This report discusses the way some women’s voices are being silenced within the political and social debate on sex and gender identity. Women have an important and legitimate contribution to make but this censorship is preventing a fair and free debate. The aim of this report is not to address the questions and concerns women have but to highlight how and why women are being excluded. This is achieved through the demonisation of women with gender critical views through widespread use of misogynistic hate slurs and accusations of transphobia. This report describes the way women are suffering abuse, hostility and crime motivated by hate and prejudice due to their opinions on sex and gender. The consequences are that women’s views are not being fairly represented through hate-based silencing due to fear, shame and rejection.
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1.0 Political landscape
The UK government has announced its intention to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004. In October 2017 Theresa May stated publicly that “We’ve set out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, streamlining and de-medicalising the process for changing gender, because being trans is not an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such”. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) is currently drafting a public consultation document to be published at some point this year. This will inform the Women and Equalities Minister (currently Amber Rudd) who will bring forward government proposals in the form of a draft bill to parliament.
The SNP government in Scotland has completed its own public consultation on plans to use its devolved powers to implement a self-declaration process for Scotland. It also proposes to introduce a system of legal gender change for children and to increase recognition of non-binary identities. We are currently awaiting the outcome of the consultation to be published and for a draft bill to be presented to the Scottish parliament.
Opposition parties have also stated their intention to reform the gender recognition laws with the 2017 Labour Party manifesto stating “A Labour government will reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’ and remove other outdated language such as ‘transsexual”. Jeremy Corbyn has also indicated his support for self-identification of gender evidenced by this statement on the BBC Andrew Marr show in January this year “The position of the party is that where you have self-identified as a woman, then you are treated as a woman”.
The Liberal Democrats manifesto states “We would support an update of the GRA to be more inclusive by removing the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria”. The Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has publicly stated “I believe transwomen are women” although they have no specific manifesto commitments.
The issue of transgender rights is therefore an active and legitimate political area of debate in which all stakeholders are entitled and expected to engage. There is also a wider debate necessary about the definition and use of certain words (sex, gender, male, female, woman, man, gay, straight etc).
2.0 Women are stakeholders in this debate too
The proposed changes to gender recognition laws mean that the process of changing ones legal sex from male to female (and vice versa) will be made quicker and easier. Currently a person must provide medical evidence to a Gender Recognition Panel before they are granted a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Once a full GRC is issued to an applicant, the person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender, so that an applicant who was born a male would, in law, become a woman for all purposes. They can then get a replacement birth certificate stating their preferred legal sex designation. Changing the criteria by which a male-born person can become legally female will potentially impact women who are legally female by virtue of birth. As such, women are also stakeholders in this debate in addition to the transgender community and have a legitimate role to play in any debate and decision making.
If changing ones legal sex designation becomes no more than a self-identification process (for example signing a form) then it effectively means any man will be able to declare himself female. Since sexual and violent crime is overwhelmingly committed by men, and women are the victims of these crimes, any changes in law and customs that increases the ability of males to access female-only services and spaces must be considered in terms of its impact on the safety, dignity and privacy of women. Women have a number of important concerns and questions which include:
How will women prisoners be kept safe if any male prisoner can change legal sex (with no obligation for surgery or medical treatment) and relocate into women’s prisons.
If both male-born and female-born people can both be considered legally female how will sex discrimination towards women based on their female biology be recorded, monitored and minimised?
How will any legal changes impact an organisation’s rights and willingness to invoke the legal single-sex exemptions to maintain women-only spaces for natal females only?
With the sudden and rapid rise in the number of children referrals to specialist gender services (mostly teenage girls) from which life-long medical intervention and sterility can result, how can parents and professionals keep children safe in the absence of long-term evidence-based research?
How will the observed increase in the transitioning of young lesbian women into straight transgender men impact the lesbian community? How will the observed increase in straight males identifying as lesbian transwomen impact the lesbian community?
The aim of this document is not to answer these questions but to merely show the wide range of legitimate topics that impact and concern women and why women must be allowed to freely participate in this public and political debate.
3.0 The targeted silencing of women
There is clear evidence that women who ask questions or voice their concerns are being specifically targeted to silence them. Their motives and views are unfairly denounced as transphobic and inspired by hate. This impacts these women directly but also induces a climate of fear and shame to prevent other women speaking or learning more about the issues that impact them also. It also means the few women’s voices that do get heard are dismissed or mistrusted. The demonisation and marginalisation of a group’s role in society is a well known tactic. It is exploited by oppressors and should not be tolerated in a democratic society where the principle of free speech is upheld and valued. A few well known examples include Hitler’s demonisation of the Jews, the racist denigration of immigrants, Liverpool fans at Hillsborough.
