A hundred years after women won the right to vote in many countries, Rowling has now engaged in a campaign the suffragettes could not have imagined – a battle to hold onto the word woman itself. The response was predictable and brutal. As the actors her books had made famous lined up to distance themselves from her, Rowling became the target of an emotional campaign that has the hallmarks of a modern-day witch hunt.
While it might be tempting to look the other way, for me this is personal. I am a trans woman, so it is my identity – supposedly – that is being denied. However, I am also a high school science teacher and I know magical thinking when I see it. Trans women are male – I certainly am as I fathered three children – while women are female. Male people are not female people and therefore trans women are not women. Whatever emotions might surround the debate, JK Rowling is correct.
As gender has been conflated with sex, gender identity has quietly displaced sex in policies and laws. Effectively we have been able to choose not only our gender but our legal sex, with devastating consequences on women’s sex-based rights. As Kiri Tunks, a founder of Woman’s Place UK said, “If you can’t define what a woman is, how can you defend women’s rights?”
As they seek “validation” from others, they need society to not only chant the mantra, “trans women are women (and trans men are men)”; they need everyone to believe it as well. This has moved beyond the policing of speech and into the control of thoughts. When women object they are met with fury, as JK Rowling has experienced.