Open Letter to Radio 4’s World At One
Dear World At One, we are writing to you as an organisation to express our concern and dismay at the way the issue of self-definition as a woman within the Labour party was presented on your show on Monday, 29th January 2018. The current dilemma over self-definition was presented as a small group of women not wanting transwomen to be allowed onto all-women shortlists, and starting a donation campaign to fight this. However, this is simply not true, and the facts are so readily available that we feel it necessary to question the integrity of the research undertaken to prepare this item for broadcast. Further incorrect information was allowed to be presented by Harriet Harman on your show on the following day (30th). It is becoming increasingly clear that politicians and the media are possibly not taking impartial advice on these topics or receiving adequate objective research. To this end, we have prepared this short article to explain the situation correctly, with the hope that, as highly respected journalists and broadcasters, you will correct the facts on-air at a later date.
Firstly, the dispute has not been about transwomen being allowed onto all-women shortlists (AWS). Transwomen with a gender recognition certificate (a GRC) are already allowed on AWS. This allows you to change the sex on your birth certificate, and there has been no argument with this because these transwomen are legally considered female. What the issue has been about is that the Labour Party revealed that it allows anyone who ‘self-defines as a woman’ to be eligible for AWS. This is potentially unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 because a self-defining transwoman is legally male. The subsequent GoFundMe campaign, which your show misleadingly described as women trying to stop transwomen getting on AWS, was actually set up to test the law on this matter if needs be, and it arose from protest over Labour appearing to contravene the Act, and wanting them to assure party members, voters, and indeed, women in general, that they will stick to the law in terms of who is classified as a woman. At the Labour NEC last week, it was confirmed that, under legal advisement, Labour would be sticking to the law.
That is it. That is all this has been about. Not trying to exclude anyone, just expecting a major political party to follow the Equality Act – and hopefully understand why it needs to. Sex (not gender) is a uniquely protected characteristic above all others under the Act in recognition that women are historically and systemically the largest oppressed class of people worldwide. This is why laws exist to make certain spaces, places, opportunities and so on, for natal women only, and for others not to be eligible for these, regardless of the subjective identities of others. Women are woefully marginalised and underrepresented in politics and AWS were created to recognise and remedy this.
Turning to the issue of trans representation and participation, when one looks at population statistics, transwomen with GRCs are already represented on AWS at the detriment of biological women. The most generous estimates from official sources say that 0.3-1% of the UK population fall under what is called the trans umbrella. This means that in a parliament of 650 people, 1-6 transgendered MPs are required for full trans representation. Compare that to women, who make up 51-52% of the UK population, a figure which requires 331-338 female MPs out of 650 for full representation. There are already existing and potential Trans candidates on AWS, and places on other shortlists and opportunities available to trans people, so it is clear that they are not being prevented from participating or advancing in the Labour party, nor is anyone trying to prevent this in the future. Advancement for women is still far less positive. Allowing anyone to merely ‘self-define’ as a woman reduces women’s chances even more. Furthermore, identity politics (the prioritising of the subjective beliefs of the individual) are antithetical to the class analysis central to socialist belief and all other Labour policies.
Self-definition is very different from being a trans person with a GRC, or even one without a GRC who nevertheless is committed to living and presenting full-time according to their gender identity. Self-definition means that literally any man can say he is a woman and from then on he is supposed to be considered to be just as much a woman as someone born female. Despite this being offensive and patently not true, current trans activism insists that anything less than this is transphobic, and that any definition of woman that involves the merest mention of female biology or female social conditioning is also transphobic (note: it is not considered transphobic to define maleness in these terms, which begs a whole other set of questions why). Understandably, many people, including numerous trans people who believe that self-identification trivialises their identities and experiences, find this deeply disturbing, misogynist and anti-science. It also opens the door to self-definition as different races, disabilities and so on. If a political party allowed people to self-define as anything else, people would be up in arms, and rightly so. The very fact that anyone thinks this is acceptable in terms of women just shows how misogynist a concept it is. If you remove biology from the meaning of woman, what are you left with? The very gender stereotypes, crass generalisations and sexual fantasies of males brought up in a misogynist society which create the oppression of women that make AWS and other measures necessary! As Kristina Harrison, a transwoman opposed to self-definition said recently at a feminist debate, “If you are blind to sex, then it is inevitable you will be blind to sexism”.
