Picture credit: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Culture war, what is it good for?

Women will continue to battle for our rights

Last week saw the release of the Labour Party manifesto. Many women had anticipated this with a growing sense of dread. It delivered on that anticipation of doom most effectively.  

The impending dismissal of women’s concerns, however, was trialled earlier this week in an interview Keir Starmer gave to the Huffington Post. In this odd interview, Starmer seems less polished than usual, but if this were possible when discussing women’s rights, a tad more smug. If this was an informal chat in a cocktail bar you might say he got a little rum-confident. It is the media equivalent of him slurring, “I’ve got those blummin’ women wrapped round my little finger!” before holding up three fingers and face-planting into a bowl of Doritos.

Possibly Starmer, already with a giddy eye on his Manchester manifesto launch, buoyed by the opinion poll lead and emboldened by Sunak falling over his own shoelaces every five minutes, felt weary of the incessant demands of feminist women that he commit to the annoying task of listening to them. He declared instead that “the people of the UK” are “exhausted” by the political battles over issues such as trans rights.

I think Starmer was conveniently projecting his own exhaustion at being relentlessly quizzed on the meaning of the word woman, onto everyone else in the UK. To hear this, you’d think there was a cacophony of voters impressing their tiredness upon him,

“Please Keir, end this pesky woman thing, so that we can all go to bed. It’s half past “shut up dear” o’clock already!”

The article reported that Keir wanted to focus on “bringing people together rather than creating further division”. Who is Keir aiming to bring together? Women don’t want “bringing together” with men; that is rather the point and has been for more than a decade. We have been begging for this crucial division, especially at times when we are at our most vulnerable, such as when we are in prison, domestic violence refuges or hospitals, to name but a few. 

Sadly, Sir Keir had been dabbing “Omnipotence – the new fragrance for leaders” behind his ears in advance of Manifesto Day and declared in the interview that he would “bring an end to those controversies [over trans rights] on day one.”

On this blessed day, is Keir assuming that all the women who have spent years campaigning, speaking, writing and lobbying in expectation that they would retain rights necessary for a safe and fair existence, simply forget what they were doing and wander off home in a daze?  

He said:

I think people are exhausted by culture wars. My clear view is that the vast majority of the public in general in the UK are reasonable, tolerant people. Live and let live is a very British thing, and what culture wars do is force people into taking sides that they’re not instinctively inclined to do. And it’s exhausting because you’re constantly having a battle about this and a battle about that.

It seems unlikely that immediately a woman from one of the large organisations advocating for women’s rights, like Sex Matters, said to another, “Come on Maya, you’ve had your fun, probably time to get a proper job now or sign on. People are fed up.”

Are we to assume the “vast majority” of these overly tired people are not women who want rights according to their sex? Women wanting single-sex prison accommodation, for example, are in Keir’s depiction of society, the unreasonable minority and it’s very tiring for the reasonable people to consider them. Although I imagine if you are the woman having to keep your eye on the male rapist in your cell, that could be a bit draining too. 

Women are being cast as intolerant bullies in this Starmer-drawn landscape of female-imposed weariness. All the reasonable people want is peace. The “culture wars” have been long. Women have been putting culture guns to the tolerant people’s heads for too long and he will put an end to their irksome ways. The thing is, women are not a culture — the battle we fight is not for territory. Women are a sex, the female sex, and we fight for rights that we need when our bodies are the unfair focus of the opposite sex. 

The “this and that” Keir mentions are feminist battles over centuries against men’s continued determination to beat, rape, prostitute and murder us. Keir employs vague wording in the Labour manifesto — “we will no longer tolerate the violence against women and girls that stains our society” — conveniently avoiding the crucial point about who commits all this dirty violence. The word “male” is conspicuously absent whenever “violence against women” is mentioned in the 23,000-word list of promises but if you can’t name the specifics of the problem then you can’t solve it and that would bring Keir back to the terribly exhausting question “what is a woman?” 

