Tag Archives: Protected Characteristics

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day, not Trans, not Intersex, and not Men

International ‘Real’ Women’s Day

On this day, each year, I usually write about current social issues worldwide that affect women disproportionately. I often quote my sheroes – Audre Lorde, Simone de Beauvoir, Malala Yousafzai, Muzoon Almellehan, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and so many more. Alternatively, I’d be railing against Islamic State (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, extreme sharia or tribal law sex-based violence used to oppress. Instead, it’s the voice of BBC Woman’s Hour, Dame Jenni Murray that is still ringing in my ears. 

Jenni Murray defining Women

On Sunday, Murray decided to wade into the “are trans women real women debate?” She prefaced her article in The Sunday Times with “I’m not a transphobe but…” along with “I’m not a radical feminist” either. 

“I am not transphobic or anti-trans. Not a Terf in other words. That’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist, to use one of the often-confusing expressions that have entered the language in this age of gender revolution. I’ll admit to feminist, but radical or separatist? No…” – Jenni Murray

The article was doomed from then, as that is how so many of the “I’m not a racist but…”, or “I’m not anti-gay but…” arguments begin. I bit my lip and pressed on, trying to remain open to rational argument. On the one hand, I actually agree with her – trans women do not experience life the same as “women born women” – or rather raised as girls and sometimes, as feminism argues, oppressed as women by the so-called patriarchy – some MRAs have challenged me to look at that term again, in the 21st century West, anyway. Perhaps it is now better seen as a kyriarchy, in the UK at least with its several queens and two female prime ministers.

On the other hand, neither do any two women have the same experiences. Birth, school, puberty, bullying, sexuality are near-universal human experiences and we all experience them differently.

“if womanhood is defined as the sum of everything that has ever happened to a woman because of her gender, then logically nobody born with male organs can ever quite attain it. It’s tantamount to saying that you can only be a woman if you’ve always been treated as one.” – Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian

Not all women experience oppression equally – wealth, class, and education, come into play as much as gender. To define ‘real’ women as only those who have experienced sexism or assault is ludicrous.

“Although a person’s sex as male or female stands as a biological fact that is identical in any culture, what that specific sex means in reference to a person’s gender role as a woman or a man in society varies cross culturally according to what things are considered to be masculine or feminine.” – Wikipedia definition

It is not automatic that a trans woman experiences life with “male privilege” before feeling gender dysphoria, bullying, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and internalised oppression – that, to date, psychological therapies have failed to cure, to the point where most psych associations now regard any attempt to as unethical.

If anything, it is the language of the article that is the problem. As soon as one starts defining a “real” woman, one has to question what characteristics make up that definition?

“Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” – WHO definition

Clearly, the answer is not someone resembling the impossibly proportioned Barbie or Sindy, but I’m not going to get into thin-waist, hourglass figure shaming – a shame cisgender girls and transfeminine teens alike will find nigh on impossible to emulate.

The debate about “real” women runs dangerously close to policing sex/gender and a form of CisAryanism as Jane Fae notes:

Not “am I a real woman?”, but “am I a pure one?” – Jane Fae

Sex and gender spectra -whether biological or psychological (still part of the body-mind/neurology entity, I’m not a Cartesian dualist) defy the possibility of a single archetype of default woman, and as soon as one does it creates the possibility of discrimination and judgement upon anyone not conforming, passing, meriting, having perfect reproductive systems, or preferring same-sex or childless relationships.

Indeed, as Jane Fae draws attention to, Jenni Murray seems to define herself as a non-TERF by pointing out her marriage to a man and raising of “two fine sons” as if that explains her moderate feminism and typical womanhood. On the other hand, Julie Bindel said in response to what does being a woman mean:

“I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t do gender. It is harmful and a total social construct that serves to reinforce patriarchy and women’s subordination to men. I wish to eradicate gender – that is the feminist goal…” – Julie Bindel, New Statesman

Simone de Beauvoir

“trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.” Helen Boyd, author My Husband Betty

Some have argued that Murray would have been better writing about “natal” or “natural” women. On the former, I might quote, out of context but not without relevance, Simone de Beauvoir, from The Second Sex, introduction (1949):

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” 

Or so many more of de Beauvoir’s thoughts:

One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…”

“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?”

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” 

“She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”

Othering Trans Women

The irony that the argument of feminism and women’s liberation that women should not be defined as ‘other’ in relation to men, but should be equal in their own right, seems lost.