Many people believe that obtaining a GRC requires humiliating medical examinations; however, no physical exam is required, as gender is a social construct and investment in it as an identity or reality is entirely a subjective belief. There is also no requirement to have any kind of surgery as a trans person to obtain a GRC because no-one’s sex can actually be biologically changed (indeed, the vast majority of transwomen have no genital surgery). At the panel meeting to decide if a GRC should be granted, the applicant is not required to be present, answer questions or be examined in any way. This is because a GRC is not a validation of a person’s gender identity as any kind of material truth, merely a practical measure to balance the needs of a very small minority within society. Official figures from September 2017 show that only 4,556 GRCs have been issued since 2005, which means that less than 1% of all trans people choose to apply for one. 95% of all applicants are approved.
Jeremy Corbyn, speaking on Sunday’s Marr show on BBC One, seemed confused and poorly-informed about what self-definition means. He talked about the struggles and traumas, etc., of self-defining women, but the whole point of self-definition means that a male person has to quite literally just say that they are a woman and then they are classified as one – no struggle, trauma or any sort of personal change whatsoever required. Corbyn also stated that “we should respect people however they identify” – of course, people’s beliefs should be respected, but there is no onus on anyone else to believe them, or indeed, to legislate for them. To insist on such a thing would be akin to making atheism illegal. Let us not forget that subjective beliefs, including gender identity, are not facts, and, as such, should not take precedence over or be given equal footing with scientific facts and material reality. In his rush to appear egalitarian with his talk of struggles and traumas, Mr Corbyn seems to have conveniently forgotten that the very tapestry of women’s lives is trauma, struggle, oppression and so much more. At least two women a week in England and Wales alone are killed by former or present partners. There are around 85,000 rapes of women by men every year in the UK, and officials admit that this figure is the tip of the iceberg. More than 40 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced, women are still illegally paid less than men, and we will not see this fully redressed within the lifetime of anyone alive today. I could go on, but everyone reading this knows that the list is exhaustive and that this is precisely why the Equality Act ensures women have their own shortlists (and more); to make some effort to acknowledge and redress the enormity of inequality, marginalisation, suffering and exclusion that we still face.
No-one is arguing that trans people should not participate in politics or have full representation. The only question that anyone who truly cares about women should be asking is this: with women still so marginalised in politics and society in general, why are women expected to give up spaces and opportunities that are still insufficient to solve the issues of representation and inclusion for other groups? The Equality Act makes it very clear that women-only shortlists and other opportunities exist to ensure that this does not happen. Transwomen have very different backgrounds, history, experiences, oppressions and yes, biology, from women and both groups deserve appropriate inclusion and representation in politics. As do transmen, of course. It cannot go unnoticed that transmen, being natal females, are completely overlooked in a debate about opportunity and self-definition. This is yet another hidden layer of misogyny within this issue. Note also that no-one is asking men to accept that being male is merely a matter of a personal declaration.
Why is no-one demanding that men concede some of their vast overrepresentation and privilege within politics to create opportunities for trans people and their unique issues and needs instead of lumping women and trans people together as some sort of generic category of ‘Other’, expected to fight for scraps from the master’s table, creating unnecessary clashes and concessions, while men stay – incorrectly and unfairly – as the default, the majority, the loudest voices? Such change would be true progress and equality.
Fair Play For Women hope that World At One will re-examine this issue and gain a better understanding of different terms, and the actual worries and demands of women about AWS and rectify this in one of two ways: 1) broadcast a correction and apology for unfairly and misguidedly misrepresenting the facts and the aims of the women under scrutiny, or 2) create a new item on the issue portraying the facts and definitions more truthfully and with greater clarity and balance. We have a spokeswoman who would be happy to appear on the programme to discuss this with you further and we look forward to you engaging with us on the issue with greater depth and understanding.
Fair Play For Women.