The Left Are Abandoning Women; and in Doing So, Abandoning Everything They Stand For
Politics in Britain in 2018 is a strange place. On the one hand, you have a Conservative government barely holding on to power due to a misjudged power grab by Theresa May, and on the other you have a Labour “opposition” that seem to be as divisive as they are galvanising due in no small part to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. And then there’s the whole Brexit affair. But let’s not talk about that…It’s safe to say that our representatives and the country as a whole is extremely divided, both socially and economically.
With this in mind, when cross party co-operation actually does happen it’s all the more important to look at why. One particular issue where this has occurred are proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Theresa May has stated that she believes “changes need to be made” to the GRA, and Jeremy Corbyn has thrown his Ushanka (just a joke!) into the ring as well, stating:
“Discrimination has gone on too long. The Gender Recognition Act does not allow trans people to self-identify their gender and forces them to undergo invasive medical tests. This is wrong.”
So, there see seems to be at least some cross-party consensus on the issue. The Conservatives want to be seen as socially progressive in 2018, and “The Left” have always worn the badge of “progressiveness” proudly, so it’s not difficult to see why Jeremy Corbyn has offered to lend Labour’s support to any reforms. Recently the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems have also offered their support.
So where’s the problem? It appears to be a relatively straightforward debate — trans people are human beings, and who is anybody to deny their right to identify as the “gender” they chose without the rigmarole of having to go through a preliminary two year transition phase? In a society that operates on the premise of being broadly Utilitarian, what harm could it cause, especially when the supposed benefits would be immediate to an underrepresented demographic?
But all is not well. A deep dive to look at the problems is necessary, because there are issues bubbling under the surface, and the implications of carrying out the suggested reforms without closer examination could be politically, practically and socially disastrous.
First and foremost, there has been a collective pushback from women across the political spectrum, a large portion of which are (or were) Labour voters — and the party has started very publicly losing their support as a result. While there are a number of different demographics of women (politically speaking) that oppose the reforms, it is perhaps the radical feminist analysis that provides the “(wo)man on the street” outsider with more clarity.
A brief primer may be necessary here: One of the main tenets of radical feminism is that female biology is the root cause of their oppression, not “gender”. For example, female infanticide in China that spans thousands of years (and has resulted in a sex disparity of roughly 40-60 million) because women can’t carry on the family name, amongst other reasons; women and girls dying in “menstruation huts” in Nepal; female genital mutilation is still rife and used as a method to control women’s sexuality (amongst other aspects); lower caste women in the southern state of Kerala in India had to pay a “breast tax” until the Channar revolt in the 1800s. The list goes on. These women were and are oppressed because of their biology. Not because of an innate sense of what it means to be a woman. Also important to note, radical feminism espouses liberation from patriarchy — not just embracing the oppressive facets of male domination in the name of “equality”. Remember this, because we will come back to it later.
But what does this have to do with self-ID and the GRA? They seem worlds away from each other. But the link is very real, both in theory and practice. For women to be able to recognise their oppression under patriarchy, they need to recognise why they’re oppressed in the first place. Of course, language is a conduit for this understanding and how it can be explicated to the wider world. To recognise that men (that is to say biological males) commit atrocious acts of violence against women (that meaning natal females) is to understand the power dynamic and historical context of biological material reality. Consequently, male violence against women needs to be recognised as a distinctly male occurrence for it to be properly deconstructed. Men commit acts of violence against women precisely because they are women, not because they identify (or don’t identify) as such. To clarify with the converse; a biological female in rural Nepal cannot simply refuse to enter a menstruation hut because she identifies as a male (or “non-binary”). It is her sex that results in oppression, not her “gender identity”.
With specific reference to the GRA, the proposed reforms deny women the most basic and fundamental way to recognise and challenge their oppression — language. Now, linguistic puritanism can be limiting and problematic, especially when examining relatively new cultural phenomena. Consequently, it can be argued that descriptivism is necessary both as an intellectual tool of analysis and also as a form of pragmatism. Words change their meaning depending on usage and social context. But this is not to say that words have to change their meaning simply because somebody wants them to. To expand the scope of what it is to be a “woman” (i.e. a biologically adult female) to mean that but also literally anybody else is to deny those same women the ability and fundamental language to describe their oppression and organise to dismantle it accordingly.
