Questions You Can’t Answer: My Letter to the NZ Green Party

Charlie
Charlie
Sep 14 · 7 min read

Tēnā koutou,

Green Party members in leadership positions have demonstrated they are unable to answer women’s questions about the Party’s feminist analysis. I believe this shows a concerning level of incompetence which must be addressed.

Background:

I am a lesbian and feminist Green Party member who wants to see the Party do better. This letter is my contribution. In a best case scenario, all my questions will be answered and the answers will make it easier for the Party to design and implement feminist policy moving forwards.

As a Party we value inclusiveness and accessibility. Each of these values relies on context: we are not inclusive to the richest 1% who seek to further their own economic ‘success’ and we aim to be inaccessible, even hostile, to oil giants. However recently the Party has applied that same exclusion, inaccessibility and hostility to lesbian feminists critiquing gender. I believe there is no case for having done so.

Jill Abigail, an 80 year old lesbian feminist, wrote an article in Te Awa (the Green Party newsletter) asking the Party to be careful about entrenching ‘gender identity’ in law. The Party removed the article, did not address any of her claims, and distanced themselves from her in national media repeatedly. Following this, all Green Party members were sent a derogatory article about Dr Kathleen Stock and Dr Holly Lawford-Smith (two lesbians) as if to send a message that lesbians critiquing gender will not be tolerated. Another email sent to all Party members about Jill Abigail’s article did not use the words ‘women’, ‘woman’ or ‘lesbian’ even once (yet managed to use the words ‘hurt’, ‘harm’ and ‘pain’ ten times), despite the premise of her article being the need to protect women’s sex-based rights.

The extreme response reminded me of Claire Heuchan’s observation in Lesbian Connection and the Lavender Menace that,

“There is a particular malice that is projected onto the motives of lesbian women critiquing gender. Responses to lesbian feminist perspectives on gender often fail to recognise that it is a system oppressing us twice over, on account of both our sex and sexuality.”

The Green Party’s reframing of Jill Abigail’s article cut lesbians out of the picture with no justification as to why. I believe this was because lesbian feminists are some of the most outspoken critics of gender in NZ — and this reality is politically inconvenient.

The problem:

Green Party MPs and many Green Party members advocate to:

  • replace ‘sex’ on birth certificates with ‘gender identity’ (thereby making a persons ‘gender identity’ their legal sex, and giving them the right to assert their ‘gender identity’ to access sex-specific rights*)
  • replace ‘sex’ in the Human Rights Act with ‘gender identity’, or add ‘gender identity’ to the HRA so it can be asserted as a grounds of discrimination over and above ‘sex’ (as is being done by Jessica Yaniv in Canada at present)

They have worked towards this specifically by advocating for sex self-declaration being brought into the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registrations Act.

So here’s my politically inconvenient, overall question: Why is the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand so intent on replacing the property ‘biological sex’ with the property ‘gender identity’?

Talk me through it in stages, please:

  • What, precisely, does the Green Party think a ‘gender identity’ is? Can the Party describe a ‘gender identity’ so lay people can understand it without referring to sexist gender roles or using circular logic?
  • What evidence has the Green Party been informed by that has led them to decide the metric of biological sex is not an important enough measure to retain as it is?
  • What evidence has the Green Party turned to to inform them that ‘gender identity’ is an appropriate metric to replace biological sex in law?
  • If the Green Party is making this decision based on personal experiences whose experiences are informing the decision? Who decided whose experiences were heard and whose were not?
  • Does the Green Party doubt that all human beings in NZ are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of sex? If so, why would you doubt this when the fact that all human beings have a sex is well established, and ‘sex’ is protected in the HRA1993?
  • Why is it valid and okay to believe that ‘gender identity’ should override biological sex, but wrong to believe biological sex should override a persons ‘gender identity’ in law?
  • Does the Green Party truly believe that ‘gender identity’ is the same thing as biological sex, if so: what is it the two properties have in common? If not, how are they different?
  • If ‘gender identity’ is different to biological sex, why do Green Party MP’s and campaigns continue to conflate the two things? What purpose is that intended to serve?
  • If ‘gender identity’ is different to biological sex, why is the Green Party replacing one with the other and not insisting on simply collecting extra data about ‘gender identity’?
  • I’ve often heard the claim that people possessing various ‘gender identities’ are oppressed or discriminated against. On what basis?

