RUTH'S BLOG
We need to end the abuse around discussions of feminism and trans rights
09 Oct 2020
BY RUTH SMEETH

Free speech is difficult. It should be difficult. After all it protects our right to say things contrary to popular opinion. It protects the minority view. It facilitates debate. It provides the legal framework for protest. It allows people to tell their own stories. Most importantly it moves society on.

It’s why we so desperately need to protect our right to free speech, to cherish it and fight for everybody to be able to use it.

Index was founded to do just that. To cherish the concept of free speech. To expose repressive regimes who were censoring their citizenry and, when necessary, stand up against restrictive practices in our own countries. And for the last 50 years that’s exactly what we’ve done.

What we weren’t established to do was to pick a side on any individual issue that is currently being debated in society. It will surprise none of you that I have quite strong personal opinions on most issues and so does every member of our team, but Index’s job is solely to make sure that other people’s voices can and should be heard if they are being silenced. In the words of Stephen Spender, one of our co-founders, to be a voice for the persecuted.

Which brings me to the current discourse on gender and trans rights. I think we can all agree that this has become increasingly toxic. There is limited constructive dialogue, a huge amount of hate and little meeting in the middle ground to discuss practical ways to come together. Far too many exchanges are now less about the issues themselves, and more about whose side you are on – or even worse, about who has the right to participate in the conversation. The discussion has now switched from one embracing free speech to one of informal censorship.

When we talk about a chilling effect in the public space it is embodied by this issue. Some are genuinely scared to engage in any of the issues for fear of abuse. Members of the trans community, who face daily intimidation and persecution, are rarely being heard at all, as others silence them by claiming to speak for them. This is helping no one.

Index will be launching a new work stream in 2021 to build spaces for dialogue on this subject and others so that people can come together to air issues and find constructive ways forward. But in the interim I want to make it clear what our position is.

All women, whether a successful novelist like JK Rowling or a struggling blogger expressing their gender identity, have a right to their opinions and a right to have those opinions heard.

Death threats, online bullying and attempts to undermine people’s careers are unacceptable. We stand against this censorship. We stand in solidarity with the targets of this abuse and we will fight for their right to be heard.

Trans people face daily persecution and are subject to some of the most appalling abuse in society.  Their voices, apart from a few limited exceptions, are not being heard. They have stories to tell but they are being largely censored. We stand in solidarity with them and we will ensure they too have a platform.

These positions aren’t contradictory and they shouldn’t be controversial in the UK in the twenty-first century. As ever Index does and will always stand against censorship.

15 responses to “We need to end the abuse around discussions of feminism and trans rights”

  1. I am really pleased that Index continues to stand up on this – including intervening in my case.

    I am worried about this approach though: The ‘both sides’ narrative does not accurately capture what is going on, which is that debate about laws and policies, and discussion of safeguarding is being systematically silenced – through people being made fearful at work, for their careers and for the funding of their organisations. And this is only happening to one side of the debate.

    I don’t think it’s Index’s job to be an honest broker for dialogue, it is their job to expose how dialogue and debate is being shut down.

    I wrote my thoughts up….

    https://medium.com/@MForstater/index-on-censorship-please-keep-standing-up-strongly-for-freedom-of-speech-on-sex-and-gender-ec01687cef37

    Also worth reading the Mumsnet discussion

    https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/womens_rights/4052977-Index-for-censorship-plans-for-dialogue-on-trans-issue

  2. Mel Usina says:

    Hi. Thank you for standing up for freedom of speech.

    Would you be able to give examples as to how trans voices are being censored up in this issue? Aside from those speaking out about gender ideology, I mean. Trans people aren’t being banned on Twitter or Reddit. They aren’t losing their jobs or being arrested over tweets. They are being published by large mainstream publishers and in The Guardian and The Independent. They’re being represented in the media. How are they being censored?

    How are trans people in the UK being abused beyond the kind of abuse gay people and women experience on a daily basis, for that matter? Do you consider misgendering a hate crime?

    Thank you

  3. Janice says:

    And yet it would appear that you HAVE picked a side.

    You’ve worded it very carefully, I’ll give you that. The overall impression, by mentioning intimidation of trans, most appalling abuse in society, and persecution of trans (twice!), but not identifying who is on the receiving end of the death threats, online bullying and attempts to get them sacked (women), continues the marketed image of the trans community as the most oppressed group ever. And do remind me which ‘side’ declared ‘No Debate’?

    You speak of voices not being heard. And yet these unheard voices have the ear of all political parties, the government, the police, the BBC, big businesses transwashing their image – all hearing these unheard voices.

    So please do excuse me if I don’t hold my breath for your “constructive ways forward”. Because in the interim you have made it clear what your position is.

  4. D says:

    WTF r you talking about? The ‘trans community’ dominate everywhere. Gender Ideology is nonsense but pushed by every institution.
    Gender Identity?
    What is that?
    Immensely dissappointing.
    Yes, support free speech but why are you giving credence to crap?
    Bozos.
    Support sense, logic, science, empiricism, material reality.
    Sell outs.

