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by Mandy Rhodes
30 June 2024
Women won't wheesht - Keir Starmer needs to listen

Author JK Rowling has been highly critical of Keir Starmer on gender reform | Alamy

Women won't wheesht - Keir Starmer needs to listen

Who would Adam and Eve it. All this progress on sex equality and yet it still takes a man to say what women have been saying for years for our next prime minister to finally wake up and say what a woman is.

“I agree with Tony.” Four little words said in deference to another powerful man that gave some women a chink of hope that at last the Labour Party was coming out of its torpor and bringing some sense to the issue of sex and gender.

And while I was happy to play my small part by being the lassie that had the tenacity to ask the former leader of the Labour Party the daft laddie question about what is a woman, it’s unforgivable that in a debate as toxic as this, partly because men like him have failed to engage in difficult issues, that Keir Starmer had to credit Tony Blair for being his guiding light rather than women in his own party, like Rosie Duffield, who were thrown to the wolves to appease the trans activists and gender ideologues when Starmer said she was wrong to say only a woman can have a cervix. This, he said, was something that shouldn’t be said in modern-day Britain – as if material facts change with the zeitgeist.

Starmer had previously claimed that 99.9 per cent of women did not have a penis. David Lammy, the future foreign secretary, effectively said that a person could grow a cervix. And a backbencher, Dawn Butler, declared that a baby is born without a sex. 

But let’s consider the difference here between Tony Blair saying that ‘a man has a penis and a woman has a vagina’, and wonder why Starmer could agree with Blair’s words but not with Duffield’s. And regardless of whether you think he didn’t think through the implied misogyny, the fact is the Labour Party enters this final general election week with one of the most powerful women in the world, JK Rowling, a previous party donor, a doughty feminist, and a victim – along with Duffield – of murder and rape threats, wondering whether Starmer has a problem with women. 

That’s a very stupid and unnecessary place for him to be in.

And having at last agreed with the biological truth set out by Blair (and many centuries of science), Labour then, predictably, tied itself in knots by pledging in its manifesto to implement two things which fundamentally seem incompatible.

Simplifying the process for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate by removing important safeguards to one effectively reliant on the say-so of a man to one doctor that he feels he is a woman – whilst also retaining the protections women have to keep single-sex spaces – for a single sex. That conundrum bedevils this issue. And politically you can try and ride those two horses simultaneously, but the immutability of sex will always cause you to fall.

This feels like Groundhog Day for those of us north of the border already battle-scarred. Why do politicians like Starmer still not understand that by moving the goalposts to make it easier for a man to declare himself a woman, you inevitably increase the risks to women by opening that single-sex security door just a little bit wider to let more men through?

It’s not rocket science and Harriet Harman, once the Mother (or Person) of the House, can be as “baffled” as she likes but the net effect of watering down the legal protections for female-only services puts women at risk and erodes their pre-existing rights. 

The Labour Party enters this final general election week with one of the most powerful women in the world, JK Rowling, wondering whether Starmer has a problem with women. 

And Labour can repeat all they like a proud record on women’s rights. They can point to the primacy with which women’s rights are upheld and to women’s issues in their manifesto. They can cite their passing of the 2010 Equality Act and boast about equal pay legislation. They can even hark back to Barbara Castle. But right now, the party is all over the place on even its legal understanding of what it is to be a woman, never mind on the biology. And that definition ultimately impacts the historic legislation that they passed which created exemptions to exclude even those who had legally changed sex by obtaining a GRC from single-sex spaces.

However, a judgement by the Scottish courts in 2022 ruled that ‘sex’, for the purpose of the Equality Act, was not limited to biological sex but also included those who had a GRC – and an appeal on that is currently waiting to be heard in the Supreme Court. For Labour to pretend that this is settled with an outstanding legal case, and that they can guarantee the retention of single-sex spaces for biological women whilst also opening up the category of people who may be able to obtain a GRC, is just fantasy.

If Labour wants to be heard on this, it needs to accept the pain that has been caused to women like Rosie Duffield in speaking up and that its own muddled messages on sex and gender have helped fuel the hate. And also that self-ID was always an attack not just on women’s rights, but on biology, science, and material reality and it needs to end, emphatically, any consideration of gender self-ID, however that is packaged up, as a public policy. 

Accepting you may have got this wrong can be humbling, but remember this: to every politician and so-called ‘ally’ who told me, ‘I’m not going there’ or were just glad to be leaving politics before it became a real issue, to those that didn’t stand with worried women, who dismissed concerns as not valid or as bigoted, who celebrated as young people were used as medical guinea pigs, this has arguably already helped take down two first ministers, tarnished a third, and now hangs over the next PM.

Women are not a fringe issue and women like JK Rowling are right to question where to put their trust come 4 July. They have seen their views disregarded, ignored, and not sought on issues as sensitive to them as rapists being put into women’s prisons. They have seen healthcare reduce us to breast feeders, birth parents, cervix holders and even redefined as ‘cis’ to accommodate a tiny group of people who are trans. This has all been done without asking our permission.

And while the whole trans rights campaign is littered with simplistic but ultimately meaningless slogans – like ‘love is love’ and ‘trans women are women’ – the for or against nature of the rhetoric has helped fuel a polarised debate and given the likes of Labour luvvy David Tennant tacit permission to call for the elimination of a black female politician and for her to ‘shut up’.

Well, we will not wheesht and Starmer should really listen.

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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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