Debbie Hayton Debbie Hayton

Starmer should listen to Sunak on gender

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner and Labour leader Keir Starmer on a Pride march (Credit: Getty images)

The transgender row isn’t going away. Prime Minister’s Questions this week was dominated by a jibe Rishi Sunak made about Keir Starmer’s stance on gender. The Labour leader then lashed out at Sunak for criticising him on the topic while the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey was in the Commons.

It’s clear that both sides in this debate are doubling down: Sir Keir has previously said ‘99.9 per cent of women haven’t got a penis’; while Sunak has said that ‘a man is a man and a woman is a woman’ – that’s just common sense’.

As well as a Spectator writer, I am a science teacher. The history of science is littered with fallacies dressed up as ‘common sense’ which have sowed confusion and held back progress. In this case, however, I think that Sunak has chanced upon the right answer.

Sir Keir has previously said ‘99.9 per cent of women haven’t got a penis’

This is a brutal debate. While the gender identity lobby continue to shriek that ‘transwomen are women’, facing them are the self-identified defenders of biological reality. Claiming the backing of science, they insist that women are adult human females, while transwomen are nothing of the sort. But what if both sides are missing the point? Maybe there has been no resolution because we have all been asking the wrong question?

For too long, the belligerents in the gender debate have effectively debated what the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ ought to mean. Their opinions are poles apart so it’s no wonder they have failed to find any common ground. As a result, fear and mistrust have torn society in two – there is just too much to lose. If ‘man’ and ‘woman’ become gender identities to be claimed by whoever covets them, women’s sex-based rights become meaningless.

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