The government is proposing to revise the Gender Recognition Act by removing hurdles and safeguards for those who would like to change gender. In effect the reform would allow people to change their sex on their birth certificate almost on a whim, as David Kurten explained on TCW yesterday.
We are all born women and men. These are basic categories of human existence; acceptance of them unites religions and cultures. They are invaluable categories of social organisation and, I suspect, support psychological health.
One of the strongest challenges to the GRA comes from the campaigning group Fair Play for Women. However what gives their campaign currency is not the importance of sex as a principle of social organisation and identity (although that is discussed) but the fact that they build on widely accepted gender stereotypes of vulnerable women and violent men. The idea is that men will not stop at anything, even legally changing their gender, in order to have access to women.
There is a public consultation exercise which ends in one week, and I will participate. The concern about allowing self-declared females (i.e. men) into women-only spaces is a genuine one.
But if we really want to move beyond the problem, we need to recognise the harm which decades of feminist ideology and policy has done to the wellbeing and mental health of men (as well as of women). We also need to move beyond the demonisation of men.
The problems started when feminists taught us that there were no real differences between the sexes. If women preferred working with people and men with things, this was because we were the product of social and cultural construction. Feminists thoroughly severed the link between gender identity and our biological sex.
This affected men and women differently. Women were encouraged to emulate the male way of life. Through this, feminists played a role in ‘liberating’ womanhood from its irreducible connection with biology. They attempted to dissolve all forms of femininity which emerged from nurturing roles and behaviours. Instead femininity became a caricature as we overcompensated for its loss through our physical appearances instead.
It also meant that for the first time living as a woman, rather than simply imitating them, became available to men.
At the same time society made it more difficult to become a man. In the past, being female did not require social or cultural construction. For women the process of reproduction is generative of a whole raft of far-reaching behaviours in a way which is not the case for men. Instead, lacking the reproductive abilities of women, a great deal of social and cultural construction goes into becoming a man.
This is why small-scale societies put boys through often extremely elaborate initiations. It is why male-only spaces are created, or male-dominated hierarchies or roles based on esoteric knowledge which is available only to the man.
Without this coaxing, men go their own ways and do their own thing. This is quite explicit among the Men Going Their Own Way – men who choose to rebel. Men without social roles to constrain them may be of little benefit to women and children. They have no one to live for but themselves. But with gender-specific rituals and roles, statuses and challenges boys are cajoled or tempered into something more useful.
This is what anthropologists call patriarchy. It doesn’t carry the baggage which feminists associate with it. It provides men with roles which are ultimately useful to women and children, and encourages behaviours in males which support and sustain their communities.
But feminists have convinced us that patriarchy is corrupt and destructive and this has made it a source of shame to be a man.
More damagingly, feminists have set out to destroy every pathway and relationship, every support structure, which shapes the process by which a boy becomes a man. Fathers have been kept out of families, male teachers out of schools. Male-only spaces have been made illegal. Competition has been hounded out of education. Male behaviours are vilified by expressions such as ‘mansplaining’. Masculinity is seen as toxic. Men should no longer strive for status because if they do so they are seen as complicit in a system which is inherently corrupt. Enormous damage has been done to generations of boys.
Feminists see transwomen as the triumph of misogyny; female spaces being infiltrated by men who, with a stronger claim to victimhood status, make better women than themselves. However it has been convincingly argued that male-to-female transsexuals, particularly those who are not homosexual, are affected by autogynephilia. They love women and want to become what they love.
Feminists have for so long portrayed men as subhumans who subordinate and exploit women. They have ignored men as our partners and equals who have provided and cared for women and children. They have poisoned our understanding of what it means to be a man. It seems a bit of a stretch to see men who like to dress and act like women, and even castrate themselves, as suffering from internalised misogyny. Rather they are the embodiment of the feminist hatred of men.
I am grateful to all those women involved in Fair Play for their campaigning work and for enduring extremely unpleasant abuse simply for stating the obvious that women are women and men are men. But if feminists want to protect biologically-based gender identities perhaps they could encourage and allow girls to reconnect with that which makes them uniquely female, their reproductive capacity. Girls could be encouraged to think not just of careers but of marriage and family. And when women fall behind men at work because they want to look after their families perhaps we could understand this as difference rather than discrimination.
And perhaps even more importantly we could allow, even encourage, men to be men.
Having clearly defined gender roles which emerge from our biological differences is a cultural asset, not a liability. Feminists are relying on the law to protect us. But only when women reclaim their womanhood rather than imitating masculinity and only when men are allowed to discover for themselves what it means to be a man will the categories of man and woman be safe.