This is a response to an article by an inexperienced social worker published in Professional Social Work a magazine of BASW. The article was full of mistakes and mischaracterisations -ones that illustrate what happens when an area cannot be openly discussed without fear. Ideology becomes conflated with fact and scientific evidence. This is one response by a social worker.
Eric writes “the gender critical refers to people who work to enforce gender binaries and believe that gender is biological. Gender binary is the classification of gender into two distinct opposite forms of masculine and feminine”.
EBSWA write to explain how badly this mischaracterises the gender critical position and to clarify what is meant by gender critical. We do this because it is of utmost importance in our mission to enable children to live free from the regressive constraints of gender and protected from the deeply worrying trend of medicalising gender non-conformity in children.
The gender critical position is in fact the exact opposite to that which Eric presents. What Eric presents might more accurately be described as a traditional conservative position - that one's sex determines one’s role, social position, and permitted expression.
It is difficult to know whether it is a wilful mischaracterisation or whether it is born of ignorance. Hopefully it is born of ignorance and in spelling out our position Eric and others may, to their surprise, find they agree with much of what we believe.
Millions of years of human evolution demonstrates that sex is determined by being on one of two developmental pathways, either towards the production of large immobile gametes (female) or towards the development of small motile gametes (male). Sex is real, immutable and meaningful. These are simply facts.
The real clue as to what we believe is in the name - we are critical of gender. Quite how we are supposed to be gender essentialists then is quite the contradiction. Eric doesn't explain what Eric means by gender; gender identity ideologists never do. What we mean by gender is the system of socialisation that expects female and male people to conform to certain social roles, behaviours, expressions, and relationships to others dependent on their sex (we tend to refer to femininity and masculinity respectively when describing these). Note that sex and gender are two entirely different things.
This system works to oppress women as a sex class “in order to enable male access to women's bodies as a reproductive and sexual resource and the appropriation of women's domestic, reproductive and emotional labour. This appropriation is facilitated by the system of socialisation [gender] which inculcates entitlement in males and teaches women to prioritise the needs of others above their own" (@janeclarejones 25th November).
Women are oppressed by gender on the basis of our sexed bodies. Gender is the mechanism of the oppression, in other words the value judgements, permitted behaviour and expression that are applied to the sexes. A couple of decades ago I don't think many on the left would have disagreed with this analysis.
Whilst Eric doesn't define gender, it is clearer what so called “progressives” mean by “gender identity", a subjective feeling of being male or female regardless of one's biology. It is never explained what being a female or male feels like or how one could know the meaning of any such “feeling” if it was not related to actual sex.
The disagreement between gender critical people and “gender identity” believers, at this cultural moment, appears to have stemmed from different ideas about how we dismantle this system of sex based oppression for the benefit of all. The “gender critical” solution is to challenge the value judgements that are socially imposed onto the sex distinction and to fight the myriad injustices that befall women and girls because of their sex. The “gender identity” solution appears to be rooted in a belief in the possibility of a “post sex” utopia where sex is irrelevant and can be “chosen", according to a nebulous sense of “identity".
The feminist movement of the 60s and 70s organised its political objectives around dismantling gender. It is thanks to them that children grew up in the 1980s knowing that being a girl or boy is not defined by “femininity" or “masculinity". There were masculine women and feminine men. No one questioned whether David Bowie or Boy George were men, or that Grace Jones or Annie Lennox were women. However, although we were pushing the boundaries it didn't mean that gender ceased to exist as an oppressive system.
Gender is of course baked in at a social, cultural and political level. The prevalence of violence by men against women and girls (VAWG) including the myriad ways sexual violence is perpetrated against women and girls, and the appalling way our legal system responds is testament to that. Other examples include women continuing to do the bulk of unpaid labour to their obvious economic detriment; women in many parts of the world still having to fight for their reproductive rights and even their education; and women’s health being under researched and poorly understood (see for example endometriosis, puerperal psychosis and menopause). Radical and gender critical feminists work tirelessly to end VAWG and other social injustices against females, and some organisations work with men to raise awareness and try to change gendered behaviour.
