Artillery Row

In defence of being shrill

My fight with James Max

I am one of those shrill voices. Literally. Turns out I can write CALM on my little piece of scrap paper all day long, but I still get worked up when talking about women’s rights and the erasure of our sex class in language and law.

You might think “erasure” is just one of those buzz words — overused and mis-applied, just like the “gaslighting” I mentioned in my TalkRadioTV call in with James Max.

But I think both are apt, and I’ll get to why later.

First I want to make clear what I was trying to get across: my thoughts on how we can leave the “toxic” bit of the debate behind and find a way of living with both my conviction that Sex Matters, and James Max’s belief that Gender Identity is important.

I am fully aware that other people disagree with me and I get it that they believe they have a “gender identity” and that it is very important to them. That’s fine by me!

We need to make a clear distinction between sex and gender identity

It’s a belief I don’t share, I don’t think there is an innate inner sense of “gender” in each of us that is independent of both our sex and our society’s gender norms & expectations but I can acknowledge and respect that other people feel passionately that they have a gender and that their gender is far more important than their (and anybody else’s) sex. I only wish that respect was more often also extended to my conviction that sex matters.

We’re getting nowhere if we’re just saying to one another that the other side is “wrong” or that their views are “offensive”. If we expect total submission to our views from anyone who currently doesn’t share them then this debate will carry on forever and lose none of its toxicity.

So what can we do?

I believe that for the two sides in the “gender debate” to find mutual acceptance and respect — and perhaps even solidarity — we need to make a clear distinction between sex and gender identity.

I am a woman. Not because I say so or because I identify as a woman but because my body is female and the word we use for adults of the female sex is “woman”. We use “mare”, “cow”, “sow”, “hen” etc. for adult female horses, cattle, pigs, and chickens and no, our ancestors did not just overlook the human version in favour of naming the class of people who want to wear ponytails.

And this is where gaslighting and erasure come in: If you think that male people who have a feminine gender identity ought to be considered as “women”, then say so and find some arguments to support your position. Don’t just shout in women’s faces that “transwomen are women”!

Having a female body has a huge impact on women’s lives

In your head “woman” may well mean anyone who appears or feels womanly but this is NOT the common usage of the word and if you pretend that it is you are, indeed, gaslighting women into accepting a re-definition of the word that turns our sex class into a mixed sex gender category — and that erases the concept “female human” in language and eventually in law.

If you are a man and you find yourself telling a woman that you know what a woman is and that she has it wrong then have a long hard look at yourself:

Male people are telling women that “some people with penises are what you are because it is us who get to define what a woman is, and your body is entirely irrelevant in the matter.”

That’s misogyny.

From menarche to menopause having a female body has a huge impact on women’s lives. We need to be able to talk about and advocate for us as a sex class. Female humans are distinct from all male humans regardless of gender identity. We have distinct experiences & needs. If “women” are a gender class then women’s issues such as reproductive health & choice are sidelined to the realm of “menstruators”, “cervix-havers” etc.

If sex is real — and most agree at least with that notion — and if we accept that sex sometimes matters, then people of the female sex deserve to be acknowledge, accepted and respected for who and what we are and this clearly requires that we have words we use for ourselves and ourselves only. I would argue that “woman” is taken.

If you want that word to refer to people of the feminine gender rather than to those who are of the female sex, then put your arguments to the test and if they’re any good we may end up finding a new word for adults of the female sex, say “gyn”.

Or, maybe it makes more sense to give a new word to the new concept: gender identity. Let’s say we refer to all people who have a feminine gender identity as “femis” and to those with a masculine one as “mascs”. (Better suggestions are more than welcome).

Then we have a clear distinction and we acknowledge and respect both sex and gender.

And then we can start having a debate that is not toxic but constructive. We can discuss where sex matters most and where gender rules supreme. Where trans inclusion can be achieved without sex erasure, and how fairness, privacy and safety can be ensured for all: for women & men, and for femis, mascs, enbies and all other genders.

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