I understand, appreciate and respect that people hold different views on this topic. However I am sick of seeing women like Jill Abigail, who has been fighting for women’s rights for longer than some of our Green MPs have been alive, dismissed as bigots because they have questions like mine. I am not the first woman to feel exasperated at the Green’s failure to engage with feminists, and I am certainly not alone.

I have asked many Green Party members including MPs in person, “do you think sex and gender are the same thing?” and “how do you think a ‘man gender identity’ differs from a ‘woman gender identity’?” I am yet to be given a clear answer.

Some people who haven’t answered my questions have told me they won’t answer because the answers are obvious. I’ve been mocked for asking these questions many times (always by people who do not answer the questions), and told “you KNOW” by both Stephanie Rodgers and Geraint Scott, Green Party members. However, I actually don’t know. That’s why I am asking. The answers do not appear to be accessible anywhere online, in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble or in any textbook I have ever read. I have looked.

You do not uphold the values of inclusion and accessibility by withholding information women really want to know so that we can fully participate in a conversation about our rights. Information is power. Withholding information and laughing at women for not having access to it (and therefore being unable to participate in the same political conversations as you) is power tripping, in my opinion.

I believe it’s fair to ask the Green Party of NZ not to power trip, and instead to answer the questions I have asked in a clear, accessible fashion. If the Party has no leaders up for the challenge, perhaps Stephanie Rodgers and Geraint Scott will be up for it.

‘Don’t ask questions’ is not going to be a sustainable approach. The Green Party is full of curious people, unlikely to be easily placated. I’ll look forward to reading all the answers,

Ngā mihi nui,

Charlie

[Image description: A birds eye view of a secluded, empty beach surrounded by forest. The Green Party NZ Charter key words ‘Tikanga Toi Potapotae’, ‘Kawenga Pāpori’, ‘Whakarite Tōtika’, ‘Aukati Whakarekereke’ are written over top. These translate closely to ‘Ecological Wisdom’, ‘Social Responsibility’, ‘Appropriate Decision-making’ and ‘Non-Violence’.]

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For the record:

I personally do not believe that sex and gender are the same thing. My view of the situation is reasonably summed up by Rebecca Reilly Cooper’s argument here. I have been outspoken about my issues with the policy of sex self declaration and I believe it’s fundamentally flawed.

My impression is that ‘gender identity’ refers to which stereotypical gender role you identify with, or (in the case you assert a nonbinary, genderqueer, gender etc gender identity) that you do not identify with either stereotypical gender role.

As a feminist I object to a gender identity being applied to me, because I do not identify with the gender role applied to women. I believe ‘woman’ simply refers to an adult human female. Woman (in my worldview) is not a word to describe a gender role — if you wanted a word to describe the gender role stereotypically applied to women you could say ‘feminine’. The word for the gender role applied to men is ‘masculine’.

As always, I am open to changing my mind as I learn new information and always keen for coffee.

*What do I mean when I say sex specific rights?

In New Zealand we are fortunate to have ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic in the Human Rights Act, thanks to feminists like the denounced Jill Abigail. This means we can’t be arbitrarily discriminated against on the grounds of sex — and I personally am especially thankful for these provisions as I think it’s likely I’d have a harder time working in construction without them.

We also have exemptions in the Human Rights Act & Bill of Rights Act that mean there are times we can discriminate to have a female-only space (or lesbian only space), service or provision. Some examples are: a sports team, female only counselling or scholarships. At present that is legal.

These are rights you can choose to exercise, you do not have to exercise them. So while you might have survived rape and never wanted to be in a female-only support group to cope with that, it might be worth remembering there are women in NZ who have survived rape and actually quite value retaining the right to female only space.

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