Sex-Segregated Sports & the New IOC Guidelines

It has recently been announced that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has issued new guidelines that transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in the Olympics and other international sporting events in their reassigned “gender” without undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

The main physical restriction the new guidelines place on males who transgender will be that their testosterone level must be below a certain level for one year prior to the event they are competing in.

This means that transwomen who retain their male sex organs (testes and penis) but who have some hormone treatment to reduce their testosterone level for a year will be able to compete with women (by which I mean biological females who were raised as girls).

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My Speech at Feminism in London 2010

This was my speech in the closing session at Feminism in London on 23 October 2010. 

5118778214_de9399d516_b-300x200I am here as the chair of the committee who organised this day to thank all those who have helped to make it happen.

A year ago when we started to plan this event, we faced the choice of booking Conway Hall again in the knowledge that it was too small even last year or of taking a leap and booking this bigger and significantly more expensive venue.

We decided to take that leap and soon realised we needed to build a bigger and stronger committee, which has now grown to about 15 women. And I don’t think you could find 15 more resourceful and generous and passionate women if you tried. We range in age from early 20s to late 50s, we are lesbian and we are straight, we are black and we are white. Some of us are mothers and some of us are not or not yet; one of us gave birth this summer. All of us have fitted this work around day jobs, families and personal crises. Rather than list all their names, I thought I would randomly tell you about a few of us. Continue reading “My Speech at Feminism in London 2010”

The Creation of Feminist Consciousness by Gerda Lerner

I wrote these notes about The Creation of Feminist Consciousness from the Middle Ages to Eighteen Seventy by Gerda Lerner some years ago and thought I’d publish them here because her message is still relevant. This book is a follow up to her earlier book, The Creation of Patriarchy.

Through a meticulous and inspiring look at the writings of women from the middle ages, Gerda Lerner traces the emergence of feminist consciousness. She apologises for looking mainly at Western Europe but explains that is a reflection of her expertise and wish to make the project manageable more than anything else.

These are the main general themes that I noticed:

1. From the beginning of patriarchy, every philosophical system has defined women as inferior and marginal. For thousands of years women’s subhuman-ness was taken as a given without question or any need for explanation.

She illustrates this powerfully with her account of the development of the American Constitution, which included much debate about the issue of Indian men, male indentured servants, etc. but maintained utter and total silence on the issue of women (p8-9). Aristotle used the marriage relationship to justify slavery and she says “more remarkable than Aristotle’s misogynistic construction is the fact that his assumptions remained virtually unchallenged and endlessly repeated for nearly two thousand years.”

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What is a woman?

Again and again I hear people criticise women generally, and feminists in particular, for not accepting transwomen as “real” women and for “excluding” them. Trans people are oppressed, they say, and these so-called exclusionary behaviours and attitudes create the dogma behind this oppression just as racism is the dogma behind the oppression of Black people. It is misguided, they say, and dangerous and is called transphobia, which makes you, me, anyone who doesn’t agree with them, a bigot who deserves to go to hell with all fascists and racists.

But when feminists try to explain that of course they oppose all discrimination and violence against trans people, but there are issues that are complicated that we need to look at, discuss, understand, it seems that our accusers won’t listen. (Not that this is a surprise – not listening to women is, after all, a major characteristic of male supremacy.) In this essay I try to explain some of these issues by drawing on my own personal experiences in the feminist understanding that the personal is political – that patriarchy is a political system and it operates in the personal sphere. And without examining the personal sphere, we cannot fully understand the system. I have changed names and minor details because my points are political and I do not want to identify or mean to criticise any of the other individuals involved.

1. The sleepover

Some time ago a progressive organisation I belong to held a weekend event in London and asked members who live there to offer overnight accommodation to people from out of town. I offered my spare room and shortly afterwards I got an email saying that someone called Frankie would be staying and would contact me to make the arrangements. Sure enough, Frankie phoned and asked if it would be possible to stay on the Friday night as well as the Saturday. I agreed and gave him my address and directions. After I put the phone down, I wondered if it had been a mistake to not specify a woman. Never mind, I thought, my housemates will be there – three of us to one of him. What can go wrong?

Continue reading “What is a woman?”