This discussion was held as part of Oxford Brookes’ School of Law Seminar Series. The subject was The Future of Legal Gender, a Kings College critical law reform project (I would love to put apostrophes around ‘critical’). Regular tweeps may remember I attended a previous meeting of this group back in October 2019, the twitter thread is here. The lead on the project, Professor Davina Cooper, was on top wibble form.
With about 30 participants, including the panel, many in the audience were from our side. When the Chair told us that it was a chance to ‘refresh our intellects’ I did smirk. She said her specialist interest in law was hate crime – she is one of Oxford Brookes’s principal law lecturers and fully onboard the gender identity woo woo train.
Professor Davina Cooper’s talk
Davina Cooper is interested in what might happen if we removed sex from birth certificates. She told us that she thought a paper that she had co-written had been published earlier that day and gave few details about it (I tried searching but couldn’t find it). The research for the Future of Legal Gender project had included interviewing a 100 people (policy makers, NGOs, service providers, lawyers) and a survey of 3,000 on public attitudes. She said they wanted to explore what it would mean but weren’t ‘advocating’ for it (I think this is a change in gear from the previous presentation I attended – clearly the government’s rebuttal of self-ID has sunk in).
Cooper said that it was a ‘laborious procedure’ to change your legal sex in the UK. Decertification would benefit to trans people because it would mean that they wouldn’t need to legally transition anymore. The state ‘monopolises’ the assignment of sex and that if this was dismantled it would be possible to live more fully outside of expected norms. It would also allow ‘other genders’ or even ‘non genders’ to flourish.
Cooper wisely decided not to talk about the biological basis of sex, this was ostensibly because it was the ‘focus of a bitter conflict’ and she isn’t a biologist. She acknowledged that women had concerns around single sex spaces, sports, and data collection.
On the issue of toilets and changing rooms, she felt that the issue of ‘privacy’ could be overcome by having individual cubicles with floor to ceiling partitions but from her ‘feminist and critical perspective privacy can be too quickly relied upon as an unquestioned good’ and could result in the danger of ‘ever greater privacy’ – the horror! It also ‘reinforces the idea of bodily shame and need to cover, especially between people of different genitalia’. She described opponents to self-identification of gender were arguing against ‘proximity to penises’.
(Honestly so much of what she said was such utter shite this really is a very summarised version. I rarely despise the activists I report on, but it was really hard to restrain myself during her very long boring talk. She also has a very whiney voice.)
On sports she said that ‘who counts as a woman has long been an issue’ and suggested that hormone testing and normative judgements had been in play for a long time. She also said that such judgements placed a burden on those women from the ‘global south’ (this is racism peeps, dressed up as concern). Decertification might lead to more testing for testosterone (she must know that elite athletes are regularly drug tested). Sport could be organised around height and weight instead, as was already used in boxing and wrestling. Or a point system where a range of characteristics were assessed (except sex I suspect).
On data collection for females and males, this ‘sounded like a good idea’ but that categorisation was ‘subject to interpretation as meanings change’. She used the example of being Jewish and filling out the Census – if you aren’t a religious Jew but you are ethnically where does that leave you and vice versa? This is such a poor comparator as any I can think of, religious Jews aren’t generally likely to live longer lives than their non-religious ethnic peers. They aren’t more likely to be carers or in part-time work. Sex is a non-changing reality, but obviously not for thickie Cooper.
‘Transgender activists worry that a question about sex with no guidance that some trans people will put their identified gender, others will answer according to their legal one and some may answer to the one assigned at birth, and some may struggle to fill a binary sex question altogether’ making it crystal clear this was the only data she thought was worth worrying about.
You would think an idiot like Cooper would love the idea of women only shortlists (being open to the menz too obviously) but she rather looked down her nose on the idea of positive discrimination, stating that the Houses of Parliament wasn’t the only political establishment where decisions were made (don’t we know it). Cooper asked rhetorical question after rhetorical question.
‘The focus on who gets to count as a woman … could focus on how we understand being a woman for these purposes, in a way which speaks to an understanding of what the harms and problems are, that actually the concept shapes what the useful conception of a woman is to operate, if we’re talking about positive discrimination’.
And a big sigh.
She wibbled on for another ten minutes after that. I wrote in my notes ‘the land of counterpane’.
And then I thought of this …
Professor Lucy Vickers
Next up was Lucy Vickers, Professor of Law at Oxford Brookes, who was to respond to Cooper’s talk. She was completely uncritical of all she had heard and makes me seriously doubt the sanity of these law academics. It’s already clear that there is zero intelligence. Imagine paying £9,000 a year to be educated by these fuckwits?
Vickers talked about the current legal definition of disability. My first groan was when she said that having a broken leg wouldn’t be regarded as a disability because such an injury wouldn’t last more than 12 months and implied this was unfair but failed to mention things like most individuals would be entitled to sick pay from their employer or that the person would get progressively more mobile during the healing (normally takes about 6-8 weeks or up to six months if more severe).
