Respect is a two-way deal

Oct 25


2 Responses


Helen Whitten

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Respect is a two-way deal

I fear this may turn into a bit of a rant … but if you’re sitting comfortably then I’ll begin and we shall see.  Equally, you can always switch off but I hope you will hang on in here and see if it makes you think about how policies are being formulated today and perhaps question what feels fair.  The issues I discuss revolve around some of the news stories that have been reported in the media recently and that have made me question how minority interests can alter the way all of us are being treated, whether we like it or not.

For example, I read in the paper yesterday that Britain’s Foreign Office has said that the term “pregnant woman” should not be used in a UN treaty because it “excludes” transgender people.  Well I am sorry, I have every compassion with transgender people and hope that their needs are met and supported.  However, no-one has asked me (or, I suspect, many other women) how we wish to be described in any UN Treaty.  As a mother I choose to describe myself as a woman, as a ‘she’ or a ‘her’.  I don’t mind if others call themselves ‘ze’ or ‘it’, or any other pronoun, just so long as they understand that it is respectful of my wishes to call me a she.  As a pregnant woman I would have wished to have been described as such and not as some kind of neutral person.  A pregnant transgender can choose for themselves what they prefer but not impose this on me.  Just let me also choose.  Surely the aim of inclusion is just that.  By raising the identity of one group one does not have to wipe out the identity of another.

This news comes on top of the Office for National Statistics stating that they may no longer list whether we are a man or a woman in the next census.  Apparently ‘other’ is not acceptable to lobby groups as a third option and so we may all be lumped into the same box as just ‘people’.   I find this somewhat offensive.  Mind you, I don’t mind being offended as I believe it is good to have one’s thoughts challenged.  Nor do I mind being outvoted but both need to be based on the premise that someone has asked my opinion.  But they haven’t.  How many people have the ONS actually asked about whether this is acceptable?

I cannot see how the government, NHS or educational establishments can plan for the future if they do not know which type of people they are planning for.  How do they ensure that there are adequate ante-natal and maternity services in the future if they don’t know how many women, or indeed transgenders, may end up needing them?  How can they ensure that there are adequate services to cover prostate cancer if they don’t know how many men might require them?  How do boys’ or girls’ schools plan places if they are not given detailed and reliable statistics in the Census about how many boys or girls are being born?   Of course transgender requirements also need to be taken into account in a more inclusive way but men and women should not be lost in the process.  It’s taken centuries for women to be counted at all so I am loathe to become invisible again.

We need to promote diversity and respect for every person living in this country, whether this relates to gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, but it seems to me that those who profess to be most liberal and who demand respect for themselves are in danger of neglecting to grant respect to others.  If I am willing to call you ‘ze’, please allow me to be called ‘she’.

The discussion reminds me of a friend who, at the peak of the New Age movement in the 1990s, observed that there existed a “New Age Gestapo” – eg those who thought themselves so enlightened that they treated others as lower beings if they didn’t ‘get’ what the supposedly-enlightened ones were talking about.  “Oh, you’re not on the journey yet” or “ you haven’t reached that stage of enlightenment yet” they would say patronisingly.  Much the same is beginning to happen with the supposedly liberal diversity initiatives today – anyone who doesn’t immediately conform to the chosen viewpoint (chosen by a small but forceful group, I believe) is called a bigot.  And that approach is far from liberal.  It is fascist.

This was the sort of language that was used in a BBC radio play I heard about the subject, in which a mother at a school professed some concern that a boy who decided he was a girl could immediately have access to the girls’ toilets and changing rooms.  It seemed to me to be a perfectly legitimate concern but the woman in the play was judged as prejudiced and ignorant.  I didn’t hear any attempt to understand or allay her concerns.  Instead everyone who agreed with the transgender agenda, as it was expressed, was “right” and anyone who didn’t was “wrong” and should be put back in their box and over-ruled.  This is not inclusive nor respectful.  This is not integration and it is not an example of a desire to understand others.  The issues raised by the transgender movement are perfectly legitimate.  But just because some people believe themselves to be non-binary should not result in silencing those who wish to describe themselves as binary.

