AS I SEE IT
Sometimes where to draw the line when it comes to gender can be quite confusing. Take two recent issues. How do you respond to the question, “Can a woman have a penis?” which was put to the UK labour leader Sir Kier Starmer recently. And who do you think was most in the wrong when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars after the comedian made a joke about Will’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s, shaved head.
The question was put to Starmer in the context of gender identity in a radio interview. A flustered Starmer ducked the point and replied: “I don’t think discussing the issue in this way helps anyone.”
Maybe he hadn’t thought the issue through. Until recently a woman was defined as an adult female capable of bearing children between puberty and menopause. Today the definition is wider and considered in non-binary terms, rather than a male/ female divide. Those who have transitioned from being male to being female unquestionably wish to be identified as women, whether or not they have undergone surgical or hormonal treatment.
Unlike Starmer, Boris Johnson made his view clear in the House of Commons earlier this month. “We must recognise that when people want to make a transition in their lives they should be treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect.”
Though, he continued: “When it comes to distinguishing between man and woman the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important.”
So where should the line be drawn when it comes to a trans individual identifying as a woman competing in women’s sport? This is where those basic facts of biology need to be considered, a point which was raised recently by Sonia O’Sullivan after swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender champion winning a 500 yards freestyle in Pennsylvania.
When boys develop as men they gain a physical advantage over women, generally they become stronger and bigger than females. These advantages remain unchanged despite the change of identification and regardless of whether or not a transitioning individual retains male genitalia.
Can an individual biologically born male compete fairly with women? Is it fair to women’s sport where women compete against others of the same gender? A line needs to be drawn here.
In the case for the Oscar slap, Chris Rock made reference to Jada’s shorn look caused by her alopecia: “Jada, can’t wait for GI Jane 2.” Smith’s response was to storm on stage, slap Chris and shout: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth.”
The reaction of the media was to castigate Smith who was receiving his first Oscar for his portrayal of Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams in the film King Richard. Smith had to apologise, is facing calls that he be stripped of his award and an investigation by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Little has been said about the offensiveness of Rock’s remarks: an entirely inappropriate and tasteless comment on someone’s physical appearance. Apparently, the remarks were unscripted and would have been removed by the organisers had they known in advance about the vicious jibe.
Why hasn’t Rock been called out on this? Interestingly, in a US poll carried out by Blue Rock Research a majority (52% ) thought that Rock was more in the wrong although it would have been more appropriate if Smith had come to his wife’s defence verbally without swearing.
But consider this: there is a long tradition of women slapping men in the face when they say something offensive. If Jada had stormed on stage to deliver that slap rather than her husband the audience at the Oscar might well have cheered her.
Just where do you draw the line?