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Artillery Row

Men are not mothers

The media pretence is insulting to women

A huge row erupted this week as a trans-identified man named Mika Minio-Paluello was filmed by ITV’s News at Ten programme — for a slot on the rising costs of water as part of the cost of living crisis. During the segment, which aired on Wednesday 28th June,  Minio-Paluello, the Climate and Industry Lead for the TUC, stated that rising prices are “tough if you’re a mum like me, already struggling to get the things that my kid needs”. 

The segment was predictably, grossly offensive to women for a number of reasons. Women generally don’t care if a man wears a dress and earrings and discusses the economy, but they do care if a national television company, with an average nightly audience of 1.7 million viewers, selects a man to speak on behalf of struggling mothers, whilst claiming he actually is one. This looks deliberately provocative of ITV, who cannot possibly be unaware of the current debate around gender identity and the resulting clash with women’s rights. 

Many women found the news item to be yet another example of institutional gaslighting

Many women found the news item to be yet another example of institutional gaslighting on the undeniable reality of female bodies. Minio-Paluello was not vox-popped in the street — a film crew went to his home. A researcher chose him to speak on an issue disproportionately affecting poorer women and their children, and would have known he was a man identifying as a woman, because it would be impossible not to know. Further, an editor allowed the claim that he is a mother to be included in the segment knowing this is a fiction and that a man cannot give birth. Only female people can be the mother of a child. It is cruelty to children to involve them in the adult self-indulgences of gender identity. 

Men are not mothers, whatever they choose to identify as. ITV should have had regard for the women watching who are actually struggling to feed their children, and respected them sufficiently not to subject them to a man role-playing their experience on a major news programme. Mika Minio-Paulello’s elaborate act of motherly domesticity perhaps offered him a sense of validation, but what it offered to struggling women was an added insult to their plight as the less financially solvent members of society in the current crisis. 

In his Climate and Industry Lead role at the TUC, Minio-Paulello probably has a pretty decent salary. TUC policy officers are paid in excess of £52,000. As the Women’s Budget Group state in their report “The Cost Crisis”, “women, with their lower earnings and savings, are coming to this crisis from a disadvantaged financial position”. For researchers and producers at ITV to choose a comparatively well-paid male to opine on the cost-of-living crisis and resulting issues facing women, as though he belongs to the category of both “mother” and “struggling”, is hugely insulting on the part of ITV. Presumably if the section had been discussing disabled people financially affected, then a man without a disability would quickly have been dismissed from consideration as a relevant interviewee?

Staged news segments, where people are filmed at home doing domestic tasks, will often seem wooden and unrealistic. Many, including myself, made fun of aspects of the actions filmed. Minio-Paluello, wearing a skirt and dangly earrings, was filmed washing dishes under the tap and taking a comically small washing up bowl to the washing machine where he loaded just four or five items into the machine. Nevertheless, it was doubly insulting to see the choice of female stereotype, doing dishes and laundry, being compounded by the performance of them by a man. One of the many objections of feminist women critical of gender identity is the way trans-identified men rush to perpetuate the female stereotypes  feminist women have long sought to overthrow. 

Trans activists who challenged women objecting to the news item online, focused on the discussion of how women do laundry, and called us sexist — rather than, which is significantly more difficult for them to address — how women are the only humans capable of producing children. 

Rosie Duffield MP came under great attack for her polite, yet truthful tweet on the matter where she stated simply, “I am sure this is a lovely, intelligent and decent human being. This was an important piece. This is not however a struggling ‘mother’.” Stella Creasy MP, in a crafty criticism of Duffield tweeted, “Still don’t think MPs should police what parents can or can’t call their children”.

Creasy appears to sidestep the actual issue of a man claiming to be a mother in front of a huge television audience, to present Duffield, who didn’t mention children at all, as an oppressor of children. This is a sly reframing when the focus for most dissenting women is the fiction of a man calling himself a mother. This was a man in his own home, but he was also on national television telling what is in effect a lie. The personal is political.

Rosie Duffield told me:

If washing up while wearing nail varnish and dangly earrings are activities that qualify anyone to call themselves a mother, then does that make me a farmer every time I pull on my wellies? Joking aside, this leads to yet another assessment from Twitter’s collective philosophers about gender stereotypes and the clash with biological reality. Feminists of course assert that mothers are more than the functions of our womb, and of course some women’s reproductive systems don’t function as they would wish. But only a biological woman is capable of having and using those parts, if able and choosing to. This remains the only legal and globally understood definition of the word ‘mother’.

As many commentators, including the TUC, clamour to condemn the “abuse” of Mika Minio-Paluello online, few seem to have regard for the struggling mother who has still not been heard. Telling a man that he isn’t a mother isn’t abuse. Telling a man that he uses too much water to do laundry isn’t abuse. Being truthful about the reality of human reproduction isn’t abusive. 

Asking women to quietly collude with a man performing motherhood, by calling them bigots and transphobes if they object to the appropriation of their experience, is a betrayal of women, mothers and children. We all know where children come from, because we all came from a woman.  

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