Harnessing the power of men

If there ever was a time for ‘girl power’, it’s right now, says Lulu Sinclair.

I had thought I couldn’t feel more furious than I did about the UN’s extraordinary announcement that “there is no wrong way to be a woman”. What a bizarre statement…

Then came a question on a Facebook page from a journalist referring to “people with vaginas” – and I found the irritation level had risen just that much more.

Again, in this week alone, we have the news that some extraordinary people in charge of Brighton and Sussex University Hospital (BSUH – read that carefully if you’re dyslexic) telling us they’re going to refer to breast-feeding as chest-feeding (sounds disgusting as well as wrong) and various other little additions because they want to be seen as inclusive.

Hold on a second.

They want to be inclusive? Inclusive to whom? A very, very small group of people who are making a very, very loud noise on behalf of a slightly larger group of people and causing huge offence to about half the population and, if some men are offended too, maybe even more.

We’ll take a step back. The very small group making the very loud noise are the lobbyists claiming to be acting on behalf of the transgender lobby to ensure that those who have transitioned are accorded the same rights as all women. I’m being very careful here and using the word “woman” alone because I don’t want to go down the road of “natural”, “assigned at birth” “chosen sex” or whatever other unusual phrase might be picked. Woman. That’s it.

There is no official number for the number of transgender people in Britain at present. It is estimated there are between 200,000 and 300,000 out of a population of around 68 million people. The calculator tells me that’s 0.44% of the population. Of those same people, many will decide not to transition fully which means they will remain either men or women but they may choose to “identify” as a person of the different sex to which they were born.

Just for the record: I am a woman; I was born one and I’ll die one. That’s it, end of story. I think if I’d had a choice, I might have chosen to be a man because I think they get a better deal (I accept men may disagree) but there we are. I’m too old to change, I have quite a fear of operations and I don’t feel strongly enough about my gender preference so I think I’m stuck where I am.

But – and please read and absorb this carefully – I have absolutely no prejudice at all towards anyone who feels they wish to transition. Indeed, I admire them. It will be a difficult road ahead and I hope they are happy – or content at the very least – with the outcome. 

I have met a number of people who have either transitioned or are in the process of doing so and, after a moment or two of feeling unsettled (remember, we’re all instinctive organisms first, and rational, reasoning human beings second, according to our limbic system parts), I have accepted them in the unconditional positive regard way in which I was trained. What that means is I don’t judge, at least not about such decisions as these. I accept and welcome.

What I do feel very, very strongly about is that women – some 50% of the population, around 34 million women – are seeing their rights eroded with the most amazing speed and nobody official seems to care. What on earth is going on?  

I can’t make up my mind if this is because there are so many men (and maybe women) in high places who simply don’t like women or if those same powerful people are just stupid. Both thoughts are worrying but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is happening because the people in power are more afraid of those noisy lobbyists than they are of women themselves. That is a truly terrible thought.

There is a Bill being rushed through Parliament to allow Attorney General Suella Braverman to receive paid maternity leave before she takes time off. The Bill refers to “people” having babies, rather than women. Which legal brain – male or female – allowed the use of such terminology? Of course Ms Braverman should get paid maternity leave but surely contentious legal wording such as this should not be slipped through at the same time? Fortunately, some lawmakers are objecting.  

I’m one of the women born in the 1950s, one of the 3.8 million women affected by the pension change which turned the retirement age from 60 to 66. Despite various “girlie” protests and a court case, the women lost the fight. I wondered at the time if such a change would have been made for men. I suspected not because I thought the men would put up a powerful fight against it. If you doubt me, look at the mainly-men run unions and the strikes and the holding of whichever government to account. I’m not talking about whether a cause is right or wrong, I’m talking about reaction to protest. It seems to me that when bigger, stronger, fiercer men do it, the (mainly men) in government find a way to appease.

To be clear on prejudice once more, this is not a little aside against men. I (generally) like them and applaud their tactics, at least when it comes to getting what they want. But how do they manage it when we women seem to be not faring so well. Is it testosterone that makes the difference? Is it society and cultural values about men? Or is it that there is something within women themselves that actually continues to hold us back? Oestrogen? Cultural expectations or just the fear of making a stand?

Some of us in this country have been brought up to defer, to put others ahead of ourselves and not to make a fuss. That may have been good and sensible advice when we needed the financial support of a man and wanted/needed to live a quiet life but it is so not okay for now, at least not for this cause.

Ladies, women, girls. If we want all this to stop and we don’t want to be subjugated and taken charge of by seemingly “better” women than us, we need to rethink our behaviour. Forget being deferential, worrying about offending others, needing to fit in and being part of the gang. You – we – are going to need to fight our corner. 

If we want to keep our loos, changing rooms and prisons separate, if we want to feel physically safe and not to fear what the future holds for those women who come after us, we need to call a halt to this before it’s become acceptable and the “new normal”. We need to do it differently. We need to stop being “good girls”.

How about taking a leaf out of a man’s book, learning from our opposite numbers to shout, protest and demand all this ill-judged and unthought-out nonsense is stopped.  

Imagine that, 34 million women insisting their voices are heard. What a sound that would be. Go, women, go! 

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Lulu Sinclair

Lulu is an experienced journalist who has worked in print, TV, radio and digital media. She retrained as a psychotherapist and counsellor some years ago and now combines both her passions. She writes a regular blog on mental health topics for a Harley Street psychotherapy practice.

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