Your biological sex is a fact not just a feeling

Janice Turner

Published in the Times 19/8/17

Efforts to stamp out artificial gender distinctions shouldn’t get confused with real differences between men and women

Girls are good at “being pretty and wearing dresses”. Boys grow up to be presidents, “because they’re better at being in charge”. There’s nothing politically correct about seven-year-olds. The kids of Lanesend primary school in a BBC documentary just repeated, unfiltered, what they saw and heard from parents, books, teachers, adverts and TV.

The idea of creating a “gender-neutral” classroom in No More Boys and Girls sounds like some sinister feminist experiment. When in fact it was incredibly simple: challenge a few silly, life-limiting stereotypes and, as one excited boy put it, “everyone can choose to be anything they want”.

After six happy weeks in which they met male dancers and female mechanics, there was only one thing boys and girls loathed with equal passion: sharing a block of unisex toilets. Both felt invaded, vulnerable, embarrassed. “I try not to go at school,” says one girl (in next week’s episode). “I hold it in all day.”

It struck me that here was the heart of our current travails of confused teenagers, hormones and clinics: we have forgotten, or conflated, the difference between gender and biological sex. That the former is nonsense, the latter is real.

Gender is the story a society tells itself about the roles and status of men and women. Gender says boys don’t cry and assertive girls are “bossy”. Gender once declared women couldn’t vote, have a mortgage, fly a plane; that men couldn’t care for their own children, show tenderness or fear.

Gender has lately become an engine of enterprise: companies have learnt they can flog (particularly to women) products we never knew we needed. Like pink power-tools, razors or Bic lady pens. Lego is now seen as a boys’ toy, except sets which come in pink. The Lanesend girls, given a build-a-robot kit, were initially sceptical: this wasn’t for them, it was blue. The pink and blue theme park is so vivid teenagers think it’s real

Gender now starts in the womb: at “gender reveal” parties, prenatal scan results are celebrated in a glitter cannon of pink or blue. Muslim feminists are rightly appalled at hijabs imposed on little girls, but what about the stupid bows stuck on bald baby heads because God forbid anyone mistakes your daughter for a boy. Girls of eight have pampering parties and wear impractical Clarks shoes called Dolly Babe, while their brothers tear around in durable Leaders.

The ways in which young men and women present themselves has never been more crudely gendered. YouTube videos and Love Island parade the largely unattainable ideals of stubbly, muscled he-man and long-haired big-boobed Barbie. Gender has decreed human beings, in all their glorious variants, must resemble cartoons, avatars, porn stars.

Gender’s greatest trick is passing itself off as Nature. New Scientist this week reports a study of the cognitive abilities of men and women in 26 countries: it finds their variations were linked to each society’s attitude to gender roles. So if a society says spacial puzzles are for boys, girls will grow up with inferior spacial reasoning skills. But neuroscientists believe the brain is plastic: give both sexes equal practice and results will be similar. Tell that to Google’s James Damore.

And this pink and blue gender theme park is so vivid, its expectations so rigid, that no wonder teenagers think it is real. A friend’s daughter declared she was really a boy: after a long talk it transpired she loathed the dresses and flouncy hair she thought a prerequisite of girlhood. She cut her hair, wears jeans and is happy. Contrast with a mother featured in Radio 4’s iPM who believes her ten-year-old is “non-binary” because she chose a pirate not a princess-themed birthday party.

When I interviewed Maria Miller, who chairs the Commons women and equalities committee, she said “we’re not doing enough for people who have no gender at all”. She made it sound as if they were born without an organ or a chromosome. When in fact those declaring themselves “gender-fluid” or “gender non-binary” and demanding to be called the pronoun “they” don’t sit easily at the blue or pink gender poles but somewhere in between. But then don’t we all . . .

Rather than approving the right to put an X on your passport instead of F or M, we should aim to make the biological categories of men and women as big, generous and inclusive as possible. So men are still men if they wear dresses and “butch” girls don’t now feel they must take testosterone.

But biological sex itself is now controversial. The World Health Organisation has recently removed a page from its website explaining the difference between gender and sex, which said that women menstruate and men have testicles. These simple scientific facts are now unsayable.

The new orthodoxy is that whether you are a man or a woman is merely a feeling, an inner essence, which transcends biology. If Justine Greening’s proposals on the Gender Recognition Act are passed this will be enshrined in law.

