James Kirkup

Is it a crime to say ‘women don’t have penises’?

Is it a crime to say 'women don’t have penises'?
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Is it now a crime to say “women don’t have penises”? A police force and a City mayor seem to think it might be. They are promising to investigate women who say so. That question arises because some women are putting up stickers in public places bearing those words. Some of those stickers are pink and shaped like penises. The point being made is that some people believe that if you have a penis, you’re not a woman. Other people believe that some women have penises. It is perfectly possible to be recognised in law as a trans woman while retaining fully-functional male genitals, and some estimates suggest the majority of those describe themselves as trans women still have their male anatomy intact. This is the bedrock of the dispute between trans rights advocates and feminists. To the latter, biology trumps language: it doesn’t matter what you call yourself or what you think you are, if you have a penis, you are a potential threat to women.

For some, the basic question posed here is: Do women have a legal right to say No to being in an enclosed private space with a person who has a penis? And the current law, as it is applied, does not say an unqualified Yes to that question. Proposals to allow people to change gender on the basis of their own self-declaration (without, for instance, a medical diagnosis) leave some women even more concerned that they will have no meaningful legal right to exclude people with penises from their spaces.

Hence the stickers. Women in several parts of the U.K. are printing and distributing stickers saying “women don’t have penises”, in order to bring to wider public attention what they see as the basic facts of the transgender issue. To others, these stickers are hurtful and offensive, a position captured in this report from Pink News.

Others would argue that penis-shaped stickers are unlikely to promote more measured debate of a complex, emotive subject. One group of women backing the sticker campaign is Liverpool ReSisters, which recently posted this tweet showing a batch of new stickers.

Reactions have been striking, to say the least. At least one Twitter user has asked Merseyside Police to investigate a potential crime. Others have asked local politicians to act. Just the usual Twitter nonsense, right? No one is actually going to treat stickers saying “women don’t have penises” as a crime, are they?

Well guess what Merseyside Police said when people sent them tweets asking them to investigate those sticker?

And here’s Joe Anderson, elected mayor of Liverpool:

“We will remove stickers and work with the Police to identify those responsible.”

It’s traditional to end columns like this by making an argument or a point, but in this case, I think the most eloquent comment I can make about Britain today and the state of the transgender debate is just to restate the facts and let readers draw their own conclusions: A feminist group is today facing the prospect of investigation by a police force and a City mayor for saying “women don’t have penises”.

Written byJames Kirkup

James Kirkup is director of the Social Market Foundation and a former political editor of the Scotsman and the Daily Telegraph.

Topics in this articleSociety