What makes an opinion valid? Many Women in Scotland have been asking themselves that question since the First Minister dismissed as "not valid" concerns about the negative impact of Self ID in her planned gender reform on single sex service provision, i.e. refuges and support services.
This dismissal by the First Minister not only potentially, and is obviously an attempt to, silence women both working in the violence against women sector and those with lived experience. It also indicates that those opinions are seen as invalid by the Government and therefore fair game in a society where women already take more than their fair share of abuse.
This was certainly not the vision of Scotland’s first woman First Minister. A vision of hope and solidarity was palpable in some company. You did not have to be an SNP supporter to be hopeful of change. As mothers lined up for their daughters to be photographed with Sturgeon, never did we imagine that we would have to fight not only for the services those daughters may need in the future, but also that our very voices, and our own validity, would be called into question by her.
We need to be clear. The First Minister was not saying that the message from feminist campaigners was unclear, or that the language they use is confusing. No, The First Minister has decided the concerns of feminists and their supporters are not valid.
The concerns that she is referring to are that to allow the transgender community, and in particular transwomen, to decide without medical support that they have changed their biological sex, will negatively impact women only spaces, such as refuges, toilets and changing rooms. Not only that but would also allow people who have grown up as boys into men to compete in women’s sport.
It is important that we are clear that it is biological sex we are talking about and not gender identity. Anyone can change their gender identity. It is a very stereotypical thing to do, to refer to yourself as a woman because of how you dress and present yourself, for example what clothing is appropriate. Feminists have fought the pressure on women, and by default men, to adhere to society’s stereotypical version of what they should look like, feel and present as.
There are also some men who “feel” they are women and do not want to change their outer appearance at all. This does not take into account the experience of growing up as a girl in a world where the even Scottish Government accepts social conditioning and life experiences impact on boys and girls differently.
Individual need, or want, should not supersede the protection of others. Sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and to ignore that is to ignore the biological facts of what it means to be human and how these facts are used to oppress women, for example through sexual violence.
This silencing of women’s legitimate concerns is what makes Sturgeon’s statement so alarming. This intelligent woman, who claims to be feminist to her fingertips, will know that women’s rights have only progressed through women being heard. The consciousness raising groups of the 1970s, brought women together to talk, share experiences and identify what needed to be done. This led to the establishment of organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. By silencing women, or invalidating their contribution, you are silencing / invalidating the movement and therefore opportunities for progress for women and girls.
Silence only supports abusers, be that individual men or an oppressive system. Women will therefore not be silenced, and their concerns will continue to be valid, whether or not the First Minister likes it. The real question for Scotland as a whole is why the First Minister thinks it is appropriate to invalidate the concerns of so many women, some of whom are survivors, all of whom have been silenced in other ways in this patriarchal society, and what she hopes to achieve by it.