More specifically, the misogynistic targeting of women to silence and control is an age-old tactic. The burning of witches, honour killings, rape victim shaming, denigration of single mothers to name but a few. The Fawcett Society has recently published its support for misogyny to be considered a hate-based motivator in crimes alongside racism, transphobia, homophobia etc. Misogyny is common place and not a new phenomenon and has all the identifiable characteristics of being motivated by hate and prejudice.
The hate-motivated targeting of women who engage in the gender identity debate is clearly evident. This can be seen through the use of sexist hate slurs to demonise this group of women and normalise violence towards them. This facilitates control of the women through fear, shame and rejection. Women are being silenced by the real-life fear of violence or damage to careers and reputation. Women are being silenced through shame by having their names made public and their views labelled hateful and transphobic. Women are being silenced by rejection with their views discredited or censored. All three methods will now be discussed and illustrated with examples.
4.0 The use of sexist hate slurs to demonise and to normalise violence against women.
The term TERF is now commonly used as a sexist slur to label women who speak out on these issues as transphobic and hateful bigots who must be shunned and ignored. Although originally devised by opponents as a pejorative acronym standing for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists is it now used as a word to describe literally any woman who asks questions or raises concerns in the transgender debate. This word not reserved for only the most provocative or outspoken women, but ordinary everyday women. Any woman.
There’s clear evidence that ‘terf’ now appears in insults, threats and incitements and its designation as a slur is discussed by linguistic expert Deborah Cameron. ‘Terf’ is now being used in a kind of discourse which has clear similarities with hate-speech directed at other groups. ‘Terf’ quite often shows up in the same tweet as other words whose status as sexist slurs is not disputed, like ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’. Other words that occur include ‘disgusting’, ‘ugly’, ‘scum’ and a cluster of words implying uncleanness (‘smell’, ‘stink’, ‘garbage’, ‘filth’)—which is also a well-worn theme in racist and anti-Semitic discourse. Likewise the sexist insult feminazi is also used frequently.
Feminists have warned against the violent rhetoric attached to the word ‘terf’ for years and its use as a sexist hate term has been written about many times; Megan Murphy, Clare Heuchen, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Sarah Ditum. Jokes and threats involving violence against women, often indistinguishable, are now commonplace on the internet. Etsy stock badges that conflate trans liberation with violence against women. Women do not approach the subject of sex and gender from a position of power – biological sex has been used, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, to oppress women.
Women can be labelled hateful transphobes for expressing almost any view linked to female-only biology. For example, Nimko Ali has been condemned by transactivists as transphobic for her views as a survivor and campaigner against female genital mutilation.
Other women are condemned for acknowledging that natal females have specific needs, protections and experiences that necessitate the lawful provision of services and spaces for natal females only.
There are literally hundred of examples of posts on social media using the word ‘terf’ and others to denigrate and threaten women. These are catalogued on a number of sites including Terf is a slur, Transcriticalhate, Anti-female receipts, The new backlash.
5.0 Silencing women through fear.
Women are being controlled through fear of the consequences if they discuss the concept of gender identity and raise questions and concerns. The physical violence, intimidation and damage to personal reputation and careers meted out to those who speak up makes them fearful to continue. This also acts as a warning to other women who are fearful the same will happen to them. For some women with family and other commitments the personal cost to themselves and their dependants is simply too much to risk.
5.1 Women are fearful of the real-life threat of violence.
Research has shown a clear link between dehumanisation of social groups and the perpetration of violence against them. It is obvious that dehumanising women to the point where they are considered legitimate targets of violence creates an enhanced risk of physical violence. When society accepts or does not challenge this “punch a terf” rhetoric then by-standers also become complicit. This incitement to hate women considered ‘terfs’ (including women who simply associate with or wish to listen to ‘terfs’) has now led to a woman being beaten.
On 13th September 2017 a 60 year old woman called Maria MacLachlan was punched and pushed to the ground by protesters while waiting to attend a talk about changes to gender recognition law called ‘What is Gender’. The incident at Speaker’s Corner in London was clearly filmed and the trans-activist Tara Flik Wood has been arrested by police and the court hearing is scheduled for April. Wood had posted on social media earlier ‘I wanna fuck some terfs up’.
In November 2017 Helen Steel intervened to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA reforms at the Anarchist Bookfair and who were surrounded and being threatened by trans-activists. Half an hour later, she was surrounded for over an hour by a group of around 30 trans-activists who shouted misogynistic abuse including ‘ugly terf’, ‘fucking terf scum’, ‘bitch’, ‘fascist’ and more.
