The Long Story
About me, and how it began
I worked in London at the Centre for Global Development (CGD). It is a think-tank whose researchers work to influence the world’s major governments, international institutions and corporations towards evidence-based policies to enable international development. It is a place of ideas, open debate and robust disagreements. My research focused particularly on scrutinisingpolitical wishful thinking on international tax and illicit financial flows. My colleagues were smart, hard-nosed economists committed to improving the world through evidence and analysis. They were not prone to shielding fashionable ideas from analysis. The institution does not take organisational positions and I thought there were no sacred cows.
I found out I was wrong when I started tweeting about the definition of woman and about the UK government’s proposal for ‘gender self-ID’ last summer.
Like most people coming into this debate, I started by viewing the issue as a straightforward matter of compassion, inclusion and social progress. People should be free to live their life without discrimination or harassment. Vulnerable minorities should be protected. I still believe this.
At the same time I have never believed that women are people who share a common innate sense of ‘gender identity’. Women are people born with female bodies. Womanhood does not depend on dressing, acting or thinking in a feminine way.
In 2012 I had co-founded the campaign Let Toys Be Toys which started on the Mumsnet Feminism Forum. We called on toy companies to stop classifying toys, and children, into girls and boys categories that put limits on what children of either sex should be interested in.
We challenged the promotion of old fashioned gender stereotypes — that girls should only be interested in dolls and princesses while adventures and scientific toys are for boys — but we weren’t paying attention to how these stereotypes were being repackaged into the new idea of ‘gender identity’ — that if a girl child doesn’t conform to gender norms she might actually ‘be a boy’ (and vice versa).
I marched in the first women’s march in London the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration and was buoyed by the sea of women from every walk of life demonstrating against misogyny and for women’s autonomy, including by wearing knitted pink hats in response to Trump saying ‘just grab them by the pussy.’ I was surprised to hear later that some people found these displays ‘transphobic’ because they showed women as people having a vulva, uterus and ovaries. This didn’t seem right. I started to pay more attention to the idea of gender identity, and what it requires of us.
The thing that made me really pay attention was the attack on Maria MacLachlan in September 2017. As video footage showed, a women in her 60’s was kicked and punched by a group of what looked like young men in the midst of a small demonstration. This attack was celebrated by ‘trans rights activists’ on social media, and by organisations such as Action for Trans Health, who argued that beating up this woman was a legitimate part of their struggle because she was a ‘TERF’.
After being shocked by this display of male violence against women under the guise of a civil rights campaign I spent almost another year cautiously discussing the issue with friends, and on Mumsnet, reading analysis and listening to arguments by women such as Julie Bindel, Kathleen Stock, Jane Clare Jones, Rosa Freedman, Lily Maynard, Venice Allan, Posie Parker about the impact of transgender ideology on women’s rights, on lesbians, on vulnerable young people being told they are born in the wrong body and on freedom of speech.
I thought they were brave to speak up.
And I thought what does that make me, if I stay silent?
Taking the plunge on Twitter
I finally plucked up the courage to start talking about my thoughts on my personal Twitter account in August 2018. I have a few thousand followers, who tend to be people who use twitter for serious, nerdy, discussions about public policy, tax and economics (and often about injustices and barriers facing women around the world). I wrote:
I remember how nervous I felt pressing ‘post’ on these four dry, careful tweets.
And then nothing happened.
No one agreed with me. No one disagreed. No one attacked me and called me a TERF. No one retweeted and barely anyone ‘liked’. The issue of whether the legal category ‘woman’ should be completely redefined as an identity rather than a biological reality seemed altogether uninteresting to my social media community of argumentative, progressive policy wonks, academics and international development and tax experts.
I thought maybe I had been too conceptual, too high-level, not specific enough about my concerns. So I tried again a few days later. This time I tweeted the shocking news about Karen (Stephen) White, a rapist who was housed in a women’s prison and sexually assaulted female prisoners. Read the rest of this article here