Andrew Neil (Photo by Lorne Thomson/Getty Images)

In-fighting on the brink of triumph

Andrew Neil should have been welcomed to the gender critical cause

Artillery Row

It’s been a good few months for gender critical feminists. Back in 2021 Sir Keir Starmer told Andrew Marr that “it’s not right” to say that only women have cervixes. Last week he U-turned on this, finally managing to answer that tricky political question “what is a woman?” and reversing Labour’s position on self-ID. Recognising the changing mood of the electorate and the party, Wes Streeting has followed suit and offered an apology to Rosie Duffield for how she’s been treated. On the other side of the aisle, Kemi Badenoch is currently pursuing a change to the Equality Act that will clarify that its legal protections deal specifically with biological sex.

It seems clear the tide is turning towards gender critical feminism, in huge part thanks to the work done by campaigners like Rosie Duffield, Kathleen Stock and Hadley Freeman in the face of aggressive and sometimes violent opposition.

In another big win, this Friday Andrew Neil broke his relative silence on the issue when he quote tweeted a video of a detransitioner who’d suffered a double mastectomy, with the words, “This is heartbreaking. It is barbaric. What have we become?”

Neil never attacked the women who have been speaking out

Neil is undeniably a considerable asset to any political campaign. He’s in possession of 1.2 million twitter followers, hosts a show on Channel 4 and is Chairman of the Spectator.

Unsurprisingly, once Neil announced his position, he fielded a huge amount of abuse. He’s been branded a TERF and, by some twitter users with a strong sense of perspective, an “extreme right-wing fashy”. More surprising, though, is that much of the backlash Neil faced has been friendly fire. He was asked where he’d been for the last few years and accused of “[tuning] out women”.

To clarify, Neil was never on the “wrong” side of this issue. He never attacked or criticised the women who have been speaking out about this. His publication, the Spectator, has offered refuge to many feminists thrown out of other publications, most prominently Suzanne Moore whose colleagues at the Guardian denounced her. Neil had simply not personally commented on the topic until he saw what he deemed a highly distressing video, representing an ideology which had been allowed to go far too far — maiming and indoctrinating young women before they’re able to reasonably consent.

It’s not surprising that Neil, a journalist primarily preoccupied with economic questions, hadn’t previously voiced his views on the gender question. There’s been limited balanced coverage from major groups like the BBC and Sky. As such, until recently, it’s been genuinely very possible to view the problem as “fringe” and miss the gravity of the situation.

To borrow Neil’s own description, it has been “bloody in the trenches” for gender critical feminists. Maya Forstater lost her job after being unfairly discriminated against due to her beliefs. Stock was hounded out of her position at Sussex University by trans rights activists. Hadley Freeman and Suzanne Moore both lost their home at the Guardian. Some women have faced visits by the police for simply expressing their views. Numerous accounts were banned from Twitter under the old regime for alleged “transphobia”. Great credit must be given to the women who risked their livelihoods in order to be vocal on this issue.

The left have long fallen foul of this sort of in-fighting

However, Neil’s comments did absolutely nothing to detract from the valiant work done by these activists. His own conversion was prompted by a powerful speech made by a young female campaigner. It is simply a fact that as any movement gathers steam, it will also gain supporters. It is ludicrous to attack these people for not being with you from the start. Neil has not tried to make himself a figurehead of TERF-ism; he’s not claimed credit for any of its success — he’s simply voiced support.

The left have long fallen foul of this sort of in-fighting. See the Labour Party’s inability to focus on the opposition, far more content to attack one another, or consider the Twitter vegans who busy themselves with attacking pescetarians for still eating animal products. In fact, constant goalpost-shifting and an obsession with ideological purity might be exactly what brought about the downfall of trans activism.

If gender critical feminism is to survive, it must welcome like minded and sensible support. Making gender critical feminism the preserve of left wing women puts us at risk of the same ideological litmus testing that tripped up trans ideology.

Neil is accustomed to weathering the kind of negativity he’s seen in the last few days. He won’t reverse his position and will likely continue to advocate for his beliefs regardless of the criticism he receives. However, if gender critical feminists teach men keen to lend their support that they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t, then fewer and fewer people will speak out. We must welcome Neil’s comments as a sign of the success of the women who have made sacrifices to advocate against extreme trans activism, and encourage future supporters to join him.

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