Labour’s NEC now have to decide what the party rules are about women….. BOOOOOM! It looks like the end of the world for sisterhood. I’ve never been in this situation before, with the young ones staring across at the older ones in horror, receiving stares of bafflement in return; and two tribes with members of all ages and classes looking across at each other in shock and disgust.
I went to a women’s meeting at the weekend. It was the first time I’d been in a large roomful of women, gathered for discussion, since this whole gender revolution/battle went mainstream in the UK. I’ve had plenty of discussions in twos and threes in cafes, and been in plenty of minor skirmishes online, most of which were turned from debates to battles by men piling in all too eager to shout ‘bigot’ at women. That’s not to say the men have all gone mad. There are plenty of groups of men similarly divided, and staring at each other in horror, bafflement, shock and disgust. It’s just that, being a women, I was rather more taken aback by the men shouting at women – women they hardly know – men who don’t generally shout.
But enough of men. Several women have looked at me lately and asked, ‘why oh why is this so aggressive? Whatever happened to sisterhood in adversity?’ Well maybe the sisterhood never was that dependable – but it is very rare, in my experience at least, for such antagonism (online) and inability to speak (in public, in the world) to break out amongst women. At this weekend’s meeting, the final pieces fell into place for me, and I saw an old enemy: an enemy I was on the other side of, last time it came to brew bile in my life. It’s called the generation gap.
I can’t explain this from all angles because I know being nearly 60 better than I remember being 16, and I’m not going to be super-polite because I’m trying to explain and distinguish between *feelings*, more than facts, here – but perhaps people of different ages would like to comment and give the missing perspectives…?
The old looking at the young
We’ve seen our children and grandchildren grow up in an age that hurls gender issues at them like nuclear bombs – whether it’s retailers throwing out ever more extreme versions of toys for boys and toys for girls, or lifestyle vendors trying to pull ever more and ever younger people into the capital-driven body image trap – you need these products, this gym membership, this music, these films, games, identity markers…. giveusyourmoney giveusyourmoney! – all in a huge maelstrom of internet-sourced information, communications and simulations which barely existed when we were young. For us, the outside world mostly came from books or a couple of hours of incredibly simplistic (looking back) TV in the evenings. That doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the information has changed – but the amount. The overwhelming reams of information…. We feel sorry for the young, we feel they must have been blasted into some sort of emotional overdrive – but we really have very little idea how they feel.
We see them emerging from schools that teach gender identity theory under the advice of one group founded by parents who’ve transitioned their kids and seem desperate for vindication and another about which there are dark rumours of corporate healthcare funding, and we’re highly suspicious that the kids are being sold down the line for others’ gain, so we’re angry and don’t quite trust the version of sex and gender the kids talk to us about – don’t trust that it’s really their own, unforced opinion.
Our 20th century trans people
I hope it’s not illegal to say this but in the late twentieth century, we had transsexual women and we had gender-benders and our experience of them was very different.
Transsexual women were quite unusual but when they did turn up, they were usually people who’d re-created themselves from being gentle men (not gentlemen necessarily) who seemed consumed by a desire to live like our aunties – they generally made quite a good job of it, and women did tend to accept them and sort of look after them. I say that because I recognise there was sometimes some discomfort, it didn’t always immediately work out as a sisterhood but the pressures weren’t so high so people got there by trial and error. Women maybe didn’t really believe they were women, but pretended they did, and that worked, until they got used to each other, became friends and didn’t worry about it.
Gender-benders are the people we think of now, when we cry ‘what the hell went wrong!’ Back then, we were totally confident that sex was a matter of biology – we are mammals, mammals come in two types – male and female – with the occasional anomaly but basically, in two types. Both types could be highly sexed or less so, gay or straight, and all sorts of permutations – but still basically male or female. We were equally confident that gender was a load of boring old stereotypes about how men and women respectively ‘should’ behave. Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, it became increasingly easy – and a heck of a lot of fun – to defy those stereotypes. We didn’t need surgery, we didn’t need hormones – ‘boys will be girls and girls will be boys’ they sang – and they did, and it was fun. Now, as Miranda Yardley joked, ‘being a trannie used to be fun but now it’s all whining and moaning’.
