Since Holy Pride Month has come and gone, I thought I’d write about an issue that currently dominates LGBT discussions.
Controversy around transgenderism continues to appear frequently in the news: the comedian Ricky Gervais’ latest stand up special included a segment in which he mocked issues such as transgender access to women’s toilets, the Labour MP Stella Creasy gave a bizarre interview for The Telegraph newspaper in which she argued that women can have a penis, the conservative commentator Matt Walsh has released a documentary entitled What Is a Woman? and Jordan Peterson had his Twitter account suspended for a comment he made about the trans actor/actress Ellen/Elliot Page.
The ongoing conflict regarding transgenderism has led some to conclude that women, in particular, are under threat since we seem to be unable to define what a woman is. For example, Brendan O’Neill wrote an article in The Spectator back in 2017 arguing that the word ‘woman’ was being erased from public life.
Similarly, the American conservative organisation The Heritage Foundation wrote about the erasure of women escalating in this piece. However, it has been noted that, since the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court, progressives have suddenly remembered what a woman is!
Are we heading towards a dystopia in which nobody can tell the difference between men and women and in which women themselves will be erased as a recognised group altogether? My own feeling is that this is highly unlikely.
While I like Brendan O’Neill’s content for the most part, it should be noted that five years have passed since he wrote his Spectator article and the word “woman” still remains in use in public, although the reader might argue that it too soon to argue against this claim.
A similar accusation is often made towards feminism wanting to erase all differences between men and women. There is truth in this, but I believe it is often overstated. Feminists can put forward the blank slate theory of human nature one moment and then suddenly notice differences between men and women when it suits them to do so. Obviously, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem as there is clearly confusion about how to define the two sexes.
Although I sympathise with many women’s concerns over issues like transgender athletes and the access that men who identify as women may have to female toilets and changing rooms, it should be noted that worries surrounding women and their safety have not exactly disappeared following the rise of the trans movement – #MeToo and the Sarah Everard case being just two examples in recent years.
It is interesting, after all, that even lesbian feminists like Julie Bindel (one of the more independently minded ones, admittedly) are on the same side as Harry Potter author JK Rowling in opposing the excessive claims of the trans rights movement. Again, while I agree with many of the arguments that so-called “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” (TERFs) like Ms Bindel and Rowling have made, my sympathy towards them is limited. This is because TERFs have been happy to push forward progressive ideas when these ideas benefitted women at the expense of men and have only objected to such ideas when they appeared to disadvantage ordinary women.
I have my own conspiracy theory that the trans movement was pushed forward by some feminists as a way to rejuvenate their own movement as many women no longer identified with feminism or, more accurately, considered themselves to be ‘post-feminists’ who had believed that feminism had run its course. The apparent threat of transgenderism in erasing women has helped feminism have a new cause to fight against even if it involves a lot of infighting – although infighting is common in feminism anyway. I’m not saying my conspiracy theory is true necessarily, but it’s fun to think about.
Most of the anger coming from feminists on this issue is likely because they believe their slice of the victim pie has just got a little smaller. I can imagine many of the feminists campaigning against the trans lobby suddenly aligning with them and saying both have a common enemy in straight men and the patriarchy when it suits them.
I’ve seen a few people wondering why transgender issues appear to affect women more than men and why women seem to be in more danger of being ‘erased’. It is often concluded that misogyny is the answer. However, there are other reasons that can explain why transgenderism has affected women rather than men, such as:
- Since men are, on average, physically stronger than women a man who identifies as a woman is perceived as more of a danger in an all-female space.
- Women arguably have a stronger sense of identity than men so any issue that encroaches on female spaces will be considered a bigger deal. Even an issue that could affect male identity, e.g. a transman who is pregnant, will be seen as more of an issue that affects women for obvious reasons.
- In some ways, femininity is more flexible about boundaries than masculinity as it is easier for women to cross boundaries defined by sex than it is for men. For instance, women have entered previously male-dominated spaces more frequently than men have entered formerly female-dominated spaces (notwithstanding the current transgender controversy). Similarly, women are more likely to be bisexual than men who typically identify more as either heterosexual or homosexual. Therefore, the current transgender issues are possibly a reflection of this flexibility in femininity working against women.