In March 2018 Paula Lamont was violently and verbally abused and intimidated by a group of people shouting “Terf Terf Terf” and “Get her out of here, she’s a Terf”. Police intervened. It is believed that the attack was connected with her being recognised as having attended a meeting about the planned changes to the GRA held by A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) in London on February 27. Paula said “What upset me most about the incident is, out of the very big crowd which surrounded me and witnessed a completely one-sided and unprovoked attack, not one person felt inclined to intervene. It was a really shocking example of mob mentality. At no point did I say or do anything which could have been construed as aggressive or offensive.” This alarming incident highlights not only that individual women now take personal risks to access information about the changes that will impact them. It also shows how others are either too scare or simply unwilling to intervene and stand up for the rights of women to participate. The footage of the incident is now available to view here.
There are also many examples of violence happening outside the UK. Approximately 30 Transactivists vandalised, destroyed books and harassed feminists at the opening of the volunteer-run Vancouver Women’s Library. The walls were spray painted with the words ‘NO TERFS’. Despite protester’s claims that the library is “trans- and sex-worker exclusionary” it is neither and the library’s website states “We welcome all women, regardless of creed, class, gender, race, sexuality.” The protesters demanded that 20 feminist books be banned from the library.
Women attending the WPUK event in Edinburgh were harassed by protesters. Protesters made noise all the way through the talks, including shouting over women speaking about their experiences of male violence. They were masked and filmed the attendees. Afterwards, they harassed the venue. Trans-activists have also sent individual direct messages to women who follow WPUK on social media in a clear attempt to intimidate future attendees.
Fear of being labelled a ‘terf’ means many professional women are unable to speak openly in public or at work. This is particularly common amongst women who work in academia or in women’s services. There is a very illuminating thread on Mumsnet where women post about how they fear their professional reputations will be damaged and their career prospects threatened. Numerous women involved in the women’s sector have been silenced fearing that the women’s service they work for will be adversely impacted. Fears include their service being targeted by trans-activists or their funding being cut. These fears for funding are set in the context that between 2010 and 2015 local authority funding of services to address violence against women such as refuges and counselling provision were cut by an average of 30% despite violence against women being a crime that increased in prevalence during the same time frame. Generic ‘one size to fit all’ services from large non-specialist providers have also been commissioned in preference to women-only and specialist women’s services which service users prefer.
Few women are ‘out’ enough to be cited here but it speaks volumes that the women behind WAPOW (Women Analysing Policy on Women) all remain anonymous. WAPOW submitted a report to the 2015 Trans Equality Inquiry but like all other gender critical feminist groups they were not invited to present their evidence at any oral hearing. Such groups were dismissed as ‘purported feminists’ by the Chair of the committee Maria Miller.
At a recent WPUK meeting in Birmingham Karen Ingala-Smith (the head of the independent women’s refuge called nia) shared how she never used to speak publicly about transgender issues for fear that her charity, and the women in supports, would be targeted.
In this anonymous example (left) a female lecturer suggests to colleagues they also include a gender critical view so students know what the debate is about. The response was that they should only present transgender views. The middle example shows a women reported to her employer (BBC) for posting a ‘transphobic article’. The example on the right shows a women being reported to her university employer for asking clarification about biological sex.
The academic and social philosopher Dr Heather Brunskell Evans was the elected spokeswoman for the Women’s Equality Party’s (WEP) policy on Violence Against Women and Girls. As a result of her views expressed on the Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 on November 15th 2017 complaints were made by one or more WEP party members.
Cross-examined by Michael Burke, she queried why, if caring adults do not endorse a seven-year-old’s view that he is, say, an astronaut, trans activists want parents to “affirm” every child who suggests he is “in the wrong body”. She also said “A genuinely progressive society would allow boys and girls to be whatever they want to be so I am absolutely perfectly happy if boys want to wear dresses…. but the problem comes when we decide that the child is genuinely internally and in some sense not a boy but a girl and that is where we get into trouble. So, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with a boy’s body if he wants to wear a dress.”
After a disciplinary hearing the WEP Executive Committee upheld the complaints and on February 20th 2018 she was suspended from her elected position.
All these accounts stand as stark reminders to women that their professional and personal reputations are vulnerable to attack if they engage publicly in the gender identity debate. This fosters a climate of fear and silence and as such very few women are able to speak out against this form of discrimination and attack or to engage publicly in debate. The few women that do decide to speak out do so at significant personal cost and suffer the inevitable backlash for doing so.
