Authenticity & empathy: Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010, is the founder and editor Feminist Current, Canada’s leading feminist website and has published work in numerous national and international publications.

This is the text of the speech she gave at the 22nd meeting of Woman’s Place UK.

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Picture by Lily Maynard

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity lately. We’re currently living in a culture wherein authenticity has been traded in for fakery. We support and reward virtue signalling and punish those who are real, those who tell the truth, those with integrity, those who insist on making political arguments based on critical thinking and what is right, rational, and ethical, instead of based on what is politically correct or popular.

I have a rather overzealous commitment to authenticity, which I think has played a sizable role in my insistence on pushing back against gender identity ideology and legislation. I know I have friends, or acquaintances, or friends of friends, or random internet followers with self righteous opinions who think maybe I should just back off of this. Or who claim I’m being ‘mean’ or unempathetic, because I continue to operate in reality rather than the fantasy land we’re told is the new normal, wherein black is white, up is down, and men are women.

But I see no empathy for women and girls on the part of trans activists, that is to say, those pushing gender identity ideology and legislation. What I see is bullying, threats, ostracization, and a misogynist backlash against the feminist movement and much of the work it’s accomplished over years.

I see no empathy for women who are now being forced to compete against male athletes in sport, essentially rendering women’s sport nonexistant, as they can no longer compete on fair ground, if forced to compete against men. I see no empathy for the female athletes speaking out against this reprehensible trend —  instead they’re being smeared and threatened. I see no empathy for the lesbians being bullied right out of their own events and communities, as the LGBTQxyz+++ whatever movement does nothing to support them, and in fact seems instead to support the men pushing them around and hurling verbal abuse at them, simply for asserting that lesbians are females who are attracted to other females, not heterosexual men interested in playing around with lipstick.

We held an event in Vancouver earlier this month, addressing the issue of gender identity and kids, and our venue — the Croatian Cultural Centre — received so many threats they had to file a police report, hire their own security, and bring in the Vancouver Police Department to keep protesters off the property. They, for once, didn’t blame us — women, feminists — for the threats of violence sent their way, and rather asked, with disbelief, how it was us the trans activists were accusing of being ‘hateful’, while simultaneously verbally abusing and threatening violence against the venue’s staff.

Somewhere between 150 and 200 protesters showed up, and stood outside with signs saying things like, “Support trans youth”, “Love and Solidarity”, “Love trans kids”, “be careful who you hate, it might be someone you love” and “love wins.”

All this branding around “love” has been incredibly successful, of course. We — women fighting for women’s rights, people fighting for the truth, those of us who insist on acknowledging that biology is real, that females and males are real things, and that, no, there is no such thing as a “female penis” —have been painted as hateful, intolerant, and bigoted, despite the fact that we are the only ones engaging (or trying to engage in) respectful, civil, rational debate and discussion, and being shut down over and over again.

Despite the fact that WE are the ones concerned about male violence against women and how gender identity ideology and legislation will hurt women, as well as kids, who are now being sent down a path towards hormones and surgery that will destroy their bodies permanently, simply because they don’t conform to sexist gender stereotypes, it is trans activists who have positioned themselves as caring and politically correct, and us as cruel and intolerant.

As I was leaving the venue after that event, the stragglers screamed at me that I had blood on my hands. Which of course I do not, and which, of course, is incredibly ironic considering how many times I’ve been told I should be murdered on account of my belief that you can’t change sex, and that it is not possible to be ‘born in the wrong body.’

I see no empathy in trans activism for the girls who will lose scholarships and opportunities to boys who can easily beat them in athletic competitions.

I see no empathy for women and girls who don’t feel comfortable with naked men in their change rooms at the pool. I see no empathy for youth being put on hormones that will have a lasting impact on them, including permanent sterilization, all to accommodate adults who don’t want to see trans ideology questioned under any circumstances.

I see no empathy for the women and their children who will have nowhere to turn if their local transition house is defunded on account of a women-only policy.

I see no empathy for Kristi Hanna, a Toronto woman and survivor of sexual assault, who had leave her room at Palmerston house, a shelter for recovering addicts, because she was made to share a room with a man, and did not feel safe.

I see no empathy for the 14 female estheticians who were asked to give a male a brazilian bikini wax, then dragged to court when they declined, saying they only offered the service to women.

I see no empathy for the girls allegedly predated on by this man, who is being protected by our very liberal, very progressive society that’s choosing to put male feelings and desires above all else, under the guise of ‘inclusion’, and thanks to trans activism.

Women and girls are being told they may not have boundaries. That they may not say ‘no’ to men. And this is what we are told it means to ‘choose love’. This is what we are being told is ‘feminism’.

Trans activism says women may not define their own bodies as female. That we may not have our own rights, services, and spaces, that ‘exclude’ men. It says gender stereotypes are real and innate, but the female body is a social construction. It says that ‘woman’ is based only on adherence to or an affinity towards femininity, something feminism has fought against for years.

So much of what women fought for over the past century is being rolled back, and progressives are insisting we all shut up and take it, because it’s ‘nice’, and of course, women must always be ‘nice’, even if it means putting our lives, autonomy, safety, opinions, and rights aside.

NOTHING about the trans movement is progressive and nothing about it is feminist.

I brought up authenticity earlier on, partly because I am sick to death of this social media based culture wherein we put forth personas we believe our audience will like, modeling perfect faces, lives, and thoughts, which I find incredibly boring and depressing, but also because I see this devaluing of authenticity as having an incredibly destructive impact on political discourse, and certainly it’s manifested itself powerfully in the trans movement.

I don’t believe that, aside from a few exceptionally delusional or troubled people, a majority of the population believes it’s possible to change sex. I don’t believe that all these so called progressives look at a man we call him ‘she’, and believe he is literally a woman. I don’t believe all these people claiming ‘love wins’ and insisting women be more ‘empathetic’ as they give up all their rights and spaces, while these activists spout vile, hateful insults and threats at us, are really very loving at all.

I think people are not telling the truth. I think they are repeating mantras and going along with ideas and policies in order to appease their Facebook friends. I think they value social status a lot, and are willing to give up ethics and truth in order to be liked. And I think it’s pathetic. I think that these people are throwing women under the bus and even selling themselves out in the process, knowing that they’re spouting lies for virtual cookies and using us all to fake politics.

And I refuse to be used as some kind of stepping stool for empty headed, cowardly hipsters — these extremely privileged people who have fetishized oppression, but have no idea what marginalized groups actually face and deal with on a daily basis, because certainly it’s not ‘misgendering’ that is keeping people poor and vulnerable — who can’t be bothered to read, listen, or think before announcing, boldly, that women with actual politics, who actually understand history, and who are  bold enough to take a stand against actual bigotry and oppression should be silenced, punched, or even killed.

