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Why I’m No Longer Talking to Labour People About Gender

The culture wars show no sign of abating. From digital blackface to charges of Nazism being levelled at those who claim that men are on average taller than women, orthodox social justice ideologues now carry great influence far beyond university campuses and theatres. As Jen Isakson and Ross Speer summarise: “[I]n valorising identity as the essence of being, and its recognition by others as the political achievement par excellence, identity politics, with Tumblr-liberalism as its latest iteration, turned the left away from a project centred on structural critique … to one of altering individual behaviours. The goal of ending oppression, by overcoming hierarchies of domination, become replaced by its celebration: to be oppressed was not a condition to escape, but the supreme virtue”.

One of the core mantras of contemporary identitarians is the belief in gender self-identification. As with microaggressions, cultural appropriation and other regressive (and incoherent) concepts, this has now managed to filter its way into mainstream political discussion. As a result, the Labour Party now has much more than a ‘Mumsnet problem’, to quote James Kirkup. It has fundamentally re-aligned its gender-based values away from tackling sexist stereotypes and improving working and living conditions for women, and now seeks – one can only speculate, but this conclusion seems almost undeniable – to satiate the increasingly aggressive ‘cry-bullies’ (to use the apt term of Angela Nagle’s) of the orthodox social justice left.

Jennifer James, a Labour party activist and former physics teacher from Liverpool, was recently suspended for her gender-critical views after raising over £22,000 to mount a legal challenge to the inclusion of self-identifying transwomen on All-Women Shortlists. Shortly after, the racist model and transwoman Munroe Bergdorf was appointed as a labour equalities advisor. One of these women fought bitterly to defend women’s rights, while the other is a man who claimed that the suffragettes were white supremacists who were in the business of ‘erasing’ black history (notwithstanding that the 1918 laws were revised based on age and property, not race, rendering Bergdorf’s claim false). The party’s priorities are now strikingly clear.

Unless the UK left becomes a place for rational inquiry and discussion, then it is likely that whatever social justice meme emerges next it will uncritically find itself influencing Labour party policy. Dominant figures on the UK left, from Owen Jones to Ash Sarkar and Aaron Bastani, are continuing to claim that trans rights do not conflict or undermine sex-based rights. Labour activists should be steadfast and clear about the underlying principles here: Namely, that there is no gender ‘spectrum’, no coherent definitions of ‘non-binary’, ‘cis’ or ‘transphobic’, no sensible accommodation for those who decide to de-transition. There is only biological sex, and on top of that a combination of personality and sexual preference, which ‘gender’ is often confused with.

The broader motives behind the trans rights surge should also not be ignored. Jennifer Bilek recently reviewed the large number of rich, white men in biomedical companies who are profiting greatly from the institutionalisation of transgender ideology, since they manufacture the drugs which are increasingly being administered to those who wish to transition: “Bodily diversity appears to be the core issue, not gender dysphoria … This ideology is being promoted as a civil rights issue by wealthy, white, men with enormous influence who stand to personally benefit from their political activities”.

Despite a recent surge in the polls for London, over the last month Labour has dropped 3 points and trailed the Tories for a while, immediately after the announcement of plans to allow transwomen onto All-Women Shortlists. The 6 point drop in women voters from late January to mid-February (YouGov) was not an accident. Labour is unfortunately placing self-identification above sex-based rights of women – to the unsurprising disapproval of women.

What’s peculiar about this situation is that while Labour is attempting to express some form of progressivism, there are a number of subtle ways it is arguably perpetrating sexism. In the recent narrative concerning Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn’s effort to sneak into parliament and erect a plaque in honour of suffragette Emily Davison, all focus was placed on the Labour leader and the prolific diarist, both among the media and Labour members. Oddly, the critical role of Helena Kennedy QC in this effort has been almost completely ignored, despite the story being about women’s rights. What is the reason for this? As with the question ‘Why are transwomen almost entirely dominating the self-identification debates, rather than transmen?’, sadly it doesn’t take a genius in modern gender theory to figure it out. There may be great bouts of euphoria and self-adulation to be found in subscribing to the latest component of social justice orthodoxy, and in punishing and shaming those who do not fall in line – but there is little dignity in it.

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Elliot Murphy teaches in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at University College, London.

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