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by Mandy Rhodes
08 May 2022
Comment: If you can’t define ‘woman,’ never mind use the actual word, then how do you fight for women?

Comment: If you can’t define ‘woman,’ never mind use the actual word, then how do you fight for women?

At a dismal point in our history, when politicians have been unable to answer the straightforward question of ‘what is a woman’, why should they, or anyone else, be in the least bit surprised when our fundamental right to have autonomy over our own bodies is under siege?

Abortion is rarely something a woman wears lightly but despite the legal right to have one, it has always felt like something we have been generously gifted. That it is on loan. That we still need to justify. We shouldn’t have to and yet here we are again, rehearsing old arguments for why we should have rights over who we are and what our bodies are allowed to do. For God’s sake, this is about being a woman.

The gradual but persistent dehumanising of women, the decoupling of our innate sex from our body parts; the insulting description of ‘breast feeders’, ‘menstruators’, ‘people with cervixes’ and ‘birthing bodies’; the disregard for our lived experiences of rape and violence, the reluctance to even acknowledge that our biology matters – all in some clumsy attempt to be inclusive of a tiny minority – who, incidentally, women have always given their support to, is all helping to successfully exclude the most oppressed majority of human beings from a basic human right.

If you can’t define ‘woman,’ never mind use the actual word when it comes to something as basic as raising the issue over our reproductive rights, then how do you campaign on behalf of women? How do you fight for women?

It's biology, stupid, and yet the thinly disguised anti-women campaigns rooted in false equivalents and fantasy land gobbledygook that have suffocated rational debate with bullying and intimidation and now prevent women from even being defined, has helped take us to where we are now. And it is Orwellian.

This is a place where, on the first anniversary of the death of the celebrated American judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a lifelong champion for women and their right to abortion, the civil rights organisation, the American Civil Liberties Union, took a famous quote of hers and altered the pronouns to fit with modern sensitivities around gender neutrality.

“The decision whether to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity ... When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”

A place where midwives in Scotland were [in error] being taught how to catheterise a penis during labour. Where their training module clearly stated how to deal with a trans woman [someone who had or was transitioning from being a biological man] giving birth, when that is entirely impossible.

A place where a black, working-class, gay, woman – a child of the Windrush generation – who has fought against male violence and sexual abuse all her life, is in court now suing the country’s most successful LGBT lobby organisation for victimisation against her for expressing the belief that biology matters.

A place let’s not forget, where former Labour leader Johann Lamont’s six-word amendment to the forensic services bill, which would allow for a rape victim to specify the sex of the person that intimately examined her, was attacked by a current Scottish Government minister as expressing a dogwhistle for transphobia.

This has been an escalating onslaught on women’s rights, the right even to own our own word

If you remove the word ‘woman’ from the discourse of equality, then we cannot speak as a sex class. We cannot rail against the abuses, the discrimination, the prejudice, the horrific number of deaths and the assaults. You can’t fight for what you can’t define.

It’s not hard to see the extension of why the rhetoric of gender ideology that has reduced being a woman to a feeling, has helped create an enabling environment where women’s rights are now being eroded.

And if simply existing as a biological woman is now a lightning rod for transphobia, then I’m done.

America is turning the clock back on hard-won rights. Abortion will no longer be a woman’s choice. And while the historic Roe v Wade judgement in the US which made abortion legal in 1973 may well have felt fragile at times, it was also a positive signal to the rest of the world that even in a country riven by small ‘c’ conservatism, where religious orthodoxy, and often oppressive patriarchy – think Trump – that even there, women had a right to autonomy over their own bodies.

Anyone who cares about women’s rights, about equality, will feel the bile rise at the news from America that women are so close to losing that most basic of rights, but it has also thrown into sharp relief the narcissism that prevents trans activists from seeing anything outside their own myopic view of the world.

This started with us being kind. Inclusive. Wanting everyone to live their best life and so little was done to challenge. But now, mention ‘women’s rights’ even in the context of abortion, and you are immediately accused of criticising ‘trans rights.’ Rights that aren’t specified, don’t yet exist, and that you never mentioned in the first place.

This is a woman who will not indulge in a lie about how she is defined when the cost of that indulgence is the turning back of the clock on women’s hard-won rights

Is it any wonder, against this backdrop, that some of us find it hard to separate the risks to women’s rights from the rise in rhetoric around gender ideology and the optics being so obviously shifted to see everything through the trans and non-binary kaleidoscope?

This has been part of the clear journey to our erasure, and no one should be surprised by that.

I have even heard people argue that there is no such thing as sex-based rights, that gender-critical feminists have somehow made it up to counter arguments about gender identity trumping biology – but what could be more based on your sex than the right for a woman to have an abortion?

This has been an escalating onslaught on women’s rights, the right even to own our own word, and if you couldn’t see it was, because your head was so far buried up the back end of the arguments around women being the enemy in a manufactured culture war around sex and gender, then you are part of the problem.

What is a woman? This woman is a woman that knows her biology matters and who refuses to be cowed by the bullies, misogynists and the wilfully ignorant. This is a woman who is angry that the core tenet of her feminism — that women are oppressed on the basis of reproduction – has been reduced to an historical anachronism.

This is a woman who believes in equality and human rights and will fight oppression wherever she sees it “until her dying breath”. But this is also a woman who will not indulge in a lie about how she is defined when the cost of that indulgence is the turning back of the clock on women’s hard-won rights. Who stands with me?


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Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - The SNP doesn't need another 'reset', it needs a complete rework.

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