- Male identity has already been made vulnerable by feminism – e.g. women moving into spaces which were once exclusively occupied by men – and this remains so regardless of transgenderism, which will also have some effect.
Our obsession with transgenderism is disproportional to the actual number of people who identify as trans or ‘non-binary’ in the same way that people often overestimate the number of people who are gay. This article suggests that 1% of people in the UK recognise themselves as transgender which amounts to slightly over 600,000 people although that estimate may be inaccurate since no everybody will be identified. Notice that ‘identify as’ is not the same as ‘are’.
In other words, although 600,000+ people is a lot, this is miniscule compared to the 60 million+ population of the UK. Even though these numbers appear to have increased, they are still comparably small. Similar findings are likely in other countries of comparable or larger populations. It’s possible that the pro-trans rights lobby would use this argument to deflect any criticism against them by accusing opponents of overreacting so my point here is in no way to dismiss the concerns women have about all of this.
Even in this age of supposed “gender fluidity”, most of the teenagers and young people I encounter are still recognisably male or female even though there is probably more who identity as “LGBT” or what the comedian Dave Chappelle calls “the alphabet people.” On the other hand, I am aware that there has been a concerted effort to push trans ideology on children at a younger and younger age.
But if the number of transgender people is so small, why are public figures such as Labour leader Keir Starmer unable to answer questions like “what is a woman?” The mealy-mouthed response from such politicians is indicative of their well known tactic of not answering a question directly. On the surface, it is obviously absurd that there are people who can’t answer a question like what a woman is but I believe the issue is not so much that they don’t know, but rather that they don’t know HOW to answer that question. It is similar to a child asking their parent “where babies come from”: the parent knows the answer, but not necessarily how to explain it.
Politicians, mainly on the Left, are caught in what the South Park character PC Principal would call a “PC pretzel” where they cannot give a definite answer without upsetting a certain group of people. There is also an element of ‘having your cake and eating it’ about all of this as I’ve noticed articles about pregnant women using “women” and “pregnant people” almost interchangeably as a way of covering all bases to avoid any controversy.
For all of the concern about not being able to identify women and women being erased, it should be noted that the obsession with women’s issues in the media has never gone away. For example, a recent drama appeared on TV called Maryland which was yet another lamentation about male violence against women.
At the heart of this controversy appears to be whether we can define ‘man’ or ‘woman’ in purely biological terms or on individual terms.
I could be too charitable here, but I imagine their encapsulation of “what is a woman” would look like this:
- majority – adult who is biologically female (cis)
- minority – adult who is intersex/not biologically female but identifies as such
A man who feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body may believe he is truly a woman even though biologically he’s not. While this could be seen as taking philosopher Rene Descartes famous statement “I think, therefore I am” way too far, in our age of all-inclusivity, even these minority cases are included in the group ‘woman.’ In this sense, Stella Creasy saying that a woman can have a penis – if a man genuinely believes he is really a woman born in the wrong body – has some logic if you define ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as terms that can be applied depending on how you perceive yourself,. but you have to do a lot of convoluted thinking to get to that point. Even if you don’t agree with the explanation I’ve offered here, it makes more sense than the incoherence spouted by the people interviewed in Matt Walsh’s documentary, which is reviewed here.
At best, we can say that human are made of two sexes, male and female, plus a grey area where trans and intersex people (such as those described in Carole Hooven’s Testosterone) occupy and whose numbers, as already pointed out, are few and far between.
In these circumstances, we have to weight the concerns of the majority group – so-called ‘cis-gender’ women – with the minority of those men, who for medical and/or psychological reasons, identify as women.
I think eventually Labour and other Left-leaning parties will have to take a clear position on this as they will lose support and votes if they continue to be ambiguous.
I’m willing to hold my hands up and admit I’m wrong if the dystopian, genderless society does come to pass, but for now I believe that reports of women’s erasure have been greatly exaggerated.