She also uttered the words that ‘age is socially constructed’ and that using the term ‘senior moment’ is offensive – confirming her no sense of humour credentials. Then she started banging on about religion and in particular Scientology, a legally-recognised religion in the UK which probably owns more property here than it has adherents.
Vickers felt it wasn’t a productive assumption to describe religion as a ‘chosen characteristic’ (despite the fact that the vast majority of adults in the UK feel free to describe themselves as they like) because there might be deaf people who chose against having a cochlear ear implant (thereby choosing disability).
The only interesting thing she said was that you could substitute gender for religion, but unfortunately I don’t think she meant it like that. She wasn’t happy with French secularism, especially the ban on wearing of religious garments which favoured Christians but disenfranchised others (she didn’t mention the M-word but clearly meant them) and was annoyed by the idea that the Prime Minister hoped that families could spend Christmas together.
Question and Answer session
The thing was supposed to be an hour long but Cooper had talked for 40 long minutes and Vickers did twenty, that it ran over. However, Cooper was clearly eager to talk some more. The GC crew put in some great questions.
There was liberal interpretation by the Chair of the questions that were asked, for example, a question was asked whether age should also be decertified and what the ramifications would be, the example of pensions was given. The Chair interpreted this to become something like: ‘Age also forms part of our birth certificate. What would be the impact of the decertification of gender on age? Would it mean that someone could get their pension early?’ Which is an entirely different question.
However, Cooper did answer the question about age more generally and basically said that legal age and biological age were two different things and sometimes the cells in some peoples’ bodies were younger. She thought it would make an interesting research project but would exclude under-18s because of ‘complications’. Cooper thought ideas around age was mainly relevant to the issues of benefits. ‘What would be lost if we didn’t have a standardised age?’ thickie Cooper wondered.
The Chair felt that age might be important in medical matters and that doctors might need to take age into account when assessing quality of life or offering IVF (not getting IVF if you’re older is apparently discrimination and nothing to do with the fact it is much less likely to work).
On recording discrimination
The chair read out a comment along the lines of that women worldwide were discriminated against based on biological sex and that removing sex (or gender) from official documentation would not stop sex discrimination.
Cooper responded that she didn’t want discrimination to stop being recorded and that she didn’t want to address the global situation (e.g. the thousands of baby girls being killed in India). She explained that discrimination in the UK didn’t just happen in relation to ‘sexed bodies’ because there were blurred lines between what gender and sex is. Transgender people were facing very high levels of violence!
She felt that lesbians and gays who had experienced hatred was nothing to do with their sexed bodies, it was because they had ‘challenged heteronormativity’ or because they were ‘gender non-conforming’.
Her final comment was that men were disadvantaged by law but failed to give a single example.
On being non-binary
Next question: ‘If I become non-binary legally how does anyone know to treat me differently from my sex which is obvious?’
The Chair felt that this question was about being recorded as non-binary on a birth certificate. Cooper said that local councils, trade unions and other organisations had moved to try and recognise non-binary identities (ahead of the law). Some had suggested people could wear badges to let people know their gender, which Cooper thought was problematic because it isn’t just an identity. Cooper said that people who identified as non-binary were protected in Equality Act under gender reassignment and talked about the recent Jaguar Land Rover employment tribunal.
‘I strongly oppose the decertification of sex, I think there needs to be protection of women, and there are discussions about toilets and changing rooms, and it is well documented that violence is mainly from men and we should uphold sex-based rights.’
Cooper said pretended that she didn’t understand the point, so the Chair decided it was a question about ‘would sex-based rights disappear’ rather than the much more obvious point that men are much more violent than women.
Cooper said ‘are women better protected in terms of equality law than other categories where people don’t have legal status’ and gave examples of religion, ethnicity and sexuality and said that these could ‘changed or be redefined’ and that the ‘State does not control the categories or where you fit within the categories’. Cooper felt that there was a greater danger of believing that women were at risk because it was ‘infantilising and paternalistic’ which also had a ‘racialised history’ because it went back to the 18th Century when ‘white middle class women were protected from the dangerous world’. But don’t think thickie Cooper is a complete psychopath though, no, she still wants domestic violence refuges to still be real places beaten up women can go. Phew! Not planning on doing away with those in your Citadel of Dreams!
The real work to get rid of ‘gender-based violence’ was not to raise children in ‘binary polarised ways’ and especially ‘how we raise kids who identify as little boys’. Know your place Wims!
A final interminable answer
There was another question followed by the predictable interminable answer. Cooper said in Anglophone countries trans and non-binary identities were increasing and she took obvious pleasure that she thought the trend would not reverse. There was ‘a growing insignificance of the standardised idea of the sexed body that aligns with gender’. She foresaw a ‘plethora of genders’ which would result in ‘multicultural politics of sex/gender’.
It ended on a positive note though as the Chair said that artificial intelligence might start classifying us in ways that we might not like. Fingers crossed it might be able to detect fraudulent academics.