Our 21st century trans people
That was a joke – do I need to point out that it’s not really fair to accuse stranded people of whining and moaning? I probably do – it’s not fair. They’ve left the estate of men and have hit opposition to their presence in the estate of women. Of course they’re distressed and angry. But she expressed a real feeling, and it shed light on something that needed airing. That’s what jokes are for. She had efficiently flagged up the difference between our ‘old style’ transsexuals, and what we’re dealing with now.
But, when white, middle class, wealthy men in their forties and fifties decide to jump the tracks, re-present as women, kick in the door of every women’s space, declare themselves the most oppressed group ever (including metaphorical and linguistic doors – if we don’t immediately call ourselves ‘cis’ women so they can have the word ‘woman’, they will suffer unbelievably loudly). We get a bit annoyed.
And we remember another joke that we really didn’t think was funny: we look back at the 20th century films and TV comedies, that seemed designed almost entirely for boring middle aged male actors to prance around in women’s clothes and be delighted by themselves, and we think we flippin well aren’t having them in our spaces, thank you. And we feel very sorry for our old-style transsexual women, who I currently imagine hiding behind their sofas waiting for the shouting to die down (that includes people who’ve transitioned more recently, but in what we think of as ‘the old way’.)
The young looking at the old
It’s not so simple in the eyes of the young. They see ‘gender identity’ as something that exists independently within each individual, and may or may not ‘match’ their biological sex. They see it as essential to their mental health that boys who feel this way must be allowed to live according to female stereotypes, and vice versa. They see gender as a psychological multiplex. (I think – I’ll just go and look up ‘multiplex’…. no, that appears to be a kind of cinema but anyway – a big confusing thing that can throw out conflicting messages, so they’ve invented ‘gender fluidity’). They see anyone who demands that they stand by their biological sex as being cruel and repressive to those who have a different ‘gender identity’.
We say okay, but until they come across a mature autogynephiliac in a position of power blocking their path and telling them he ‘feels like a woman’ they’ll think we’re crazy old bigots who can’t face change and so miss the point.
Their trans people
When ‘radical’ feminists object to self-declared transwomen demanding access to women’s spaces, officer roles and other provisions, they are doing so partly because of a lifetime’s experience of male voices dominating over female ones in shared spaces, which they say is due to the way male children are brought up, and encouraged to forge ahead, knocking out any competition that gets in their way.
This objection really does not apply to youngsters who’ve started transitioning, or planned to, amongst their familiar peers of both sexes, before maturity. This whole piece of writing is full of caricatures and over-simplifications, because I’m trying to identify trends and feelings, not individual people so I’m not going to go any further on young transwomen. That’s something for young people to do.
The feminists looking at the mainstreamers
Feminists are incensed by the prefix ‘cis’, especially when applied to themselves. The very heart and soul of radical feminism is that they reject the gender they are born into because they believe it to be a construct designed to keep women down – and ‘cis’ means ‘identifying with the gender assigned to you at birth’. They are also the most vociferous objectors to gender-identity teaching in schools. The other vital tenet of feminism is that girls be encouraged from an early age to have confidence that they can be mathematicians, train-drivers, rugby players, lovers of other women – they can be anything, wear anything, carry themselves and express themselves how they wish – and still be successful as women. And boys can do vice-versa. And that it’s essential that some do, so that we break the limitations that stereotypical gender-roles place on us.
So when ‘Gender Intelligence’ people go into schools and give kids girls’ and boys’ activities to see which are the other sort ‘really’, feminists tear their hair out, and mothers are terrified that their kids are being ushered into the gates of hell. Especially if they suspect their kids are making ‘transgender choices’ of toys because they are actually gay or lesbian, or maybe on the spectrum, or even just ‘going through a phase’.