While we should make better provision for the small number of people with gender dysphoria who wish to transition, biological sex cannot be erased. For women in particular, biology — contraception, childbirth, abortion, rape, menopause — shapes much of our destiny.

So while we need to challenge the phantasms of gender, we must respect biological sex. There are occasions when it matters for men and women to be separate so they feel dignified, private, safe. As shown by the furore this week that the government has not abolished the hated mixed-sex hospital wards. Or the horror shown by the seven-year-olds of Lanesend primary. Boys and girls can be equal without being forced to share loos.

Violent leftwingers are the alt-right’s useful idiots

Melanie Phillips

Published in the Times 15/8/17

It is a caricature of what happened in Charlottesville to call Trump and his supporters racists

President Trump has been on the defensive over his remarks about the disturbances in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the weekend. Clashes between fascist types and their opponents over the city’s removal of confederate monuments turned deadly when a presumed white supremacist drove a car into the counter-demonstrators, killing one person and injuring many others.

In response, Trump condemned the “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides”. His failure until yesterday to single out the white supremacists for censure has provoked a storm of criticism, not least from Republicans.

Trump’s response was indeed inadequate. Much more worrying, though, was what actually happened. For this was not, as widely portrayed, a clash between fascists and anti-fascists. It was between two groups each of which perpetrate hatred and intolerance, stand against freedom and seek to impose their views of society and human nature by force.

The “unite the right” demonstration brought on to the streets neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other racist extremists. The sight of them marching with swastika flags and flaming torches was stomach-turning. But ranged against them were the “Antifa”, self-designated anti-fascists who are anything but. They have a record of unprovoked violence, rioting and thuggery. Their Black Lives Matter offshoot includes racists who incite violence against white people.

Since Trump’s ascendancy, there have been repeated outbreaks of violence, mostly perpetrated by Antifa against ordinary Republicans and other conservatives, either at pro-Trump rallies or on other public platforms. These people have been either stopped from speaking or physically attacked by Antifa and other left-wing demonstrators.

In June the House Republican whip, Steve Scalise, was shot and almost killed by a Bernie Sanders-supporting Democrat who opened fire on a group of Republicans at a baseball practice. A New Jersey Democratic party activist, James Devine, posted on his Facebook page that he had “little sympathy” for Scalise because he opposed gun restriction policies. Another Democratic party official in Nebraska was fired after saying he was “glad” that Scalise had been shot.

The real target is mainstream American values and culture

The Democratic establishment dismisses such people as mavericks with no significance for the left-wing causes they support. Yet a double standard operates against President Trump, who is held to be personally defined by the unacceptable nature of a tiny minority of his supporters.

The fact that the former Ku Klux Klan “grand wizard” David Duke, who was at Charlottesville, claims to support Trump’s agenda (that is, when he’s not in the next breath condemning him) is being used to smear Trump himself as a white supremacist.

It is grotesque to equate Trump’s pledge to “make America great again”, which was endorsed by the 63 million Americans who voted for him, with the bigotry of white supremacism. The former is driven by people wanting to uphold core American values they deeply cherish and share with each other. The latter is driven by loathing of racial and ethnic groups deemed to be inferior.

In last year’s presidential campaign Hillary Clinton was endorsed by Will Quigg, “grand dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan’s California chapter. He claimed she had a “hidden agenda” and that if elected she would come out for gun ownership and sealing America’s borders. Quigg’s support of Clinton was rightly dismissed as either mischief-making or barking mad. Yet when such people support Trump, this is held to define him.

There are various possible reasons why initially Trump didn’t specifically condemn the far right in Charlottesville. He may resent being bullied into stating what he considers should be obvious: that he thinks such people are vicious extremists. He may believe that both warring sides had unconscionable agendas.

Whatever his reason, his generalised remarks were ill-judged. As US president, he inescapably delineates the contours of what is socially acceptable and what is beyond the pale. He should therefore have specifically denounced white supremacism as having no place in American society. At the same time, he should have specifically condemned the hatemongering ideology of left-wing identity politics.

Such a response was not just morally but politically necessary. For the left’s real target is not the far right but mainstream conservatives who want to uphold American values and culture: the people who brought Trump to power. Defending national identity, however, is denounced by western progressives as white racism.

