October 11, 2021 - 10:10am

“You’re not an ejaculator are you?” asked a woman who was probably about the age of the police officer’s mum. Another chimed-in: “You’re not a prostate-haver. I would imagine you refer to yourself as a man.” Stifling a smirk, the blushing constable stared hard at his notepad and asked what the demonstration was about. It was political; in defence of women’s right to be recognised as human.

On Friday, a crowd gathered to protest outside the medical journal the Lancet following a headline which referred to women as ‘bodies with vaginas’, the clumsy choice of language was an attempt to be trans-inclusive.

One of the organisers Katy Worley, who was sporting a purple dinosaur suit, said: “We are not ‘bodies with vaginas’ ‘menstruators’ or ‘cervix-havers’. Woman is not a dirty word.”

The group of over a hundred protesters moved from the offices of the Lancet to the Labour Party headquarters. During the Labour conference party leader Sir Keir Starmer offended many by rebuking Rosie Duffield MP for saying “only women have cervices”. Starmer’s folly was compounded by David Lammy MP who labelled feminists campaigning for sex-based rights as “dinosaurs”, describing them as seeking to “hoard rights.”

Worley told me: “I tore up my membership card over this, as did many others going to this protest. The dinosaurs at the top of the Labour party need to get a grip and realise this isn’t a fringe issue.” Worley was carrying model dinosaur eggs which she hoarded in pantomime fashion; written on the papier-mâché shells were phrases including ‘women-only prisons’, ‘crime statistics’ and ‘women’s sport’.

Another organiser Kellie-Jay Keen added: “Women across the country have had enough, we have been raising this issue for years and will not stop until the misogyny stops. Women are a biological and material fact – no amount of bullying or silencing will alter that.”

Despite inspiring the biggest mobilisation of women since the second wave of the 1970s, the fight for sex-based rights is still not recognised as a political issue by the main parties. Lammy seemed genuinely affronted when he was asked to clarify his comments about feminists being dinosaurs, complaining the issue “didn’t come-up on the doorstep”. This response was either a lapse of honesty or memory; many of the shadow chancellor’s constituents took to social media to remind him that they had raised the matter; one forwarded me an email received from Lammy in response to an enquiry about transgender prison policies. For the Labour Party the small matter of women’s rights is becoming to Starmer what anti-Semitism was to Corbyn; and it could prove equally damaging.

When asked the ‘cervix question’ prime minister Boris Johnson fudged his answer, waffling vaguely about ‘respect’. Similarly, when Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey was asked about the treatment of women’s rights activists within his own party he robotically stated “a trans woman is a woman and a trans man is a man. And that is the issue that we’re fighting on.”

Today not one head of a major UK party has had the wit to recognise that women’s rights are political. For many women, the right to refuse to have a smear test conducted by a male, the right to women-only changing rooms, the right to seek a rape crisis counsellor of the same sex are not minor issues, and nor are they part of a confected culture war. Were proof ever needed as to the existence of sexism, it can be heard in the answers of politicians who when asked about women’s rights routinely reply with sound soundbites about ‘trans rights.’

Eventually there will be political consequences. To quote from one of placards carried by the protesters in front of the Labour Party offices: “It was cervices which brought you into the world; and it’s cervices that will vote you out.”

Josephine Bartosch is a freelance writer and assistant editor at The Critic.