Critic explains why Jo Swinson's interview answers were "actually nonsense"

9 December 2019, 15:34 | Updated: 9 December 2019, 15:46

This critic explains to Shelagh Fogarty why Jo Swinson's interview answer on gender was "actually nonsense".

When the leader of the Liberal Democrats was asked, "Do you recognise biological sex exists?"

Jo Swinson replied: "Not on a binary - I don't think things are as binary as is often presented. Yes most people are male or female."

"I think it's an answer that sounds extremely strange if you haven't been immersed in the whole debate about sex and gender for a really long time," said Sarah Ditum, feminist critic and columnist, "the problem for Jo Swinson is the Liberal Democrats have cultivated this policy, had lots of internal discussion but all from one perspective.

"Having put their promises about recognising self-identified gender and an x option for passports," she continued, "they're having to answer questions on the national platform and they haven't actually developed the answer to these questions at all. So what she's said is actually nonsense - sex is clearly binary."

Shelagh pointed out that Ms Swinson had said the debate on gender was not scientific and said that while it is a social debate, surely it is also scientific.

The columnist asked: "Why is she putting the rights of trans people above the rights of women?"
The columnist asked: "Why is she putting the rights of trans people above the rights of women?". Picture: PA

Ms Ditum explained that this comment was in reference to a question on whether transgender men, or people who identified as women, could go into women-only spaces such as changing rooms.

While not implying at all that people who identify as women are all dangerous, Shelagh said, "some men are and if we make self-identification of gender the equivalent of making a cup of tea, then some of those men will abuse that."

As there is no single transgender experience, there are lots of different motivations and psychological processes involved in leading to someone describing themselves as trans.

"There are absolutely spaces where sex should be the principle on which they're segregated," said Ms Ditum, "I don't want to be in a hospital ward and have to share it with someone who is male-bodied, however they feel about themselves."

Shelagh quoted Ms Swinson's comments today: "'There is no hierarchy of equality'. What do you make of that?"

"If there's no hierarchy of equality, then why is she putting the rights of trans people above the rights of women to have privacy and dignity and safety? She's the one who's installed a hierarchy."