“Let’s hope a similar extinction is coming for her”

Jenni Murray, longstanding presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, wrote a piece for yesterday’s Times (the London one) about women and trans women. We all know what happened next.

The reporting, predictably, is not accurate. It never is, is it. Maev Kennedy at the Guardian for instance led with this:

A chorus of protest – and some support – has greeted an article by the broadcaster Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, that questioned the claims of transgender women to be considered “real women”.

That “real women” is tricksy, because in fact it’s Murray herself who put it in scare quotes, but that’s not what that sentence looks like, is it. I’ll just quote the five places she used the phrase so that you can see:

I can’t agree with Julie Burchill or Germaine Greer , whose language in their expression of revulsion at the trans woman (a man who becomes a woman) claiming to be a real woman has been unacceptably crude.

That’s attribution rather than use – she’s talking about Burchill and Greer, not herself.

But my concern, which I know is shared by numerous women who are now to be known as “cis” (short for “cisgender” – naturalborn women, in the language that’s more familiar to most of us ), is for the impact this question of what constitutes “a real woman” will have on sexual politics.

Scare quotes. The whole point of the scare quotes is to acknowledge that that’s a contested concept.

This time I was speaking to another trans woman, India Willoughby , who had hit the headlines after appearing on the ITV programme Loose Women. India held firmly to her belief that she was a “real woman”, ignoring the fact that she had spent all of her life before her transition enjoying the privileged position in our society generally accorded to a man.

Scare quotes again.

There are some trans women who willingly accept they cannot describe themselves as women and who agree that sex and gender are not interchangeable. I met Jenny Roberts a bout 15 years ago; she’s now 72 and made her transition, including hormon e treatment and surgery, when she was 50.

“I’m not a real woman,” is the first thing she said to me in a recent conversation.

Attribution, not use.

The most significant part of Jenny’s understanding of the trans woman/real woman debate came about as a result of her selling the printing business and, instead, opening a feminist bookshop in York, which she called Libertas.

That’s the closest she comes to using it herself as coming from her. She doesn’t say what Maev Kennedy accused her of saying – she said more nuanced things than that.

Anyway. Of course there are yells of anger, of course there’s a petition demanding the BBC fire her, of course the BBC punished her.

The BBC has issued presenter Dame Jenni Murray with an impartiality warning over her transgender comments as a TV presenter called for her to be sacked.

Dame Jenni, the veteran host of Woman’s Hour, has been told that she must remain impartial on “controversial topics” after she claimed that a sex change can’t make a man a “real woman”.

No she didn’t. See above. She did say there are differences, differences that matter, but she didn’t make the claim in that form.

The claims, which have been fiercely criticised by equality campaigners, have resulted in Dame Jenni being reminded that she must remain neutral on the subject.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Dame Jenni criticised Willoughby for claiming she was a “woman” because she had failed to acknowledge that she had spent most of her life “enjoying the privileged position in our society generally accorded to a man”.

She also criticised Willoughby’s apparent willingness to accept the Dorchester hotel’s strict dress code for female staff, which requires that they always wear makeup, have manicures and shaved legs.

“There wasn’t a hint of understanding that she was simply playing into the stereotype – a man’s idea of what a woman should be.”

India Willoughby apparently wants the BBC to fire Murray.

Calling for Dame Jenni’s dismissal, Willoughby said that she had never supported the Dorchester’s staffing policies, adding that the Woman’s Hour presenter had created “fake news” in order to sell a “storyline”.

“She and Woman’s Hour have subsequently tried to portray me as someone who believes all women must have perfectly shaved legs at all times, which quite frankly is ridiculous,” she added.

“I called Jenni transphobic that day – and I haven’t changed my mind since. Jenni talks about trans women growing up with ‘male privilege’. As if we have a great time and, then on a whim, jump ship.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t wish being trans on anyone, even Jenni. ‘Male privilege’ was never a privilege to me and is not something I benefited from.”

And yet, that kind of privilege is something one can benefit from without realizing it. That’s a rather basic truism of progressive politics, isn’t it? That just not being aware of one’s privilege really can’t be taken as just straightforwardly showing one doesn’t have it. We don’t walk around counting up all the times we’re not shot at by snipers, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an enormous benefit that people who live in a war zone would love to have too. Willoughby can’t be sure she never derived any benefit from male privilege simply because she was never aware of deriving it. It ain’t that simple.

“The fact that she’s still allowed to host Woman’s Hour while spouting this bile is ridiculous and she should finally be sacked.

“The world has changed and, as a public-funded broadcaster the BBC know that more than anyone, Jenni Murray is a dinosaur and we all know what happened to them. Let’s hope a similar extinction is coming for her in the not too distant future.”

To me that casual misogyny reeks of male privilege.

To boil it down: Murray isn’t convinced that being a trans woman is exactly the same thing as being a non-trans woman, and she said so, with examples. I don’t think that’s a good reason for people to demand she be fired.

14 Responses to ““Let’s hope a similar extinction is coming for her””