Confronting the mantra again
With the UK GRA consultation kicking off at last, Pink News have trumpeted Penny Mordaunt, the new Equalities Minister as saying “Trans women are women, that is the starting point”.
In other words, women have been obliterated right at the start of the consultation. Given Mordaunt’s commitment to listening to women’s groups during the consultation, it will be interesting to see how she manages to marry this mantra with the rights of women as a sex class.
“Trans women are women” elides transwomen with women. If we are identical, then there can be no conflict of rights, and transwomen automatically have all protections currently granted to women by virtue of their sex, which is what gender activists want. If we say that women are substantially different from transwomen, that we have rights on the basis of sex and that these need to be maintained, then we are accused of transphobia. But there is no other way to address the issue of the conflict inherent between women’s rights and transactivists’ demands.
No matter how we try to address this, we come back to the mantra, which is where we have to start tackling trans ideology and confronting its erasure of women: so I thought I would expand my tweet threads on the subject into a post, assisted by the wonderful @threadreaderapp bot.
Given Mordaunt’s latest remarks in the context of the GRA consultation, we should remind ourselves again and again what the implications of gender self-id, or even easy access to a GRC are, for women: we are legally obliterated as a sex class.
I pointed out the problems with saying that trans women are women as follows:
If we want fair play for both women and trans women, then it is time to confront the “trans women are women” mantra head-on, highlight why it is misogynistic and deeply harmful to women, and refuse to tolerate its use.
It has been repeated so many times that it is treated as true, or at least as some unassailably virtuous political axiom like ‘racism is wrong’. But it is a mantra, not a truism, and automatically implies the erasure of women (much more detail here in an article about Labour’s abandonment of women).
It requires women to give up the word/category which defines us as a sex class who have been oppressed on the basis of biology in our sex-caste system. Adult human females are then nameless, and no longer have no specific legal protections or political representation.
Cui bono? Men, not women, benefit from this, as if sex is invisibilised, so is sexism. Male supremacy is entrenched by the inability to name sexism or obtain legal protections from it.
This is an inevitable consequence of the statement “trans women are women”. It means “trans women are members of the set of women”. Clearly transwomen, being male, are not adult human females, so the only way for this to be true is as follows:
- posit something like gender identity (which is pretty much equivalent to a feminine soul) as a property which exists, and
- assert that this, and not biology, is what makes a person a woman.
I’d like to add some text and a diagram from the underlying blog post to make it clear what I’m getting at when I say that the statement forces us to prioritise gender id over sex:
The statement “trans women are women” means: trans women are members of the set of all women. This can only be true if gender identity rather than sex is treated as the defining property of womanhood, and it can only be true if this applies to all women; if a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman, rather than an adult human female. By making the statement, you immediately and implicitly prioritise gender identity over sex as a category. There is no “gender equality” here. It obliterates women as a sex class straight away, in a society in which we are already the subordinate sex caste by virtue of our reproductive biology.
The set of males does not intersect with the set of females, disingenuous appeals to intersex conditions notwithstanding. For trans women to be women, we have to postulate something like gender identity, an amorphous and incoherent concept which is not much better than a feminine soul; and then we have to say that it forms some sort of set of people to which both adult human females and transwomen belong. Furthermore, we have to say that this intangible and invisible something-or-other is the primary property which makes someone a woman; that the immutable and visceral reality of female biology gives females absolutely nothing in common; that we are not a coherent class of being in any meaningful way; that we are an arrangement of random body parts with no coherent form or function; but that we nevertheless have this mysterious essence, this defining quality, because we have been ordered to have it, and that this invented essence, not our bodies, is what makes us women and what we have in common, although none of us have a clue what it is. If there is anything in the brain which reflects such an essence, the most it does is influence our feelings about our bodies; it doesn’t change our physical being. But it defines us now, while our female bodies have been made increasingly unmentionable and obscene – ‘triggering’ – so that this regressive and essentialist fantasy can be propped up and reified.1)http://realfeminists.com/2018/01/16/confronting-the-mantra/
To make matters worse, under this definition, gender-non-conforming women are no longer women:
Female biology is thus no longer enough to define one as a woman; in fact it is no longer the defining property of women at all. This means that women are coercively assigned a gender identity, although gender stereotypes are the external mechanism of female oppression. This has to be naturalised, otherwise transwomen and women cannot be the same class of person. So women are automatically stereotyped, and forced to acknowledge that they either identify with a degrading sexist stereotype, or are not, in fact, women.
Gender identity is also thus automatically and implicitly prioritised over sex as a category by the statement “trans women are women.” The statement does not “include” transwomen, it obliterates women as a sex class. Women can no longer organise on the basis of sex if this is true.