The wrong side of history is an embarrassing place to be.

But unfortunately I worry that, by the time these people realize how much damage they’ve caused by going along with such a destructive trend, it will be too late. What does give me hope is all of you. This massive and growing movement of people standing up and saying ‘no’, we won’t take this silently and sitting down. This groundswell of people insisting on telling the truth, despite the fact that we lose friends, jobs, social status, and sometimes safety, for doing so.

And the more we keep doing it, the more will join us.

Meghan Murphy

20th May 2019

Watch the film of Meghan speaking at #WPUKLondon

Thanks to Lily Maynard for the pictures.

 

If you cannot define women, then you cannot defend them 

On May 25th councillor Sarah Field spoke at a meeting in Leeds which was the first U.K. discussion of The Declaration of Sex Based Rights. The Declaration re-affirms that women’s global human rights are based upon sex. 

Good afternoon everyone and welcome.

I’d like to thank everyone here for coming today, our panel and the Leeds Spinners for inviting me to Chair.

Our brilliant panel of academics will be speaking today about the Declaration of Sex Based Rights. But by way of introduction I am going to talk a little bit about Leeds and why I’m here.

So, I just want to start off by thanking the many women on the Mumsnet Feminism boards. You are a constant strength and inspiration. 

About three years ago, not long after I was first elected, I was contacted by a woman in Leeds, for advice. Her six year old daughter had been verbally attacked and then subjected to a violent outburst by a 17 year old male who had been allowed to join a local girls group as a helper. This was because he said he identified as a female. What had this child done? She had asked him if he was a boy. And then this six year old girl had been made to stand alone in front of the entire group and apologise to him.

And I couldn’t get my head around this. So I began to do some research. And this was how I found my way to gender critical thinking and radical feminism.
 

And these are the following statements I’d like to make:

Every single person on the planet is unique. And I don’t care what they wear. And I don’t care who they love or have sex with, as long as they are consenting adults.

There is no such thing as living as a woman. We are women. And it is our female biology which makes us women. It is our sex. And biological sex is observable in every single cell in our bodies: it is a physical, material and biological fact. And our sex is what makes us a class. Our sex which makes us uniquely vulnerable to male violence. Our sex which means we bear the entire burden of reproductive labour. The structural oppression which women face as a class is because of their sex. And that is why all women need legal recourse to separate and sex segregated spaces.

It is simply not ethical to categorise males as females based on their subjective feelings. To do so means the female sex no longer has legal protections or legal meaning and is instead reduced to destructive, regressive gender stereotyping.

If you cannot define women, then you cannot defend them.

Which brings me to Leeds City Council, which famously prevented a meeting here last year to discuss changes to the Gender Recognition Act. When the WPUK meeting was cancelled I read the email from a Labour Councillor and then I read the flurry of replies and actions that not once asked for clarification or any other viewpoints – just this blind acceptance of a hateful narrative – and it became clear to me that it’s become a virtue to dismiss, intimidate and silence women. 

I stand with my lesbian sisters

That meeting was to discuss proposed changes to legislation and the government’s consultation. Its purpose was not to tell Trans people what is best for them, but to tell politicians and law makers what is best for women. The vast majority of those who ask questions about Self-ID are lifelong left leaning, are lesbians, trade unionists, LGB allies and of all faiths and none. These accusations we face – transphobes, bigots, TERFs, religious fundamentalists, hate preachers – are utter nonsense. And I’ve had enough. And I must say I absolutely refute in the strongest terms any accusations of homophobia against gender critical women. A huge number of them are lesbians. And I stand with my lesbian sisters. Just as I’ve always done for years of solidarity with the LGB community. And since the woke brigade of word salad identity politics seems to love a good cliché, I’ll throw in a mention of my magnificent gay best friend and godfather to both my children.

Leeds City Council has brought in Self-Identification. Anyone can change their sex, or “gender marker” as they call it, across all council services and departments by completing a short online form.

When I asked, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), for the Equality Impact Assessments I was told they didn’t do any. When I asked, under FOI, how this might impact sex segregated services and spaces I was told Leeds City Council does not have any such spaces or services. When I asked, under FOI, for a comprehensive list of women’s and men’s clothes, as cross dressing is specifically defined in council policy as a protected characteristic, I was told no such list exists. When asked to define a woman, they said no such definition exists.

So to be clear: men in this city can access a woman’s changing facility, toilet, leisure facility or support group or service – anywhere they are vulnerable, traumatised, undressed or asleep – because men might at some point feel like they are something which the council says is indefinable, but might mean he once wore something which may or may not be something a woman might also wear.

Well, women fought for those spaces and they are not this council’s to give away.

It is absurd, it is dangerous and millions of women across the country are saying we have had enough. You cannot identify into an oppressed class because you cannot identify out of an oppressed class. And women are uniquely oppressed across the planet: reproductive health and autonomy, Female Genital Mutilation, violence, rape, child marriage, no right to vote, death in childbirth, post-natal illness, denied access to education, lower wages, chemical contraception, sex trafficking, surrogacy, pornography, prostitution and objectification.

I’ve had women in prisons and post-prison services in Leeds who have contacted me in fear and despair because they are confined with men who threaten them with rape, assault them, repeatedly expose their so called female penises and taunt them about playing the system and flushing their hormones down the toilet. 

We need statistics on women

Our statistics will be skewed and we will lose a tool of analysis that provides us with the ability to challenge the very inequalities for which sex based provisions and quotas were created.

And of course there is a wider underbelly of misogyny in Leeds. The so called managed zone of prostituted, emaciated and addicted women is our flagship. In the last few months I’ve visited Holbeck twice, once at night where I observed several men out on the street openly watching pornography in their cars as women stumbled to them to be used and discarded for a fiver. During the day I was approached by punters three times in 10 minutes while simply standing by a car for some fresh air at 2pm. We are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds so men can buy the addicted bodies of the most vulnerable women in the city. Men know what a woman is in Holbeck.

I’m often asked how I would feel if I was born in the wrong body. And I say, I’ve been feeling like that every single day for as long as I can remember. You only have to go into a shop, turn on the TV, open a magazine, click on the internet and women are assaulted with GET A BIKINI BODY, 12 WEEKS UNTIL YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY BODY, GET THE BODY YOU DREAM OF, THE BODY OF SOMEONE 20 YEARS YOUNGER, THE BODY YOU DESERVE. Botox, surgery, hair removal, Photoshop, permanent makeup, designer vagina. We get it.

