Why more women than men are raising objections
Hadley Freeman cautiously utters a few words of agreement with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and even with Jenni Murray, though in Murray’s case she is naturally careful to include some contempt too. One mustn’t let women old enough to be one’s mother seem to be just as clever and alert as oneself.
Should you be struggling with a gift idea for that special person in your life, here’s a suggestion: how about a home DNA kit? These are all the rage in America, I recently read in the New York Times, with 3m sold by ancestry.com alone in the past five years. At last, Americans can find out how Irish they actually are.
On the one hand, this makes sense: identity is the hot issue of our age. On the other, it makes no sense at all, because your identity is, we keep being told, whatever you want it to be.
Well, we do and we don’t. We keep being told that about certain identities, and we also keep being told it doesn’t apply to certain other identities. It’s a huge – and ludicrous – generalization which gets deployed for some purposes and hastily bundled out of sight for others.
Nowhere is the discussion about identity more passionately felt than within the transgender movement. If you feel you are a woman, you are a woman is the rule, although some women are querying this. Last week, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked by Channel 4’s Cathy Newman whether trans women are “real women”. “My feeling is trans women are trans women,” Adichie replied, a response not so much tautological as almost palindromic. “I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one.”
This was a clearer way of saying what Jenni Murray had written in an article that clumsily argued trans women are not “real women”.
Neatly done, the sting in the tail. Murray is old enough to be Freeman’s mother, therefore she’s clumsy. Murray mustn’t be allowed to get away with too much, not at her age.
The fear of being on the wrong side of history is a strong persuader, and it was clearly behind much of the reaction to the news that the BBC had slapped down Murray. Instead of crying foul at the broadcaster’s palpably nervy excuse that their presenters must remain “impartial on controversial topics” (while having no problem with Gary Lineker sharing his political views), female commentators gave Murray a kicking. Let all women be women, was the verdict.
That last sentence is rather “clumsy,” if you like. “Let all women be women” – well duh. What she meant must be “Let all people who identify as women be women.”
Yet no one is asking why more women than men are raising objections here. Perhaps people think this is just what women are like: uniquely catty. Lifelong feminists, especially older ones, who express any reservations about eliding the experiences of trans and cis women are dismissed as bigoted ol’ bitches – and maybe some are.
Oh, don’t be shy. Call them bigoted ol’ cunts, and then say that maybe some are.
But then she drops the ol’ bitches routine and says things that will call down the Eumenides on her.
But there are real ethical issues here, and they overwhelmingly affect women.
Sport is one obvious example. Male-born bodies have had different testosterone levels and muscle distribution from female ones. No one knows what the solution is but pretending there isn’t a difference is ridiculous.
Is it really true that no one knows what the solution is? Isn’t it rather that suggesting solutions is impermissible?
Then there are prisons. It’s easy to cheer on Chelsea Manning, but Ian Huntley – who now reportedly wishes to be known as Lian Huntley and be transferred to a women’s prison – is a tougher sell. Should a man with a history of crimes against women and girls really be in a female prison?
And Ian Huntley is just one of several. There’s something of a trend of male prisoners or defendants with histories of violence suddenly “identifying as” women.
In January, it was reported that the British Medical Association advised that instead of referring to “expectant mothers”, health providers should talk about the less exclusionary “pregnant people”. Some young feminists are even asking if it’s OK to use the words “female” and “woman” – yet men are not being urged to avoid mentioning their gender. Is it any wonder some women are calling bullshit?
Oh look, here come the Kindly Ones now, brandishing their machetes.