A point of agreement

A point of agreement

If you want to understand (and you really should want to) how gender ideology – the belief that men can turn into women simply by saying so based on some internal feeling they have – captured so many public institutions and members of the political class in recent years, how, in particular, it led to the Gender Recognition Reform Act in Scotland (blocked by the UK government), how Scottish women mobilised and fought back against it and the price they paid – and are still paying – for doing so, you should read “The Woman Who Wouldn’t Wheesht“, edited by Lucy Hunter Blackburn and Susan Dalgety. It tells the story of some of the very many women involved in the campaign to stand up for women’s rights, is well-written, infuriating, inspiring and so very very necessary.

But if you do not have the time, this tweet above by Michael Cashman (Lord Cashman for he was made a Labour peer in 2014) about Rosie Duffield, the Labour candidate for Canterbury, sums up many of the worst aspects of the abuse and dismissal women face. 

Some facts:-

  • Michael Cashman is an outspoken spokesperson for trans rights, in particular the push for self-ID. He is entitled to do this and, it goes without saying, should not be attacked or threatened for having or expressing such views, however much one may disagree.
  • Rosie Duffield, an MP since 2017, has been an equally outspoken spokesperson for women’s rights and against the push for self-ID because of its effects on those rights. It also goes without saying that she should not be attacked or threatened for having or expressing such views.
  • Alas, that has not been the case. She has repeatedly faced considerable abuse and threats of violence for articulating those views.
  • This month Glen Mullen, 31, was convicted on two counts of publishing articles on ‘X’ threatening to kill Rosie Duffield and JK Rowling. He was given two suspended sentences. Quite why threats to kill women in the public eye should merit such light sentences is for another time.
  • Rosie Duffield has faced other repeated threats of violence and abuse. She had to avoid the Labour Party conference in autumn 2021 on police advice because of online threats from pro-transgender campaigners.
  • On 14 June she announced that she would be cancelling public hustings in her constituency because of continuing threats to her which she said in her statement were “being pursued with a new vigour during this election“. She said she would hold secure local events instead and has spent £2,000 on bodyguards to protect her while campaigning.
  • Michael Cashman’s response to this was to write on ‘X’ “Frit. Or lazy.”

On June 15th. Just one day short of 8 years to the day since a female Labour MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a far right extremist, Thomas Mair, in what was described by the judge as an act of terrorism. One other MP, David Amess, was murdered in October 2021, also by a terrorist, Ali Harbi Ali, an IS fanatic. Stephen Timms survived an attempt to murder him in 2010 by Roshonara Choudhry, an Al-Qaeda sympathiser.

After all these attacks, Parliamentarians solemnly intone the vital importance of not attacking MPs for doing their jobs, of the need to realise that violence – or threats of it – are not the answer to differences of opinion, of the need be careful not to excuse or incite or be seen to be condoning violence against opponents.

None of this seems to have troubled Lord Cashman. Though the reaction to his message has, as he withdrew his most recent message about Ms Duffield.

His sneering dismissal of the threats to Ms Duffield, his mockery of how she might feel, his lack of concern for the particular fears women feel when threatened by men, his disregard for basic civility in his withdrawal of the message, which did not even bother to mention her name and his focus on him understanding “any complaints sent to the Labour party” sums up an all too familiar failure to understand that it is precisely this sort of behaviour which shows – better than any argument – why women need women-only spaces for their safety, their dignity, their privacy: Bullying, a lack of empathy and a determination to put women back in their box, in as contemptuous a way as possible.

If this is how a peer behaves, little wonder that masked youths feel emboldened to behave in the way they do whenever women seek to gather to speak about themselves and what concerns them. It does not just happen to women politicians. It happened at the FILIA Conference in Glasgow last October. It happened at a Women in Education Conference in London in February earlier that year. It happened at a conference by the Clinical Advisory Network on Sex and Gender in March of this year.

If women won’t shut up voluntarily, they must be made to. That too was the message of an earlier tweet by Michael Cashman telling Ms Duffield to withdraw as candidate if she would not attend public hustings. How very de haut en bas of him: a man who does not need to bother meeting with constituents or seek their approval or face their disapproval, however unpleasantly expressed, blessed as he is with an unelected seat in Parliament for life. That message is still up. As is another one claiming she is looking for “martyrdom“. It does not matter if he now withdraws them. We know what he really thinks. Given his own complaints about the abuse he got when he stood as Labour’s first openly gay MP, you’d have thought he’d have a bit more empathy.

Little wonder too that it should be a Labour representative behaving in such a way. Labour has made much of its campaign to advance trans rights over the years. It has ignored the clash of rights and sought to pretend that this does not exist, despite the courts ruling on various occasions that there is such a clash (the Shadow Justice Secretary, Shabana Mahmoud recently agreed). It has preferred to listen to only one side of the argument. It has refused Labour Women’s Declaration access to its conference to argue their case. Its manifesto says more on the topic of gender (106 words) than on women’s rights (61 words). Women’s need for single sex exceptions in the Equality Act are mentioned right at the end of the section headed “Respect and Equality for All” (26 words), as if they are an afterthought. It ignores the recommendations of the EHRC to clarify the meaning of “sex” in the Equality Act, so as to preserve those exceptions. It has said nothing in response to this being one of the 11 points listed by Mumsnet in its document setting out what matters to women. It prefers instead to claim that this is purely a Tory “culture war” while failing to realise that ignoring the very real legal and material issues involved is itself a “culture war“.

Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary, said in July 2023 that he was “really sorry about the way Rosie’s been treated” over this issue. It was a rare – and welcome (if some might consider it opportunistic) – acknowledgement by a senior Labour politician of the toxicity of the debate, its effect on women and that the Labour Party might actually need to think a bit harder about this topic.

Streeting said on Sunday that Cashman’s comments were “extremely unfair” and that he was “very concerned” at Ms Duffield “having to change the way she behaves because of abuse“. Lord Cashman has now had the Labour whip withdrawn following Starmer’s comment that his remarks were “totally inappropriate“.

Over the weekend, the Labour leader issued this message on ‘X’ remembering Jo Cox.

Fine sentiments.

He also said last week in an interview with HuffPost that people are “exhausted” by political battles over issues such as trans rights. (Worth noting the latest British Social Attitudes survey by the National Centre for Social Research showing a majority against being able to legally change sex on one’s birth certificate – a significant change from 2016.) Starmer is however only half right. It is not a battle about trans rights. It is about women’s rights and women are indeed exhausted at having to fight to keep rights they fought hard to obtain. They are exhausted and furious, as Ms Dalgety and Ms Blackburn’s book explains, at having to explain over and over again why women’s rights matter, at having to do this in Parliament, in Holyrood, on the streets, in the media and in endless legal cases they have to fund themselves and against a background of abuse, insults and threats of violence. And, above all, at not being listened to or being patronised or told that they don’t know their own mind or are being manipulated and all the rest of the “yes dear, stop bothering the men with these fringe issues” brush-offs. If he does indeed want to end this exhaustion and bring people together, he would do well to listen – really listen – to what women have to say.

Everyone should be able to express views, whatever side of whatever debate you are having, without facing abuse and threats of violence and fearing for one’s safety. This is a particular concern for women but it is not just about them. It is a pity that former MPs like Michael Cashman need to be reminded of this basic requirement in a pluralist democracy, that threats and sneering and dismissal of genuine concerns should not get a free pass because they are done by the side you support. It is good that MPs like Streeting have felt able to make this point and that Starmer has taken action. Bullying and turning a blind eye to threats of violence should not have any place in any political party or movement.

On this surely all can agree?


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