I don’t think all men are rapists. I don’t think all men are intrinsically violent, creepy or degenerate. God knows I love my dad and my brother and my dear nine-year-old son. But 98% of sexual violence is committed by men. And there is no way to tell the good ones from the bad ones. There never will be. That’s why we need our spaces and services and boundaries, for our privacy, our dignity and our safety. It’s why we need to preserve the social norms which generally prevent men from entering our spaces and preserve our confidence to challenge men who do so. Bad men will do anything to gain access to women and girls. That’s why every institution in the world attracts those who will use power and access to abuse us. If they do it in schools, the care system, churches and families then they will sure as hell do it in prisons, toilets, refuges and changing rooms. They already are.

In terms of protecting females from a significant minority of dangerous males, these reasons don’t cease to operate when males self-identify as women. And self-identification removes any gatekeeping, safeguarding or requirement for any man to do anything other than complete a cursory administrative process via an online form.

I’m truly sorry for any man who feels imprisoned and tortured by masculinity. But that is something for men to deconstruct, to dismantle and to overthrow. And there are men doing it. There are transsexuals and cross dressers and allies against the male stereotypes which damage everyone. But it is not the moral duty of women to facilitate that. If your feminism prioritises the internal identifications of men over the material conditions of women then you are not a feminist. In a world of structural and systematic oppression, and an epidemic of male violence, we owe it to women and to the legacy of every feminist who has fought before us, to stand for ourselves.
Thank you. 

The most vibrant feminist meeting of the year

Thanks to Lily Maynard for the pic.

Our meeting on Monday 20th May has certainly had a big impact. Lots of women who were there or who have heard about it have been in touch to say how positive and confident it’s made them feel to talk more freely about the importance of sex based rights.

Helen Lewis wrote in the New Statesman:

“The packed hall felt like the birth, or rebirth, of something. A feminism unafraid to talk about the female body. A rejection of the extremes of identity politics. And – just as radically – a movement that happens in the real world rather than purely online.”

You can read the whole article here.

Ros Sitwell in the Morning Star wrote a report which gives a flavour of the speeches from Julie Bindel, Selina Todd, Maya Forstater and Meghan Murphy. We’ll be posting the videos of these shortly.

In the meantime you can listen to Kiri Tunks, one of our co-founders, who recorded a podcast which you can download here for the women led volunteer organisation Filia.

Inspired, motivated, and ready to speak out

Kim Thomas was at our London meeting A Woman’s Place is back in town on May 20th. She was impressed.

Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you have the opportunity to be present at history in the making. Monday night’s meeting of Woman’s Place UK felt like one of those occasions.

Several hundred women – and a sprinkling of men – gathered at a central London venue to hear four brilliant speakers: the young Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy; Oxford academic and historian of the working-class Selina Todd; Maya Forstater, recently sacked from her think tank job for stating a belief in biological facts; and  Julie Bindel, a tireless lifelong campaigner for the most marginalised women and girls. There was a great sense among the audience of women coming together to collectively resist the sustained attack on our rights.

Meghan Murphy spoke passionately and eloquently about the importance of authenticity and refusing to collude in the lie that trans women are women – a piece of virtue signalling designed to garner Facebook likes but that no one really believes. Yet nothing about the trans activist movement is progressive – instead the rights of women and girls to their own spaces and boundaries are being overridden. “The wrong side of history is an embarrassing place to be,” she said, pointedly.           

The second speaker, Selina Todd, spoke eloquently about the pernicious postmodernist idea that language creates reality and that we bring things into being purely by naming them. It’s a philosophy that negates the materiality of lived experience – and has more in common with neoliberal ideology than left-wing thought. She attacked the retrospective “transing” of women who lived their lives as men, ignoring the facts of women’s oppression that determined their choice. “Woman is not a monolithic identity but is an experience that we are born into and live – and it is that experience that binds us together as feminists.”

Maya Forstater talked about her work in international development and the importance of biological sex in understanding oppression: women, she pointed out, do billions of hours of unpaid care work each day; every year there are 25m unsafe abortions. It is women and girls who are the victims of forced marriage. Yet international agencies insist on using the word “gender” when they mean “sex”.

Julie Bindel, who was greeted with rapturous applause, gave a barnstorming speech, full of wit and humour, including a memorable reference to one well-known left-wing columnist as a “woking-class hero”. She talked about her experience of being bullied, harassed and abused over the past 20 years for her beliefs, including having a rape and death threats yelled at her as she made her way to a Stonewall journalism award. Many feminists had written to say they supported her but were frightened to speak out – and she urged feminists to find the courage to make their voices heard.

 It was Bindel who came up with the most memorable line of the evening when, discussing a newspaper’s use of the phrase “her penis” in reference to the rapist Karen White, she quoted an Australian feminist who said: “The only time the phrase ‘her penis’ should be used in a sentence is when a woman has castrated her rapist and is holding his penis up in the air.”

Among the hundreds of people in the audience were some of the leading lights of the women’s resistance – and during the question-and-answer session at the end, we were lucky enough to hear from impromptu experts such as @radfemlawyer, who spoke about defending women’s legal rights, and Helen Saxby of Transgender Trend, who has written a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment for of The Allsorts Trans Toolkit for schools.

We all left the meeting feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to speak out for what we believe in. In the words of Julie Bindel, who left the stage to a standing ovation: “Since when were we a woman’s rights movement who would keep schtum and let a few women take the shit?”

Feminism, postmodernism and women’s oppression

Professor Selina Todd is Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford. She spoke at our London meeting, A Woman’s Place is back in town in London on 20th May 2019. 

You can download or share her speech as a PDF

You can watch the speech here.

She is the author of The People: the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010 and her next book, Tastes of Honey: the making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution will be out in autumn 2019. Follow her on Twitter @selina_todd

The people

How far we have come in a year and a half. A Woman’s Place UK has gone from protecting the rights we have, to now fighting for those we still lack.  

Among our demands are women’s right to same-sex spaces, and to self-organisation. They are vital in themselves, but also as means of destroying women’s oppression by men – an oppression that is based on our biological sex, and which socialises us in gendered ways. Working collectively to change this, is what feminism is all about. And as feminists, we have a long and proud tradition to draw on, which I want to talk about tonight.  

But feminism, like the definition of woman, is an object of suspicion for the opponents of women’s sex-based rights. I want to talk briefly about where this hostility comes from, drawing on what’s been taught in UK and US universities over the past thirty years. Some of what I say may sound esoteric, but two, almost three generations of students have been educated to see the world a certain way. They are now the teachers, journalists, civil servants and politicians seeking to negotiate the current debate over women’s rights. We need to understand how their education has influenced their worldview, if we are to set the record straight. 

Postmodernism 

Suspicion of feminism owes much to postmodernism, which began to prevail in British and US universities after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Dressed up as radical, it is really the acceptable face of neoliberalism. Many students were and are taught that people cannot break out of the confines of capitalism – though this is a strange form of capitalism, in which language, rather than money, makes the world go round. People cannot change the world, but individually they can alter their relationship to it, through their self-description and performance of gender. No reality exists other than self-description.  