Unless all people can express themselves and be accepted in the way they prefer (though obviously not if it is inciting hatred or violence to others) then it is not reflective of true diversity.   What happens to those who would rather be called a pregnant woman, or told that their baby is a boy or girl rather than a person?  They are treated as if they are unenlightened, as if they are definitely not on message and therefore in some way antediluvian, rather than just someone with the perfect right to voice a different opinion.

But different opinions are not tolerated these days it seems.  These reports, along with the coverage of no-platforming, where certain lecturers are silenced at university, and where students demand ‘safe spaces’ or warnings before they read violent passages of war or rape, make me wonder what has happened to reasoned debate.  I read today that Cambridge University will provide students with trigger warnings about articles that may contain right-wing politics (why not also left-wing communism?), paedophiles or eating disorders.  This seems an anomaly as this so-called “snowflake” generation have been exposed to more violent and sadistic movies and video games than we ever were (I read today that horror movies are the fastest growing film genre) and yet apparently can’t be exposed to certain books or plays, including Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, in case it upsets them.

How can this elite group of intelligent young people attending university possibly learn about the history of humanity if they want to whitewash the reality of the cruelty and violence that human beings have and continue to carry out?  If they aren’t willing to learn from the events of the past how will they be able to identify trends that might threaten humanity in the future?  And why are the Vice-Chancellors pandering to these demands when university should surely be, as Universities Minister Jo Johnson stated this week, about freedom of expression and opening the under-graduate mind to new ideas?

Minorities need to be heard and respected but my point is that this does not mean everyone else has to conform to their demands.  I suspect that the majority of students understand that they need to read the nasty bits of history or literature but it is the minority lobbying for no-platforming, no-offence and gender-neutrality who seem to get their voices heard.  These lobby groups are influencing government and university bodies before the rest of us have had a chance to comment.  Everyone else just has to shut up, as do, it seems, those women who would rather be recorded as a “pregnant woman” or listed as a woman in the census.  On the one hand we are being told that gender is not binary but the argument around this is decidedly binary – you’re on our message or you’re not.

It strikes me that to move away from these binary arguments, which only cause judgement and alienation, both  young and old would benefit from practising formal debating skills.  Here they would be given the task of arguing for the opposite opinion to that which they have previously attached themselves.  This could enable people to realize that there are many perspectives and that there is often some good reason in the arguments of the other side that they might have closed their mind to previously.  This could result in closer understanding of common ground and a truer integration of diversity.  As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion…

(which leads me to think, on another topical and divisive subject, that this would be an excellent exercise for Brexiteers and Remainers alike!)

So, in summary, all I am asking is that if you wish me to understand your perspective and respect your right to hold it, then please do the same with mine and don’t demand that everyone is treated the way you wish to be treated, when they individually may wish to be treated differently.



2 Responses

  1. Hi Helen
    I agree and it’s brave of you to make this point – it’s a difficult one and you expressed the issue in a se sitivevway. I have also sometimes thought that PC in this Country goes too far for fear of offending. I am 100 for equality and freedom of expression, but the over eagerness to please, and not to offend minority groups can lead to a silencing of those who don’t go along with some of the decisions made e.g. the logical conclusion to avoiding the use of the words ‘pregnant woman’ is that, at some stage, we stop using the terms ‘make’ and ‘female’ altogether – a conclusion too ludicrous to contemplate , leading to confusion all round. Perhaps the Victorian term of being in an ‘interesting confition’ might return – that would be progress, wouldn’t it ?

  2. Dear Helen
    This is a (socially) political hot potato, well done for so evenly and eloquently discussing it. This very active lobby group knows how to ruffle feathers, particularly mine and debate is difficult to achieve.
    More important though is the bypassing of the democratic process. Did either of these government bodies consult parliament before issuing statements or policies. That is why we have a parliament , so that we are not governed by bodies susceptible to the machinations of small aggressive lobby groups unrepresentative of the general public..

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