  5. We need to discuss properly some underlying scientific truths.

  6. ADF says:

    Women and girls face daily persecution and are subject to some of the most appalling abuse in society. Our voices, apart from those that the men approve of, are still not being heard. We have stories to tell but we are being shouted down, de-platformed, and largely censored by men who think that they are entitled to re-define our lived experience to support their fantasies.

  7. The key to the disagreement is the conflation of sex with “gender”. These two words do not mean the same thing. Unfortunately the Gender Recognition Act 2004 deliberately set out to introduce this confusion in UK law where none had existed before.

    Please leave this comment, moderator. Otherwise I will start Tweeting.

  8. Jemmy Bloocher says:

    It’s like I can breathe again reading something so simple, so sensible and calm . It makes me feel hope. It’s been incredibly frustrating and saddening to watch the aggression and censoring of opinion over this issue increase over the last few years. Thank you.

  9. Thalia says:

    When your starting point is that transwomen are women you’ve already drawn your conclusion about this “debate”.

    Women are getting rape threats and death threats from transgender activists by the tens of thousands (JK Rowling alone has gotten thousands of threats) but no women are threatening to rape men who think they’re women.

    Just like domestic violence isn’t husbands and wives hurting “each other” when she’s in the hospital for broken face bones and he has a scratch in his cheek, your willful ignorance of the empirical evidence of male-pattern violence is part of the structural shielding of men from the consequences of male-pattern violence.

    No women are threatening to rape the transgender people they disagree with, the rape threats are only going in one direction.

  10. Smilin' Don says:

    “Members of the trans community, who face daily intimidation and persecution, are rarely being heard at all, as others silence them by claiming to speak for them.”

    Here’s a helpful hint: If you are able to deplatform, censor, doxx, assault, cause the loss of job or career, and issue threats of rape, torture, and death to people you disagree with — all without consequence — You Are Not Oppressed.

  11. “Members of the trans community, who face daily intimidation and persecution, are rarely being heard at all”
    “Trans people face daily persecution and are subject to some of the most appalling abuse in society. Their voices, apart from a few limited exceptions, are not being heard.”

    Why did you say it twice? Particularly when it is simply not true.

    We hear a great deal from trans radical activists: they stalk gender-critical women on Twitter, report to moderators any discussion which questions the validity of “gender” identity, report them to their employers with accusations of “transphobia” to try to get them sacked, get them no-platformed if they are speakers, get publishers to “unpublish” their research papers, send vile messages threatening rape, murder and assault in the most gruesome details. I could continue. We hear quite enough of them.

    Contrast the words of gender-critical women trying to defend themselves and assert in calm terms biological truth: that no one can change sex because sex is biological and immutable. To assert the contrary is simply wrong. There can be no other view of this eternal truth.
    Gender-critical women are defending their single-sex spaces which are threatened by the confusion and intimidation which TRAs are spreading.

    The key to the disagreement is the conflation of sex with “gender”. These two words do not mean the same thing. Unfortunately the Gender Recognition Act 2004 deliberately set out to introduce this confusion in UK law where none had existed before.

  12. Nigel Thorne says:

    About time

  13. Georgia McGraw says:

    I’m glad the Index is doing its job in supporting free speech, but I do have to wonder why you specified twice that trans people face abuse e.g. “Trans people face daily persecution and are subject to some of the most appalling abuse in society.” and yet don’t mention the abuse or violence women face daily. Zero trans people have been killed in the UK in 2020, which is excellent, and yet 2-3 women are killed every week in the same country. This figure leapt even higher during lockdown.

    As someone who agrees with the overall premise that trans people, women, men, everybody deserves safety and respect, and that respectful debate is the way forward, I am increasingly frustrated by how rarely women’s abuse is spoken about when this issue is raised. We are repeatedly told of the abuse trans people face. Women’s abuse is old news. Ingrained. Not worth mentioning.

    Women are not just looking to “have their voices heard”. We speak up precisely because of violence committed against women, and the issues around safeguarding that practices such as Self-ID present. Rape, voyeurism, violence, murder.

    I sincerely hope we are witnessing a turning point, and we can discuss these issues freely in order to try to find good solutions for us all. Despite my criticism here, I still respect the Index on Censorship and am glad to see this piece.

  14. Dorothy van Koolwijk says:

    Will you also stand by and hear the voices of Lesbians receiving targetted abuse because we refuse to give males who identify as Women access to our spaces and specifically our bodies ? Online sexual harassment, abuse and vilification is the norm. We are told that penises are to be seen as female sex organs if they are attached to a Transwomen. This takes me back to the 50’s when this type of sexual harassment was common place. Oh she only needs a good fuck to turn her straight. Pardon the language but the current trans dogma is a heterosexual men’s right movement being given support from Women who should know better or are they just lesbophobic ? Discuss.

  15. Jenny says:

    Women are tired of the lies. This is not a ‘both sides are as bad as each other’ scenario.
    The threats to rape women, the threats to kill women, the actual assaults on women, the arson attacks on women’s property and the lesbian couple and their son who were murdered – this is all in one direction – from men who claim to be trans and other men who join in, enjoying the excuse to flex their misogynistic muscles and punch down on women.
    We keep hearing that trans people are vulnerable – no, in the UK there have been more people murdered by transwomen than there have been transwomen murdered.
    If free speech matters to you, let’s make it accurate. Stop blaming women for men’s violence.