In June Cancer Research UK, a charity, tweeted: “Cervical screening (or the smear test) is relevant for everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix.” The odd phrasing—“everyone with a cervix” rather than “women”—was not accidental. The charity explained that it had deliberately chosen to use what it described as “inclusive language”. Similarly, the campaign Bloody Good Period, which donates tampons and sanitary towels to asylum-seekers, uses the word “menstruators” rather than “women”. And Green Party Women, an internal campaign group of the British Green Party, confirmed last year that its preferred designation for the constituency it represented was not, in fact, “women” but “non-men”.
These linguistic peculiarities are all responses to the astonishingly rapid advance of trans activism. Mara Keisling of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, an American lobby group, claims that it has made “faster progress than any movement in American history”, and the same holds true across the globe.
Trans people face substantial injustices, most significantly violence (perpetrated, like all violence, largely by men) and discrimination. The process of applying for a gender-recognition certificate is intrusive and burdensome for many, and there are frustrating waiting lists for medical transition, which are compounded when doctors appear unsympathetic or obstructive. Yet rather than confront male violence or lobby the medical system, the focus of trans activism has overwhelmingly been the feminist movement, spaces and services designed for women, and the meaning of the word “woman”.
It is notable that Cancer Research UK did not test its “inclusive” approach with a male-specific cancer. Its campaign messages about prostate and testicular cancer address “men”, rather than “everyone with a prostate” or “everyone with testicles”.
Women’s groups are aggressively picketed for being exclusionary; men’s clubs are left unmolested.
This asymmetry is a problem. Gender equality has not been achieved. Men still earn more than women for equivalent work, run most of the biggest companies, dominate representative politics and commit the great majority of violent crime. But the drift towards gender-neutral language (at least when discussing matters that affect women) makes it increasingly hard to articulate all this. How can you describe the maternity penalty as a factor in women’s disadvantage in the workplace, without committing the “essentialist” faux pas of associating women with pregnancy and motherhood?
In sports, trans inclusion means trans women (natal males, such as Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand) competing against and beating female athletes, while trans men (natal females) present little threat to male competitors.
Too often, gender neutrality is accomplished by neutralising services or analyses centred on women. But it is also important to understand that, far from loosening the shackles of gender, modern trans ideology often tightens them.
There is a word for a situation where women talking about female bodies is considered impermissibly antisocial, where describing the consequences of sexism for women is systematically impeded, where resources for women are redistributed to male users while resources for men are left in male hands, and where “male” and “female” are rigidly associated with masculinity and femininity. That word is not “progressive”, “liberal” or any of the other terms usually associated with trans activism. The word is misogyny. Trans rights should not come at the cost of women’s fragile gains.