This certainly isn’t to say that being a woman (or man) entails specific personality traits or that aspects of performative gender are innate — for instance, a man can still be a man by embracing qualities that would otherwise be considered “womanly”, or by eschewing gender conformity by wearing things like makeup or “gender specific” clothing. This, however, does not a woman make. To believe that this makes up the fundamental conception of “womanhood” is grossly regressive and misogynistic, it is nothing more than a reinforcing of gender stereotypes.
In the most fundamental way, to be a “woman” (read: female) is to fit a certain biological criteria. Namely, XX chromosome, type of gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive anatomy and external genitalia. This doesn’t imply a superiority to males or transgender people — simply an acknowledgement of the reality of definitive criteria within sexual dimorphism. While there are sometimes variances in this (for instance, intersex people or people that suffer from MRKH syndrome), they are just that — anomalous variances of the binary — not proof that the binary is not a binary. For example, the birth of a child with no legs wouldn’t prove that humans aren’t bipedal. This does not make these people less human or worthy of respect, or somehow suggest that they should not have access to healthcare or a life free from violence, abuse and discrimination — but it does not disprove the existence of sexual dimorphism, and using them as a political “gotcha” is offensive, disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.
Consequently, with Labour now suggesting the very concept of being a woman is now open to anybody that wishes to identify as such, it only further reduces the status of natal females (used for clarity here) in society. Their very biological and linguistic identity is being erased in favour of a surface level “progressive-ism”. For example, 20 year old Lily Madigan was elected as a constituency Labour party women’s officer in 2017. Ignoring the fact that electing a then 19 year old (and I say that as somebody not much older myself) into any position of broader social representative authority seems a little too keen to grab the “youth vote”, there is another issue. While it is absolutely right that democracy should work to represent those who would otherwise be overlooked (the trans community being one such example), does it make sense to take that representation from an already underrepresented demographic (namely, women)? Lily hasn’t lived enough of life to represent most men, let alone represent women.
After all, the experience of the trans community is something specific to them, and that absolutely should be represented in parliament. But to suggest it is exactly the same as the experience and socialisation felt by women would be to deny reality. Simply put, if you are socialised as a male with dysphoria (or now without, as the “Trans-umbrella” continues to expand its criteria even more), your experience of course will be different to other demographics, both male and female that don’t have dysphoria or the experience of transitioning. There is no shame in this, but to argue that it is simply the same as a born female’s (or male) experience seems to require an intentional cognitive dissonance, and an almost willingness to shoot yourself in the foot representationally speaking just to play the game of identity politics.
History shows us that women have been repeatedly and consistently marginalised, often to advance a male agenda, but other times for no other reason than to just assert male supremacy. And what could be more marginalising than erasing wholesale the very concept of woman?
This assault on language extends into sexuality also — if somebody used the phrase “a lesbian with a female penis”, you’d think they were quoting a Bernard Manning joke. But now it has become the reality to which lesbians have to conform to unless they want to be labelled as bigots. This is nothing more than corrective rape dressed up as progressive “gender-bending”. It flies in the face of biology and language simply to further assert and uphold male ownership over women’s bodies and sexuality.
If you acknowledge patriarchy to be real in any capacity, which both feminists of all persuasions and the transgender community do, then it follows that you must acknowledge that men (as a class) are born with immediate privilege in society, especially in the West. While the oppressive intersectionality of patriarchy can’t be ignored (in the true “Crenshaw-ian” sense of the word, not in a neutered, third-wave catchall sense), and some women are indeed more privileged than others by virtue of things like race and economic background, men as a class still subjugate women. All men experience and benefit from this socialisation, trans or not, and to ignore that is to only further marginalise women’s battle against patriarchy. This is not to suggest the trans community don’t face battles specific to them, but the reality of broader socialisation needs to be acknowledged, otherwise how will it ever be deconstructed? How could it ever be deconstructed if its existence is ignored?
Moving on from the theoretical to the practical — there has also been notable pushback due in part to what it means for women being able to organise as a protected class under the Equality Act, separately from males. Under the act, women have the legal right as a protected class to single-sex environments where necessary — for example in domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centres. With the proposed reforms, it would allow anybody that simply identifies as a woman access to those spaces, and if refused the law would be broken. Now, this is an extremely contentious issue. Women understandably feel that having female-only spaces is necessary in circumstances like the above, as well as things like changing rooms and bathrooms. Karen Ingala-Smith, CEO of the charity NIA that focuses on ending violence against women and children, says:
There should not be a hierarchy of victims but when we’re talking about domestic violence and abuse, women and children are hugely disproportionately the victims and males are hugely and disproportionately the aggressor. Domestic and sexual violence services were developed by women for women because of this.
