21 Jan 2018
January 21, 2018
I remember, when I voted in the Gender Recognition Act (2004), saying to colleagues of both genders in the ‘Aye’ lobby that the Iraq Conflict was masking the profundity of the legislation were were passing. I’ve written about this before.
Labour MPs’ purpose is to reduce structural inequality in society, with gender, social class and ethnicity to the fore. Yet for substantial change you need a framework based upon a corpus of argument and theory, and every piece of feminist theory ever written until then was done so on the presumption that gender is a primarily a biological and not primarily a psychological construct.
The general view of most folk in my lobby was that it was a marginal issue in respect of gender equality. A vanishingly tiny number of women would not be biologically women; making gender primarily a matter of psychology wouldn’t change the application of feminist theory to the problem of gender inequality.
I should say that there was little doubt that the idea of state appointees defining a person’s gender post-2004 would have to change to come into line with people’s right to identify as whatever ethnicity they chose. That’s why the Tories want to press ahead with the change now – with most Labour, SNP, Lib Dems and Greens in support.
But the Tories have hit a rough patch with their plans. And I’m sorry to say it’s one of the transgender lobby’s making.
If it had just been the same sort of moral conservative folk (mainly Tory, but of all parties) who’d voted against the original act who were opposing the changes now, the Tory Government would have pushed it through without much demur. But the water’s been muddied by the failure of the transgender lobby and its supporters to account for how the changes will impact upon feminist theory and gender inequality. Let alone how other less plausible notions such as; ‘the post-gender society’ might.
Now, feminists everywhere are objecting strenuously because they do not see much evidence from the transgender lobby that thought has been given to the implications for gender equality. In the face of this, many have dug their heels in, refusing to accept that people who have lived as men most of their lives, and who may choose to continue to live biologically as men some of the time, can understand what it is to face the inequality women do.
It could have, and can still, be different. The first thing the transgender lobby – and its supporters – needs to accept is that just as BME people must always have a louder voice than privileged white people when it comes to how we resolve issues of racial inequality, so must women today have a louder voice than men on the issue of gender and gender inequality. I do not refer here to people who are legally men but identify as women, since that would become a circular argument, but to men, notably politicians, who insist on telling women what a woman is.
The effect of the aggression of the transgender lobby, with such deliberately derogatory terms as ‘TERFs’ and all the rest, and its failure to convey a gender theory which does not threaten the drive for wider gender equality, has been to make it harder – not easier – for women to accept their arguments.
It seems that the revision of the Act may still go through with opposition support. It’s incumbent on the transgender lobby, and all politicians who support the change, to convince women why.