The Fawcett Society appears torn between supporting gender identity and sex based rights. UK women deserve better, writes Jo Bartosch.
Valentine’s Day is often a make or break point for relationships, and today the UK’s leading women’s rights group is facing a tough choice about who to dump. For the past few years the Fawcett Society have been at the centre of an unhappy love triangle, tugged between those who believe ‘woman’ is an identity and others who view ‘woman’ as a sex. Waiting on the doormat for Fawcett Society CEO Sam Smethers this morning were a slew of Valentine’s Day cards from feminists who feel the charity have been cheating on them with their ‘transwoman inclusive’ stance.
As well as sending cards some took to Twitter to make their point, with tweets including: “Roses are red, Female’s a sex Fawcett won’t say this, So now it’s my ex” and “Roses are red, Fawcett can’t define women. That’s not fighting patriarchy, Not even beginning.”
The action was sparked by Maya Forstater though it has been supported by feminists across the UK. The tax researcher was recently at the centre of a legal case after she lost her job at Centre for Global Development for stating in her blog that people cannot change sex. As a longstanding advocate for the rights of women and girls Forstater explained why she took action:
“The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading feminist charity. I feel let down by them. They haven’t stood up for women in the debate about sex and gender identity. They’ve called for open and constructive debate on the difficult issues but they haven’t done anything to make that happen. Individual women who were brave enough to speak up have paid the price. When I saw them advertising valentine’s cards I tweeted that I would send them one to say they’ve broken our hearts.”
Fawcett Society CEO Sam Smethers has begun to take small steps toward defending those who have fallen foul of the woke stasi. This week saw Labour Party leadership candidates and senior members signing the ‘Labour Campaign for Trans Rights.’ Included in a list of twelve demands was a pledge to ‘Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views.’ This would include supporters of the feminist campaign group Women’s Place UK (WPUK), which is referred to in the document as a ‘hate group.’ WPUK was founded in 2017 to call on the government to consult more widely about how changes to the Gender Recognition Act would impact on women. In a statement online Smethers said:
Trans people are targeted with violence, abuse and threats and so are women who speak out about the need to defend women only spaces and sex-based rights. Women’s fear of male violence is real and justified. For reasons of women’s privacy, dignity and safety the need for single sex spaces remains. But trans people’s human rights must also be recognised and their needs must also be met. Characterising Women’s Place UK in this way misrepresents them and is fundamentally unhelpful. It is time to move this agenda forward.
This somewhat incoherent fudge mirrors the Fawcett Society response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation. In a Q&A released in 2018 the charity lent broad support to reform of Gender Recognition Act, which would allow for people to ‘self-identify’ their sex. The same document states ‘patriarchy has been built on sex discrimination and the sexual exploitation of women’ and argues that the single sex provisions in the Equality Act should be strengthened. It seems Fawcett simultaneously believe ‘trans women are women’ but that women deserve access to single sex spaces and support, which is obviously impossible if either sex can identify as a woman.
The Fawcett Society’s most recent comment comes too late for the women like Maya Forstater, forced out of their jobs for wrong think, too late for the academics scared to speak, too late for women in prisons and on hospital wards forced to share with men who identify as women. It is also too late for the young women, most of them lesbian, who have taken testosterone and undergone mastectomies in the belief that they were ‘born in the wrong body.’
By equivocating and simultaneously being ‘inclusive of trans women’ whilst claiming to advocate for women as a sex, Fawcett Society have made themselves attractive to funding bodies and widened their appeal. Notably the income of the Fawcett Society has risen sharply during the five year leadership of Sam Smethers, from 387k in 2015 to £1.3M in 2019. It seems the price of acceptance into the institution is selling out the sisterhood.
In a parallel to the consciousness raising of earlier generations, grassroots feminists are becoming ‘radicalised’ online, increasingly angered by the silencing and smearing tactics of aggressive transgender activists. Sam Smethers would do well to remember the rallying cry of Millicent Fawcett, the woman in whose honour the Fawcett Society is named: ‘courage calls to courage everywhere and its voice cannot be denied.’ Fawcett needs to speak up a little louder if it is to stay relevant to the women of today.