Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe

Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine

Subscribe

Subscribe to Holyrood
How skewed is the debate on sex and gender that wearing suffragette colours is seen as provocative?

Women dressed as suffragettes demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament in 2021 | Credit: Alamy

How skewed is the debate on sex and gender that wearing suffragette colours is seen as provocative?

What is this contagion that has so infected our discourse that a woman wearing a suffragette-coloured scarf is ejected from a Scottish Parliament equalities committee – of all ironies – because the item of clothing was considered too political? 

Have our institutions become so captured that alarm bells would be triggered by a purple, white, and green striped scarf that represents so much about women’s hard-earned fight to be part of the political landscape?

How skewed has the debate about sex and gender become when feminists can be accused of appropriating the very colours that are so symbolic of their bloody fight for equality? 

How much more evidence is required about the regressive nature of an orthodoxy that has so engulfed our cultural mores and institutions than women concerned about the consequences of an evangelical adherence to a gender ideology that has already seen their very name erased from areas of social policy, including vital healthcare provision, being cast as a “hate group”?

This is not a great time to be a girl. Across the world, women’s rights are being trampled underfoot

And how diminished has our politics become when a woman MSP can claim to be an intersectional feminist when her feminism doesn’t appear to extend to another woman sitting quietly in the public gallery wearing a scarf bearing suffragette colours who is asked to leave?

Wearing such a scarf has now been equated to a transphobic dogwhistle. That is a disgrace that disrespects the thousands of women that fought and died for universal suffrage. And it should give pause for thought to the many cowardly politicians, some of whom have actual skin in this game, who have chosen to keep quiet.

Without the suffragettes, there would be no votes for women, no women sitting in parliament, no women’s voice speaking truth to power, and no women reminding men that the world does not belong to them.

This is the 21st century. How dare the memory of the suffragettes be traduced to a perceived provocation embodied within a scarf. 

We have spent a lot of time talking very selectively about human rights over the last few years as the arguments around trans rights have rapidly swamped political discourse and seemingly crushed intelligent argument.

Slogans like ‘trans women are women’ have been forcibly inculcated onto the nation’s psyche without leave for debate. But the most fundamental of rights, the right to universal suffrage, is one that should not be weaponised for the dubious purposes of one side of an argument in a toxic culture war that has been used, so evidently, to roll back progress for women.

The Presiding Officer has rightly apologised for the maladroit actions taken in the Scottish Parliament – more cock-up than conspiracy – and said that the woman was asked to leave in error. But the point is that this was an error facilitated by the way this whole issue has been deliberately framed, with feminists painted as the enemy.

Wearing such a scarf has now been equated to a transphobic dogwhistle. That is a disgrace that disrespects the thousands of women that fought and died for universal suffrage

This is not a great time to be a girl. Across the world, women’s rights are being trampled underfoot. In Iran, women are being sentenced to death for standing up for their rights. And while we look abroad and wring our hands, vexed by the bloody injustice, at the same time there are women in Scotland whose demand for existing rights not to be put at risk are, at best, ignored and at worst, dismissed as fascists.

The melodrama around the scarf is one thing. But there were many nonsensical moments in the committee meeting charged with voting on the 150+ amendments put forward at stage two of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, not least the overarching elephant in the room that so little will be changed by a committee that was stacked with politicians who had, in the main, already made their opinions crystal clear.

But shoehorning concerns raised about young people potentially making an ill-judged and lifelong decision about legally changing their sex into a class war in which anxieties about safekeeping were basically dismissed as middle-class pearl clutching, were among the most absurd. Child protection cuts across class. Predators prey on the vulnerable, not on their social status, and to dismiss this with some nakedly in-built bias of the middle classes and how you view them isn’t just intellectually bereft, it is damaging to children. 

Wanting to protect children from harm is not solely a middle-class preoccupation. To suggest otherwise is insulting to all caring working-class adults. And when slogans like “identity is not up for debate” is shouted with such zealotry, to drown out any questioning of that premise, the issue of how to protect children even from themselves is then lost. If we can’t discuss gender identity in the context of children rationally, then the risks of the unproven and experimental use of puberty blockers for gender dysphoria in young people get ignored.

All my professional life has been about asking questions. Much of that has focused on emerging social issues and exploring uncomfortable and disturbing patterns of behaviour. I was at the fore in terms of reporting child sexual abuse and understanding abusers. 

I can’t now put all that thirst for answers to one side for fear of being decried as “transphobic”. To want to know why so many girls now want to be boys, why so many kids with care experience are disproportionately represented in the numbers, why so many girls – a third – with autism or another neurodiverse condition – present for gender reassignment. That is not surely as simple as Patrick Harvie would have it, in one of the final conversations we ever had on the subject, because there are just more young people able to come out as trans. It would be remiss not to interrogate this much more robustly.

And it is because of a desire to protect children that Dr Hilary Cass has been charged with finding the right answers to caring for young people struggling with issues around gender in England. In Scotland, however, it seems questions, like colours, can solely a bigot make.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - Has Nicola Sturgeon finally woken up to the dangers of self-ID?

Categories

Society & Welfare

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Subscribe

Popular reads
Back to top