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The Tories throw down the gauntlet on gender

Kemi Badenoch wrote in support of single-sex toilets. Credit: Getty.

June 3, 2024 - 10:30am

At the eleventh hour the Tories finally seem to realise that sex matters. They’re out in force today, promising to change the Equality Act to make it clear that “sex” refers to biology, not some airy-fairy notion of gender. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, says it will be a manifesto pledge, arguing that “the safety of women and girls is too important to allow the current confusion around definitions of sex and gender to persist”.

There is political calculation to what the Conservatives are doing, and they are vulnerable to the question of why they didn’t act earlier, but better late than never. They know that this is one of the few issues where they are in step with public opinion, which isn’t keen on biological men barging their way into women’s sports, hospital wards, toilets and prisons. Women’s spaces urgently need protection from an ideology that prioritises men who “identify” as women over actual women — and from politicians who mulishly insist it’s “bigoted” to say so.

In an election campaign where the Conservatives are trailing badly, it may well be the most effective challenge they can make to a resurgent Labour Party. After years of being verbally and physically abused by trans activists, women are desperate for evidence that politicians understand that this is not some “culture wars” spat. We have been badly let down by parties of the centre-Left, whose leading figures have prostrated themselves before the great god of gender.

There appears to be no limit to the nonsense that Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens are prepared to swallow from trans activists. Now opposition parties have to decide how to respond to the gauntlet thrown down by the Tories. Do they abandon all the idiotic things they’ve said and done, including witch-hunts against members accused of “transphobia”? Or do they double down and confirm that the rights of half the population come a long way below the demands of gender warriors?

It’s a Galileo moment. If biological sex matters, how can it possibly be true that trans-women are women? If there is a clear difference between men and women, as the Equality Act intended until gender warriors began to twist its meaning, how could it be right to pretend otherwise? Yet that’s what opposition politicians have told us to do, dismissing arguments based in biology as “transphobic”. They like nothing more than posing with trans flags and lanyards, parading their credentials as “trans allies”.

Politicians hate having to admit they were wrong, and never more so than in an election campaign. But party leaders who have mused about how many women have a penis are being challenged by politicians who are not afraid to call out the impact of their luxury beliefs. In an article for The Times, the women and equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, describes receiving a letter last month from a woman who, at the age of 16, was raped in a women’s toilet by a man dressed as a woman. Badenoch says bluntly that predators are “exploiting loopholes in the law by calling themselves trans with no evidence beyond their self-identification”.

Clarifying the Equality Act would protect women and girls from the biggest onslaught on women’s rights and privacy in my lifetime. It’s a test for Labour above all the other Opposition parties because Sir Keir Starmer is likely to be our next prime minister. If Labour fails the challenge, it will become a lost cause for many left-leaning women. Your move, Sir Keir.


Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She was previously Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board. Her book Unfortunately, She Was A Nymphomaniac: A New History of Rome’s Imperial Women will be published in November 2024.

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Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
22 days ago

Better late than never I suppose.
In my head a decent Conservative Party would have been sayin “if you have a willy you go to a men’s prison”.
If you’ve ever had a willy you compete against men in all sports.
If you are accused of rape you are called Mike not Mary in court.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
22 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Better late than never I suppose.
I wish but the reality is that they will pronounce anything if its get’s them a vote-a bit late now to have a Damascene conversion to policies that have the support of the vast majority of the population.They will row back as soon as they get another 5 years-

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
22 days ago

They have had long enough to do this.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
22 days ago

I would expect Labour and the others to dismiss it as a non issue and not risk exposing their true intent by responding – we shall see.
The question is, assuming Labour either do as I think or double down on prioritising gender identity ie confirm the Tories are the only choice for the gender critical majority, will Joan and others like her actively campaign for people to vote Tory? Despite all their venom on the issue, I doubt many of them could hold their noses and vote Tory themselves.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

As a woman, I’m holding my nose and will be voting Tory although it breaks my heart to do it. I suspect that there are many women who are aware of what’s at stake and will vote Tory, probably for the first time. Who knows if there’ll be enough of them to do so to influence the outcome of the election. Any woman who votes for any other UK political party is comparable to turkeys voting for Christmas.

Mark Cornish
Mark Cornish
20 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’m a man but I’m totally behind you. The Labour Party has forgotten what it’s for and I will NEVER vote for them again. They are betraying and demeaning the rights of women by buying in to this lunacy, and I’m hoping that women vote against them and remove the smug looks off of the faces of people like Alastair Campbell.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
22 days ago

The problem with narrow, binary, commitments like this is that when the Conservatives get dumped, as they surely will, then the opposition can state, with entirely bogus honesty, that they have a solid mandate, from the people, that there is not only no mandate for change, but actually a confirmation of the present direction of travel, even if the opposition was elected on nothing more than smell of the candidates hair.

General Store
General Store
22 days ago

I don’t see any gauntlet. Absolutely pathetic. Right as they are going to lose the election. They could have done this 2 5 or 10 years ago. It’s a complete no-brainer. I’m voting for REFORM

General Store
General Store
22 days ago

How about leaving the European court? And the WCC? How about banning gender BS in schools? Sacking ideological teachers? Getting rid of the LEAs…..

