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by Mandy Rhodes
19 September 2021
Time to Speak Up

Time to Speak Up

We are at peak narcissism when a young gay man – a recent SNP candidate – tweets disparagingly (on the eve of his own wedding) about the hundreds of women outside the Scottish Parliament protesting about the perceived risks to them of the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. And casually asks, where was the outrage about abusive men before the GRA?

The implication was clear because we’ve heard it before. These were women hijacking an equality cause and cloaking it in imaginary fears, thereby stoking up acrimony and disguising their own bigotry. 

But my god, how tin-eared can you really be to ignore centuries’ worth of women’s outrage – outrage that has seen us fight tooth and nail for equality, including the right for gay men, like him, to marry a same-sex partner? 

How more obvious do you need your male privilege to be when you look at feminists and instead of seeing women that have championed equality all their lives, you see bigots?

Outrage has been the rocket fuel to women’s lives for all our lifetimes. It has given us the momentum to simply carry on through. To keep on fighting. To stay alive. 

Where were we? 

We were pounding the streets to reclaim the night. We were chained to fences at Greenham Common, calling for nuclear weapons to be removed for the sake of the babies yet to be born.

We were marching to make abortion legal and to stop the backstreet butchery of women.  

We were calling for safe spaces for women, battered and bruised by men who thought it was their right to be abusive.

We were setting up refuges; volunteering in rape crisis centres, counselling victims of sexual assault; calling for legislation that enshrined equality; demanding equal pay and the rights for all parents – men and women – to spend time with their newborns.

We were fighting for equal marriage; campaigning for the repeal of Section 28.

We were there, shoulder to shoulder with our lesbian sisters and our gay male friends, fighting the ugly discrimination suffered by so many during an epidemic dubbed the ‘gay plague’. 

And we were there, way back there, throwing ourselves under horses, being jailed, and force fed, simply for calling for the right for women to vote.

We were also there spearheading a clamour for Scotland to find solutions to Scotland’s problems. We were there, cajoling others to work in cooperation and consensus, to establish a Scottish Parliament where women might find more of a voice.

Women have always been there. The sticking plaster, patching up victims of the patriarchy; holding the banners, singing the songs, screaming at the top of our voices for the safety of all women and girls; and calling for equality to be extended to all.

Where were we? We were fighting for you. Always to the fore, fighting for the equality of others. Putting the needs of others, as we always do, well before our own.

Where were we? We were being outraged. And we still are.

So, don’t dare tell us now that we don’t understand what we are talking about, that out concerns are not valid, that we have been radicalised, and that we need to go educate ourselves.

And certainly don’t patronise us as you enjoy the spoils of the equality that we helped win for you.

What’s happening now is one of the most divisive and deeply disingenuous campaigns ever had in the name of equality – and then some.

Lines have been drawn, false narratives constructed, Aunt Sallies set up, and the outrage we are seeing from women is the culmination of a conspiracy of near political silence by MSPs who clung to a hope that legislation would pass without notice – or disappear into the long grass as Covid took hold.

Where were we? We were fighting for you. Always to the fore, fighting for the equality of others. Putting the needs of others, as we always do, well before our own.

Theirs is an abdication of leadership that, consequently, has let complex and nuanced questions of human rights arise, and how those rights, for different groups, can butt up against each other and conflict, and in so doing become both reduced and traduced to a fictitious and vexatious choice of being either pro- or anti-trans.

And in so doing, women have been told to be quiet and men have taken a self-protective and self-imposed vow of silence, choosing to believe they have no dog in this fight that affects us all.

It’s led us to a place where a Labour politician like Rosie Duffield can receive death threats and be banned from her own party conference on the grounds of safety, for simply saying that only women have cervixes.

Scottish Government ministers will tell me, privately, that this is the most toxic issue they have ever experienced but won’t speak up for fear of reprisal. And it’s led us to a place where some have said to me it could become decision time for them. Not about a bill, but about their political future.

This is not where we should be.

And while the First Minister dismisses women’s concerns as not valid, calls “shame on you” at a Tory MSP who raises questions on behalf of women protesting, and then doubles down as she proclaims that the proposed GRA reforms, most notably self-ID, “does not change in any way, shape or form any legal protections that women have”, she is using doublespeak. 

If anyone can simply self-identify as a woman, obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate without any need for medical gate-keeping and be, to all intents and purposes, then considered a ‘woman’ in the eyes of the law, self-evidently, it shifts the dial on the legal protections that biological women surely have. 

And it’s incumbent on the First Minister to answer the question of how it does not.


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