It's summer but the war on women continues. The latest person to fall victim to the transgender thought police is Labour MP Rosie Duffield after she liked a tweet by Piers Morgan where he harrumphed CNN’s reference to 'individuals with a cervix'. Duffield later angered her critics more by asking: 'I’m a ‘transphobe’ for knowing that only women have a cervix….?!'
Morgan is a man, of course, so he escaped censure. But Duffield was not so lucky. This modern witch hunt tends to target women, specifically those who have the audacity to reclaim the word 'woman' to describe their sex.
The inherent sexism in this whole sorry saga stares us in the face. From the original statement by CNN – which doesn’t refer to 'individuals with a prostate' when tweeting about men – to the intimidation and abuse hurled at those who call it out, it is women whose label is stolen from them and women who are bullied for objecting.
However, there is another asymmetry that should be also be troubling Labour's leader Keir Starmer. While some Conservative women have begun to speak out (Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price, for example) they have, for the most part, escaped with a few rude words flung in their direction on Twitter. Within the Labour party, however, authoritarian forces operate that demand compliance. And Duffield is the latest target.
Earlier this year, the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights (LCTR) achieved notoriety with an egregious list of pledges that demanded members of the Labour party comply with the ideology that trans women are women, and trans men are men. Those the LCTR consider to be 'transphobic' or 'bigoted' should be expelled from the party, according to the list of demands. Starmer himself pointedly avoided signing that declaration, unlike his female rivals in the leadership contest Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, and his now deputy leader Angela Rayner.
But keeping silent or sitting on the fence is no longer an option if Starmer is serious about ever forming a Labour government. In response to this weekend's row, the LCTR has denounced Duffield and called for Labour party whips to step in and 'take this forward'. Starmer has kept shtum. Yet while it might be an uncomfortable thing for Starmer to speak out against those in his party who are condemning women for airing their thoughts on this subject, he must.
Why? Because whatever the views of the mob, we can't ignore a simple fact of biology: the cervix is part of the female reproductive system. If the word 'woman' describes adult human females then of course only women have cervixes, and men – the other sex – do not; Duffield then is merely stating objective truth.
If 'woman' is a label that can be claimed or denied by any human being according to how they might claim to feel, then she is indeed a transphobe. But of course this is nonsense and this is why, yes, labels do matter, and why it's also the case that these labels need to be grounded in objective reality. Biological sex is objective – we did not create sex, sex created us. Self-declared gender is merely an expression of feelings. Because feelings will always clash, there will always be conflict. Without external measures, disputes can only ever be settled by appeals to popularity, appeals to authority and a battle of wits. That is no way to build a society or a party fit to form the next government.
Starmer then needs to dismiss the wild demands of the petulant youngsters behind the LCTR, or newspaper columnists who should know better. Their campaign boils down to a power grab: to get their own way irrespective of the interests of others, in particular women desperately holding on to the word 'woman'.
Marx may not be so fashionable since the departure of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, but on this topic he was right: 'social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex'. It certainly isn’t progress to be trying to abolish the female sex.
Starmer's Labour party needs to rectify the damage before it is too late. There will always be ideologues who will defend their theory to the end, but a party that wants to form a government needs to take action. Those who stand by and do nothing – even with the best of intentions perhaps because they want to appear to be kind – are culpable. 'The way to hell is paved with good intentions', said Marx in Das Kapital. It's time for Starmer – and the Labour party – to wake up to that fact.