6.0 Silencing through shame and public ‘outing’
Public outing of women as ‘terfs’ is also now common place. Some women have been ‘outed’ on social media if identified as someone with gender critical views. Public lists exist with user names of women identified as ‘terfs’ on twitter. The twitter block list Terfblocker.com currently contains 2638 names. The criteria for finding yourself on this block list is unclear. My own name (@asknic) is on this list despite never posting a single transphobic tweet. My ‘crime’ is simply that I publicly oppose proposed changes to the GRA2004 and write evidenced-based articles to promote greater understanding and awareness of women’s concerns in this area.
Terfoutlabour has published a list of female members of the labour party who publicly supported a crowd funder set up to help finance a future legal challenge against the Labour Parties policy to include self-identified transwomen on All Women Shortlists. The Equality Act 2010 sets out in law how All Women Shortlists are aimed at increasing the politic representation of females and is restricted to members of the protected characteristic of sex (female) only. Self-identifying transwomen retain the legal sex status of male unless they have been granted a gender recognition certificate (GRC) to change their legal status to female. However, Labour policy has been to also allow legally male transwomen (without a GRC) access to All Women Shortlists. This policy is currently under review by the party after complaints that this is not allowed under current law. Nevertheless the transactivist(s) who set up this ‘outing’ website claims that the women who support the crowd funder “intimidate, victimise, and harass, trans women from the Labour Party” A sample letter is provided that can be used to report individual women “to any and all Labour officials you think should be notified of this blatant bigotry”.
7.0 Silencing through the rejection of women’s views
No platforming of women from speaking at university events is common-place ranging from well known radical feminists such as Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer to the Women’s hour presenter Jeni Murray. This is now being extended to grass-root women’s campaign groups and many other ordinary women who wish to speak about the impact of transgender laws on women. This is happening both in the UK and globally.
7.1 Women’s groups are being no platformed
Fair Play For Women was invited to speak at a public event to be hosted jointly by the Politics and Sociology departments at Oxford University. However, after it was announced the organisers decided to cancel the event following complaints from trans-activists. Fair Play For Women were also recently invited to speak to BBC staff about the importance of accurate and balanced reporting of the trans debate and why it is so controversial. The event went ahead but BBC hosts took the precaution of not announcing the list of speakers in advance in case of complaints or protests by trans-activists.
A women’s meeting organised by the group ‘We need to Talk UK tour’ was originally due to be held at Millwall Football club. However after the venue was announced Millwall cancelled saying ‘We’ve never seen anything like it‘ in terms of outcry and complaints. Instead, the event was hosted by Conservative MP David Davies at the House of Commons who said in response to the barrage of complaints “I’ve never seen anything like it in 13 years of being an MP”
A Woman’s Place also holds open meetings across the UK to discuss the implications of changes to gender recognition law. WPUK policy is to only release the name of the venue to ticket holders just prior to the event. This practice is to prevent trans-activists from attempting to intimidate the venue into cancelling or for protesters to disrupt the meeting.
It is now also common-place for women to be removed or their comments deleted from on-line facebook groups if they post anything deemed ‘terfy’. Here are a few comments I have received from ordinary women about their experiences:
“One woman artist friend of mine was “invited to leave” a large women’s arts group in Scotland for saying women have vaginas – and she’s not even politically/feminist active”
“A breastfeeding one. I got a pasting and a half. They also tried to ‘out’ me on Mumsnet, but got the wrong person it was quite bad, I had to deactivate Facebook for a while because I got some PMs telling me that some members were trying to dox me. I’m still gutted actually as it was a great group until then”
“Worldschooling – for objecting to a thread about where is the best place to take a 7 year old child for access to hormone treatments”
“Science-aware Natural Parenting – didn’t officially boot me but I left after several others were booted and when it was made clear that saying ‘boys have penises’ contravened their ‘no transphobic language’ rule”
“Not banned, but warned by one of the admins on ‘Nerds with Vaginas’ that my views were “dangerously close to transphobia”. She was very cross that so many members liked my post about a transgender pupil wanting to sue his school for making him use the school nurse’s loo for changing. I asked him to consider the feelings of the teenage girls”.
“I was banned from the science aware natural parents fb group for asking about peoples thoughts on Louis Theroux documentary about trans kids. I knew very little about gender then, but the whole point of the group was that it was supposed to be evidence based and I was asking what evidence there was for transitioning children and when I kept questioning was told I was a transphobic terf and banned from the group with no discussion. I had been a regular member for 2-3 years and found it all really upsetting at the time”
I was told of many other groups that have banned women for posting gender critical or female-biology questions, comments or articles. These include Alternative Left Women, Dismantling Misogyny, So you want to raise a feminist, How to raise a feminist, Cardiff Feminist Network, Cardiff feminist Women, Anarcho feminism 101, Gender Neutral Parenting, Slings and Other Things off topic, Labour Party Forum, scientific greens. There are likely to be many more.