By this logic, feminists brought women’s oppression into being by naming it. Feminism prevented people being ‘queer’ and gender fluid by insisting on the category ‘woman’.  

 Over the past thirty years, students have studied collective movements less, and individuals’ identities, emotions and desires more. While individual choice is celebrated, the very notion of collectivity is deemed oppressive. Revealingly in our neoliberal times, socialist, labour and feminist movements have been most strongly attacked. The leaders of feminist movements were, it is claimed, attempting to dominate those they purported to represent. The world was and is a collection of self-interested individuals seeking to dominate others or avoid domination themselves. In the words of that great postmodern theorist Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as society. 

 We’re now seeing the rise of scholarship on transgender people in the past, and museum and gallery celebrations of ‘queerness’. These university courses and exhibitions aren’t replacing the older focus on white privileged men, but rather taking over the limited space that we’d fought to create for women’s history. Often these ‘queer’ histories involve appropriating lesbian history, as the transwashing of lesbians’ contribution to Stonewall’s establishment shows. This is a glaring example of why we need single-sex, feminist spaces and organisations, to record and learn from women’s achievements. 

The attempt to reclaim transgender ancestors is deeply ahistorical. Transgender ideology argues that biological sex does not exist; and that gender is a personal identity brought into being by self-description. These claims do not speak to the experiences of people in the past. Before the late 20th century, gender and sexuality were widely understood as determined by one’s biological sex.  That’s why some lesbians understood their sexuality as a biological ‘inversion’.  

 

Postmodernism

 That biological sex does not determine gender was revealed by feminists, not postmodernists, in the 1970s and 1980s. They showed that the very existence of gender is due to historically specific, unequal relationships between men and women. Male oppression of women predates capitalism, but in capitalist societies certainly, women’s biological role as actual and potential mothers – and therefore as reproducers of labour power – explains their oppression as a sex. Gender and sex are connected by the exercise of male power over women. Social and cultural gender roles helped to control women.  

Who holds power? 

This analysis of power – who holds it, how and why – is often lacking in university teaching. Power is presented as diffuse and operated through language. Feminists can therefore hold as much power as white male capitalists. But gender was not and is not an identity, freely chosen. Gender norms are meant to keep people in their place. The minority of people who lived as members of the opposite sex in the past, did not make this choice freely. Very often, they were lesbians or gay men who faced social opprobrium or worse if they did not conceal either their sexuality or their sex. Others did so for equally material reasons. One of the most famous cases is Lilias Barker, a woman born in late 19th century Britain who lived much of her adult life as a man, was jailed for marrying another woman, and became a freak show on Blackpool pier. On one of the rare occasions that Barker was allowed to speak for herself away from court and salacious press reports, she explained that she had begun living as a man because it was easier for men to earn a living than for women to do so. This reasoning, which reflected women’s lack of economic power, is usually ignored by scholars. Instead of studying why women had so little power, Barker is celebrated as ‘queer’. But if a woman can only be economically independent, behave as she likes or love who she wants by living as a man, this tells us she lives in a society where gendered roles are very rigid. If we find ourselves in a society where many women apparently want to live as men – as is true among teenagers today – an appropriate response is not to embrace, but to challenge those gender roles – and, even more important, to smash the structures of oppression that underpin them.   

Feminist history reveals that women can do just this. They do so through solidarity, understanding that united we stand, divided we fall.  

Feminists in the 19th century 

The notion that feminism creates male oppression of women, by naming it, ignores that feminist movements don’t come out of nowhere – they are provoked by sexism. Take late 19th century Britain. As men’s education, employment and suffrage rights increased, feminists responded to the exclusion of women from these. They also reacted to new threats to women’s few freedoms. A scare over male syphilis in the army led to the forcible inspection of women – not men – for venereal disease. Women suspected of being prostitutes could simply be pulled off the streets and subjected to invasive examination. The government also debated legalising brothels. Feminists recognised that prostitution exists for men’s interests, not women’s. They campaigned against brothels, and for women’s right to walk freely on the street without arrest or assault.   

These feminists are sometimes represented as simply restricting working-class women’s freedom to undertake sex work. More generally, there is a branch of scholarship, and transactivism, which views legislation and the state as problematic. By naming something, you essentialise it. So legalising homosexuality, as occurred in Britain in 1967, forced ‘queer’ men to become homosexuals. Try telling a gay man who came of age before 1967 that he was lucky. There are, of course, transideologues and transactivists who are in favour of legislation, where this would further their own right to self-identification. This is not a consistent or coherent ideology. But the antipathy towards the state and legislation is played out, for example, in the demand that birth certificates should not carry a person’s sex, because in doing so they force people into essentialist categories that oppress them. If that was true, we’d expect to find that there was no oppression of women as a sex before 1837, when birth certificates were introduced in the UK. Alas, a quick read of Mary Wollstonecraft, who died thirty years earlier, shows that sadly, sexism already existed.  

Woman is a lived experience 

Many of these nineteenth-century feminists were also active in campaigns for the vote, for women’s trade union representation and for women’s education. Many also worked alongside male comrades in the labour movement, and against imperialism. Differences of opinion existed between feminists. Class and race inequalities that exist in wider society were and are reflected in social and political movements, and we should work harder to overcome this.  It was certainly a movement dominated by white middle-class women, but connections were made with, for example, Indian feminists campaigning for freedom from imperial rule alongside women’s political citizenship. Despite their differences, thousands of women in Britain and across the world found common cause in fighting their oppression. They were able to unite because they understood that ‘woman’ is not a monolithic ‘identity’, defined by an internal essence, but a lived experience, from birth, characterised by women’s oppression by men.  

Alongside these political campaigns, many women established single-sex spaces in which they could be safe from male exploitation, and could collectively create the opportunities that men denied them. They established girls’ schools and women’s colleges, nurseries, maternity clinics – the first in Britain were pioneered by women in the co-op and labour movement – artistic and cultural ventures, and nurtured women’s same-sex relationships.  When you are excluded from the centres of power and oppressed by those who control them, it makes sense to organise autonomously. Exclusion per se is not unfair – we need to understand context, and power. Women’s exclusion of men is not exclusion by a dominant class, as statistics on domestic violence, the sex pay gap and women’s woeful political representation show. That’s why we need single-sex spaces and the right to self-organise.   

Individual choice? 