Yet Labour can be clear that they will end only half of it. The manifesto states, “Our landmark mission to halve violence against women and girls in a decade will require a national effort.”

Half of a dreadful figure is not a bold enough aim. If there is a woman killed every three days by a man, a woman killed every 6 days is not more tolerable and taking a full decade to achieve this is unacceptable. The “national effort” required will really be required of men. They will need to stop raping, killing and beating women, by whatever state-enforced means, and yet they are not even explicitly named as perpetrators. 

When the manifesto arrived at the sticking points for women, Labour’s true weariness, on the subject of women’s rights, was revealed. They have bolted the door, turned off the lights and gone to bed, when they tell us:

So-called conversion therapy is abuse – there is no other word for it – so Labour will finally deliver a full trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, while protecting the freedom for people to explore their sexual orientation and gender identity.

This removes the ability to safeguard children who may be suffering significant issues such as the trauma from child sexual abuse, autism or confusion around sexuality. Labour will make it a requirement that these are not uncovered by therapeutic investigation and appropriate care provided. 

In a further betrayal of women the manifesto promised:

We will also modernise, simplify, and reform the intrusive and outdated gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove indignities for trans people who deserve recognition and acceptance; whilst retaining the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a specialist doctor, enabling access to the healthcare pathway.

Labour is proud of our Equality Act and the rights and protections it affords women; we will continue to support the implementation of its single-sex exceptions.

Labour has committed to even less protection for women, when trans-identifying men say that they are also women and it will be easier for them to do so. Concurrently, they will do nothing to clarify the meaning of “sex” in the Equality Act. The exemptions provided in the Act are not being utilised as they were intended, or as frequently as they should be, to exclude men from female services. A lazy and cowardly Labour will do nothing to ensure that the situation improves and to be brutally — yet truthfully — short, it will be easier for men to lie about what sex they are, and just as hard for women as before, to access services safe from those lies. 

There is no wonder Keir trialled his narrative of a weary majority beforehand, embedding the view that this is what reasonable, tolerant, exhausted people want and need. Women demanding had to be disarmed, tarnished with the stain of being difficult and trouble-causing and blocking the peaceful route forward to a utopian land where everyone just … enjoys losing rights according to their sex. 

Labour have listened to virtually nothing women have been saying. I don’t accept this picture of a weary nation and think instead it is a Labour Party determined to ignore the needs of women and the concerns they have about children and to wed themselves to gender ideology. 

Moving ahead to day one of “The End of Pesky Women” I wonder what Keir imagines will happen. Perhaps at 4.30 pm exactly the miracle of women becoming silent women will occur; it seems a good time for women to wobble out of our various misguided, unreasonable groups, blinking in the sunlight, confused as to how we got it all so very wrong and made all the “other people” so exhausted.  Perhaps there will be a party and women will clutch a plate of quiche and crisps, declaring to burn their rebellious t-shirts, ribbons, scarves and tea towels. Perhaps someone will be on the phone shouting over the music, “Scrap the ashtrays order, Kellie-Jay, it’s over love.”

I wonder why Keir hasn’t realised that women have huge roots of organisation which have grown and strengthened, both within and outside his Party. He hasn’t realised that burgeoning groups of dissenting women inhabit SEEN networks throughout the UK. We always have some new trouble up our sleeve, from the long-established Woman’s Place UK, Labour Women’s Declaration on to the newer “Women’s Rights Network”,  women are gathering under our many banners. Whilst others may be tired of us, we are anything but sleepy. 

Keir declaring “Day One” is a version of the weak stance “end of”, when arguing your case; a surprising move for an erstwhile lawyer. 

Similarly, the use of “Full stop!”, which is only the end of a story when the author herself has finished it. Women are the authors of our future, not men like Keir. Starmer. I think he is going to be very tired by the end of this particular book. 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover