Jo Swinson vs biological truth

The Lib Dem leader won’t even say if she believes there are men and women.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan


Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson is not known for taking a nuanced approach to issues. Brexit? Bollocks to it. Single-use plastics? Ban them. Differences in biological sex? Not really a thing.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto pledges on gender and equality have raised some eyebrows. The party promises ‘complete reform of the Gender Recognition Act’; it says it will ‘remove the requirement for medical reports, scrap the fee and recognise non-binary gender identities’. It will also bring in an ‘X’ gender option for passports, extend equality law to prevent discrimination against ‘gender identity and expression’, and require schools to introduce gender-neutral uniform policies.

In short, the Lib Dems have marked themselves out as the party that will heed the demands of extreme trans activists by reshaping laws, norms and truth itself.

This has all caused quite a stir. But it was a frosty exchange on the Today programme yesterday that really revealed just how extraordinary the Lib Dem view on gender has become. Swinson was asked if she believes that biological sex exists – that is, in the words of presenter Justin Webb, that ‘there are men and women, males and females’, and a ‘vanishingly small number of people who are indeterminate because of chromosomal abnormalities’.

Humbly repeating several times that she was ‘not a scientist’, Swinson insisted that things are not ‘as binary as is often presented’. She compared the discrimination against trans women – by which she means they are currently not legally allowed to become women through simple self-ID – to the treatment of gay people in the past. When pushed on the problem that automatic self-ID would compromise women-only spaces, including women’s refuges, Swinson said that individuals should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

She was then asked about the physical difference between male and female bodies, particularly in terms of strength, and whether feminists are right to suggest that this is a good reason for keeping men out of women’s prisons or rape-crisis centres. Swinson replied: ‘I don’t think that there should be some kind of hierarchy of equality.’ She continued: ‘Trans women are some of the most vulnerable women in our society.’

It was a car-crash interview. Perhaps the most telling point was when Swinson tried to cast aspersions on those who raise critical questions about this issue – a tactic that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to have an open discussion about gender. Reprimanding Webb for questioning her proposals, she said: ‘I think there is a demonisation of a community going on here and I often find that the media is complicit in it.’

Like most of their political plans, the Lib Dems’ views on gender identification are undemocratic and out of step with the majority view. Contrary to Swinson’s ahistorical comparison, we are not living in the early 20th century, when discrimination and abuse against individuals who refused to adhere to rigid gender or sexual norms were more commonplace. Thanks to historic fights for equality, it is now widely accepted that it is wrong to mistreat someone on the basis of how they talk, dress, who they sleep with or what they call themselves. We should continue to argue for everyone’s right to be who they want to be.

But this does not mean denying biology and smearing all opposing views as ‘bigoted’. Trans women are not automatically inclined to violence, as some of the more alarmist, so-called ‘TERFs’ might argue. However, removing medical and legal distinctions between the sexes does raise serious questions about the protection of sex-segregated spaces. Many commentators scoff at discussions of toilets or changing rooms as right-wing alarmism. But there are many women who are capable of being sympathetic to trans people while also wanting to maintain women-only spaces and opposing the idea of ‘gender neutrality’ in schools. They understand that sometimes gender and sex are important distinctions.

The debate around gender recognition has turned toxic. Disagree with someone like Swinson and you’ll be accused of conspiring in the demonisation of a vulnerable community. Thankfully, though, the Lib Dems’ views on gender are entirely unrepresentative of the public at large. Most people have a balanced take on these issues – it’s the mad platitudes from people like Swinson that make discussions of gender and freedom more difficult.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

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Floriana Sande

2nd May 2020 at 10:37 pm

You’d only need to concern yourself with the existence of men or women if you hope to get voters. This was clearly not a priority for Ms Swinson. But it has been widely publicised that the Lib Dems are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies peddling this ideology in hopes of selling synthetic opposite-sex hormones to indoctrinated youth. I write this after the fiasco that was the Labour Party leadership contest. When will they learn that being a ‘trans’-apologist does not win votes?

Hugh Oxford

24th December 2019 at 10:34 am

To preserve our freedoms, to promote equality, to fight patriarchy and misogyny and to protect the most vulnerable women in society a raft of anti-gender legislation is urgently needed, and the UK government should proudly pioneer it.

This anti-gender legislation must:

1: Enshrine in law the definition of a woman as a person of the female biological sex, the only exception being those individuals with defined, demonstrable objective chromosomal or physiological abnormalities who do not clearly fit into either sex (as determined by a panel of impartial medical practitioners).

2: Make it illegal to provide a service, run an organisation, organise a sporting event or run a facility for both sexes where it is advertised as being for women or girls.

3: Make it illegal to masquerade as a member of the opposite sex for the purposes of entering a single-sex environment or participating in a single-sex activity.

4: Reinforce the inalienable right to refer to another person using scientifically correct nouns and pronouns (man/woman/boy/girl/he/she) according to their objective biological sex.

5: Abolish the use of the term “gender” in government documents, reports, forms, censuses or surveys, replacing it with “sex”, where the word “gender” has been misapplied.

6: Make it a requirement for organisations to provide facilities such as toilets (where provided) for both sexes.

In summary, the UK government must act now against “gender”: a baseless, transgressive, patriarchal and misogynistic ideology with damaging ramifications for the whole of society, but especially for young, poor and vulnerable women who require single sex environments the most, and all women who face the threat of legal and practical eradication.

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