’ always in same breath as racism and misogyny.  Interestingly, there were few references to the struggles of the LGB part of the rainbow.

Sitting in a row of women mechanically clapping the statement ‘because all women are women’ had a disturbingly Stalinist feel.  While we were in the hall listening to women’s experience of sexism, in Rochester and Strood CLP a motion was proposed calling for the expulsion of anyone who fails to agree with the statements ‘trans men are men’ and ‘transwomen are women’.  This is effectively a witch-hunt of outspoken women. To combat ‘transphobia’ young men in the party have set-up a spreadsheet with the names of women who signed the petition started by long-standing Labour Activist Jennifer James in a bid to have them removed from the party.

Despite the inclusion of transwoman Emily Brown in a workshop on intersectionality, there was no discussion of the definition of ‘woman’ or ‘man’ or why this might matter, no analysis of how lesbians are increasingly pushed to accept transwomen as sexual partners, no acknowledgement that at a women’s event to discuss sexism it is quite important to recognise ‘sex’ as the axis of oppression.  A gender critical feminist group who tried to give out leaflets had them confiscated by the head of Labour Women’s Network, Liv Bailey.  At about the same time on Twitter, transactivist Munroe Bergdorf was instructing attendees of the women’s march not to wear ‘pussy hats’ as they’re transphobic (a powerful take-down of this raw male entitlement can be read here.)

In a moment of spectacular irony, the Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of London complained of how middle class white men in the corridors of power have no understanding of the struggles of transgender people.  I suspect she is blissfully unaware that a fair proportion of the middle aged white men currently passing laws probably spend a good portion of their weekends dressed ‘as women.’  For such men, identifying as female can be the height of sexual pleasure.  The tiny proportion of transsexuals who suffer from gender dysphoria have had their suffering co-opted by a vocal and vicious group of men’s rights activists who fetishize the accoutrements of femininity.  This has left those of us who believe woman is a biological category, not a vague sexy feeling to identify into, politically homeless.  It cut me to see a room full of well-meaning Labour women virtue-signalling away their own legal existence because they thought they were being supportive.

‘Gender Fluid’Banker 

I can’t blame them, in this time of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘preferred pronouns’ any dissent is quashed; most of the women there probably had no idea that a debate is raging at all.  Just before proceedings closed a woman I feel proud to know made an excellent comment – standing tall she reminded a largely hostile room that one hundred years ago every single transwoman would be allowed to vote, because they are of course biologically male.  There was some support, but not enough.

I should thank Labour Women’s Network because I left the conference more determined than ever to make change – and not least because to fight for the rights of women, we need to define ‘woman.’

Open Letter – Stella Creasy

Dear Stella,

After you were elected you said “You have to have the courage of your convictions and the courage to be able to get out there and debate and discuss and listen” and I was inspired.

As we both know, the Labour Party is riddled with brogressives who will occasionally make tick-box statements about equality with no real understanding. The reason I’ve stayed a member is because I have faith that feminists in positions of influence like you will make sure the needs of women are recognised and our rights protected.

As with you now, until three years ago I didn’t see a contradiction between the rights of transgender people and those of women. I trotted out the phrase ‘transwomen are women’ and was confident I was on the ‘right side of history.’ I remember being proud of myself when I made the leaflet below comparing Christabel Pankhurst with Caitlyn Jenner- I was so ‘woke’ I would never have knowingly associated with someone smeared as transphobic.

Nonetheless, deep down I think I knew that there was a contradiction between my aim as a feminist to dismantle harmful gender stereotypes, and my belief that somehow transgender people had an understanding of their gender that existed independently of a sexist society. I pondered on what transwomen did differently when they made the decision to come out and ‘live as authentic women.’ The question of how one could be ‘trapped in the wrong body’ was like a persistent mind itch – surely people should be free not to conform without that being cited as evidence for being transgender? A mismatch between the sex of a brain and body presupposes the brains of women and men differ, but this has been largely disproven. I was scared to acknowledge it, not least because as a woman I am expected to be ‘nice’ and also because the media landscape is saturated with stories of courageous transgender people at the frontier of a civil rights’ crusade. I understand why you reacted as you did at the weekend, transgender people are consistently presented as a vulnerable group and for those of us with a sense of social justice our instinctive reaction when challenged on this is to want to defend a minority. I will attempt to share with you some of what I have learnt since, and some of what changed my mind about the transgender community.

