Will The Real Fawcett Society Please Stand Up?

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Some advice for fence-sitters: hop on a plane to Kansas, find yourself a fierce cyclone to catapult you into a strange land. Collect some companions: perhaps a woodsy, metallic gentleman, a simple-minded straw-stuffed effigy, a lost young girl, and her little dog, too. Off you skip down that lovely yellow brick road and go and see the wizard about a backbone, folks.

I’m talking, of course, about the latest women’s organisation to play the Cowardly Lion: The Fawcett Society.

The Maya Forstater ruling is a turning point in the gender debate, a cause for celebration for women everywhere. Gender-critical views are now a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. For those who don’t know – if, indeed, there are any readers who haven’t yet heard – Maya was let go from her job at CGD, a think-tank campaigning against poverty, for expressing remarks about women’s rights and the dangers of self-ID online. There is a pervasive false narrative being peddled about the particulars of the case. If you’ll indulge me, I want to address a couple of them here. Firstly, her dismissal was not due to workplace harassment, but rather her being reported to her employers for her comments made outside of work on Twitter. Secondly, and crucially, she did not pursue the tribunal hearing or the appeal in the expectation of, or even the desire to be given carte blanche to misgender or harass trans people. I don’t know a single feminist who wants to harass trans people.

Harassment was never the point of this case. Maya pursued it because sex matters, and she refused to be told she couldn’t say so. She did so amid threats of violence and public contempt. Maya Forstater is a brave, admirable woman and feminists everywhere owe her a debt of gratitude.

Upon appeal, Mr Justice Choudhury overturned the initial judgment in her case which had held that her views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. It was a banner day for gender-critical feminists everywhere: we now had protections under the Equalities Act 2010 that meant we could not be fired for holding and expressing our belief in the immutability of biological sex. The ludicrousness of the necessity of this ruling permitting us to state scientific fact is another matter entirely, but nonetheless, it was a cause for celebration. At last, free speech and common sense prevail over gender group-think! It felt, to many of us, as though the tide was beginning to turn.

No matter what personal opinions people hold on the validity of Gender Theory, in a democratic society we should all be grateful that this ruling was passed. A society that restricts freedom of thought and expression is a totalitarian nightmare. People should always be free to espouse dissenting views in a polite and non-threatening manner, whether their opinions are in line with the zeitgeist or not. People have the right not to be abused or harassed. They have the right not to be victimised. They have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of a protected characteristic. They do not have the right not to be offended by someone’s beliefs. Nor should they. Anyone so overwhelmingly insecure in their own belief system, anyone so threatened by opposition that they attempt to silence an informed and legitimate challenge ought to examine their views and ponder how sincerely they believe their own rhetoric.

What does this have to do with The Fawcett Society? Not much, apparently… until a couple of days’ ago. The heavyweight women’s rights organisation who once tackled the gender pay gap and sex discrimination in UK law were conspicuously silent on Maya’s case and what the ruling meant for the protections of natal women who want to defend their rights as outlined in the very same Equalities Act that grants rights to the other side of the debate. Many feminists found this unconscionable. Myself included. Silence is bad enough. But then, to add insult to injury, a board member of The Fawcett Society published a piece on the issue – the content of which still has me shaking my head in disbelief.

The odious fence-sitting had me rolling my eyes. The repetition of the mantra to just ‘be kind’ had me audibly groaning. The assertion of the ‘both sides are as bad as each other’ line had my blood heating at a steady simmer. The pleas for moderate voices – when feminists have attempted to discuss their concerns over safeguarding in single-sex spaces and have been met with a simple ‘NO DEBATE’ – portrayed an ignorance that was utterly bewildering. But it was the patronisation of a support group for menopausal women, describing them as being in their ‘hot girl years’ and talking about the ‘cherished transwomen’ who are alleged members of the group, that kicked up my blood temperature from a steady simmer to a full boil.

I believe that adults should be able to live as whatever and whomever they want, dress however they want and sleep with whomever they want to (if all parties are consenting, of course). Transmen with female biology should of course be welcomed into a menopause group if they are experiencing these symptoms, despite living and presenting as the opposite sex. But there is no earthly reason that a trans-identifying male should be a part of a support group for a bodily ordeal that they cannot and will never experience. What reason could they possibly have for attending? Groups like these exist as a forum for women to help each other through a rough physiological period in their lives. Their purpose is not to validate someone’s gender identity. They should never be co-opted in this manner. I sure as hell don’t think that the supposed contribution in ‘tips on how to accessorise’ is significant enough for transwomen to snag a place at the menopause discussion table. Also, the idea that women as a collective are so insipid that they would want to spend their time fawning over a transwoman’s earrings at a group where they’re seeking support for their medical symptoms is offensive in the extreme. If that anecdote was designed to make the women reading it smile and capitulate to such an intrusion, it fell several lightyears short of the mark.

The fact that a board member for a women’s rights organisation doesn’t see a problem in the above scenario is deeply troubling. The fact that this was her contribution to the gender debate that she has, until now, been too afraid to weigh in on is galling. It is hardly a wonder that grassroots feminist movements are on the rise when this is the attitude of the established groups. It seems that a lot of institutions have lost sight of their message.

Feminism is about fairness and equality for women. The latest in a long line of injustices is that of Laurel Hubbard, a trans-identified person competing in the women’s weightlifting at the Olympics, despite possessing a hugely advantageous male physiology. Laurel may be beneath a threshold of testosterone for trans competitors, but that threshold fails to account for the physical advantages that go beyond mere hormones. It is illogical not to note the unfairness here, and highlighting it has nothing to do with a rejection of Laurel’s chosen gender identity. Laurel, whether the TRAs want to accept this reality or not, has all the musculoskeletal advantages of being biologically male. Laurel is stronger than the female competitors, and no amount of training on the parts of these women will change that. How can people champion the inclusion of trans athletes in women’s sport at the expense of promising young athletes like Nini Manumua, the young female weightlifter that was displaced by the NZ team in favour of Laurel? How can people think that this is a level playing field for the females Laurel competes against? Sex matters in sport. It has to, or the records and medals become meaningless. People are so keen to be seen as allies that they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the imbalance. Yet another black mark in the book of reality denial at women’s expense.

For as long as groups like The Fawcett Society sit in silence rather than champion the women they were created to protect, groups like Frontline Feminists Scotland will keep appearing. We will not sit quietly by and allow our hard-won rights to be eroded away from us without a fight. We, unlike them, will continue to debate. We will not hold our silence.


Because women’s voices matter.

Hannah Weir

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