Now, however, trans women are defined as “other”, as the “third sex”, as women and LGB people were before them. Then there are those whose bodies are ‘other’ yet forcibly conformed to binary male or female. Dividing the human race into very strict boxes of men and women and who can be in them is erasing of intersex people, third gender folk from dozens of cultures and traditions around the world. 

Denying trans women membership of the cisterhood, only perpetuates what had previously been done to women by men in power of old – or not so long ago. 

Intersectional Feminism

I’ve no personal problem with being othered, or with not belonging, I’ve accepted that in life, but I shouldn’t need to and will fight my feminist sisters for their inclusion and my trans sisters to show some respect and learn some history. Both groups have very different forms of privilege, since much privilege is relative, and we need to look inside ourselves and our experiences to recognise that.

“Trans women are men”

Writing to the Daily Telegraph Letters page, Una-Jane Winfield writes that a proposed change to recognise gender identity and not just gender transition would have:

“extremely damaging consequences, especially for women at work and in public spaces, forcing them to accept non‑native women in their midst.

Dame Jenni Murray is right to draw attention to the privileged claim of ‘trans women’, who are socialised lifelong men, not women.

The change is not wanted by the 50 per cent of the human race called women, and it is an ‘equalities law”’ too far.”

To me, Winfield and Murray’s arguments are summed up in their attempting to speak for all women, without a referendum!

Biological Essentialism & Determinism

Furthermore, they define women just as men used to do, by the presence of a womb, ovaries, ability to conceive, or by the experience of puberty, menstruation, menopause – the very biological essentialism and reproductive value that women’s liberation and feminism sought to overcome. Now, some feminists are resorting to those self-same arguments to define themselves in opposition to trans women (men in their eyes).

“woman means something. It means sexual biological woman.”- Comment on Independent article

I’ll reiterate Simone de Beauvoir here because I think Winfield and Murray need to read it again themselves:

“every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries?”

They speak unelected for all women, and stereotype all trans women as men in frocks, persisting in male criminality, wanting to forcibly invade women’s spaces etc. In their over-egged gender essentialist simplicity they ignore non-binary, assigned female at birth (AFAB) trans men, intersex people and folk like me who don’t give a fuck about labels and access to women’s spaces, unless I’m invited.

To paraphrase de Beauvoir,

“not every male human being is necessarily a man.”

I’m with Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw, who upon transitioning declared she was “no longer a man, but not entirely female.” Like her, I identify as non-binary, recognise my male past (despite a brief designation of female at birth and an endocrine puberty disorder), but don’t wholly identify with being a woman, but many trans women do.

What Is this, the 1950s?

Their binary defensiveness is a going backwards, when we should be going forwards together as so many younger inclusive feminists are. That said, some trans women need a Feminism 101 history lesson to avoid their gender presentation and attitudes being interpreted as wanting to be subjugated women in twin sets and pearls, tied to the kitchen sink, actually enjoying ironing.

“presenting womanhood as being about little more than cute outfits and chasing boys” – Meghan Murphy, Feminist Current

Young trans people are now diversifying the range of trans and non-binary gender presentations, so that old accusations of female parody and imitation are no longer true.

Some of the comments on news articles about this feel like Daily Mail readers are now reading all the other papers too. In the year that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and we are back to determining which LGBTIQA+ people have rights, and it is some of the older Lesbians and Gays, as well as straight traditionalists who are opposing rights for trans and genderqueer people.

“Trans are not women. LBGT thing is a nonsense.” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

“Gender appropriation in action.” – Comment on Independent article

“the Trojan horse of transvestite men’s “rights” to steal biological women’s rights” – Comment on Independent article

In addition, I’ve had “gay eugenics” thrown up this week, the idea that trans people are erasing gays and lesbians, the erroneous idea that easily obtainable without medical ethics puberty blockers and hormones are forced upon teenagers to prevent them discovering their sexuality! Somewhat similar to the “butch erasure” touted by some lesbian feminists such as Sheila Jeffries, Julie Bindel et al, not respecting the feminist rights of their “assigned sisters at birth” who want to express their gender identity as male psyche and body now. Some have even created the term ftMysognist to describe those leaving the lesbian fold because of transition.

No Two Women…are the same

It’s not that trans women are the same as natal women, it’s that no two women are the same either. Then there are intersex variations, for example, from 1-in-1000 to as many as 1-in-100 births can be gender indeterminate at first sight during birth, many are then conformed by non-consensual (on the part of the child) surgery to a pseudo-sex binary. There are natal ‘girls’ raised as female who turn out to have XY chromosomes as part of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) or 5α-Reductase deficiency (5-ARD) and whose sex and gender identity is more often identified as young adults. See Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body or Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World for more on intersex prevalence and sex diversity.

