Women lead fight against ‘brosocialists’ and other extremists – Susan Dalgety

Gender stereotypes have held both men and women back for centuries and still do so, but the common sense of the seven female members of the Independent Group offers hope that change is coming, writes Susan Dalgety.
The Independent Group of MPs consists of seven women and four men a gender split described as quite important by Anna Soubry (Picture: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty)The Independent Group of MPs consists of seven women and four men a gender split described as quite important by Anna Soubry (Picture: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty)
The Independent Group of MPs consists of seven women and four men a gender split described as quite important by Anna Soubry (Picture: Jessica Taylor/AFP/Getty)

Something important happened this week. Seven women and four men changed the face of British politics, perhaps for good.

The Independent Group may not grow much beyond its current membership, but the country cheered as each MP stood up and spoke their truth.

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“We have had enough of the old politics,” they said. “Time to put country before party,” they added.

It was not just their honesty that stood out for me, it was the gender balance of the group. As it clearly did for Anna Soubry, the former Tory MP, now a proud independent.

As she was winding up her press conference on Wednesday, she stopped, as if suddenly realising the significance of what she and her female colleagues had just done.

Shading her eyes from the glare of cable news cameras, she looked in the distance and mused, “Two thirds of us are women ... and that is quite important.”

Damn right it is sister, and about time too. Party politics in this country, whether the in-yer-face nationalism of the SNP or the golf-club camaraderie of the Tories, has been dominated by blokes since, well, since King John signed the Magna Carta.

Even the Labour Party, the movement that was founded on the principle of equality, struggles with women. And the comrades’ existential crisis with women has worsened since the party was taken over by the hard left.

You don’t believe me? Just take a look at Jess Phillips’ Twitter feed for a taste of what the brocialists think about women. Not surprisingly the perpetrators’ coded biography usually reads: Jeremy Corbyn for PM; Unite the Union; Pro Palestine.

The hard left has always been a tough place for women. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the nursery school for Corbynistas, has a novel approach to handling complaints of sexual abuse among its members.

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Rather than call the police, the SWP has been known to hold kangaroo courts to hear allegations of rape, where the female victims are asked such questions as: “Are you sure that you said no and are you sure you didn’t consent? Was he drunk? Because it would be different if he was drunk.”

But it is not just the extremists who are guilty of misogyny bordering on abuse. As I have written previously, the culture of politics in this country has always been sexist. Even the spottiest of oiks, with zero charisma and views bordering on fascist, will flourish in politics, particularly if he is a wizard at spin.

Whereas sensible women, who see consensus as something to aim for rather than class betrayal, often struggle to survive in the male-dominated swamp that is Westminster or our council chambers.

But perhaps not for much longer. If the Independent Group’s hashtag #ChangePolitics becomes more than a catchy slogan, we may well be witnessing the start of a new way of governing our country.

One where politicians “open their eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable in our society”, as Heidi Allen, another member of the new group, said on Wednesday.

It has been a good week for women in another even more contentious sphere of modern life.

Ruth Hunt, the chief executive of Stonewall, the LGBT campaign group, has resigned. “Ruth who?” I hear you ask.

Ms Hunt may not be a household name, but her tenure at Stonewall has been instrumental in igniting a debate about gender identity that has divided the country in recent years.

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In 2015, Ms Hunt announced that Stonewall would be a trans-inclusive organisation, campaigning for the rights of those people who identify as a different gender stereotype to their sex.

So far, so good. Men who want to live as women, or even just wear a frock instead of a suit, have been part of the human experience since we first stood up straight. We are all, to some extent, victims of this gender stereotyping. Boys can’t play with dolls or wear pink. Girls should dream of being a nurse, not Prime Minister.

It is a good thing that it is now much easier to break out of these false constructs, as they have held us all back – male and female – for centuries.

But Ms Hunt led a campaign that insists that gender stereotypes – these false constructs – matter more than sex. At its most basic, she argues that if a man decides he is a lesbian, but proudly keeps his penis, then he is still a lesbian. Not surprisingly, many lesbian women objected to this sudden intrusion of male members into their sex life. Their concerns were dismissed as “transphobic”.

As were the women who objected to Stonewall’s call for an end to single-sex spaces, such as women’s refuges and school toilets.

I work in Malawi, where single-sex toilets in schools are the gold standard. They offer girls a safe haven where they can deal with the bloody mess of menstruation without embarrassment or fear. Surely girls in Scotland are entitled to the same consideration as their sisters in Malawi?

And Stonewall was instrumental in the campaign to change the 2004 Gender Recognition Act so that a person could simply identify as a different sex, and be legally recognised as such, without having to live in their acquired gender for two years, as is the current requirement.

The debate has become so over-wrought, and people so fearful of saying something that Stonewall and its supporters might construe as transphobic, that even the term “woman” is seen as being discriminatory. Women are now “anyone with a cervix”, “chest feeders” or “menstruators”.

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The shrillness, and often sheer nastiness, of this public discourse, where women with vulvas are dismissed by women with penises for not being proper women, is as exhausting as it is pointless.

It overshadows the legitimate debate about the impact of transwomen in female sport. It scares some adolescents into thinking that their perfectly normal sexual attraction to someone of the same sex means that they were born into the “wrong” body.

And worst of all, the debate has allowed a misogyny worse than anything on display at Westminster to fester. “We are real women, you’re cis-gender,” shriek women with penises tucked into their M&S knickers.

Sisters, we are all ‘real’ women. Anna Soubry. Jess Phillips. Ruth Hunt.

It’s time we stopped fighting. It’s time to change politics.

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