I’m not a big fan of Radio 4’s @BBCWomansHour. I’m definitely not a fan of Jenni Murray’s often condescending and sometimes hectoring tone and I’ll admit I was ready to completely disagree with her Sunday Times article on trans women, published to mild outrage a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I think it’s a thoughtful piece, well argued in places. I even agree with some of it!
What I absolutely disagree with is Murray’s use of the phrase ‘real woman’. For Murray a ‘real’ woman is an individual born with female sex characteristics who grows to be a woman and experiences a lifetime of pressure to become the socially constructed idea of what a woman should be. So what’s not to like? I fall into Murray’s ‘real’ category – but also into (self-defined) categories of Tomboy 50+, Dress Free, Make-up Free, Childfree … the list goes on. Am I still real Jenni?
Sometimes I doubt it when I get shocked expressions from other women when I walk into the Ladies (roll on gender neutral toilets!). Once a woman actually screamed! Another time I had to get my breasts out to convince a woman in Bath that I was entitled to be there. I may be a real woman but TERFs please note, not all women-only spaces feel safe to all women ‘real’ or otherwise.
The thing is Jenni, we’re all real and we are all, depending on context, other. It’s too easy to resort to media shorthand and throw contested terms like ‘real’ around, just like those throwaway Women’s Hour lines such as ‘We all love a new lipstick don’t we!’. (No). The the fierce defence of territory, of building walls (!) around identity rather than facing up to its fluid realities, is one reason prejudice and inequalities remain so intractable.