“Man A: I have an XXY chromosome set with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, so that’s two elements of intersex in one body. I have one ovary, a uterus, and a vagina (via vaginaplasty and labiaplasty) behind my scrotum, but I also have a functional penis and one testicle. I have no body hair, female skeleton, and I menstruate. In the old days, they used to call people like me a “true hermaphrodite,” but that is not the modern term. So I play the role of male, knowing that I am biologically neither male nor female.” – Cosmopolitan

This person would confuse Jenni Murray’s simple categories of man, trans woman and real woman.

Natal, natural, nature, whatever you want to call it all create ‘real’ variations in human bodies and brains, in-utero and post-utero. Just read Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People by evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden.

“To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Trans are a small minority, why bother?

The number of comments on Jenni Murray’s and response articles suggesting that trans are a minority and therefore should not be accommodated reeks of “the tyranny of the majority”.

“Trying to fully accommodate and integrate the relatively very few transgender people into a society constructed around 2 distinct sexes is I think, almost impossible.” – Comment on The Times article

“why so much hot air is being expended on such a small part of the population” – Comment on Daily Telegraph article

Actually, the number of trans, non-binary, and/or intersex people (these categories can overlap) exceeds the number of wheelchair users, yet we rightly make adjustments for them. Indeed, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in equality law, whatever anyone’s personal beliefs and reasonable adjustment, gender recognition, and the avoidance of discrimination are legal requirements. Are we not stronger together, even if we are different?

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde

Debate speech not hate speech

If you want to follow some of the discussion there’s debate, and not a little hate, on facebook here and here, as well as in the comments sections of some of the articles cited above in The Times, (and this one), Telegraph, GuardianIndependent, Feminist Current and Pink News.

Again, I actually have no problem with Jenni Murray having the discussion, although many do, I’m into respectful, fair and free speech, and debate not no-platforming (unless inciting hate and violence). As a result, I will challenge her argument (essentially that ovaries and oppression make a woman) and not attack her person as some have done, deplorably. This debate about who is a woman still raises heckles on all sides, that it does, shows we are not there yet. Roll back 50 or 150 years and people were questioning race, colour and sexuality, as not equal to white western heterosexual man. Let’s thrash this out but without attacking individuals. Science and society have moved on from these out of date views but airing them still shows how retrograde they are.

 

Let them Eat Cake unless it’s a Gay Cake as Christian Bakery refuses to bake Bert and Ernie Equal Marriage Cake for Belfast’s QueerSpace

Marriage in Northern Ireland is still “defined as being a union between one man and one woman” says NI Christian bakery company that refused to bake a “gay” Bert and Ernie queer cake and is taking “a stand” according to a trending BBC story.

[UPDATE: Bakery loses appeal against conviction for discrimination based upon the grounds of sexuality]

Queerspace logoIt seems that the cake request came from a volunteer LGBT activist from Belfast’s QueerSpace, as the cake design was to include their logo. QueerSpace is a “volunteer-led collective which has been serving the LGBT community of Belfast and Northern Ireland since 1998. It does this by raising LGBT visibility, supporting LGBT community activities and facilitating communication.”

QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage cakeThe cake was designed for their event to promote the International Day Against Homophobia as can be seen in the alternatively sourced cake that features prominently in several Facebook photos.

IDAHO(T) Day

The International Day Against Homophobia is celebrated each year on 17 May to combat homophobia and transphobia.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street Bert and Ernie LoveDescribed by Channel 4 News as “Sesame Street’s most sexually ambiguous couple”, Bert and Ernie have long been considered possibly, if not probably, gay.

The official Sesame Workshop position is that they are just “good friends”. In a 1993 statement they issued, it said:

“Bert and Ernie, who’ve been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans.”

CEO Gary Knell in Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street, was a little more vague, hinting at sexual ambiguity as well as their sexual inability:

“They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets. They don’t exist below the waist.”

Sesame Street Bert and Ernie FriendsIn a 2011 statement it was reiterated that they “do not have a sexual orientation”.

This didn’t stop some Christians complaining that they represented a gay couple. Reverend Joseph Chambers on his radio show, in 1994, said:

“Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another they tend plants together. If this isn’t meant to represent a homosexual union, I can’t imagine what it’s supposed to represent.”

Eric Jacobson, in a 2011 interview for Vanity Fair, said that Bert and Ernie were more “The Odd Couple” than a gay couple, if anything they emulated the close friendship of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.