In contrast to this history of self-organisation, transactivism, like neoliberalism, simply offers us individual choice. We can change our selves but nothing else. Not only is this woefully unambitious and nihilistic, but the doctrine of choice adds to women’s oppression. For it is WOMEN who now shoulder the burden of ‘choosing’ social care for their dependents in the absence of a robust welfare state- and the unpaid labour of care when no provider is available. It is WOMEN who are now spending more time in active parenting than they did in the 1970s – despite also doing far more hours of paid work – because they are expected to ‘choose’ their child’s school, friends and extracurricular activities in order to give them a head start in the great marketplace of life. And if that seems divorced from transideology, let’s reflect on the pressure that mothers face from those who claim that a ‘good’ parent will unquestioningly support their child’s ‘choice’ to transition. Of course, once you’ve lost your breasts and become infertile, ‘gender’ may not feel so fluid after all. Mothers will be there to pick up the pieces when the transactivists and their ‘allies’ have walked away.  

Grunwick strikers Morning Star

Historically, many feminists have fought for the right to act outside gendered norms, and in accordance with your sexuality. But they understood that individual choices over how to behave or describe yourself do not overcome oppression. Feminist movements have. To those who claim feminism achieved nothing more than the dominance of a few white, middle-class women, I say: go tell that to the women who organised against imperial rule in Latin America and Asia. Tell that to those black women who fought for sex as well as race equality in the US and South Africa. Tell it to the Grunwick strikers of the 1970s, those South Asian women who enacted one of Britain’s longest-running industrial disputes and showed that it is possible to forge solidarity across the divisions of sex and race, while respecting the right of women to self-organise. And, frankly, tell it to those white, middle-class women who fought for our right to walk the streets, have an education, and the vote. 

We will win 

Feminist movements are as varied in tactics as they are in membership. Many friends of mine are frustrated that they can’t be more involved in today’s women’s movement, often fearing that the hostility that feminists face will harm their livelihood or families. The past shows us that we need militant action and those who can speak out publicly. But feminism also relies on those who use their work to change hearts and minds; those who write trade union resolutions and articles, and those who give care – hugely undervalued in capitalism and patriarchy – to those in the firing line. And when we look back at the suffrage movement’s awe-inspiring rallies, in halls like this one, we know that every single woman there made a difference.  

I suspect that over the past year we have all had moments of despair – but our past shows that such moments can bring forth glorious movements and lasting change. Five years ago, I would not have dreamed that I would stand together tonight with hundreds of feminists, confident that we are just the tip of a growing, international movement for women’s rights. And by owning our history we have something that feminists in the past did not possess. They rarely knew much about the feminist campaigns that preceded them – that history wasn’t present in schools, universities, libraries or museums. But we do. We know that those feminists who went before us were reviled, as we are. But we also know that they won important victories. The struggle continues, and here, today, on May 20th 2019, we are also making history. Standing in sisterhood with those who went before us, we can say with confidence: we too shall fight – and we will win.  

This is what we want: The WPUK manifesto

This is what we want. Download or share the WPUK manifesto.

Economic status

Concrete steps to achieve equal pay, such as compulsory equal pay audits, the collection of sex disaggregated data and better enforcement under the Equality Act 2010.

Introduce a Citizens’ Pension, based on the Dutch tax-funded model, payable at state pension age to each long-term resident and set at the Minimum Income Standard.

Free universal childcare.

Investment in social infrastructure, including childcare and adult social care, to boost the economy and to support women’s decision to work outside the home.

Improved access to the labour market and an end to occupational segregation.

Prohibition of redundancy in pregnancy and maternity; increased rates of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance, the right to breastfeed at work, and reinstatement of Sure Start grants.

Stronger rights to flexible working.

An overhaul of Universal Credit including: ending the family cap that leaves children without welfare support and mothers forced to disclose rape or coercive control; the wait for payments; allowing for separate payments by default; improving work incentives for second earners and restoring the disregard for Maternity Allowance.  

Restoring the link between Local Housing Allowance and average rents.

Migrant Women

Recognise that all migrant women who have experienced domestic abuse – regardless of their immigration status – should have equal access to the welfare system, to the courts and to all the other social and legal tools which provide protection and facilitate access to justice.

Institute a coherent and comprehensive strategy on abused migrant women that includes ending ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’; extending the Domestic Violence Rule and the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession; providing adequate asylum support and protection in line with human rights law and ending the ‘hostile environment’ policy.

An end to violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls

Recognising prostitution as sexually abusive exploitation; implementation of the abolitionist model; criminalising those who exploit prostituted people (including pimps and sex buyers); decriminalising the prostituted, providing practical and psychological exiting support.

Ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Access to local community based, specialist single-sex support to women and girls at all risk and need levels.

Sustainable investment from national government, proportionate to demand, to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG). This should take into account the multiple forms of disadvantage and deprivation faced by some women, including specialist and single sex support services, including services run by and for women and BME women, migrant women, disabled women, lesbians, and services tackling FGM and other harmful practices.

Tackling the harms of pornography and clear penalties for image-based sexual abuse.

Improved access to healthcare

Free access for all women, including women in Northern Ireland and migrant women, to NHS services, including maternity care and abortion services; the right to bodily autonomy.

Funding of research and national collection of data on women’s medical needs and the provision of woman centred healthcare.

Implementation of the NHS strategy of Elimination of Mixed Sex Accommodation in hospitals.

Commitment to uphold right to request, and have request respected, a female clinician, carer or support worker.

Female-only services for those with drug and alcohol problems.

Education and training

Statutory provision of fully-funded and properly resourced inclusive Relationships & Sex Education taught by trained education staff.

A concerted campaign to challenge harmful gender and other stereotypes.

Include women’s history and women role models as part of the statutory curriculum.

Address under-representation of girls in STEM and other male-dominated subjects.

Restore funding for adult education, Further Education, English as a Second Language, Higher Education.

Robust defence of human right to freedom of speech in academia.

Take steps to end sexualised violence against girls and women in education, and training teachers to tackle VAWG in schools, colleges and universities.

Law and criminal justice system

For a woman-centred approach

As a minimum, protect the human rights and laws we currently enjoy as European citizens.

Strengthen the Equality Act by restoring the statutory questionnaire, section 40 and the power of tribunals to make wider recommendations and enact Section 1 to compel action to reduce socio-economic disadvantage.

Enshrine UN Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into UK law.

The right to bodily autonomy including a change to UK abortion law to make abortion available on the request of the woman.

Remove barriers to tribunal system including extending time limit and increasing awards.

Properly resource the EHRC to ensure effective oversight and enforcement of the Equality Act by including clear guidance on the existing legal protections for single-sex services and a commitment to strengthening them where necessary.

Better treatment by police and criminal justice system of women survivors of male violence and harassment.

Better support and protection for women prisoners, including pregnant women and women with mental health issues.

Implement the Corston Report and reduce the imprisonment of women.

Effective resourcing and implementation of community-based sentencing for women offenders. Where women are housed in the prison estate, accommodation must be single sex to protect their safety and dignity.