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
21 days ago
Reply to  General Store

To be fair, Miriam Cates has had a good go at banning that stuff in schools.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago
Reply to  General Store

The LEAs were deleted years ago with the move to Academies, the business model imposed on all state schools so they compete with each other. Very little Local Authority influence now except many try to place governors from local Parties.
You could run as a governor if this matters to you.

Nick Wade
Nick Wade
22 days ago

Too little too late, Tories. You’ve encouraged all this BS for 14 years, and now you’re calling it out?

Starmer will go which ever way the wind is blowing, and thanks to the likes of JK Rowling, the aforementioned BS is already collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity. Nobody needs the Tories.

Peter B
Peter B
21 days ago

Just scrap it. Scrap all the equalities acts and associated nonsense. Equality before the law existed before any of these things were dreamed up. And has only been impaired by them.
Just think what might have been done with all the time, effort and money that’s gone into this stuff over the past 10-20 years and what we might have done instead. And the damage that would have been avoided.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

The Equality Act of 2010 was the last law brought in at the end of the Labour Govt. It includes nine protected characteristics, not just sex and race which get most attention. Would you prefer it if disabled people had no protection in law, so could not push for better access everywhere, or that SEN children could be denied education? Or women could be sacked for getting married?

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
21 days ago

Joining the “better late than never” chorus, with a bit of envy. We Americans far lag the UK in following the science, the evidence (notably the Cass Review) and what used to be common sense on this issue.

Y Chromosome
Y Chromosome
21 days ago

How’s about we stop using the language of the Left. Start by abandoning the term “trans-woman”. They are men claiming to be women. The term “biological man” is as absurd as saying “biological weight”. Using their language is conceding credibility to insanity.

Sara White
Sara White
21 days ago
Reply to  Y Chromosome

The correct term is male transvestite.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
21 days ago
Reply to  Sara White

In my day it was ‘cross-dressers’.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Your day is long past, gramps.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
21 days ago

And your day is on its way out, sunshine.

Mark Cornish
Mark Cornish
20 days ago

I would go back to ‘his day’ in a heartbeat. What progress we have made by enabling men to rape teenage girls in ladies toilets!!! I’m incredulous that you can be so flippant about this issue.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago
Reply to  Y Chromosome

Call them trans-identified men, TIMs. That term is now moving into the mainstream. The term transwomen (or worse, trans women) has a lot to do with how far the TRAs* have enabled what has happened. Some 70% of the public, last time they were polled, were confused about this. They also believe TIMs have had genital surgery, which is hardly ever true. Trans-identified females, TIFs, get forgotten but they also will never ‘change sex’ to become transmen, another TRA favourite bit of obscuring.
*TRAs: Trans Rights Activists – does everyone know this one now? Most of whom are not ‘trans’ themselves, they are along for the ride and to have an excuse to mask up and shout at women.

william langdale
william langdale
20 days ago
Reply to  Y Chromosome

A very good point and it should be applied to all identity politics.Don’t give their language any space at all.At every turn “define your terms please”,”scientific proof please”,”evidence please”,”facts please”.All identity politics is a vampire ideology in that it dies in sunlight which is why the liars,frauds and grifters peddling it are so scared of debate.

David Morley
David Morley
21 days ago

If there is a clear difference between men and women, as the Equality Act intended …

Surely the thinking behind the Equality Act is that differences in sex, race etc are small, and not legally significant. It is not based on emphasising difference.

As a test, try substituting “black people” and “white people” for men and women in the above.

After decades of playing down sex differences, it’s odd to find feminists asserting them once it suits them to do so.

Dr E C
Dr E C
21 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Here you go again… Please stop pontificating about feminism: a topic about which you’ve demonstrated you know next to nothing (on several occasions). E.g. ‘second wave’ feminism is _centred_ on sex differences.
If feminists didn’t believe in sex differences, they wouldn’t have fought so hard for single sex spaces to begin with, would they?

Mark Cornish
Mark Cornish
20 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

It’s not simply feminists who are opposing this; indeed not all of them are! It’s the vast majority of women who object to this madness. If only you could find the time to listen to them instead of talking for them, as you so often do.

John Riordan
John Riordan
20 days ago

Too little, too late. The voters have been almost completely united in asking, for years at this stage, why the insanity of gender ideology was ever permitted into public policy at all. Fighting the battle four weeks before the next election is fooling nobody.

Chipoko
Chipoko
20 days ago

The Tories haven’t got the balls to withdraw from the egregious European Convention on Human Rights and to sort out the detailed problems with the Equalities Act. Tinkering with changes to the Equality Act and such-like is pure electioneering and utterly superficial.
You cannot have leadership without courage and boldness – qualities that the Tories lack. That’s why their much-vaunted aeroplane will not be scheduled to take off for Rwanda until well after the general election – by which time Sir Keir and Ms Rayner will have stopped it permanently anyway!
The Tories are a bunch of utter wusses who do not deserve any support from the electorate they have so shabbily treated since Boris gave them a massive victory in 2019.

Patricia Hardman
Patricia Hardman
18 days ago

Repeal the GRA.