Refuges offer women both an actual physical — but equally a psychological — place of safety away from male violence in which they can begin to recover and rebuild their lives. A women-only space is one of the ways that we can create and maintain safe spaces and a sense of sanctuary for the women and children within them. Women say that they want women-only services for the following reasons “safety, empathy, trust, comfort, support, less intimidating, focus on women’s needs, shared identity, expertise, confidence, access, rapport, long-term care” . Women tell us time and time again that spending time with women who have had similar experiences is transformative and a vital part of accepting that they are not to blame. Gender Recognition Certificates do not reduce men’s violence. If we moved to self-declaration, we’d be expecting someone to differentiate over the phone a man who considers himself to be transgender from a man who is abusing the system to gain access to a particular woman or women in general.
It is absurd if we cannot say that women are adult human females and men who call themselves transwomen are biologically male, and that these two groups are just not the same. It is disingenuous if we cannot admit that sometimes our interests conflict. And this is one of those instances where interests collide. A belief in and commitment to universal human rights is not incompatible with prioritising the well-being of women, especially in the context of women who have experienced men’s violence.
Conversely, proponents of the GRA reforms suggest that it is transphobic and bigoted to assume transwomen are simply identifying as such to gain access to those spaces with an ulterior motive (for example, to attack women or to watch them undress). But Ingala-Smith makes a point that can’t be ignored simply for fear of causing offense.
As an exercise of good faith, let us imagine a circumstance where there are no trans people identifying as such simply to gain access to protected spaces. As Ingala-Smith correctly acknowledges, what would the GRA reforms do to stop non-trans men simply identifying as women to gain access to these spaces? The logic of GRA reform proponents seems to be mixed up — it’s not that transwomen would necessarily identify as women with the end goal of accessing single sex spaces, but men could (and some argue have already started to) take advantage of the change in law to access those that are already most vulnerable. There are those that will label this as hyperbolic fear mongering, but history would suggest otherwise. Men have consistently and historically utilised whatever social and biological advantages available to them to gain access to, commodify, abuse and kill women. Why would this be any different?
In a similar vein, there are those in the trans community that see this as an opportunity to deconstruct the harmful facets of masculinity while pushing for a broader acceptance of the trans community amongst the general population. Trans identifying male Hope Lye says:
The issue with self-ID dangerous — any man could just use that to enter safe spaces with women and girls. Once this starts happening it will come back at the trans community in a big way. The Telford rapes for example — under the reforms those men would just be able to self-ID as women and then gain further access to vulnerable women and girls in safe spaces. What the trans identifying men need to be doing is embracing being male and widening the scope of what men are “expected” to do because of masculinity. That also includes educating other men.
These are tough questions, but they can’t just be brushed under the rug and dismissed as “phobic”. In a best case scenario the reforms just open up the opportunity for abuses from opportunistic men, and there needs to be an honest dialogue between policy makers and women about how it will impact them. But currently, there isn’t even that.
This brings us to the political problem that this whole debacle has illuminated. We live in a broadly representative democracy. We hope that our elected officials will represent our beliefs in the best way they know how. Yet at least four of the broadly “Left” parties (Labour, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party) have started to engage in surface level identity politics without actually thinking about what it is they want to say. Indeed, often they say nothing at all. Take this tweet from the Green Party for example:
This is seemingly a harmless, “inclusive” tweet. But what does it actually mean? Full equality for all women? What do they mean by equality? Do they want women to kill two men a week? Do they want 85,000 men a year to be victims of sexual assault and rape at the hands of females? I refer you to my statement above referring to how radical feminism argues for liberation from patriarchy, not merely compliance and contribution to it dressed up as “equality”. If the system is broken, which both radical feminists and transactivists alike (and presumably the Green Party too) would agree it is, then why are politicians not doing more to engage in structural analysis, instead of just tweeting vague, surface level soundbites in order to appear “woke”? To disagree that the system isn’t broken is one thing — plenty of people dispute the supremacy of patriarchy, after all — but to acknowledge that change needs to occur without committing to examining the nuances of what that change entails is lazy and quite possibly dangerous, especially if you are in a position of political power (there’s a joke about the Green Party and political power in there somewhere, but perhaps it’s best left for another time).