All these assertions and denials, it makes one wonder, because we all know what hides behind denial, lol! 😉

Ashers Baking Company

Ashers Baking Company and its Christian founders and directors have taken their stand based upon their religious beliefs against a customer’s request to bake a pro-equal marriage cake. Whether the gay rights activist’s order was a test and if the bakery’s Christian views were well known beforehand is not clear. What is clear, is the law. Refusal of goods or services based upon someone’s actual or perceived sexuality is an offence. The Equality Commission wrote to the bakery saying that they had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation and that they had seven days to recompense and “remedy [their] illegal discrimination” or end up in court.

According to a YouTube statement the company was named after Asher, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, recorded as having “gifted bakers” in it. It runs itself on what it perceives to be Biblical guidelines, not opening on Sundays either.

General Manager, Daniel McArthur, said of the customer order that:

“The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn’t take his order.”

It was not the first time the bakery had declined orders, McArthur, said they had also refused to bake cakes containing “pornographic images and offensive vile language”. They made no direct link between gay marriage and pornography but by offering up no other examples their statement makes a less than subtle and unfortunate, if not downright offensive, connection between the morality of pornography and homosexuality to some Christians.

Rev Andy Marshall, a Church of England priest, has written a fabulous piece pointing out Ashers’ biblical failings according to Leviticus and the New Testament. I mean what is a non-bearded man doing selling pork sausage rolls and then condemning dubious Levitical laws allegedly condemning homosexuality? Not to mention not representing the love and acceptance that Jesus showed towards ‘outsiders’, the oppressed and minorities. I can imagine Jesus being more likely to storm angrily into the bakery and upset their dough wielding a “whip of cords“.

Whilst Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have passed a same-sex marriage law, this particular incident depends entirely on existing legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Northern Ireland and Devolved Equality -The Equality Commission

Unlike Wales and Scotland, anti-discrimination legislation is devolved in Northern Ireland has devolved anti-discrimination legislation, what this means is that whilst Wales and Scotland fully comply with the Equality Act (2010), Northern Ireland implements it incompletely, in its own way. The Northern Ireland Assembly, rather than the Westminster Parliament, is responsible for equalities law. Sections 73, 74 and 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998) established the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and placed public sector bodies under an equivalent though not entirely identical to British Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). Notably, pregnancy and gender identity/reassignement are not explicitly protected characteristics.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has responsibility for enacting and enforcing the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 acts. It is the latter regulations , which came into force in 2007, which make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of, among other things, “goods, facilities or services”.

Equality Commission NI Logo

Whilst some religious organisations in Northern Ireland are exempt from the regulations, a bakery is a business, Christian-run or not, and as such must comply.

A Defence of Religions and Political Freedoms?

The Christian Institute, which is mounting their defence, disagrees and their director, Colin Hart said:

“All the McArthurs want is to run their bakery according to their Christian beliefs. There won’t be many situations where they need to turn down an order but this is obviously one of them. No one should be forced to use their creative skills to promote a cause which goes against their consciences.”

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph the initial story of which made front page news, Hart described this in apocalyptic terms:

“[It’s] a sign of things to come exactly as we predicted…. Now this nonsense, more usually associated with the public sector, is being applied to the private sector … This means millions of ordinary people who do not agree with gay marriage, face intimidation and the real threat of legal action from the forces of political correctness if they, out of conscience, decline to provide good or services to campaign groups they do not agree with or support. It establishes a dangerous precedent about the power of the state over an individual, or business to force them to go against their deeply held beliefs.”

Their defence will be based upon arguing that an equal marriage cake is a political campaign and that it is not discrimination to refuse to endorse a political position.

The issue has now made it to the UK Parliament with Prime Minister’s Question time (PMQs) raising the issue and David Cameron, knowing little about it, being challenged to defend religious freedom.

Burwell v Hobby Lobby Case

The case has some similarity with the recent SCOTUS (US Supreme Court) judgement on Burwell v Hobby Lobby in which despite a federal mandate to provide employee health coverage, Hobby Lobby’s owners, David and Barbara Green, refused to comply as they felt that 4 out of 20 of the health insurance registered contraceptive drugs were morning-after and week-after life terminating abortion pills, based upon their view of life beginning at conception. SCOTUS upheld their refusal by 5-4 and ruled in their favour with “important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations … also challenging the mandate”.

[An earlier version of this article first appeared here]

Image Credits

QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage public facebook photo
Equality Commission NI logo