End the detention of children and pregnant asylum seekers.

Restore Civil Legal Aid as well as aid for all immigration and asylum cases.

Provide adequate levels of legal aid for criminal cases.

Representation and participation in public life/media/culture/politics/sport

Increased representation of women (especially black and minority ethnic, working class, disabled, older, younger and lesbian women) in all walks of public life, including political activities and the labour movement to include the use of sex-based mechanisms such as All Women Shortlists.

Reinstatement of UK Women’s National Commission to ensure women’s voices are heard in public debate and policy making.

Action to end sexist, demeaning, objectifying, stereotypical images of women in media, arts, advertising and the political sphere.

Proactive encouragement of women to participate, and be supported, in accessing sports, leisure and the arts.

Women should be supported to pursue freedom of association, as enshrined in articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including meeting to discuss the impact of public policy on women’s rights.

Address the male default in design & research to ensure the needs of women are properly addressed.

You can read our original demands and our resolutions for 2019 here.

Women’s Right to Political Participation

Raquel Rosario Sánchez

In June 1873, US suffragist Susan B. Anthony said:

Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen’s rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.

Standing before a federal court in New York, the suffragist was asked if she had anything to say in her defence. She took the opportunity to denounce what she called “the hateful oligarchy of sex” which made fathers, bothers, sons and husbands the rulers over mother, sisters, daughters and wives. Anthony argued that this sexual tyranny “which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home of the nation.”

Susan B. Anthony was found guilty and fined 100 dollars, which she refused to pay. She died in 1906, over a decade before women gained the right to vote in the United States in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Barely two years earlier, many women in the United Kingdom had also obtained the right to vote. The Representation of the People Act 1918 granted the right to vote in Parliamentary elections to women over 30 years old and within a certain wealth bracket and the right to vote in local elections to women over 21 years old. Ten years later, through the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928, these rights were extended to all women over 21 in the U.K.

But what is suffrage? What does it mean to have the right to vote?

Voting, as in the physical act of casting a ballot, is a useless exercise, unless it is contextualised within the broader electoral process and crucially, unless we understand it as the legitimate fruit of democratic political participation. Around the world and for longer than a century, women have fought not only for the right to tick a particular box during Election Day but for the right to have a say in political debates and the public sphere.

The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1979, signed by the United Kingdom in July 1981 and ratified in April 1986, acknowledges that due to historic oppression (what Susan B. Anthony referred to as “the hateful oligarchy of sex”), women faced particular barriers to full enfranchisement in the political sphere.

Article 7, which refers to Political and Public Life, states:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:

(a) To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;

(b) To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

(c) To participate in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

Are women allowed to participate in the political process in the U.K.? I would argue that they are not. Why? Let’s look at a very brief summary of the evidence.

In 2019, it appears that troublesome women who want to engage in politics, as trade unionist Kiri Tunks has pointed out, are not only slurred but often subjected to physical violence, rape threats, intimidation, demonisation, libel, political ostracism and vilification… even when their political demands are in line with current U.K. law. Grassroots campaigns like Woman’s Place UK, which has sold over 3,500 tickets for events featuring over 45 different speakers from academia, the labour movement, the women’s sector and the feminist movement, must contend with having every single one of their 21 meetings threatened with violence.

The inhospitable nature of the sex and gender debate is strategic. It is deliberately toxic to frighten women in order to prevent them from engaging in the conversation. The message is loud and clear: “keep quiet, or else”. But then again, Tunks ponders:

When, in history, have women won any rights without having to fight to make their voice heard? Without kicking up a fuss? Women are meant to know our place. Keep quiet. Stay in the shadows. Acquiesce. Do as we are told. Behave.

The current state of affairs sees women being attacked and verbally abused on their picket lines, subjected to political witch-hunts for the material they dare to like or tweet on social media, victims of orchestrated smear campaigns within their workplaces, accused of contributing to an unsubstantiated rise in trans suicide, forced to clean urine from their university office doors as retaliation for using their human rights expertise to engage in a public policy debate, confronted with bomb threats considered legitimate by the Police, expelled from social media, and when all else fails, invited by Women’s Officers in so-called progressive political parties to “suck big lady cock”.

When women have the absolute audacity to become Members of Parliament, they are at risk of having their alleged private conversations about public policy leaked to the media in an attempt to discredit and punish them for doing precisely the job they were elected to do. Needless to say, (or perhaps not?), the role of a Parliamentarian is to analyse, question and construct public policy. By attempting to shame women in Parliament for asking questions about social policy, transactivists reveal they want to force women back to a time when we were not involved in policy making and in the political process.

Lily Madigan

Transactivist Lily Madigan, former Labour Party Women’s Officer for Lewisham and current Labour Students National Women’s Officer, has stated clearly that although a Women’s Officer, Madigan has nothing but contempt for women peacefully exercising their rights under the law:

  It is important to remember that in a democratic society, political parties have a responsibility to prevent unbearably hostile climates like this being fomented within their ranks. It is the duty of all political parties to facilitate debate and to broker resolutions when conflict arises. But political parties in the U.K. have deserted women. Under anonymity, Etti’s Daughter writes for Medium that the vilification of women in politics is a rare non-partisan issue:

Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems have shown themselves to be structurally misogynistic. This has been demonstrated not just through their willing acceptance that there is no objective definition of what a woman is, but also the way they have treated women who have different views. Many of the male activists who women worked alongside for years have revealed a different side to themselvesone that does not condemn rape threats or sexist abuse, one that is happy to exclude women from political life because they have a different perspective.

Political participation is about engaging in the public sphere. As German philosopher Jurgen Habermas reminded us, the public sphere is the social domain where public opinion is formed and transformed. It is the free participation of the public in political discussions which grants legitimacy to the electoral process and, in turn, to democracy. Women’s global struggle for suffrage was a fight for women’s rights to occupy our rightful place in the democratic process.

Needless to say, political dissent is, in itself, a vital part of political input. We should all be wary of the claim that obtaining dogmatic acquiescence through the use and abuse of intimidation and threats is a sustainable way to engage in what aspires to be a fairer society. Dissent, disagreement and a challenging back and forth of diverging opinions that we may not necessarily agree with, not only helps us get a better understanding of any political issue at hand, but it also fortifies democracy by helping us arrive at a properly thought through decision-making process.

Respectful disagreement is, therefore, to be encouraged not stifled if we strive to be a society where everyone’s human rights are respected.

Women’s opinions are relentlessly policed because opinions are part of the public sphere and, under a patriarchal system, women are to remain sheltered within the private sphere. The bullying, the threats, the vilification and the gratuitous invitation extended to women that we should all just go f**k ourselves if we do not want to acquiesce to this horrid state of political affairs are everyday reminders that women may have won a Parliamentary Act…… or two, but that there are forces which are eager to confine us, voiceless and powerless, back into the home.