And what is meant by “women of all genders and none”? What constitutes a “gender” in this context? There is still no scientific consensus as to what it actually is, and often attempts to explain it are either vaguely described as “just an innate feeling”, rely on misogynistic stereotypes of gender roles, or waved away as unimportant. Does this mean there will never be a definitive answer either way? Of course not, but to present it as irrefutable fact from a position of authority (as the Green Party are) serves no purpose other than to cloud the issue further, and it is politically irresponsible.
And why couple this with “women of no genders”? Are they effectively saying, “we want equality for everybody, regardless of biological sex or innate sense of gender”? That is of course a noble belief, but why should women have to reduce their political and social identity to shoulder the burden of other people’s fight for “equality”, when they are still suffering from imposed inequality themselves?
Or how about this example from the ‘Liberal Democrat LGBT+’ party body:
There seems to be a plurality of things going on here, which may seem connected but are actually just glib remarks put out to the online world to build a quickly consumable, populist political identity. Immediately there is a characterisation drawn: anybody that disagrees with the concept of self-ID is “transphobic”. It doesn’t matter if you are yourself a transitioning man or woman, you have been assigned the identity of “transphobe”. Transsexual Miranda Yardley is somebody that knows this all too well, with a quote as personal as it is enlightening:
I get attacked all the time for my (gender abolitionist) views, apparently I am a “violent transphobe” who does not believe in trans people’s “right to exist”.
I’m a transsexual who falls outside of the identity politics of transgenderism, I come from a time when transsexuals assimilated and tried to get on with their lives. Self-ID is the final nail in the coffin for what transsexual used to mean, having been told to accept ‘transgender’ as our ‘club’ (even though it’s foundational upon sexism and is violent towards women) we are being told ‘transsexual’ is ‘outdated’. Taking the requirement of a meaningful transition away means the change is a paper exercise. It has zero credibility and our protections are being changed to protect ethereal identity. It weakens our existing protections and decimates the credibility of our claim to be what we are: people can just choose to say ‘I don’t believe you’.
But the LGBT+ Lib Dem party body continue — “trans women are women” — there is no effort to explain what “women” actually means here other than presumably “anybody that identifies as such”. It’s simply an axiomatic dictum. Circular logic stated as fact.
“The humanity, dignity and equality of trans people is not a matter for debate”.
Well, yes — Who’s saying that trans people shouldn’t be afforded “humanity, dignity and equality”? This is a false dichotomy, and an intentionally inflammatory one at that. It serves no purpose other than to paint any and all detractors as inhumane and bigoted. There is no room for debate on this issue, it simply is. This is not to launch an attack at the people they are trying to represent, but political party representatives have a responsibility to ensure their views are cogent and logical, at the very least.
Just one more example before we get to the crux of it:
There seems to be a straw man set up by Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru — she believes transwomen are women, and this entails equality and respect for all trans people. So following her line of thought, those that disagree with the first statement automatically must disagree with the second? Now, the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but to imply that all those who disagree with the first statement also propose inequality and disrespect to all trans identifying people is simply wrong and a disingenuous mischaracterisation of the issue.
Not only that, but it creates a dangerous division between those that disagree with the proposed reforms to the GRA and the trans community. It is possible to disagree with somebody’s political and social beliefs without wishing harm on them, or thinking any less of their humanity.
But what does this all mean in the grand scheme of things? A bright light has been directed onto the party politics of “The Left”, and what it has illuminated isn’t pretty. Bluntly, these parties and representatives are abandoning the principles on which they so readily espouse so they can appear progressive, instead of actually being progressive. Class analysis of political and social power is being done away with in favour of neoliberal identity politics. There are no overarching social structures, simply individuals. It is this game of identity politics that is warping the political spectrum into a Kafkaesque moral minefield where women that may have previously supported Labour are aligning with those on the right because nobody else will listen or even allow them to talk, and those opposing it in the name of “progressiveness and equality” actually appear to have more in common with ultra left/right authoritarian and propagandist political systems.