This is an example from a Guide leader who was concerned about safe guarding issues regarding the risk of pregnancy and sexual assault. Girl Guides trans policy is to allow natal boys who identify as girls to share a tent with a natal girls without informed consent from parents. She was reported and banned from the Girl Guiding facebook forum for raising a concern.
7.3 Lesbian women are being silenced and sexuality is being redefined
Lesbian women are a particularly vulnerable group since they are targets of both homophobic and misogynistic hate crime. The concept that gender identity trumps biological sex as a marker of whether someone is man / male or woman / female redefines our existing concepts of two protected characteristics in the Equality Act; namely sex and sexual orientation. If a heterosexual male (sexually attracted to females) identifies as a women (sexually attracted to females) their sexual orientation is redefined as now being homosexual. As such we now have male-born lesbians with penis and testicles present in the dating pool for lesbian women. Lesbian women who state a preference for female-born lesbians are condemned as transphobic for doing so. Transgender theory challenges the whole concept of same-sex attraction and is considered by some as homophobic. Indeed, there are some countries (Iran) where homosexuality is punishable by death yet have a policy of state-sponsored transitioning to the opposite gender. This effectively converts a gay person’s orientation to heterosexual and is clearly used there as an method of gay conversion. This highlights the inherent conflict between the theoretical underpinning of gender identity (based on gender) and sexuality (based on sex). More information on this issue can be found on the Lesbian Rights Alliance (LRA) page here.
This example shows the banning of a lesbian women who is describing her sexuality as only attracted to other natal females. She was removed for transphobia and trans-misogyny. This is commonly referred to as the ‘cotton ceiling’ (the cotton referring to the cotton of a lesbian women’s underwear through which male-born lesbian may expect access). Many more examples of lesbian women being denounced for their sexual preference can be found here.
This is combined with the social pressure for masculine-presenting or butch lesbian women to transition into straight transgender men. This is particularly evident in the younger generation who are rejecting a lesbian identity in favour of a non-binary or transman identity. 70% of all teenage referrals to the NHS specialist gender service (GIDS) are from lesbian girls. The young lesbian community is now virtually non-existence and the lack of lesbian role models for children is worse than ever.
The lesbian community is being hit with a ‘double-whammy’ of both declining representation and the redefinition of lesbianism to include penis-in-vagina sex. Unfortunately, the re-prioritisation of LGBT organisations towards transgender projects means that support for the lesbian community is absent at the very time they need more help. Lesbian women who speak out about this discrimination and the homophobia they suffer are now silenced or dismissed with claims of transphobia. It is not a level playing field. It is ironic perhaps that at a time when society considers gay rights and acceptance to be at an all time high the reality is that some sections of the gay community are being severely marginalised.
7.4 Women’s voice’s are being discredited
Even if women’s views do manage to get heard they are discredited and dismissed. The most recent example has been the reactions to the publication of the Transgender Trend School’s Resource Pack:
Transgender organisations currently provide schools with their training and guidance on transgender issues but they only promote the affirmation and social transition model. In contrast the Transgender Trend guidance is based on protecting the welfare and rights of all children, and is aimed at creating a safe school for all, including gender non-conforming children and those who identity as transgender. This guidance is aligned with the ‘watchful waiting’ approach taken by the NHS Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS) who specialise in supporting children with gender issues and has been recommended to parents by the head of the service. Nevertheless the vitriol and hateful attacks aimed at the guidance and its lead author have been appalling yet not unexpected. It is common place now for anyone speaking out of step with the trans orthodoxy to be derided and denigrated.
Stonewall suggests the guidance is shredded. Another tweet suggests it must be binned. Transgender campaigner Guiliana likens it to Mein Kampf. The extreme nature of this smear campaign is intend to silence debate and denigrate the reputation of the female author of the report.
Trans campaigner Shon Faye calls Transgender Trend an ‘Anti-trans crusade front organisation’ and that the guidance encourages conversion therapy and institutional transphobia.
Through the use of real-life examples this report shows how some women are being unfairly targeted and abused based on the opinions they hold. Hate incidents and crimes are motivated by misogyny and also homophobia. The result being that some women’s voices are being silenced through fear, shame and rejection in the current debate on sex and gender. This means laws may be changed without their opinions being considered despite women being important stakeholders who will be impacted by any changes. It is crucial that this form misogynistic hate is recognised for what it is and is not tolerated. This is essential to ensure a free and fair debate across wider society about sex and gender.