Royston Vasey Feminism

So what have we learnt this week?

On Monday we had the Domestic Abuse Bill in the Lords. A new clause to try to add misogyny (hatred of women) was being attempted, and it tried to define “sex” by reference to section 11 of the Equality Act, which is supposedly a definition of “sex”.

Now, the “gender criticals” would have us believe that defining “male” as “man” and “female” as “woman” indisputably creates a biological basis for defining the term “sex” in law. Not for nothing do they delight in their dogwhistle of “adult human female”.

This belief (for it is nothing more – indeed, some have sought and failed to have it recognised as a belief worthy of legal protection) was evidenced by the second of this week’s outings in Parliament – another evidence session on Gender Recognition Act reform at the Commons’ Women and Equalities Select Committee.

However, as QC Robin White pointed out in that session, there had been absolutely no discussion of these terms on the floor of either House of Parliament when the (then) Equality Bill was going through its different stages. She argued that another, perfectly valid, interpretation of this definition was to ensure that those deemed to be boys and girls were covered by the sex definition.

Moreover, there is some fluidity of whether male is used to specify something biological, such as male phenotype, or sociological, such as male behaviour. Similarly for female. And that fluidity, as well as a fluidity between the definitions of “sex” and “gender” extends into UK law – section 9 of the Gender Recognition Act acting as a masterclass in that very point.

Their Lordships didn’t press the amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill to a vote, and it remains to be seen whether a similar amendment will resurface in the Commons.

But the WESC session also highlighted another set of (I shall be charitable and say) “interesting” thoughts.

Ignoring trans men completely, the gender critical lawyer pretty much started her evidence by stating that giving birth was as “essentially female” thing to do. It’s undeniably true that the vast majority of those who give birth are women, but it is equally undeniable that a small number, probably a very small number, of trans men do too – as we see by the repeated “first man to give birth” stories that graced our tabloids over much of the past 15 years. Some of them may even be legally recognised as men.

This came the day after the mainstream media got itself into a tizz over an NHS Trust supposedly banning the terms “pregnant women” and “breast-feeding”.

(Note to readers – they hadn’t. What they had done is recognise that, in a few situations such as when you have a pregnant man in front of you, it may be helpful to use different terms to the usual ones. They were adding to the terminology, not replacing it. As a side-note, I was particularly pleased with the way my TransActual colleague Chay handled Julia Hartley-Brewer. When she burst out “but I’m not a cis woman”, he calmly replied “oh, so you’re trans then?” Very, very good for his first day encountering national media.)

Secondly, it’s supposedly unreasonable to expect people to learn new names and new pronouns unless the transition is permanent. A variant on the “don’t do that because I don’t feel comfortable with it” case, which trans people have to deal with remarkably often in all sorts of areas, not just names and pronouns. How remarkably unaccommodating to society was Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or Squiggle, or whatever he called himself.

Thirdly, apparently Parliament has already made the case for trans women to be barred from all sorts of women only spaces, simply because they are trans, because “biology”. Supposedly people give consent to undress only in front of others of the same sex (or is that gender), leading to the supposedly necessary exclusion of trans people. No, I’ve no idea where this comes from either.

But even that wasn’t the most mind-boggling claim of all. That came much later on, when she claimed that those people who have committed sexually violent offences against women should never be legally recognised as women. Hold on – what happens to those cis women who have committed these crimes? Are they to be thrown out into the gender wilderness, doomed forever to roam the land seeking a toilet to pee in? What about those (in all likelihoods vanishingly small number of) trans men who may have committed sexually violet offences against women? Should this be a (horrible and contemptuous) shortcut to legal gender recognition?

This is a variant on that horrible right-wing meme that human rights are only for the acceptable and well-behaved. Get into trouble with the law – and let’s not even think about political prisoners – then all your rights become conditional. (Except that’s not actually how human rights are supposed to work.) What she was saying that you being recognised as a woman depends upon others’ approval. Much the same way as the Gender Recognition Panel currently works – except she had inadvertently extended it to all women.

Those three events were more than enough for any week – but no, there had to be a fourth.

It’s come to the Government’s attention pretty late on that one of our Cabinet Ministers is pregnant, and wasn’t entitled to maternity leave. So a new Bill, the Ministerial and Other Maternal Allowances Bill, is being rushed through Parliament because, well, pregnancy waits for no man. Or is that woman?

Because of drafting rules agreed early on in the Blair government, the Bill is drafted in gender neutral terms – using “person” instead of “man” or “woman” throughout. While I’m sure the existence of trans men who give birth was very far from Jack Straw’s mind when these rules were agreed, they do give a level of inclusivity that gendered (or is that sexed) terms might not.

But that’s not enough for the gender criticals. Raising the standard of “erasing women”, amendments were brought to re-sex (or is that “re-gender”, definitely not “sex up”) the wording of the Bill. After all, they claimed, it was women who gave birth – neatly ignoring the trans men who do, and who all the fuss was raised over just two days earlier. Two Whole Days. How are you expected to remember all this stuff?

Why on earth is the trans issue coming up yet again”, I was asked by peers who had clearly had enough, as had I. I reminded them that this pressure was not coming from trans people, and that the drafting of the Bill was an inclusive rather than exclusive definition.

It was Penny Mordaunt, erstwhile Equalities Minister, who reminded the House that trans men do exist, and pointed to many other pieces of legislation which primarily affect women which were drafted in gender neutral terms. The House ran out of time to vote on those amendments which weren’t withdrawn.

It’s like inclusivity is no longer a good thing. The problem with that is where it leads. After all, if you’ve managed to convince society that one subset of women aren’t women, then it follows that you can start excluding other subsets of women. The standard insult thrown at lesbians in the 80s and 90s were that they weren’t real women. In Victorian times, enlightened professors opined at length why black people and people of colour weren’t real human beings. It was all horrible, detestable stuff. But it’s now resurfacing under the guise of “reasonable concerns” and peddled endlessly across the UK’s media.

I always understood the League of Gentlemen’s Royston Vasey sketches – where a fiercely protective, isolated and small-minded little village tested everything to see if it was local enough – as a parody, where that small-minded mindset of exclusivity was ridiculed.

I am amazed to see this mindset now given voice in Parliament and lauded across our mainstream press.

What have we learnt this week? How far we have fallen.

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