Why feminists like me stand with JK Rowling in trans rights row – Susan Dalgety

As one transgender woman complains about ‘a lot of really unhelpful femininsm’, Susan Dalgety explains why she and others fear women’s rights are now at serious risk.

JK Rowling was cheered to the rafters by some for saying what they dared not, but abused by others (Picture: Dan Hallman/Invision/AP)

The glamourous model Munroe Bergdorf was adamant. “There is a lot of really unhelpful feminism out there...” she told Glamour magazine earlier this week.

And she cited the “feminism that JK Rowling follows” as the ideology that she so heartily disapproves of, because, she says, its adherents believe that “trans women are men” and that women without a uterus are not women.

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Munroe was born a boy, a “very effeminate boy” she said in a previous interview. She has gone through a series of hormonal treatments and surgery to “feminise” her face, but baulks at revealing whether or not she still has her penis and testicles.

She is a striking, very vocal trans woman, and is courted by big beauty brands such as L’Oreal. She recently joined their UK diversity and inclusion advisory board, presumably to give them an insight into what trans women think about blusher and lipstick.

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I say trans women deliberately, because with the best will in the world, Ms Bergdorf cannot offer any insights into what it is to be a woman, just as I could not, would not, advise anyone on how a trans man feels.

I can empathise with people with gender dysphoria, but I would not dream of speaking on their behalf. So, excuse me Ms Bergdorf, but your thoughts on what constitutes feminism are neither here nor there.

By all means advocate on behalf of trans women, explain queer theory to a population largely ignorant of it, but please do not tell women what makes good or bad feminism.

When we want to learn more about sex equality, we will turn to sisters such as Suzanne Moore, Julie Bindel and Malala Yousafzai.

In Scotland, we look to feminists like Claire Heuchan (@ClaireShrugged), campaign group Forwomen.scot (@ForwomenScot) and policy collective Murray Blackburn Mackenzie (@mbmpolicy) for information and analysis.

And we will read Andrea Dworkin, Janice Turner (who won the Orwell prize for journalism this week), Toni Morrison and yes, JK Rowling.

We don’t care if a woman has a functioning uterus – mine stopped working 13 years ago. We don’t care if a girl prefers khaki to pink and Doc Martens to kitten heels. We don’t care if a woman is a lesbian, straight, a grandmother or a single woman.

What feminists do care about is social, economic and political equality for women and girls.

And what gets us very angry is the pay gap between men and women that persists 50 years after the Equal Pay Act. The marketing men who insist on branding everything pink for girls, half a century after we burned our bras. And we get very angry about domestic violence that sees two women murdered each week in their own home.

We cry when we learn about Yazidi women and girls sold as sex slaves by their Isis captors. Some girls killed themselves rather than endure being raped on a daily basis by men who “owned” them.

We cry too for the millions of girls across sub-Saharan Africa who get little or no education because their brothers’ needs come first.

And when we have calmed our anger and dried our tears, then we campaign for equal pay, for an end to violence against women and girls, for education for all. That is our “unhelpful” feminism, Ms Bergdorf. What’s yours? As we entered into the existential doom of lockdown, the bitter war between women and trans activists and their allies that had dominated social media seemed to enter an uneasy truce. There was a bigger threat on the horizon, an invisible virus intent, it seemed, on wiping out humanity.

Then in early June, JK Rowling posted on Twitter her objection to an article about periods that was headlined “people who menstruate”.

“I am sure there used to be a word for those people,” she wrote. “...Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

The word is, of course, women, but in the world some trans activists inhabit, calling a female human a woman is considered an act of tyranny against trans women.

JK Rowling compounded her crime against trans-humanity by then writing a thoughtful essay where she laid out her personal views on sex and gender.

For every women who cheered her to the rafters for articulating what they had been too afraid to say out loud, there was a trans activist or ally who screamed abuse at her. Actors such as Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, whose careers had been made by Rowling’s genius, disowned their creator.

And in a dystopian move that could have been scripted by Margaret Atwood, Scots children’s author Gillian Phillip was sacked by her publisher, Working Partners, for daring to stand with JK Rowling publicly.

In 2020, for tweeting her support for feminism, a woman lost her job. And there are many other examples of women being punished for objecting to the new orthodoxy.

Maya Forstater, a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development, was dumped by the think tank for saying that a woman cannot change her biological sex.

Black lesbian feminist barrister Allison Bailey is being “investigated” by her own chambers, which ironically specialise in human rights, for daring to suggest that trans activism threatens women as a political class.

And one of the doyens of the women’s movement, Beatrix Campbell OBE, has just left the Green Party because she can no longer support their position on gender.

“Of course trans people exist,” she writes. “And trans rights aren’t at risk from debate – people do not die from debate.

“But women’s rights and resources are at grave risk, not only from the effects of ‘austerity’ funding regimes, but also from an extreme trans activism seeking to silence women and assail feminist organisations.”

Scrape away some trans women’s make-up and underneath you will find the same misogyny that has stunted the lives of women and girls since the start of human evolution. They and their allies have decided what is good feminism and what is bad.

And by decreeing that their brand of feminism is better than that of women like Julie Bindel and JK Rowling, they are doing exactly what men have done for thousands of years – telling women what to think.

Meet the new boss, sisters. Same as the old boss, but in heels. Only this time, we won’t get fooled again.

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