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by Mandy Rhodes
16 January 2022
Editor's Column: The Blame Game

Editor's Column: The Blame Game

Twitter can be a strange and discombobulating place: a place where you voluntarily go to basically bang your head up against a brick wall; a polarised environment where people may imagine they gather to have rational discussion, but where real debate is lost given the lack of nuance, detail, and context; where opinions and views get mired by myth, misinterpretation, and insult, and all get filtered through a limit of 280 characters, leaving little room for error but plenty of space for being destroyed for making one. 

Never has that been truer than for the whole toxic ballyhoo that has engulfed the proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

And if anyone hoped the new year would bring greater rationality to this vexatious question, that optimism has been soundly squashed.

Almost everything in Scottish politics is currently viewed either through the constitutional lens or where someone is perceived to be on the GRA reforms, specifically self-ID for transgender people.

Sometimes those positions coincide or can be forced to fit, creating artificial sides, of them and us, of pro or anti. And even though no one is ever quite sure what those positions might even mean, they are assumed to be polar opposites and treated as such. 

It is sucking the life out of normal discourse for fear of saying the wrong thing and silencing those with elected political authority to speak on our behalf. Simultaneously, it is condemning experts either as biased or as having an agenda; demolishing longstanding relations; putting a spin on almost everything that gets said; and therefore, forcing a paralysis on any vestige of hope for a clearly informed debate.

And with the GRA reform bill likely to be presented to parliament in the next few weeks or months, that situation will likely only get worse.

One only needs to look at the recent Twitter feeds of MSP Karen Adam, who faced death threats for simply stating the bald truth that ‘paedophiles and predators’ walk among us – their normality acting as their perfect disguise; or of former MSP, Andy Wightman, for coming under concerted and blistering attack for simply posting an appeal for paid work; or Judy Murray who, rather bizarrely, was told by an SNP councillor, in a now deleted tweet, that she had no expertise in commenting on whether trans women had an unfair competitive advantage in the sport that she coaches, loves, and for which she has provided Scotland with a rather famous tennis-playing son, to see that the GRA is the common subtext here and how unhealthy that has really become. 

And everything becomes fuel to the fire, a weapon to beat one side or the other. 

A newspaper report earlier this month about a 100 per cent rise in transgender hate crime over a six-year period from 48 recorded incidents in 2014 to 96 incidents in 2020 rightly saw politicians decry the rise. Any increase in crimes rooted in bigotry has no place in modern-day Scotland.

But to then frame your response to that increase by implicitly pointing the finger of blame not squarely at the perpetrators, who are in the main (surprise, surprise) men, but at women for raising concerns about the risks of self-ID – that is what is reprehensible.

But let’s talk about violence against women because this is at the core. Hate rooted in misogyny, which of course is currently not seen as an aggravating factor in crimes committed against women in Scotland.

Well, last year, across our kind and tolerant nation, the total number of reported rapes and attempted rapes increased by more than a third, to 640 cases between just April and June alone –  while the number of sexual assaults rose by 45 percent to 1,197 cases in the same quarterly period. These are eye-watering numbers.

Yet, do I see any of the usual suspects in the whole ‘women are transphobes’ contingent attempting to argue that them telling women to wheesht on the potential risks to their safety by the introduction of self-ID has helped fire up the misogynists to use their fists and their penises to punish women for their temerity in speaking out? Of course not. But then women are used to living with men’s double standards. 

And in this we have become the literal punchbags in a culture war that has been wilfully shaped into a pro- or anti-trans debate. That’s not what this is. This was always about the safety of women. And you can try to gaslight women. You can assert that sex is trumped by gender identity. You can even assert [wrongly] that biological sex does not matter, even when it comes to issues like FGM, sex trafficking, or childbirth.

And you can try and blame women for the rise in transphobia and the incidents of hate crime committed, in the main, by men, but your contradictions will find you out and the bottom line is that when it comes to VAW, male abusers do walk among us, and they do not wear a badge announcing what their intentions might be. 

Karen Adam was right, predators, whoever they are, are people, and we shouldn’t dehumanise them by calling them monsters. But by that same token, we must surely explicitly acknowledge that self-ID by any man to call himself a woman carries with it real risks of bad actors getting through the carefully constructed safety nets that already afford such flimsy protections for the women that they were designed to protect.

This is not about trans women. It was never about trans women. It is, and always was, about violent men. But you can’t address male violence against women unless you explicitly acknowledge that the biggest indicator of who those perpetrators might be is their ‘sex’.

And if you ignore that in your clumsy efforts to be inclusive, then the very fundamental arguments for protecting women are lost. Yes, we need to reset the tone of this debate. But that is not done by blaming the most oppressed group in society for the attacks on any other oppressed minority.

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