Farewell to ma’ams

Many things in life are confusing. For example, you might only have seen the occasional tweet or article from one side or another of the trans-rights debate and not taken much interest, and then you log into Twitter one morning and people who style themselves as woke and inclusive are calling lesbian icon, Martina Navratilova, a bigot, and you think, “That’s really quite confusing”.

Very confused meme
I’ve helpfully overlaid 3 memes about confusion, to illustrate just how massively confusing this all is

Let me try to explain.

For most of human history women, as a class, have had a pretty shitty deal. They have been oppressed, they’ve been 2nd-class citizens, they’ve been property and, occasionally, they’ve been burned at the stake, even if they didn’t want to be.

This year, in the UK, we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of women being given the vote, which means that we figured out how to make heavier-than-air machines stay up, how mass distorts space and speed distorts time, and how to explain the fundamental building blocks of all matter before we figured out that maybe we should let half of the population have a say in how the world is governed.

The axis of oppression against women has never been that they have an irresistible urge to play with dolls, or that, left to their own devices, they will gravitate towards putting on a dress and bit of lippy, or that they love plucking their eyebrows and shaving their legs. It has always been that, physically, they are different to men, and without 4 inches of incorrigible wrinkle-skin dangling between your legs, why, you’re fit for nothing more than a little light sewing and popping out babies, nothing strenuous.

Since the whole graciously-granting-them-the-vote thing, things have been getting better, slowly, for women. Then, in the last half decade, a decision appears to have been made that they’re no longer allowed to organise themselves along the lines that have formed the reason for their oppression. The group ‘women’ has been extended to include two subgroups; trans-women and cis-women, and the rules have been rewritten to say that cis-women can have nothing, do nothing, say nothing and believe nothing that does not also include trans-women. Some things belong only to trans-women, but everything cis-women used to have, before they knew they were cis, now belongs to the group ‘Women’.

Last week, for example, someone got told off on Twitter because they compiled a list of 100 women murdered by men, and neglected to include any trans-women. That’s how little cis-women mean, they’re not even allowed to have their own violent deaths.

It’s not just violent death, of course, women’s organisations, women-only awards and short-lists, women’s sports teams, women-only spaces and women-only women must all open up to trans-women. They must acknowledge trans-women as not only belonging, but also as being a more oppressed group than women themselves. If you’re confused about how shutting up women for saying they’re oppressed proves that they’re not oppressed then why don’t you scroll back up and have another look at that meme picture?

Women, as a political class, are being erased, while being told that not allowing this to happen is bigotry. Women who point out that in sports, in politics, in debate, women are being represented by men are ‘TERFs’, who deserve to be no-platformed, hounded out of their jobs and, of course, abused.

This abuse is justified on the basis that these TERFs (which is much quicker to type than ‘uppity bitches who won’t believe what they’re told to’, so big time-saving there) want to erase trans-woman from existence and positively delight in them being so miserable that they kill themselves. So far none of the TERFs have actually said that, but you can just tell it’s what they’re thinking.

What the TERFs are saying are things like, “Is it a good idea to throw open all legal boundaries between all men and all women-only spaces?” and “Can we perhaps not make it illegal for women to centre themselves and have their own politics, collectives and biology?” and “Should we pause before giving long-term medication, with unknown side effects, to people who we don’t legally consider old enough to decide if they’d enjoy half a lager and a tattoo?”

Now to you and me those might sound like reasonable things to ask, and we might want to debate those issues, but we can’t, because trans-women’s existence is not up for debate…even though none of those debates are about trans-women’s existence.

Right, let’s just have another little look at that picture again.

The term ‘TERF’ itself is disputed. Those on the trans side of the argument say that its purely a descriptive term, being an acronym for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, while those on the gender-critical side say that it’s a term of abuse, on the flimsy evidence that it’s been used literally thousands of times in abusive messages, often with threats of violence directed towards stupid cis-women who think they’re just women. Although, to be fair, they do keep provocatively referring to themselves as women, refusing to adopt more inclusive monikers, such as ‘bleeder’, ‘non-man’, ‘menstruator’, ‘fanny-packer’ or ‘labian’, so maybe they’re bringing it on themselves.

Whether TERF is descriptive or abusive it is, at least, apt…because a turf-war is being fought. A ferocious battle over what a woman is, and who has the right to call themselves one. It is a battle that has aligned people into strange camps; the ‘progessives’ arm-in-arm with, and sharing the language of, the women-hating ranks of Men’s Rights Activists, Feminists finding support from the Religious Right.

