Date: December 26, 2019
Author: Paul Cockshott
The case of Maya Forstater, which as already widely reported in the UK press gained further prominence after famous Scottish author Joanne (K) Rowling tweeted in support of her:
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?
This tweet brought considerable criticism down on Rowling.Some of the respondants seem to have had difficulty distinguishing the real world from fiction:
When I was little, my dream was to one day ask you how people like me would have been accomodated for in hogwarts.. I’m afraid that my dreams might have been crushed if I ever got that chance.
Or outright misogyny
Replying to @jk_rowlingShut the fuck up terf
In the online conversations that followed there seems to have been some misconception about what was involved in the Maya case. For instance one respondent tweeted:
How do you think it would feel for someone trans to have to go to work every day with someone they know perfectly well hates them or disrespects who they are at such a basic level? That is the definition of creating a hostile work environment
But Maya Forstater had not been accused of disrespect towards anyone at work. She was fired for tweets she had issued on the subject of a proposed amendment to UK legislation. The Conservatives under Mrs May had proposed a change to the Gender Recognition Act such that any man could, simply by filling in appropriate official forms, be recognised as a woman. Maya Forstater had engaged in a growing debate about this proposed Tory bill to express her disagreement both with the practical implications that this legislation would have for women only spaces, and with the underlying assumption behind the proposal – that people could change sex. Maya specically stated that humans can not change sex. Insofar as she was accused of ‘misgendering’ anyone it was Gregor Murray, a male local politician in Scotland who was expelled from his party for referring to female members of the public as ‘cunts’. This particular politician apparently likes to be referred to as a ‘they’ not a ‘he’.
Gregor Murray, image linked from STV
For expressing her views on this impending law, Maya was fired. She took her case to an industrial tribunal and the judge found against her claim for wrongful dismissal on grounds of belief. The judgment was quite astonishing and is testimony to the degeneration of modern bourgeois liberalism on the questions of women’s and worker’s rights.
The judge held:
“I conclude from … the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Among the evidence against Maya were that :
“The Claimant has regularly supported campaigns where the definition “woman,wʊmən, noun, adult human female” is put on billboard, projected onto buildings and printed on T shirts.”
The judgement acknowledges that in evidence Maya had stated : “Of course in social situations I would treat any transwomen as an honorary female, and use whatever pronouns etc…I wouldn’t try to hurt anyone’s feelings but I don’t think people should be compelled to play along with literal delusions like “transwomen are women””
This is a very dangerous judgement on several grounds:
- It means that workers can be fired for campaigning on political issues with no connection to the performance of the employment duties.
- It means that the state is mandating belief not only in a particular ideology, but in an idelology founded on blatant lies.
- It allows employers to stand as judge and jury in issues involving third parties such as Mr Murray, for which there already exists proper due process in the courts.
The judge said that she could campaign against the legislation but that this campaigning could not extend to stating that transwomen are men. This is absurdly disingenuous, since the whole basis for the opposition to the legislation is that so called transwomen are a subset of the adult male population, and as such must be assumed to pose the same potential risk to women as other men. Unless this fact can be stated, opposition to the legislation can not be coherently expressed.
It is easy to see that a precedent is being set here. If a political campaign or ideological is held to be in some way ‘incompatible with the dignity of others’, then it is ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’, and those expressing this view can be stripped of their rights to free expression.
At one time, expressing a belief in evolution, and that humans are descended from apes, was regarded as very incompatible with human dignity. Human dignity, it was thought, derived from our creation in the image of God, and to assert that we are just naked apes was very undignified. This led indeed to the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ in the US of a teacher accused of teaching evolution. A famous progressive lawyer and one time Democratic Party presidential contender Bryan led the case for the prosecution in that case. The moral defeat of Bryan in this case secured the right to teach evolution. But on the argument of Justice Taylor in the Maya case, stating biological facts is now a valid grounds for dismissal if these facts are seen as violating others dignity. Truth, it seems, must take second place to affronted dignity.
It is not hard to see how socialist propaganda that called capitalists exploiters could in future be held unworthy of toleration in a democratic society because of the way it insults the dignity of bankers and entrepreneurs.
The second point is that the law is now explicitly enshrining an ideological belief ( that sex change is possible ) and saying that if you contend this state sanctioned belief, your contention is not covered by freedom of expression. The judge laid particular emphasis on the point that Maya considers ‘transwomen’ to be men even if they have a government issued Gender Reassignment Certificate. He quotes the law :
Section 9 Gender Recognition Act provides:
(1) Where a full gender recognition certificate is issued to a person, the person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender (so that, if the acquired gender is the male gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a man and, if it is the female gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a woman).
This is to ascribe extraordinary Canutian powers to the law. That a law states that something must occur, is not sufficient natural cause to make it occur. The judgment, pages 12 and 13, goes on at some length about the complexity of the genetic regulation of sex. But none of this biological research has shown that government issued certificates have any causal powers when it comes to the sexual differentiation of mammalian embryos.
A government certificate is just a sheet of paper, it has no causal influence on the sex of bodies. Indeed, a GRC is almost a textbook illustration of one sociological concept of gender as the social representation of sex. As a certificate it is a social product, and insofar as it purports to describe something else – a person’s sex, it is a representation. So a GRC creates an official ideological representation, but the creation of the representation does not change the thing itself. The issue of a certificate does not alter a male body to female one. To believe that it does is to enshrine magical thinking into the law, to assert that the world can be changed by the incantation of appropriate rituals.
The judge in effect says that it is impermissible to state that these rituals produce no real effect. Anyone questioning this magical procedure may be fired without recourse. The law is so absurd and mystical that any rational legislature would strike it out. To campaign for that you have to state the truth, that ritual acts are as ineffective for changing sexual morphology as rain dances are for inducing precipitation. But, from now on, according to this judgement, unmasking this superstition is now legally impermissible.
In the 21st century the British state entered a post truth era, not only did we have a lawyer as Prime minister who made up lies to justify war crimes, not only did his opponents die in the most convenient way, but he pushed through the absurdity of the GRA.
In the heyday of bourgeois liberalism the law was assumed to protect rational criticism of superstition. The situation is now reversed. The capitalist state in Britain says that rationality is to be condemned and superstition enacted in statute. It had been an achievement of the enlightenment and the French Revolution that absurdities like the ritual transubstantiation of wine into blood were officially abandoned. Privately Catholics could go on believing this, but the state took no part in enforcing it. The philosophers of the enlightenment were clear that as Voltaire said:
“Ceux qui peuvent vous faire croire en des absurdités pourront vous faire commettre des atrocités.”
François-Marie Arouet, dit Voltaire – 1694-1778 – Questions sur les miracles, 1765
If the state could enforce assent to a transparent absurdity like the miracle of the mass, then burning of witches and heretics became easy to accept. Accept the miracle of the GRA and TERF hunting become not only acceptable but a holy duty.
If people will recite big lies like ‘transwomen are not men’, other ones like ‘Corbyn is a jew hater’, ‘Brexit was due to Russian hacking’ become small change.