Artillery Row

How the government’s maternity bill seeks to deny the reality of sex

The avoidance of the word “woman” in relation to pregnancy is part of a wider assault on women’s rights from transgender activists

I doubt Douglas Hurd remembers a bolshy teenager heckling him in 1999. Shortly prior to my ignoble and premature departure from the sixth form, my school took a trip to listen to him speak. Hurd had recently moved from the House of Commons to the Lords and was seeking to inspire young people with a talk about the joys of parliamentary democracy. With the burning sense of self-righteous fervour that is every adolescent’s right, I shouted to the newly appointed Lord: “Why do we pretend to live in a democracy when laws are subject to the whims of unelected old, white, rich men?”

Without missing a beat and somewhat drily, Lord Hurd replied that there were plenty of old, white rich men in the commons too. Everyone laughed; my teacher gave me an icy stare and I tried to pretend not to be embarrassed, while flushing deep crimson.

Over twenty years on from my heckle and watching yesterday’s debate on the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill I have never been more thankful that the House of Lords exists. A slew of largely pale, male and stale peers similar to those I had sneered at, stood up and spoke powerfully in defence of women’s rights.

Transgender ideology has piggy-backed off the work of feminism

The bill itself is narrow in scope, long overdue and under-scrutinised. Hastily pushed through as emergency legislation, it has been hiked up the agenda to ensure Attorney General Suella Braverman is able to take maternity leave. It is astounding that in 2021 the possibility that a woman in such a senior position might get pregnant had not been considered or planned for. One might consider it evidence of sexism, but of course the notion of “sex” itself is now considered offensive to those who prefer to identify as genders outside of the binary.

In the course of debating the maternity bill in the House of Commons, the word “woman” was used some three-hundred times, and yet it doesn’t appear in the legislation once; instead, the draft bill refers to “pregnant people”. It was Baroness (Sheila) Noakes in the House of Lords who picked-up the gauntlet, tabling a “motion to regret” while stating her support for the aims of the bill she reminded government that it is only women who get pregnant. Baroness Noakes explained that the avoidance of the word “woman” is part of a wider assault on women’s rights from transgender activists who seek to deny the reality of sex. Labour peer Lord (Philip) Hunt went further, powerfully arguing that at a local level people are “frightened to speak out” for fear of being labelled transphobic and that the “government itself has remained silent… because the government has got a lot of this philosophy embedded within its advisory system”.

The use of so-called “gender neutral” language dates back some fourteen years. It was on International Women’s Day in 2007 when the then Leader of the Commons Jack Straw MP announced that legislation would be drafted to “take a form which achieves gender-neutral drafting so far as it is practicable”. Far from denying the female-centric reality of motherhood, his aim was laudable, believing that the practice of referring to male as the default in legislation reinforced “historic gender stereotypes” and made women invisible.

Feminists have long argued that language is political

Feminists have long argued that language is political and that it can have a role in not only reflecting, but also in reifying patriarchal norms. Of course, there are always those who delight in pointing out that several hundred years ago the word “man” simply meant “human being”, often the same group who huff and puff about “political correctness gone mad”. But there is an undeniable logic in referring to “fire fighters” not “firemen”, “police officers” not “policemen” and “astronauts” not “spacemen”. These linguistic adjustments do not obscure reality, they more accurately describe a world where women can join the police, fire service or even go into space. Importantly, they send a cultural message that one can perform such roles while in possession of a vulva and breasts. In this respect sex-neutral language represents an expansion of possibilities whilst being more accurate than traditional terms.

Transgender ideology has piggy-backed off the work of feminism, but rather than communicating a shared reality what is demanded is that language be made into a tool to validate subjective identities. While many females who identify as men (transmen) claim to be offended by the word “woman”, it seems they are apparently not upset by the process of giving birth. A case in point is Guardian journalist and transgender activist Freddy McConnell. Freddy gave birth after having medical procedures to look stereotypically “male” and then lost a case at the High Court to be recognised as a “father”. In the mouths of transgender activists words such as “mother”, “father”, “female” and “male” exist as markers of faith; showing that one believes men have babies and women have penises. This extremist nonsense is now at risk of being written into the statue because our elected representatives are seemingly too stupid or scared to present a challenge.

Tellingly it is always women who are reduced to biological descriptors

It is an astounding testament to the power of transgender extremists that decades of work to reduce shame around women’s bodies risks being undone, “woman” itself is now a rude word. Women are increasingly referred to as “menstruators”, “cervix-havers” and “pregnant people” by official bodies, including some NHS Trusts and providers of single-sex services. Tellingly it is always women who are reduced to biological descriptors; one can imagine the response if a bill was introduced which referred to men as “ejaculators” or “scrotum-havers”. Unlike men, women are culturally expected to concede our comfort and rights in the service of “being kind”. Were it acceptable to say so this might be described as “sexism”.

Yesterday, a succession of brave men and women said no to the demands of transgender extremists. They did so because they can; because they do not have to please a fickle electorate. To date the few members of parliament who have spoken out on this issue, such as David Davies and Rosie Duffield, have faced continuous harassment from the public in addition to hostility from within their own parties. But as Baroness Noakes reminded all parliamentarians, “There is nothing incorrect or illegal about the use of the word ‘woman’ in relation to pregnancy.”

My sixteen-year-old self would doubtless be horrified, but today I find myself indebted to the brave peers who stood up for women’s rights against the whinging wokerati. I sometimes wonder what beliefs I will be forced to reconsider next; I know I will be truly estranged from my younger self when I find myself rooting for the royals.

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