This is not meant to be an inflammatory statement, but simply one used to highlight just how distorted things have become. Women have been shouted down by GRA reform supporters and called “TERFs” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) because they want to organise and discuss how the GRA might impact them, regardless of whether they are radical feminists or not. Millwall FC rescinded the offer to hold what was simply a meeting for a small group of women, so they had to rely on Conservative MP David Davies to extend an invitation to the House of Commons — who probably wouldn’t mind being described as somebody that tends to not usually support left-leaning issues.
An anonymous Twitter account (above) uses demagogic phraseology to misdirect, calling the meeting in the House of Commons a “Nazi style hate rally” and a “hate fest”. There are “TERF lists” used to expose women that hold certain beliefs so they can be demonised in public and accused of things they’ve never done; activist Venice Allan was interviewed by the Labour Party and asked in the most frighteningly Orwellian way “Does your mother share your view of these things?” before being expelled from the party for not towing the party line with regards to trans-ideology; Posie Parker was interviewed under caution for suggesting that Susie Green of the charity Mermaids took her son (now daughter) to be castrated in Thailand at the age of 16 (“technically” this was Sex Reassignment Surgery, but medically it did involve genital reconstruction which is against the law in the UK before the age of 18); Heather Brunskell-Evans was asked to resign as spokeswoman for the Women’s Equality Party because she suggested using caution when it comes to the transitioning of children; women routinely receive threats of violence for not conforming to third wave ideology.
This dramatic shift from people that readily describe themselves as “The Left” ironically puts them in the same box as what they’d consider to be “far right” if you compare their attitudes towards free speech and a plurality of beliefs. Especially when those that don’t agree are threatened with violence, censorship and misogynistic slurs. Propaganda appears in many forms, and there is a striking resemblance in the anti-woman sentiment being propagated by “The Left” and propaganda used by oppressive ideologues: Ad hominem attacks — women are often the target of these attacks, not the argument being offered; Appeals to fear are often used — “these people are literally killing trans people with their ideas” (despite there being zero evidence of women killing trans people — plenty of men are doing it, but they don’t seem to be subject to these attacks); The ‘Black and White Fallacy’ — if you don’t wholeheartedly buy into the ideology or proposed reforms, you are automatically against it and the people advocating it in every conceivable way; Demonising the “enemy” — those that oppose it are “TERFs”, used to dehumanise detractors by assigning them a label; Reductio ad Hitlerum — the suggestion that those who don’t buy into an ideology are automatically aligning themselves with a group that is hated or held in contempt (such as the comparison to Nazis above); Virtue words (see the above tweets) and many more.
While women have shouldered the responsibility for speaking out against this, it is vitally important that men lend our voices and support to it. For those that believe in ridding society of inequality and oppression, challenging a movement that is so fundamentally masculine at its core has to be key. It is a political movement driven by aggressive and violent masculinity, which when you consider the perceived “end goal” is almost ironic. Centering the voices of men that threaten to: “choke TERFs with their dick”, send them to a “TERF gulag”, stab them in the vagina , calling women “cunt” for their beliefs, wishing cancer on somebody, call them “subhuman” (the list goes on) so they can “identify” as women is patriarchy at its core. It is the most virulent, hostile and misogynistic form of masculinity; one that argues for social change through violence against and erasure of women.
Comparing the political spectrum to a horseshoe seems strikingly accurate — the left are becoming the right, and everybody is covered in shit.
The point of all this isn’t to undermine anybody’s humanity, or to suggest that they don’t have the right to live a happy and fulfilling life, but it is to make the point that there needs to be a dialogue. Freedom to do something is important, but so is the freedom from something — in this case for women, the freedom from further oppressive marginalisation should be the priority, not the freedom to subsume whichever identity you see fit at any given moment.
For those parties on the left that so readily talk about principles of liberty and equality, it seems almost intentionally myopic to not consult the demographic that will most immediately be impacted by a change in the law. And not only that, but to then stamp out any objection as “phobic”, “hate filled” or somehow a violation of somebody’s human rights doesn’t help anybody. It binds the parties into policy making seen through the prism of identity politics, only making decisions to appease individuals, as opposed to actually challenging the root of inequality on a societal level. The left need to address this rapidly, before it disintegrates completely.
Endless thanks goes to Karen Ingala-Smith, CEO of the charity NIA that focuses on ending violence against women and children; Miranda Yardley, who runs mirandayardley.com; and Hope Lye, who can be found on Twitter here. Special thanks also goes to terfisaslur.com for the linked images.