I tried to cunningly demonstrate the other thing feminists are incandescent with rage over by leaving a glaring gap in the first 1500 words of this essay. I haven’t said a single word about transmen. Because most arguments I’ve heard or taken part in on this topic rarely or never mention transmen. They, according to feminists, were brought up as girls, and therefore have imbibed the training that genderisation gives girls – keep quiet about your (perceived) failings and inappropriate features. Solve them yourself privately then go get on with your lives. Men’s problems are more interesting. There is also a suspicion that men – and the new-style transwomen – never really believe transmen count as men. They seem to manage to see them as ‘other’ and therefore ignorable, just like they see women in the ‘big’ debates.
Mainstreamers looking at feminists
This is another one that I’ll have to be cheeky and flippant about because I’ve never really been a member of ‘mainstream’ anything so I’m not qualified but I think I’m seeing this: I think many women are fed up of being told they ‘don’t understand’ or they’re ‘transphobic’ or ‘bigoted’ because, although they never really believed transsexuals were women, they coped perfectly well and took them into their clubs and women’s spaces and all the rest of it, thank you so much.
These women are shocked and appalled by feminists denying the poor transsexuals and all the more distressed because they can’t really express their feelings now without letting those trans people know that they were only pretending, to be nice. And being such nice people themselves, they have never, ever had an experience like being called all manner of insulting things by men and by young people and then, after they’re reduced to distressed silence, told loud and clear at meetings and all over social media and the press, to stop bullying transwomen. So – bags of mainstream female passive-aggressive distress with nowhere to vent except women’s spaces… which are suddenly inhabited by a new kind of people. Where are women supposed to go, to be safe to talk about their anxieties and distress, coming as it does straight after the exposure of the #metoo campaign, in a row in which men are allowed to shout at women, and allowed to declare themselves women and join the women’s support groups?
Also, until India Willoughby really made it PENETRATE, many of them hadn’t thought about it that much and are only just catching up – only just realising that more than a few of these transgender people who’ve stormed in and made their demands actually haven’t had ‘bottom surgery’ and are expecting to turn up in the gym and the golf club changing rooms waving their ‘lady-dick’ around along with their oh-so-male sense of entitlement. Only just realising that their grandchildren are in danger of being led down a path from which there is likely no return – that hormones and puberty blockers make irreversible changes, that there may be no next generation.
But surely, these women are thinking, surely … I can’t be a ‘terf’? A trans-exclusionary radical feminist? I don’t want to deny my old transsexual friend and I’m certainly not a radical feminist!
So everyone looks at the politicians and the Trades Union leaders for help.
Everyone looks at the politicians and TU leaders
And they, not to put too fine a point on it, say, oh fuck I think this may be the hottest potato ever. Who can we least afford to piss off, the generation of women currently at the height of their professions and influence, or (gulp) The Young? And anyway, what are these laws and rules that we made? Did we really think about what ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ meant when we wrote them, or about the fact that different kinds of people attached different meanings to those words? Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck. And there is going to be an election soon.
Labour’s governing body, the NEC meet to sort it all out. They make a statement, they withdraw their statement, what now, they talk to their lawyers…?
…. and don’t tell me the left are always divided. You can bet your bottom dollar (or just your bottom, if you like) the other parties are having the same panic, but they are even less open and democratic than Labour, so you can’t hear it going on.
Sisters are looking at each other
…. as I write, two women who are most definitely from what have been construed as ‘the opposite camps’ are discussing this in a most enlightening way on my Facebook page, despite having to ignore various aggressive interlocutions by men – so come on sisters – a few little misunderstandings to work out. What do you reckon, if we start now, can we sort it out and still get the washing up done before bedtime? What? Your generation don’t do washing up? Oh well, how gappy can we get – you seem to think putting stuff in the machine and getting it out again is a task worth mentioning. Open a bottle then, and let’s get down to it…