Male Pattern Violence & Identity
I wasn’t particularly surprised when the news broke that Soham murderer Ian Huntley now identifies as ‘Lian.’ Patterns of offending do not change when identities do and as with men- rates of criminality amongst transwomen are are far higher than those of natal women. It is estimated that at present up to half of trans women in prison are sex offenders. It is often argued that these are not ‘genuine’ transgender people and that they are simply opportunist men who want to be transferred to the women’s prison estate. This could be the case, though it poses the question, how can we tell? The leading LGBT organisations make no distinction between ‘transsexual’ and ‘cross-dressing’ people – both now shelter under the ‘transgender umbrella.’ I note you joined the outcry about Worboys, if tomorrow he identified as a woman would it be transphobic not to believe him?

How can we even record male violence accurately, when the crimes of paedophiles like Nicola Florida and Jasmine Hill are now frequently recorded as being committed by women? Categorising by a subjective sense of ‘gender identity’ rather than material reality renders the statistics that underpin policy meaningless and male pattern violence invisible.

Rapist Davina Aryton

Single-Sex facilities

Our foremothers fought for sex-segregated space so that we could take our rightful place in public life. We prefer not to acknowledge why this is necessary, it makes us feel vulnerable and sparks the familiar and defensive #notallmen outrage, outrage that is belied by the everyday #metoo experience of women. In many parts of the world women are still raped because they don’t have access to safe, single sex facilities. Men in the UK are no different, no more ‘civilized’ and being able to challenge their presence in single-sex changing rooms, counselling sessions and hospital wards should be a fundamental and uncontroversial safeguard. Regardless of how an individual identifies, we should feel confident to say ‘no’ to male-bodied or male-socialised people in women-only spaces. To do otherwise is to put an individual’s feelings above the safety of all women.

The standard response, when concerns about women’s rights are raised in relation to gender identity, is that transwomen are disproportionately likely to be victims of violence. It should be noted that the oft quoted “one in twelve trans women are murdered” refers to prostituted transwomen of colour in South America, not white computer programmers in the home counties. In fact thankfully here in the UK transwomen are less likely  to be murdered.

Young women & the pressure to transition
Often it is transwomen who bask in the glare of the media spotlight. The version of ‘womanhood’ as performed by transwomen like Lees and Faye doesn’t resonate with me. Unlike ‘new suffragette’ Lees, I don’t find street harassment a validation of my sexuality. Those who exist in the shadow of every Jenner, Cox and Willoughby are young transmen, the overwhelming majority of whom would otherwise grow up to be lesbian or bisexual. This is a matter close to my heart, as I fear that if I were growing to accept my sexuality in today’s climate I would bear the scars of a double mastectomy, an atrophied vagina and the side-affects of testosterone. A new wave of detransitioned women in their early twenties add credence to this. In a porn-soaked society with rigid sex stereotypes and so few young lesbian role models, I fully understand why so many want to identify out of girlhood. Moreover, young lesbians are routinely advised by sites such as the somewhat ironically named ‘Everyday Feminism’ they are transphobic if they do not consider male bodied transwomen as sexual partners. Gender non-conforming girls are collateral in the battle to affirm the identities of adult and often late-transitioning transwomen.

The #metoo campaign of late 2017 sent shockwaves that were felt from the Houses of Parliament to the houses on every street. The backlash was brutal – shouts of ‘witch hunt’ drowned out the voices of victims and the year closed with calls to protect the anonymity of men accused of rape. As feminists we know that Hollywood stars wearing black will not stop two women in the UK  each week being killed by the men they should be able to trust. That is why we look to women like you, women with the power to affect change.

I know you to be a woman of principle and I trust you to be open-minded enough to consider the points raised. I sincerely hope you will make the time to meet with us and other feminist groups who campaign to ensure that women’s rights are not forgotten in the rush to seem supportive of transgender people. We look forward to your response.

In sisterhood and solidarity,

Critical Sisters

#NotAllWomen are Feminist

Your average woman is more likely to spend more time putting on make-up than thinking about the erosion of women’s rights at the hands of the transgender lobby.  This is understandable and not a criticism of individual women; being pretty is what we have been trained to do since infancy.  It’s a sad truth that most women are not consciously aware of their oppression.

Moments of shared experience, like when you catch the barmaid’s wry smile as she’s humouring some dullard mansplaining Brexit, are precious but from my experience, rare.   There is a seam of knowing that runs through all of us, but it is buried deep and sometimes hard to recognise.  We are expected to smile, compliment hairstyles and remember birthdays and we implicitly know to plan our walk home to avoid attack or harassment by men.  These are just a few of tiny details that comprise the female experience; they are the price we pay to exist in a man’s world.

