Oh look, Humpty Dumpty again

Humpty Dumpty cartoon

Who speaks, who listens, and who is heard?

I didn’t watch the Depp/Heard circus. I get that anyone involved in an alcohol-soaked, dysfunctional relationship behaves badly. I also get that Depp was violent and abusive. That had already been proved beyond reasonable doubt in a previous court hearing, so I take the new US court ruling as:

Man was abusive. Woman is punished for talking about it.

I have been involved in the campaign for women’s sex-based rights for some years now. It is quite clear to me that the men who have got behind the ‘poor ol Johnny Depp’ campaign are, like the ‘transwomen are women’ gender-identity-trumps-sex movement, riding along on the misogynistic backlash to the #metoo movement.

Where women are heard, too many people just experience it as noise, rather than a legitimate part of the public conversation. Where women manage to be heard it is generally because they are saying something the world is happy to hear – such as criticising other women. Where women are challenging men, and are listened to, panic arises. Mostly, women’s voices are simply ignored until a man says what they were saying (vide Ricky Gervais). Crazy example perhaps, but the way this always works was in my mind when I saw Jon Pike’s admirable and useful essay in the May 2022 issue of The Critic…

Stella Creasey pic - header of Critic article linked to below
Link to article: Language, truth and logic, by Jon Pike

Main points in this article:  In declaring that ‘a transwoman is an adult human female’, Stella Creasey, and others of her opinion, are indulging in ‘conceptual engineering’ – that is, joining a movement intent on changing the meaning of the words women have always used to talk about themselves.

When I read the article, and saw Pike’s reference to the Humpty Dumpty bit of Through the Looking Glass, I was reminded that Chandra Masoliver, of the Hastings Online Times (HOT) used that self-same image when she interviewed me about reactions to the women’s campaign back in 2019. In fact, she wasn’t the first – lots of women have used that image, when pointing out that it’s really hard for us to get our message across if people keep insisting that the meanings of the words we use have to change. Did anyone notice?

Humpty Dumpty cartoon
Link to HOT article ‘How can we debate the undebated?’ by Chandra Masoliver

Main points of the article: Masoliver sums up some of the changing ideas around sex and gender from her own point of view, then quotes Tony Benn:

I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralise them.

 – and then she discusses with me the obstacles we have faced in trying to facilitate a public discussion for women about how changing ideas – and proposed law changes – about sex and gender affect women.

There is an extraordinary circularity to this story for me, at the moment. I do think Pike’s article is good, and I’m glad it’s out there because it will get attention, but because Pike does get noticed, and we didn’t, the ‘conceptual engineers’ will go on saying that his Critic article is a right-wing, establishment, regressive piece, and go on ignoring the masses of material that’s coming out of women’s groups (they justify ignoring women’s groups on the grounds that someone told them they are indulging in ‘hate speech’).

Three years ago, when we did the HOT interview, I had recently stepped down as a local Labour Party officer, largely because as a woman determined to help women speak and be heard on the sex and gender issue, the flack I was receiving was likely to get in the way of election campaigning. Yes, it was read as me being controversial.

At that time, the Director of a local LGBTQ+ organisation, like many across the country in similar roles, was prone to taking offence at women discussing their rights, and declaring women who did so ’unfit for office’ if they were active in the Labour Party, the council or their unions. Just like the many instances of this attitude up and down the country, ‘hate speech’ or ‘anti-trans sentiments’ are implied, but evidence is rarely forthcoming. Once such declarations have been made, those women continue to find themselves slandered and harried by various people popping up repeating those accusations.

We have battles going on in my town right now (see link to ‘who speaks, who listens…’ at the bottom left of this page) and I see those battles going on across the nation, that suggest we’ve got no further – we are still at…

Some women: sisters, look, there’s a conflict of rights and a mass of confusion here, we need to talk about it.

Stonewall and various LGBTQ+ groups: Transphobes! Don’t listen to them! They are refusing to use the words the way we want them used! This is hate speech!! This is an attack on trans people!!!

Some women: we don’t hate anyone – though we are getting rather frustrated that every time we find a way of expressing our concerns, you add what we say to your list of illegal words.

Stonewall and various LGBTQ+ groups: Transphobes! Terfs!! There were 14 illegal words in your last press release!!!

Women: oh FFS!

Stonewall and various LGBTQ+ groups, plus hundreds of misogynists: look at that! Hate speech! Hate speeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!

For our society at large, we have some serious work to do to build respect for women, and increase some people’s ability to let women speak, and some other people’s to cope with what they seem to see as the unendurable trauma of being disagreed with, especially by women – and, to finish where I started, I think a good starting point would be to recognise that many of these issues are part of a neurotic society-wide reaction to women’s voices being heard with such resounding effect during #metoo


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