As I wrote last December for Spanish platform Tribuna Feminista:

What’s the point of voting? What’s the point of allowing a woman the right to go cast a ballot, if she herself, is more undefined as a human being than the electoral contest in which she is participating? A woman paralysed by fear, frightened that she may lose her job and her friendships if an activist decides to take pictures of her at the entrance of a political event which had to be organized clandestinely, and under the heavy presence of security, to discuss proposals to modify a law which affect women, but which her government didn’t want her to know about, is not free and she is not a citizen.

It is ludicrous to pretend that any country could archive a more egalitarian society if it is precisely its political sphere which has become the area of social life where the evermore degrading debasement of women is not only permitted but encouraged. We will never put an end to the sexism, objectification and discrimination faced by women without addressing the comfortable homes these oppressions have found inside all British political parties. To ignore the voices of women demanding they be treated with respect while engaging in the political process represents a slap in the face to the sex which often constitutes the majority of the membership of those political parties.

For some reason, multiple generations of women and girls have been led to believe that their rights to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association have already been won.

Evidently not.

Could it be that women are allowed to have rights as long as we sit pretty and promise never to exercise them?

Sometimes I wonder if the empty platitudes spouted by politicians encouraging women to participate in politics represent either a cruel mockery or some sort of sadistic ritual… If the first, who is laughing at us? If the second, who gets off on abusing us?

As an immigrant in this country, I have spent the past year and a half reflecting on women’s right to political participation; how despondent the structural failure of the democratic process feels and how alone women seem to be in our struggle to be recognised both as human beings and as political subjects, in our own right. This ordeal has reminded me of some wise words from Aida Cartagena Portalatin, a poet and writer from the Dominican Republic, who once wrote: “I do not believe that I am here for nothing. This place needs a woman, and that woman is me. I will not return weeping. I will not reconcile myself with disturbing facts”.

One of my favourite poems by Cartagena Portalatin speaks to the power of women keeping their nerves under straining circumstances and standing strong amidst the unsurmountable. In A Woman Is Alone, she writes:

A woman is alone. Alone with her stature
With eyes wide open. With arms wide open
With her heart open like broad silence
She awaits in the desperate and exasperating night
without losing hope
She thinks she is in the Admiral’s ship
with the saddest light of creation
She has hoisted the ship’s sails and let herself drift through the Northern winds
with her figure accelerated before the eyes of love
A woman is alone. Holding her dreams within her dreams
The dreams she has yet to dream and the whole Antillean sky

 

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is a writer and researcher. She specialises in ending male violence against women and girls and is currently pursuing a PhD with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol.

No room for racism or misogyny

We note the reports of a black woman being harassed and intimidated at the London May Day rally on Tuesday 1st May by a masked person and several white men who opposed her feminist politics. The victim was carrying a feminist banner with the slogan “woman = adult human female”. The victim has confirmed that during a barrage of verbal abuse she was called a “N****r” and a “black bastard”.

This appears to be confirmed by video footage .

It is a sign of the depravity of gender politics that certain elements of the left believe they can resort to racist and misogynist abuse in order to uphold their genderist ideology. The footage shows a verbal and physical attack meant to dehumanise a woman of colour in order to intimidate and silence her.

It is completely unacceptable that there are elements attaching themselves to the labour movement, built with the skill and dedication of many thousands of women, getting away with this putrid rhetoric whilst others stand idly by without intervention, refusing to acknowledge racist and sexist abuse or the harassment and intimidation of feminists.

Women who assert their sex based rights have always been part of the workers movement and need no one’s permission to celebrate May Day.

We call upon all labour movement bodies to condemn this racist and misogynist attack on a woman asserting her right to free speech. It is within the labour movement that we particularly expect to uphold standards of anti-racist conduct. Women have the right to assert a definition of womanhood without fear of harassment or abuse and we expect the labour movement to uphold these standards.

3rd May 2019

The origins of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975

We have pulled together a Twitter thread created by Lisa Mc Kenzie, a feminist and independent policy analyst.

Not everyone’s insomnia cure is to pore over Hansard archives but here follows a thread (which I might continue to add to, depending on future incidences of insomnia) about the origins of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It received Royal Assent on 12 November 1975 and is regarded as landmark legislation for women’s rights in the UK. Many of the principles contained within the Act have been carried over into later legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.

The UN had designated 1975 International Women’s Year and there appears to have been a raft of work in the run-up to explore discrimination against women, as this excerpt from ‘The Official History of the British Civil Service’ (by Rodney Lowe) indicates.

Margherita Rendel states in 1978 (‘Legislating for Equal Pay and Opportunity for Women in Britain’) that there was an unsuccessful attempt to amend the Race Relations Bill (which would become an Act in 1965) so that it covered discrimination against women.

Rendel goes on to note that in each subsequent parliamentary session, attempts were made to introduce a private member’s bill on discrimination against women. They received increasing support in the House of Commons but were defeated.

Eventually the Anti-Discrimination Bill, defeated in the House of Commons, was introduced in the House of Lords in 1971 by Baroness Seear, a member of the Liberal Party. At this point, Seear was also President of the Fawcett Society.

Unusually, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, which then took two years gathering evidence on the discrimination faced by women. It concluded unanimously that there was a need for legislation.

Rendel states that Conservative members of the Select Committee “angrily defended their report on the floor of the House of Lords against the attempts of their party leaders to denigrate their recommendations”. We now dive into a House of Lords debate on 14 May 1973… You can read the Hansard transcript here.

Baroness Seear kicks off the debate, first thanking the Chair of the Select Committee, Lord Royle. (You’ll note that what was the Anti Discrimination Bill has been renamed the Sex Discrimination Bill. I’ve not been able to establish the exact point at which this happened.)

Lord Royle starts by noting how procedurally unusual it is for a Bill to be referred to a Select Committee. (A similar process had taken place in the House of Commons. Hence his reference to “parallel activity in another place”).

Some frustration voiced by Lord Royle, who has read in the press suggesting that the Government did not intend to proceed with the legislation but instead introduce legislation of its own in the next parliamentary session.

The Minister, Viscount Colville of Culross  responds indicating that whilst the Government is “fully in sympathy with the underlying purposes of the Bill”, they have various reservations.

Interesting to note this comment from Viscount Colville: “the nature of discrimination on grounds of sex is different from discrimination on grounds of race. That is so both in scale and in history, though it may be that both have similar roots in prejudice.”

We can see origins of the single-sex exceptions and General Occupational Requirement (both features of EA 2010): “There are also likely to be many jobs where public taste or decency establishes at any rate a strong presumption in favour of the employment of one sex or the other.”