When I am the only woman in my workplace who objects to being called a ‘girl’ I sometimes feel like it’s me who needs to lighten-up. I feel similarly frustrated when local women’s services and ‘experts’ refer to ‘gendered violence’ rather than calling it what it is; men’s violence against women. As gender critical feminists, (or ‘feminists’ as we were previously known), there is a tendency online to be pulled into comforting blanket statements about women as a class.  That ‘women are not being listened to’ is a common refrain.  This isn’t entirely accurate, it is because some women such as Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee Maria Miller and Stonewall CEO  Ruth Hunt are ‘listened to’ that the interests of all women are being eroded.  Of course, they are listened to precisely because what they say is not threatening to male dominance.  When you think about culture at the centre of politics and power it is no surprise that the women who stick it out tend to do so by swallowing sexism.

Most women in politics, and indeed some conceited lefty men, will airily call themselves ‘feminist’ without any real understanding.  It’s easy to see why; fighting for the rights of women and calling-out male violence will win them few votes and attract a lot of hate.  It’s much easier to say ‘gender equality good’ ‘gendered violence bad’ particularly when you’re also supposed to be an expert on wind farms, the NHS and the global economy.  Added to this the bar is set unattainably high for women in the public gaze; compare the reaction to Emily Thornberry’s comments on twitter about ‘white van man’ which led to her resignation from the Labour Party’s front bench with Boris Johnson’s catalogue of gaffes in his safe position as Foreign Secretary.

Online feminism has raised my consciousness and I have no doubt many of my male friends would complain it has radicalised me.  The problem is women like me might seek to represent the interests of the many, but feminist women are a privileged few.  There seems to be a taboo in the feminist community about criticizing, or even noticing, that actually many of those bleating ‘transwomen are women’ are, in fact, ‘uterus bearers’ themselves.  The first cohort to complete the Jo Cox leadership programme who signed a letter condemning transphobia were women. Most of the clicktivists who signed the #iseetara petition to have a violent prisoner moved to the women’s estate without a gender recognition certificate were women.

The behaviour of women is fiercely policed not least by other women; we must all be ‘nice’ and support our sisters, even transwomen who like Tara Hudson (above) have bar brawls and boast about the size of their penis. The fact that ‘transwomen are men’ will seem unspeakably cruel to most until their consciousness is raised.  Yet again this is women competing for male attention against our own interests, and it is easier to hurl abuse at other women than it is to recognise oppression. ‘Women’s Work’ is always thankless; feminist activism is no exception.

A pen, a penis and a half-formed opinion seem to be enough to ensure the pages of the Guardian are full of trans sob-stories.  A few courageous women like Janice Turner and Helen Lewis have broken through, but most of us are left isolated in the liberal communities we were once a part of, or preaching to the online choir.  The power of seeding questions through real life conversations should not be underestimated.

My opinion was changed when two women I respected explained the obvious to me: that transgenderism is based upon sexist stereotypes and that it is possible to modify one’s body, but not to change sex.  My initial reaction was tearful and hostile.  Later I began to research, learn and crucially to begin to recognise the experience of sexism that I share with all women.  Those who had the courage to speak to me gave me the confidence firstly to question myself, and then to speak to others.   When I found my voice the logic of the gender critical feminist argument spoke for itself; in person over a cuppa the conversations can continue beyond the circular ‘transwomen are women.’  I’ve had only a few negative reactions, most of my friends and family now share my understanding that without constraints of gender there would be no gender to ‘trans.’   From my experience people outside of ‘woke’ progressive politics often accept that it is impossible to change sex as a simple matter common sense.

Over the past few years I have seen the fightback against transgender ideology grow in the face of ever-more vicious abuse. Arguably the volume and vitriol have increased precisely because more people are beginning to recognise the absurdity of trans activist claims.  Attempts to derail arguments with claims that, for example, because the Bugis people recognise five genders biology itself is a social construct are shown to be ladee balls when one asks the simple question ‘what sex was the person who gave birth to you?’

I gain great comfort from online radical groups.  They remind me that we are not alone and that we are justified in our struggle.  Indeed, talking with feminists on social media has helped me open conversations with questioning friends.  However, the warmth and support of online groups can sometimes lull one into a false sense of security about the strength of the sisterhood.  If we are to make progress it is important not to be so naive as to think women will always act in their own best interests; indeed generalisations such as ‘The Labour Party doesn’t listen to women’ can harm our arguments as they are so easily refuted.   Many women are so wedded to the notion of being ‘nice girls’ questioning is internalised as intolerance and thoughts are policed. We might be fighting for all women, but we must remember, we don’t yet speak with one voice.   Trans arguments are illogical and flimsy, they inspire a cult-like belief that can be easily punctured by simply stating reality.   Reaching out to other women and raising their consciouness is central to this.  I firmly believe we are on the cusp of a gender critical mass – now is the time to overcome our ‘nice girl’ socialisation and speak out – Now is the time to be brave and ‘Call a Dave a Dave.’