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by Mandy Rhodes
08 April 2024
JK Rowling's defence of women's rights is what real public service looks like

The Harry Potter author has used her wealth and power to call out the new Hate Crime Act | Alamy

JK Rowling's defence of women's rights is what real public service looks like

Scotland has hit the international headlines for all the wrong reasons and it’s all to do with hate – it seems we are the best wee, most hateful, country in the world. Roll out the welcome mat and don’t say you weren’t warned.

Within 24 hours of the new hate crime law being introduced, more than 3,000 hate crime reports had been logged with Police Scotland. And the irony is that the current first minister, who as justice secretary pushed through this ill-thought-out piece of legislation, is the one that finds himself as the main target of the most contentious parts of his own new law. Who would have guessed?

The complaints (all rejected) against Humza Yousaf reportedly all relate to his speech in Holyrood during a debate on racism following the death of George Floyd in America in which he listed how white the leadership was in all Scottish public institutions. It seems some can take offence at the truth.

But as the police have confirmed, being offended is not a crime. So jog on.

Now, woven into the confusion, there are those accused of spreading untruths and of exaggerating what the new law could do rather than what it will not. And the fact that Police Scotland will not arrest the author JK Rowling for social media posts, in which she plainly states that transwomen are men, is held up as evidence that lies were spread about what this hate crime law would cover. 

But with the legislators and law enforcers themselves tying themselves in knots misrepresenting their own law, there is also a wilful misrepresentation of the women who have put in the hard yards trying to make an already flawed piece of legislation less flawed.

Women like the former MSP Johann Lamont, who warned of the vexatious complaints that would focus on women who had raised concerns about transgender  being included in the legislation but not sex, and who, for her efforts, was accused of being a transphobic bigot.

I’m of an age where JK Rowling was nothing more to me than the author of my son’s favourite books. Harry Potter passed me by in a fug of slightly sleep-deprived bedtime storytelling. But she has since become a ‘shero’.

Women such as those from grassroots women’s organisations that were not listened to by government, like For Women Scotland and the heroic policy collective Murray, Blackburn, Mackenzie, who have been vilified for consistently arguing the case for good law-making.

Women know that the process is the punishment, and that the fear of being the subject of a complaint, and potentially having that placed on their record even when there is no substance to the charge, is as painful to them as being placed in the dock and at least getting to answer to spurious claims.

Women like JK Rowling, who has used her position to lead the charge in objecting to the way women were finding their rights simply erased or overridden because of an ideology creep that has so massively infected public policy, by way of a quiet revolution led by professional lobbyists, and fully captured government-funded organisations. Women like me who were dismissed and told their concerns were not valid. 

Women are used to fighting for equality. Even when the benefits might not be directly felt by them. This is no different. Just ask yourself why anyone would put themselves in front of this particular firing line. It’s brutal. 

And amid all of this, it’s amazing for me to think of the good that two of Scotland’s most powerful women, the then first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and JK Rowling, arguably one of the most famous, wealthy and influential women in the world, could have done together to change Scotland for the better and instead found themselves (one by political design and the other by necessity) on opposite sides of a dividing line when it came to issues of sex and gender.

Imagine if these two powerhouses had united in calls to address the discrimination, prejudice and hate that paralyses the progress of equality for women across the globe. Imagine the very different country we could now be living in if Sturgeon had put to one side the political differences she was perceived to have with JK Rowling, and they had used their combined firepower to change the world. 

I’m of an age where JK Rowling was nothing more to me than the author of my son’s favourite books. Harry Potter passed me by in a fug of slightly sleep-deprived bedtime storytelling. But she has since become a ‘shero’. 

She is using her power, position and great wealth to stand up for women who can’t stand up for themselves. And that, to me, is real public service.

Some people have attacked her for listing trans women in a series of social media posts and pointing out that they are actually men. They say it is unkind. Hateful. But they should take a reality check. She has done it to test the law, to be deliberately provocative. To do what she could on behalf of other women who do not have her sway but were alarmed by what this new law might mean for them. 

JK Rowling may weave children’s stories rooted in escapism, but she is not prepared to live out fantasy in real life. For too long women have done exactly that. To be kind, they have acquiesced to the idea that men could become women, that children could be born in the wrong body, that puberty blockers would harmlessly put growing up on pause, that male bodies pose no threat to female ones in sport, or that allowing men into spaces originally designated single-sex doesn’t open up risk to women who could find their safety, their dignity or even their beliefs compromised.

Calling a man a man is not abusive. It is not a slur. Man is the run-of-the-mill name for half the population. Just as woman is for the other half. It’s a dictionary definition. It’s a biological reality.

But if you buy into the fairytale that sex is not binary, that biology does not matter, that anyone can change their sex, and that a man can become a woman by simple declaration, then yes, I am sure you are outraged by the temerity of a woman like JK Rowling, whose everyday currency is weaving fantastical stories but who also happens to know the difference between fact and fiction. 

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Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - Fiona Hyslop: The feeling of unity is already palpable in the SNP.

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