All, ultimately, fighting over what it means to have, or lack, a penis.

To misquote Churchill, never have so many fought so furiously over so little.

This closes the introduction to WTF, and I hope it has been helpful. If you have any questions then why not ask them on Twitter, where you’ll quickly find the answer is that you’re a hateful bigot and deserve to die. If, like me, you’re not a woman (trans or otherwise) or a feminist (radical or mundane) then you may wish to watch from the sidelines. It’s easy not to get involved, to say nothing, to make no enemies, but maybe when you look at Twitter and see a cyclist, whose only claim to fame is winning a race for women, demanding that a tennis legend apologises to them you’ll think it’s time to say something.

I did.


13 thoughts on “Farewell to ma’ams

  1. Gosh. I have only ever been an ordinary woman. It has been a bit hard now and again when some dick head saw fit to undermine me, and sometimes I fell by the wayside because I didn’t know how to defend myself, or even understand why I should have to.

    But I am knocking on a bit now, and no longer really care. Such a pity that I didn’t feel like this 40 years ago. It might have been a better response.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What I find odd about the “trans women competing in women’s sport” debate is that sex-separation in sport probably has more to do with how professional sports developed historically than with feminism. Many sports have their origin in 19th century British public schools, which were inherently single-sex, and this sex-segregated mode of organisation became the model for all sports.

    (Radical) Feminists retrospectively justify this separation by arguing that in most sports, the average man would have a physical advantage over the average woman, but this just begs the question of why it’s appropriate to group individuals according to sex for the purpose of calculating these averages in the first place. Moreover, this argument assumes some means of quantifying physical advantage independently of sex — if such a measure is available why not use that to group competitors, rather than using sex as an imperfect proxy?

    In summary, I’d argue that the historical practice of sex-segregation in sports has more to do with the traditional social construction of gender roles than with freeing the female sex from oppression — this is why social conservatives and radical feminists often find themselves on the same side in these debates.


    • Sports are played all over the world, and have been around since long before the 19th century.

      More to the point: males have a well-documented competitive advantage over females in contests of physical strength and speed. This advantage goes well beyond weight class. It also goes beyond the effects of testosterone (though testosterone is part of it.)

      Males have greater muscle mass, longer bones, greater lung capacity, and more I’m not remembering right now. Bottom line: allowing males to compete as women would be the end of women’s sports.


  3. There’s a bit of a strawman argument at work here. There’s no denying that some trans activists behave in foolish and occasionally abusive ways online and offline. In part this is a reflection of campaigning tactics at work more widely in social justice movements (no platforming etc.)

    But I don’t think that’s sufficient grounds to dismiss their positions outright.

    I’m not really convinced that trans rights and women’s rights need be at odds with each other at all.


    • The positions being dismissed by the author are the positions discussed in the post.

      And there is no strawman here. Well-known trans activists, who are quoted in the mainstream, hold the positions excel pope describes here.

      I invite you to read them. And read Rachel McKinnon’s tweet exchange with Martina Navratilova.


  4. “Is it a good idea to throw open all legal boundaries between all men and all women-only spaces?”

    Is there, in current UK law, a positive right to “women-only spaces”?

    I was under the impression that the law tends to regard sex discrimination as a bad thing, and outlaws it other than in exceptional circumstances.


    • I can’t speak to UK law, but surely females and males have rights to privacy in the UK, and that would translate to sex-segregation in areas where they may be unclothed.

      Other kinds of sex-segregation may be a matter of principle rather than rights: all-women shortlists, for example. Whether or not you agree they should exist, the point is to compensate for disparity in political representation between females and males. Allowing males who “identify as” females to qualify would seem to undermine the point.


      • I don’t think “all-women spaces” typically are justified with reference to privacy rights in practice, and I’m not convinced the right to privacy “would translate to sex-segregation in areas where [women] may be unclothed”. Sex segregation doesn’t offer privacy, as it affords the individual no privacy from other women.

        Liked by 1 person

    • International human rights law states that women have the right to imprisonment separate from men. This law is already being flouted in the U.K. and women have been sexually abused by intact men who have been moved to the women’s estate.

      The Equality Act also allows sex segregation where it is justifiable, such as in rape crisis centres or women’s shelters, where some of the women (and their children) have been traumatised and benefit hugely from male-free spaces. Government funding is generally now only given if these women’s services give access to men who claim to be women. The pressure on these organisations is enormous, to the detriment of the women who no longer feel able to use them.


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