The result is an unholy alliance between the left and the far right. A white supremacist called Richard Spencer invented the blanket term “alt-right” to associate his ilk with conservatives seeking merely to defend American identity and core values. Through this tactic, Spencer intended to boost the far right and simultaneously smear and thus destroy regular conservatives.

The left has seized upon this smear with unbridled joy, routinely using the “alt-right” term to try to destroy the national identity agenda by bracketing it with white supremacism. The result is a powerful boost for the far right. From deserved obscurity, they suddenly find the left are transmitting their every utterance to the world. The phrase “useful idiots” comes inescapably to mind.

Charlottesville was but the latest front in what has become America’s cultural civil war. It won’t, alas, be the last.

Let’s stop treating the young as political sages

Clare Foges

We should be challenging the naive, unaffordable views of many under-25s, not kowtowing to them

‘Respect your youngers,” tweeted the pop star Lily Allen after the shock election result driven by a high youth turnout. But have we come to respect the youngers and their opinions too much?

Recent years have involved increasing youth worship in politics. Come election time, TV producers fall over themselves to put together panels of young people to offer up vacuities about “choosing hope over fear” and other quotes they may have spotted on Instagram. Grey-beard presenters nod deferentially at every complaint offered up by youthful contributors, however inane or ill-informed (the passion of youth requires no substantiation). Millennial mouthpieces on social media rouse the tribe with talk of reclaiming their future and how dreadfully they have been let down by older generations.

Then there are the politicians engaging in something akin to dad dancing; loosening the tie to get down with the kids. Ed Miliband making a midnight visit to be interviewed by Russell Brand, Corbyn shooting the breeze with a grime artist, Theresa May grimacing her way through a Snapchat interview. You’ve got to engage with the young, see, however unstatesmanlike the process.

And since Thursday people have been falling over themselves to congratulate the younger among us for doing their democratic duty; a five-minute detour to the polling station given the same weight as going over the top at Ypres. Young people posted selfies taken after the event and wore stickers saying “I voted!” Should they get lollipops too?

Yes, an increase in turnout at any age is to be welcomed. Only 43 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in 2015. Although we are yet to see the hard data, the “youthquake” this time was doubtless real. And, of course, many people born post-1990 are spectacularly well-informed, public-spirited, energetic and the rest. Yet what is galling is the veneration of youthful opinion regardless of the sense it makes; this growing idea that being under 25 confers some special sagacity that the rest of us might benefit from. A generation reared to revere the words “empowerment” and “respect” is demanding that they are empowered and their views respected.

Last week’s election revealed the judgment of many young voters to be as we might expect of those with relatively limited experience: hopelessly naive. They turned out in their droves for a man who became a kind of millennials’ prophet; promising to lead them out of the badlands of austerity and towards a future where everything is nicer, cheaper, or indeed free. They voted for a man who would have endangered our economy, the whisper of whose name can send the pound on a swan-dive.

There is no wisdom here, no great lesson to be learnt; just the insight that many young people rather like being offered free stuff and ask few questions about how, ultimately, that stuff is funded. It has been suggested that the great turnout of the youth vote is an argument for lowering the voting age to 16. Given who they voted for en masse, I would say it’s an argument for raising it to at least 21.

This is not to suggest that the young have no cause to desire real change. It’s true that many have it hard: qualifications that don’t get you anywhere, work that is tenuous, homes that are impossible to afford. Serious action on these fronts would be welcome, within the constraints of our debt-laden public purse.

Yet the passionate sense of grievance among many young people — that theirs is a generation uniquely betrayed by the generations above — should not simply be “listened to” as though it were true; it must be robustly challenged. The phrase “intergenerational unfairness” has a lot to answer for, conjuring up a picture of the baby boomers and Generation Xers scrabbling up the ladder of opportunity and booting those below in the face. It hasn’t happened like that. Those older generations simply took whatever chances were on offer, from £50,000 family homes to university grants, and this does not make them the deniers of opportunity for young people today.

What should be challenged too is the youthful expectation of a free lunch. For instance, many 18 to 24-year-olds — reared on the language of rights — believe it their right to receive a free university education, as Corbyn exploited so successfully. What must be communicated to young people is not congratulations for backing wish-list politics but the reality that public resources are finite.

