Women’s voices must not be silenced in the discussion around sex self-ID and gender ideology
Speak Up For Women is concerned about the censoring of feminists and women who speak out against sex self-ID, and against the ways in which gender ideology is becoming increasingly normalised in language and culture. Women must be able to speak out about our bodies and experiences, and about changes in law that will impact on our sex-based rights and protections as defined in the Human Rights Act (1993).
After millennia of women’s sexual, economic, religious and cultural oppression on the basis of beliefs and expectations connected to female biology, transactivists, some left-wing politicians and most third wave feminists are now no longer certain what a woman actually is. Most, however, argue that being a woman is not connected to biology, but is rather dependent on an individual ‘identifying’ as a woman. This belief is becoming increasingly evident in the policing of language used to describe female bodies and the responses to women who assert, quite reasonably, that women are biologically female. Some 2018 New Zealand and international examples of this social engineering of language include:
- In May, Otago University student magazine Critic published ‘The Menstruation Issue,’ encouraging readers to “start conversations with your friends and flatmates about menstruation and bodies.” This is an admirable intention. Yet in the interests of ‘inclusivity’ Critic made reference to “people on their periods,” “menstruators” and “vagina owners,” while also stating “not all bleeders are female.” Women need to ask who is being excluded by ‘inclusive’ language.
- Similarly, in July, Action Stations Director Laura O’Connell-Rapira suggested on twitter that Wellington gym Revive should change their tagline from “for all women” to “for all vaginas,” following Revive’s decision not to grant membership to transwoman Penelopy Mansell.
- In September, UK feminist Posie Parker paid to have the Oxford dictionary definition of woman, “Woman: Adult human female,” installed on a billboard in Liverpool. The advertising company removed the billboard poster at the behest of transactivist allies who claimed the billboard was “a symbol that makes transgender people feel unsafe.”
- Also in Liverpool, feminist group ReSisters placed stickers that read ‘Women don’t have penises’ on Antony Gormley’s Crosby beach statues. The city’s mayor said he would “work with the police to identify those responsible.”
- The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) also refers to “pregnant people,” “people with a uterus” and “people who need abortion care,” in their 2018 submission on abortion law reform. In this regard they follow suit with American institutions such as the Midwives Alliance of North America, which refers to “pregnant people,” “pregnant individuals” and “the birthing parent” within its core competency document.
- As I’m writing this, I note that the 2019 London Women’s March has just issued a tweet referring to the 23 women MPs in parliament in 1973, as ‘menstruators.’ In 2018, the Women’s March discouraged the wearing of pink ‘pussy hats’ made popular at the 2017 march, because they referenced female genitalia and were therefore ‘exclusionary.’ The women’s march, an event and organisation ostensibly formed to promote awareness of issues that impact on women, are now, in 2019, reducing women to a bodily function – a dehumanising use of language that in effect seperates being a woman from being female. Notably, the 2019 London Woman’s March was also led by Munroe Bergdorf, a transgender model who resigned as LGBT+ advisor for the British Labour Party in March, after referring to the Suffragettes as ‘white supremacists’ and describing a twitter follower as a ‘hairy barren Lesbian’ in two separate tweets.
The policing of how women describe our bodies, or discuss biological reality, has also become an excuse for silencing, no-platforming and censoring women who refuse to comply:
- In November 2018, Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy was permanently banned from twitter for ‘misgendering’ a transgender person. Murphy, the founder of website Feminist Current, had previously received temporary bans for stating, “males can’t become females.” Journalist Ella Whelan observed, “...it is hard to see how Murphy was being abusive in any meaningful sense of the word. She was banned for simply disagreeing with the idea that transwomen are women and should be treated and addressed as such in all circumstances.” Whelan concluded, “In effect, women are being prohibited from talking about womanhood.”
- In August, Phantom Billstickers refused to hang feminist Renee Gerlich’s posters, which Gerlich produced to celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. The posters featured quotes from suffragists, and also contained the line, “The suffragists fought for the female sex. Stop rewriting history.” That the suffragists fought for the right of women to vote may seem self evident, but InsideOUT national co-ordinator Tabby Besley claimed the posters displayed a “subtle transphobia.” Rather appropriately, one of the posters included a quote from New Zealand suffragist Mary Ann Muller, who stated, “I do but ask for my sex a calm, unprejudiced consideration of their condition.”
- In the UK, feminist groups including ‘Fair play for women’, ‘We need to talk’ and ‘A woman’s place’ (WPUK) faced repeated disruption of their meetings after venues cancelled bookings in response to targeting by transactivists. All these groups were formed so women could collectively speak out about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 which would enable sex self-ID. One such meeting, organised by ‘We need to talk’ and scheduled to be held at the Millwood football club, was shut down when the club was inundated with complaints. The event went ahead at the House of Commons after an MP sponsored the group to book a room. To summarise the situation: Women meeting to discuss how a law change might impact on their rights and protections were prevented from doing so on multiple occasions by people using harassment and abuse to intimidate venues into cancelling bookings.
- In September 2018, Speak up for Women faced a similar situation when our first public meeting, scheduled to be held in Thorndon, Wellington, had to relocate at the last moment. Our venue cancelled, citing a double booking, though transactivists later claimed responsibility for this. The venue we subsequently booked was alarmed at the response they received – calls and demands to reception staff that the booking again be cancelled. A central Wellington print bureau also refused to copy our leaflets. As in the UK, intimidation tactics are clearly being used to discourage women from gathering to talk about the potential impact of sex self-ID on our rights and protections. It is nothing less than bullying, and it can’t be allowed to continue.
Women are also increasingly unable to point out that it is unfair for natal women to compete against transwomen in sport without facing accusations of ‘transphobia’.
