Not Really Women

Broadcaster Jenni Murray recently caused controversy by stating that transwomen aren’t ‘real women’. Which, in a genetic sense, is true – that is their tragedy. But, what is the measure of a ‘real’ woman? Her defenders have, for example, asked whether a transwoman will experience the menopause, about which Jenni Murray has written. But, what about women who undergo an early menopause or who don’t experience any symptoms? Are they still real women? Is a woman who is infertile or born without ovaries or who undergoes a hysterectomy an ersatz woman? ‘Woman’ isn’t a single monolithic identity. There is a norm – but that norm is an average of the experiences of millions of individuals, not an immutable law, and there will always be many who are far from it.

Her argument fell into three related parts: that transwomen had lived as men with male privilege, that they didn’t do anything to help other women and that they were more concerned with clothes and make-up than feminist issues, all directed as an attack on presenter India Willoughby.

The first point raises the obvious question – if being a man is so great (and Jenni Murray clearly thinks it is), why would any man want to be a woman? Male privilege is a dubious enough concept at the best of times, but any benefits from being male are definitely outweighed by the alienation of being forced to live as someone you’re not (and the bullying and sidelining that frequently goes with being a pre-transition transwoman). If they did experience any male privilege, I think it’s more than counterbalanced by the difficulties many experience in transitioning. Indeed, if it were just about perceived benefits, then being a transwoman is the worst of all possible worlds for many who transition: there is a transphobic strand in feminism, transwomen suffer a great deal of discrimination (such as over which toilets they can use), and they are disproportionately likely to suffer sexual and physical assault.

Given that they have gone through their transition from male to female and have to cope with discrimination, perhaps transwomen can be forgiven if they don’t then take the lead in fighting for the rights of ciswomen, too. Especially when some women, such as the subject of this post, are busy throwing up barriers between them and ‘real’ women.

As for the observation that transwomen are too concerned with clothes and make-up, it must be wondered what Jenni Murray thinks of all the ‘real’ women out there who are obsessed with what they wear, their make-up and their hair? Why must transwomen be held to a different standard? And, are they all so obsessed? (It might be that, if transwomen do seem more preoccupied with such things, and it’s by no means a certainty, the fact that they can finally be themselves and dress how they want plays a big part in that, and that they worry more about the image they present because they never had their childhood to develop their identity as women.)

Jenni Murray might see herself as a ‘real’ woman, but her understanding is definitely limited. A little more empathy on her part would be a good thing.

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