Wishing for a better world is nothing to be derided, and there is always something appealing about youthful enthusiasm. As Churchill reputedly said; “If you are not a liberal at 25 you have no heart.” But when it comes to the way we run our country, we have a duty not to kowtow to youthful dreaming but to confront some of the myths that underpin it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Socialism is a proven disaster. These might not make for inspiring Facebook posts but they have the virtue of being the truth.

published in the Times 12/6/17

What’s bad for white women is bad for all women

Louise Casey

I have spent the past year touring the country conducting a review into integration and opportunity in our most isolated communities. I have heard numerous personal accounts that have brought home to me the disadvantage still being suffered by some people, including those in white working-class communities.

But the inequality suffered by so many black and minority ethnic women has really stood out for me and this has been particularly apparent in some Muslim communities. I think it is time we talked about this in a more open and honest way.

From the outset I want to say that no culture or religion can ever excuse violence and oppression against women, but my review has caused me to reflect on whether we – myself included – have been as active in promoting opportunity and as vigilant and robust in calling out sexism, taking on patriarchy and standing up to misogyny in some minority communities, as we would have been for white women or girls.

Not because we thought that white women were more worthy of help, but because we thought we were less qualified to comment on cultures we didn’t understand. To be blunt, I wonder if our abhorrence of racism and fear of being called racist, along with our desire not to cause offence, has sometimes got in the way of our feminism.

Analysis of 2011 census data produced for my report shows that 44 per cent and 36 per cent of women born in Bangladesh and Pakistan but living in the UK were unable to speak English well or at all, compared to 20 per cent and 13 per cent of Bangladesh and Pakistan-born men.

And while 20 per cent of all British Pakistani and Bangladeshi men were economically inactive in 2015, the rate for British Pakistani and Bangladeshi women was nearly three times higher, at 57 per cent.

Not only are all those figures too high, they are shockingly gender unequal. Not enough of us have spoken out against this unfairness and/or supported those Muslim women, many who have been courageously fighting these battles and whose voices have not always been heard.

We should not think that this is a problem that affects only older women who arrived in Britain 30 or 40 years ago, as 44 per cent of non-UK born Pakistani and Bangladeshi women aged 16 to 24 are currently unemployed or inactive and not in full time education.

Some ongoing patterns of inter-cousin marriage and a custom of bringing in brides from “back home” have meant young women are continually arriving into patriarchal Muslim communities with a lack of English, a lack of education and a reliance on their husband for their income and immigration status.

This first generation in every generation can have knock-on effects in their ability to understand even basic legal rights, to access health or domestic abuse services freely, as well as for their children who may not speak English in the home and are less well prepared for school as a result.

I fear that we have been too afraid to talk about a lot of this, along with other issues of violence and abuse including female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called honour-based crimes, or the worrying prevalence of male-dominated Biraderi (meaning brotherhood) politics that has taken a hold in some councils and parts of our political parties and system.

We worry about lacking the understanding and confidence to confront such problems, unless laws are clearly contravened. It is more difficult to challenge or act on behaviours that fall into grey areas along this spectrum – where one person’s arranged marriage is another’s forced marriage; or where one person’s religious conservatism is another’s homophobia.

Those of us who regard ourselves as progressives rightly don’t want to be racist and hold back from calling out wrongdoing for what it is.

But the best case explanation for what happened in Rotherham is a lesson here too.

By failing to confront known child sexual exploitation because the majority of perpetrators were Pakistani-heritage men, for fear of upsetting race relations in the town, the council and police only made things worse: for the young women and girls who suffered the most appalling abuse and for race relations as well.

So I hope more resources can now go back into English language and domestic abuse services.

But we also have to be honest about abuse, discrimination and disadvantage wherever it occurs. If we wouldn’t stand for it with white women, we shouldn’t stand for it with any women.

I want to stress that feminists and those who have campaigned for women’s equality and against racism and discrimination down the years are not the enemy here.

They are, in so many ways, heroes who deserve our gratitude and respect. But I hope that the next wave of our fight for women’s equality is one that reaches far into all communities and not just those that we are most comfortable criticising.

By uniting around our common values in a way that allows for and celebrates our differences but also guarantees our fundamental rights, we can start to provide a route map through the difficulties as well as the opportunities of our increasingly diverse nation.

And, by unlocking the potential of all women, we can tackle both the gender and race inequalities that still persist in this country and that all progressives, of whatever political persuasion, should want to end.

This article is based on a chapter Dame Louise Casey wrote for the report A Sense of Belonging: Building a More Socially Integrated Society, published by the Fabian Society and Bright Blue, in partnership with The Challenge.