Wresting the word ‘woman’ away from us

I personally have spent the last few years tying to clarify what people mean when they use the phrase ‘trans rights are human rights’. It’s a neat, clean soundbite that doesn’t convey any meaning in terms of rights – it only conveys meaning around the progressive credentials of the person saying it. It’s used by people who deliberately want to obfuscate the ask, and it’s been picked up by people who haven’t given it much thought but believe it to be the next civil rights fight.

I’ve tried to cut through the phrase by asking people very specifically if they believe that a male born person with a penis should have the human right to undress in a communal changing room where women and girls are undressing.

And the replies have been eye opening.

Evasion, anger, accusations, attempts at humiliation and silencing. It would seem that people are using language to hide what they are really pushing for, and using it to try to achieve the results they want without having to clarify the full extent of what the ask really is. Barely anyone will actually answer this question. Hardly anyone will baldly say that ‘yes, this is exactly what we want’; not necessarily because this isn’t what they’re after, but because they know that if they said this they would lose support.

And we know – because we crowd-funded for a poll that used clear defined terms – that when the average person is asked whether they believe that a male born people with a penis should have the right to compete in women sports, or to undress in women’s changing rooms, or to be housed in women’s prisons; the majority of the UK say no.

But despite being in the minority, activists are using language to pretend to be in the majority – by polling using the very nebulous term ‘transwomen’ and ‘rights’ and ‘treated like a woman’ they’re manipulating people and politicians into believing that it’s a majority position and that only prejudiced haters believe otherwise.

I’ve long said that this conflict isn’t about fairness and biology, but language and power.

We’ve seen how language is being manipulated to prevent women from discussing male violence, by using it as a powerful tool of social shame. The words bigot, transphobe, hater are being used to silence and prevent women from discussing the reality of their lived experience. Language is being used to gaslight women – and society – into capitulation. Telling women that they are the problem, that they are the oppressors, the ones enacting violence by misgendering, is an attempt to equalise the harm done to women by men with the perceived harm done by women to men.

This is gaslighting and minimising the effect of male violence against women. A way of moving the conversation away from centring women, to centring men.

This attempt to wrest the word woman away from women prevents us from having a word to describe – not just our biology, but the whole political experience that is built around being a person in possession of a body with this specific biology – namely if we cannot describe ourselves as a group of women, we cannot adequately advocate for that defined group.

Who benefits from this? Certainly not women.

Merched Cymru and LGB Alliance Cymru are working together to respond to Welsh Government’s LGBT+ Action Plan. See our page here.