DOMINIC LAWSON: Why are women attacked by the trans lobby while we men get far less abuse?
Three years ago, on this page, I took the plunge. To be specific, I wrote a column on how women’s access to exclusive private spaces was being eroded in the name of ‘trans rights’, and argued this was a threat to women’s safety and dignity.
I say took the plunge, because I had been warned that I would be attacked mercilessly by those who regard as evil any distinction drawn between biological women and those who have changed their gender from male to female.
I also recall a conversation I had with Dr Kathleen Stock, who has been hounded out of her tenure as a distinguished philosopher at Sussex University because of her ‘gender-critical’ views (set out with remarkable clarity and force in her book Material Girls).
Kathleen Stock (pictured) quit her job at the University of Sussex in October after what she described as a ‘bullying and harassment’ campaign by students demanding her sacking
Dr Stock had warned me: ‘You may well encounter very unpleasant consequences. If you do, please don’t recant. I would rather you didn’t write about this at all than speak out and then retract.’
As it turned out, I encountered no abuse at all, just a lot of mail from female readers of this newspaper to the effect that they were delighted I was speaking up for them.
Yet I am sure that if I were a woman and had written such a column in the issue of April 8, 2019, I would indeed have been monstered on social media, especially Twitter.
Look at what has happened to J.K. Rowling, who has endured death threats and the foulest of personal abuse after she defended Maya Forstater.
This is the woman sacked from her job at the London office of a U.S. think-tank, the Center For Global Development, after expressing her belief — one might say, the fact — that it is not possible to change one’s biological sex.
One reason Rowling had encountered such a torrent of personal abuse, after tweeting ‘#IStandWithMaya’, is that she, most unlike me, is a writer of world renown and unparalleled success. When she speaks, the world listens.
But the fact she is a woman also has much to do with it. When I asked Kathleen Stock why that might be, she said: ‘Men would prefer to attack women than other men because they risk less, and women would prefer to attack other women for the same reason.’
I suppose this is an evolution-based argument (men have always been more dangerous) and also reflects the fact that men have been more powerful within society.
Dominic Lawson writes: ‘Look at what has happened to J.K. Rowling (pictured), who has endured death threats and the foulest of personal abuse after she defended Maya Forstater’
Whatever the reasons, it is an observable fact that women, regardless of the issues under discussion, receive much more toxic abuse on social media, and generally, than men. We call this misogyny, and it is a real thing.
But I had another explanation, which is that women, such as Dr Stock and Maya Forstater, who say, ‘You can’t change biological sex’ are telling those who are born male but feel viscerally that they are ‘in the wrong body’: sorry, but we won’t let you into our club.
For many trans women (though by no means all), this is an appalling insult, and actively cruel. Whereas I, as a man, am entirely irrelevant to this and possess nothing that they want.
Last week, Ms Forstater and others launched a campaign — with the slogan, ‘Respect my sex if you want my X.’ This was tied to the forthcoming local elections.
These feminists are particularly angry at the way the Labour Party (perhaps their natural home, politically) finds it difficult to accept that — sorry to be crude — women can’t have penises.
Because, obviously, if women can have penises, then there is no reason why trans women in full possession of male genitalia shouldn’t have access to female public loos or changing rooms. Or, indeed, women’s wards in hospitals.
The ‘Respect my sex if you want my X’ movement experienced an immediate success when, straight after its launch, the Prime Minister declared that he didn’t believe that trans women should be competing in women’s sporting events.
Although he didn’t elaborate, what Boris Johnson meant was that to have been born biologically male, and having gone through male puberty, conferred an unfair advantage on trans women when competing against those who have women’s bodies.
His intervention followed on from the row over the exclusion of the transgender cyclist Emily Bridges from a female event in the UK, after the relevant sporting body first of all accepted Bridges’ entry and then changed its collective mind.
On Saturday, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme interviewed two people on this issue.
One was the former British women’s swimming champion, Sharron Davies, who has been as outspoken as anyone — and as brave, given the blowback — in opposing the participation of those born male in top-level female sporting competition.
Maya Forstater, pictured, lost her job after claiming people cannot change their biological sex
She feels this deeply, in part because if she had not been up against an East German swimmer dosed with male hormones in the Moscow Olympiad of 1980, Davies would have won the gold medal, rather than the silver.
She told Helen Joyce, the author of the book Trans: ‘Twenty years swimming against East Germans who’d been pumped full of male hormones! It’s obvious in the same way, now, that allowing people with male physiques and the benefits of male puberty into a female race is categorically unfair.’
On the other side of the argument, the Today programme interviewed Veronica Ivy, born male, but who as Rachel McKinnon (I know, it’s confusing) became the first transgender world track cycling champion in 2018, at an event for women in the 35 to 44 age bracket.
Armed with the knowledge that peer-reviewed scientific papers demonstrate that, even after the testosterone reduction sporting bodies have demanded of trans women entering female competition, those born male have unique physical advantages, Nick Robinson put it to Ivy: ‘You can’t undo male puberty…do you accept that?’
Ivy responded, astonishingly: ‘People have claimed that, but the scientific evidence does not support that.’ Or perhaps not so astonishing, as Ivy has advocated that ‘in some special contexts, we can lie’.
But when Robinson asked the obvious consequential question, ‘Why don’t we just abolish women’s sport, if that’s the case?’, Ivy repeatedly refused to answer.
Though Ivy was perfectly civil throughout the interview, the Canadian former cycling champion has not always been so, having once declared, via Twitter, that those who don’t accept that women can have penises should ‘die in a grease fire’.
And when Magdalen Berns — founder of For Women Scotland — was dying, at 36, of a brain tumour, Ivy lectured this feminist critic of the transgender lobby: ‘Don’t be the sort of person who people you’ve harmed are happy you’re dying of brain cancer.’
This, exactly, is the sort of cruelty meted out to women who refuse to keep quiet, and who insist, for example, that female sporting competition should be reserved for those with female bodies.
One might say that Veronica Ivy is guilty of misogyny. After Saturday’s programme was broadcast, Sharron Davies was clearly furious, tweeting: ‘If you listened to the BBCR4 programme, can you ask them why they are still using a person who threatened…that I and every person…who believes in biology should die in a fat fire? The BBC must be responsible.’
On this, I disagree with Davies, at least in that the interview with her opponent was highly instructive, and valuable as part of the necessary debate on this issue.
Veronica Ivy’s arguments were so palpably weak, and her refusal to answer an obvious question so clearly exposed by the interviewer, that this can, in the best sense, be described as public service broadcasting.
Moreover, it is good that the BBC, which hitherto had seemed almost religiously wedded to the view that there can be no debate about the idea that ‘trans women are women’, is now enabling a proper discussion to be had.
That is far better than leaving it mired in social media, where ‘gender-critical’ women — such as J.K. Rowling — are treated with abuse and malice.