Next the Minister moved on to talk about education. Even four and a half decades later, still shocking to see these figures on the numbers of girls in education. But a reminder of what progress there has been too.

The Select Committee appears to have recommended that there should be a move towards the discontinuation of single sex schools. The Minister objects, saying: “The Government think it right that as much freedom of parental choice as possible should be maintained.”

The Minister expresses a hope that there will be a change in the “social climate” that enables girls and boys to study any subject they choose. (“In principle, I think it is a good idea that boys should cook and that girls should know how to mend fuses.”)

Ending his speech, the Minister then spends some time speaking about how to configure an enforcement body. Interesting to note that he also laments “the lack of guidance about the exceptions of which I spoke earlier”.

Lord Maybray-King (Labour) then asks why the Government has not sought to amend the Bill and the Minister replies confirming press reports that they intend instead to bring forward their own legislation, for which they will produce a consultative document “as soon as possible”.

Next up is Baroness Summerskill (Labour). She is evidently unhappy (angry?) to learn that the the work of the Select Committee is to be abandoned in favour of a Government bill down the line.

Interesting aside: Edith Summerskill was the grandmother of Ben Summerskill, who was the CEO of Stonewall from 2003-2014.

Back to the debate. Intervention from Lord Shackleton (Labour) who is unhappy with the Government position. He also says: “I find it quite extraordinary to use the fact that there are now more highly educated women than ever before as an argument that everything is all right.”

Lord Shackleton is adamant that a legislative approach is required to tackle discrimination against women.

Lord Reigate (Conservative), another member of the Select Committee, also expresses his exasperation at the Government’s plans, saying: “I hesitate to accuse my own Government of discourtesy, but I think that in fact we have been rather discourteously treated.”

He goes on to emphasise that he was not an enthusiast for a legislative approach, but that he changed his mind as he was “amazed by the degree and the wide field of prejudice which exists, and which exists most importantly of all to the damage of our economy”.

Baroness Wooton: “The principal difference is that in the case of race it is a discrimination of the majority against the minority, and in the case of sex it is a case of discrimination of the minority against the majority of the population of this country.”

Side note: Baroness Wooton studied Classics and Economics at Girton College, Cambridge from 1915 to 1919, winning the Agnata Butler Prize in 1917. She gained a first class in her final exams, but as a woman she was prevented from appending BA to her name.

Anger from Baroness Summerskill and Lord De Clifford that the Minister (Viscount Colville) did not intend to engage in the debate further. The Minister responds saying they are wrong to presume that the work of the Select Committee was in vain.

Baroness Seear re-enters the debate, emphasising that the Committee was of the wrong view that it had accumulated sufficient evidence that the legislation was required. She again advances the idea that single sex schools should be phased out in order to tackle sex discrimination.

She concludes: “I do not think there is any necessity to wait for a new vehicle to be brought forward by the Government. I maintain that the Bill now before the House, suitably amended, if you like, can adequately do this overdue task.”
Baroness Gaitskell (on Bill wording): “The word ‘suitable’ could be interpreted by women discriminating against men for a job, and vice versa; but I have a notion that it could more frequently be grasped by those men still hesitating to afford women equal opportunities with men.”
And then a very entertaining side swipe from Baroness Gaitskell regarding the attitude of Church of England Bishops to the campaign for women as priests (as reported in The Times that morning).
Viscount Hanworth says he agrees with the principles behind the Bill, but is not convinced of the need for legislation: “I do not believe one can change things very greatly just by setting up a Board and making penalties. What we are trying to do is to change people’s attitudes.”

His concluding remarks spark this very entertaining (!) exchange between him and Baroness Phillips (Labour). Side note: Baroness Phillips’ daughter Gwyneth Dunwoody would later become a Labour MP.

More discussion about language in the Bill and the way in which ‘suitability’ might be interpreted. Lord Gardiner shares an anecdote about a female candidate for Queen’s Counsel and the lack of toilet facilities for women. (Plus ca change…)
Baroness Summerskill dryly remarks: “…the stock answer of the Government is, ‘We always choose those whom we consider the most suitable’. Curiously enough, women are generally excluded.”
As they grapple with language, Lord Shackleton wonders whether there is a better way to phrase the relevant clause: “always provided that individuals shall be treated on their individual merits and not with regard to the generalised or assumed characteristics of their sex”.
Baroness Spear laments Lord Hanworth’s references in the debate to the “average woman”.

More discussion about the idea of a General Occupational Requirement and whether the Bill should contain an exhaustive list of occupations or whether it should evolve in line with developing case law.

Lord Conesford voices his concerns about the threat to single sex schools, whilst declaring his position as Vice President of the Girls’ Public Day-School Trust. He feels that outlawing single sex schools would be “a most illiberal, tyrannical and arrogant act”.
Concern from Lord Hanworth that the single sex school issue might be divisive on party lines is dismissed by Baroness Phillips (Labour), who explains that she had attended a single sex school and says that Lord Conesford “has argued this matter in his usual persuasive way”.
Baroness Seear (apologies for earlier misspelling – Hansard is wrong!) doubles down on her view about single sex schools: those currently in existence would continue but the Bill would prevent the creation of any new single sex schools.
“…there is the other very real point, that discrimination is rooted in education; it is the customs and attitudes and points of view put over during early life in school which so largely determine whether boys and girls will grow up as unconscious discriminators.”
“It is the unconscious discriminator, the discriminator who discriminates as a matter of course, with whom we have the greatest difficulty, not the person who is the all-out declared champion of the rights of his own sex.”
Lord Conesford presses on, refusing to withdraw his Amendment on schools.
Lord Platt: “I hope it is not too late to see whether I can stir up one or two people from various parts of the Committee, including perhaps the Bishop’s Bench, in order to elucidate a little more clearly the arguments for putting in this clause.”
This provokes Baroness Summerskill to (once more) take aim at the Church of England and its attitude to women: “Use women by all means, exploit their services, and far from giving them equal pay give them nothing.”
Lords Belhaven and Donaldson take issue with Baroness Summerskill’s tirade. Lord Gardiner disagrees, saying the Church, as an employer, should be in the scope of the Bill: “there is no reason why they should not conform to the ordinary law, as it will be, on sex discrimination”
At this point, the Bishop of Rochester chips in, albeit claiming he had not been prepared to participate in this debate. (It would be another two decades before women were ordained as Church of England priests.)
Lord Derwent (Conservative) states his objection to giving a Sex Discrimination Board powers of investigation because “The people of this country are getting fed up with the multitude of people who can interfere with them”.
Response from Baroness Seear (Hansard spelling gone AWOL again!).
Brief discussion about how a Sex Discrimination Board would be constituted before the debate closed. I hope to resume this thread at a later date once I’ve read later Hansard transcripts on the passage of the SDA.