One of the ways feminists are currently fighting gender comes in the form of opposing “gender identity” ideology. We do this because “gender identity” ideology consolidates regressive stereotypes of masculinity and femininity and thus upholds the oppressive system of gender. I don't think “progressives" recognise this as a consequence of the ideology, preferring instead to imagine that, in claiming a “trans” or “non-binary” identity, one is transgressing gender norms. And it could be said to be transgressing gender norms if it wasn't claimed that one is literally the opposite sex whilst doing so (and expecting society to endorse this sex “transubstantiation” in the process).
Why is it a problem to conflate the transgression of gender norms (and/or the idea of a sexed soul) with literally being the opposite sex, rendering sex irrelevant and inconsequential? Why is it a problem reorganizing law, social policy and life around this understanding? Simplistically this conflation is the aim of queer theory, the driver of “gender identity” ideology. The problem with the ideology, liberatory though it sounds, is that it ends up tying the sexes to gender stereotypes and is therefore sexist. We’ve all heard evidence of children being told that because they don't like/conform to the toys; clothes; hair styles; activities and behaviours associated with their “gender" that they might in fact be the opposite sex. The implication for a girl is - if you don't conform to femininity, you're not a girl, ergo girl = femininity. This increases and enhances the gendered expectations applied to the sexes! Is it any wonder that girls especially are seeking to “escape” their sex through transition?
Moreover, the ideology suggests it is possible for one to “identity" out of one's sex. The belief that one can identify out of one's sex and the attempt to write this into law and social policy has enormous social and political implications for the recognition of sex based violence and oppression and how we address it; gay and lesbian rights; the rights of religious minorities; and for the safeguarding of women and children.
Examples of such implications include skewed crime statistics with male rapists identifying as “female"; inequality in resource allocation for women's services/health because of skewed census data; workplace discrimination due to sex no longer providing a meaningful comparator in Equality law; religious minorities excluding themselves from aspects of public life when forced to share intimate space with female “identified" males; gay men and lesbians being accused of transphobia for refusing to consider having what essentially amounts to heterosexual sex; male sexual predators taking advantage of sex self ID and entering women and children's safe spaces; and last but not least children being encouraged towards a lifelong medical pathway to transition in the belief that it is possible to be/become the opposite sex.
One clear way of demonstrating the absurdity of what could be described a “sex blind" approach is to consider how an analogous “race blind" approach might be received in the Black Lives Matter cultural moment. Forget your oppression, we don't recognise race anymore! How are these equally offensive positions different?
A “gender identity” believer might claim it is different on the grounds it is somehow (in a way that could never be explained) possible to be “born in the wrong body", say a female brain in a male body, and that such a person is in a new special class of human requiring specific civil rights protection. EBSWA don't believe in Cartesian dualism or sexed souls. There are simply brains in sexed bodies and 7 billion different personalities living in a gendered world. We believe in evidence and reason, and that all humans are legally entitled to freedom of belief and protection from sexed based discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 provides for both and in addition provides for the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment". This is not, as is erroneously presented by Stonewall, protection on the grounds of a nebulous “gender identity” – there is no such legal category.
This is important because it tells us something about the reality – which is that transsexualism (gender reassignment) has been understood in law to relate to the medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a recognised mental or psychological disorder with an established evidence base. For some adults, medical transition can provide palliative relief, and such people should be protected in law from any discrimination and harassment arising from these interventions.
This brings us to the final point, which is that children experience gender dysphoria, psychological discomfort with the sexed body, for myriad reasons. These may include emerging awareness of the gendered world as part of normal development; emerging homosexuality; autism, trauma and loss. All evidence points to between 80-90 % outgrowing their dysphoria via puberty. Whether or not any child could consent to social transition and puberty blockers (the first steps on a lifelong medical pathway) is a hugely contested question. We are also now seeing rising numbers of detransitioners, young people who are testament to the fact that “gender identity" is not a static facet in human development, and that material harms are being done in the name of this ideology.
Social workers practice in a social and legal context and within our profession’s codes of ethics and practice. Our standards of practice dictate that we “recognise and use responsibly the power and authority [we] have when working with people, ensuring that [our] interventions are always necessary, the least intrusive, proportionate, and in people's best interests". So yes, we are unashamedly critical of gender.