Changing women's words to suit men's rights
Well we're not asking what a man is, are we?
On Sunday night I was on GB News to talk about the Always story (you can read that here if you haven’t already). It was the first time I’d been on GBNews, in spite of being invited many times. Like many people, I feel a sense of unease aligning myself with what seems to be ‘the right wing’ - perhaps because women like me who speak up about women’s rights seem to get accused of being ‘nazis’ on a fairly regular basis.
Why is this? I don’t claim to be an expert on this complex situation, but what I will say is that there seems to me to be a sort of Venn diagram situation involved in which women of all political backgrounds with concerns about the impact of gender ideology, find themselves overlapping only on this one issue with another group. This group are often (but not always) USA based, and also have concerns about gender ideology, but are right wing, sometimes extremely so, sometimes Christian, and are probably also anti gay, anti abortion, and all in favour of women’s irrevocable return to the kitchen.
This overlap is a gift to ‘trans rights activists’ - Billy Bragg and Owen Jones being prime examples - who can then happily lump polite, thoughtful women raising legitimate concerns into the same group with extreme right wingers. This suits their (probably unconscious) misogyny, legitimising their narrative that, ‘all women, especially older ones, are stupid, hateful bigots’ and absolving them from actually having to listen properly to what we’ve got to say.
I finally decided to agree to go on GB News for a few reasons. Partly because, being gender critical, and also having dared to write for the Daily Mail a few times, I’m already on Billy and Owen’s Big List of Despicable Fascists - in other words, people will try to claim that I’m a hateful bigot whether I go on GBNews or not. And I went on partly because I regularly see other women I admire - Helen Joyce, Rosie Kay, Julie Bindel and others - go on GBNews and get their points across brilliantly. And partly because, in spite of my reservations about the ‘Farageyness’ of the channel, they are at least doing something that other networks are not currently doing - they are discussing the issue and recognising the huge implications for women and children involved. I will forever feel let down by the BBC and particularly Woman’s Hour for the blind eye they have turned as women’s rights have been eroded.
So, on I went.
I wanted to write a little bit today about the point I made towards the end of the interview. If you watch, you can see that I smile when Andrew Doyle asks me the question:
“But it doesn’t seem to happen to men. They don’t start talking about men as prostate havers and that kind of thing. Why do you think this is so clearly targeted at women?”
The reason I smile is because I had been watching this interview, earlier that afternoon, with Julia Hartley-Brewer and Miriam Cates, and JHB had asked Cates that question, and I had thought to myself, “I know the bloody answer to that. I hope Andrew Doyle asks me that tonight. He probably won’t!”
And he did.
So I said (I’ll type it out for those of you who can’t or don’t want to watch), “Because I’m afraid to say I think this is a men’s rights movement. What’s wanted here is, they want it to be possible for men to be women, and in order for that to be possible, you have to detach the concept of female biology, from the concept of woman. And in order to do that, you have to work linguistically, and you have to target these specific areas which belong to female biology, like periods, like childbirth, like even menopause. Once you’ve done that, once you’ve got people like me to admit ‘all of this female biology has actually got nothing to do with being a woman’, then you’re laying the path open for self ID, for men to say ‘I’m a woman’, because you’ve removed that barrier, that very complex and must be quite frustrating barrier, for men who want to be women, because that’s the one thing they can’t do. So they have to, linguistically at least, try to uncouple those two concepts, of ‘woman’ and ‘female biology’, So I think that it’s very deliberate, and I think it’s obvious - because it’s only happening to women’s language - it’s obvious that this is about men’s rights to identify as women, and biology is the barrier to that.”
I’ve thought about Andrew Doyle’s question A LOT in the past few years. I started thinking about it originally, I guess, as part of another question I was asking a lot, which can be summarised as: WTF?! I was struggling to work out, for a while, what on earth the most female acts possible - birth, breastfeeding, periods etc - had to do with transgender rights. I was noticing, not just the pressure on me as a writer on these topics, but the pressure on all of the main organisations in these fields, to change our language.
And this pressure was immense.
For context, language around maternity care is something that I’d written about a lot. How women were talked about, and talked to, during their birth experience, was having an impact on them. For example, women don’t like being told they are, “only three centimetres” dilated or terms like, “failure to progress”. (this can be discouraging) They don’t like being told, “I need to / I am just going to do x,y,z to your body now”. (this doesn’t imply consent). They don’t like being called a “good girl”, during labour. (do I have to explain this one?!). All of these uses of words and more had been talked about ad infinitum for years, and yet very little had changed. Suddenly terms like ‘birthing person’ and ‘assigned at birth’ appeared and language was immediately being rewritten. Anyone who questioned the changes was ejected from their organisation or their friendly facebook group. This is odd, I thought to myself.
Ostensibly, the explanation was that these changes were to be more inclusive to trans men - female people who identify as men, and who were nevertheless using maternity services or menstrual products etc. Fair enough - nobody should feel excluded or be treated disrespectfully. But, as I’ve said ad infinitum, such changes should be applauded at an individual level - the person sitting in the doctor’s office should be called what they wish - but changing language at population level, is different.
Even so-called ‘additive language’, at population level, encourages those using it into a linguistic trick. Because if you say, for example, ‘women and birthing people’, you are agreeing that there are two types of people who give birth. 1) women, and 2) birthing people. In doing so, you are changing the meaning of the word woman. If it still meant ‘adult human female’, you would not need to add a second category, because only female people give birth.
So, whether you mean to or not, you are subscribing to and endorsing the idea that ‘woman’ is not limited to those with female biology.
As I put it on GBNews, you have detached the concept of female biology, from the concept of woman.
And this is where it becomes very little about trans men (female people), and very much about men’s rights.
This lightbulb went on for me as I began to see the comparatively large numbers of male people benefitting from ‘woman’ being an open category, and hardly any female people benefitting from the reverse. Male people taking women’s places on sports podiums. Male people in softer, easier, women’s prisons. Male people laying claim to being the ‘first woman’ to achieve something. Male people being on women only panels talking about women’s issues - even ‘female desire’.
Whilst this was happening, the only thing trans men seemed to be being celebrated for was giving birth. This division of males into pioneers, thinkers and medal winners and females into gestators doesn’t seem to be to be as progressive as we keep being told it is.
This week, a new campaign was announced in the UK, endorsed by Olympian and feminist activist Sharron Davies, and called ‘What is a Woman’, in which electoral candidates will be asked this question and have their answers recorded.
One MP was quick to throw her hat into the ring, Kate Osborne, who tweeted, “I’ll save them the trouble of doorstepping me. Yes some women have a penis.”
But Kate misses the point spectacularly. The question 'what is a woman?' isn't really some sort of biological gotcha. It's asking 'do you understand the complexities for women's rights if you make woman an open category that anyone can join?'. Osborne’s response only demonstrates that she is proud not to understand those complexities.
And there is no ‘What is a man’, campaign, is there? There are no attempts to change men’s language, or to erode the meaning of the word man, or to push forward a linguistic agenda that detaches the concept of ‘man’ from male biology, or to name and shame MP’s who believe ‘men have a vagina’.
Osborne’s tweet sums it up. It’s all about the penis. It’s 100% about male entitlement - about men getting what they want, even our hard won spaces and rights. Even our words, even our name. And if I have to go on GBNews to add my voice to the many other women who are pointing this out, then I’m happy to not just do that, but to consider it a feminist act.
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