There is no way round the logical impasse. This is not about “broadening the definition” of woman. It is about supplanting a definition of woman based on sex with another definition of woman based on gender identity, and giving legal priority to the gender identity definition.
I say ‘supplanting’ because both sex and gender reassignment are protected characteristics, but what is clear from the AWS list controversy and others is that sex is expected to give way to gender identity as the protected category. This is entirely consistent with a radical feminist analysis of gender as hierarchy: low status gender-non-conforming men now have the option to become high-status women, supplanting the women for whom the positions and services were created. This is what is currently happening. Whether this was the intended consequence of legislation or not, the effect is one of extreme misogyny and the undoing of a century of feminist efforts.
This is the aim of transactivists, to ultimately replace sex with gender identity as a legal category, eg Stephen Whittle (GRA 2004 activist) said in a paper that the goal is that: “gender identity transforms legal sex…there is no recourse to the sexed body which suggests that the body’s sex as a taxonomical tool has in some way become redundant… Changing sex for the purposes of legal recognition then, is … about changing how sex is legally defined.”
This is disastrous for women, who need specific protections from men, not people of particular genders; we need social space in a male-dominated society. The sexed reproductive body is the locus of women’s oppression, and far, far more important for us than for men, or trans people, who have no skin in the game. An attempt to write us out of law and language like this is some serious fucking misogynistic shit. Women, wake up.
The GRA was intended to protect the rights of severely dysphoric transsexuals. Gender self-id in an era when gender has become a much looser concept violates the spirit of the earlier law, and leaves women no legal protections as women.
Most members of the public do not understand that the transgender movement is far wider than transsexuals (who very often distance themselves from it). Being trans increasingly does not require a diagnosis of dysphoria or medical/surgical treatment.
Around 80 – 85% of males who identify as women will not have surgery, but self-identification will make them legal women, on their say-so. This is clearly wide open to abuse. Drag queens, cross dressers, feminine men etc are all under the trans umbrella.
For these males to identify as trans, organise, seek legal and social recognition, expand the notion of gender, is great. For them to be able to become legal women on their say-so, thus obliterating women’s rights, is unacceptable.
And this does not even begin to address the issue of opportunistic sexual predators exploiting self-id as a loophole to gain access to vulnerable women. Currently, about half of transwomen in prison in the UK are in for sex offences. It is not at all clear whether transwomen commit sexual offences at higher rates than the general population or whether many of these are opportunistic transitioners; but it shouldn’t be women’s responsibility to tell the difference, and we should not be forced to absorb this population in places where we are vulnerable, such as changing rooms, hospital wards, domestic violence refuges or prisons.
As Helen Saxby’s excellent article points out, the GRA of 2004 was intended to protect the rights of a few extremely dysphoric transsexuals. It is no longer fit for purpose, as the explosion of gender identity politics could not have been foreseen, and a complete review is indeed required, although not for the reasons transactivists claim. Defining our terms correctly would be a good starting point.
The only people less aware of the issues than the general public appear to be virtue-signalling brocialist Labour politicians. Either that, or they actively support the erasure of women, which wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
It is crucial to women that we fight to maintain our status as a sex category wherever it is challenged, such as the AWS issue, and that we continue to raise awareness of the impact of gender politics on women’s rights.
We support attempts to increase trans visibility and acceptance, but we are not going to do this at the cost of self-erasure. Women are adult human females, and we have a right to representation as such. And we’ve had e-fucking-nough.
Trans people’s rights and representation are not affected by the dropping of the phrase “trans women are women”. There is nothing preventing us developing fair and kind policies to include transwomen in society without arbitrarily conflating them with women.
Extremist transactivist demands for validation of their identities by women will not, of course, be met. But then, this is not a right. As Chimananda Adichie gracefully but firmly asserted, “Trans women are trans women”. And that is where any discussion of rights should begin.
An approach seeking to improve the rights and visibility of trans people without erasing women’s progress would acknowledge this, go back to the drawing board and start with the assumption that trans women are *not* women. Then the needs of women and trans women can be discussed, areas of overlap and difference identified, and legislation and facilities created accordingly, in the interests of finding a genuinely fair solution. The current legislative path towards gender self-id renders women invisible as a sex class and not even deserving of our own label.
I believe Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s Basic Questions About Sex and Gender illustrate what we are asking for. I think all politicians and progressive supporters of gender self-id, including Penny Mordaunt, should answer those questions. If they answer yes, then they will have to justify their support for self-id. If they answer no, then they will have to accept being correctly labelled an extreme misogynist. And when I say extreme, I mean extreme. Even the men who denied us the vote didn’t try to pretend that we didn’t exist.
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