- In December, Women’s tennis champion and longtime LGBT campaigner Martina Navratilova stated on twitter, “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women... For me it is about fairness. There must be some standards and having a penis and competing against women would not fit that standard.” She later deleted her tweets and stated she would “educate herself” after transgender activist and competitive cyclist Rachel McKinnon responded, “you are not pro-trans people if you say that trans women with a penis must not compete in women’s sport. That’s transphobic.” Then, “...you did something very wrong today.” McKinnon, who transitioned aged 20, won a woman’s event at the UCI Master’s track world championship in October. Third place getter, Jennifer Wagner-Assali, objected to McKinnon’s participation on social media, stating, “it’s definitely NOT fair,” but also later apologised.
- Significantly, in New Zealand, then head of the Human Rights Commission David Rutherford misunderstood his own organisation’s legislation when commenting on transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s inclusion in the New Zealand 2018 commonwealth games team. Responding to a tweet questioning the fairness of Hubbard’s participation, he stated on April 9th, “Discrimination in sport on the basis of gender is unlawful without a statutory exception.” This is incorrect; the Human Rights Act states that “...nothing ... shall prevent the exclusion of persons of one sex from participation in any competitive sporting activity in which the strength, stamina, or physique of competitors is relevant.” Sex based exceptions in the HRA clearly allow for segregation based on sex for reasons of fairness.
The conflict between gender identity and women’s right to participate in sporting events on a fair and equitable basis must be addressed. Women athletes must be able to speak out about this – not shamed for it – and sporting organisations need to consider if their own regulations are consistent with Human Rights legislation.
- Academics, journalists and researchers are remarkably silent on the question of sex self-ID and gender ideology, and those who do speak out are subject to censure and bullying:
- In 2017, Bath Spa University rejected proposed research by psychotherapist James Caspian, who had intended to research transgender people who detransition back to their original sex. His proposal was rejected by the ethics committee. Caspian stated, “The fundamental reason given was that it might cause criticism of the research on social media, and criticism of the research would be criticism of the university. They also added it’s better not to offend people.”
- In the US, research by Assistant Professor Lisa Littman at Brown University into Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) was published online in August 2018. Her study pointed to potential social contagion among teens identifying as transgender. A press release issued by Brown University about the study was removed from the university website, citing concerns about the study’s methodology, but also raising questions about academic freedom and censorship.
- Also in the UK, Professor and human rights lawyer Rosa Freedman was subject to harassment in her place of work after attending debates on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would enable sex self-ID. Freedman stated that online she was called a ‘nazi’ who ‘should be raped’ and also found her office door covered in urine.
It is extremely concerning when academics – who have historically considered part of their role to be a ‘critic and conscience’ of society – are harassed or silenced. This harassment extends to journalists, as anyone who witnessed the online response to Herald Journalist Rachel Stewart’s November 2018 article about the term ‘TERF’ is aware. Also in November, New Zealand feminist Charlie Montague, publishing on Medium.com, released a list of New Zealand women murdered by New Zealand men since 2015; this list was widely circulated on social media, including by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. However, upon finding Montague’s criteria for inclusion was biological sex, not gender identity, Ghahraman described the list as containing a ‘dehumanising prejudice.’
In New Zealand, politicians from the left have resolutely refused to engage with women on the subject of sex self-ID, other than to be actively dismissive and aggressive. In November, Labour MP Louisa Wall told a group gathered to discuss the future of the Pride Parade, “My whole thing is that I don’t want any f**king TERFs at the Pride Parade,” a statement likely directed at both members of Speak up for Women, and feminist activists Charlie Montague and Renee Gerlich. An MP using her position of power to intimidate women who set clear boundaries by saying they are same sex attracted, not same gender attracted, is astounding. Green co-leader Marama Davidson has also been repeatedly derisive to women (including representatives of Speak up for Women) trying to engage with her regarding concerns over sex self-ID, on one occasion stating in a now deleted tweet that such women “... are certainly not worth anyone’s time.” Recently, 2018 Wellingtonian of the year and lawyer Steph Dyhrberg referred to Speak up for Women in a tweet as “anti-trans whores” and suggested we “take up knitting.”
The belittling denigration directed at us from MPs is particularly ironic given Louisa Wall’s recent observations about the climate of abuse directed toward women MPs in parliament: "The worst thing has been when we are shut down or humiliated, and our contributions belittled, people then not contributing because they don't want the abuse...” The responses Speak up for Women, and other women and feminists, are subject to from political and cultural leaders are having this exact effect: Women are afraid to speak out about issues that will directly impact on us. We encourage MPs directing abuse at us to consider this.
Regardless of this, we will not be silenced. Speak up for Women will continue to lobby the government to respond to our 3 reasonable demands:
- The Government must put the self-ID proposal on hold until there is reasonable public consultation. Respectful, evidence-based public consultation must take place, including with women who are affected by the proposals.
- The Government must review how the proposed changes will affect data gathering, reporting and the integrity of records for things such as crime, health and monitoring sex-based discrimination such as the pay gap.
- The Government must review how the proposed changes will impact the protected category of “sex,” intended to protect women from discrimination under the Human Rights Act.
Gender critical feminists are being silenced because we acknowledge the material reality of female bodies. We assert that that while worldwide, women experience a diverse range of cultural, educational, sexual, religious and economic circumstances, female physiology is what women have in common. We’re not inherently limited by our female biology – only by misogynistic cultural attitudes to it, and actions based on those attitudes.
While attitudes can be changed, biology cannot. Access to abortion and reproductive control, attitudes to pregnancy and employment, the existence of child marriage, FGM, corrective rape, femicide – these things impact on, or happen to, the bodies of women and girls, not to a gendered identity.
Women must have the ability to name ourselves and describe our own experiences. Women’s voices must not be silenced in the discussion around sex self-ID and gender ideology.