Free Speech JK Rowling Sex and Gender

How dare the Body Shop tell JK Rowling what to think

Men also have a responsibility to speak out when they see women being abused and belittled. We owe it to women; we owe it to ourselves; we need to put our own house in order.

For nearly a week now, the mob has had JK Rowling in its sights. Her crimes against trans ideology seemed relatively minor but like some authoritarian quasi-religious cult, trans rights activism demands total compliance to its dogma.

Following a series of courageous tweets last Saturday in which the children’s author defended biology and reclaimed the word ‘woman’ to describe those now seemingly called ‘people who menstruate‘, her critics went berserk.

To readers about to switch off from yet another dose of transgender nonsense comes a warning. Coffee House readers may pride themselves in knowing that biological sex is real and, no, we can’t change it. But too many people have stayed silent for too long.

This is more than a Twitter storm. Silently and perniciously, our institutions and corporations have been captured as good people looked the other way. Amid the abuse ricocheting across social media yesterday, the Body Shop waded in with an appalling statement:

Bodyshop Tweet

This was surely catastrophic to the company. If Body Shop don’t care about women, they might care about profits. Women spend a lot of money in Body Shop and like Ratner’s customers a generation ago, they are not laughing at any jokes. Across social media they are furious, and rightly so.

After one of our most accomplished female authors aired her distaste at her sex being described, not as women, but mere ‘menstruators’, Body Shop suggested she read a book. Worse, a book written by a man. It was clear whoever wrote that tweet wasn’t interested in what Rowling had to say on the matter.

Less than two hours before Body Shop’s egregious tweet, Rowling had published a sensitive and heart-felt essay in which she declared that she had ‘followed the debate around the concept of gender identity closely’. She went on to describe how she had ‘met trans people, and read sundry books, blogs and articles by trans people, gender specialists, intersex people, psychologists, safeguarding experts, social workers and doctors, and followed the discourse online and in traditional media.’

These are not the words of a transphobe driven by hate. This is an intellectually honest woman who cares deeply for trans people. In her essay, she acknowledges the truth: ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head’. But she is still sympathetic: ‘I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men’.

Rowling is a trans ally of the best kind, and I say that as a transwoman. She is right when she says that ‘woman’ is not a feeling. No matter how desperately I may have wished to be a woman, only the truth can set us free and we need to build our lives in reality not fantasy. I will therefore leave it to women to speak to women and for women.

But – and here is the root of the problem – while women have been speaking up, in this social policy debacle, they are victims rather than offenders. When they have been told to budge up and make room, too many of my sex – whether they identify as men or transwomen – have left it to women to get on and make the arrangements necessary.

This needs to stop. I hope that male business executives care about women as well as their profits as they hastily review the training of their social media teams; I hope that male politicians finally stop prevaricating when women tell them that their sex based rights are being given away; I hope that men everywhere realise that transgender rights are not a women’s issue. Men also have a responsibility to speak out when they see women being abused and belittled. We owe it to women; we owe it to ourselves; we need to put our own house in order.

We also owe it to transgender people trying to live their best lives in society. Maybe this is self-interest but if progressive men do not speak up, we risk a backlash from those maybe less sympathetic to the rights of transgender people.

But that is not about me, this is about an issue that is as old as society itself. Rowling is sadly accurate when she said that ‘Times change. Woman-hate is eternal’. We will never change that without finding the courage – as JK Rowling has done – to ‘speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.’

Debbie Hayton

* This article was first published by The Spectator on 11 June 2020: How dare the Body Shop tell JK Rowling what to think.

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

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